Stanley Forman, who died recently aged 91 in a Harrogate nursing home, was a well-known and well-loved figure on the international documentary film scene for many years.
He inspired and helped many young film-makers and researchers with his unquenchable generosity. His ebullience, humour and warm-heartedness won him numerous friends and admirers.
He was a pioneer distributor of documentary films from eastern Europe throughout the cold war period and a regular visitor to international film festivals.
An active member of the film technicians' union, his companies, Plato and Educational and Television Films (ETV), amassed an amazing archive of eastern European and British left-wing documentaries.
He was born on Boxing Day 1921 in London's East End. Like many children of Jewish immigrants who settled there, he very soon became involved in the political ferment of the 1930s.
The struggle against Mosley's Blackshirts in Britain and the tide of fascism sweeping Europe brought many Jews into the Communist Party and Forman, after a short spell in the youth wing of the Labour Party, became one of them.
In 1936, at the outbreak of the Spanish civil war, he was 15.
"Our heroes were our mates who were a little older than we were who joined the International Brigade to fight in Spain," he recalled.
"We were in the League of Youth, which was the Labour Party youth organisation at the time. The screenwriter Ted Willis got us together and persuaded many of us to join the Mile End Young Communist League.
"We collected milk, money, medical supplies and so on for Republican Spain and, if we were old enough, we tried to join the International Brigade.
"In a situation like that everything appeared black and white and it was easy to come to decisions about what was right and what was wrong."
From an early age he'd been intrigued by Lenin's dictum that "of all the arts, for us the most important is the cinema."
If Lenin said that film was the key thing, that was what he wanted to get into and that's how his career in film began.
Forman did not go to college or university. His political education took place in the dusty offices of the Marx Memorial Library, listening to evening lectures given by leading intellectual lights of the time on a wide range of topics from biology, philosophy, writing and literature to history.
He became cultural secretary of the local Young Communist League in 1937-38 and married Hilda, who became his lifelong partner and support for over 60 years, in 1946.
His first post-war job was with the Civil Service Union. Although he enjoyed the work, he couldn't cope with the constant travelling that, as a national organiser spearheading a recruitment drive, he was obliged to do.
He went for advice to Ivor Montagu, who had studied with the great Soviet director Eisenstein, worked as an assistant to Alfred Hitchcock and been a founder member of the Association of Cinematograph Technicians union, a forerunner of Bectu.
Montagu encouraged him to form an organisation to show films, particularly about the Soviet Union because the many local British-Soviet Friendship Societies had money to pay for film shows.
That's how Plato Films came into being in 1950, with the primary aim of distributing films from the socialist world of the Soviet Union, China, eastern Europe, Vietnam, Mongolia and North Korea.
He began with a staff of two - his business partner Betty Baker and a young projectionist, bringing films into the country and taking them out to the people.
Plato was not, strictly speaking, a party organisation although it did have strong Communist Party support. The films it handled were for the most part documentaries. They were used as an educational tool.
In the late 1950s Plato Films was faced with a serious crisis. Directors Andrew and Annelie Thorndike, based in the German Democratic Republic (GDR), asked Forman to distribute their film Operation Teutonic Sword in Britain.
It landed the company with a high-profile libel case when former nazi General Hans Speidel, who had become head of Nato's central European land forces, sued Plato after being accused in the film of involvement in the 1934 assassination in Paris of Yugoslavia's King Alexander and French politician Louis Barthou, who had been discussing an anti-nazi alliance.
"The libel dilemma for us was that the British law courts could not accept the proof we had, which was photocopied documents provided by East German agents in Bonn," Forman later explained.
"We took on Speidel with the financial help of the East German government. The case lasted three years and went to the House of Lords on a legal point.
"In the end the GDR preferred to settle the case and Speidel agreed to this. He renounced any financial claims for damages but insisted that all prints of both versions of the film be taken out of circulation.
"I was advised to put my house in my wife's name and to form another company, ETV, in 1959 because, if we had lost the case, we'd have been bankrupted."
ETV held one of the most comprehensive collections of rare left-wing stock, with footage ranging from shots of Lenin through to Castro. Its tiny two-storey office in Islington, stacked from floor to ceiling with reels of film, was a cold war historian's utopia.
Outlets for ETV material began to change in the late 1960s and '70s as technology developed and film was replaced by various tape formats.
With the arrival and expansion of television its customer base changed dramatically, giving ETV a new lease of life.
Forman quickly realised that the main interest lay in the archival material rather than complete films, marketing ETV in a new way and searching for less well-known archive material in Britain itself.
Plato produced films for the Communist Party, often with cameraman Manny Yospa. It also assisted East German camera crews who came to Britain.
One of the most significant films Forman was involved in was the documentary Companero: Victor Jara of Chile, co-directed with Martin Smith, about the murdered popular Chilean singer.
Another film he produced, together with German film-maker Roland Bischoff, was a celebration in 1971 of the 50th anniversary of influential Marxist journal Labour Monthly.
Forman was for many years a jury member for the International Documentary and Short Film Festival in Leipzig and an active member of the British Film Institute (BFI).
After more than 52 years of independent trading, ETV closed its doors in August 2003, donating the collection to the BFI as the lease ran out on the building and Stanley, Hilda and Betty Baker decided to finally retire.
Forman gave instructions to the BFI that the Communist Party and the Morning Star should have full access to his archives.
He remained a committed party member to the end, even though deteriorating health in the last few years curtailed his active involvement.
He will be remembered by friends and contemporaries as a generous, loveable man with a ready sense of humour who lived what he preached.
Stanley Forman is survived by son David, daughters Sarah and Flora and five grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Hilda predeceased him in 2008.
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