Denis Gifford – 26 December 1927 to 18 May 2000 – was a British writer, broadcaster, journalist, comic artist and historian of film, comics, television and radio.
In his lengthy career, Gifford wrote and drew for British comics; wrote more than fifty books on the creators, performers, characters and history of popular media; devised, compiled and contributed to popular programmes for radio and television; and directed several short films. Gifford was also a major comics collector, owning what was perhaps the largest collection of British comics in the world.
Gifford’s work in the history of film and comics, particularly in Britain, provided an account of the work in those media of previously unattempted scope, discovering countless lost films and titles and identifying numerous uncredited creators. He was particularly interested in the early stages in film and comics history, for which records were scarce and unreliable, and his own vast collection was an invaluable source.
Gifford produced detailed filmographies of every traceable fiction, non-fiction and animated film ever released in the UK, and of early animated films in the US. He compiled the first comics catalogue attempting to list every comic ever published in the UK, as well as the first price guide for British comics. His research into the early development of comics and cinema laid the groundwork for their academic study, and his reference works remain key texts in the fields.
Gifford was also a cartoonist and comic artist who worked for numerous titles, mostly for British comics in the 1940s, 50s and 60s. Although these were largely humour strips, he worked in a range of genres including superhero, Western, science fiction and adventure.
Horror held a special fascination for Gifford: he was an active figure in horror fandom of the 1950s, 60s and 70s, including the Gothique Film Society, and in the 1970s he had regular columns in Dez Skinn‘s House of Hammer magazine, first a serialised Golden History of Horror and later History of Hammer. However, Gifford had been deeply critical of Hammer Studios, especially the productions of its later years, preferring the more understated examples of early British and Hollywood horror. He found Hammer’s relatively explicit use of blood-letting and sexuality to be cynically exploitative, noting in his 1973 Pictorial History of Horror that “The new age of horror was geared to a new taste. Where the old films had quickly cut away from the sight of blood, Hammer cut in for a closeup.”
Gifford compiled a comprehensive reference work of British-made films, The British Film Catalogue, 1895-1970: A Reference Guide, listing every traceable film made in the UK, including short films generally omitted by film catalogues, with detailed entries including running time, certificate, reissue date, distributor, production company, producer, director, main cast, genre and plot summary. It was a labour of many years, as Gifford tracked down retired industry professionals and researched back issues of trade publications, fanzines and directories.
The Catalogue’s third (1994) edition revised all entries and was published in two volumes, The Fiction Film, 1895-1994 and The Non-Fiction Film, 1888-1994,. It became a seminal work for British film historians, acclaimed by the The British Film Institute (BFI)’s curator of Moving Image in a Sight & Sound magazine shortlist of the best ever film books: “The nearest we have to a British national filmography was created not by any institute or university but by one man.” Gifford’s own A Pictorial History of Horror also made the shortlist.