Robin Browne obituary

Estimated read time 3 min read

My friend Robin Browne, who has died aged 82, was a cinematographer specialising in aerial photography and special effects. His was not a name in lights, but he consistently excelled without the razzmatazz of Hollywood. I doubt there is anyone who has seen one of his films and not marvelled at the skills and dangers involved.

He started out as a clapper boy in the late 1950s, and worked on dozens of distinguished films over the next five decades, as camera assistant, operator and as director of photography leading specialist units. A few titles give a flavour: Battle of Britain (1969); Catch 22 (1970); the television series The Adventures of Black Beauty (1972-74), on which he was camera operator for all 52 episodes; three Bond movies in the 1970s; A Bridge Too Far (1977); Krull (1983); A Passage to India (1984); The Jewel of the Nile (1985); King Kong Lives (1986); Gorillas in the Mist (1988); and Gifted Hands: The Ben Carson Story (2009).

For me, the one that takes the breath away, and is truly described as an epic, is the award-winning biopic Gandhi (1982), produced and directed by Richard Attenborough and starring Ben Kingsley, on which Robin was in charge of aerial photography. Robin’s bywords – “go easy on the lighting and not too much camera movement” – imbued the crowd scenes often shot from above with special impact.

Robin Browne, centre, with the second unit camera team on A Passage to India (1984)View image in fullscreen

He and I were friends from boyhood. Robin was born, just a month after me, in Aylesbury, and later moved to north London, where we went to Highgate school and grew up together. In those days there were more open fields than houses and we joined with another friend to form the three musketeers. All our holidays were preoccupied with adventures plotting the course of the Dollis brook through its many manifestations until it reached the Thames and setting challenges for each other to conquer known and imagined fears.

Robin’s mother, Diana (nee Mannering), was a well-known fashion model under the name Diana Jones. His father was Bernard Browne, a director of photography who worked with Alexander Korda at Denham studios; Robin was clearly talented and destined for the film world. He joined it as soon as he could, at 16, with an apprenticeship at Merton Park Studios in south London before moving to work at Shepperton. Unusually he had a tiny dark room at his home and I was able to witness the mysteries of photography, development, and editing at close quarters. At school he ran the photography club.

He ended up settling in the US, moving in 1991 to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, with his wife Judy (nee Doetze), whom he had married in 1978. This meant that he and I would meet less often, but we never lost touch. He was respected and well known for his unassuming manner, his caring generosity of spirit, his thoughtful and considerate intellectual approach at work and at home.

Latterly he turned his hand to research into historic documents in preparation for a book about to be completed relating to Shakespeare authorship and Francis Bacon. Undoubtedly Robin would have had plans to turn it into a novel film.

He is survived by Judy, and their children, Justin and Debbie.


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