Val Guest (11 December 1911 – 10 May 2006) was an English film director and screenwriter. Beginning as a writer (and later director) of comedy films, he is best known for his work for Hammer, for whom he directed 14 films, and science fiction films.
He enjoyed a long career in the film industry from the early 1930s until the early 1980s.
He was born Valmond Maurice Grossmann to Jewish parents John Simon Grossmann and Julia Ann Gladys Emanuel in Maida Vale, London. His father was a jute seller, and the family spent some of Guest’s childhood in India. His parents divorced when he was young, but this information was kept from him. Instead he was told that his mother had died. He was educated at Seaford College in Sussex, but left in 1927 and worked for a time as a book keeper. Guest formally changed his name in 1939.
Guest’s initial career was as an actor, appearing in various productions in London theatres. He also appeared in a few early sound film roles, before he quit acting and began a writing career. For a time, around 1934, he was the London correspondent for the Hollywood Reporter trade paper at the time when the publication began an edition for the UK. before he began working on film screenplays for Gainsborough Pictures.
This came about because the director Marcel Varnel had been incensed by comments Guest had made in his regular column, “Rambling Around”, about the director’s latest film. Challenged to write a screenplay by Varnel, Guest co-wrote his first script, which became No Monkey Business (1935) directed by Varnel.
This was to be the beginning of a long and fruitful partnership between the two men. Guest was placed under contract as a staff writer at Gainsborough’s Islington Studios in Poole Street.
Guest wrote screenplays for the rest of the decade, working with George Marriott Edgar on 8 films, including the scripts for Will Hay’s comedies such as Oh, Mr Porter! (1937) and Ask a Policeman (1939), and The Crazy Gang.
Guest became a fully-fledged director in the early 1940s (he had been responsible for some second-unit work previously). His first film was an Arthur Askey short, The Nose Has It (1942), warning of the dangers of spreading infection.
Guest’s debut feature was Miss London Ltd. (1943), again with Askey; Guest had worked on the scripts of earlier Askey films. He continued to be involved with the film industry for the next 40 years as director and screenwriter. Some of this large number of films he also produced.
Despite his career in comedy films, he was offered the chance to direct Hammer’s first Quatermass film, adapted from the BBC television serial by Nigel Kneale. Uncertain about taking it on, he was not a fan of science fiction, he was persuaded to do so by his wife, the American actress Yolande Donlan. Guest shot The Quatermass Xperiment (1955) as though it was a television documentary. Its success led the Hammer company changing its direction, and Guest directed the first sequel, Quatermass 2 (1957).
He also directed other science-fiction films such as The Abominable Snowman (1957), from a Kneale TV play, and The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961) which won Guest and Wolf Mankowitz a BAFTA Award for Best Screenplay. An earlier project with Mankowitz, was a screen adaptation of Expresso Bongo (1959), from the stage musical for which Mankowitz had co-written the book, in which Cliff Richard made his first starring film appearance.
Originally married to Pat Watson, the couple divorced after Guest fell in love with American actress Yolande Donlan who eventually became his wife in 1954; Donlan appeared in 8 of his films during the 1950s. After Guest retired in 1985, the couple lived together in retirement in California.
In 2004, a Golden Palm Star on the Palm Springs, California, Walk of Stars was dedicated to Guest and Donlan. Guest died in a hospice in Palm Desert, California from prostate cancer.