‘Argonauts’ script writer dies aged 95

Jan Read.
Jan Read.

Jan Read - film maker, script writer, wine expert, author, lecturer, research scientist and St Andrean has died at the age of 95.

Brought up in St Andrews, the son of distinguished scientist and Fellow of the Royal Society Professor John Read, Jan went on to have a distinguished and varied career in cinema, wine and science.

His real passion, however, was always films.

His first production, Ad Vitam (1937), is a silent, 30-minute black and white documentary tracing the history of St. Leonards School in St. Andrews and is now in the Scottish National Archive.

After the war he gained a Commonwealth Fund Fellowship to study cinematography in the US where he worked for Louis de Rochemont at 20th Century Fox and then for Fritz Lang at Universal-International.


His first full length script on returning to the UK was The Blue Lamp (1950), made by Ealing Studios and written in the semi-documentary style pioneered by his mentor, Louis de Rochemont.

The Blue Lamp is a British crime film released in early 1950 which stars Jack Warner as police constable George Dixon, the young Dirk Bogarde in an early role as Dixon’s killer and Bernard Lee, who went on to play ‘‘M’’ in the James Bond films.

It was also the forerunner of the long-running television series Dixon of Dock Green (even though Dixon’s murder is the central plot of the original film).

Jan went on to write a further dozen or so films including White Corridors (1951), and Grip of the Strangler (1958), Jason and the Argonauts (1963) and First Men in the Moon (1964).

But with the UK film industry in decline at this time, Jan switched his efforts to television and wrote some hundred scripts for series such as Robin Hood, The Four Just Men, Dr Finlay’s Casebook, Sherlock Holmes, Danger Man, and Man in a Suitcase.


By the early 1970s, with one book already under his belt – History for Beginners (1960), a collaboration with his great friend and Spanish national treasure cartoonist Antonio Mingote - Jan ‘became interested in writing something more permanent in the shape of books’.

These took the form of largely untouched Spanish themes after he married his wife, Maite, in 1956 and spent long periods in Spain.

His key works here were The Moors in Spain and Portugal (Faber 1973), War in the Peninsula (Faber 1977), and The Catalans (Faber 1978).

In the world of wine he became known as the first, pioneering English authority on Spain and Portugal following the publication of The Wines of Spain and Portugal in 1973.

He went on to write a plethora of seminal books throughout the 1980s which put the wines of both countries on the map and then, along with his friend Hugh Johnson, wrote the first ever book on Chilean wines in 1988.

His articles were published in The Times, The Guardian, The Scotsman, House and Garden, Harpers and Queen, as well as vinous publications such as Decanter, Comer y Beber (Barcelona), The Quarterly Review of Wines (US), and Epicure (Hong Kong).


Further, with Maite, he co-wrote a series of ‘gastro-historic’ tomes such as Paradores of Spain (1977), Flavours of Spain (1978) and Catalonia: traditions, places, wine and food (1992), though curiously their most successful was the immensely entertaining The Great British Breakfast of 1981.

Jan had been semi-retired for some years in St Andrews but was persuaded to write his autobiography - Young Man in Movieland, which was published by Scarecrow Press in 2005.

Wine, however, was Jan’s latter phase, for in addition to his work in cinema, this softly spoken and encyclopaedic man had also worked as a physics lecturer at Sheffield University and was later seconded to the government as a research scientist during World War Two.

At Lancaster University he was engaged primarily on ‘stretching ‘ explosives and developing the most economically efficient camouflage techniques (as well as quietly producing his own gin!) while his brother, Arthur, was at Bletchley Park.

Jan, who passed away on November 29, is survived by Maite and also their son, Carlos, a wine importer.