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Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Budden, Philip Henry (Phil) (1906–1991)

by Ray Edmondson

This article was published online in 2019

Philip Henry Budden (1906–1991), film company manager and entrepreneur, was born on 4 October 1906 at Hunters Hill, Sydney, second of seven children of New South Wales-born Henry Ebenezer Budden, architect, and his London-born wife Ella Robertson Carlisle, née Thomas. Phil was educated (1918–23) at Sydney Church of England Grammar School, where he gained the Intermediate certificate. He joined Sneddons Motors Ltd as a salesman of Singer cars but around 1925 left to work as a jackeroo and later a wool classer.

In 1927 Budden began working with the newly established film processors Commonwealth Film Laboratories Ltd (CFL), in which his father was both a shareholder and chairman. Ignorant of the field, he learnt on the job. He worked as a cameraman and performed other duties when required. Believing the manager to be incompetent, he became the de facto manager and company secretary. Using the ‘rack-and-tank’ methods common in the era of silent films, the laboratory’s main source of work was Paramount Films, which produced newsreels that required prints for distribution to theatres. The change to sound films after 1931 demanded new technology known as continuous processing. Using technical literature as a guide, Budden oversaw the building of a processing machine.

At St Philip’s Church of England, Sydney, on 7 December 1932, Budden married Margaret Annie Peck. Two years later he travelled to the United States of America to gain technical knowledge from companies such as Paramount and Kodak. The volume of CFL’s work increased steadily during the 1930s, supplying the local offices of American film companies with release prints made from imported negatives. CFL also invested in several Australian feature films for which it provided studio and film processing services. They included Mystery Island (1937), Typhoon Treasure (1938), and later The Rats of Tobruk (1944), and Jedda (1954).

During World War II the laboratory processed government-produced propaganda films. Budden served part time (1942–45) with the Volunteer Defence Corps. The move from 35 mm to the more compact 16 mm film, which had begun in the 1930s, required major adjustments in laboratory postwar capabilities. In 1950 CFL merged with Filmcraft Laboratory and later others, evolving into Colorfilm Pty Ltd. To service the time-critical news-gathering needs of the television station ABN-2 Budden oversaw the establishment by Associated Film Printers of an adjacent 16 mm laboratory.  

Budden always had an interest in the mechanics of film processing, rather than the content of the films themselves. He once suggested that he and his colleagues were technical, not creative, people. In 1970 he established Filmlab Engineering Pty Ltd as an offshoot of Colorfilm Pty Ltd to custom-design and install film processing laboratories. By the 1970s the company was operating in South-East Asia. Demonstrating a flair as a manager, he resolved personal conflicts in the early years at CFL, and built a loyal staff group. In 1975 he retired as managing director of Colorfilm, remaining on the board.

In August 1981, Budden became chairman of the National Film Archive Advisory Committee, a body comprising prominent figures in the film and television industry. He had long been interested in the work of the National Film Archive, which was part of the National Library of Australia (NLA). From at least the 1950s, Colorfilm and its predecessors had handled much of the NFA’s film repair and copying work. The advisory committee’s mandate was to provide policy advice and liaise with the film and television industry. The committee concluded that the NFA should leave the NLA and be reconstituted as a separate organisation. Despite National Library Council’s objections, Barry Cohen, minister for home affairs and the environment, announced on 5 April 1984 the formation of the National Film and Sound Archive. Budden maintained links with the NFSA, and later helped to establish a major sponsored preservation project, the $4 million Operation Newsreel, that was launched in 1988.

Budden was a gentleman and a person of quiet presence. A long-time colleague recalled ‘his love and compassion for people,’ and a man who was ‘selfless, universally liked’ (Forrest 1991, 9). He had been a member of the Australian Film Producers’ Association (chairman, 1952); the Rotary Club of Sydney (president, 1962–63, and district governor, 1971–72); and the Society of Australian Cinema Pioneers (national president, 1974). A fellow of the Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers, in 1976 he had been appointed OBE. Survived by his wife and their two daughters, he died on 22 October 1991 at Wahroonga, Sydney, and was cremated.

Research edited by Brian Wimborne

Select Bibliography

  • Budden, Phil. Interview by Graham Shirley and Ray Edmondson, 4, 18 March 1978. Transcript. National Film and Sound Archive
  • Edmondson, Ray. ‘National Film and Sound Archive: The Quest for Identity.’ PhD diss., University of Canberra, 2011
  • Forrest, Murray. ‘Selfless and Universally Liked.’ Encore, 15–28 November 1991, 9
  • Personal knowledge of ADB subject
  • Screen International. ‘Portrait of a Founding Father.’ 19 March 1998, 1

Additional Resources

Citation details

Ray Edmondson, 'Budden, Philip Henry (Phil) (1906–1991)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published online 2019, accessed online 30 October 2020.

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