Mark Shelmerdine, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) Los Angeles branch co-founder who is credited with reviving Alexandra Korda’s London Films, died Oct. 26 in Santa Barbara after a long illness. He was 78.
Shelmerdine was diagnosed with a rare form of bile duct cancer in 2016. After being treated in a trial program between Houston’s MD Anderson Cancer Center and Houston Methodist Hospital, he received a liver transplant in 2018 and became the longest living survivor among those in the program.
Shelmerdine got his start in the entertainment industry after joining the Taylor Clark group, led by the Scottish businessman Robert Clark. As the group’s company secretary and finance director, Shelmerdine was placed in charge of preparing weekly reports and analyses on the box office returns of the Caledonian Associated Cinema and ABC Cinema chains, which Clark owned.
During this time, one company asset that caught the attention of Shelmerdine was the catalogue of London Films, a company founded in 1932 by Hungarian-born British film director, producer and writer Alexander Korda. London Films had made over 90 films in the past, such as “The Third Man,” starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles, and “Anna Karenina,” starring Vivian Leigh. To Shelmerdine, London Films was an under-utilized property of the Clark group, as its profits came primarily from renting copies of its films to film clubs around the United Kingdom.
With that in mind, Shelmerdine prepared a comprehensive and innovative business plan that would revive London Films and tap into its potential. He discovered that London Films owned the rights to many literary works that Korda had initially planned to adapt. Shelmerdine ended up first adapting the Poldark novels from Winston Graham into a TV series that ran from 1975 to 1977 on the BBC.
Afterwards, he produced the series “I, Claudius,” which went on to win three BAFTAS and an international Emmy. Shelmerdine officially bought London Films from Clark in the late ’70s, and the wider success of the catalogue can be attributed to Shelmerdine’s leadership.
Shelmerdine, who later helped found the Association of Independent Television Producers, worked frequently with the BBC in co-productions. He then founded and became chairman of SelecTV plc, a company in the cable and pay per view TV market that was later made into a production company.
Following the success of his second wife Susan Jeffers’s first self-help book, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway,” Shelmerdine moved to L.A. and became an independent publisher with his wife. Together, they founded Jeffers Press and published audio books. While in L.A., the British producer served as co-founder for the L.A. branch of BAFTA, fostering a relationship between the British and American entertainment industries.
Shelmerdine is survived by his third wife, Donna Luskin, two children from his first marriage — Alice and Guy — and five grandchildren.