Mark Shelmerdine, the Emmy-nominated producer who remade Alexander Korda’s dormant London Films label into an independent production powerhouse behind projects including I, Claudius, has died. He was 78.
Shelmerdine died Oct. 26 in Santa Barbara after a long illness, friend and fellow producer Brian Eastman told The Hollywood Reporter. After being diagnosed with a rare form of bile duct cancer in 2016, he had a life-saving liver transplant in 2018.
In the 1980s, Shelmerdine co-founded the Los Angeles branch of BAFTA and the Association of Independent Television Producers, which helped shape the sector that now dominates British TV production. He also published self-help books written by his late wife, Susan Jeffers.
The first of three children, Shelmerdine was born on March 27, 1945, in Buckinghamshire, England. His father, Dick, worked as a police office in Singapore and the Bahamas and as a postmaster in Gloucestershire, England.
Shelmerdine started out as an accountant at Coopers & Lybrand and Taylor Clark Ltd., which was owned by Scottish businessman Robert Clark, whose portfolio included 90-plus movies made by London Films, founded in 1932 by the Hungarian-born Korda.
Among its pictures: The Private Life of Henry VIII (1933), starring Charles Laughton; The Scarlet Pimpernel (1934), starring Leslie Howard and Merle Oberon; Anna Karenina (1948), starring Vivien Leigh; and The Third Man (1949), starring Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles.
Shelmerdine discovered that not only might remakes of the original titles be possible, but that London Films owned the rights to many of the literary works from which Korda had made — or had not made — features.
First, Shelmerdine developed Ross Poldark historical novels written by Winston Graham into a 29-episode BBC series that starred Robin Ellis, Angharad Rees and Clive Francis and ran from 1975-77. He also retained the rights to sell Poldark overseas, leading to the formation of London Films International.
London Films also had the rights to a pair of I, Claudius novels written by Robert Graves that were used for a Josef von Sternberg-directed film adaptation that was to star Laughton and Oberon. However, the production was canceled after Oberon was involved in a serious car accident in 1937 that left her with facial scars.
So Shelmerdine reteamed with the BBC to produce the landmark 1976 miniseries I, Claudius, which starred Derek Jacobi as the Roman emperor and won three BAFTA awards and an International Emmy.
Before the decade was over, he had purchased London Films from Clark.
Shelmerdine received an Emmy nomination for producing a 1982 remake of The Scarlet Pimpernel, starring Anthony Andrews and Jane Seymour, and he followed with retooled versions of Edna O’Brien’s The Country Girls, starring Sam Neill, in 1983 and Rudyard Kipling’s Kim, starring Peter O’Toole, in 1984.
Also in the ’80s, Shelmerdine became chairman of SelecTV, a pioneer in cable and PPV in the U.K., and produced a revival of Rod Serling’s The Twilight Zone at CBS.
In 1986, he moved to Los Angeles with his second wife, Jeffers. In the aftermath of the success of her first self-help book, 1987’s Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, they launched Jeffers Press, published audiobooks and established Feel the Fear training courses before she died in 2012.
Survivors include his third wife, Donna, whom he married in 2014; children Guy, a director, and Alice, a studio manager; sister Judy; and five grandchildren.