History of the Amersham Area

Allan Gray (Josef Zmigrod)

This article was written by Wendy Tibbitts for the Amersham Museum /Amersham Society newsletter and is reproduced here wth permission.

The Amersham Museum received an enquiry from the Stills Curator at the British Film Institute regarding an Amersham resident who lived in Bois Lane. The Museum’s collection contains no data about this gentleman, but further researches have shed light on his career and achievements.

Josef Zmigrod was born in Tarnów, which is now in Poland but at that time was an Austrian border town, on 23 February 1902. He studied piano and composition at the University of Heidelberg, and at the end of the twenties was in Berlin composing for a Theatre company, writing comic songs, and beginning to write scores for the German film industry. He married Luise Radermacher in Hendon in 1935 and by 1936 he was settled in Britain and was writing film scores for major European films. He changed his name to Allan Gray, reportedly taking the name from Oscar Wilde’s Dorian Gray.

The London Gazette dated 18 March 1947 announced that he was granted Naturalization on 29 January 1947, and gave his address as “Glenview”, Bois Lane, Chesham Bois, Buckinghamshire. He lived at that address for the rest of his life.

Because of his European birth he was arrested on June 26 1940 as an “enemy alien” and taken to Liverpool where he was interned on the Isle of Man. It is not known how long he was kept there, but from 1943 he was commissioned by Powell and Pressburger to compose the music for most of their major films: The Life and Death of Colonel Blimp; A Matter of Life and Death; I know Where I’m Going!”; and The African Queen.

After the war, as well as continuing to write film scores, he wrote songs for stage revues, incidental music for two Shakespearian productions, and also for television programmes such as Douglas Fairbanks Jr. Presents.

Allan Gray died in Amersham on 10 September 1973. Little is known about his life in Amersham. The British Film Institute contacted the Amersham Museum in the hope that it held the composer’s archive which sadly does not seem to exist in any archival institution.  Click here for more information.