Fred Turner, the former managing director of Rank Film Distributors, died June 25 at the age of 71. His death was caused by sudden complications from myelodysplasia, which he had lived with for several years..
Turner worked at the Rank group for a remarkable 51 years, joining the legendary British movie studio as an office boy in 1946 and retiring in 1997 when RFD was sold to Carlton. Rank was the only company he ever worked for.
During his last 16 years at the helm of the distribution arm, he was responsible for the co-financing and foreign sales of such movies as “The Fabulous Baker Boys,” “Fried Green Tomatoes” and “To Die For.” He also oversaw the U.K. release of films including “Silence of the Lambs,” “Educating Rita” and “Hannah and Her Sisters.”
Turner’s first job was with Eagle Lion, then Rank’s overseas distribution arm. He worked his way up through the company, taking over as managing director in 1981.
At the time, the distribution arm was at a low ebb, and there were voices within Rank arguing that it should be closed down. But Turner stabilized its finances and started to deliver record profits. As a result, he was asked to develop a business plan to invest in production. RFD was given the greenlight to create a revolving $100 million production fund out of its own cashflow.
The company came under some criticism within British film circles for investing the money principally in the foreign rights to American movies — for example, through an overall deal with David Begelman’s Gladden Prods., which delivered “Fabulous Baker Boys” and “Weekend At Bernies.” But Turner was under strict instructions to deliver profits, and at the time the British production sector was awash with red ink.
Nonetheless, RFD did get involved in some British movies, such as “Defence of the Realm,” “The Fourth Protocol,” “Under Suspicion” and “Wilt.”
Turner had a reputation as a manager with an old-fashioned sense of honor and loyalty, and a sharp eye for keeping costs down and returns up.
He served as president of the Cinema and Television Benevolent Fund, and was still a trustee and chairman of the relief committee when he died.
His wife Iris died in 1999. He is survived by two daughters and six grandchildren.
Donations may be made to U.K. charities First Steps or the Lin Berwick Trust.