Pamela Engel, who has died aged 82, is owed a huge debt by film-makers from all over the world and by those of us who enjoy their work. As co-owner of the film distributors Artificial Eye, with her first husband, Andi Engel, and latterly New Wave Films, in which she was partnered by her second husband, Robert Beeson, she brought to London arthouse riches few others would have dared to contemplate. Some made money, some did not. But for Pam that was a minor detail.
For several decades Pam influenced critics and customers alike. Her taste was fiercely strict but, when she admired a film, famously enthusiastic. As critic for the Guardian during much of her halcyon days, I seldom disagreed with her. Which was just as well, since I got severely ticked off when I did.
She was born in Merton Park, south-west London, daughter of Lionel Balfry, a salesman for Dunhill, and his wife, Alice (nee Hathaway). After Tiffin school for girls and a secretarial course, Pam applied for a job at the British Film Institute as assistant to the administrative officer. She found herself working next to the office of the National Film Theatre (now BFI Southbank) programme planning department and Richard Roud, who was then – apart from being my distinguished predecessor as Guardian film critic – director of the NFT programmes as well as the artistic director of the London film festival and a noted francophile. On the other side of her office was Penelope Houston, editor of Sight and Sound magazine.
Richard at that time was looking for extra help and offered Pam a job as his assistant. These years, 1962-69, saw the flowering of the French New Wave, which was strongly supported by Richard in his London film festival selection. He had also established the New York film festival and had to divide his time between London and New York but would not fly. Under heavy work pressure he once slightly overdid things and much to Pam’s surprise he started giving her instructions in the taxi to…