Robert Hartford-Davis was one of England's more successful exploitation filmmakers of the postwar era, and among the first notable figures in that field to come out of British television. Along with his younger contemporaries Piers Haggard, Jeremy Summers, and Michael Reeves, he was a mainstay of action, horror, and exploitation cinema in England during the '60s and '70s.
Born in Kent, England in 1923, Hartford-Davis studied at the Corona Dramatic Academy. It was during a visit, at age 14, to Warner Bros.' Teddington Studios, however, that he decided that he would someday be a movie director. He entered the industry as a focus-puller and camera operator at British National and other studios before and during the Second World War, and then moved to the editing room. He later made documentary releases for the Film Producers Guild and served as an assistant to such visiting American filmmakers as John Huston and King Vidor during the '50s. He became a television director during the middle of that decade, working on such series as I'm Not Bothered, Robin Hood, Mark Saber, and Police Surgeon, and broke into feature films at the start of the '60s with the crime thriller Crosstrap (1961). He followed this up in 1963 with The Yellow Teddybears, a fact-based and then-shocking movie about teenage schoolgirls losing their virginity; that film brought Hartford-Davis into the orbit of exploitation producer and distributor Tony Tenser, through whom he also came to direct Saturday Night Out. The latter, a rather less controversial exploitation drama starring Bernard Lee and featuring the Searchers (after the Beatles reportedly passed on the chance to appear in it), is now regarded as a classic artifact from the early era of "swinging London." It was also through Tenser that Hartford-Davis made the lurid costume drama The Black Torment (1964), which established him firmly (and one might say permanently) in the exploitation field. Hartford-Davis left Tenser's orbit after completing that movie and entered a partnership with Peter Newbrook, forming Titan International Films. It was through that company that Hartford-Davis produced and directed Gonks Go Beat (1965), one of the stranger and notably bad pieces of rock & roll cinema to come out of England. It was also notable for its ambitious mixing of genres and the presence (mostly wasted) of such serious musical luminaries as the Graham Bond Organization. Hartford-Davis returned to more restrained and sophisticated subjects with The Sandwich Man (1966) (aka That Swinging City), an interesting and entertaining slice-of-life drama. But by the following year he was back in his comfortably lurid milieu with Corruption (1967), a story of medical practice-turned-serial murder starring Peter Cushing and Sue Lloyd, set against the backdrop of swinging London. After that, Hartford-Davis seldom strayed from the realms of crime and sex, helming School for Unclaimed Girls (1969) and Incense for the Damned (1971) (aka The Bloodsuckers). He then went to Hollywood to make Black Gunn (1972), starring Jim Brown, and The Take (1974) starring Billy Dee Williams, blaxploitation films that opened what promised to be a new chapter in Hartford-Davis' career, earning him awards as Best Action Director by the International European Critics in 1973-1974. He'd returned to Hollywood by the middle of the decade and was employed in television productions, including two episodes of the critically acclaimed and Emmy-favored Family and one episode of the short-lived Dog and Cat. Hartford-Davis had finished three days work on his fourth assignment, the made-for-television feature Murder in Peyton Place, when he was felled by a massive heart attack in his home.