Michael Stanley-Evans, who has died aged 85, was awarded an MC in 1942 while serving with the 7th Hussars and subsequently had a distinguished career in the British film industry.

Lt M Stanley-Evans
Lt M Stanley-Evans

In March 1942 the 7th Armoured Brigade was resisting attempts by the Japanese to cut communications to Pegu, Burma.

At dawn on 6 March, the regimental HQ of the 7th Hussars, part of the brigade group, was in a leaguer close to the town when shells began falling. The Japanese had brought up some guns under cover of a dense mist and were concealed in a copse.

As soon as the sun broke through, a battery in support of 7H shelled the Japanese positions, and Stanley-Evans, a lieutenant commanding a troop of ‘A’ Squadron, was ordered to capture the enemy guns and mop up any resistance.

On his way to the copse, Stanley-Evans came across two Japanese soldiers lying face down in a paddy field. On closer inspection, one proved to be very alive – but not for long enough to do any harm.

The wood was too thick for his tanks to operate in, so Stanley-Evans left his tank and, armed with a Tommy gun, went alone into the copse on foot. He counted four guns with some dead soldiers lying around them; but two of the enemy, who seemed to be alive, were lying face down by the bole of a tree.
Stanley-Evans loosed off some shots at the pair but, to his chagrin, one of them squirmed around to the other side of the tree and he decided to go for help.

He suddenly remembered that he had not looked up into the tree just behind him and turned around slowly and peeped nervously into it (rather like Donald Duck, he said later). An enormous she-bear was hiding there, ready to pounce.

Stanley-Evans found three infantrymen and told them that his orders were to clear the copse of the enemy. They showed very little enthusiasm for the task, but one of them responded sufficiently to Michael Stanley-Evans a mixture of cajolery abuse to throw a grenade into the trees. Stanley-Evans, remembering a war cry that had proved effective at preparatory school, shouted, ‘Come on, chaps, let’s rush them!’ None of his comrades moved.

In an effort to get them to leave the cover of the tank, he tried more exhortation and the group had advanced a few yards when a Japanese opened fire at close range and they all scampered back again.

Stanley-Evans was then joined by the company commander, and the two men went through the copse together. The last of the enemy bolted out of the far side and was dealt with. Later the same day, Stanley-Evans led his troop in an attack on four Japanese tanks and destroyed three of them. The citation for his MC stated that he had shown outstanding initiative, courage and powers of leadership.

Michael Melville Stanley-Evans was born at Clapham, South London, on February 6, 1919. Mike went to Haileybury, but completed his schooling at St James’ School, Hagerstown, Maryland, in America; his parents thought that this would be character-building.

While at St James, he entered the under-18 East Coast Tennis Championships and reached the final. With the score at one set all, with one set to play, he offered his opponent a glass of iced water. Halfway through the final set, the other boy was struck by a stomach cramp.

Stanley-Evans joined 7H in Egypt in August 1940. Among the many qualities for which his men valued him was his ability as a defence advocate in courts-martial. In one, a seemingly hopeless case, a trooper was alleged to have returned to base drunk; Stanley-Evans insisted on calling the officer who had witnessed the incident.

The officer was going on to a meeting with a visiting VIP and arrived in full uniform. Stanley-Evans asked him to show the court exactly what he had seen. Encumbered with sword and spurs, the officer staggered around the room and the court, reduced to helpless laughter, reduced the charge to a minor infringement.

Stanley-Evans was in command of ‘A’ Echelon near Sidi Omar in November 1941 when he lost contact with his Regiment and found himself in the embarrassing position of driving westwards in a flat, open desert between two powerful enemy columns which were travelling in the opposite direction. The Germans did not open fire because of the risk of hitting each other.

After a spell in Iraq and Syria, in April 1944 7H moved to Italy, Stanley-Evans was involved in fierce fighting at Cesano and Croce and received command of ‘A’ Squadron.

After the war, Stanley-Evans joined the Rank Organisation and became editor of their film trailers. He subsequently became deputy executive producer at Pinewood Studios. He earned the respect of John Davis, the formidable movie mogul, and when Earl St John retired in 1960, Stanley-Evans succeeded him as executive producer with responsibility for all Rank’s output.

During this period, Stanley-Evans worked closely with Richard Attenborough. When Attenborough set up as an independent producer, he persuaded Stanley-Evans to join him as his righthand man. Thus began a partnership which brought to the screen Oh! What a Lovely War (1968). Young Winston (1972), A Bride
Too Far (1977) and Gandhi (1982). Much of the pair’s success was attributable to Stanley-Evans’s negotiating skill and astute judgment.

A bachelor, Stanley-Evans complained that he never saw enough of his friends, and in 1984 he built a house on Majorca overlooking the sea where many of his 29 godchildren and scores of his friends came to stay year after year.

Despite failing health in recent years, he remained cheerful and welcoming.

‘He and his brother, both non-regulars, served in the Regiment in the war for over four years during which time they never missed an engagement’.

Related topics

  1. A short history of The 7th Hussars
  2. Burma 1942 timeline
  3. Italy 1943-5 timeline
  4. Gallantry Award: Citation and Immediate Award of the Military Cross: Lt M Stanley-Evans – 7H