Cyril James has been called Roy O. Disney’s British counterpart because, like Roy, Cyril was a business genius. He skillfully handled all of the financial and administrative affairs for Walt Disney Productions, Ltd., in London, England.
Colleagues remember Cyril’s good nature and his dry, often pointed, wit. As former treasurer of Buena Vista International and fellow Legend Don Escen recalled, “When I first traveled from Burbank to the London offices, Cyril jokingly greeted me with ‘Good morning, and when is it you’re leaving, again?’”
While Cyril transformed Disney into a “proper” English company by hosting a formal tea each afternoon in the London offices, his sense of loyalty to the American Company was legend.
Not only did he name his home “Burbank,” in honor of the California city where Walt and Roy O. Disney built their famed Studio, but he practically busted buttons whenever the Company met with success.
His son David James said, “I remember the night he came home after it was announced that Disney’s live-action film Rob Roy had been selected for the Royal Command Film Performance. He woke me up to give me a Rob Roy lead figure. I was a small child then, but I still remember the pride and excitement in his eyes.”
Cyril was born September 1, 1910, in Tonipandi, South Wales. He trained in London as a chartered accountant and joined Walt Disney Productions, Ltd., as Company secretary in 1938.
Four years later he left Disney to join the war effort, serving as a sergeant in the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers. After the war, Cyril rejoined the Company and was instrumental as its liaison with RKO, which distributed Disney movies. These included Disney’s first all-live-action films, which were produced in the United Kingdom beginning with Treasure Island in 1950.
In 1956, Cyril was promoted to joint managing director of Walt Disney Productions, Ltd., a title he shared with fellow Disney Legend Cyril Edgar. Known as “the two Cyrils,” the men were an effective team; Cyril James attended to the Company’s administration and finance, while Cyril Edgar focused on selling Disney films to theater circuits and television shows to broadcast stations.
Three years later, Cyril James became Roy O. Disney’s point man when he was named sole managing director for England and Europe. He served in that position until his retirement in 1972, after spending 35 years with the Company.
Cyril James passed away on August 25, 1975, in London, England.