Peter Davis - Mary Benson correspondence

Scope and Content

Includes correspondence between Mary Benson and Peter Davis, c1988-2000. Subjects include the re-publication of "A Far Cry" (1994), Peter Davis' plans for documentaries; detailed descriptions of events leading to Mary Benson's death: DVDs of interviews with Mary Benson, 1985, and Athol Fugard, 1981; DVD of photographs of Mary Benson, 1989.

Administrative / Biographical History

Mary Benson was born on 8 December 1919 in Pretoria, South Africa and was educated there and in Great Britain. Before the Second World War she was a secretary in the High Commission Territories Office of the British High Commission in South Africa. Between 1941-1945 she joined the South African women's army, rising to the rank of Captain and serving as Personal Assistant to various British generals in Egypt and Italy. After the war she joined UNRRA and then became personal assistant to film director David Lean. In 1950 she became secretary to Michael Scott and first became involved in the field of race relations. In 1951 she became secretary to Tshekedi Khama, and in 1952, together with Scott and David Astor, she helped to found the Africa Bureau in London. She was its secretary until 1957 and travelled widely on its behalf. In 1957 she became secretary to the Treason Trials Defence Fund in Johannesburg. She became a close friend of Nelson Mandela, and assisted with smuggling him out of South Africa in 1962. In February 1966 she was served with a banning order under the Suppression of Communism Act and she left South Africa for London later that year. In London she continued to work tirelessly against apartheid, writing to newspapers and corresponding with fellow activists in South Africa. In April 1999 Mandela visited her at her home during his state visit to Britain and later that year an 80th birthday party was staged for her at South Africa House. Mary Benson died on 20 June 2000. Among her writings are 'South Africa: the Struggle for a Birthright', 'Chief Albert Luthuli', 'The History of Robben Island', 'Nelson Mandela: the Man and the Movement', the autobiographical 'A Far Cry' and radio plays on Mandela and the Rivonia trial.

Peter Davis founded Villon Films in 1970. The company has been independently producing and distributing award-winning films since then. Peter Davis has written, produced, and directed more than thirty documentaries to wide critical acclaim.
Davis was born and raised in England and he finished his master's studies at Oxford University before moving to North America. His early career included the following positions: scriptwriter for the National Film Board of Canada; director-cameraman for BBC, CBC, Swedish TV, Danish TV, Australian Broadcasting, and WNET; as well as producer for Swedish TV, London's Rediffusion Television, BBC, CBS, CBC, CTV, Polytel (West Germany), WNET, the United Nations, UNICEF, and C.A.R.E.

Access Information

Open for research although at least a working day's notice should be given.


The collection is held at the Institute of Commonwealth Studies - Senate House London

Archivist's Note

Uploaded by Clara Cuccu (12.02.2022).

Related Material

The Library also holds Mary Benson's papers (ICS6). There is an extensive Peter Davis collection at Indiana University.