Ron Benson Remembered

Monday, October 26 2015
Ron Benson Remembered

Tributes have poured in to Ron Benson, industry stalwart and champion, the founder of Eureka and its Masters Of Cinema imprint, who has sadly died. Here’s a selection of tributes to the man and his work…

I’ve lost a friend
I first met Ron Benson in the mid 1980s at the Vidtel exhibition or something similar, and again while working for CBS/Fox providing holiday cover for another of our sales reps. A sales person’s dream, Ron would always give some sort of order, though not without some good natured banter over the final price. If I ever called him, he would often sign off with a joke and always a bad one. Through the 90s I did a lot of freelance work for myself, Odyssey and others, and again, Ron was always supportive when he could be, putting some of my weird and wonderful documentaries in his mail order brochure.

“During the time I knew him the business went through many changes. In the early days a video library shared space with sewing machines. As the rental market waned the business moved into mail order and, subsequently, in the late 1990s, Eureka Entertainment.

“Ron was always a family man and, as many people will know, his wife Marion worked with him from the beginning. Denise his eldest daughter was with him when he started the mail order business “Mr Benson’s World of Entertainment” – a monthly mail out resplendent with a photograph of the man himself. Denise left to pursue her own career and his younger daughter Ruth, took on the mail order business with son-in-law Peter (a demon on the badminton court). Ron would often help pick, pack and ship despite everyone encouraging him not to; naturally it was never his fault if a customer received an incorrect order.

“I remember discussing the launch of Eureka with Ron at the old premises on the Harrow Road, and at that time I had no notion that Eureka would go on to become such a part of my life. I think he launched the label with an Andrzej Wajda trilogy, a bunch of Zane Grey Westerns and of course Metropolis which we continue to distribute to this day. He was quick to adopt DVD too, and quite quickly the growing catalogue was converted to the new format.

“In 2000 I’d given up freelancing and returned to employment with Contender. The mail order side of the business had taken on an internet presence but it was obvious that Ron really wanted to develop his own label. He asked me a number of times whether I would be interested in working with him and we eventually tied that knot, for better or worse, in 2003 (I think). The subsequent arguing and bickering (yelling matches) could probably have been heard over most of North London. Somehow though, during those early months, we made it work. We started to develop trading relationships with licensors including the BBC, Fremantle and licensors around the world. “Many of these relationships have been sustained to the present day.

“Three or four years down the line we started to develop the Masters of Cinema brand. It’s fair to say that we didn’t always see eye to eye about the development of the brand, and in the early days we had very, very little support from the retail base. Nevertheless, Ron persevered and the brand has now won recognition around the world. Ultimately we both wanted what was best for the company. He could be quick to temper but always quick to apologise and our battles most often ended when we locked up at the end of the day. At that point we’d head off to a badminton court and have a different kind of battle. He kept on playing until his illness started to take hold last year.

“As with all of us, he had his own strengths, weaknesses and flaws. One thing about Ron though, was that you could always count on him to be supportive in the face of adversity. In 2007 my mum became ill. Shortly afterwards my Dad had to go into hospital and I had to put my mum into a care home temporarily as she could not look after herself. It was a very difficult time for me and all Ron said was to take whatever time I needed to sort it out. Never once did he ask when I was coming into the office.

“Ron was first diagnosed, as is the case with many men, with prostate cancer – some 10 or more years ago, and in the early summer of 2014 he had an operation to deal with it. His problems however, did not end there as he was subsequently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. What followed was a seemingly relentless period of chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a number of other procedures.

“Throughout this time, he demonstrated an immense level of courage and determination. In the spring the various treatments seemed to be working; he regained a lot of his strength, put some weight back on and the outlook seemed a lot more positive. However, it was not to last and it soon became apparent he would need more chemotherapy and treatment.

“As everyone that dealt with him will know, Ron lived and breathed the business and continued working right to the end. He left us in the early hours of Monday morning, October 19 and his funeral took place on Tuesday October 20 at 4 pm at Bushey Jewish Cemetery.

“On behalf of his family, myself and the staff, I’d like to say an enormous thank you for all the calls and texts of support that have been received. In his memory we have started a “Just Giving” page in support of the Teenage Cancer Trust. Many of you will know that for a number of years he was involved in fund raising for the charity, and also raised money by running the London Marathon, not once, but several times. He was very proud of this achievement and I can think of no better way of honouring him.

“Ron’s family have requested that rather than send flowers would people please consider making a donation via the following page: https://www.justgiving.com/RonBenson/
Ian Sadler, Eureka

“I was very sad to hear of Ron Benson’s passing. I first met Ron in 1982 when he owned Mr Bensons sewing machine shop and video rental library located in the Harrow Road in west London. I was working as a sales rep for PolyGram Video and Ron combined selling and servicing sewing machines with a Video Form-based rental business. I remember my sales presentations being interrupted by people wanting to buy bobbins and needles, and also recall having to time my meetings after lunch as he would often be out running and training for the London marathon. He was keen to grow the video side of the business and we opened a direct trading account. During our monthly meetings we developed a friendship and understanding which would last for the next 33 years. He possessed an enthusiasm for the business which saw it adapt and grow in line with the changing industry. In the late 80s with he advent of “sell through video” he started selling videos through mail order. At first this business was run from his base in Harrow Road but success led him to move to an industrial unit nearer to his Wembley home. Competition in this sector was tough and Ron found it difficult competing with the likes of Amazon and Play.com. With the advent of DVD Ron took his business in another direction launching a new label Eureka. In a highly competitive market Ron grew an independent publishing business which gained both retail and consumer respect culminating with the Masters of Cinema range.

“I feel privileged to have had Ron as a friend and business associate. He was truly a self made business entrepreneur who knew his product and market very well. He also wasn’t afraid to adapt and develop his business and at all times self funded. Always hungry for information and constantly asking views and opinions. My father has the same illness and when Ron heard some years ago he asked for his phone number and called him. When ever we spoke he always asked about him. He was a very good loyal, caring man who I have learnt from and am privileged to have known.
Paul Archer

“I was so saddened to hear of Ron’s untimely passing. Ron was a remarkable man and I was very proud to know him. Ron was one of the kindest and most thoughtful of men I have ever known, although we knew each other in a professional capacity I always considered Ron to be a friend. I am going to miss not hearing from Ron particularly his wonderful sense of humour and joy of life. Ron was incredibly brave and courageous which is a credit to his amazing character and heritage.

“Ron was one of the founding members of the home entertainment industry in the UK which very few people in the business can claim, his company Eureka Entertainment is very well known and respected in the industry.

“Ron’s untimely passing has left a big space in my life that can never be replaced. I would like to take this opportunity to thank Ron for inviting me to work with him and for being a good friend. I would also like to thank Russell Pearson for introducing me to Ron.

“Ron was a gentlemen and thought the world of his family and friends.

“My thoughts are with Ron’s family, work colleagues and friends at this difficult time.”
Richard Leon

“I spent many years selling to Ron, helping him in acquisitions, arguing about football, but always with a smile.

“He loved the industry, loved films. His pride in his Masters of Cinema was palpable. At every major market he would find me and tell me what gems they had bought. I think his best pick ups (and this is a personal choice) are Le Silence de la Mer, Rocco and his Brothers, Metropolis and Nosferatu). Great work. A lovely man who will be much missed.

“I can still see the Easter edition of Mr Benson’s mail order catalogue with a picture of Ron with an Easter Egg on his head, he never took himself too seriously.”
Alan McQueen

“I am absolutely gutted. Ron was one of the first people I ever worked with in this industry over 20 years ago, he was one of the good guys.  He will be missed by all and I certainly feel honoured to have known him.  A gentleman of our industry and a true friend.”
Andy Lyon, Lace

“Ron was a stand-out figure in our industry, a true gentleman with a wicked sense of humour. I always enjoyed our chats and he was frank, pragmatic and he really loved our industry. He built a terrific business and stand-out brand and he and Eureka/MoC are very much admired. I will miss him.”
Alex Agran, Arrow Films

“Ron was a great character and one of the truly nice guys of the industry. He’d call me every few weeks and we’d have a good chat. It would start with our views on the market but Ron always took time to ask about the family, how we were keeping and if we were all well. He was always extremely generous when it came to sponsoring me on my marathon quests, once saying he would double it if I did in under three hours. Well obviously his money was safe there, though he did offer to train me to do it once. He was passionate about the company he built which became synonymous with high quality releases. He’s a face I’ll sorely miss seeing along the corridors at markets.”
Chris Holden, Second Sight

“Over the course of the eight-and-a-half years we worked together on The Masters of Cinema Series (after co-founding it in 2004) – Ron was simply the perfect boss. We met each other when I was ready to work hard and he needed someone with my specific skills. “He believed in me, understood intuitively what was required, and let me get on with it – constantly trying new ideas out together and getting better and better at what we did. During this time, I worked on around 200 titles and we spoke at length almost every day. It never felt like work – I was doing something I loved, and Ron was happy to be releasing a stream of award-winning editions.

“He was a very, very funny man and loved to tell a joke. I’ve been listening to old answering machine messages he left me and crying with laughter through the tears: messages from the top of the Eiffel Tower, pretending to be James Brown (but sounding more like W. C. Fields), kindly offering advice on large rubber balls to help my bad back, calling from Checkpoint Charlie speaking in German, multiple ‘Who Loves Ya Baby!’, wonderful spoonerisms, his first time seeing Blu-ray picture quality at home, and lots of industry gossip.

“Over the last few days, the outpouring of love on the internet – for Ron’s company and the number of people stating how important his releases have been to their film education – has been overwhelming. Ron loved his family, his work, the distribution business, his beloved Chelsea FC – he loved releasing films, making people happy, and he loved the people who worked for him. A self-made man, always true to his word, who made so much happen for so many people. He will be sorely missed.”
Nick Wrigley

“Hollywood Classics started our business relationship with Eureka / Masters of Cinema in 2003 when we licensed Murnau’s SUNRISE to them for DVD release. I always enjoyed working with Ron. Long phone conversations about the state of the business and why he could only offer a tiny MG were always signed off with “Thank you for your time” and then an offer by email for far more than his pessimistic phone call led one to expect. He always liked to call first, chat about this that and the other and, especially, to complain about the business. All part of his charm. I’ll miss those phone calls – in fact I already do.

“I hope that Ruth, Ian, Kevin and Steve keep the Eureka/Masters of Cinema flag flying high. Great label. Great personality behind it all. Great loss”
Melanie Tebb, Hollywood Classics

“Like any devoted cinephile growing up in the pre-internet film-collecting age, to discover that there *was* and *actual* Mr Benson, of “Mr Benson’s Video”, was a gas. To discover, much later when actually working in the industry, that Ron also happened to be one of the nicest, kindest, most genuine and altruistic of cinephiles himself (and a shit hot businessman, to boot) was a sheer delight. It was a privilege to have known him, however brief and tangentially. MoC is one hell of an astonishing legacy. Rest easy, sir.”
Giles Edwards, Metrodome

“It’s incredibly sad to hear of Ron’s passing and that his steer of Eureka was a real inspiration, from even the early days of Eureka, before Masters of Cinema but certainly that label’s impact on the global boutique market has been huge and a great testament to his work. It’s a great legacy to leave behind.”
Francesco Simeoni, Arrow Video

“Such terribly sad news. Ron was an absolute diamond. His passion and commitment are a real inspiration to us all. In a long and illustrious career, he was responsible for many, many great things, but by putting his belief in a small band of die-hard film fans, he enriched the home entertainment world by creating one of its most prized possessions, the Masters of Cinema series. He will be sorely missed by us all.”
Sam Dunn, BFI Video

“Sad about Ron. He was one of the industry people that was always there. I didn’t deal with him that much, but used to see him at screenings. I hadn’t dealt with him at all over the last five years, but he really cared about his product, shown by the excellent Masters of Cinema series, possibly the best series of releases the UK industry has ever produced.”
Andy Anderson, hmv

“I was very saddened to hear the news of the death of Ron Benson, owner of the Eureka and Masters of Cinema video labels.

“A passionate film fan and industry veteran, Ron brought numerous classic movies, especially from the silent era, back to the public via superbly restored versions on DVD and Blu-ray.

“I own a lot of his titles, and had the pleasure recently of revisiting these two Fritz Lang classics on the Masters of Cinema label…which are typically excellent Blu-rays, as you would expect.

“He will be greatly missed, and I’m sure the legacy will continue.”
Steve Collins, former Fox and Universal marketing, film fan and sometime Raygun contributor

“Some people we’ve spoken to here might remember their first meetings with Ron Benson, but for me he was always there, in and around the industry. I’d see him at screenings and was familiar with his name, or at least his surname, from the classified ads at the back of film magazines. ‘That,’ as someone pointed out to me, ‘is Mr Benson.’

“He was a mainstay of our industry, as well as a symbol of all the good things about it: his entrepreneurial spirit, his passion for films and the business, his ability to adapt to an ever-changing market, his sense of mischief and fun.

“It is a fitting epitaph that the imprint his Eureka label gave birth to, Masters Of Cinema, is much admired not just throughout the industry and the UK, but around the globe too.

“His enthusiasm for films and the industry was immense. As I noted on a Twitter, his work alone on releasing mammoth holocaust film Shoah would be a worthy legacy, but just look at the other titles he brought to the market. Any film collector or cinephile worth their salt should have more than a few copies of MoC titles on their shelves.

“As for Shoah, I remember Ron talking me through the financials of Shoah, the fine margins it was based on; then, one weekend, dropping round some materials to my house for me to look at. Care and attention to detail and an immense pride in what he had created.

“It was at weekends I’d talk to Ron most, strangely enough. Entirely comfortable with calling for a lengthy chat on Saturday morning to talk about the state of the business, the rights and wrongs of Dual Format editions, what other labels and his contemporaries were up to, struggles with the BBFC over The Human Centipede and loads, loads more. Sure, we crossed swords a few times, he’d be entirely honest and open about anything and everything, taking me to task for things he thought I might have got wrong (more often than not, it was other distributors he was taking to task, more than what we’d penned in The Raygun). It could be a touch distracting while you were doing the big shop, but his passion and enthusiasm – those words again – and his cheek and sense of humour made it less of a chore. Few others could get away with calling me on a Saturday morning, but Ron was more than charming enough to get away with it.

“Looking through the assorted tributes above, it’s clear that Ron was a much-loved and much-admired character. The same words keep cropping up; heck, I’ve used most of them myself. But the one everyone keeps coming back to is ‘legacy’, especially for the Masters Of Cinema label. We should cherish a label such as this, in the same way we should cherish the memory of Ron Benson…
Tim Murray, The Raygun

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