Hamer was born at 24 Chester Road, Kidderminster, along with his twin Barbara, the son of Owen Dyke Hamer, a bank clerk, and his wife, Annie Grace Brickell. He was educated at Rossall School, an independent school for boys near the town of Fleetwood in Lancashire, and won a scholarship to Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, where he read the Economics tripos. Although claims have since been made that he was sent down (expelled), with several sources suggesting that he was suspended for homosexual activities, he did in fact graduate with a third-class degree in 1933. The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography states that Hamer originally intended to join the Treasury as an economist or mathematician until scuppered by his poor academic performance, which he later jokingly put down to a combination of "the proximity of Newmarket Heath [racecourse] to Cambridge and the existence in Cambridge of five cinemas changing programmes twice weekly".
Hamer began his film career in 1934 as a cutting room assistant, and from 1935 worked as a film editor involved with such films as Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939) co-produced by Charles Laughton. At the end of the 1930s, he worked on documentaries for the GPO Film Unit. When his boss at the GPO, Alberto Cavalcanti, moved to Ealing Studios, Hamer was invited to join him there. He gained some experience as a director by substituting for colleagues and contributed the 'haunted mirror' sequence to Dead of Night (1945). He followed this with the three Ealing films under his own name for which he is best remembered: Pink String and Sealing Wax (1946), It Always Rains on Sunday (1947), both featuring Googie Withers, and Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949), with Dennis Price and Alec Guinness.
Hamer was an alcoholic, who by the time of his last film as director, School for Scoundrels (1960) was "often battling terrifying DT hallucinations" (i.e. alcohol withdrawal symptoms, occurring only in patients with a history of alcoholism). BFI Screenonline writes that Hamer was "a recovering alcoholic" and that "he fell off the wagon during production [of School For Scoundrels], was sacked on the spot ... and would never work in the industry again." In fact, although he never directed again, he did contribute to two more film screenplays before he died.
Hamer was also homosexual in an era when it was illegal in the UK. He died of pneumonia at the age of 52 at St Thomas's Hospital in London, and is buried at Llandegley. Both of his parents survived him.
- Dead of Night (1945) - director of segment "The Haunted Mirror"
- Pink String and Sealing Wax (1946) - director, writer
- It Always Rains on Sunday (1947) - director, writer
- Kind Hearts and Coronets (1949) - director, writer
- The Spider and the Fly (1949) - director
- His Excellency (1952) - director, writer
- The Long Memory (1952) - director, writer
- Father Brown (1954) - director, writer
- To Paris with Love (1955) - director
- The Scapegoat (1959) - director, writer
- School for Scoundrels (1960) - director
Other film workEdit
- Vessel of Wrath (1938) - editor
- St. Martin's Lane (1938) - editor
- Jamaica Inn (1939) - editor
- French Communique (1940) (documentary short) - editor
- Turned Out Nice Again (1941) - editor
- Ships with Wings (1941) - editor
- The Foreman Went to France (1942) - editor
- My Learned Friend (1943) - associate producer
- San Demetrio London (1943) - producer, writer, uncredited direction
- While Nero Fiddled (1944) - lyrics
- The Loves of Joanna Godden (1947) - uncredited direction
- Rowlandson's England (1955) (documentary short) - writer
- 55 Days at Peking (1963) - additional dialogue
- They All Died Laughing (1964) - writer
- Murphy, Robert. "Hamer, Robert James". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/40384. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
- Ephraim Katz The Macmillan International Film Encyclopedia, 1998, London: Macmillan, p. 585
- "Hamer, Robert (1911-63)", BFI screenonline website
- Kidderminster Civic Society Newsletter, Another Famous Son of Kidderminster, February 2011, p. 1. The newsletter does, however, indicate that he returned to his studies.
- Charles Drazin, The Finest Years: British Cinema of the 1940s (London: Andre Deutsch, 1998), p. 72. ISBN 0233989854
- 'University News', Times, 19 June 1933, p. 8.
- Brian McFarlane The Encyclopedia of British Film, 2003, London: BFI/Methuen, p. 281-82
- John Patterson "There's more to Robert Hamer than Kind Hearts And Coronets", The Guardian, 19 October 2012
- ‘Coming in from the Rain’ – Exclusive interviews with: Film Historian Ian Christie; Writer Iain Sinclair; Producer Sean O’Connor and Director Terence Davies. On DVD "It always rains on Sunday", Studio Canal, Nov 12th 2012
- David Thomson The New Biographical Dictionary of Cinema, 2002, London: Little, Brown, p. 367