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After leaving Cambridge University with a degree in English, he found employment at Shepperton Studios and worked in various roles including assistant sound editor. His break came when he worked as assistant editor on the now classic films Whistle Down the Wind and This Sporting Life. Bryan Forbes and Lindsay Anderson were so impressed by his ability to edit that he soon graduated to supervising editor and then full editor. His first complete edit was the John Krish directed science fiction movie Unearthly Stranger (1963). From the late sixties to the late eighties he was always in demand and was regarded as one of the world's leading film editors. He has worked on many prize winning films and with many leading directors and producers. These include Karel Reisz, Lindsay Anderson, John Boorman, Roman Polanski, Jack Clayton and Blake Edwards. He won a BAFTA in 1967 for his work on Morgan an Unsuitable Case for Treatment and was Oscar nominated in 1972 for Deliverance. When production of Roman Polanski's Tess (1979) became problematic, he was brought in to assist Alastair McIntyre and get the film completed.
Tom Priestley is the only son of the famous author J.B. Priestley. Since 1990 he has spent his time more in the world lecturing on film editing and handling the estate of his late father. He is currently president of the J.B. Priestley Society and The Priestley Centre for the Arts in Bradford, West Yorkshire.
Priestley has a son, Tom Priestley Jr., who is also an cinematographer.
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