On Wednesday evening Directors UK held an event to honour Piers Haggard, a celebrated director of film, stage and television, who has tirelessly championed the rights of directors over a fifty-year career. Speakers at the event included Sir Alan Parker, Tom Hescott (Executive Director of Stage Directors UK) and Directors UK CEO Andrew Chowns.
During the event, Sir Alan Parker put it best: “No other director has done more for his fellow directors over the last 40 years than this man here.” We chronicle his work and achievements below.
Over five decades Piers has fought for directors’ rights both in the UK and the wider world. He was the founder and first chairman of the DGGB (Directors Guild of Great Britain), helped form the DPRS (the Directors and Producers Rights Society), and was involved in its transformation into Directors UK. He also had a stint as Vice President and Chairman of FERA (the Federation of European Film Directors).
In 1982 Piers established the DGGB, which acted as a national campaigning body, with Piers as its first chairman. Then, in 1987, Piers was instrumental in establishing DPRS — for the purpose of collecting payment for directors under European legislation. Thirty years later DPRS (now Directors UK) has expanded its collection and distribution of residual payments from European and foreign collecting societies to encompass agreements with over 25 organisations worldwide, amounting to £5million in foreign residuals payments and a membership of around 6,500 UK directors.
Piers has always been at the forefront of campaigning and, in 2000, achieved a major success with his work on the UK Rights Campaign. Along with Suzan Dormer, the then-CEO of DPRS, Piers toured the country hosting meetings with fellow directors to persuade them to agree to assign their rights in order for a collective negotiation to take place; effectively asking them to step into unknown territory for the betterment of directors everywhere. After months of meetings, phone calls and personal pressure, Piers managed to persuade over 700 drama directors to sign up.
DPRS then went to UK broadcasters to inform them that, if they wished to be assigned future directors’ rights, they would have to pay DPRS a sum in exchange for those rights. After weeks of stand-off the broadcasters – and producers – agreed to talk and the 2001 UK agreement was reached, coming into force on 1 July 2001. The 2000/1 UK Rights Campaign remains a landmark in the fight for directors’ status in the industry. Since then the value of the UK Rights Agreement has grown to £13 million a year.
In 2008 Piers was instrumental in creating Directors UK. At this time a group of eminent TV and film directors, known as the Century Group, met with the DGGB, DPRS, BECTU and DGA (Directors Guild of America) who all agreed that UK screen directors would be better represented by a single organisation — and so DPRS became Directors UK. As a result, directors in the UK now have the opportunity to unite behind one professional organisation to further both their creative and economic interests and to provide an interactive community of working TV and film directors.
Although he is rightly feted for his work on directors’ rights, Piers is himself a highly respected filmmaker with a prolific and distinguished career. He began in theatre, as an assistant director at the Royal Court in 1960, and it was in 1965 that he made the step into television, where he directed episodes of Thirty Minute Theatre for the BBC. He continued to direct for the BBC throughout the 1970s, including on programmes such as The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1971) and Love for Lydia (1977). Towards the end of the decade Piers directed Pennies From Heaven (1978), starring Bob Hoskins and Cheryl Campbell. The series won Piers a well-deserved BAFTA in 1979.
Piers also enjoyed a prestigious career in film. His first feature, Wedding Night (1970), starred Dennis Waterman and Tessa Wyatt. This was followed up by the cult classic The Blood on Satan’s Claw (1971). Upon the film’s release, Vincent Canby of the New York Times praised its “cinematic diabolism of some style and intelligence”, while Uncut Magazine has since called it “one of the great British movies of the era.”
Throughout his film career Piers worked with some of the biggest stars in the industry, including Oliver Reed and Klaus Kinski in Venom (1982) and Peter Sellers in the actor’s last film, The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu (1980).
Piers was awarded an OBE in the 2016 New Year Honours for services to film, television, and theatre.
This year, Piers steps down as a member of the Directors UK Board having served the maximum term. However, he continues to champion directors having recently launched Stage Directors UK and the Directors Charitable Foundation (which offers emergency assistance to directors in need). His presence on the Directors UK Board will be sorely missed, and both the staff and members of Directors UK would like to thank Piers for his tireless efforts in both protecting and promoting the rights of directors.