Published on: 28 May 2013 in Directors UK

Piers Haggard pays tribute to Bryan Forbes

Reading time: 2 minutes and 58 seconds

British director Bryan Forbes passed away earlier this month at the age of 86. Bryan was once a Board member at DPRS (the organisation which became Directors UK), where he sat alongside Piers Haggard, who remains on our Board today. Piers' tribute to one of this country's most respected filmmakers can be read below.

Bryan Forbes (pictured) was on the Board of the DPRS for several years in the late 1990’s, following Karel Reisz who had been the first of the Grand Old Men of British cinema to serve. They were more than happy to offer their time because they were impressed with what the DPRS had achieved.

I was a little in awe of Bryan, who had been a multi talented star of the British film industry long before I got anywhere near it; he was a brilliant screenwriter, with 28 screenplays produced over a long career. The Angry Silence (1960), which he coproduced, wrote and starred in, had a political slant, somewhat against the socialist mood of the time. His own films were generally less contentious, though always beautifully crafted.

Bryan made many contributions to the canon of WW2 films of the era, as actor, screenwriter and director, culminating in the very successful King Rat (1965). His L Shaped Room caught effectively the changing emotional mood of the early Sixties, and the surreal Stepford Wives (1975) remained seminal into the 21st century, and a 2004 remake.

Like many of his films, Stepford Wives starred his wife Nanette Newman. An attractive and popular woman, Bryan was absolutely devoted to her; I think theirs was one of the best showbiz marriages I know. They had a house by the Thames in Virginia Water. I used to imagine it, resplendent between the willows, the punts going by at the bottom of the lawn: the perfect culmination of a 50 year career spent in Pinewood, Shepperton, Elstree and Hollywood, though Bryan would sometimes make nervous jokes if there had been heavy rainfall.

When Bryan took over as Managing Director of EMI Studios in 1969, we were all very excited: at last, a creative man at the wheel of the British Film Industry! Unfortunately his tenure was not a success, the only hit being The Railway Children. Clearly Bryan was not cut out to be an administrator, but creative he always was, directing stage plays in the 1980’s after the movies came to an end, and writing memoirs and novels well into the 1990’s. He was also an important supporter and President of The National Youth Theatre.

Bryan would appear promptly and reliably at DPRS Board meetings, always in a smart blue pinstripe suit, and carrying an expensive attaché case. He was warm and friendly, and even slightly theatrical in manner (he had been to RADA, after all). And he was extremely correct and responsible in his opinions, as befits someone who had been at the top for many years. It was only on reading his obituaries that I realised he was in fact a working class kid from the East End. It’s a shame how often one often learns essential facts about people only on their death. The generation that came after him was luckier; they got to keep their accents, and their identity.

Piers Haggard
First Chairman, and Board Member of DPRS

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