Published on: 18 January 2023 in Industry

Remembering Piers Haggard

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Piers Haggard OBE, an acclaimed director and a key figure in the foundation of Directors UK, has passed away aged 83.

Alongside a long and distinguished career spanning film, TV and stage, Piers Haggard was a champion of directors and their rights. Piers was instrumental in the creation of the DGGB (Directors Guild of Great Britain) and DPRS (Directors and Producers Rights Society), both precursors to Directors UK. You can find out more about Piers’ incredible life and career here.

Throughout that time, the impact Piers had on our industry cannot be overstated — but Piers was also a treasured friend, a trusted colleague, and an inspiration to so many. Below, we have gathered tributes from those who knew Piers throughout his lifetime of working with, and for, directors.

Read testimonies from Karen Kelly, Andy Harrower, Paul Unwin, Susanna White, James Hawes, Bill Anderson, Beryl Richards, Tom Roberts, Sim Cammarota and Steve Smith below. 

Karen Kelly, Directors UK Chair

Piers Haggard’s incredible work fighting for directors is an inspiration to all of us. While serving on the Directors UK Board, I was always struck by his passion, warmth and intelligence. Piers had a remarkable directing career – and was tireless in his efforts to help directors in theirs, becoming a crucial figure in the campaign to make sure directors are paid fairly for the use of their work. We as directors owe Piers a debt of gratitude; his hard work led to the distribution of royalties to directors, and to the foundation of Directors UK itself. He will be much missed by everyone at Directors UK, and our industry as a whole.  

Andy Harrower, Directors UK CEO

As CEO of Directors UK, I had always wanted to meet Piers having heard so much about the pivotal role he has played in the history of our organisation. I was lucky enough to get that opportunity last year after he reached out to offer his support. I had a wonderful hour in his company where, over tea and Portuguese custard tarts, he generously shared his experiences, insights and advice. His conviction that directors need to be respected and valued for the brilliant work that they do was as strong as it had ever been, but it’s his warmth, wit and kindness that will stay with me. A remarkable man who we will miss tremendously.

Paul Unwin, former Directors UK Vice-Chair

Piers was not only a much admired colleague but a neighbour and family friend. I first met him when I became involved with the Directors Guild (the group that evolved into Directors UK). He seemed by far the sharpest of a group of very sharp people who were determined to make the lives of directors working in film and TV better. He was hawk like — hovering around a discussion, listening, watching and then decisively leaning in and saying exactly what needed to be done. I knew, of course, that he was a legendary director but politician, and committee man? Not so much.

Because we lived very near each other we got close. I soon realised Piers seemed interested in everything and loved an argument. Vehemently anti-Brexit, he and Anna had a dinner party two days after the vote to leave was declared and invited two fierce Brexiters. I’m not entirely sure they were surprised by the incredible row that echoed into the night.

Piers will be much missed, in the profession, by Directors UK, locally, but most by his extraordinary family. He loved them absolutely and was fiercely proud of his children and grandchildren. He was, quite simply, very special.

Susanna White, former Directors UK Vice-Chair

Piers was in the best sense of the word a gentleman, a gentle presence who radiated kindness. Not to say that he couldn’t be tough when he needed to be — he was a fearless champion of directors’ rights who carefully judged his moment, arguing his case quietly and rationally and coming up with an unbeatable line with impeccable timing, so that the opposition were charmed into agreeing and left rather surprised at their defeat. He had a marvellous twinkle and wonderful humour, a wit and intelligence that shone out of his work, perhaps most characteristically in the unforgettable collaboration with Dennis Potter on Pennies from Heaven.

Piers was a man of tremendous modesty and humanity, who set an example to us all, in an industry where people jostle for position, that directors were strongest if they stood together in upholding each others’ rights. He was quick to praise, unfailingly generous towards others, and when he was critical of something or someone it was generally in defence of what was decent and good. I always left a meeting with Piers feeling better about life. He will be much missed.

James Hawes, Directors UK Board

I have known Piers since I joined DPRS in the mid-90s; a charming, eloquent, passionate man. His wit and intelligence shone in the work he directed, memorably Pennies From Heaven. We should all be extremely aware of the debt we owe Piers in championing directors’ rights and particularly in establishing the framework by which we won UK royalties, something that has been fundamental to the very existence of Directors UK as we know it today. In fact, Directors UK would not exist but for Piers.

Bill Anderson, Chair of FERA and former Directors UK Vice-Chair

I will never forget the twinkle in Piers’ eyes when he quietly called me “comrade”. Or how proud it made me feel. His clarity of insight into the debt we owe to Europe for our legal copyright continues to inspire my work with FERA post Brexit. We’ve lost a true gentleman.

Beryl Richards, former Directors UK Chair

I first met Piers when I was a young director wanting to cross over into TV drama. He kindly allowed me to observe him directing on location for a day. Twenty years later as an established drama director I was to meet him again when I joined the board of Directors UK, later becoming Chair. Piers, who carried all the history of the organisation, was always friendly, helpful and encouraging to me. I’m very grateful to him and so sad he has now left us, having been the backbone of the DGGB, then Directors UK, for so many years. Rest well Piers — you did us proud.

Tom Roberts, former Directors UK Vice-Chair

Piers Haggard’s immense contribution to the directing community is extremely hard to calculate. One could simply tot up the organisations he helped to create – the Director’s Guild of Great Britain, the DPRS, Directors UK, SDUK and DCF – to grasp its magnitude. But quantity alone falls short of the measure of the man.

In this age of equivocation and deceit, Piers was a towering example of integrity and personal honesty. His direct, no-nonsense approach did occasionally ruffle feathers, but you could depend upon its total lack of self-interest.

I was very fortunate to have had the opportunity of working with Piers at Directors UK, and latterly the DCF, and thus experienced first-hand his many different sides. Piers was driven, creative, always looking for an opportunity to further the interests of his fellow directors.

He often seemed unaware of his impact on others. I found him a very warm and compassionate individual who cared deeply about his colleagues, yet he could also be bloody difficult at times. Fools and Piers didn’t mix easily.

Piers was wise, shrewd and brimming with energy far beyond many his age. But these attributes still fall short when measuring the man.

I believe his greatest legacy will be his belief in collective action, that bringing people together under a single roof and looking out for our common interest is the only solution to creating a more humane society.

We are all in his debt.

Sim Cammarota, Director of Distributions at Directors UK

Piers was a gentleman. I remember him coming into the office regularly when I first started working at Directors UK, and he would take time to speak to the team, and show his appreciation for the work that we do for our members. And that's something he continued to do for all of the time that I knew him. If there was one member that everyone in the office knew, it was Piers. He lived and breathed Directors UK, and whether you were the CEO or a new starter on your first day, he would make you feel appreciated.

It's easy to take it for granted now, after so many years, that directors should get paid for the secondary use of their work — but that wasn't always the case. It was because of Piers and his colleagues at the time that this was able to become a reality, and is something that’s benefitted thousands of members since.

He was very inspiring. I heard Piers speak countless times over the years, during Board meetings, AGMs, and social events and all through that time I was always struck by how passionate and invested he was in directors and their rights. And whether it was being the voice of calm reason during a debate, or a call to action on his latest crusade, it was difficult not to be carried away on a wave of his enthusiasm which seemed to emanate from his every animated and emotive word. He had the incredible gift of being able to unite people for a common aim, regardless of whether you were an experienced director, or someone just starting out your career. He was very much the personification of our motto, ‘one of you, many of us’, in everything he did for the directing community. He was one of a kind and will be dearly missed by us all.

Steve Smith, former Directors UK Chair

I was so saddened to hear of the death of Piers Haggard, who was not only extremely talented but one of the kindest and most generous directors I’ve ever met. 

Growing up, I’d been an enormous fan of his work, not least the ground-breaking and acclaimed Pennies from Heaven, which made such an enormous impression on 17-year-old me when I first watch the BBC series in 1978. So, it was such an honour and privilege to end up working alongside Piers almost 40 years later on the Directors UK Board. 

I remember being extremely nervous and intimidated the afternoon, back in 2014, when I first joined a group of illustrious directors around the boardroom table. I was there to represent the interests of multi-camera entertainment directors, and at the time we often felt overlooked. But I immediately found an ally in Piers, because throughout his career he’d also been a multi-camera director of drama in the very same studio at BBC television centre where I was directing The Graham Norton Show. I soon realised we actually had a lot in common.

I have so much gratitude for the support Piers gave me, and for encouraging me to stand for election, first, as a Vice-Chair and then Chair of the organisation he helped set up. It was clear just how passionately Piers cared about Directors UK, and I was determined not to let him down during my years steering the ship. 

On top of his amazingly distinguished directing career, Piers spent a lifetime championing for the creative, economic, and contractual rights of screen directors. He very much helped forge a world in which directors’ creative voices are respected and our authorial vision is valued whilst campaigning for fair pay. Without Piers we wouldn’t be benefiting from the royalties we currently receive for the secondary use of our work. And when Piers stepped down from the Directors UK board, when many others might have retired, he didn’t for one minute stop advocating for directors, being instrumental in setting up Stage Directors UK and the Directors Charitable Foundation. 

As directors we often work alone in our role, but what Piers and those pioneers of the DGGB and DPRS did is lay the foundations of Directors UK and help create an organisation that brings directors together, in a respectful, supportive, and celebratory way — and I am so grateful he did. 

I think the biggest tribute any of us can pay to Piers is to continue the great work he started. By continuing to support Directors UK we can fight for our creative rights to tell great stories whilst being fairly rewarded for our creative endeavours. I passionately believe that is what Piers would want us to do as part of his legacy. Whilst Piers will be hugely missed, we can all continue to transform directors’ rights for the future. 

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