Directors UK was saddened to learn about the recent death of acclaimed British television director and former Directors’ and Producers’ Rights Society (DPRS, now Directors UK) Board member Roy Battersby.
Here, we look back on his career as a director and pay tribute to his work to help protect directors’ rights as a former Board member.
Roy Battersby started his career in theatre, working behind the scenes at Nottingham Playhouse, before he joined the BBC in 1963. His early work for the broadcaster included directing Men and Money, a series about City workers, and working as a producer on the first three runs of Tomorrow’s World between 1965 and 1967.
It was whilst he was working at the BBC that Roy shifted to directing drama. In 1969, he directed Some Women, a reconstruction of the real-life stories of female prisoners, which was shot in the realistic, naturalistic way that Roy used frequently as a director. The realism of Some Women sparked concern at the BBC, who initially cancelled the broadcast, only to reinstate it as a late-night programme on BBC2 following a public campaign.
Roy was one of several leftwing radicals who joined the BBC in the 1960s, during which time he was passionate about bringing working class stories and voices to television screens. Some of what is regarded as his finest work was made against a backdrop of political upheaval and trade union activism in the early 1970s, including the 1974 Play for Today, Leeds – United!. The story of an unofficial strike by female textile workers in the north of England written by Colin Wellend and based on a real-life strike by women working in a factory in Leeds, the drama drew criticism from Britain’s self-appointed moral guardian Mary Whitehouse about the fact it showed its female characters swearing. However, it was most notable for showcasing Roy’s distinctive directing style, which could be seen in his decision to shoot in black and white, and the stark ariel view and voiceover in the film’s opening shot.
Roy became increasingly politically engaged throughout the 1960s and 1970s. He would meet regularly with TV and film peers who felt disappointed by mainstream politics to discuss different opportunities for radical politics — in 1968, he became a member of the Socialist Labour League and later, the Workers Revolutionary party (WRP). It was this involvement with the WRP which led to Roy being blacklisted by the BBC following secret vetting of the broadcaster’s employees by M15, resulting in him leaving directing for a period in the late 1970s and focusing instead on working with the WRP.
This departure was, fortunately, brief. Roy returned to directing in the 1980s and he worked across the channels for the next two decades — he was best known during this period for his work on British TV dramas, including Between the Lines (1992-94), Inspector Morse (1991), A Touch of Frost (between 1994 and 2006), and Cracker (1995). Roy also directed a number of feature films, including 2005’s tense topical thriller Red Mercury starring Stockard Channing and Pete Postlethwaite. In 1995 he was awarded the BAFTA Lifetime Achievement Award.
But Roy wasn’t just a formidable drama director and a passionate political activist. He was also a champion of directors’ rights. Between 2001 and 2007, he sat on the Directors’ and Producers’ Rights Society Board (DPRS, later Directors UK), where he used his position to advocate for greater recognition for the role of the director and the craft of directing.
Mary McMurray, a director and former Chair of Directors UK who sat on the DPRS Board at the same time as Roy Battersby, paid tribute to her fellow director: “To many directors of my generation, Roy was legendary. This was not just for his work on Play for Today (Leeds — United!) and Between the Lines, but also as one of those directors with the infamous ‘Christmas tree symbol’ on his security file following the BBC’s vetting procedures at the behest of MI5. His was a formidable reputation.
So, when I first met Roy in the late 1980s at an Italian film festival where we were both promoting recent work, I was charmed to encounter a gentle, witty, thoughtful man, who was easy to talk to and instantly likeable — he was a breath of fresh air in what can often be a rather ‘precious’ environment!
He brought those qualities to his time as a Board member of the DPRS. He listened, followed the arguments closely and made his own interventions with wisdom and clarity. He completely understood that by asserting our rights as creators of audiovisual work, and having those rights recognised by the broadcasters, we gained not only remuneration - important though that was and is - but status. As directors, this empowered us, and it meant that we could say: “I made this. It has value. It is worthy of respect” about our work. I was sorry that Roy’s time on the Board came to an end before I became Chair in 2007. His insights, as we developed from the DPRS to Directors UK, would have been invaluable.
Roy was a terrific director, with a tremendous body of work, who was regarded affectionately by those who worked with him in front of and behind the camera. But most of all, he was a great man.”
Roy Battersby had a large family and was married twice — in 1959 to Audrey Chaney; with whom he shared three children Anna, Ben and Frank, and to actor Judy Loe in 1997. He also had two children from his relationship with Liz Leicester, Tom and Will, and a stepdaughter from his marriage to Judy Loe, the actor Kate Beckinsale. He is survived by Judy Loe and his children.
Roy Battersby, director and former DPRS Board member. Born 20 April 1936, died 10 January 2024.