RICHARD ATTENBOROUGH: A LIFE
48mins - Channel 4
director - DAVID BATTY
producer - CHRIS SHAW
In late 2012, when it transpired Lord Attenborough was seriously ill, Channel 4 commissioned this hour long tribute to the British arts legend. Over several months the team researched and filmed interviews with scores of Attenboroughs friends and colleagues, including Steven Spielberg, Anthony Hopkins, Gordon Brown, David Puttnam, William Goldman, Kenneth Branagh, Tom Hiddleston, Michael Grade... amongst many others.
Director David Batty and I had just finished work in Northern Ireland on the Ian Paisley documentary and had found making a film from mountains of archive footage which covers so many decades a really rewarding challenge. As with our Belfast edit, we immediately ordered up endless hours of related material giving the edit assistants a huge headache. Unlike the controversial figure of Paisley though, here we genuinely did not encounter a single person who had a remotely negative word, either in historic archive or in person to say about Lord Attenborough, just overwhelming praise for his remarkable energy to help people, connect with people and tell stories that mattered.
Alongside decades of archive material, the film features access to Lord Attenborough’s personal study at his home in Richmond. From here he orchestrated (literally - he would play loud classical music and pretend to conduct), all of his work. The room was a treasure trove of personal mementoes from the last 60 years at the forefront of British cinema and theatre, and a tireless fundraiser for charities and arts institutions.
One of the biggest challenges here was fitting all of Lord Attenboroughs prolific achievements into just an hour... across so many fronts - directing huge, epic films, acting roles which became iconic, RADA, Channel 4, BAFTA, Equity, Chelsea FC, National Film School, Young Vic, Tate Gallery, Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, Godcrest Films, Brighton Festival, Capital Radio, UNICEF, Amnesty, countless charities, RSA, Leicester Little Theatre, Orange Tree Theatre, Chicken Shed Theatre - to name but a few. It became apparent he wasn't just a name on the door but an actively involved fundraiser, chairman, president and patron who genuinely cared about each individual cause which he took on.
We worked really hard for months to make this documentary a fitting and worthy tribute to a much loved man, who is central to the success of British arts. I hope we did. After finishing the film, we showed it to Michael, Lord Attenboroughs son. He felt we had.
Cut for Exec Producer Chris Shaw at ITN Productions.