Gilbert was born in London on 6 March 1920. He had been born into
a theatrical family – mainly in the music halls. His first role
was as a child actor in a version of Turpin (1933). He had by this
stage met Korda who had suggested an acting path and was keen for
the young man to go to RADA. Instead Gilbert had a interest in directing
and was then involved in the Hitchcock film Jamaica Inn (1939).
war came he joined the RAF and directed several documentaries (as
did many British directors at the time) – in Gilberts case was
on attachment to the US. At the end of the war, he continued to write
and direct documentary shorts for Gaumont-British.
key film for Gilbert was to be Emergency Call (1952). The film itself
was fairly unremarkable but it was to be the writer who Gilbert Met
that would change his destiny in a number of ways. Vernon Harris would
be someone who would write scripts, adapt screenplays and stay as
a friend to Gilbert for the next forty years.
One of the collaborations would be the famous biography of Douglas
Bader in 'Reach for the Sky' (1956) with Kenneth More playing the
lead. Two years later it would be another documentary, this time on
the life of Violet Scazbo in 'Carve Her Name With Pride' (1958). Both
this films now locked down Gilbert’s critical status as a British
director who could not only bring in the bucks but also deliver serious
films in an interesting way. In the sixties the adaptations continued
as he delivered ‘Sink the Bismark’ (1960,) 'Light up the
Sky' (1960) and 'Damn the Defiant' (1962).
his career took a turn from very militaristic movies to the highly
successful 'Alfie' (1965). This was the first of a number of adaptations
of stage plays that brought Gilbert commercial and critical success
in the latter part of his career. The film received multiple Oscar
nominations, most notably for Michael Caine, a then unknown name in
The next year he went on to deliver the first of this three bond films
and as far as I’m aware is the only director to have directed
more than one ‘James Bond’ actor. Of the three movies
which he delivered to the screen I would say on a personal level that
my favourite is ‘The Spy who loved me’ (1977). He proved
early in his career that he could handle the big budget – big
action projects and this was to be the case in the latter stages of
his career. Two years later he brought to screen the last of his bond
movies, the highly successful ‘Moonraker’ (1979).
In the later stages of an extensive career he brought another screen
play to life in the form of the highly critically acclaimed Educating
Rita (1983). This brought BAFTA success to both Caine, Walters and
Gilbert. Later in the eighties he also directly the harmless but enjoyable
‘Not quite Jerusalem' (1986) with the lovely Joanna Pacula.
He finished this decade with Shirley Valentine (1989) again getting
the film nominated for Oscars and Bafta’s (Pauline Collins winning
the best actress award). I simply can’t believe they overlooked
In 2001, Lewis Gilbert was Awarded a BFI Fellowship, only the 53rd
to have ever been awarded. “The accolade is bestowed upon individuals
from around the world in recognition of their outstanding contribution
to film and television culture. Previous recipients have included
such diverse talents as Orson Welles, Fred Zinnemrmann, Akira Kurosawa,
Clint Eastwood and Elizabeth Taylor.”
Lewis is still making films (his last one came out in 2002) at the
good age on 82 if my maths holds out….