David Parkin on an uplifting story

FAREWELL then Michael Apted.

There can’t have been many other filmmakers with as varied a pantheon of work as the British director who died last week aged 79.

From James Bond movie The World is Not Enough to Gorillas in the Mist, Coal Miner’s Daughter, Extreme Measures and The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.

For many of us though, Apted will forever be best remembered for his Up documentary series.

Starting with Seven Up! in 1964, the Granada TV programme charted the lives of 14 British children from a variety of backgrounds.

Apted returned every seven years to interview the children as they grew into adults.

In the most recent instalment, 63 Up, two years ago, we learned that one of the group had died and suddenly the remaining group (two had chosen not to continue their involvement) had transformed from eager bright-eyed youngsters to adults approaching pension age and reflecting on their lives.

I was first introduced to the Up documentary series in the 1980s by my parents and since then I have eagerly looked forward to the new installments every seven years.

The series is the ultimate antidote to the modern world’s demand for instant information and gratification.

Apted’s gentle questioning of those involved and ability to recognise that sometimes silence can encourage an illuminating answer to a previously asked question, was brilliant.

As the celebrated film critic Roger Ebert said in tribute to Apted: “The key to his longevity was his understanding of behavior, which came out of his early success as a documentarian.”

Apted was a 23-year-old researcher when he got involved in Seven Up!

He was asked to find the 14 schoolchildren for the programme by Canadian filmmaker Paul Compton.

It was based on the Greek philosopher Aristotle’s quote: “Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man.”

What I didn’t realise was that it was originally planned as a one-off, until someone realised that the real insight would come from following these children through their lives.

So Apted directed the second installment in 1971 and stayed with it for another five decades, despite becoming a celebrated Hollywood movie maker.

As Roger Ebert says, Apted, “tended the project with the mix of love and duty that a parent should lavish on a child”.

While we never see Apted in front of the camera and only sparingly hear him in the Up series, you can see and feel his influence and see the genuine affection that those who take part in it had for him.

It raises the question of whether we will see a 70 Up in five years time.

Many of those involved have said they would only remain part of it while Apted was directing it.

We shall see.

What struck me most about the series is the changes in those involved.

I thought the most dramatic tranformation would be between seven and 14 when they grew from children into teenagers, or perhaps from 14 to 21 when they became adults.

But I thought the biggest change in those who took part was between the ages of 21 and 28.

I suppose that makes sense.

While physical changes will be most pronounced and noticeable at younger ages, our ideas, our outlook, our ambitions and interests are really shaped while we are in our twenties.

When I think of myself at 21 as a relatively naive student and then seven years later when I was living and working in London, having had jobs in two other cities, I was quite a different person in terms of experience and attitude.

But I still wore a cravat.

For his part, Apted’s main regret about Up was that the children he chose weren’t more diverse.

There were only four girls out of 14 children and many of the group lived in London.

He reflected in 1995: “The change that’s gone around with women in the workplace and women’s place in society is the most significant socio political event in contemporary culture.

I missed it.”

But by gosh, did he make up for it in his other work.

Apted’s films focused a great deal on female achievement including Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), for which Sissy Spacek won the best actress Oscar for playing the country and western singer Loretta Lynn, and Gorillas in the Mist (1988), starring Sigourney Weaver as the murdered conservationist Dian Fossey.

When he was signed up to direct Pierce Brosnan as 007 in The World is Not Enough, he apparently insisted on upgrading the franchise’s regulation blonde airheaded Bond girl to a nuclear physicist played by Denise Richards and insisted on a bigger role for Judi Dench’s M.

The film was a commercial hit and was praised by critics.

When you look across Michael Apted’s vast range and variety of work there is so much that he can be proud of.

But what strikes me is that you can have the best script writers, filmmakers and actors in the world, but nothing will beat the real stories of real people in real life.


I READ a news item this week about a retired journalist and his wife, a former actress, who have just celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary.

With another lockdown in force, the couple had to shelve plans for a big family party.

When asked about their celebration, Judy, 80, said: “We were so looking forward to having a party, but we ended up eating stuffed partridges in the kitchen. It was still lovely though.”

Stuffed partridges.

Now there’s a thought.


LAST week’s mention of a pile of unread books on my bedside table brought this response from entrepreneur Richard Doyle:

“David, did you know the Japanese have a word for this Tsundoku – (informal) the act of leaving a book unread after buying it, typically piled up together with such other unread books

I wonder if they have a word for the overflow piles when the bedside table is full, of which I have several!”


FOOTBALLERS have been getting a lot of stick for breaking restrictions on meeting up with those from other households during the pandemic.

Most have been caught out because, like a lot of people these days, they can’t just do something, they have to post photographs or video of them doing it on social media.

This week Scottish Premiership club Celtic were criticised for a controversial early January trip for some warm weather training in Dubai.

On their return to Glasgow last week, one of the players tested positive for Covid-19 and as a result manager Neil Lennon, his assistant and 13 players had to isolate and missed their match with Hibernian.

Celtic’s chief executive Peter Lawwell told the club’s TV channel: “On reflection, looking back and looking with hindsight and looking at the outcome of the trip, clearly it was a mistake and for that I profoundly apologise to our supporters.”

I just want to be sure.

In retrospect does he regret it then?

Have a great weekend.

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