Obituary: Tony Isaacs

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TONY ISAACS was a fine film-maker of an older school who, over many years of skilled and committed endeavour, mainly for BBC2, produced or caused to be produced a stream of vivid programmes which told us things we needed to know. No one ever watched a film by him for directorial fireworks, though he had a keen eye for an image and a sharp ear; no one, though, saw one without learning something worthwhile about the world about us. If television has a duty to inform and educate as well as entertain, then Isaacs's documentaries consistently vindicated it in that role. He put good things before us on the box.

After schooling at University College School in London, and Portsmouth Grammar School, Isaacs served in the RAF, where, in Cyprus in 1948, he got himself attached to the Forces Broadcasting Service as senior programme editor and news-reader. He graduated in Economics at LSE, served briefly as press officer to the British Film Producers' Association, and then embarked, as a freelance, on a career in film-making, writing and directing. He became managing director of Rayant Pictures Nigeria, making current affairs programmes for the first Nigerian television station, and finding an outlet for his lifelong interest in and commitment to Africa, begun, he always said, by a boyhood reading of Rider Haggard's King Solomon's Mines. With his wife, Betty, he formed Dan Productions, to make educational and training films.

In 1960, he joined Associated-Rediffusion's Current Affairs Department when that company, bringing together journalistic and cinematic talents - who mixed at first like oil and water - was ambitious to front, in peak- time, ITV's factual programming. Isaacs worked on the flagship - A-R was a very naval company - This Week, and by his skills and intellect, flair and determination, made a noted contribution. Three half-hour films he produced and directed in Brazil, Bolivia and Chile, with James Cameron as reporter, made an impact and linger in the memory. By a quirk of scheduling, when BBC1 was broadcasting Die Zauberflote, a This Week Isaacs made on Gastarbeiter (immigrant workers) in Germany reached - nirvana - the top of the top twenty.

From 1965 to 1985 Isaacs worked for BBC TV at Kensington House in the Science Features Department. The list of work for which he was responsible is remarkable. He produced 17 editions of Horizon; he made four films on the British in Africa for a series on Empire; he filmed, in every continent, for The World About Us; he acted as sole liaison, from 1978, between the BBC and the Chinese government and Chinese television; he devised the first BBC documentary dramas, and was executive producer of Life at Stake, Escape and Spies. These series used the techniques of fiction to tell truths.

As executive producer of the Travel and Exploration Unit and series editor of The World About Us (which ran to more than 300 editions), Third Eyes and Travellers in Time, Isaacs delivered, reliably, a prodigious volume of programmes of merit and repute. The Haunted Heroes, a World About Us special about Vietnam veterans, for which he was executive producer, won the Prix Italia in 1985. He never spared himself. In those halcyon days before the fax and the e-mail, his superiors sometimes had difficulty knowing where to find him. The researchers, assistant producers and producer/directors who worked to him relished the freedom he allowed them, and the encouragement he offered.

If he was hard at times to track down, his pursuers could at least be sure of one thing; wherever he was he would have his fishing rod with him. In Caracas once, equipped with tackle but nowhere to fish, he was spotted on the balcony of his room in a high-rise hotel, casting for bats. It is not known whether he caught any.

Jeremy Isaacs

Anthony Isaacs, film-maker: born London 16 May 1928; married 1954 Betty Cuttell (one son, one daughter); died London 12 August 1999.

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