Jill Craigie - Britain's pioneering female film-maker - dies at 85

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THE FILM-MAKER and author Jill Craigie, who was married to the former Labour leader Michael Foot, has died aged 85, it was announced yesterday.

Tony Blair led the tributes to Ms Craigie, who died at the Royal Free Hospital in north-west London on Monday night, having suffered from a heart condition for some time.

Mr Blair described Ms Craigie, whom he last saw at a dinner at Chequers some months ago, as "a successful woman in her own right, and someone of deep convictions and beliefs, who helped sustain and support Michael through the many challenges of his career".

The former Labour prime minister Lord Callaghan of Cardiff said he was deeply sorry to hear of Ms Craigie's death. "She was a courageous lady of deep conviction, and she was the perfect partner for Michael," he said.

Baroness Castle of Blackburn, a former employment secretary and social services secretary in Labour governments in the Sixties and Seventies, said of Ms Craigie: "She was a tenacious, highly intelligent woman with a mind of her own, and when she was younger she was a very beautiful woman."

Ms Craigie achieved universal respect in her own right and under her maiden name. She was Britain's first female film director, flouting convention by bringing cameras into the lives of "real" people. She started with documentaries and progressed to fictional films with a distinct socialist content. She also worked widely as a journalist and author, concentrating on the suffragette movement.

Working in postwar Britain as the only female film director, she shocked the cinema world by proving that films about ordinary people were box office material. Her two most acclaimed films were Blue Scar (1949), written and filmed over a year in the colliery town of Abergwynfi, West Glamorgan, and The Way We Live (1946), based on plans for the rebuilding of Plymouth after the devastation of the Second World War.

After a break of half a century, she returned to film five years ago to make Two Hours From London, a film about Yugoslavia and the destruction of Dubrovnik.

Jill Craigie was born in London, the only child of Scottish-Russian parentage. Her parents lived abroad and sent her to a variety of boarding schools, 13 in all, depending in part on their financial circumstances. Sometimes, she had to spend holidays at the schools.

Ms Craigie had three husbands. At 19 she married a sculptor, Claude Begbie-Clench, with whom she had a child, Julie, now a photographer. However, Begbie-Clench was an alcoholic and the marriage collapsed.

To gain custody of her daughter, Ms Craigie married again, this time to Jeffrey Dell, a scriptwriter for Alexander Korda. A year after the success of Blue Scar, she met Michael Foot, who was trying to win Plymouth Devonport for Labour. Four years later, when she was 34 and he 36, they married.

In her later years, Ms Craigie became more involved with her book on the suffragette movement. She believed she had one of the biggest collections of feminist literature in Britain with pamphlets dating back to the 19th- century philosopher John Stuart Mill.

Last year, the story broke that in 1951 Ms Craigie had been raped by a family friend, the author Arthur Koestler. Mr Foot later confirmed that an account of the attack, contained in a biography of Koestler, was correct. He said his wife had sheltered him from the news for years.

Obituary, Review, page 7