Anthony Joly de Lotbiniere

Click to follow
The Independent Online
One of BBC television's greatest documentary film producers was Tony de Lotbiniere - to use the popular version of his long French-Canadian name. He was the cousin, once removed, of Seymour Joly de Lotbiniere, known as "Lobby", the long-time supremo of BBC Outside Broadcasts, but he never exploited his relationship with his famous cousin. For over 30 years Tony de Lotbiniere created a series of outstanding film programmes.

After schooling at Downside Abbey, in Somerset, he went up to Trinity College, Cambridge, in 1942 and, after a year, was awarded a wartime Honours Degree in history before joining the Irish Guards. When he was demobilised in 1947 he was keen to enter the feature-film industry but ran into the familiar Catch 22 situation: you could not get a job in films unless you were a member of the Association of Cinematograph Technicians and you could not get an ACT card unless you had six months' film experience.

He was told that at Alexandra Palace, where BBC television had just re- started operations, you could get film work without a card. He took a job as Assistant Film Librarian with the avowed intention of leaving after six months, as soon as he qualified for ACT membership, and then to head for Pinewood.

His immediate boss, Richard Cawston, later himself a great documentary producer, persuaded de Lotbiniere to remain and he became a film editor on Children's Newsreel in 1950. The six months stretched to over a third of a century.

The films made by de Lotbiniere often had a strong social content. His first in the Special Enquiry series was "The Gorbals", a study of the slums in Glasgow. Another, filmed in Birmingham, was entitled "Has Britain a Colour Bar?" It was the first time that this controversial subject had been tackled. Also controversial was his programme on the death penalty made before Parliament decided to abolish it.

De Lotbiniere's colleague on Special Enquiry had been Norman Swallow and they collaborated again to create a series of documentaries about the specialised agencies of the United Nations under the title of The World is Ours.

After Aidan Crawley resigned from Independent Television News in 1956, he returned to the television talks department at the BBC to present various documentaries produced by de Lotbiniere. One, The Inheritors (1958), concerned India after the end of the Raj.

In 1960 de Lotbiniere produced The Candidates, an in-depth study of the close race between Senator John Kennedy and Vice-President Richard Nixon for the White House. He also made a number of films about notable buildings. One was on the Savoy Hotel, which the late Sir Hugh Wontner, the chairman of the Savoy group, urged all his friends to watch, expecting it to be a nice piece of free advertising. When he discovered that de Lotbiniere had contrasted the sumptuousness of the public rooms with somewhat squalid conditions in the staff quarters, Wontner sought to get an injunction to prevent the film from being shown.

In the event a suitable formula was devised to assure viewers that since filming of the programme the necessary improvements had been set in hand. Another film was about the Royal Opera House, at Covent Garden, presented by Julian Pettifer.

In 1966 Buckingham Palace suggested that a television film should show the nation some of the treasures in the various royal residences, though without appearances by any of the Royal Family. The Royal Palaces of Britain was made by a BBC/ITV consortium and transmitted on both channels simultaneously. Sir Kenneth Clark wrote and spoke the narration off-screen and de Lotbiniere directed the film with a BBC crew. It was the first time that the Lord Chamberlain had allowed a film camera inside a Royal palace. The consortium worked most harmoniously and the success of The Royal Palaces of Britain paved the way for Richard Cawston to make Royal Family, the first film to show the Queen and other members of the Royal Family in relaxed circumstances.

Tony de Lotbiniere was a highly intelligent and very personable man. He had a lovely sense of humour and was particularly helpful to newcomers learning the trade. He rose to become the Executive Producer of Documentary Features in BBC television but had no ambition for high office. He desired merely to make good programmes.

In 1982 he opted for early retirement to spend more time with his wife Claudia and his three sons. Nearly half of each year was spent in renovating a derelict house in northern Italy.

Leonard Miall

Anthony Alain Chartier Joly de Lotbiniere, television producer, director: born Sale, Cheshire 18 January 1925; served Irish Guards 1943-47; Assistant Film Librarian, BBC 1948-50, editor, Children's Newsreel 1950-54, producer, documentaries 1954-82; married 1957 Claudia Macaskie (three sons); died London 14 June 1995.

Comments