OBITUARY: Jim Atkinson

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The Independent Online
Jim Atkinson was a motion picture sound designer long before the term "sound design" had been invented. As dubbing editor he is remembered for creating the superb soundtrack for John Boorman's 1972 wildwater epic Deliverance, for which Atkinson won the Guild of British Film Editors' "Golden Scissors" award. He also worked on the car-chase in The Italian Job (1969), the seedy Newcastle atmosphere of Get Carter (1971), and the backwards dialogue of the future in Zardoz (1973).

Atkinson's cutting-room work was distinguished, and his Bohemian manner and cavalier ingestion of alcohol and other substances made him a popular figure in the British film industry of the Sixties and Seventies, where he worked regularly for directors such as Boorman, Mike Hodges and the late Lindsay Anderson.

There was to be a tragic price to pay for his carousing, and Atkinson finally succumbed from complications brought on as a result of a stroke in July 1979 - in spite of attempts at rehabilitation, including his being one of Camden Social Services' first fostered adults, and telling on radio how he had learnt again to tie his own shoelaces.

Despite his own protestations to the contrary, Jim Atkinson was born into a middle-class family; his mother was a former opera singer, and his father a property dealer who remarried. After Marlborough College and National Service, Atkinson had, by his own account, 48 jobs before he fetched up at the documentarists Stanley Schofield Productions, where he was relegated to the sound department after inadvertently dropping a movie camera out of a helicopter. In sound he found his true metier, and spent much of his time recording racing-car noises which were later issued as gramophone records.

Leaving documentaries, Atkinson became an assistant film editor, and did his first sound-editing job on a Georgie Fame vehicle, The Mini Affair (1968). Other dubbing work followed on Isadora (1968), The Terminal Man (1974) and a run of movies for John Boorman: Leo the Last (1969), Deliverance, Zardoz and, in Hollywood, Exorcist II - The Heretic (1977), after which Atkinson returned to Soho wearing a huge stetson.

Sound-editing exploitation films like Clinic Xclusive (1972) and The Ups and Downs of a Handyman (1974) led to his being offered a film to direct - Can You Keep It Up For a Week? (1974). Atkinson had the movie scored by Dave Quincey, who led Zzebra, a group that Atkinson had co-financed.

Always in financial difficulties, Atkinson nevertheless backed a fellow jazz-fan, the film editor John Jeremy, in two fine documentaries, Blues Like Showers of Rain (1970) and Jazz is Our Religion (1971), both directed by Jeremy and produced by Atkinson.

After his sex movie Atkinson worked as sound editor on a series for the director Kevin Connor that involved experimental electronic sound effects and atmospheres on movies such as At the Earth's Core (1976), Warlords of Atlantis (1978) and Arabian Adventure (1979).

The stroke was sudden and unexpected. He was invited back to work by the dubbing editor Ian Fuller, who asked him to create a montage to suggest Hazel O'Connor's madness in Breaking Glass (1980) and Atkinson came up with a melange of car horns. But it soon became clear that he could no longer work, and another stroke incapacitated him. Jim Atkinson's swashbuckling career in the cutting-rooms was over.

His death went unnoticed by the film industry for nearly three months.

James Horsefield Atkinson, sound editor: born Yeovilton, Somerset 5 August 1934; married 1968 Valerie St Helens (marriage dissolved); died Streatham 29 May 1995.