Obituary: Michael Wooller

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The Independent Online
Michael Wooller came early into television as an energetic young Granada cameraman just before Granada first transmitted in 1956 and went on to make a most significant contribution to the development of arts and documentary programming.

In a career spanning nearly 45 years in broadcasting, he achieved many notable successes, but perhaps nothing he achieved on his own was as important to him as the way in which he was able to nurture the talents and aspirations of other programme-makers.

Over such a long career the high points were many and varied. Between 1969 and 1974 he edited with great distinction the BBC's arts programme flagship Omnibus; earlier, at Granada, he directed and produced many of the company's most important documentaries, a period which culminated in his shared Bafta award for Cities at War (1968). For Thames Television in the late Seventies he was executive producer of Kevin Brownlow's and David Gill's brilliantly informative series Hollywood (1979), which dealt with both the mythic inspiration and the gleaming professionalism which had created the American film industry. In 1981, as managing director of the television side, he became a founding member of Goldcrest Films and Television.

Rejoining Granada in the mid-1980s as head of Granada film production he produced four feature films including David Hare's modern European love story Strapless (1988).

In 1974, after Omnibus, he had taken over for some months as the BBC's head of arts, but, much to Wooller's disappointment, the role was not eventually confirmed. It is interesting to speculate what he might have achieved had he been appointed.

With this intense workload Wooller also found time to devote himself unstintingly to the affairs of the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. He was Bafta's chairman between 1979 and 1981, having been a long- standing member of the Bafta council and acting for two years as chairman of the television committee.

Mike Wooller was born in Lancashire in 1927 and as a schoolboy nursed a passion for sport, even hoping that he might become a professional rugby player. But after National Service in the Air Force, spent partly in Palestine where he also worked in Forces Broadcasting, he returned to join the BBC working as a trainee studio manager in radio before finally deciding to go north to Granadaland at the beginning of independent television.

It was undeclared policy at Granada then that promising and talented young people should be allowed to change their jobs, and it was not long before Wooller was working as a producer/director under the pugnacious and notoriously demanding Australian ex- journalist Tim Hewat, making factual programmes for the pioneering Searchlight series and later for the perennially enduring World in Action. Soon after he became a fully fledged producer and oversaw a great variety of documentaries from Camera in Action (1965) and Cinema (which ran from 1964 to 1971) to the prize-winning Cities at War, which looked at the cities of London, Moscow and Berlin to reveal in the most memorable and graphic terms the ordeals and heroism of ordinary people under siege and famine.

Wooller was a man of athletic, handsome appearance with an agreeably unassuming, almost diffident, manner. He was excellent company, without pretentiousness or vanity: his easy warmth and good nature and his breezily light and humorous attitude allowed him to bear the burdens of production without fuss. His qualities made him ideally suited to be an editor of programmes such as Omnibus, which employed many talents, and where he could act as a catalyst for ideas, encourage talents which remained too tentative and gently subdue the headstrong and impetuous.

Among the many notable Omnibus programmes under his supervision were Dame Ninette de Valois (1974), Nijinsky, God of the Dance (1975), Thomas Mann, the Fight against Death (1975) and Gene Kelly (1976). He was also the executive producer of Alan Yentob's first documentary, a study of David Bowie entitled Cracked Actor, and a drama documentary on Joseph Conrad directed by Colin Nears.

Coming to Goldcrest in the early Eighties was probably a frustrating experience for Wooller. He had joined the company to take charge of its television section only to find that Goldcrest's heart was really dedicated to big-budget feature films attached to big-name directors - a policy which was virtually to sink the company some four years on.

Meanwhile Wooller struggled to persuade people to his view that television series properly budgeted could become substantial earners in the future. At the same time he managed under these restricting circumstances to supervise a brightly innovative series of Robin Hood, a lavish television film based on the romantic novel The Far Pavilions and a series How to Ski with the redoubtable ex-editor of the Times, Harold Evans.

In his last appointment with Granada Film Productions, in the short space of three years he remarkably managed to make four feature films, including Tree of Hands (with Lauren Bacall), Joyriders, Strapless and the thriller Paper Mask.

Wooller's addiction to sport and keeping fit led for much of his life to a determined regime of jogging and swimming which was rather eccentrically coupled with an equal passion for rich and ambitious cookery. It was one of his deepest pleasures, either at home in Kensington or in his house in the hills of the Algarve to offer his guests the most rare and succulent dishes prepared by his own hand.Michael Herford Wooller, television producer: born 17 January 1927; married 1953 Joyce Reynolds; died London 20 February 1996.

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