OBITUARY: Nigel Finch

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The Independent Online
Nigel Finch was born in Tenterden, Kent, the only son of Graham and Tibby Finch, and brought up in Bromley. But when I first met him, working on the BBC TV Arts programme Arena in the early Seventies, he seemed to hail from some unimaginably exotic location.

He had the conversational sharpness of someone who has been used to caf society from an early age and, as he swung down the corridors towards his cutting-room, his brightly coloured leather jacket gave him the air of the hero of a comic book or of some tropical bird whose plumage, defying the safety of camouflage, exists to let you know he's there.

Nigel Finch's laugh was legendary. It would start as a cackle, modulate into a guffaw and then change to a kind of rhythmical screech that made the casual observer wonder if anyone could be really that amused. But his laughter was as genuine as his talent and, if his looks were carefully planned, the same was also true of his films. His short films for the Arena programme in 1977 and 1978 were followed by popular hits such as My Way (1979), BAFTA-nominated dramas like The Lost Language of Cranes (1992) and the phenomenally successful, award-winning version of a long- forgotten musical soap entitled The Vampyr (1993). Right up until his death he was working on his first feature film, an account of the Stonewall riots in New York, which is to be released theatrically both in Britain and in the United States.

Finch studied History of Art at Sussex University and every frame of his films is finished with a painter's care. But his work was never marred by the kind of obsession with the image that has marred the careers of some celebrated "art" directors. I went to see him not long before he died, from an Aids-related illness, and halfway through our conversation he fixed me with his one good, glittering eye and said, "I have come to the conclusion Willy," - he often used this form of address with me, as if the two of us were at a public school not unlike Billy Bunter's Greyfriars - "I have come to the conclusion . . . that in film- making you can never pay too much attention to getting the script right."

But his work had much more than style and storytelling talent. It had heart. One of his own favourites from the Finch oeuvre was a documentary about the Chelsea Hotel, in New York (1981) - a wonderfully sympathetic picture of the outsiders and eccentrics who populate that famous building. He gloried in the peculiar, not simply as a way of attracting attention to himself (although he was never averse to a bit of favourable scrutiny) but because he had a real compassion for the lonely, the excluded, the different or the merely individual. I still remember the night he took me home when I was so drunk I could scarcely stand. He tolerated my exploits in the vomiting department with amused kindness while more sensible comrades suggested leaving me to rot in the gutter, and delivered me to my front door with the words "Don't be too hard on him. He's had an exciting day."

His family, friends and colleagues will remember him gunning his worryingly large motorbike away from the BBC's premises, clattering into his cutting-room with his head thrown back in that laugh, running his ferrets through his fingers in the back garden of his Gothic house in Balham or just standing there: watchful, exacting, talented and very attractive.

Nigel Lucius Graeme Finch, television director, film-maker: born Tenterden, Kent 1 August 1949; died London 14 February 1995.