Obituary: Forsyth Hardy

David Bruce
Friday 27 May 1994 23:02
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Henry Forsyth Hardy, writer, critic and film administrator: born Bathgate, West Lothian 12 February 1910; married Margaret Fisher (one daughter); died Edinburgh 24 May 1994.

THE MOMENT of the birth of the British documentary film movement was in the making of Drifters by John Grierson. Early in 1930 Forsyth Hardy, the youngest reporter on the Scotsman, wrote a particularly well-informed review of it which had Grierson turning up in the newspaper's offices loudly demanding to meet the author. It was to be the beginning of a remarkable collaboration which ensured that Grierson's extraordinary contribution to world cinema would be meticulously recorded for posterity.

Grierson on Documentary, edited by Hardy in 1946, was to be the most important book of its kind. Some years later, there were others - John Grierson: a documentary biography (1979), John Grierson's Scotland (1979) and Grierson on the Movies (1981) - and there were Grierson's contributions, along with those of such as Paul Rotha and Basil Wright, to Cinema Quarterly, which Hardy had founded with Norman Wilson.

After 10 years on the Scotsman, Hardy became head of information at the Scottish Office and in that capacity responsible for the films made by its various departments. These included several, such as Children of the City (1944), which stand clearly apart from the routine propaganda of the time.

In 1953 Hardy was appointed the first Director of the Films of Scotland Committee and gained the opportunity to make a more direct contribution to the development of documentary and advance the cause of film-making in Scotland. The committee, government-approved but not financially supported ('a remit without a remittance'), produced 150 films, virtually all of them sponsored by business or public agencies. It was Hardy's job to persuade frequently sceptical clients that it was in their interest to finance factual films which might or might not make it to the cinema screen. He did so brilliantly. The films were regularly of a standard well beyond the backers' expectations and gained widespread release in this country and abroad.

However, Hardy's allegiance was to the movies in the widest sense (one of his early books was on Scandinavian cinema). He had been a founder of the Edinburgh Film Guild, the British Film Institute, the Scottish Film Council and the Edinburgh Film Festival, and he was committed to creating a pool of young Scottish talent which would learn in the documentary trade but extend into fiction. The generation he fostered included Laurence Henson, Eddie McConnell, Mark Littlewood, Oscar Marzaroli, Bill Forsyth, Mike Alexander, Charlie Gormley, Murray Grigor and many others. They are the proof of his success.

If he was in at the beginning of the cinema documentary, he was also there at its end. Thirty years after Drifters, it was another film on a treatment by Grierson and also with a maritime connection, Seawards the Great Ships (1960), that brought the highest honour to the committee and its director when it became the first, and so far only, Scottish film to win an Oscar. By then, television, and perhaps fashion, was beginning to erode the cinema's position as the medium of actuality.

Throughout his life, Hardy's determined dedication to the cause of film remained undiminished. He wrote prolificly and lucidly and even within the last four years of his life there were three more books, histories of the Edinburgh Film Festival and the GPO Film Unit, and Scotland in Film (1990). Scotland has never provided an easy environment for those who would make their life in the movies there rather than emigrate. Forsyth Hardy managed to do just that and his achievement is that he brought that happy possibility a good deal closer for the rest of us.

(Photograph omitted)

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