Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Britain is no longer a country for an old and unacknowledged TV documentary film maker called Nigel Evans

Nigel, who made his mark over thirty years as producer and director of more than 40 tv documentaries, championing the rights of disabled and marginalised people, has died without fanfare at the age of 71

What you possibly didn't know about Nigel, that he :

* was born in Guildford, Surrey in 1943, during the Second World War, the son of mother, Pauline and father, Donald, a fighter pilot in the RAF who had shot down two enemy fighters, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and after the War was promoted to Air Vice Marshal and appointed Assistant Chief of the Defence Staff at the Ministry of Defence when Nigel was 17 in 1961.

* was, like his father, educated at the independent boys boarding school, Wellington College in Berkshire and at 16, was awarded an 'RAF Flying Scholarship', but declined to follow in his Father's footsteps, left school in 1961 and enrolled on the 'Cours du Civilisation Francaise' to study French as a foreign language at the Sorbonne.

* as a student in Paris, indulged his love of cinema and was enthused by the French ‘New Wave’ cinema with its natural light and sound and hand-held camera shots and no doubt saw Jean Luc-Goddard's 'Vivre Sa Vie' about a young woman forced into prostitution when it was released in 1962.

* returned to Britain and in the mid 60s set up 'Lusia Films' with old school friend, Richard Mordaunt, one of the first independent production companies not making industrial or promotional films, but documentaries about aspects of life in London.

* with private donations made 'Heroin' in 1970 and 'Cure' in 1971, following a small group of heroin addicts struggling to overcome addiction which was to bring his work to the attention of the big charities and was commissioned to make campaigning films for 'The Spastics Society' (Scope), the 'Mental Health Film Council' and 'LEPRA'.

* at  the age of 30 in 1973, was awarded a 'Churchill Travelling Fellowship' to explore 'new approaches to raising public awareness to the plight of marginalised people', travelled to New York and met the tv reporter, Geraldo Rivera (left), who had exposed Staten Island’s Willowbrook Hospital with over 4,000 mentally handicapped adults and children
housed in appalling conditions https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=k_sYn8DnlH4 and bussed to Central Park where volunteers partnered them for the day in a festival atmosphere with street theatre groups, magicians, clowns, donkey rides and percussion bands with a view to encourage longer term volunteering.

 * inspired by Geraldo, returned to Britain and founded the charity, 'One Plus One', which supported volunteers working with patients in psychiatric hospitals and in 1974 organised the first 'One-to-One' days in 4 hospitals which expanded to 21 by 1978 and although the take number of volunteers making a long term commitment to visit and befriend was encouraging, reports that there was little improvement in the plight of these forgotten patients forced his resignation as Chair of 'One-to-One' and prompted him to research a film that would highlight conditions in the hospitals.

* in 1980 at the age of 37, became a member of the 'Channel Four Steering Committee', a lobby group dedicated to set up a fourth tv channel which would commission programmes from independent producers and successfully obtained a remit from Parliament 'to provide a broad range of diverse programming which, in particular, demonstrates innovation, experiment and creativity in the form and content of programmes and addresses the tastes and interests of a culturally diverse society.'

.* produced 'Silent Minority' in 1981, a documentary which generated a furore by highlighting neglect and abuse in mental hospitals and demonstrated that the bizarre, self-harming and repetitive behaviours seen in the long-stay wards were not the result of a mental disability, but a response to the endless hours devoid of stimulation and therapeutic activity which gradually disappeared in patients placed in the setting of a specialist unit with qualified staff using programmes tailored to their needs :  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=az2fTYud0us

* bought the film rights to David Cook’s novel and in 1982 produced 'Walter', the portrait of a few years in the life of a mentally handicapped young man which was directed by Stephen Frears, starring Ian McKellen and transmitted on the first night of Channel Four https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PKI63W8tCSM and followed it in 1993 with 'Vulnerable People', a catalogue of comments from nurses talking anonymously about ‘injustice, brutalisation and cover ups’ in 16 named mental handicap hospitals in the South East of England.

* in 1983, saw his ‘The Skin Horse’, a film essay which explored the sexual and emotional needs of the disabled, win Channel Four its first 'Royal Television Society Original Programme Award' and the following year saw it  networked in the USA and awarded a 'John Foster Peabody and a Primetime Emmy Special Award for Outstanding Artistic Achievement.' https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=troo1yGcYAc

* made 'Taking the Lid Off ' in 1984, a collaboration with children from the 'NSPCC Family Makers Unit' at Gravesend that explored their experience of parental failure and the damage of abuse and abandonment and the ways they found to reach, touch and make sense of what had happened to them.

* set The Madness Museum' in 1986, a drama documentary written by and starring Ken Campbell, in a 19th century lunatic asylum and based on treatment meted out to the unfortunate inmates based upon the text books of the time.

* in his 'Pictures in the Mind' in 1987,  produced for Channel 4 the 'first drama documentary in sign language', dramatizing attempts by early educators of the deaf to promote sign language as the preferred method and their defeat by the promoters of ‘oralism’ resulting in nine out of ten deaf people becoming illiterate victims of a system that denied their right to communicate in their natural way and saw  transmission followed by the successful campaign led by Jack Ashley, MP (left), to have ‘total communication’, speech and signing combined, introduced into all schools for the deaf in Britain.

* in his 'Name of Charity' for ITV in 1987, told the story of  two district nurses from the East End of London who, over a 20 year period, adopted and fostered over 30 ‘hard to place' children and charted the family’s move from London to a converted convent in Essex over a one year period and saw the public’s unsolicited response lead to 'Family in Trust', a fund set up to support and continue to support the family.

* in the 1990, 'The African King' for Channel 4, tracked the pillage of cultural treasures from the deserts of West Africa to the auction houses of Paris and London and saw its broadcast lead to the withdrawal of all the Malian works of Art from the Royal Academy’s 1991 ‘Africa Exhibition' as the film had demonstrated that all the pieces on show had been stolen from Mali.

* made 'Fantastic Invasion' in 1991 as an essay in ’ethnofiction’ and a celebration of the last South Pacific Cargo Cult on the island of Tanna where the 'American Dream' had become a formal religion.

* in 1992, his 'Cowboys in the South Pacific' presented a cautionary tale around the search by a group of Texans for the wreckage of a World War Two plane, piloted by Weyland Bennett, on the small Pacific island of Espiritu Santo : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vFa59Fyd-5U and the following year in 'Excuse me for Living', studied his life-long obsession with cannibalism and presented and narrated the autobiography of Issei Sagawa : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1YLLkWoP5Lo

* returned to the Northern Hemisphere and a more conventional subject with 'The Widowmakers' in 1994, a documentary which told the story of the disasters that befell the Russian nuclear submarine K.19 which National Geographic bought and took to the USA and invested in a Holywood version starring Harrison Ford and Liam Neeson and which upset K 19 veterans who complained the film bore little relation to the truth : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T2-i0eaIZYY

* in 1995, was asked to make the BBC's contribution to 'World Aids Day' and in his controversial 'The End of Innocence', highlighted the attitudes of the public and politicians to 'Gay issues' in the 80s and early 90s, reflected in the 'Don't Die of Ignorance' Campaign, in which the group overwhelmingly affected by AIDS were never mentioned and therefore marked a lost opportunity to confront the issues: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5qJrv7m_a2c

* marked his retirement from tv film the following year with a celebration of life for the over sixties in 'Grey Sex' which extolled the tenderness of love, companionship and a shared lifetime of physical intimacy : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n5BzcehAPxQ

* decided to train as a psychogeriatric social worker and in his fifties, returned to full-time education, gained a BA in 'Community Care Management' and for a number of years, worked for 'Community Mental Health' Teams in Isleworth and Hounslow.

*  turned to writing under the name of 'Nigel Randell' and in his first book, 'The White Headhunter' in 2003, questioned the memoir of 19th century teenage Scots sailor, Jack Renton, who, shanghaied in San Francisco, jumped ship, drifted two thousand miles in an open whaleboat to the Solomon Islands, served the island’s tribal chief as his most trusted adviser and using oral history, pieced together a more complete and grislier account of Renton’s experience as a man forced to assimilate in order to survive.

* enjoyed positive reviews from The Sunday Times : 'His telling of Renton’s story is brilliantly done….original and gripping' ; Simon Winchester in The Daily Mail :
'Nigel Randell’s extraordinary first book reminds us brilliantly of the deeply British secret – that we are not exactly as we seem….it is an utterly compelling story' The Good Book Guide : 'A grisly, fascinating and meticulously spun yarn' ; Publisher’s Weekly :
'First time author Randell demonstrates skilled storytelling…fascinating and horrendous'  and Kirkus : 'A fabulous ethnographic tale inside a larger tragedy of cultural genocide and retaliatory murders.'

* in 2003 he retired to the small island of Vava'u in the Pacific island Kingdom of Tonga, where he met his second wife, Cindy and researched his second book, 'Boy From the Sky' published in 2013 and based the world's first ethnography, William Mariner's 19th century account of his rise from castaway ship's clerk to the King of Tonga's lieutenant.

* occupied his time making Tongans aware of educational opportunities at home and abroad and raising money for school fees and university scholarships, until illness forced him to return to Britain last year.

* had his remarkable life and work marked only in 'The Guardian' by his friend and colleague from his Lusia film making days in the 1960s, Richard Mourdant, now based in Australia :  http://www.theguardian.com/film/2014/sep/18/nigel-evans                                    


    1. What an incredible, rich life! Thank you for sharing.

    2. Thank you for this extraordinary post about my dad. It was wonderful to read and share.
      Kind regards,
      Gaby Evans

    3. It was a pleasure to research and compose. Your Dad was an extraordinary person whose achievements remain unrecognised in the Old Country and it was motivation to highlight some of them.

    4. I worked with Nigel in the early days, he was a remarkable person and an inspiration to me. Opened my eyes to see the world in a stimulating and challenging way.
      The world would be a better place with more Nigels around.
      It's great that you put this piece together to highlight his achievements.