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Lewis Gilbert, CBE (born 6 March 1920) is a British film director, producer and screenwriter, who has directed more than 40 films during six decades; among them such varied titles as Reach for the Sky (1956), Sink the Bismarck! (1960), Alfie (1966), Educating Rita (1983) and Shirley Valentine (1989), as well as three James Bond films: You Only Live Twice (1967), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)[1] and Moonraker (1979).

Lewis Gilbert
Born (1920-03-06) 6 March 1920 (age 97)
Hackney, London, England
Occupation Film director, producer and screenwriter
Years active 1934-2002
Spouse(s) Hylda Tafler (m. 1951–2005) (her death)
Children 1


Early lifeEdit

Lewis Gilbert was born in Hackney, London, the son of a second-generation family of music hall performers,[2] and spent his early years travelling with his parents, and watching the shows from the wings. He first performed on stage at the age of 5, when asked to drive a trick car around the stage. This pleased the audience, so this became the end of his parents' act. When travelling on trains, his parents frequently hid him in the luggage rack, to avoid paying a fare for him. His father contracted tuberculosis when he was a young man. He died aged 34, when Gilbert was seven. As a child actor in films in the 1920s and 1930s, he was the breadwinner for his family, his mother was a film extra, and he had an erratic formal education. In 1933, at the age of 13, he had a role in Victor Hanbury and John Stafford's Dick Turpin, and at age 17 a small uncredited role in The Divorce of Lady X (1938) opposite Laurence Olivier. Alexander Korda offered to send him to RADA, but Gilbert chose to study direction instead, notably as an assistant on Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939).[2]

When the Second World War started, he joined the Royal Air Force's film unit, where he worked on various documentary films. He was eventually seconded to the First Motion Picture Unit of the U.S. Army Air Forces, where his commanding officer was William Keighley, an American film director, who allowed Gilbert to take on much of his film-making work.

Directorial careerEdit

After the war, he continued to write and direct documentary shorts for Gaumont British, before entering low budget feature film production.[2] Gilbert made his name as a director in the 1950s and 1960s with a series of successful films, often working as the film's writer and producer as well. These films were often based on true stories from the Second World War. Examples include Reach for the Sky (1956) (based on the life of air ace Douglas Bader), Carve Her Name with Pride (1958) (the story of SOE agent Violette Szabo) and Sink the Bismarck! (1960).[3]


In 1966 Gilbert directed Alfie[4] starring Michael Caine. Gilbert's wife Hylda discovered the play by Bill Naughton when she visited the hair salon and sat next to an actress who was in a production. Upon seeing the play, Hylda urged Gilbert to make it into a film. Gilbert used the technique of having the lead character speak directly to the viewer, a technique he later also used in Shirley Valentine (1989). Gilbert said Alfie was only made because the low budget was "the sort of money Paramount executives normally spend on cigar bills".[5] The film won the Jury Special Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for five Academy Awards including best picture.[6] Gilbert was also nominated for a Golden Globe for best director. The film was remade in 2004 with Jude Law.[7]

In 1967, Gilbert was chosen to direct Lionel Bart's musical of Oliver! but contracted to another project had to pull out and recommended Carol Reed who took over.[2]

"It was the lowest point in my life," said Gilbert. "I'd developed Oliver! with Lionel Bart. I had to do The Adventurers instead... While doing this film, I signed to do The Godfather. Because of their financial problems, Paramount could only find $2m to make it. I said it needed $7m". So instead Gilbert made Friends.[8]

James BondEdit

Although known for character dramas, Gilbert directed three of the James Bond films. After some reluctance, he was persuaded by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli to direct You Only Live Twice (1967).[9][10] Gilbert returned to the series in the 1970s to make The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)[1] and Moonraker (1979).[11]

Later careerEdit

In the 1980s he returned to more small-scale dramas with film versions of Willy Russell's plays Educating Rita (1983)[12] and Shirley Valentine (1989).[13][14] Gilbert also directed the film Stepping Out (1991).[15][16]

He was awarded the CBE in 1997. In 2001, Lewis Gilbert was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute, the highest accolade given in the British film industry.[2]

On 20 June 2010 he appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs. In it he said of The Adventurers, that the film was a disaster, and that he should never have made it. On working with Orson Welles on Ferry to Hong Kong, he said that it was: "dreadful, it was my nightmare film. It was a dreadful film, and everything was wrong with it; principally him [Welles]." He also said that his biggest mistake was failing to direct the film version of the musical Oliver!. Its composer Lionel Bart had assured Gilbert that nobody else would do the film, but Gilbert was also contractually committed to Paramount to make a film (that he has since refused to name), which caused him to withdraw from the project.

Personal lifeEdit

He was married to the former Hylda Tafler for 53 years, until her death in June 2005; they had two sons, John Gilbert by a previous relationship of Hylda, and Stephen who was fathered by Lewis.[17]

All My Flashbacks: The Autobiography of Lewis Gilbert Sixty Years a Film Director was published by Reynolds & Hearn in 2010.[18]


Year Film Director Producer Screenwriter Notes
1945 The Ten Year Plan Yes Yes documentary about the building of pre-fabricated houses.[19]
1946 Arctic Harvest Yes Documentary about cod-fishing in the Arctic and the production of cod liver oil.[20]
1947 World Economic Geography: Fishing Grounds of the World Yes also known as Sailors Do Care, documentary about the British and international fishing industry.[21]
1948 The Little Ballerina Yes Yes
1949 Under One Roof Yes UN sponsored documentary about the students from different countries who attend Loughborough Engineering College.[22]
Marry Me! Yes
1950 Once a Sinner Yes
1951 There Is Another Sun Yes
Scarlet Thread Yes
1952 Emergency Call Yes Yes
Time Gentlemen, Please! Yes
1953 Cosh Boy Yes Yes
Johnny on the Run Yes Yes
Albert R.N. Yes
1954 The Good Die Young Yes Yes
The Sea Shall Not Have Them Yes Yes
1955 Cast a Dark Shadow Yes
1956 Reach for the Sky Yes Yes
1957 The Admirable Crichton Yes Yes
1958 Carve Her Name with Pride Yes Yes
A Cry from the Streets Yes
1959 Ferry to Hong Kong Yes Yes
1960 Light Up the Sky! Yes Yes
Sink the Bismarck! Yes
1961 The Greengage Summer Yes
1962 H.M.S. Defiant Yes
1964 The 7th Dawn Yes
1966 Alfie Yes Yes Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival. Remake done in 2004 starring Jude Law.
1967 You Only Live Twice Yes
1970 The Adventurers Yes Yes Yes
1971 Friends Yes Yes Yes
1974 Paul and Michelle Yes Yes
1975 Operation Daybreak Yes
1976 Seven Nights in Japan Yes Yes
1977 The Spy Who Loved Me Yes
1979 Moonraker Yes
1983 Educating Rita Yes Yes
1985 Not Quite Paradise Yes Yes
1989 Shirley Valentine Yes Yes
1991 Stepping Out Yes Yes
1995 Haunted Yes Yes Yes
2002 Before You Go Yes


  1. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (20 July 1977). "Movie Review – The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): 'Spy Who Loved' A Bit Long on Bond". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 September 2011. 
  2. ^ a b c d e "Lewis Gilbert (1920)", BFI screenonline Retrieved 14 April 2012
  3. ^ A.H. Weiler (12 February 1960). "Movie Review - Of Men and Ships". The New York Times. 
  4. ^ "Movie Reviews". 
  5. ^ Halliwell's Film & Video Guide 2000, 1999, London: HarperCollins, p15
  6. ^ "The 39th Academy Awards - 1967". 
  7. ^ Dargis, Manohla (5 November 2004). "A Modern-Day Charmer Who Lives for the Chase". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ Nicholas Jones (9 March 2000). "Of human Bondage". The Guardian. 
  9. ^ "Movie Review - Screen: Sayonara, 007:Connery Is at It Again as Whatshisname -". 
  10. ^ Ebert, Roger. "You Only Live Twice Movie Review (1967) - Roger Ebert". 
  11. ^ "Movie Review - Screen: 'Moonraker' Puts Bond in Orbit:Old, Old Friends -". 
  12. ^ "Movie Review - FILM: 'EDUCATING RITA,' SCHOOL DAYS -". 
  13. ^ "Movie Review - Review/Film; Shirley Valentine Talks With Others -". 
  14. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Shirley Valentine Movie Review (1989) - Roger Ebert". 
  15. ^ "Movie Review - Review/Film; Turning Klutzes Into Tap Dancers -". 
  16. ^ GRITTEN, DAVID (3 October 1991). "Lewis Gilbert Taps Minnelli's Talents for 'Stepping Out' : Movies: On heels of 'Shirley Valentine,' the director wraps his third film that caters to women--on the set and in the audience" – via LA Times. 
  17. ^ Gore, Peter (20 January 2010). "Gillian Gore obituary". The Guardian. 
  18. ^ "The Film Programme", BBC Radio 4, 26 March 2010
  19. ^ BFI Film database: The Ten Year Plan Retrieved 14 April 2012
  20. ^ BFI Film database: Arctic Harvest Retrieved 14 April 2012
  21. ^ BFI Film database: World Economic Geography: Fishing Grounds of the World Retrieved 14 April 2012
  22. ^ BFI Film database: Under One Roof Retrieved 14 April 2012

External linksEdit