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Lindsay Gordon Anderson (17 April 1923 – 30 August 1994)[1] was a British feature film, theatre and documentary director, film critic, and leading light of the Free Cinema movement and the British New Wave.[2][3] He is most widely remembered for his 1968 film if...., which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival and was Malcolm McDowell's cinematic debut.[4] He is also notable, though not a professional actor, for playing a minor role in the Academy Award winning film Chariots of Fire. McDowell produced a 2007 documentary about his experiences with Anderson, Never Apologize.[5]

Lindsay Anderson
Lindsay anderson.jpg
Lindsay Gordon Anderson

(1923-04-17)17 April 1923
Died30 August 1994(1994-08-30) (aged 71)
Angoulême, France
EducationCheltenham College, Gloucestershire
Alma materWadham College, Oxford
OccupationFilm director
Years active1948–1993

Early lifeEdit

Lindsay Gordon Anderson was born in Bangalore, South India, where his father had been stationed with the Royal Engineers, on the 17th of April 1923.[6][7] His father Captain (later Major General) Alexander Vass Anderson[8][9][10] was a British Army Officer that had been born in North India and his mother Estelle Bell Gasson was born in Queenstown, South Africa, the daughter of a wool merchant.[11][12] Lindsay's parents separated in 1926 and Estelle returned to England with her sons; however, they tried to reconcile in 1932 in Bangalore, and when Estelle returned to England she was pregnant with her third son, Alexander Vass Anderson.[11] The Andersons divorced and Estelle remarried Major Cuthbert Sleigh in 1936.[11] Lindsay's father re-married in India; although Gavin Lambert writes, in 'Mainly About Lindsay Anderson: A Memoir' (Faber and Faber, 2000, p. 18), that Alexander Vass Anderson 'cut (his first family) out of his life', making no reference to them in his 'Who's Who' entry, Lindsay often saw his father and looked after his house and dogs when he was away.[13]

Both Lindsay and his older brother Murray Anderson (1919-2016) were educated at Saint Ronan's School in Worthing, West Sussex, and at Cheltenham College.[14][15] It was at Cheltenham that Lindsay had met his lifelong friend and biographer, the screenwriter and novelist Gavin Lambert.[11] Lindsay won a scholarship for classical studies at Wadham College at the University of Oxford, in 1942.[11]

Anderson served in the Army from 1943 until 1946, first with the 60th King's Royal Rifle Groups, and then in the final year of World War II as a cryptographer for the Intelligence Corps, at the Wireless Experimental Centre in Delhi.[7] Anderson assisted in nailing the Red flag to the roof of the Junior Officers' mess in Annan Parbat, in August 1945, after the victory of the Labour Party in the general election was confirmed.[16] The colonel did not approve, he recalled a decade later, but no disciplinary action was taken against them.

Lindsay returned to Oxford in 1946 but changed from classical studies to English;[11] he graduated with an MA in 1948.[7]


Film criticismEdit

Before going into film-making, Anderson was a prominent film critic writing for the influential Sequence magazine (1947–52), which he co-founded with Gavin Lambert, Peter Ericsson and Karel Reisz;[11] later writing for the British Film Institute's journal Sight and Sound and the left-wing political weekly the New Statesman.[6] In a 1956 polemical article, "Stand Up, Stand Up" for Sight and Sound, he attacked contemporary critical practices, in particular the pursuit of objectivity. Taking as an example some comments made by Alistair Cooke in 1935, where Cooke claimed to be without politics as a critic, Anderson responded:

The problems of commitment are directly stated, but only apparently faced. …The denial of the critics moral responsibility is specific; but only at the cost of sacrificing his dignity. … [These assumptions:] the holding of liberal, or humane, values; the proviso that these must not be taken too far; the adoption of a tone which enables the writer to evade through humour [mean] the fundamental issues are balked."[16][clarification needed]

Following a series of screenings which he and the National Film Theatre programmer Karel Reisz organized for the venue of independently-produced short films by himself and others, he developed a philosophy of cinema which found expression in what became known, by the late-1950s, as the Free Cinema movement.[17] This was the belief that the British cinema must break away from its class-bound attitudes and that non-metropolitan Britain ought to be shown on the nation's screens. He had already begun to make films himself, starting in 1948 with Meet the Pioneers, a documentary about a conveyor-belt factory.[18]


Along with Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson, and others, he secured funding from a variety of sources (including Ford of Britain) and they each made a series of short documentaries on a variety of subjects. One of Anderson's early short films, Thursday's Children (1954), concerning the education of deaf children, made in collaboration with Guy Brenton, a friend from his Oxford days, won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short in 1954.[6]

These films, influenced by one of Anderson' heroes, the French filmmaker Jean Vigo, and made in the tradition of the British documentaries of Humphrey Jennings, foreshadowed much of the social realism of British cinema that emerged in the next decade, with Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) and Anderson's own This Sporting Life (1963), produced by Reisz. Anderson's film met with mixed reviews at the time, and was not a commercial success.

Anderson is perhaps best remembered as a filmmaker for his "Mick Travis trilogy", all of which star Malcolm McDowell as the title character: if.... (1968), a satire on public schools; O Lucky Man! (1973) a Pilgrim's Progress inspired road movie; and Britannia Hospital (1982), a fantasia taking stylistic influence from the populist wing of British cinema represented by Hammer horror films and Carry On comedies.[5]

In 1981, Anderson played the role of the Master of Caius College at Cambridge University in the film Chariots of Fire.

Anderson developed an acquaintance from 1950 with John Ford, which led to what has come to be regarded as one of the standard books on that director, Anderson's About John Ford (1983). Based on half a dozen meetings over more than two decades, and a lifetime's study of the man's work, the book has been described as "One of the best books published by a film-maker on a film-maker".[19]

In 1985, producer Martin Lewis invited Anderson to chronicle Wham!'s visit to China, among the first-ever visits by Western pop artists, which resulted in Anderson's film Foreign Skies: Wham! In China. He admitted in his diary on 31 March 1985, to having "no interest in Wham!", or China, and he was simply "'doing this for the money'".[20] In 1986, he was a member of the jury at the 36th Berlin International Film Festival.[21]

Anderson was also a significant British theatre director. He was long associated with London's Royal Court Theatre, where he was Co-Artistic Director 1969–70, and Associate Artistic Director 1971–75, directing premiere productions of plays by David Storey, among others.

In 1992, as a close friend of actresses Jill Bennett and Rachel Roberts, Anderson included a touching episode in his autobiographical BBC film Is That All There Is?, with a boat trip down the River Thames (several of their professional colleagues and friends aboard) to scatter their ashes on the waters while musician Alan Price sang the song "Is That All There Is?".

Every year, the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA) gives an acclaimed filmmaker the chance to screen his or her personal Top 10 favorite films. In 2007, Iranian filmmaker Maziar Bahari selected O Dreamland and Every Day Except Christmas (1957), a record of a day in the old Covent Garden market, for his top 10 classics from the history of documentary.[3]

Personal lifeEdit

Gavin Lambert's memoir, Mainly About Lindsay Anderson, in which he wrote that Anderson repressed his homosexuality, was seen as a betrayal by his other friends.[22] In November 2006 Malcolm McDowell told The Independent:

I know that he was in love with Richard Harris the star of Anderson's first feature, This Sporting Life. I am sure that it was the same with me and Albert Finney and the rest. It wasn't a physical thing. But I suppose he always fell in love with his leading men. He would always pick someone who was unattainable because he was heterosexual.[23]


Anderson died from a heart attack on 30 August 1994 at the age of 71.

Theatre productionsEdit

All Royal Court, London, unless otherwise indicated:

Partial filmographyEdit

Documentary and TVEdit

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "Anderson, Lindsay Gordon". Who Was Who in America, 1993-1996, vol. 11. New Providence, N.J.: Marquis Who's Who. 1996. p. 6. ISBN 0-8379-0225-8.
  2. ^ 25 Years of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court, Richard Findlater (ed) Amber Lane Press 1981. ISBN 0-906399-22-X
  3. ^ Curtain Times: The New York Theater 1965-67, Otis L. Guernsey Jr, Applause 1987 ISBN 0-936839-23-6
  4. ^ "Cannes Film Festival archives". 1969. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011. Cite uses deprecated parameter |deadurl= (help)
  5. ^ a b Catsoulis, Jeannette (14 August 2008). "An Actor's Playful Tribute to a Dissident Director". The New York Times.
  6. ^ a b c "Lindsay Anderson | Biography & Film Career". Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Graham, Allison (1981). Lindsay Anderson. University of Stirling Archives: Twayne Publishers.
  8. ^ "Alexander Vass Anderson - National Portrait Gallery".
  9. ^ "Officers of the British Army 1939-1945  --  A".
  10. ^ Lindsay Anderson Diaries, Lindsay Anderson, ed. Paul Sutton, Bloomsbury, 2004, Introduction, p.13
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Gavin., Lambert (2000). Mainly about Lindsay Anderson : a memoir. London: Faber. ISBN 0571177751. OCLC 44015535.
  12. ^ British Society Since 1945: The Penguin Social History of Britain, Arthur Marwick, Penguin Books, 1996, p. 127
  13. ^ Lindsay Anderson Revisited: Unknown Aspects of a Film Director, ed. Erik Hedling, Christophe Dupin, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, p. 120
  14. ^ "Murray Anderson". 27 May 2016 – via
  15. ^ "Murray Anderson, pilot – obituary". The Telegraph. 28 April 2016. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  16. ^ a b Sight and Sound, Autumn 1956, reprinted in Paul Ryan (ed) Never Apologise: The Collected Writings, 2004, London: Plexus, p218-32, 228, 226. This article was reprinted in a shortened form in Universities and Left Review 1:1, Spring 1957, p44-48, 46, 46, and is online here, though only part of the second reference is reproduced.
  17. ^ Childs, Peter; Storry, Mike, eds. (2002). "Anderson, Lindsay". Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture. London: Routledge. p. 23.
  18. ^ Hedling, Erik; Dupin, Christophe (2016). Lindsay Anderson Revisited: Unknown Aspects of a Film Director. UK: Springer. p. 02. ISBN 978-1137539434.
  19. ^ David Castell, Daily Telegraph, cited on back cover of UK paperback edition
  20. ^ Paul Sutton (ed) Lindsay Anderson: The Diaries, 2004, London: Methuen, p434
  21. ^ "Berlinale: 1986 Juries". Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  22. ^ Lindsay Anderson: Let me tell you about Lindsay The Independent, 21 February 2002. Retrieved on 1 January 2017.
  23. ^ Geoffrey Macnab "Malcolm McDowell: Lindsay Anderson and me", The Independent, 15 November 2006. Retrieved on 11 May 2009. For Anderson's feelings about Richard Harris at the time This Sporting Life was in production during 1962, see Paul Sutton (ed) The Diaries: Lindsay Anderson, 2004, London: Methuen, Chapter 3, especially p77-80.


External linksEdit