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Michael Grigsby dies aged 76

British documentary filmmaker Michael Grigsby has died aged 76.

Grigsby, who died on Tuesday [March 12] after a short illness, worked on nearly 30 films across six decades, mainly focussing on ordinary people at the margins of society.

Born in Reading in 1936, his interest in documentary began when he was a pupil at Abingdon School, where he ran the film society and explored the films of John Grierson. The young teenager persuaded the headmaster into financing his first foray into documentaries and he made No Tumbled House (1955), about the realities faced by a youngster at boarding school.

His first job was as a trainee assistant editor at Granada Television, in Manchester. Shortly after joining, he was offered a job as a studio cameraman and bought his own 16mm Bolex camera.

He set up a filmmaking collective, Unit Five Seven, with colleagues from Granada and in 1959 he shot and edited Enginemen, a short film about work in a locomotive shed. This was followed by Tomorrow’s Saturday (1962), about Blackburn mill workers preparing for the weekend.

Following the critical success of these shorts, he directed his first documentary Deckie Learner for Granada in 1965. The film, which revealed the hazards and fatal accidents that can happen at sea, secured Grigsby his first a BAFTA nomination.

Known for conducting research periods of up to six months prior to shooting, he made a series of films about the survivors on both sides of the Vietnam War in I Was a Soldier (1970), The Search (1991) and Thoi Noi (1993).

Another trilogy of films dealt with ordinary inhabitants of Northern Ireland in Too Long a Sacrifice (1984), The Silent War (1990) and Rehearsals (2005).

Other landmark titles included 1987’s Living on the Edge, about families facing up to social disintegration in Thatcher’s Britain, and 1998’s Lockerbie, A Night Remembered, which revisited a traumatised community 10 years after the Boeing 747 disaster.

Last year, Grigsby followed up his 1970 film I Was a Soldier with We Went to War. Co authored with creative producer Rebekah Tolley of Tarian Films, the doc returned to the stories of the same three Vietnam veterans: David, Dennis and Lamar, 40 years after their return from combat to their homes in the heartlands of Texas.

In 2003, he set up the Abingdon Film Unit with Jeremy Taylor, head of drama at Abingdon school. To date, the Unit has produced nearly a hundred films, many of which have been screened at festivals throughout the UK and abroad, and won a number of awards.

He is survived by his two sons, Simon and Danny Grigsby and his partner and collaborator Rebekah Tolley.

A memorial service will be announced in due course.

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