The crème de la crème of the British film industry turned out last night in central London for a glittering tribute to the legendary producer.
Veteran UK producer Jeremy Thomas was celebrated last night with a tribute by the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences (AMPAS) at the Curzon Soho cinema in central London.
A glittering crowd of the UK’s finest turned out to honour Thomas, who won the Academy Award in March 1988 for producing The Last Emperor, the first of his many collaborations with Bernardo Bertolucci.
Tom Conti, who starred in Thomas’ 1983 production Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence, hosted the evening of spoken tributes, film clips, video messages and conversation covering his 40-year career.
Thomas came from a top UK film industry pedigree. His father was Ralph Thomas, who famously directed the Doctor series of films starting in 1954 with Doctor In The House, and his uncle was Gerald Thomas, the man behind the Carry On films. His great uncle was Victor Saville, who produced and directed films in the US and UK such as Goodbye Mr Chips and The Silver Chalice.
Having spent his childhood on sets and living around film studios, Thomas started his career in various positions in the editing department, working with the likes of Ken Loach who delivered a message through Conti that he recalled Thomas as “a good lad to have around.”
After editing Philippe Mora’s Brother Can You Spare A Dime?, he made his first feature as a producer in Australia with Mora’s Mad Dog Morgan starring Dennis Hopper in 1974, then returning to the UK to make The Shout with Jerzy Skolomowski in 1978. At a dinner for the prize-winners at Cannes, where The Shout won the grand jury prize, Thomas sat next to Nagisa Oshima. That meeting would lead to Merry Christmas, Mr Lawrence.
Working Title co-chairman Eric Fellner said that he sought out an introduction with Thomas in Cannes in the mid-eighties and eventually secured an invitation to his suite at the Carlton Hotel. It was, he recalls, as he had expected, a hive of activity, with Thomas associates Hercules Bellville and Chris Auty, Bertolucci and his wife Clare Peploe, Thomas’ wife Eski and others among the throng.
“If ever I’m depressed about what I do, and for those who know me it’s most of the time, I turn to Jeremy for a burst of energy,” said Fellner with a laugh. “He is the producer’s producer.”
He added that it was a travesty that Thomas hadn’t yet been knighted and dubbed him “Lord Thomas of Cannes and Glastonbury.”
Stephen Frears recalled the set of 1983 Thomas production The Hit as “very well-catered”, while Cannes festival director Thierry Fremaux said: “We have heard how Jeremy loves Cannes. Well I am here to tell you that Cannes loved Jeremy.”
A clip of The Last Emperor depicting the public humiliation of men and women in China’s Cultural Revolution was accompanied by Thomas’ Oscar acceptance speech and a video message from Bertolucci. Screenwriter Mark Peploe explained how it was a testament to Thomas’ political nous that the authorities allowed this scene to be shot in China.
John Hurt, who worked with Thomas in The Shout, The Hit and his 1998 directorial debut All The Little Animals, said that he had first met the 13-year-old Thomas on the set of his first film as an actor The Wild And The Willing. “I taught him how to play ten pin bowls,” he recalled.
Hurt pointed to Thomas’ “constant and absolute support for the vision of his directors.”
Throughout the evening, guests pointed to his tenacity and ability to get challenging films made whatever the financing climate of the time. Thomas himself, in conversation with Colin MacCabe at the end of the evening, said that David Cronenberg seemed to come to Thomas only when he had a particularly tough project to finance.
Irish actor Michael Fassbender introduced the first ever footage from Cronenberg’s A Dangerous Method which shot earlier this year in Germany.
Among others paying tribute to Thomas were Sandy Lieberson, Duncan Heath, David Mackenzie, Christopher Hampton and Nicolas Roeg.
Among the many luminaries in the audience were Michael Kuhn, Norma Heyman, Paul Greengrass, Duncan Kenworthy, Chris Auty, Michael White, Amanda Nevill, Nik Powell, Lynda Myles, Hugh Hudson and Maryam D’Abo, as well as Thomas’ colleagues at Recorded Picture Company/HanWay Films including Peter Watson and Tim Haslam.