Lord Puttnam, speaking at a Film Distributors’ Association event in London yesterday, paid tribute to his late friend and colleague Richard Attenborough [pictured].
As this is the first time I’ve spoken in public since Richard Attenborough passed away a couple of months ago, on 24 August, I hope you’ll allow me to share a few reflections about a man who was an irreplaceable friend to all of us.
From the distance of just a couple of months, the warmth of the tributes paid to Richard, and the vast range of them, from so many different walks of life, continue to speak volumes about the impact of his extraordinary generosity on everyone of us in the industry.
That he was a brilliantly charming ‘force of nature’ who liked to get his own way is certainly true – but his own way was always about making the finest film possible, or giving a deserving cause every scrap of his uniquely energetic support. His way was the ‘high-way’!
From childhood, as you know, he cared deeply about contributing to the greater good of society. Often those causes were to be found here, within the film industry itself. Indeed, I’d argue that no single person ever contributed more to the sector they worked in than did Richard Attenborough for the British film industry.
Those glowing obituaries understandably focused on the epic movies he made, but were relatively light on his towering support for bodies such as BAFTA, RADA, Channel 4 and Denville Hall, the home where he actually died. Without his tireless support, it’s questionable that some of those organisations would exist today.
I had first-hand experience of that at Channel Four and BAFTA, as did my wife, Patsy, during her ten years as a Trustee at RADA.
But perhaps his most important contribution was in persuading the then Conservative government to make Film a ‘qualifying cause’ into which National Lottery Funds could be invested; Richard secured – at the most precarious time imaginable – the future of British film production, and with it the livelihoods of pretty well the entire generation now working in it. No small achievement!
Further afield, he was a founding member of the European Film Academy, which added to his trophy shelf in 1988 by honouring him with one of its very first Awards of Merit.
Richard was always a champion of nurturing skills, of encouraging talent, of expanding opportunity. You’ll recall he was an heroic goodwill ambassador for UNICEF; a first-class patron of Film Education; and an inspirational President of the National Film & Television School, of which FDA is a loyal sponsor.
In so many ways, Richard lifted us all on his shoulders. Practically everybody seemed to regard him as a mentor, and I can think of no finer measure of the man than that. I hope his colossal legacy will be celebrated fully at the memorial service to take place at Westminster Abbey in mid-March.