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Lewis Gilbert, director of Moonraker, The Spy Who Loved Me and You Only Live Twice, dies aged 97

A Music Hall star at five years old, Lewis Gilbert learned his craft in the RAF film unit and became one of the leading film directors of his generation

    Lewis Gilbert on the set of You Only Live Twice
    Lewis Gilbert on the set of You Only Live Twice (Photo: Getty Images)

    Lewis Gilbert, one of Britain's most celebrated film directors, has died at the age of 97.

    Mr Gilbert, who was responsible for a string of popular movies, including three James Bond Films, Alfie and Educating Rita, died peacefully in his sleep.

    His son John Gilbert told the BBC that his father passed away on Friday in Monaco, after “suffering from dementia for close to a decade”.

    It is likely you will have seen a film by Mr Gilbert, whose career spanned half a century and included more than 40 full-length feature films.

    He was nominated for an Oscar in 1967 for directing Alfie, the film which is credited with launching Sir Michael Caine’s career.

    The director, who is also known fo radapting Willy Russell's Shirley Valentine, was born in London in 1920 to a Jewish family in the East End.

    In an interview with the JC in 1995 he recalled how his family who were involved in the old music hall influenced his career. 

    "My mother came from a very Orthodox East End Jewish family and one Christmas she entered a dance competition at the Lyceum and ending up winning a turkey, which my grandfather promptly threw out of the window.

    “Anyway, a couple of days later, this Irish woman turned up at the house — she had spotted my mother at the Lyceum — and tried to persuade my grandfather to let my mother tour with her act.

    “She was only 12 or 13 at the time but, amazingly, he finally agreed and off she went.

    “The Irish woman, who was married to a Jewish man, had 12 children all in the act, one of whom became my father.

    "I remember the old girl very well, she was a big influence on my life," he said.

    But it was his Orthodox, Yiddish-speaking grandmother who introduced him to the cinema.

    "She used to take me to the films, the silent films, but she couldn't read the subtitles, so I had to read them for her,” he told the JC.

    "I am in essence the product of two incredibly clashing cultures: the Irish lady whose father had been in the circus and the strictly Orthodox, pious Jewish family."

    His father died when he was very young and his mother went into films as an extra.

    At first he followed in his mother’s footsteps by starting his career as a child actor, but by the age of 17, he knew he wanted to direct.

    "I didn't want to be an actor; I wanted to be a director,” he said.

    His son, who worked with his father, told the BBC: "He was a wonderful man with a great sense of humour. He was hard-working and we worked on many films together."

    The director’s colleagues, Bond producers Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli, said the director would be "sorely missed".

    "It is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of our dear friend Lewis Gilbert.

    "Lewis was a true gentleman. He made an enormous contribution to the British film industry as well as the Bond films.

    "His films are not only loved by us but are considered classics within the series. He will be sorely missed," they said in a statement.

    David Walliams paid tribute to him on Twitter.

    The comedian praised him "for all the joy you brought me & millions of others."

    While Mr Gilbert did not like to pick his favourite films, he admitted to enjoying directing his three Bond films, "You Only Live Twice," "The Spy Who Loved Me" and "Moonraker."

    Although he had reservations about directing Bond: "After I had directed 'Alfie,1 Cubby Broccoli rang me and asked me if I'd like to do a Bond film.

    “But I said that I didn't think there was much else I could do with James Bond that hadn't been done already and declined,” he told the JC.

    "The next day, he rang me back and said, 'You're wrong, because you've got the world's biggest ready-made audience waiting to see what kind of mess you can make of it.'

    “I thought that was true and very much enjoyed making them. They were great fun."

    He was made a CBE in 1997 and received a fellowship from the British Film Institute in 2001.

    He made his last film, Before You Go, in 2002, which saw him reunite with Dame Julie Walters, who was nominated for an Oscar for Educating Rita.

    Gilbert's autobiography, All My Flashbacks, was published in 2010.

     

     
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