Douglas Gordon

Family name: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
19 Dec 1997
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

Horizontal tabs

Interview notes



Born 31.12.29. Father a GP in Leeds. Evacuated to Wales with Leeds Grammar School. Idyllic. Then to Wharfedale. Learning came easily. Early interest in cinema. Given 9.5 mm projector at six. Built a cinema in attic. Father had cine camera. Cousin David Rush had visited studios. Read Grierson at 15 and decided him on career in documentaries. Went to University College London and read history. Joined its film unit in 1948. Got polio in 1949. First film assistant Jack Gold. Stan Joseph the founder. Directed a spoof on archaeology, The Restoration Comedy, in 1952. Edited film for NUS Travel. School friend's father had worked for Film Centre. Arranged a meeting with Edgar Anstey which led to nothing. Got in to BBC TV Film Unit in the library. John Elliot headed film unit. After six months moved to the cutting room. Then to "Talks". A good grounding in a very primitive setup. Memories of Grace Wyndham-Goldie. First solo editing for David Attenborough with Richard Massingham. Several months on daily newsreel. Worked entirely on negative. Fastest job when Queen Mary died. An exciting time. After two years moved to Shell Film Unit in 1954. Regarded as "the" documentary unit. A re-education in science. Good fortune to work with Bert Haanstra editing The Rival World. A marvellous experience with a marvellous man. The astuteness of Stuart Legg, the producer. The importance of The Rival World to subsequent Shell films. An exciting experience. Characters of Stuart Legg and Arthur Elton. First location experience as assistant to Denis Segaller. Went on to direct The Ruthless One for Anti-Locust Research Centre. Alan Fabian's talents as an "imagineer". Directing locusts (45'45") End of Side 1.


More on filming The Ruthless One. Its influence on the methods of a physiotherapist. Shell gave you time to get things right. Then directed a compilation film in SE Asia for a conference presentation. In line for a job in Iraq to succeed John Shearman. The reason for setting up overseas units. Kassem's revolution diverted him to Nigeria. Became producer of unit based there, employed by Film Centre. Explaining Shel-BP to the country. Took Maurice Picot and Roy Ayton. Tough locations. Problems of finding local technicians. Importance of training. Stressful but interesting. Unit based in Lagos with shooting crew in Port Harcourt. Cultural differences. Echoes from the old raj. Working relationships. The assistant director who made it in his own way. The films that were made. The success of Framework for a Nation. Shell's "Vatican-like perspective". The importance of Film Centre's role as a "broker". The mechanism of good sponsorship. The roles played by Alex Wolcough and Jack Beddington at Shell. (44'51") End of Side 2.


Rejoined Shel Film Unit on return from Nigeria and became resident producer. Changing nature of the unit. Recollections of John Drummond, head of media of Shell PR in the sixties. Became producer of The River Must Live, and Underwater Search. Differences with Arthur Elton. Working with John Armstrong on Underwater Search. John Drummond's way with using the films. Importance of films to the Shel Group. Sixties very busy. 16 titles on the go at one time. Michael Heckford's films Paint and Crown of Glass. Went freelance in 1970. Went to USA in 1968 to make Areas for Breathing with Alan Pendry for Shel Oil. Grew out of US interest in The River Must Live. Film hit the rocks for a year then given a Hollywood preview and scored higher than I Love Lucy. Went on to make three more films for Shel Oil: on geomorphology: This Ixind. which was not accepted by Shell UK. Then two films for the bicentennial. One on the anthropology of North America.. Great response from younger audiences. Final film was on American innovation. All widely shown. Extensive use of film in American education system. Final film completed in America in 1980. (43'42") End of Side 3.


Worked as a producer with BP in mid seventies through Balfour Films. Planet Water with Derek Williams. The Oil in your Engine with Philip Owtram. Energy in Perspective with Peter de Normanville. A very good scientific film maker. Shetland film with Derek Williams. Final film for BP Coal the Bridge. Then back to Shell. Taking over Time for Energy from Derek Armstrong. Then For Want of Water, both with Theo Richmond. Fate of the Forests with Alan Pendry. The amval of video at Shell. Sponsors became more short termist. Returned to Nigeria for a film on 25th anniversary of independence, directed by John Rogers. The rude contrast to his previous time. Armed robbery was now a national habit since Biafran War. The country was in an economic mess. A view of his old home. Last film in 1993. More than fulfiled ambitions. Recollections of people and ways of working. Disabled film for British Rail. The passing of the festivals. (32'5



Douglas Gordon's cv  can be retrieved by clicking on the tab below.

Further information: