Derek Malcolm

Derek Malcolm
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Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
29 Feb 1996
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[Transcribed from handwritten notes. DS]


Born in a Scottish castle; boarding school, Eton and Oxford University, History, Philosophy. Acting. London in War. Bexhill. Wanted to write; steeplechase rider; actor, professional then journalist. Daily Sketch [newspaper DS]; 50s schooldays, Cheltenham Gloucester Echo Drama Critic; 10 years Guardian Theatre [Critic]; Philip Hope Wallace, Brian Redhead, Michael Elliston, Feature Sub-editor Manchester Hetherington Racing correspondent; Richard Roud, early 60s. Award Critic of the Year! Took over from Richard Roud. 25 years age, cinemagoers. Attitude, critics, Gov BFI, London Festival Presidents Worlds Film Critics. Value of BFI. Present difficulties of BFI. Labour Party. Film festivals. London Film Festival change; Sheila Whitaker [BEHP Interview No 385 DS]; Edinburgh. Renewed itself. Critics present situation, hands tied.


Film stars and makers; Robert Mitcham; Directors; trials of critics; What critics should be; atmosphere of films and culture; Hollywood; possibilities of cinema; morality, lies about life; Ken Loach; Tarantino; destructive culture. Is Rock (?) more relevant? False values from Hollywood. Future? Better education needed. Sense & Sensibility; Trainspotting.



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Derek Malcom Side 1

Manny Yospa  0:00  

This is the 29th of February 1996. Interviewing Derek Malcolm, the interviewer is Stanley Forman and record Manny Yospa

Stanley Forman  0:14  

You know, where you were born, your childhood, your parents, your early education, what they used to call higher education sort of take it up.

Derek Malcolm  0:24  

Yeah, I was born were born in 1932, in Scotland in a castle in Scotland to a very rich Scottish family. I was sent education in England, and I think I was educated at boarding school, from the age of four to around 21, when I came out of Oxford University members at boarding school from for when I went to what what they used to call those boarding schools, kindergarten, then I went to private school, prep school, and then public school. And then finally, Oxford University. So I had a very privileged kind of sort of upbringing, except that my family gradually lost all that money. And so it was a kind of a privileged upbringing, which gradually got poorer and poorer and poorer, for however, you know, it was a privileged upbringing. I think I only got into Oxford University from Eton. Because my mother knew the had known the, the warden of my particular college very well, and he'd more or less taking me I didn't think I deserve to get in. However, I did get in. I didn't do much work there. was down to study English decided not to and did history and philosophy came out with a bad degrees. not understandable because I didn't do any work, did a lot of acting. Sport and things like that, but not much actual. But the university at least introduced me to the rest of the world. Yeah, whereas Eton and all the private schools very sort of privileged. During my childhood, I lived in London to the war when we were bombed out of London, and I went to Bexhill were ghastly place, a ghastly little seaside town and nothing happened. But I was away at school most of the time. And all right up to the end of university, I thought I vaguely wanted to write. I tried to get into publishing after university couldn't get into publishing. So became a amateur rider over the sticks. steeplechase rider because my father had been, I'd gone hunting with my father a lot, and always had quite a lot to do with horses. For about two years or so I rode as a jockey as a steeplechase jockey. Yeah. And then after that, I decided that I didn't really like falling off courses very much. So I became an actor. And I acted professionally for about two years, also, two or three years and then got out of that and became a journalist.

Stanley Forman  3:11  

Did you train to act? 

Derek Malcolm  3:13  

No, I haven't. But I've done a lot of acting in university. And I joined repertory companies, and was in three London shows "Look Back In Anger". "Cranks". Yes. And a thing called The New Watergate Review called "Oxford Accents" 

Stanley Forman  3:13  

That was the original Look Back in Anger? 

Derek Malcolm  3:35  

No, I wasn't in the first performance, it was probably the third production or something like that. I got out of that too largely, not because I wasn't good at it. I was rather good at it. But because the nervous energy, it just didn't suit me the whole acting business of actual, just, I just thought, I'm not going to stand this for the rest of my life. I was good at it. But what I actually wanted to do was produce and I didn't get much chance to do that. And because I looked the way I did, I was always a juvenile lead rather than interesting characters. So I got out of that and became a journalist. After all, I had wanted to be a writer. And I got on again, because my mother knew the proprietor. I got on the Daily Sketch. And the reason I got on the Daily Sketch was because they thought this was wonderful that they should have an old Etonian who could go round the nightclubs and actually know Lady Charlotte, whoever it was, and make sure that you know and all the gossip about in those days the aristocracy s Anyway, I couldn't stand that either.

Stanley Forman  4:39  

When was the Daily Sketch period? Can you remember that?

Derek Malcolm  4:42  

Well, it must have been, must be in the early 50s or the mid 50s .

Stanley Forman  4:47  

Post war anyway. 

Derek Malcolm  4:48  

Oh, yeah. Post War. Yeah, because I went to Oxford around 50. Must have been

Stanley Forman  4:57  

Can we go back to the Second World War?

Where were you?

Derek Malcolm  5:01  

 In the Second World during the Second World War? I was at school. We were evacuated from London down to Bexhill. 

Stanley Forman  5:09  

Oh, that's the Bexhill period. 

Derek Malcolm  5:11  

Yeah. And I was also evacuated from a school in Bexhill down to Cornwall, Same school, went down to Cornwall, and then went on to then I went on from there to a place called Summerfields in Oxford, which was a very select Private School, which was really a crammer for Eton. And I, and then I went to Eton. And then from Eton to Oxford.

Stanley Forman  5:38  

What do you feel about the public school? Did you have a bad time?

Derek Malcolm  5:41  

I didn't. I didn't enjoy public school at all. I was always I was always sort of Labour supporter. 

Stanley Forman  5:49  


Derek Malcolm  5:51  

 I, it was, I was very bad sports. Very bad. My work, asthmatics, small, miserable, and therefore, had a dreadful time,  most of the time, until one master at Eton said  "there's something about this guy he can write". And I think it was just that one master who taught me who maybe gave me a bit of confidence  and kept me afloat, you know. And, of course, when you become a senior boy, at Eton, it's much nicer. But I didn't. But I mean, I suppose since I had a fairly unhappy home life, going to school wasn't so awful. I hated boarding school, but then I also hated life at home because my parents were very unhappy with each other, one way or another. So it was not a very settled life until I went to university when I broke free of most of that

Stanley Forman  6:50  

Your your politics. Your labour politics, didn't come from your parents.

Derek Malcolm  6:56  

No no way obvious  Torys  Yeah.

Stanley Forman  6:59  

How did that happen? Well, I think

Derek Malcolm  7:01  

It was just a reaction to everything they held, dear. 

I see .You did the opposite.

 I did the opposite. I can remember after the war, talking to a Tory MP just before the election in 1945. And saying to him Well, I think Churchill is a wonderful war leader, but a total rogue and I don't know how anybody could possibly vote for him in peacetime and if I were voting I would vote for Atlee and the Tory MP I remember saying to me said Yeah, rather agree with you.

Stanley Forman  7:33  

So the Daily Sketch was not for you ? 

Derek Malcolm  7:36  

No, I didn't want to piss about in  night clubs, finding out what the lower echelons of the aristocracy were doing to each other. So in the end the Daily Sketch sent me to Cheltenham where I got on the local paper, the Gloucestershire Echo. And I progressed I became, in the end I became drama critic there. I made a sort of name for myself as a drama critic there actually, in the end became news editor of the paper, and stayed there for nearly 10 years getting married and getting divorced there. It was, I quite like being in Cheltenham , because there was Cheltenham races the great national hunt centre. And I since I'd been a jockey, 

Stanley Forman  8:27  

Was there a rich  dramatic life in Cheltenham ? Well, there was

Derek Malcolm  8:30  

There was a local theatre professional and a local theatre amateur. But in those days, those things were more important than they are now in the community. And the fact that I was a sort of embryo Kenneth Tynan or so they thought I used to make, my reviews were waiting for with bated breath by amateurs and professionals alike. And I had the big reputation in a seven in a small pool. And I since I got married, down there, and had something to do with the professional theatre, in that I tried to sort of when it closed, I tried to reopen it as a as a sensible theatre and we did manage to reopen it, I sort of stayed down there. And I've always thought to myself, the only thing I really want to do is to get, if I do move from this rather nice, Cotwold  neighbourhood where I'm a big fish in a small pool, I will go on the Guardian. No other paper would interest me

Stanley Forman  9:27  

that way. It was already your newspaper that

Derek Malcolm  9:30  

It was already my newspaper. And finally, if anybody had asked me, I would have said what I really want to be is  theatre critic of the Guardian. 

Stanley Forman  9:40  

 Theatre critic of the Guardian?

Derek Malcolm  9:43  

I was a member of Film Society movements and things like that, but really, it was the theatre that didn't just make because I had been an actor you see

Stanley Forman  9:51  

Was Billington already there? 

Derek Malcolm  9:53  

No, no, no, no, no, way, way before Billington He's younger than me. Anyway. The theatre critic was for Philip Hope - Wallace. 

Stanley Forman  10:00  

Oh, yeah,I knew him. Yes.

Derek Malcolm  10:04  

Anyway, I got on the gardener very peculiar manner I wrote. I rang up Brian Redhead who was then the Features Editor up in Manchester. Yeah. And I said, would he like a piece about the charter shuttling literary festival? And he said, Well, who are you? And I said, Well, I work for the local paper, and I'm a theatre critic, and he said, Well, we will be quite interested. But since we don't know you can't say we're going to put it in but write a piece. And I wrote a terribly boring, pompous piece, thinking I've got a bit boring and pompous and intellectual for The Guardian. And just before I had to transmit it, I tore it up. I thought, this is just awful. And I suddenly realised I had an hour or two hours to write a piece of The Guardian, which would seal my fate, best of my life helped golf. So I thought there was only one thing I can do. And that's right, funny peasy. And I wrote a funny piece about all the pompous nonsense that goes on at literary festivals. And I sent it off to the Guardian thinking or they'll never ever print it. But they might think that I was amusing enough to give give an interview to, and I opened the Guardian the next day, and there it was complete on the top of the art space. By their by No, by Derek mountain, because I didn't want anybody to know that I'd written it in children. I was too well known in children. So it was by Michael Edison,

Stanley Forman  11:28  

they invented a label. Oh, that was my

Derek Malcolm  11:30  

middle to middle name, I always say. And so I realised my god and Brian redhead rang out and said, We liked the piece very much. What are you doing in Cheltenham? And I said, Well, I'm trying to get a job on the guardian. And he said, Well, look, we haven't got anything at the moment. But when we have our right to, but six or eight months later, he hadn't written to me. And so I rang him up and said, Why, or why? He said, Oh, my God, I've forgotten all about you. Come and see me. And I went up to see him. I didn't tell him anything about going to Eton or anything like that, for kindergarten didn't have people like Eternia. And he said, right, we'll take you on as a sub editor in the features department. And the next day, another letter, Ivan, the news editor, saying, We'll take you on as a reporter. So I had two jobs offered me in the same week at The Guardian. And I didn't know which one to take. And I thought, Well, Brian read is pretty famous. I think I'll be under him. And I become a feature set because I was given a promise and a little bit of writing, as well as be a feature seven. Yeah. So that's what I did. And I went up to Manchester after about 10 years in Cheltenham, and I became a feature seven, I did a little bit of theatre, I film occasionally, or a play or a ballet or something like that, anything that they were or a book in who they wanted me to do, but most of the time I was a feature sub laying out the pages and things like that. Finally, I put in the request to go to London, from Manchester. And I managed to get to London when I was also a feature sub, and event and then eventually the garden started racing. So Alistair Hetherington, who was then the Guardians editor, looked around to find anybody who knew the back end of a horse from the front. And the guardian. Needless to say, I was the soccer. So they said, Will you be the racing correspondent so we can find somebody else? And I said, Well, I don't really want to give it alright, I will. So I started the racing off with a garden. And at one stage, I was late night sub rate, racing correspondent and Deputy film critic at the same time, offer very little money.

Stanley Forman  13:59  

Film critic, Richard road. Oh, Richard round. Yeah, this would be when?

Derek Malcolm  14:05  

Well, it must be in the early 60s early. By that time here, Richard. Anyway, the thing was, in the end, for some unknown reason, I won an award from the International publishing company, critic of the year. Like God knows how I run it because the work wasn't really

Stanley Forman  14:24  

pretty, like general cultural criticisms. Yes, yes. All theatre ballet

Derek Malcolm  14:29  

was when I was made critic of the year. God bless her. I wonder all I can remember is that Michael foot was the chairman and red Butler was also on the on the panel. So I received it from our dinner. Maybe he wasn't on the panel, but anyway, I received it from Reb good bloke act Yes. Under the second it turns out and and so once I become critical of the Yeah, as Really, I was only the deputy film critic of the Guardian, but I did an awful lot of work because Richard Rhodes was permanently aware. Yes, yes. I then said to get to look, I can't do it late nights and, and racing correspondent and Deputy film critic for God's sake, you know, so more or less I got out of most of that they appointed Richard Berliners ready racing correspondent. And I got out of there did a little bit of racing. But then Richard Wright was fired. Because he was never there. And I, they made the appointed me film critic, and that's what I've been ever since. And I must have been it for a good 25 years now. It's a quarter of a century quarter of a century as film critic. Now, if anybody ever asked me actually, I was also deputy theatre critic for Philippa Wallace some time to you. So, you know, it's a very peculiar thing at The Guardian, they tend to move you around all sorts of different kinds of jobs. And it isn't thought to be amazing that you did a bit of sport and a bit of art, you know, it was thought to be greater. Leonardo, Leonardo Kriti. Yes, like Goddess who did cricket Yeah, music for Allah to wine and politics and all sorts of things. Yeah. So it wasn't so exceptional, but I've been a lot of things on the garden. Racing correspondent, letters editor. Feature sad. Day deputy theatre critic, Deputy film critic, fan and then film critic. So one way or another, it was a relief to me finally to to have a job. And I was fairly. Yeah, that's how I became a film critic of the guardian. And don't even ask me whether I, I didn't plan for it. They just took a risk, because they knew I was great, a good writer. And they thought, well, if I could write well about plays, and this, that and the other, I might write relevant films, you know. And, you know, the fact that I got this award than impressed them a lot. And so that's so I've been film critic ever since back 25 years, I'd say.

Stanley Forman  17:15  

Yeah, incredible. And you don't hanker after being having not been the theatre man?

Derek Malcolm  17:22  

Well, no, not at all. Because the film

Stanley Forman  17:26  

sort of chip on your shoulder, you know, if only I could have done theatre?

Derek Malcolm  17:30  

No, not at all. I thought it was a much better idea to do films because you go around the world doing films film festivals these days, whereas the poro theatre critic could occasionally go to Paris or so in the end, it was the it was over. So pretty good. A pretty good appointment for me. Yeah.

Stanley Forman  17:51  

Good. Did you know a lot about the cinema? Yeah, not an awful

Derek Malcolm  17:54  

lot, but I was conversant with it. I probably knew as much about it as I did about the theatre. Yes, I did because as a child, I went to the cinema a great deal. In Oslo, Bexhill. I used to go to all three of the cinemas three times a week. In Bexhill during the war. So I knew a bit about the cinema. And then Roger man, though, isn't it? I started to look at Bergman and things. But I was not really an expert when I became Deputy film critic, or even film critic. Not really,

Stanley Forman  18:31  

you will never obsessed with the cinema. John Gill, it

Derek Malcolm  18:35  

was no I was never really that kind of a movie buff at all. I mean, I am I like the arts. Generally, I could have been a theatre critic, it could even be been a music critic. I could have been a ballet critic. I could leave and have been an art critic. But it just happened that I fell into the cinema. You know, as you know, that's what happens on newspapers. It's never very much planning involved. Usually they want a good writer, and they hope that he'll learn about the subject sufficiently. Yeah.

Stanley Forman  19:10  

So you've really enjoyed the last 20 odd years.

Derek Malcolm  19:13  

Well, certainly the last 25 years have been much better, and my whole life got better as it went on. I think the first 30 years of my life are pretty miserable. Because I never knew quite what I wanted to do. And I was trying all sorts of different jobs, very unhappy home life and unhappy first marriage. My my first wife died of alcoholism. At the age of about 30 Well, the children of the grandchild Jackie, my daughter, who's now 33. And now the last two to five years were very rare, very good compared to anything else. And gradually I became well known because I've been to so many festivals, and everybody knew me, you know, and most of the directors working today, probably I wrote a review of their very first film, like Scorsese or somebody like. So, you know, I have so many contexts now that I couldn't move because it would be an awful waste of all that knowledge and context and all the rest of it.

Stanley Forman  20:20  

How do you feel we want to don't start talking about individual films or film stars or Hollywood yet, but how do you feel about your fellow critics after you sit with them? Viewing theatres day after day after day? Well, I do either get to really know them in depth, or hardly get to the, you know,

Derek Malcolm  20:38  

well, you don't really get to know them very much in very much in depth. I mean, you know them as sort of acquaintances week by week, we're not very close with each other. One or two of them are close with each other and make friends and every but we're not really close to each other. Now, and a lot of young critics have come in who, what is known as attitude critics, and critics who are fried, right? Oh, good writers of essays, but don't know anything about the cinema at all. And it's very difficult to, I mean, all they like is Hollywood movies, and they have no knowledge of anything. So I don't really know them very well, just as surprising acquaintances. I mean, one has in this Latin, in the journalists life 1000s of acquaintances, not all that many friends all over the world. Yeah. I mean, people, you know very well, but you don't know them well enough to be really friends. Because you're, you know, either seeing them at festivals or

Stanley Forman  21:41  

many friends in need, you know, friends, indeed, you

Derek Malcolm  21:47  

know, there's not there's not really much of that. But the other things that I've done, and that is like directing the London festival, becoming a governor of the BFI and being president of the World Film Critics organisation for kreski. Yeah, those things have given me lots of friends and things like that. So So there are two different kinds of critics, there's the kind of intervention analysts and like myself, it gets to know a lot of people does a festival wants to deal with the political side of film a bit. political and cultural side, and then the others who just write the reviews. And it's perfectly valid to be a critic who just writes the reviews and doesn't care what the film cost, or what's happened to the director or anything. It's just that they, you know, they see it up on the screen, and they're able to, but I tend to be much more interventionist, possibly because the gardener and my own nature. So I've always been the kind of a political animal more than most of us. And that's why I did the London Festival. It's why I became a governor of the BFI. And why allegedly, I became president of the world's film critics in an in an attempt to sort of see if we can sort of move the goalposts a little.

Stanley Forman  23:06  

Can we talk a bit about the BFI? You know, we all know it, what what do you feel about? I mean, the BFI is a constant source of gossip, it has been virtually for decades now. How do you in general how you feel about the institute?

Derek Malcolm  23:20  

Well, the BFI is an incredibly valuable thing, which you burn to have a love hate relationship with. Because, you know, it seems to, it seems to be the only thing with its archive and with the NFT. And with the London Festival, and with edgy film, education and all sorts of things like that the only thing only structure we have, which treats film even moderately seriously in this country, and yet at the same time, it's heavily bureaucratic, full of vipers incredibly difficult place to work for, and not an easy, not an easy setup to love in any other way, except for the people like John Gila, John Guillot, and people who were really film people above everything else, you know, and it's an organisation you no one knows and, and realise is invaluable at the same time. I

Stanley Forman  24:24  

feel exactly the same. It's just one

Derek Malcolm  24:27  

of those things. It's it's so damn bureaucratic third damn political it's full of idiots. And it's badly mismanaged very often. And and the bureaucracy is such that you can't do any decent work very often, but it's the only thing we've gotten back for the National Theatre and bad for the archive and bad for all the things that it does. Why would we Why would we all be cinema in this country?

Stanley Forman  24:53  

Did you know people like said that is for them fairly well, but I didn't know for some lovely there. rector's not so lovely. Yeah, I can be personal you don't?

Derek Malcolm  25:04  

Yes. Well, I know it has some grand drink some Benadryl? I didn't know Dennis very well.

Stanley Forman  25:10  

He was a special mate of my friend. I have a Montague. Yes. And so I got to know him. Ed Bernstein said the beds straight me well, because they were the two key Powells mentor either. But I don't want you to come in, personally if you don't want to. But there have been many ups and downs with directors Institute. If we talk even about the current director. Well, he is Well, the

Derek Malcolm  25:40  

problem with the BFA Is that is that when I sort of began to take notice of it, it was in it still in this period of semiology. Yeah, structuralism and all that ghastly thing, which was enough to give the left wing a very bad name for me. Yeah. And I really thought that locks were awful. Yeah, and destroying with awful academic rubbish or sort of enthusiasm for the cinema, you know, and they regarded me as a bourgeois elitist. And I regarded them as fearful, the West kind of style in this sort of apps or lighters, then that sort of gradually disappeared. And it became much, much more free, sort of liberal with a small Ale, and not so much of that went on. And now, of course, one is very sorry for it, because the government is, is really cutting it so badly. It's having a very, very, very difficult time. And it's very difficult to know, what can be done under the present circumstances, like all other organisations. So I'm glad that, you know, I don't think it's a hive of structuralists, and know that you have a structured CV, and all that now, not at all. But I think it's very wary of, and very, in a very difficult state can't do its job properly, also interfering a bit too much in things it doesn't really know about. You see, there's two views the BFI festival should be the academic, you know, lodging place for for, for everybody who treats the cinema as an art and leave it at that? Or should it walk out into the marketplace a bit more and, and try and get together everybody who's interested in the cinema not just as an art, but also as a commercial operation and an industrial operation. And it's now beginning to try and do that sometimes doesn't do it very wisely. And sometimes it oversteps its mark, its brief. But it's an it's in a very difficult state, with the government, it's in a very difficult state, with its own feelings of how much it ought to be doing and how much it can. Do.

Stanley Forman  28:01  

You feel that the if we have well likely, said he, hopefully, to have a new government in a year or two, do you feel that that could make some degree of profound Whelan's?

Derek Malcolm  28:16  

Well, there's no doubt that we're the new government. We'd have a better chance. There's nothing that can be got from this government. It's obvious. I'm not at all sure that there's anybody in the Labour Party who really understands film in the cinema. I wish I was, I wish I thought they did. I didn't think that is anybody who does. I've been a moderately leftish film critic for 25 years. And yet the Labour Party has never once asked my opinion of anything, and never once got me onto a committee or asked my advice. So they're pretty clueless lot. I'm afraid culturally, I wish I didn't have to say that. But we do have to educate. Yeah. And I hope that's what everybody's doing. I wish I could help but it doesn't seem to be. I'm amazed at the leading leftish critic, which I must after after 25 years has never even been asked his opinion. And one who has intervened politically and Mark

Stanley Forman  29:26  

Fisher, the shadow arts minister, whatever he will be called if ever, never asked you for a serious discussion. Nobody's What do you think we ought to do?

Derek Malcolm  29:36  

Nobody's ever asked my opinion on anything from anywhere in the Labour Party. No, not once. The Liberal Democrats have even the Conservatives once or twice, but never the Labour Party. And not that I'm offended by that. But I think that they obviously haven't. We haven't got there yet to the ground. horribly. And they keep on asking advice from people like patting them on the back and doing their best. But they're not the sort of people who know all that much about many sides of the cinema, you know. And I hesitate to, I worry as to whether we'll ever have a heritage minister, who's really very much better than the present one. But I think ideologically, they'll be more flexible. And of course, it will make, it will make a difference to the arts. They won't be quite so mean minded and awful. But I just wish I was a little more convinced that there was a somebody who's going to be heritage minister, who really was going to change things. But I think the Labour government when it comes in, if it comes in, and when it comes in, where I will find it very difficult to justify too many tax increases and too many too much spending of public money, and will probably do very little other than have a better attitude, in general, to the arts. And I'm a little bit worried that people aren't really giving them the right information. And since one is sort of, on the ground, with one's ear to the ground, internationally, and nationally, I'm really surprised that somebody like myself, if somebody like myself has never been asked for an opinion, who else have they failed to ask? Precisely? Lastly, it's it's rather troubling. Of course, it's never win elections. And they're busy trying to win an election for the first time for years and years and years. So they, you can't expect them to take vast interest. But nevertheless, the cultural community has always been on their side. And you would think that they were a bit better with the cultural community than they have been. I don't think Jack Cunningham would be a very good heritage minister. I don't think he knows anything about it. And the problem is that I don't actually think the guy who's going to be who wants to be challenged with the exchequer, not brown the other one, the other one little man with a beard. Oh, cook cook. I don't think a foreign foreign said a foreign but he wants to be challenged. Yeah, that's for sure. He'd love to push Brad aside if you could. Oh, yeah. But anyway, I mean, I didn't think he has much idea either. Like when when the British Council had all its money, chopped recently, there was very little fascinate that I go around the world. And what the British Council does, is a remarkable, and it's very, very good. Yeah, and keeps British culture afloat in a remarkable way. And then all having to sell their books, close their offices. It's just awful. And I don't think the opposition should have screamed in the opposition should have screamed and shouted in the same way as they screamed and shouted when the World Service was cut. Yeah, they never did. So it doesn't seem to me that culturally, the next Labour government is going to be all that much better. But the whole attitude has got to be different. And so we hope they can be educated into being reasonable taking reasonably liberal view of British character in general and films in particular.

Stanley Forman  33:06  

Can we talk a bit about film festivals? I mean, you trot around the world. Can we talk about the London How do you feel? Where do you feel the London festivals going? And how do you feel about

Derek Malcolm  33:18  

because of the city, where I did the London festival join me, Elliot is and what I did was to say, let's get it out from under the bridge at the NFT. Everybody thinks it's just a festival for BFI members. Yeah. Let's really prove that it's for Londoners, and it's for everybody. And it's not just for John guillotine is precisely, and I did that. And I think I succeeded. Because now it's gone exam is gone. Even more that way probably too much that way. Ron wants to make it a tiny bit more elitist. I think now, but I mean, you know, festivals change. Festivals ought to change. It's very important for festivals to renew themselves. Every few years. I managed to renew it quite successfully. So I think very successful, because the crowds really came and I got a lot of controversy. But nevertheless, the box office got very big. And Sheila Ritika has now done it for nearly 10 years. Yeah, but Sheila is now hounded by the financial problems in the British Film Institute, you know, everything is got to be done to make the most money. And the least since Whitaker, Sheila Whittaker, Sheila Whittaker, the President Director, you know, and I think now, it's mostly in the West End, and it's mostly American previews. Not mostly, but an awful lot of American previews to make money. And the whole idea of the festival is to make money. That's not really the point of a festival. And although the festival still does a very good job, and an awful lot of people go to see an awful lot of films they would otherwise not see. I think it ought now it's time for it to be renewed again and for its priorities to be to be looked at properly again. I think they've got to, obviously not make a loss in the present atmosphere, it would be hopeless. But it needs to be renewed again, how you do that? I'm not quite sure what I would do if I was now suddenly invited. Do it again. But I think I wouldn't do it because I'm afraid and no, they want me to, because I'm afraid. They're pretty good to me human at all costs virtually. And also advertising the BFI wider and wider, wider, which is a good thing, but it's worrying that the festival gets huge crowds every year. But when those same films come out commercially, unless they're big American, obvious films, they don't do much at the box office. Seems to me that festivals do incredibly well. But that's about the limit for a great many small films which otherwise, just go disappear. From view.

Stanley Forman  35:58  

How do you feel about Edinburgh? Well,

Derek Malcolm  36:00  

it's a different kind of festival with different kinds of priorities. And it can favour the young filmmakers and do all sorts of interesting things in the way of masterclasses and everything. And I think that's renewed itself in the last few years. Yeah. And becoming a very good little festival. There's no doubt about it. But of course, if it were had the same financial constraints as London, if it were, if the director was told make money at all costs, it wouldn't be able to do half the things it does. It's got hardly any money in Edinburgh, it has to rely on sponsorship having the dreamt up Edinburgh Festival is absurd. Nevertheless, you know, I think I think the Edinburgh Festival is the nearest thing we've got to a different kind of festival to London and equally valid, equally valid. Yeah, it's a real problem. The real problem in England today, are there a lot of problems. One of the problems is newspapers don't give a damn about critics. They want star profiles. They want gossip about Bruce Willis, or whatever. And a critics job, it gets less and less easy to do properly. I often feel I now have my hand tied, secure one of my hands tied securely around behind my back writing for The Guardian. Because if I really want to write anything, halfway decent, they weren't printed anywhere. And, you know, they want the obvious thing. They want the reviews of the new releases and, and glitzy, silly nonsenses most of the time, because they think that's what their young readers want. And they're obsessed with youth like all the other papers. So I'm afraid being a critic is not anything like as good a job as it was before. Because there's just this general feeling that you know, popular culture is thing trivia is what everybody wants to read about. And please don't go on about that dreary Russian film you found in the forum or whatever. So it's very, very difficult to do the job, as well as one could do even on the Guardian, let alone other other newspapers. And then it's very difficult for buyers to buy anything from abroad now unless they have the chance to have a television deal. And the television people don't want subtitle films anymore. So it's not a good scene at the moment. There are less foreign films that less World Cinema in London than there was 20 years ago. There's less good writing about it than there was 20 years ago. It's an age of trivia, advertising driven age of trivia and this sort of search for young readers at all costs. The only film programme on Channel Four is movie watch, which is the most Gore blimey programme it could we ever, ever listen to. The other day the times printed an article by their film critic on a film by the Greek writer Angelopoulos said it was a masterpiece of whatever, a masterpiece of European cinema. And underneath that they put for idiots from moody watch saying the most boring film we've ever seen what's Harvey KTL doing in this crap? And all that sort of thing as if, as if to sort of completely undermine their own critic. That's the times and I'm glad the Times did it because I'm sure if the guiding it thought of it first they did it too. So I've no you know, it's it's not easy being a film critic now. You can't do the job that you'd like to do.

Stanley Forman  39:46  

You meet I know a lot of stars sudo on the show Hollywood not just Hollywood. How do you feel about them? I don't mean the terms of the day. Any sketches and then you get on all right. Do you find the higher you go in terms of popularity? The simpler, famous people become?

Derek Malcolm  40:12  

No, I think they're mostly intolerable. Really? Well,

Stanley Forman  40:17  

short of Charlie had been with David Robinson The interview was easy. He just asked one question about Charlie, Charlie. Yes. And we just sat back. But is that anyone that you've got a special a soft spot for as a human being? Not necessarily as an expert or before you? Can we just pause here because it's a good time to have a cup of coffee

End of Side 1


Derek Malcolm was the  long-term film critic at the Guardian newspaper, and one-time artistic director of the London Film Festival, Malcolm was an influential and widely respected champion of world cinema. Born in a Scottish castle; boarding school, Eton and Oxford University, History, Philosophy. Acting. London in War. Bexhill. Wanted to write; steeplechase rider; actor, professional then journalist. Daily Sketch [newspaper DS]; 50s schooldays, Cheltenham Gloucester Echo Drama Critic; 10 years Guardian Theatre [Critic]; Philip Hope Wallace, Brian Redhead, Michael Elliston, Feature Sub-editor Manchester Hetherington Racing correspondent; Richard Roud, early 60s. Award Critic of the Year! Took over from Richard Roud. 25 years age, cinemagoers. Attitude, critics, Gov BFI, London Festival Presidents Worlds Film Critics. Value of BFI. Present difficulties of BFI. Labour Party. Film festivals. London Film Festival change; Sheila Whitaker [BEHP Interview No 385 DS]; Edinburgh. Renewed itself. Critics present situation, hands tied.