Philip Donnellan

Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
28 Jun 1991
29 Jun 1991
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

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Philip Donnellan was an English documentary film-maker.

He was described in his Guardian obituary as "one of the greatest of all documentarists", Donnellan worked with the BBC for over four decades, producing more than 80 documentary films and programmes.

He  was born in  Reigate Surrey in 1984.  His  family came originally from Galway Ireland. In the early  part of this interview Donnellan talks of his Irish connections and his family. He was educated at a private school. He joined the army in 1942 and was stationed in  India, Burma, Malaya, China and North Africa There is a detailed account of army life.

In 1948 he joined the BBC in Birmingham. He started as a radio announcer and news reader then as a writer and producer of radio features. He began interviewing working people, using portable tape recorders along with Charles Parker, creator of the sound collage “Radio Ballads”. He moved into BBC television as a documentary producer in 1958. Much of his television work paralleled what Charles Parker was doing in radio - using the words and songs of ordinary working people, directly presented without the intervention of an intermediary commentator, to share their experiences and concerns. His first film was Joe The Chainsmith, and his 1962 Private Faces was a portrait of a Durham miner. He worked at BBC  Pebble Mill in Birmingham producing notable documentaries including Shoals Of Herring (1972), The Fight Game and The Big Hewer (1973) with Ewan  MacColl and Peggy Seeger. Gone For A Soldier (1980) was a 105-minute powerful and controversial BBC  film of the 150 year history  of the British Army which drew on ordinary soldiers' diaries and letters for its soundtrack.