Michael Apted a storied feature film and documentary director passed away at 79 years of age last week. He is mourned by family, friends, industry peers, cinephiles and a select cohort of 60 somethings that he first encountered as a young man 56 years ago.
Still from Seven Up! documentary, The Link
Back in the early 60s, Apted worked with Granada Television. As a researcher, one of his assignments was to find 14 children whose life circumstances reflected England’s socio-economic spectrum. The children were being scouted to participate in the documentary Seven Up! at that time conceived of as a one off project exploring the possible influences of the British class system on their lives.
In the original 1964 ITV broadcast, directed by Canadian Paul Almond, the seven-year-olds (4 girls and 10 boys) were treated to a party, a visit to London Zoo and a playground outing. Closing out the program, the kids zigged, zagged and zipped in an animated and sometimes rambunctious romp through what some believe to have been London’s Notting Hill Adventure Playground.
The New York Times Magazine characterized it as “…a grim hazardous-looking pit of an “adventure” playground.” From my vantage point the description smacks of dramatic license and hyperbole all rolled into one. In any case, on that day there was an abundance of joy, exuberance, discovery and yes, adventure as the clip below captures.
Over the years, what was initially thought of as a stand alone became the lead in to the critically acclaimed and much talked about Up series. Apted was in the director’s chair for what became a lifelong passion and arguably the longest longitudinal documentary on record.
Participants were interviewed at seven year intervals over the course of six decades sharing their ups, downs, dreams, accomplishments and failures. A loyal viewing audience kept returning for more with each new installment. What is most likely the final episode, 63 Up, was released in 2019.
Apted regretted not including an equal number of girls and boys when he selected the children. He went on to direct women in powerful roles in several critically acclaimed films including Coal Miner’s Daughter (1980), Gorillas in the Mist (1988) and Nell (1994).
Michael Apted thank you for your role in this extraordinary series and for letting the kids loose to play that day so many years ago. Their youthfulness, daring and wonderment are a bright beacon in somber times.