Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Mark Shivas 1938-2008

This morning I just happened to be re-reading the wise and witty contributions given to my book about Alan Clarke by the greatly-esteemed film and TV producer Mark Shivas. And I was thinking of how really good it had been to see Mark again for the first time in some years when we were both attendees of a really enjoyable BBC Films function back on the last day of July.
Moments ago I learned that it has just been announced that Mark died from cancer last Saturday night, aged 70.
The obituaries will no doubt testify that he was someone with a refined understanding of drama and the moving image, an Oxford graduate and precocious cinephile who was rightly recruited into the great flourishing of British television in the 1960s, and immediately got down to work with some of the foremost talents of that moment, at Granada and then the BBC.
Apart from Alan Clarke (with whom he made Horace, To Encourage The Others and Funny Farm among others) his major associations, one supposes, were with Frederic Raphael, Alan Bennett, Stephen Frears, and Anthony Minghella, though there were many more, and probably others just as significant. He was the ideal Head of Drama for the BBC from 1988, and similarly the very man to initiate the project of BBC Films in the early 1990s.
In more recent years he was the chief of the production outfit Headline Pictures, at whose offices I had a very congenial and interesting meeting back in early 2008 when the prospect of a Crusaders TV adaptation was being mooted by one or two parties. Mark had had to send his apologies that day; I hadn’t seen him since he graciously attended a Clarke tribute I organised at the Edinburgh Film Festival. Hence the pleasure of his company this July, when he spoke with characteristically mild modesty of several fascinating and hugely ambitious projects he had afoot. He remained graciously interested in how Crusaders was going, and over dinner was generally full of astute and completely considered observations about film and life in general.
In my few dealings with him he always struck me as formidably serious while managing the enviably trick of wearing it all rather lightly. I remember when I first talked to him about his work with Alan Clarke, and began to unpack my excited theory about the Golden Age of the BBC’s Play for Today. ‘Well, it depends on what you consider to be golden’, he replied with a small smile, several steps ahead of me. ‘A lot of terrible stuff was done in the sixties and seventies too, bad studio plays – I know, I did some of them myself. The golden age is always the one before last. And I don’t remember who said this, but in any golden age there’s always somebody sitting around saying, ‘Don’t you think it’s a bit too yellow…?’
The day of that interview when I called on him at his mews house in London I happened to be more or less crippled by a lower back injury, albeit trying vainly to mask it, and his solicitude and all-round concern for my comfort that day was downright affecting. I will be glad to remember moments such as this as readily as all those brilliant films and dramas the making of which he boldly enabled.

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