Sparked ‘Seven Up!’ film se­ries

PAUL ALMOND, 1931 - 2015

Los Angeles Times - - OBITUARIES - By David Colker david.colker@la­times.com

Canadian film­maker Paul Almond was work­ing in Lon­don in the early 1960s when he and pro­ducer Tim He­witt came up with an idea for a doc­u­men­tary that would ex­am­ine class and so­ci­ety through the eyes of chil­dren.

“Over a cou­ple of pints in a pub,” Almond told the Globe and Mail news­pa­per in Toronto in 2004, “we de­cided to choose a group of 7year-olds from both sides of the class divide and ex­plore what their at­ti­tudes were.”

The re­sult­ing ground­break­ing film was “Seven Up!” the first in a her­alded se­ries of what came to be known as the “Up” doc­u­men­taries trac­ing the lives of the same chil­dren as they grew older.

Almond, 83, who di­rected only the ini­tial film and felt that his role in spark­ing the popular se­ries was un­justly forgotten, died April 9 at Cedars-Si­nai Med­i­cal Cen­ter in Los An­ge­les.

He had a long his­tory of coro­nary prob­lems and suf­fered his most re­cent heart attack in early March, said his step­daugh­ter, Tracy Stoker.

Almond was a pro­lific tele­vi­sion direc­tor whose work in the 1950s and early 1960s con­sisted mostly of dra­mas, sev­eral of which fea­tured ap­pear­ances by ac­tors who went on to be fa­mous. Sean Con­nery, pre-James Bond, and Zoe Cald­well started in Almond’s Canadian Broad­cast Corp. pro­duc­tion of “Mac­beth” in 1961. Wil­liam Shat­ner, pre-”Star Trek,” was in sev­eral of Almond’s dra­mas, as was James Doohan (Scotty on “Star Trek”).

Other then-lit­tle-known ac­tors fea­tured in Almond’s TV work in­clude Les­lie Nielsen, Lorne Greene, Rose­mary Har­ris, Fred Gwynne and Genevieve Bu­jold, whom Almond mar­ried in 1967.

But Almond’s best­known project — though his name is some­times not con­nected with it — is “Seven Up!,” which made its de­but on U.K. tele­vi­sion in 1964.

“There was a lot of talk of tax­ing the rich and lev­el­ing the play­ing field,” Almond said in the Globe and Mail in­ter­view. “But I was Canadian and He­witt was Aus­tralian, and as out­siders we could see the class sys­tem still had an ex­tremely strong hold on Bri­tish cul­ture and so­ci­ety.”

Michael Apted, who di­rected the pow­er­ful fol­lowup films in the “Up” se­ries, was a re­searcher on “Seven Up!”

The film shows the chil­dren in set­tings that range from a pre-prep school where the song “Waltz­ing Matilda” is be­ing sung in Latin to a char­ity home where young­sters are mak­ing their beds pushed close to­gether in a large room. Almond can be heard ask­ing the chil­dren about their lives and as­pi­ra­tions.

One wants to be a ballet dancer, an­other a jockey; yet an­other doesn’t know the mean­ing of the word “uni­ver­sity.” A girl says she doesn’t want to know black peo­ple; an­other child plans to go to Kenya to help poor peo­ple. “Those mo­ments of hu­man­ity were in­cred­i­bly touch­ing,” Almond said in the Globe and Mail in­ter­view of the chil­dren’s com­ments.

He cred­ited Apted with the idea of re­vis­it­ing the chil­dren ev­ery seven years to learn what has hap­pened to them and how their world view has evolved. So far, seven fol­low-up films have been made, with the lat­est, “56 Up,” ap­pear­ing in 2012.

“I would never for a sec­ond crit­i­cize the ab­so­lutely mon­u­men­tal work that Mike Apted has done,” Almond said in a 2010 Globe and Mail in­ter­view. But he was sad that only one of the chil­dren — Tony Walker, who wanted to be a jockey but in­stead as an adult drove a taxi — stayed in touch with him.

“When a new episode comes out, Tony sends me the press clip­pings,” Almond said, “in which I con­tinue to see no men­tion of my name any­where.”

Almond was born April 26, 1931, in Mon­treal. He at­tended Ox­ford, where he earned a de­gree in phi­los­o­phy, pol­i­tics and eco­nomics.

He be­gan his tele­vi­sion ca­reer in 1954, di­rect­ing mostly for an­thol­ogy shows in Canada. Be­gin­ning in 1968, he di­rected three fea­ture films star­ring Bu­jold: “Is­abel” (1968); “Act of the Heart,” also star­ring Don­ald Suther­land (1970); and “Jour­ney” (1976).

Almond di­rected only spo­rad­i­cally af­ter that and es­sen­tially quit the busi­ness af­ter open-heart surgery in 1991. “You don’t get con­trol any­more,” he told the Globe and Mail in 2000, “so I thank God I gave it up when I did.”

He moved to Malibu and wrote nov­els based on his fam­ily’s his­tory. The eighth book in the saga, “The In­her­i­tor,” was pub­lished a few days af­ter his death.

His mar­riages to Bu­jold and ballet dancer An­gela Leigh ended in di­vorce.

In ad­di­tion to his step­daugh­ter, Tracy Stoker, Almond is sur­vived by his wife, Joan; son Matthew James Almond; step­sons Trey, Tim and Chris Elkins; and eight grand­chil­dren.

Joan Almond

FILM­MAKER Almond felt his role in the se­ries was forgotten.

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