Sir Alan Parker, the acclaimed British Director whose vast filmography includes Bugsy Malone, Evita, Midnight Express and more, passed away at 76. Here, in a tribute written by advertising copywriter and creative director Michael Everett, we remember Sir Alan’s life and achievements.
Sir Alan Parker, who passed away at the end of July, was D&AD President in 1976 and recipient of the President’s Award in 1980. Therefore, it seems only fitting that this organisation acknowledges his passing on this website. Rightly, there have been many tributes paid to him in the press so rather than write another, I am going to relate an anecdote gleaned from my own experience of working with Alan. But first, let’s have a look at Alan’s CV.
Director, writer, artist. Alan Parker began his career in advertising as a copywriter and graduated to directing commercials in the late 60’s, where he was one of a small group of British Directors who helped revolutionise world advertising.
His first film for the BBC, The Evacuees, won a BAFTA and an international Emmy. His debut feature film, Bugsy Malone, won five BAFTA awards and nine nominations. He went on to make Midnight Express, Fame, Pink Floyd The Wall, Birdy, Angel Heart, Mississippi Burning, The Commitments, Angela’s Ashes and Evita. In all, his films have won 19 BAFTA awards, 10 Golden Globes and 10 Oscars. In 1984 he was awarded the prestigious Michael Balcon award for Outstanding Contribution to British Cinema.
Parker is also a novelist: Bugsy Malone, Puddles in the Lane and Sucker’s Kiss. He’s also published three books of his satirical cartoons: Hares in the Gate, Making Movies and Will Write and Direct for Food.
He was awarded a CBE in 1995 for services to British cinema and received a knighthood in 2002. He is also an Officier des Arts et des Lettres (France, 2005).
In 2013 he received the BAFTA Fellowship and decided to retire from filmmaking in order to concentrate on his first love, painting. He said, “It’s hard to give up your day job after so many years, but to be honest, creating art on your own, instead of with a hundred other people, more than compensates”.
As you can see, Alan was something of a polymath. At a private view of his paintings in May 2016 he said of the previous 12 months of painting “This has been the happiest year of my life”.
Now for the story.
The Giant Stage.
Alan had shot Midnight Express and was in the process of editing. He took a break to shoot a number of commercials for Collett, Dickenson and Pearce. One of these commercials was on behalf of Paul Smith and myself, one of CDP’s creative teams. Over forty years later I can’t remember for which product but I do remember that the script called for a small set. When Paul and I arrived at Shepperton Studios on the eve of the shoot to check out the set we were astonished to see that it had been built on G Stage, an enormous space the size of an aircraft hangar.
We asked Alan Marshall, Alan Parker’s producer, why such a small set had been built on such a large stage. He told us that none of the other stages was available. A quick tour of the studios told us otherwise. There were two or three much smaller stages vacant and out of use.
The next day Alan breezed through the shooting of our commercial as he always did, finishing an hour after lunch, at three o’clock. At that point the enormous doors of G Stage were flung open to allow light to stream in - quickly followed by a giant set that looked suspiciously like a Turkish prison. Brad Davis, who played the central character in Midnight Express and an actor who was Paul’s namesake, Paul Smith, also appeared. Soon, the crew that our client had paid good money to employ was filming Brad Davis being manhandled up a flight of steps by Paul Smith (not my one, the other one) who played a prison guard. This was obviously a pick up shot that Alan needed in order to complete the movie – and it’s there, in the final cut, in all its glory. That’s why Alan Marshall booked G Stage for Alan Parker, to accommodate the giant prison set, not the meagre living room that was ours. But I am glad he did. How many people can say that they saw part of this iconic and famous Oscar winning movie being shot?
Finally, I’d like to quote something that Alan wrote in Inside CDP, a book of reminiscences by former employees, clients and suppliers of the agency. It concerns Alan’s beginnings as a director and is typically self-deprecating.
“We all assembled in the basement to make our first pilot commercials. My art director, Paul Windsor, would light them and read the light meter; Alan Marshall, then from the TV department would edit them; Nick Brooks, the projectionist, would operate the big Nagra tape recorder. We hired in a camera operator and focus puller, built, painted and dressed the sets ourselves, and we were suddenly a mini, if somewhat amateurish, film studio.
“As I was the only one who couldn’t actually do or operate anything, it was suggested that I be the one who said ‘Action’ and ‘Cut’. And this I duly did.”
Sir Alan William Parker CBE. February 14, 1944 – July 31, 2020.
God Bless him, may he rest in peace.