A cast member whose life featured in Michael Apted’s Up documentary series has paid tribute to the director as a ‘beacon of light’ following his death aged 79.
Tony Walker, an actor and London taxi driver, was selected for the project from an East End primary school in 1963 and went on to become one of its best-known characters.
The Up series, which was initially directed by Paul Almond before being taken over by Apted in 1970, followed 14 children from the age of seven – with one documentary released every seven years.
Walker remained a close friend of Apted throughout life, attending screenings of his later films including James Bond feature The World Is Not Enough in 1999.
The taxi driver, 65, originally from Bethnal Green in east London, said: ‘A beacon of light has gone out in the film industry this week with the passing of Michael.
‘We have suffered a loss that cannot be weighed and most of all he will be sadly missed. My love and condolences go out to his family in California.’
Tony Walker (pictured), an actor and London taxi driver, was selected for the project from an East End primary school in 1963 and went on to become one of its best-known characters
Walker remained a close friend of Michael Apted (pictured) throughout life, attending screenings of his later films including James Bond feature The World Is Not Enough in 1999
Up was originally planned as a one-off documentary for Granada Television, with children from various backgrounds interviewed across the years in a bid to examine the country’s class structure.
The most recent instalment, 63 Up, aired in 2019.
Walker described Apted as ‘a very nice man, a very loyal man, a very trusting man on behalf of all the Up series participants.’
‘He was more like a family member. He was always there despite the seven-year gap [between each film],’ he added.
Across his appearances in the series, Walker was open about the trials he faced in his marriage to wife Debbie.
In 35 Up, it was revealed they had lost the baby she had been carrying in the previous series, causing a strain on their relationship.
Pictured: Walker in 21 Up, the third of the series of documentaries which followed his life
The British filmmaker was known for the Up series of documentaries which followed the lives of 14 children since 1964, as well as directing Coal Miner’s Daughter and Gorillas In The Mist. Left: With wife Paige Simpson in 2012. Right: With Pierce Brosnan and Denise Richards
Pictured: Apted poses for photographs after he was awarded the Order of Saint Michael and Saint George by Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace in 2009
Speaking about his friendship with Apted, he added: ‘On a personal basis, the trust we had in him was beyond comparison to anything in the world.
‘When he gets you in front of that camera it is like a Catholicism. You are talking to him not knowing it is Michael.
‘I feel so at ease and most of all the trust – he knows what he has got in his hands. I trusted him with my life, and I have done so for 55 years.’
Walker said that while working as a London taxi driver he had picked up comedian John Cleese and actress Sigourney Weaver and bonded with both over their shared respect for Apted.
Among Apted’s other directing credits were Coal Miner’s Daughter in 1980 and Gorillas In The Mist in 1988.
He also directed The World Is Not Enough, which starred Pierce Brosnan, and a number of episodes of Coronation Street in the 1960s.
Apted also directed the 1999 James Bond film The World Is Not Enough, which starred Pierce Brosnan (pictured together on set)
Thomas Schlamme, president of the Directors Guild of America (DGA), led tributes to Apted on Friday (pictured in 1994)
Apted, who served as the president of the DGA from 2003 to 2009, was born in 1941 in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, before moving to London with his father after the Second World War.
As a child, he studied at the City of London School where he first developed an interest in cinema.
In 2008 he was made a companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George in the Queen’s Birthday Honours for services to the British film and television industries.
What has Apted directed?
- Coal Miner’s Daughter
- Gorillas In The Mist
- The World Is Not Enough
- Bending the light
- Chasing Mavericks
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader
- The Fifa 2006 World Cup Film: The Grand Finale
He also served as the president of the Directors Guild of America (DGA) from 2003 to 2009.
He won four Baftas, including three for Up. A tweet from the film academy said the organisation is ‘very sorry to hear of the death of director Michael Apted’.
The producers of the James Bond film franchise paid tribute to Apted’s ability to move ‘effortlessly and successfully between all genres’.
A Twitter post signed by Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli said: ‘It is with very heavy hearts that we share the news of the passing of Michael Apted.
‘He was a director of enormous talent and range and unique in his ability to move effortlessly and successfully between all genres.
‘He was beloved by all those who worked with him.
‘We loved working with him on The World Is Not Enough and send our love and support to his family, friends and colleagues.’
The official Twitter page for the Oscars also paid tribute, saying: ‘Director Michael Apted will always be remembered for the groundbreaking documentary ‘Up’ series.
‘A past president of the Directors Guild and Academy Governor, he also made many acclaimed feature films, from ‘Coal Miner’s Daughter’ to ‘The World Is Not Enough.’ He will be missed.’
Thomas Schlamme, president of the DGA, said: ‘Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the passing of esteemed director, longtime DGA leader and my friend Michael Apted.
‘His legacy will be forever woven into the fabric of cinema and our guild.
‘A fearless visionary as a director and unparalleled guild leader, Michael saw the trajectory of things when others didn’t, and we were all the beneficiaries of his wisdom and lifelong dedication.’
Apted became involved in Up – originally titled Seven Up – after serving as an assistant to director Paul Almond. One of his roles was procuring the children who would take part in the series.
He won four Baftas, including three for Up. A tweet from the film academy said the organisation is ‘very sorry to hear of the death of director Michael Apted’
They included three boys chosen from a prestigious pre-preparatory school in Kensington, London, a girl from a working-class east London neighbourhood and a boy from a small farm in a tiny village in the Yorkshire Dales.
Up starkly illustrated the different lives children from disparate levels of society led.
The black-and-white programme opened with the children playing at a zoo as a narrator explained: ‘We brought these children together because we wanted a glimpse of England in the year 2000.
‘The shop steward and the executive of the year 2000 are now seven years old.’
The first show, an illustration of the class system’s deep-rooted influence, proved popular but a follow-up series was not immediately mooted.
Instead, Apted busied himself with other projects. He worked on Coronation Street in the early 1960s, as well as sitcoms The Dustbinmen and The Lovers.
Pictured: Robbie Coltrane, Pierce Brosnan, Denise Richards and Michael Apted
It was around this time the idea of returning to the original Up children was floated. 7 Plus Seven, with Apted as director, aired in December 1970.
Its subjects were now teenagers and gone was the eager innocence of the original series. Apted later said it was the most difficult to film.
The differences between the children was now more pronounced – the well-off filmed strolling through their elite schools contrasted with their more working-class counterparts.
As the film’s original premise suggested, it was more often than not easy to see in which direction the respective children’s lives were going, even at 14.
By 2019’s 63 Up, death, illness and misfortune had befallen the subjects and the documentary had earned its place among the most acclaimed and influential ever.