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Alvin Rakoff

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Alvin Rakoff
Rakoff in 2021
Alvin Rakoff

(1927-02-06) February 6, 1927 (age 97)
Toronto, Ontario, Canada
  • (m. 1958; died 1993)
  • Sally Hughes
    (m. 2013)

Alvin Rakoff (born February 6, 1927)[1] is a Canadian director of film, television and theatre productions. He has worked with actors including Laurence Olivier, Peter Sellers, Sean Connery, Judi Dench, Rex Harrison, Rod Steiger, Henry Fonda and Ava Gardner.[2]

Rakoff awarded Sean Connery his first leading role, and gave Alan Rickman his first job when he was a drama student.[3] Other actors he worked with early in their careers include Michael Crawford, Jeremy Irons, and Michael Caine.[4]

Early life[edit]

Rakoff's mother came from Rovno in Ukraine; his father was from Voronezh in Russia. His parents met in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He is the third of seven children. His parents had a shop in Kensington Market. After graduation from the University of Toronto, he became a journalist and began writing for Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's nascent television service. He was seconded by the CBC to visit the UK - "the place where TV started". Days after arriving he sold a script to the British Broadcasting Corporation, at the time the only television broadcaster in the UK. The BBC subsequently invited him to join their television directors' training course. At 26 years of age, he became the youngest producer/director in the BBC drama department. He became a resident in the United Kingdom through working extensively worldwide.

Wilton House acted as location for Inns of Court during shooting of A Voyage Round My Father (1982). Laurence Olivier with his feet up taking a break with assistant director Shirley Cleghorn looking on.


A BBC adaptation in 1953 of the Irwin Shaw novel The Troubled Air was his first major writing assignment for television. In 1954, his production of Waiting For Gillian won the Daily Mail's National TV Award with actors Patrick Barr and Anne Crawford also honoured. He later recreated this production in French for transmission throughout France. In 1955, on the night commercial TV first appeared in the UK he was asked by the BBC to offer the main opposition, The Hole In The Wall with Mervyn Johns and Sidney Tafler, of which The Times wrote: "Mr. Rakoff who seems to be a master of this medium".[citation needed]

In his 1957 production Requiem for a Heavyweight he lifted an unknown actor, Sean Connery, from the ranks of walk-ons and gave Connery his first leading role. Also in this production was another performer early in his career, Michael Caine. In 1958, Rakoff adapted, directed, and produced Herman Wouk's The Caine Mutiny Court Martial for the BBC.

In 1962, the BBC asked Rakoff to produce/direct its entry for the European-wide 'The Largest Theatre In The World' written especially for the occasion by Terence Rattigan and called Heart to Heart, with Kenneth More and Ralph Richardson. In 1964, when the new channel BBC 2 was launched Rakoff was selected to direct plays filling the first three Sunday-night drama slots (The Seekers). He won his first Emmy Award in 1967 for Call Me Daddy, which had featured Donald Pleasence, and 15 years later won it again for A Voyage Round My Father (Laurence Olivier, Alan Bates, and Jane Asher took the leads) which he produced and directed.

His production of The Adventures of Don Quixote (1973) with Rex Harrison and Frank Finlay achieved international praise.[5] In his 1978 production of Romeo & Juliet for the BBC Television Shakespeare series he cast the then unknown actor Alan Rickman as Tybalt.[6] In 1997 he produced and co-directed the award-winning A Dance to the Music of Time with John Gielgud, Simon Russell Beale, and Miranda Richardson.

His films include On Friday at Eleven (a.k.a. World in My Pocket in the U.S.) starring Rod Steiger; Say Hello to Yesterday (1970), which he also wrote, featured Jean Simmons and Leonard Whiting; Hoffman starred Peter Sellers; City on Fire, which he co-wrote, starred Henry Fonda, Ava Gardner, and Shelley Winters.

Rakoff's writing includes Too Marvellous For Words, the story of lyricist Johnny Mercer presented at The Mill Theatre, Sonning, and King's Head Theatre, London. He has written three novels. His first, & Gillian, a romantic odyssey, was translated into 10 languages. His second, Baldwin Street, based on his early days in his parents' shop in Toronto, was published in 2008. The Seven Einsteins, a third novel, is a genetic thriller published in 2014. A successful adaptation of Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep was produced in 2012.

His theatre work ranges from Hamlet at Bristol Old Vic to a Charity Cruise performance at the Royal Albert Hall before Her Majesty the Queen, and continues with his association with The Mill Theatre, Sonning, directing productions of Separate Tables with Anthony Valentine and his own adaptation of Chandler's The Big Sleep.

In 2010, Rakoff directed A Sentimental Journey, the story of Doris Day, at Wilton's Music Hall, London, and subsequently (2012) El Portal Theatre, Hollywood.

He is a former president of the Directors Guild of Great Britain.


Feature films (director)[edit]

Year Film Cast
1958 Passport to Shame Eddie Constantine
1959 The Treasure of San Teresa Eddie Constantine
1961 World in My Pocket Rod Steiger
1964 The Comedy Man Kenneth More
1969 Crossplot Roger Moore, Claudie Lange, Francis Matthews, Gabrielle Drake, Bernard Lee
1970 Hoffman Peter Sellers, Sinead Cusack
1971 Say Hello to Yesterday Jean Simmons, Leonard Whiting
1979 City on Fire Henry Fonda, Ava Gardner, Shelley Winters
1979 King Solomon's Treasure David McCallum, Patrick Macnee, Britt Ekland
1980 Death Ship George Kennedy, Richard Crenna, Nick Mancuso
1981 Dirty Tricks Elliott Gould

Television (director)[edit]

Year Title Cast
1953 Holiday Girl Mantovani Orchestra
1953 Starlight
1953 A Place of Execution
1953 Strictly Personal
1953 The Emperor Jones by Eugene O'Neill
1954 Willie the Squouse
1954 The Lover Diana Wynyard
1954 Waiting for Gillian Patrick Barr, Anne Crawford (National Television Award)
1955 Waiting for Gillian (French TV version form Paris, re-titled Un Chemin Dans La Nuit)
1954 The Face of Love Peter Cushing, Mary Morris, George Rose
1954 Return to the River
1954 The Good Partners
1954 Tyrant's Tower
1954 Teckman Biography by Francis Durbridge
1955 Three Empty Rooms by Reginald Rose Jacqueline Hill
1955 The New Executive
1955 The Hole in the Wall Mervyn Johns, Sidney Tafler
1955 Thunder in the Realm (Canada)
1955 The Legend of Pepito Sam Wanamaker, Jacqueline Hill
1956 The Reclining Figure Donald Wolfit
1956 For the Defence
1956 The Condemned André Morell, Sean Connery
1956 Epitaph Trevor Howard, Leo McKern
1956 The Seat of the Scornful Basil Sydney, Finlay Currie, Jacqueline Hill
1956 No Man's Land Alec McCowen
1957 Dial 999 (series, 4 episodes)
1957 The Staring Match
1957 Requiem for a Heavyweight Sean Connery, Michael Caine, Warren Mitchell
1957 Our Town Heather Sears
1958 The Caine Mutiny Court Martial
1958 Breakdown Nigel Davenport, Roger Livesey
1958 Man in the Corner
1959 Velvet Alley Sam Wanamaker, Jacqueline Hill
1959 The Ransom of Red Chief (USA) William Bendix, Hans Conreid
1959 The Dark Side of the Earth
1960 The Leather Jungle Freddie Mills, Neil McCallum
1960 A Town Has Turned to Dust Rod Steiger
1960 Come In Razor Red Richard Harris
1961 Joker's Justice Dan Massey, Leo McKern
1961 The Room by Harold Pinter
1961 A Reason for Staying Anthony Quayle, Denholm Elliott, Warren Mitchell
1962 Heart to Heart by Terence Rattigan ("The Largest Theatre in the World", European Union television drama entry) Kenneth More, Ralph Richardson, Wendy Craig, Jean Marsh
1962 A Quiet Game of Cards Bernard Braden
1962 Call Me Back Alec McCowen
1963 The Remarkable Incident at Carsons Corners
1964 The Seekers Michael Bryant
1964 The Blackpool Trilogy Julia Foster, Nicola Pagett
1965 Court Martial (series) Peter Graves, Bradford Dillman
1966 You'll Know Me by the Stars in My Eyes Jane Asher, Nigel Patrick, Phyllis Calvert
1966 The Move After Checkmate Michael Crawford
1966 The Sweet War Man Kenneth More
1967 The Girl Joss Ackland, Brenda Bruce
1967 The Man Who Understood Women Jane Asher
1967 Call Me Daddy (Emmy Award) Donald Pleasence
1968 Murder Peter Egan
1971 A Kiss Is Just a Kiss Keir Dullea
1971 Summer and Smoke Lee Remick
1972 Blur & Blank via Cleckheaton Denholm Elliott
1972 A Man About a Dog
1972 The Adventures of Don Quixote Rex Harrison, Frank Finlay, Rosemary Leach
1973 Shadow of a Gunman Stephen Rea
1973 Harlequinade
1974 Cheap in August Leo McKern, Virginia McKenna
1974 Jan & Tony, "Rooms"
1974 How to Impeach A President (USA)
1974 A Brisk Dip Sagaciously Considered
1974 Shall We Have a King? (USA)
1975 Husband to Mrs Fitzherbert Nicholas Jones
1975 The Nicest Man in the World Celia Johnson
1975 The October Crisis (Canada)
1975 Lulu Street (Canada)
1975 The Liberty Tree Jeremy Irons, Julian Fellowes
1976 The Killers
1976 In Praise of Love Kenneth More, Claire Bloom
1976 Mrs Amsworth Glynis Johns
1976 The Promise
1976 The Dame Of Sark Celia Johnson, Peter Dyneley
1977 The Kitchen Peter Egan, Sinéad Cusack
1978 Romeo & Juliet Alan Rickman, Celia Johnson, Michael Hordern, Jacqueline Hill
1980 The Quiet Days of Mrs Stafford Susan Littler
1981 The Breadwinner Michael Gambon
1982 Disraeli Richard Pasco
1982 A Voyage Round My Father Laurence Olivier, Alan Bates, Jane Asher
1983 Firework For Elspeth Fiona Shaw
1983 Mr Halpern & Mr Johnson Laurence Olivier, Jackie Gleason
1983 A Talent for Murder Laurence Olivier, Angela Lansbury
1984 The First Olympics, Athens 1896 Angela Lansbury, Louis Jordan, David Caruso
1985 Paradise Postponed Zoe Wanamaker, David Threlfall, Michael Hordern, etc.
1989 Haunting Harmony
1990 Gas & Candles
1991/1992 Sam Saturday Ivan Kaye
1992 The Best Of Friends John Gielgud, Wendy Hiller, Patrick McGoohan
1997 A Dance to the Music of Time Miranda Richardson, Simon Russell Beale, Alan Bennett, John Gielgud

Writing (television, films, books)[edit]

Year Title Role
1953 The Troubled Air adaptor (TV)
1953 A Flight of Fancy writer (TV)
1953 Our Town adaptor (TV)
1954 Waiting for Gillian co-adaptor (TV)
1958 The Caine Mutiny Court Martial adaptor (TV)
1970 Say Hello To Yesterday writer (film)
1973 A Man About Dog adaptor (TV)
1973 Shadow Of A Gunman adaptor (TV)
1978 City On Fire co-writer (film)
1991/92 Sam Saturday creator (TV series)
1996 & Gillian (novel, Little Brown)
2001/02 Too Marvelous For Words writer (musical)
2008 Baldwin Street (novel, Bunim & Bannigan, New York)
2012 The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (stage adaptation)
2014 The Seven Einsteins (novel, Author House)

Theatre credits (director)[edit]

(Richard Pasco, Barbara Leigh Hunt, Margaret Courtney, etc.)

  • 1982 - Celia Johnson Theatre fund, Aldwych Theatre

(Ralph Richardson, Jeremy Irons, Richard Briers, etc.)

(Richard Briers, John Gielgud, Penelope Keith, Wayne Sleep, etc.)

  • 1995 – Stage Struck by Simon Gray, The Mill at Sonning

(Nicholas Jones)

  • 2001-2002 – Too Marvelous For Words: The Story of Lyricist Johnny Mercer

(written and directed) The Mill at Sonning

  • 2002 – Too Marvelous For Words, King's Head Theatre, London
  • 2004 – I Remember You by Bernard Slade, The Mill at Sonning
  • 2005 – Separate Tables by Terence Rattigan, The Mill at Sonning

(Anthony Valentine, Glynis Barber)

  • 2007 – Same Time Next Year by Bernard Slade, The Mill at Sonning

(Steven Pacey, Shona Lindsay)

  • 2009 – A Sentimental Journey, The Story of Doris Day. The Mill at Sonning

(Sally Hughes, Glyn Kerslake)

  • 2010 – A Sentimental Journey, The Story of Doris Day. Wilton's, London
  • 2011 - The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler. The world's first stage adaptation of the famous crime novel. Adapted with his son John D. Rakoff.
  • 2011 - A Sentimental Journey, The Story of Doris Day - Edinburgh Festival; The Mill at Sonning; El Portal Theater, Los Angeles.


  1. ^ Jerry Roberts (June 5, 2009). Encyclopedia of Television Film Directors. Scarecrow Press. p. 467. ISBN 978-0-8108-6378-1.
  2. ^ "Alvin Rakoff". IMDb. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  3. ^ "Alvin Rakoff". IMDb. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  4. ^ "Alvin Rakoff". IMDb. Retrieved 2023-05-03.
  5. ^ "The Adventures of Don Quixote". IMDb. Retrieved 2023-03-22.
  6. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Romeo and Juliet (1978)". Screenonline.

External links[edit]