Jonathan Gili

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Jonathan Gili (19 April 1943 – 1 October 2004) was an award-winning film-maker, editor and director, who produced numerous and wide-ranging television documentary and features programmes, mostly for the BBC.


The son of Catalan publisher and translator Joan Gili, Jonathan Gili was educated at The Dragon School in Oxford, and Bryanston School in the village of Bryanston in north Dorset. He read Greats at New College Oxford, though much of his time was taken up in writing about, and watching films


Gili began as a free-lance film editor. He first directed for the Religious Department of London Weekend Television, but most of his work was made at the BBC in the 1980s and 1990s. Among his most prominent early observational documentaries was the BBC1 film Public School, which featured Westminster School in London, broadcast in late 1979, with huge audience figures and a BAFTA Craft award. There followed a number of highly successful one-off documentaries, including "She Married a Yank" (GI Brides), "To The World's End" (in which the narration consisted entirely Carl Davis's music), and "The Second Oldest Profession", about salesmen. He contributed three films to the series "Year of the French", including an unforgettable study of a peasant farmer. Then came his many films for "40 Minutes", some of which, such as 'Animal Crackers' and 'The Great North Road' featured Lucinda Lambton. The most memorable of all was "Mixed Blessings", a study of two babies accidentally swapped shortly after birth, and the aftermath for the families.

There followed many documentaries for the "Timewatch" series - histories of the Eiffel Tower, the Empire State Building, The Alaskan Gold Rush, The Oklahoma Outlaw. He worked for nearly two years on a two-part obituary film of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, narrated by Simon Russell Beale, music by Jonathan Dove, recognised to be the finest of its genre. He was appointed OBE, and received the Grierson Trustees' Award, the top documentary award of the Grierson Trust. (He knew about it, but it was presented posthumously.) "Tales From The Oklahoma Land Runs" won him an award from the Cowboy Hall of Fame, which he treasured. Gili died from leukemia in 2004, at the age of 61. Leukemia had been diagnosed in 1984, when he was given three years to live, but his good-humoured stoic spirit, and some experimental treatment from the Hammersmith Hospital, kept him going with the utmost cheerfulness for 20 years.

Jonathan Gili did many other things, including publishing fine books and pictures through his own printing press, Warren Editions. One noted work is a book of Lithographs by Glynn Boyd Harte, based on "Metro-land", the television film by Sir John Betjeman and Edward Mirzoeff. His collection of books, records, pictures, snow-storm paperweights, sardine tins, and all kinds of printed ephemera is legendary.


Further reading[edit]

  • Ian Beck, 'Jonathan Gili, 1943-2004 Glynn Boyd Harte, 1948-2003 And Warren Editions', in Parenthesis; 12 (2006 November), p.47-50