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Lindsay Anderson

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Lindsay Anderson
Lindsay Gordon Anderson

(1923-04-17)17 April 1923
Died30 August 1994(1994-08-30) (aged 71)
Angoulême, France
EducationCheltenham College, Gloucestershire
Alma materWadham College, Oxford
OccupationFilm director
Years active1948–1993

Lindsay Gordon Anderson (17 April 1923 – 30 August 1994)[1] was a British feature-film, theatre and documentary director, film critic, and leading-light of the Free Cinema movement and of the British New Wave.[2][3] He is most widely remembered for his 1968 film if...., which won the Palme d'Or at Cannes Film Festival in 1969 and marked Malcolm McDowell's cinematic debut.[4] He is also notable, though not a professional actor, for playing a minor role in the Academy Award-winning 1981 film Chariots of Fire. McDowell produced a 2007 documentary about his experiences with Anderson, Never Apologize.[5]

Early life[edit]

Lindsay Gordon Anderson was born in Bangalore, South India, where his father had been stationed with the Royal Engineers, on 17 April 1923.[6][7] His father Captain (later Major General) Alexander Vass Anderson[8][9][10] was a British Army officer who had been born in North India, and his mother Estelle Bell Gasson was born in Queenstown, South Africa, the daughter of a wool merchant.[11][12] Lindsay's parents separated in 1926 and Estelle returned to England with her sons; however, they tried to reconcile in 1932 in Bangalore, and when Estelle returned to England she was pregnant with her third son, Alexander Vass Anderson.[11] The Andersons divorced and Estelle remarried Major Cuthbert Sleigh in 1936.[11] Lindsay's father remarried in India; although Gavin Lambert writes, in Mainly About Lindsay Anderson: A Memoir (Faber and Faber, 2000, p. 18), that Alexander Vass Anderson 'cut (his first family) out of his life', making no reference to them in his Who's Who entry, Lindsay often saw his father and looked after his house and dogs when he was away.[13]

Both Lindsay and his older brother Murray Anderson (1919–2016) were educated at Saint Ronan's School in Worthing, West Sussex, and at Cheltenham College.[14][15] It was at Cheltenham that Lindsay had met his lifelong friend and biographer, the screenwriter and novelist Gavin Lambert.[11] Lindsay won a scholarship for classical studies at Wadham College at the University of Oxford, in 1942.[11]

Anderson served in the Army from 1943 until 1946, first with the 60th King's Royal Rifle Corps, and then in the final year of World War II as a cryptographer for the Intelligence Corps, at the Wireless Experimental Centre in Delhi.[7] Anderson assisted in nailing the Red flag to the roof of the Junior Officers' mess in Annan Parbat, in August 1945, after the victory of the Labour Party in the general election was confirmed.[16] The colonel did not approve, he recalled a decade later, but no disciplinary action was taken against them.

Lindsay returned to Oxford in 1946 but changed from classical studies to English;[11] he graduated in 1948.[7]


Film criticism[edit]

Before going into film-making, Anderson was a prominent film critic writing for the influential Sequence magazine (1947–52), which he co-founded with Gavin Lambert, Peter Ericsson and Karel Reisz;[11] later writing for the British Film Institute's journal Sight and Sound and the left-wing political weekly the New Statesman.[6] In a 1956 polemical article, "Stand Up, Stand Up" for Sight and Sound, he attacked contemporary critical practices, in particular the pursuit of objectivity. Taking as an example some comments made by Alistair Cooke in 1935, where Cooke claimed to be without politics as a critic, Anderson responded:

The problems of commitment are directly stated, but only apparently faced. …The denial of the critic's moral responsibility is specific; but only at the cost of sacrificing his dignity. … [These assumptions:] the holding of liberal, or humane, values; the proviso that these must not be taken too far; the adoption of a tone which enables the writer to evade through humour [mean] the fundamental issues are balked."[16][clarification needed]

Following a series of screenings which he and the National Film Theatre programmer Karel Reisz organized for the venue of independently produced short films by himself and others, he developed a philosophy of cinema which found expression in what became known, by the late-1950s, as the Free Cinema movement.[17] This was the belief that the British cinema must break away from its class-bound attitudes and that non-metropolitan Britain ought to be shown on the nation's screens. He had already begun to make films himself, starting in 1948 with Meet the Pioneers, a documentary about a conveyor-belt factory.[18]

Anderson joined the British Film Institute's Board of Governors in 1969 with the aim of bolstering support for independent British directors, but left the role after only a year.[19]


Along with Karel Reisz, Tony Richardson, and others, he secured funding from a variety of sources (including Ford of Britain) and they each made a series of short documentaries on a variety of subjects. One of Anderson's early short films, Thursday's Children (1954), concerning the education of deaf children, made in collaboration with Guy Brenton, a friend from his Oxford days, won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short in 1954.[6] Thursday's Children was preserved by the Academy Film Archive in 2005.[20]

These films, influenced by one of Anderson' heroes, the French filmmaker Jean Vigo, and made in the tradition of the British documentaries of Humphrey Jennings, foreshadowed much of the social realism of British cinema that emerged in the next decade, with Reisz's Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Richardson's The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) and Anderson's own This Sporting Life (1963), produced by Reisz. Anderson's film met with mixed reviews at the time, and was not a commercial success.

Anderson is perhaps best remembered as a filmmaker for his "Mick Travis trilogy", all of which star Malcolm McDowell as the title character: if.... (1968), a satire on public schools; O Lucky Man! (1973) a Pilgrim's Progress inspired road movie; and Britannia Hospital (1982), a fantasia taking stylistic influence from the populist wing of British cinema represented by Hammer horror films and Carry On comedies.[5]

In 1981, Anderson played the role of the Master of Caius College at Cambridge University in the film Chariots of Fire.

Anderson developed an acquaintance from 1950 with John Ford, which led to what has come to be regarded as one of the standard books on that director, Anderson's About John Ford (1983). Based on half a dozen meetings over more than two decades, and a lifetime's study of the man's work, the book has been described as "One of the best books published by a film-maker on a film-maker".[21]

In 1985, producer Martin Lewis invited Anderson to chronicle Wham!'s visit to China, among the first-ever visits by Western pop artists, which resulted in the film Wham! in China: Foreign Skies. He admitted in his diary on 31 March 1985, to having "no interest in Wham!", or China, and he was simply "'doing this for the money'".[22] Anderson's own cut of the tour, titled If You Were There, was never released after George Michael objected to Anderson's version which featured only four songs of the tour, and Anderson was fired from the project while Michael turned the film into Wham! in China: Foreign Skies.[23]

In 1986, Anderson was a member of the jury at the 36th Berlin International Film Festival.[24]

Anderson was also a significant British theatre director. He was long associated with London's Royal Court Theatre, where he was Co-Artistic Director 1969–70, and Associate Artistic Director 1971–75, directing premiere productions of plays by David Storey, among others.

In 1992, as a close friend of actresses Jill Bennett and Rachel Roberts, Anderson included a touching episode in his autobiographical BBC film Is That All There Is?, with a boat trip down the River Thames (several of their professional colleagues and friends aboard) to scatter their ashes on the waters while musician Alan Price sang the song "Is That All There Is?".

Every year, the International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA) gives an acclaimed filmmaker the chance to screen his or her personal Top 10 favorite films. In 2007, Iranian filmmaker Maziar Bahari selected O Dreamland and Every Day Except Christmas (1957), a record of a day in the old Covent Garden market, for his top 10 classics from the history of documentary.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Gavin Lambert's memoir, Mainly About Lindsay Anderson, wrote that Anderson was homosexual and repressed his orientation, which was seen as a betrayal by his other friends.[25] In November 2006 Malcolm McDowell told The Independent that he believed Anderson was gay, and said:

I know that he was in love with Richard Harris the star of Anderson's first feature, This Sporting Life. I am sure that it was the same with me and Albert Finney and the rest. It wasn't a physical thing. But I suppose he always fell in love with his leading men. He would always pick someone who was unattainable because he was heterosexual.[26]


Anderson died from a heart attack on 30 August 1994 at the age of 71.

Theatre productions[edit]

All Royal Court, London, unless otherwise indicated:



Year Title Notes
1963 This Sporting Life Nominated—Palme d'Or
1967 The White Bus Short film, also producer
1968 if.... Also producer
Palme d'Or
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Direction
1973 O Lucky Man! Also producer
Nominated—Palme d'Or
1975 In Celebration
1982 Britannia Hospital Fantasporto Audience Jury Award
Nominated—Palme d'Or
Nominated—Gold Hugo
1986 If You Were There Documentary
1987 The Whales of August
1992 Is That All There Is? Mockumentary; also writer


Year Title Notes
1956–1957 The Adventures of Robin Hood 5 episodes
1972 Play for Today Episode: "Home"
1979 The Old Crowd Television film
1980 Look Back in Anger Television film
1986 Free Cinema Television documentary
1987 Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow Documentary (Narrator)
1989 Glory! Glory! Television film

Documentary short films[edit]

Year Title
1948 Meet the Pioneers
1949 Idlers that Work
1952 Trunk Conveyor
1952 Three Installations
1954 Thursday's Children
1955 The Children Upstairs
1955 Henry
1955 Green and Pleasant Land
1955 Foot and Mouth
1955 Energy First
1955 A Hundred Thousand Children
1955 £20 a Ton
1956 O Dreamland
1957 Wakefield Express
1957 Every Day Except Christmas
1959 March to Aldermaston
1967 The Singing Lesson


Year Title Role Notes
1973 O Lucky Man! Film Director Uncredited
1986 Inadmissible Evidence Barrister
1981 Chariots of Fire Master of Caius
1991 Prisoner of Honor War Minister Television film
1992 Blame It on the Bellboy Mr. Marshall Voice

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Anderson, Lindsay Gordon". Who Was Who in America, 1993–1996, vol. 11. New Providence, N.J.: Marquis Who's Who. 1996. p. 6. ISBN 0-8379-0225-8.
  2. ^ 25 Years of the English Stage Company at the Royal Court, Richard Findlater (ed) Amber Lane Press 1981. ISBN 0-906399-22-X
  3. ^ Curtain Times: The New York Theater 1965–67, Otis L. Guernsey Jr, Applause 1987 ISBN 0-936839-23-6
  4. ^ "Cannes Film Festival archives". 1969. Archived from the original on 28 September 2011.
  5. ^ a b Catsoulis, Jeannette (14 August 2008). "An Actor's Playful Tribute to a Dissident Director". The New York Times. Archived from the original on 7 June 2020. Retrieved 10 February 2017.
  6. ^ a b c "Lindsay Anderson | Biography & Film Career". Encyclopedia Britannica. Archived from the original on 22 October 2020. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  7. ^ a b c Graham, Allison (1981). Lindsay Anderson. University of Stirling Archives: Twayne Publishers.
  8. ^ "Alexander Vass Anderson – National Portrait Gallery". www.npg.org.uk. Archived from the original on 29 June 2021. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
  9. ^ "Officers of the British Army 1939–1945 -- A". www.unithistories.com. Archived from the original on 4 March 2017. Retrieved 30 January 2019.
  10. ^ Lindsay Anderson Diaries, Lindsay Anderson, ed. Paul Sutton, Bloomsbury, 2004, Introduction, p.13
  11. ^ a b c d e f g Gavin., Lambert (2000). Mainly about Lindsay Anderson : a memoir. London: Faber. ISBN 0-571-17775-1. OCLC 44015535.
  12. ^ British Society Since 1945: The Penguin Social History of Britain, Arthur Marwick, Penguin Books, 1996, p. 127
  13. ^ Lindsay Anderson Revisited: Unknown Aspects of a Film Director, ed. Erik Hedling, Christophe Dupin, Palgrave Macmillan, 2016, p. 120
  14. ^ "Murray Anderson". 27 May 2016. Archived from the original on 23 January 2021. Retrieved 30 January 2019 – via www.thetimes.co.uk.
  15. ^ "Murray Anderson, pilot – obituary". The Telegraph. 28 April 2016. ISSN 0307-1235. Archived from the original on 6 August 2020. Retrieved 5 June 2018.
  16. ^ a b Sight and Sound, Autumn 1956, reprinted in Paul Ryan (ed) Never Apologise: The Collected Writings, 2004, London: Plexus, p218-32, 228, 226. This article was reprinted in a shortened form in Universities and Left Review 1:1, Spring 1957, p44-48, 46, 46, and is online here Archived 16 February 2012 at the Wayback Machine, though only part of the second reference is reproduced.
  17. ^ Childs, Peter; Storry, Mike, eds. (2002). "Anderson, Lindsay". Encyclopedia of Contemporary British Culture. London: Routledge. p. 23.
  18. ^ Hedling, Erik; Dupin, Christophe (2016). Lindsay Anderson Revisited: Unknown Aspects of a Film Director. UK: Springer. p. 02. ISBN 978-1-137-53943-4.
  19. ^ Sterritt, David (Winter 2012). "Book Review: The British Film Institute, the Government and Film Culture, 1933–2000 by Geoffrey Nowell-Smith; Christophe Dupin". Film Quarterly. 66 (2): 56.
  20. ^ "Preserved Projects". Academy Film Archive. Archived from the original on 9 August 2020. Retrieved 15 April 2020.
  21. ^ David Castell, Daily Telegraph, cited on back cover of UK paperback edition
  22. ^ Paul Sutton (ed) Lindsay Anderson: The Diaries, 2004, London: Methuen, p434
  23. ^ Tryhorn, Chris (7 July 2023). "Dead dogs, capitalist critique and only four songs: when Wham! squashed Lindsay Anderson's China film". The Guardian.
  24. ^ "Berlinale: 1986 Juries". berlinale.de. Archived from the original on 23 October 2013. Retrieved 14 January 2011.
  25. ^ Lindsay Anderson: Let me tell you about Lindsay Archived 19 August 2020 at the Wayback Machine The Independent, 21 February 2002. Retrieved on 1 January 2017.
  26. ^ Geoffrey Macnab "Malcolm McDowell: Lindsay Anderson and me", The Independent, 15 November 2006. Retrieved 11 May 2009. For Anderson's feelings about Richard Harris at the time This Sporting Life was in production during 1962, see Paul Sutton (ed) The Diaries: Lindsay Anderson, 2004, London: Methuen, Chapter 3, especially p77-80.


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