Tony Garnett

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Tony Garnett (born 3 April 1936) is a British film and television producer, and former actor. Best known for his thirteen-year association with director Ken Loach, his work as producer has continued into the present century.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in Birmingham, Garnett lost his parents when young: his mother died when he was five from the after effects of a back-street abortion, and his father committed suicide nineteen days later. Garnett was raised by an aunt and uncle.[1] He attended the Central Grammar School in Birmingham and read Psychology at University College, London,[2] a constituent college of London University. By his own admission, he spent most of his time acting in the Drama Society and on television.[3]

Beginning as an actor, Garnett appeared in An Age of Kings (1960), the BBC's mounting of Shakespeare's eight contiguous history plays, the courtroom film The Boys (1962), several television plays by David Mercer, and an episode Catherine (1964) in the Teletale series, significant for his career because it led to his first meeting with its director, Ken Loach.[4]

Work with Ken Loach and others[edit]

Appointed by Roger Smith, he became an assistant story editor at the BBC, working on The Wednesday Play.[4][5] The plays he worked on included the "very, very personal"[1] Up the Junction (1965), directed by Loach, which features a then still illegal abortion, but he was soon under contract as a producer.[4] The best known of his contributions to The Wednesday Play series in this role is the docudrama Cathy Come Home (1966), again directed by Loach. Garnett in 1967 introduced Loach to writer Jim Allen,[6] who would be one of the direct or's collaborators for a quarter of a century. Garnett worked with Allen too, sometimes independently of Loach (The Lump, 1967), but also with him on such works as Allen's The Big Flame (1969), which had been shot in February and March 1968, but was withheld from transmission by the BBC.[7]

Together with dramatist David Mercer, fellow producers Kenith Trodd and James MacTaggart, and literary agent Clive Goodwin, Garnett founded Kestrel Productions, which was conceived as an autonomous unit connected with London Weekend Television. The arrangement led to the production of seventeen television dramas within two years.[8] He and his colleagues, though, found the experience as limiting as they had their period at the BBC. LWT required Garnett and his colleagues to use their television studio facilities, and video tape mainly, only allowing them to shoot on film and on location occasionally.[8] Despite this, as Kestrel Films, the production company had an interest in the feature films Kes (1969), based on a Barry Hines novel, and Family Life (1971), from a television play by David Mercer. Both were produced by Garnett and directed by Loach,

In 1969, Tony Garnett was the producer of Loach's The Save the Children Fund Film. Commissioned by the charity itself, and originally intended for screening by LWT, it was suppressed for forty years after Save the Children disowned it, and only finally screened in 2011 at BFI Southbank.[9] Days of Hope (1975) was a four-part serial for the BBC written by Jim Allen and directed by Loach. It recounts events from the Great War to the General Strike of 1926. A two-part Play for Today, The Price of Coal (1977), reunited Garnett and Loach with Barry Hines, and was their response to the silver jubilee of the Queen, mixing that celebration with a fatal accident involving two miners. The Spongers (1978), written by Allen and directed by Roland Joffé, also used the background of the silver jubilee, this time in the context of government spending cuts in the welfare state, in particular the closure of facilities used by a child with learning difficulties. In 1978 he produced what was perhaps his most controversial work on television, GF.Newman's Law and Order quartet of dramas that looked at the failings of the criminal justice system, its broadcast resulted in questions being asked in parliament. The last production from Garnett's association with Loach was the children's film, Black Jack (1979).

Later career[edit]

Garnett's later film credits include Prostitute (1980), Handgun (1983), Earth Girls Are Easy (1988) and Beautiful Thing (1996). After relocating to the United States, Garnett lived by the principle "a movie should never be about what it's about" meaning that, although Earth Girls is disguised as a space comedy about aliens and Follow That Bird (1985) is a Sesame Street style children's film, the real theme of these motion pictures is racial prejudice.[10]

During the 1990s he became chairman of World Productions, for which, in the role of executive producer, Garnett oversaw Between the Lines (1992–94) and This Life (1996–97) and other productions.

In 2009 an email by Garnett was circulated within the television industry, and published online,[11] in which he argued that the BBC's management techniques "stifle the creativity which the organisation is supposed to be encouraging".[12] Despite his involvement in the independent production sector, a term he finds misleading, Garnett has been critical of it.[2] He has said the BBC no longer has an interest in "poor people". When "occasionally they do" feature, the poor "are smirked at or derided as chavs".[13]

In March 2014 Spanner Films announced that Garnett has come out of retirement to act as Executive Producer for Undercovers, a television drama series about the undercover police officers who infiltrated the British activist scene for 50 years, and the women who unknowingly had longterm relationships and even children with the spies. The series is being written by Simon Beaufoy (screenwriter of The Full Monty), Alice Nutter, and Franny Armstrong (known for The Age of Stupid). Filming is due to start in autumn 2014, with an early 2015 release.[14]


  1. ^ a b Jason Deans and Maggie Brown "Up the Junction's Tony Garnett reveals mother's backstreet abortion death", The Guardian, 28 April 2013
  2. ^ a b Maggie Brown "Television producer Tony Garnett: 'I'm only interested in love and politics'", The Guardian, 28 April 2013
  3. ^ "Biography", Tony Garnett's website
  4. ^ a b c Lez Cooke "Garnett, Tony (1936–)", BFI screenonline
  5. ^ In the interview with Maggie Brown Garnett asserts he was "taken on" by producer James MacTaggart.
  6. ^ Stephen Lacey Tony Garnett, Manchester & New York: Manchester University Press, 2007, p.62
  7. ^ Lacey, p.64-65
  8. ^ a b Lacey, p.78-79
  9. ^ "Save the Children Film / Film / Culture / Home – Morning Star". 2 September 2011. Retrieved 23 December 2011.
  10. ^ Brian Winston "Garnett, Tony – British producer", Museum of Broadcast Communications
  11. ^ Tony Garnett "BBC drama needs to change its culture", Organ Grinder blog,, 15 July 2009
  12. ^ Tony Garnett "Tony Garnett's email on BBC drama",, 15 July 2009
  13. ^ Dalya Alberge "Tony Garnett: 'BBC has little interest in poor people'", The Guardian, 11 April 2013
  14. ^ "Spanner Films press release". 7 March 2014. Retrieved 13 March 2014.

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