“Give me a child until he is seven and I will show you the man. “
Aristotle may well be happy that his maxim was the inspiration for one of the most famous television documentaries of all time – now the legacy of director Michael Apted, who died at the age of 79.
Tony Walker, who appeared in all nine award-winning films To the top series – which traced the lives of 14 British children from 1963 with Seven Up, up to sixty, with last year 63 Plus – paid tribute to Apted yesterday.
The former east London taxi driver said Apted, who died on Friday, was “like family to me.” I liked this man very much and I am quite devastated by his passing.
Thomas Schlamme, president of the Directors Guild of America, described apted as a “fearless visionary as a director.” He “saw the course of things when others didn’t, and we have all been the beneficiaries of his wisdom and dedication for life.”
He added: “Our hearts are heavy today as we cry [his] who passed. “
The producers of the James Bond film franchise paid tribute to his ability to move “effortlessly and successfully between all genres.” In 1999, Apted realized The world is not enough, with Pierce Brosnan. “He was loved by everyone who worked with him,” tweeted Michael G Wilson and Barbara Broccoli.
Apted was born in 1941 in Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire, then moved to London with his family. As a teenager, he developed a love of cinema, describing watching Ingmar Bergman Wild strawberries like a “moment of road to Damascus”.
After studying at Cambridge, he moved to Grenada where he was asked to find children to participate in a one-off documentary. Among the 14 chosen were three boys from a prestigious private school, a boy from a small farm in the Yorkshire Dales, a boy from London – Walker – and a girl from east London.
The show was a precursor to reality TV, but focused on social history and inequality rather than fleeting fame and empty challenges. It was a success but no other show was planned. An informal survey of children’s progress led to 14 Plus in 1970, this time with Apted as director. He made all the following series.
He also worked on Coronation Street in the 1960s, and led the country music classic Coal Miner’s Daughtuh, starring Sissy Spacek as singer Loretta Lynn in 1980. The film was nominated for seven Academy Awards, with Spacek taking home Best Actress.
Apted film credits included Gorillas in the mist, COntinental Divide and Critical condition. His last film was the 2017 thriller Unlocked, with Orlando Bloom, Michael Douglas and John Malkovich.
But the To the top series, which won three Baftas, has been his most enduring work. He clearly illustrated the differences in life opportunities for children based on their backgrounds, and painted a picture of the personal challenges and traumas that participants face.
Kevin Lygo, Managing Director of ITV, who broadcast To the top, said the series “demonstrated the possibilities of television at its best in its ambition and its ability to mirror society and engage with and entertain people while enriching our perspective on the human condition.”
“Michael’s contribution to film and program making continues to be felt and he will be sorely missed.”
George Jesse Turner, a cameraman who has filmed all of the series except the first two, told the Observer last year: “It was a class question at first, but it was not done scientifically, as it would be now. It was pretty hit and miss, just going to schools in London, Liverpool and the Lake District. “
Apted, he said, was “nice to work with. When you go out to film, he’s never the type to say he’d like a particular shot. He leaves that to me.
Walker, now 65, whose childhood ambition was to become a jockey, told BBC Radio 4 Today Saturday, when he was cast for the show, “I was kind of a street kid. I was just excited that the cameras were on me at the time, and I never knew what the implications were.
“Most of all, Michael gave you this warm feeling. it was like Catholicism every time I heard her voice. it was like going to a psychiatrist … [I had] complete confidence in him. I’m really sad, I’ve known Michael my whole life, but for seven years.