Goodbye Ronald Neame

The great British director dies aged 99.

by Jennie Kermode

"All my doctors have said to me, 'Ronnie, if you would drink less, you'd live a lot longer.'" said Ronald Neame at the age of 95. Four years later, on the 16th of June, he died after failing to recover from repeat surgeries for a broken leg. But he outlived those doctors, despite daily putting away "two large vodkas at lunchtime and three large scotches in the evening", and during his long life he contributed to some of the greatest films in British history.

By any standards, it was a good innings. What's more, by industry standards, Neame got an early start. With a film director and keen photographer for a father, he took an early interest in the art of image-making and at the age of just 17 he got a job as an assistant cameraman working with Alfred Hitchcock on Blackmail. One couldn't ask for a better education. Over the following years he trained as a cinematographer, taking on his first independent feature, Happy, in 1933. Just nine years later he received an Oscar for his Visual Effects work in One Of Our Aircraft Is Missing, but he wasn't a man to accept limits, and soon branched out into work as a screenwriter, which won him two further (shared) Oscars, for Brief Encounter and Great Expectations. Then he went into directing.

Though Neame's direction never won him an Academy Award, it did result in several highly acclaimed and highly popular films, including The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie and The Poseidon Adventure. He also worked as a producer, handling David Lean's classic take on Oliver Twist. He was the first to admit that his later films were weaker, calling Meteor, for instance, "a true disaster in every sense," but he remained respected in the industry. He is survived by his film researcher wife Donna Friedberg, his producer son Christopher (from his first marriage), and a grandson who works for the BBC.

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