The Up series was meant to investigate inequities of British class. It also ended up telling a different story as well.
By Susan Pederson | November 2020
Michael Apted’s great Up series, about a cohort of English children, wasn’t conceived as a series at all. In 1963, fresh out of Cambridge and as a trainee at Granada TV, Apted was asked to find a group of talkative 7-year-olds for a 40-minute special about the children who would be Britain’s barristers and businessmen, factory workers and housewives, at the century’s turn. Directed by Paul Almond and screened in 1964, Seven Up! was to have been a one-off. But when someone at Granada suggested revisiting the children at 14 and again at 21, Apted jumped at the offer to direct. Even after his career took off and he moved to Hollywood, he made time to make a new installment every seven years.
With the release of 63 Up last year, the series spans nine films and six decades. It is Apted’s most important work and one of the most revelatory documentaries about social change ever made. It has attracted imitations, scholarly articles and comment, and hordes of passionate fans—though perhaps this is the case as much in spite of as because of Apted’s direction.
From the outset, he imagined the project as an indictment of class inequality. He wanted to make, as he put it, “a nasty piece of work about these kids who have it all, and these other kids who have nothing.” Drawn to children (mainly boys) at the sharp ends of the class divide, he recruited five of the 14 children from elite private schools and six from London’s working-class primary schools and care homes but only two from a middle-class Liverpool suburb and one from rural Yorkshire. In their interviews in Seven Up! these 7-year-olds unselfconsciously performed the hierarchies of class—theater all the more devastating for its actors’ innocence. Who can forget the now-canonical clip of Andrew Brackfield, Charles Furneaux, and John Brisby (the “three posh boys”) obligingly recounting their reading material (“I read the Financial Times”), their plans (“We think I’m going to Cambridge”), and their view that the public (that is, private) schools were a very good thing indeed, since otherwise, their schools would be “so nasty and crowded”?
As he dies at 79, CHRISTOPHER STEVENS salutes director Michael Apted
by Christopher Stevens
There was Tony, the cheeky East End lad who dreamed of being a jockey. Little ballerina Suzy, the girl from a wealthy family.
Mixed-race Symon, who grew up in an orphanage and became a foster parent.
Neil, the would-be astronaut and restless soul who later dropped out of university and lived in a squat . . .
No doubt, as you read this, some of you can picture their faces now, just a few of the unforgettable characters we met as children in the ITV documentary series Seven Up! (later Up) and have followed throughout their lives — remember Lynn the librarian and am-dram actress Sue?
One of the girls, Suzy Lusk (pictured above in the series when she was a child) refused to take part in the latest instalment. Apted resorted to borrowing a phone and ringing her, ‘so she’d think it was someone else. Then I said it was me, and she put the phone down’
And we’d have known none of them without Michael Apted, the film-maker behind the series, who died last week aged 79.
(CNN) British filmmaker and documentarian Michael Apted died Thursday night in Los Angeles at the age of 79, the Directors Guild of America (DGA) announced in a statement Friday.
No details about his death were immediately available.
“Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the passing of esteemed director, longtime DGA leader and my friend Michael Apted. His legacy will be forever woven into the fabric of cinema and our Guild,” Thomas Schlamme, the president of DGA, said.
“A fearless visionary as a director and unparalleled Guild leader, Michael saw the trajectory of things when others didn’t, and we were all the beneficiaries of his wisdom and lifelong dedication,” Schlamme said.
Born in 1941 in Aylesbury, England, Apted had a prolific body of work in television, film and documentaries.
He is known especially for directing the Up series (1964–2019). The Up series follows the lives of fourteen British children since 1964, when they were seven years old. The documentary has had nine episodes—one episode every seven years—thus spanning 56 years. In 1991 the then most recent installment, 28 Up, was chosen for Roger Ebert’s list of the ten greatest films of all time.
Apted directed the 1980 movie “Coal Miner’s Daughter,” which won the Golden Globe for Best Motion Picture in the musical and comedy category. Sissy Spacek won the Oscar for Best Actress for her role in the film.