RepositoryBill Douglas Centre Archives (GB 2869)
Ref NoBDC 1
Date20th century-21st century
LevelCollection
Extent39 boxes
TitleBill Douglas Papers
DescriptionThis archive has been largely amassed from Bill Douglas' own papers, arranged by his executor Peter Jewell. Also included is Jewell's collection of materials related to Bill's life and career. Several other donors provided material from Douglas' 'Comrades' production; including Penny Eyles' continuity scripts, Michael Pickwoad's production materials and designs, and Nick Keen's on-set stills from the film. The working papers archive is largely concerned with the production of 'Comrades', including research, scripts, casting papers, correspondence and criticism. The archive also includes materials from the 'Bill Douglas Trilogy': pre- and post-production artefacts, related correspondence, royalty statements and reviews and features. Also included in the series are a number of papers regarding unrealized productions, including completed scripts, as well as other assorted papers from Bill Douglas' career.
Admin HistoryBill Douglas (1934-1991), filmmaker, was born into extreme poverty in the small mining town of Newcraighall, just outside Edinburgh. His childhood was tumultuous, with a repeatedly disrupted home life. Soon after his birth his mother was placed in an asylum and his father was often absent. Douglas lived with his maternal grandmother and cousin, Ben, until her death when Bill was twelve. The boys were then separated as Douglas went to live with his paternal grandmother, which proved to be an unhappy arrangement. After a series of family difficulties, Douglas spent much of his teenage years in a care home. Bill was conscripted into the RAF in 1952 and shortly after was deployed to the Suez region in Egypt. There he met his lifelong friend Peter Jewell, an avid lover of the arts. Together they began to develop their mutual love of cinema, an activity that led to the pairs later endeavors.

When Douglas returned to the U.K., he held various jobs before pursuing a career in the arts. He joined Joan Littlewood's Theatre Workshop in 1959 and over the next eight years acted in various television series and stage productions, including Granada's 1961 production of 'The Younger Generation' for ITV. During this period Douglas also wrote scripts, plays and a novel. His musical theatre production 'Solo' was staged in 1962 at Cheltenham but unfortunately the play, along with much of his early written work, has been lost.

In 1964, while acting and writing, Douglas began sharing a flat with Peter in London where they embarked upon the creation of their film ephemera collection. As their collection grew Douglas became obsessed with the history of cinema, specifically pre-cinema entertainments. Some of the pre-cinema objects they collected eventually found their way into Bill's film 'Comrades'. During this period Peter bought Bill his first camera, an 8mm that they used to create short films starring themselves and their friends. These films from the mid-1960s are the earliest work from the director and soon after Douglas began pursuing his directorial career.

In 1969, Bill Douglas was awarded a grant and enrolled at the London School of Film Technique (now the London Film School), graduating with first-class honours in 1971. During his attendance he experimented with the art of filmmaking; his early projects include 'Charlie Chaplin's London', 'Striptease' and his graduation film 'Come Dancing', which was screened at the National Film Theatre in 1970 and was critically well-received. Peter Jewell believes the film is the first where Douglas' "distinctive style is instantly recognisable".

It was during this period that Douglas conceived the idea for a film based on his childhood experiences. He sent his original script 'Jamie' to director Lindsay Anderson, who recognized Douglas' potential and encouraged Douglas to embrace the film's autobiographical nature -- it was through this insight that 'Jamie' came to be titled 'My Childhood'. Douglas then had to seek funding for his film. The script was rejected by the Films of Scotland Committee who thought the work too backward-looking, but found support from the newly-appointed head of the BFI Production Board, Mamoun Hassan. Hassan, impressed by the script and 'Come Dancing', agreed to bankroll the novice director in 1971. The 1972 release of 'My Childhood' was followed by its sequels 'My Ain Folk' in 1973 and 'My Way Home' in 1978 -- the five-year gap was to allow the child actor Stephen Archibald to grow into the role of an RAF serviceman.

Each part of the 'Trilogy' faced stumbling blocks, often in the post-production phase. In both 'My Ain Folk' and 'My Way Home' Douglas disagreed with the editing process, often finding himself displeased with the finished prints of his films. However, these doubts did not stop the films from being critically acclaimed. The films were released together as the 'The Bill Douglas Trilogy' in 1979, and lauded as a triumphant combination of British realism and European art-house cinema conventions.

Despite the acclaim for the 'Trilogy', Douglas had great difficulty getting further projects funded and produced. His next film, 'Comrades', took eight years to progress from conception to realization. He discovered the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs while visiting Dorset with Peter in the late 1970s and began writing a script based on their story while completing 'My Way Home'. Douglas employed an intensive and unique form of screen-writing; throughout his career Douglas refused to write script treatments or overviews and would write a full script for each draft. The National Film Finance Corporation agreed to fund the development of 'Comrades' solely on the strength of his first twenty pages of his Tolpuddle script. In this screenplay and its subsequent re-writes, we can see Douglas' distinctive and coherent writing style. He treated his scripts as a completed whole, not a sum of parts. Douglas referred to his work as full of "echoes" or "threads" -- moments throughout his screenplay that develop and strengthen each other and the film; to change or remove one of these echoes required reworking the script in its entirety.

He taught briefly at The National Film School at Beaconsfield in 1978 while searching for funding for 'Comrades'. In 1983 he finally found a backer in the recently created Channel 4, who agreed to contribute a significant portion of the funding; in fact it was the largest grant the company had ever bestowed on a single production. It was Channel 4's chief executive Jeremy Isaacs who decided to pair Douglas with the successful producer Ismail Merchant in 1984. Unfortunately in pre-production the partnership proved disastrous. Two weeks before shooting was to begin after months of preparations, Douglas and Merchant found their differences too great and were forced to postpone production. This eventually led to the complete severance of Merchant's involvement on the film. Luckily, 'Comrades' was revived when the producer Simon Relph joined in 1985. The film was shot on location in the abandoned village of Tyneham, Dorset and throughout Australia – a difficult shoot as the director was not able to scout the foreign locations with Relph, and many sets had to be improvised. This led to an extended production schedule and the film going drastically over-budget. When production finished Douglas experienced further issues during the editing process; there are three separate cuts of the film 'Comrades'. The original cut, edited by Mick Audsley, ran for 205 minutes. Channel 4 felt the film needed to be shorter and a second cut was created by Mike Ellis at 175 minutes. This cut was deemed too severe by Douglas, and Audsley was recalled to create a third cut that restored eight minutes of previously discarded footage. The film was released in 1987 and, though not a commercial success, enjoyed largely positive critical reviews.

Through the late 1980s and into 1990 Douglas worked on several unrealized projects. He wrote two unproduced scripts: 'Confessions of a Justified Sinner' based on the 1824 novel by James Hogg, which was to be produced by Hassan and 'Flying Horse' a semi-fictionalized biopic of the photographer Eadweard Muybridge, to be produced by Relph. In 1990 he taught at Strathclyde University, where he wrote the script 'Ring of Truth', which was posthumously realized by his students and BBC Scotland in 1996. 'Comrades' was to be Douglas' final film before succumbing to lung cancer in 1991.

Though Bill Douglas' body of work only consists of a handful of completed films, his legacy is still found in British film history. There has been a revival of Douglas' work since the BFI's re-release of the 'Trilogy' in 2008 and its release of 'Comrades' in 2009. Screenings of the 'Trilogy' and 'Comrades' continue to be shown at festivals and film seasons around the world; recently France has celebrated Douglas' work with re-releases of his films and Mexico prominently featured all four films at their Festival Internacional de Cine de Morelia, programmed by Nicolas Philibert, in 2015. Douglas is now acknowledged as one of the paramount British directors of the 1970s and 1980s, alongside Mike Leigh, Terence Davies, and Peter Greenaway. He was recently cited as influencing Oscar-nominated director Lenny Abrahamson, as well as the work of Lynne Ramsey and Peter Mullan. The Bill Douglas Cinema Museum located at the University of Exeter continues to champion Douglas' life and work to the benefit of filmmakers and scholars around the world.
LanguageEnglish, some French, some Spanish, some German
Access StatusOpen
Related MaterialOther collections relating to Douglas are held by the following repositories: the Simon Relph Collection and the 'Trilogy' Collection (BFI National Archive, Special Collections); the Lindsay Anderson Archive (University of Stirling); Scottish Screen Archive; Bill Doulgas Cinema Museum.
Access ConditionsUsual EUL arrangements apply.
ArrangementThe arrangement of materials has been kept organized largely as originally received from the Bill Douglas and Peter Jewell estate, though some material has been re-arranged for ease of access and research purposes. The collections of the additional donors has been grouped as originally received.
Finding_AidsBox list and original scoping project available - Strong Room 2 Shelf with other Bill Douglas Papers materials.
Creator_NameDouglas; Bill (1934-1991); filmmaker
Jewell; Peter (1934- ); Douglas' friend and executor
Mgt_GroupBill Douglas Centre papers
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