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Derek Granger, the British producer and screenwriter who served as the driving force behind the acclaimed 1981 miniseries Brideshead Revisited, died Tuesday at his London home, screenwriter Tim Sullivan told The Hollywood Reporter. He was 101.
Granger teamed with Sullivan and Brideshead writer-director Charles Sturridge on the grand period films A Handful of Dust (1988), starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Judi Dench, James Wilby, Anjelica Huston and Rupert Graves, and Where Angels Fear to Tread (1991), featuring Graves, Helena Bonham Carter and Judy Davis.
A onetime journalist and frequent Laurence Olivier collaborator, Granger in 1958 joined Granada Television, where he was head of drama and produced the famed soap opera Coronation Street; the epic 1972-73 series Country Matters, starring Ian McKellen; a 1976 adaptation of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, starring Olivier, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner; and, of course, Brideshead Revisited.
Based on Evelyn Waugh’s sprawling pre-World War II novel first published in 1945, Brideshead Revisited was voted the 10th best British program of all time by the British Film Institute in 2000. Starring Jeremy Irons, Diana Quick and Anthony Andrews, the ITV production raked in seven BAFTAs and was nominated for 11 Emmys, including the one for outstanding limited series.
“It was very highly experimental for the day because nothing like it of that scale had ever been done all on film except Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which was just a year before, but with nothing like the production values,” Granger recalled in 2017.
“There we were with foreign locations … hunting scenes, scenes on Atlantic liners … very grand houses … It was enormously spectacular. I don’t think anybody had quite worked out how it should be done. And of course we were making it. I mean, we started off to do six hours and ended up making 11!”
Born on April 23, 1921, Granger served as a lieutenant in the Royal Navy, then reviewed plays for the Sussex Daily News and Evening Argus in Brighton, England. Olivier liked his writing and recommended him for the job as the first drama and film critic for the Financial Times, where he helped launch the newspaper’s arts page.
However, Granger “was bored stiff with reviewing,” he told The Telegraph last year, “and was aching to go into television. At just that moment, I got a phone call from Sidney Bernstein, the founder of Granada TV, asking me if I’d like to join the company.”
For 10 months in 1961-62, Granger was the second-ever producer on Coronation Street, where he introduced storylines that could span multiple episodes. He also produced its spinoffs Pardon the Expression and Turn Out the Lights as well as the documentary series Cinema and World in Action.
“With great sadness the production team at Coronation Street and ITV Studios would like to send heartfelt condolences to Derek’s family and friends,” ITV said in a statement.
He left for stints at London Weekend Television and the National Theatre (as a literary consultant to Olivier) before returning to Granada to produce six plays, including Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Harold Pinter’s The Collection, starring Helen Mirren and Alan Bates.
Brideshead Revisited — which won just one Emmy, for Olivier’s supporting turn — cost several millions to make and, interrupted by an ITV strike in 1979, three years to complete.
Because of the work stoppage, Granger was forced to replace his original director, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, who had a previous commitment, with Sturridge, an inexperienced protégé of his at Granada who was in his 20s. “He turned out to be incredible,” he said.
“It is hard to exaggerate the difference Derek made to my life when he chose me to direct Brideshead, but his pioneering mix of journalistic instinct and dramatic sensibility played a huge part in leading television out of the studio and into the real world,” Sturridge said in a statement. “As with every great producer, he was an enabler, he made things happen.”
Granger noted he and his team were driven to producing “something that is incredibly close to the feeling of the novel and would echo it. And I think … the television experience is as good, if not slightly better. But that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to be true to the Waugh.”
He retired in the early 1990s. His husband and partner of 66 years, interior designer Kenneth Partridge — he worked on homes for John Lennon and Ringo Starr and Beatles manager Brian Epstein — died in December 2015 at age 89.
“He was a remarkable man to work with as a co-writer, generous and collaborative but with a fearsome intellectual rigor and journalistic application,” said Sullivan, who also called himself a Granger protégé. “He had exceptional taste in material and was an enormous encourager of new talent. His curiosity about everything drove him and made him the extraordinary talent he was.”
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