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Obituary: Reginald Collin, television director and producer who went on to revive and expand Bafta’s fortunes

Born: 7 July, 1927, in London. Died: 16 December, 201, in Dorset, aged 84

REGINALD Collin was associated with many leading television police thrillers – particularly hard-hitting dramas such as Special Branch and Callan. There was nothing glamorous or traditional about either: Collin went out of his way to depict the police as grubby manipulators who played criminals at their on game.

Collin cannily cast George Sewell and Patrick Mower in Special Branch and for Callan he cast the mean and lean Edward Woodward as a professional killer in a shadowy branch of the British intelligence services. In an inspired piece of casting, Collin gave the role of his side-kick Lonely to the Scottish actor Russell Hunter. Lonely was a timid, smelly petty criminal whom Hunter played with gusto.

Reginald Collin was brought up in London’s East End and served with Bomber Command during the war, where he played a leading part in the amateur dramatics. He joined the Old Vic Theatre School in peacetime and found work in repertory theatres, but never landed a leading role. For some years Collin directed pantomimes and summer shows, but in 1959 he joined ABC Television as a director and in the early 1960s started ITV’s first arts programme. Tempo was set up in competition to the renowned BBC’s offering, Monitor, and Collin directed the programme that had Kenneth Tynan as its editor.

One outstanding broadcast was a tribute to John F Kennedy on the first anniversary of the US president’s assassination and that was followed by an appraisal of the director Franco Zeffirelli.

Collin was offered a directing role with ABC’s drama department (soon to become Thames Television) and directed several episodes of Special Branch in 1965. It was centred on the anti-terrorist squad of the Metropolitan Police. Collin cast Fulton Mackay as the hardnosed Scottish Detective Superintendent and the series gained good audiences. In 1966, Collin produced a programme to celebrate ABC’s 10th anniversary.

It was in 1967 that Collin got his big break. He was asked to produce and direct the dark series Callan. Woodward won a Bafta for his performance as the uncompromising and sinister tough guy and Collin was nominated for two Bafta awards for his work on the series, which included scripting some episodes.

The series was seen as an antidote to the drama and excitement of James Bond. The programme originated as an Armchair Theatre series in 1967 and won large audiences: the public responded to the depiction of the everyday life of police at the sharp end of crime. In 1969, Collin had Callan shot and left for dead. But there was public uproar – including from Prime Minister Harold Wilson – and the show returned with Callan in hospital.

Collin was associated with the series until 1972 and then when Woodward and Hunter reprised their roles in a 1974 feature film of the same name and, seven years later, in the TV film Wet Job. By then Hunter’s Lonely had gone straight, was married and running a plumbing company called Fresh & Fragrant.

In 1974, Collin produced a well-received nine-part mini series called Napoleon in Love – a dramatised account of the emperor’s love life (starring Ian Holm and Billie Whitelaw).

The following year Collin teamed up with former colleagues for two Armchair Theatre plays: Woodward starred as a tortured musician in When Day is Done and Mower was a harassed GP in In Sickness and in Health.

After retiring from the television studio in 1975, Collin spent 11 years as director of Bafta and returned to oversee A World on its Own – a centenary tribute to the first permanent Shakespeare theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon.

But his work at Bafta is acknowledged as special and particularly memorable. One of his first challenges was to ensure that its finances were put in better order. Collin introduced a far-reaching fundraising operation. He also energetically pursued a more outreaching programme for the annual award scheme and enthusiastically started regional Bafta branches in Glasgow, Manchester and Belfast.

His flair for the grand occasion was evidenced when Collin organised star events to honour outstanding achievements in the movie industry, including Sean Connery, Dirk Bogarde and Julie Andrews.

Collin received a Royal Television Society fellowship in “recognition of an outstanding contribution to the furtherance of television”. Collin also penned the book Bafta Behind the Mask: Personal Recollections.

He is survived by his wife Pamela Lonsdale, a Bafta award winner for the preschool programme Rainbow, which she created. They had no children.

ALASDAIR STEVEN

 
 
 

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