Roger Graef

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Roger Graef
Born Roger Arthur Graef
(1936-04-18) April 18, 1936 (age 86)
New York, United States
Occupation Theatre director, filmmaker

Roger Arthur Graef OBE (born 18 April 1936) is a theatre director and filmmaker. Born in New York, he moved to Britain in 1962, where he has made acclaimed documentary films with his ability to gain access to hitherto closed institutions, including Government ministries and court buildings.[1][2]

Early life

Graef was born in New York, and started directing plays at Harvard University, staging the New England première of Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein's opera The Mother of Us All in 1956, and the première of Robert Penn Warren's Brother to Dragons in 1957.[3][4]

He directed twenty-four plays in theatres up and down the East Coast, and was chosen by CBS for its new TV drama directors' program.[5] He directed two network dramas for CBS, including The Seven who were Hanged, an hour special adapted and produced by Robert Herridge from the Leonid Andreyev novel of the same name.[citation needed]

Career in Britain

He moved to Britain in 1962 and directed Tennessee Williams' Period of Adjustment at the Royal Court and Wyndham's Theatre in the West End of London.[citation needed]

His first film was One of them is Brett for the Society of Thalidomide Children, to demonstrate to head teachers of primary schools that the physical handicaps of the children did not stop them from being active mentally. It won the Silver Dragon at Cracow, and was shown on the BBC, CBC and ABC Scope in the US. It entered medical school curricula as well. In a BBC interview in 2014 Roger Graef said, " Nobody had ever seen them as people, they had only seen them as cases and it entered medical school curriculum immediately because doctors had never seen them at home." [6]

His film The Life and Times of John Huston, Esq for the BBC, CBC and NET in the US, was one of the very first documentary co-productions for television.[citation needed] He subsequently produced the 13-part series Who Is on artists, architects, writers, and composers for BBC, CBC, NET and Bayerischer Rundfunk, directing the episodes on Jacques Lipchitz, Pierre Boulez, Walter Gropius and Maurice Bejart himself.

His film Why Save Florence? (BBC/BR/NET) in 1968 revealed the scandalous state of the city's defences against flooding.

His 1970 film In the Name of Allah: the life cycle of a Muslim community (Fes, Morocco) for BBC/BR/NET was the first long documentary on Islam shown in the West.[citation needed]

Working with his collaborator cameraman Charles Stewart, he made the first 'fly-on-the wall' purely observational series The Space between Words in 1972 for the BBC and PBS, including Politics, the first film inside the US Senate, and Diplomacy, the first unstaged film inside the UN.

He then made a series of ground breaking access films for Granada Television. Working with Norma Percy and Brian Lapping, he made the first film inside the UK Government: State of the Nation: A Law in the Making, and in 1976 the first film inside the EU: Inside the Brussels HQ. His three part series Decision followed top level decision making inside Occidental Petroleum, Hammersmith Council and British Steel. The steel film was adapted as a short course by Harvard and London Business Schools.

His 1978 series Decision; British Communism followed the evolution of a manifesto over several years. It won the Royal Television Society Award for Best Current Affairs Documentary.

In 1973 he became a member of the board of the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) in London, and created and chaired its Architectural Forum. He also became a part-time tutor at the Architectural Association. In 1975 he was appointed to the Development Control Review of Planning Law, chaired by George Dobry QC and chaired the Sub-Group on Public Involvement in Planning. He promoted the early publication of planning officers' recommendations for approval or refusal of applications before the meeting which is now standard practice. He was also on the three-man Inquiry into Control of Demolition. In 1976 he was made a member of the board of London Transport. He subsequently co-designed the London Bus Map with Andrew Holmes.[citation needed] His BBC film, Is this the Way to Save a City? co-directed by Mike Dibb for Omnibus, delayed the redevelopment of Cardiff. Together with Simon Jenkins, he made a film for Arena showing that a Grade II listed building was demolished every day during Save Britain's Heritage Year.

In 1982 Graef made a ground-breaking observational documentary titled Police about the Thames Valley Police. The reaction to the programme's portrayal of insensitive police handling of a rape victim changed the way in which the UK police handled rape cases.[7] In a BBC interview in 2014 Roger Graef said, " We showed it (the film) to them (the police) but they regarded themselves as being nice to her. First of all Thatcher talked about it in parliament, it was on CBS news in America and also in Sweden and other places. Our film came after three very controversial rape cases the week before and the police quietly changed the way they handled rape." [8] He directed the films/TV specials of the first three Amnesty International comedy galas in 1976, 1977 and 1979 - the last of which was the first Secret Policeman's Ball film. In 1984 he co-produced the first Comic Relief with Richard Curtis, and Look at the State We're In (BBC), a series of short satirical films on constitutional reform, with John Cleese, Hugh Laurie, Dawn French, Anthony Sher.

Graef became a UK citizen in 1995. He was a trustee and then a patron of the Koestler Trust for art in prisons, the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust, the Irene Taylor Trust for Music in Prisons, the Voice of the Child in Care, Who Cares? Trust and Prisoners Abroad, a charity which supports Britons imprisoned outside the UK. He is a patron of the Mulberry Bush School in Oxfordshire, the subject of Kim Longinotto's Hold Me Tight, Let Me Go for Films of Record.

As a criminologist, he has made more than thirty films on police and criminal justice issues, including Police, Operation Carter, In Search of Law and Order UK (Channel 4)and In Search of Law and Order - USA (pbs and Channel 4) on positive ways to address youth offending, which influenced the National Youth Justice Board.[citation needed] Police 2001 (BBC) looked at how policing had changed since his 1982 series, Panorama: Rape on Trial looked at how much had changed in the handling of rape since his 1982 film. His 1987 fiction film Closing Ranks (ITV/Zenith) about domestic violence in the police was used in training for many years. Since 1995 he has been a Visiting Fellow of the Mannheim Centre for Criminology at the London School of Economics. He is an advisor to the England and Wales Sentencing Council.

He has written Talking Blues: Police In Their Own Words (Harper Collins), Living Dangerously: young offenders in their own words (Harvill) and Why Restorative Justice? (Gulbenkian).

He broadcasts regularly on Radio 4 and 5 and writes for the Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, the Observer and the Guardian.[9]

Graef was a founding board member of Channel Four. He was News International Visiting Professor of Media and Communications at Oxford University. He is also on the Board of Trustees of the Media Standards Trust, and is a patron of Prisoners Abroad, a charity that supports the welfare of Britons imprisoned overseas and their families.

Films of Record

In 1979, Roger Graef started Films of Record, a documentary production company that specialises in tackling difficult subjects,[clarification needed] and securing access to previously impenetrable institutions. Films of Record worked in association with Hatchling Productions on Cathy Henkel's feature-length documentary film The Burning Season (2008), which followed a young Australian entrepreneur to Indonesia on a mission to help stop deforestation and make money in the process. In the first months of 2010, Films of Record produced Julien Temple's Requiem for Detroit? (BBC), Ricardo Pollack's three-part series on medical ethics Great Ormond Street (TV series) (BBC), and a series on family discord Who Needs Fathers? (BBC). Other productions include the BAFTA-nominated Kids in Care, a Panorama Special, The Trouble with Pirates on the impact of Somali piracy; and "Amnesty! When They Are All Free". Its recent output includes "The Truth About Adoption"; which was BAFTA and BAFTA Craft nominated in 2012; and the second series of Great Ormond Street.[10]

Films of Record is now part of factual media group Ten Alps.

Awards and honours

In 2004 Graef was awarded a BAFTA Fellowship. He was awarded an OBE in the 2006 New Year's Honours list for services to film-making and broadcasting. In 2013 BAFTA held a tribute evening to celebrate Roger Graef’s 50th year as a filmmaker. Graef was awarded the 2014 Lifetime Achievement Award at Sheffield Doc/Fest.[11]

Requiem for Detroit? directed by Julien Temple for Films of Record won the Grierson Award for Best Historical Documentary in 2010.

Feltham Sings, directed by Brian Hill and produced by Roger Graef won a BAFTA for Best Documentary in 2004.

Hold me tight let me go Best Documentary at BRITDOC, Grand Jury Prize at IDFA, Amsterdam, Best Documentary Bird's Eye Festival, Best Documentary Britspotting, Berlin Malaria: Fever Road - One World Awards: Best Documentary

Race for the Beach CBA-Amnesty International Award for Human Rights Programme

Kids in Care was nominated for Best Current Affairs at the 2011 BAFTA Awards; and won a Royal Television Society Award

The Truth About Adoption was nominated for Best Current Affairs at the 2012 BAFTA Awards. The director, Clare Johns, was also nominated for Best Newcomer at the 2012 BAFTA Craft Awards

Further reading

  • Encyclopedia of the Documentary Film, ed. Ian Aitken. London: Routledge (2005)


  1. "Roger Graef – Ethics Masterclass". Watersprite. Cambridge. March 2013. Retrieved 22 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Newburn, Tim; Williamson, Tom; Wright, Alan, eds. (2007). Handbook of Criminal Investigation. Abingdon: Willan. p. 154. ISBN 9781843921882.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Scott, Gavin (24 February 1956). "The Mother O.U.A." The Harvard Crimson. Cambridge, MA. Retrieved 22 July 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. Warren, Robert Penn (2008). Hendricks, Randy; Perkins, James A. (eds.). Selected Letters of Robert Penn Warren. 4. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press. p. 172. ISBN 9780807133002.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. Shepard, Richard F. (28 February 1960). "Workshop in Action: C.B.S. Project Helps Young Directors, Writers Get a Foot in TV's Door". The New York Times. New York City.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. BBC Radio 4 "Front Row" programme broadcast 1915hrs, 13 June 2014
  7. Independent interview: 18 June 2007
  8. BBC Radio 4 "Front Row" programme interview with Roger Graef, broadcast 1915hrs 13 July 2014
  9. CiF Guardian
  10. Films of Record website
  11. "2014 Award Winners". Retrieved 15 August 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links