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The 13th BFDG Production Design Awards supported by BENlabs

Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

This award is supported by:

Winner: Martin Childs

This award is for Art Department members who we would like to honour having had a long and extensive career and who have made their creative mark on this industry, benefiting their department as a whole.

Judging for this award is made by the BFDG committee.

Martin Childs

Forty-five years ago I was an architecture student with a degree in my pocket, a few months into a year of professional practice and I was being asked to design something called ‘light industrial units’. In other words metal warehouses to be placed around the edge of a Cambridgeshire town, bulldozing fields where I had played as a boy. Those boxes were the seeds of a career crisis.

Meanwhile, I’d been spending a lot of time in Cambridge’s many cinemas. My father thought I might enjoy a favourite of his called The Third Man and took me to see it. Harry Lime’s moment in the doorway, the cat, the lighting, the car – the storytelling – changed my life. My obsession with film led to another father/son ‘moment’ when I steered Dad’s cabin cruiser into the bulrushes because I only had eyes for reading Hitchcock by Truffaut propped up on the wheel. Thankfully he knew what had to happen next.

Cut to several months later and I am starting life as what only the BBC could think of calling a Holiday Relief Design Assistant. There I have the good fortune to be placed at a drawing board beside the great designer Tim Harvey. When I wasn’t designing Blue Peter, I’d be assisting Tim on big dramas such as Bleak House and Fortunes of War, the latter prompting us both to leave the BBC to work on Ken Branagh’s first film, Henry V. Then came three more.

I moved on to art directing for Ken Adam (Nick Hytner’s The Madness of King George), then Janet Patterson (Jane Campion’s The Portrait of a Lady), and then, at last, to branching out on my own as Production Designer with John Madden’s Mrs Brown and Shakespeare in Love. More films followed, with directors such as Christopher Miles, Phil Kaufman, The Hughes Brothers, Night Shyamalan, Mark Herman, Bill Monahan, Madonna, Bill Condon and back to John Madden.

Then, in 2014, Stephen Daldry asked me to design the first ten episodes of a show called The Crown. Unusually for a freelance gig, it promised eighteen months of employment. Nine years later, ten episodes had become sixty and the show would end with a glorious finale directed by Stephen.

As I write this at home in what we call ‘The Small Back Room’, I look up and see a framed black and white photo on the wall. I see it every day. It’s of The Pavilion Cinema, St Neots, the first seven steps of its white-edged staircase visible through the doorway, lit from above, luring me in. The cinema is long demolished, its life ending with The Valley of the Dolls. It’s where, at the age of nine or ten, I first saw From Russia with Love, Lawrence of Arabia, Goldfinger, Carry on Cleo… and it’s surely where it all began.

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