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Obituary: Jonathan Gili.

AS VIEWERS, we assume that colourful, idiosyncratic characters like the architectural historian Lucinda Lambton arrive on our television screens fully-formed.

They don't: it's as much to do with the talents of documentary filmmakers such as Jonathan Gili, who has died of leukaemia, aged 61, discovering and shaping the often diffuse talents of such eccentrics into watchable form.

Gili started at the top, as assistant editor on the spoof private eye film Gumshoe (1971), scripted by Liverpool writer Neville Smith and starring Albert Finney.

Born in Oxford, the son of a publisher and translator, Gili's first full-length BBC film was about Westminster public school (1979). Other features included the leading novelist Angus Wilson and his partner Tony Garrett for the series, The Other Half, demonstrating how much a great artist relies on the support of others.

Gili was adept at finding quirky, off-beat subjects, yet always creating programmes of the highest quality to enhance the BBC's reputation as the world's best broadcaster.

These included the No. 31 bus (To the World's End, 1985), Mixed Blessings (about two babies accidentally swapped at birth), Coming Home (the experiences of returning post-war servicemen and evacuees) and Chocolate! (dealing with its addictive quality).

For BBC2's long-running Timewatch, his programmes dealt with the diversity of the American West, such as Typhoid Mary, Pocahontas: Her True Story, and Gold Rush Memories. For these, he was proud to receive an award from the Cowboy Hall of Fame.

He channelled Lucinda Lambton's over-the-top, gushing, aristocratic character into becoming the nearest television successor to John Betjeman. With Gili's guidance, she was established with three series between 1985-88: Animal Crackers, A Cabinet of Curiosities and The Great North Road.

Diagnosed with leukaemia in 1984, Gili's life expectation was at most only three years. Instead, he lived to document the Queen Mother (2002). His most recent work was earlier this year for BBC4's Historians of Genius. He is survived by his wife and their three children.

Jonathan Gili, filmmaker,
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Publication:Daily Post (Liverpool, England)
Date:Oct 7, 2004
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