Lewis Gilbert
Born(1920-03-06)6 March 1920
London, England
Died23 February 2018(2018-02-23) (aged 97)
Occupation(s)Film director, producer and screenwriter
Years active1925–2002
Hylda Tafler
(m. 1952; died 2005)

Lewis Gilbert CBE (6 March 1920 – 23 February 2018) was an English film director, producer and screenwriter who directed more than 40 films during six decades; among them such varied titles as Reach for the Sky (1956), Sink the Bismarck! (1960), Alfie (1966), Educating Rita (1983) and Shirley Valentine (1989), as well as three James Bond films: You Only Live Twice (1967), The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)[1] and Moonraker (1979).

Early life

Lewis Gilbert was born as Louis Laurie Isaacs in Clapton, London,[2] to a second-generation family of music hall performers,[3] and spent his early years travelling with his parents, Ada (Griver), who was of Jewish descent,[4] and George Gilbert, and watching the shows from the wings.[5] He first performed on stage at the age of five, when asked to drive a trick car around the stage. This pleased the audience, so this became the finale of his parents' act. When travelling on trains, his parents frequently hid him in the luggage rack, to avoid paying a fare for him. His father contracted tuberculosis as a young man and died aged 34, when Gilbert was seven.

Gilbert was a child actor in the 1920s and 1930s, but soon after the death of his father, his mother was unable to financially support him, while she was a film extra, and this led to Gilbert being taken in by his aunt Daisy Gilbert, with frequent visits from his mother.

Daisy Gilbert was a known Vaudeville performer in the duo “The Dancing Gilbert Sisters”, who performed at venues such as the Hackney Empire, and Tivoli in Australia. And it was Daisy Gilbert’s husband Harry Rosen, who was a known retailer at the time, who helped Gilbert financially when he wanted to become a film director in the early stages of his career.

During this time Gilbert had many difficulties with his formal education, but In 1933, at the age of 13, he had a role in Victor Hanbury and John Stafford's Dick Turpin, and at age 17 a small uncredited role in The Divorce of Lady X (1938) opposite Laurence Olivier.

It was Daisy Gilbert, who helped him to get the role in The Divorce of Lady X, with the intention that Gilbert would be credited for it.

Later Alexander Korda offered to send him to RADA, but Gilbert chose to study direction instead, assisting Alfred Hitchcock's Jamaica Inn (1939).[3]

When the Second World War started, he joined the Royal Air Force's film unit, where he worked on various documentary films. He was eventually seconded to the First Motion Picture Unit of the U.S. Army Air Forces, where his commanding officer was William Keighley, an American film director, who allowed Gilbert to take on much of his film-making work.

Directorial career

After the war, he continued to write and direct documentary shorts for Gaumont British, before entering low budget feature film production.[3] Gilbert made his name as a director in the 1950s and 1960s with a series of successful films, often working as the film's writer and producer as well. These films were often based on true stories from the Second World War. Examples include Reach for the Sky (1956) (based on the life of air ace Douglas Bader), Carve Her Name with Pride (1958) (the story of SOE agent Violette Szabo) and Sink the Bismarck! (1960).[6]


Gilbert directed Alfie (1966)[7] starring Michael Caine. Gilbert's wife Hylda discovered the play by Bill Naughton when she visited the hair salon and sat next to an actress who was in a production. Upon seeing the play, Hylda urged Gilbert to make it into a film. Gilbert used the technique of having the lead character speak directly to the viewer, a technique he later also used in Shirley Valentine (1989). Gilbert said Alfie was only made because the low budget was "the sort of money Paramount executives normally spend on cigar bills".[8] The film won the Jury Special Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, and was nominated for five Academy Awards including Best Picture.[9] Gilbert was also nominated for a Golden Globe for Best Director.

In 1967, Gilbert was chosen to direct Lionel Bart's musical version of Oliver!, but he was already contracted to another project and had to pull out; he recommended Carol Reed, who took over.[3] "It was the lowest point in my life," said Gilbert. "I'd developed Oliver! with Lionel Bart. I had to do The Adventurers instead... While doing this film, I signed to do The Godfather. Because of their financial problems, Paramount could only find $2m to make it. I said it needed $7m". So, instead, Gilbert made Friends (1971 movie).[10]

James Bond

Although known for character dramas, Gilbert directed three of the James Bond films. After some reluctance, he was persuaded by Harry Saltzman and Albert R. Broccoli to direct You Only Live Twice (1967).[11][12] He turned down the opportunity to direct On Her Majesty's Secret Service.[13] Gilbert returned to the series in the 1970s to make The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)[1] and Moonraker (1979).[14] After the high production costs of Moonraker and the financial failure of Michael Cimino's Heaven's Gate, United Artists was unable to afford to hire him to direct the next Bond film For Your Eyes Only.[13]

Later career

In the 1980s, he returned to more small-scale dramas with film versions of Willy Russell's plays Educating Rita (1983)[15] and Shirley Valentine (1989).[16][17] Gilbert also directed the film Stepping Out (1991).[18][19]

Gilbert was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the 1997 Birthday Honours for services to the film industry.[20] In 2001, Gilbert was made a Fellow of the British Film Institute, the highest accolade in the British film industry.[3]

In June 2010, he appeared on the BBC Radio 4 programme Desert Island Discs. In it, he said that his 1970 film The Adventurers was a disaster, and that he should never have made it. On working with Orson Welles on Ferry to Hong Kong, he said that it was: "dreadful, it was my nightmare film. It was a dreadful film, and everything was wrong with it; principally him [Welles]." He also said that his biggest mistake was failing to direct the film version of the musical Oliver!. Its composer Lionel Bart had assured Gilbert that nobody else would do the film, but Gilbert was contractually committed to Paramount to make a film (that he has since refused to name), which caused him to withdraw from the project.

Personal life

Gilbert was married to Hylda Tafler for 53 years, until her death in June 2005. They had a son, Stephen, and raised another, John, hers from a prior relationship.[21]

All My Flashbacks: The Autobiography of Lewis Gilbert, Sixty Years a Film Director was published by Reynolds & Hearn in 2010.[22]

Gilbert died at home in Monaco on 23 February 2018, 11 days shy of his 98th birthday.[23][24]


Year Film Director Producer Screenwriter Notes
1945 The Ten Year Plan Yes Yes documentary about the building of pre-fabricated houses[25]
1946 Arctic Harvest Yes documentary about cod-fishing in the Arctic and the production of cod liver oil[26]
1947 World Economic Geography: Fishing Grounds of the World Yes also known as Sailors Do Care, documentary about the British and international fishing industry[27]
1948 The Little Ballerina Yes Yes
1949 Under One Roof Yes UN-sponsored documentary about the students from different countries who attend Loughborough Engineering College[28]
Marry Me! Yes
1950 Once a Sinner Yes
1951 There Is Another Sun Yes
Scarlet Thread Yes
1952 Emergency Call Yes Yes
Time Gentlemen, Please! Yes
1953 Cosh Boy Yes Yes
Johnny on the Run Yes Yes
Albert R.N. Yes
1954 The Good Die Young Yes Yes
The Sea Shall Not Have Them Yes Yes
1955 Cast a Dark Shadow Yes
1956 Reach for the Sky Yes Yes
1957 The Admirable Crichton Yes Yes
1958 Carve Her Name with Pride Yes Yes
A Cry from the Streets Yes
1959 Ferry to Hong Kong Yes Yes
1960 Light Up the Sky! Yes Yes
Sink the Bismarck! Yes
1961 The Greengage Summer Yes
1962 H.M.S. Defiant Yes
1964 The 7th Dawn Yes
1966 Alfie Yes Yes Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival
1967 You Only Live Twice Yes
1970 The Adventurers Yes Yes Yes
1971 Friends Yes Yes Yes
1974 Paul and Michelle Yes Yes Yes
1975 Operation Daybreak Yes
1976 Seven Nights in Japan Yes Yes
1977 The Spy Who Loved Me Yes
1979 Moonraker Yes
1983 Educating Rita Yes Yes
1985 Not Quite Paradise Yes Yes
1989 Shirley Valentine Yes Yes
1991 Stepping Out Yes Yes
1995 Haunted Yes Yes Yes
2002 Before You Go Yes


  1. ^ a b Maslin, Janet (20 July 1977). "Movie Review – The Spy Who Loved Me (1977): 'Spy Who Loved' A Bit Long on Bond". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 September 2011.
  2. ^ McFarlane, Brian (2022). "Gilbert, Lewis (1920–2018)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (online ed.). Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/odnb/9780198614128.013.90000380491. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  3. ^ a b c d e "Lewis Gilbert (1920)", BFI screenonline Retrieved 14 April 2012
  4. ^ Olivier Holmey (5 March 2018), "Lewis Gilbert: Bond director behind era-defining British films Alfie, Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita", The Independent. Retrieved 22 August 2018.
  5. ^ "Remembering Lewis Gilbert, director behind Bond and Shirley Valentine". The Independent. 5 March 2018. Archived from the original on 14 June 2022.
  6. ^ A.H. Weiler (12 February 1960). "Movie Review – Of Men and Ships". The New York Times.
  7. ^ Bosley Crowther (25 August 1966). "Screen: 'Alfie,' Story of a Cockney Anti-Hero, Begins Run Here:Movie More Effective Than Stage Play Other Features Open 'Batman' Has Debut". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Halliwell's Film & Video Guide 2000, 1999, London: HarperCollins, p15
  9. ^ "The 39th Academy Awards – 1967".
  10. ^ Nicholas Jones (9 March 2000). "Of human Bondage". The Guardian.
  11. ^ Bosley Crowther (14 June 1967). "Movie Review – Screen: Sayonara, 007:Connery Is at It Again as Whatshisname". The New York Times.
  12. ^ Ebert, Roger. "You Only Live Twice Movie Review (1967) – Roger Ebert".
  13. ^ a b Field, Matthew (2015). Some kind of hero : 007 : the remarkable story of the James Bond films. Ajay Chowdhury. Stroud, Gloucestershire. ISBN 978-0-7509-6421-0. OCLC 930556527.((cite book)): CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  14. ^ Vincent Canby (29 June 1979). "Movie Review – Screen: 'Moonraker' Puts Bond in Orbit:Old, Old Friends". The New York Times.
  15. ^ Janet Maslin (21 September 1983). "Movie Review – Film: 'Educating Rita,' school days". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Caryn James (30 August 1989). "Movie Review – Review/Film; Shirley Valentine Talks With Others". The New York Times.
  17. ^ Ebert, Roger. "Shirley Valentine Movie Review (1989) – Roger Ebert".
  18. ^ Stephen Holden (4 October 1991). "Movie Review – Review/Film; Turning Klutzes Into Tap Dancers". The New York Times.
  19. ^ Gritten, David (3 October 1991). "Lewis Gilbert Taps Minnelli's Talents for 'Stepping Out' : Movies: On heels of 'Shirley Valentine,' the director wraps his third film that caters to women—on the set and in the audience". Los Angeles Times.
  20. ^ "No. 54794". The London Gazette (Supplement). 13 June 1997. p. 8.
  21. ^ Gore, Peter (20 January 2010). "Gillian Gore obituary". The Guardian.
  22. ^ "The Film Programme", BBC Radio 4, 26 March 2010
  23. ^ Andrew Pulver (27 February 2018). "Spy Who Loved Me director Lewis Gilbert dies aged 97". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 February 2018.
  24. ^ Alex Ritman (27 February 2018). "Lewis Gilbert, Famed U.K. Director of 'Alfie' and 3 James Bond Films, Dies at 97". The Hollywood Reporter.
  25. ^ BFI Film database: The Ten Year Plan Archived 7 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 14 April 2012
  26. ^ BFI Film database: Arctic Harvest Archived 7 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 14 April 2012
  27. ^ BFI Film database: World Economic Geography: Fishing Grounds of the World Archived 7 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 14 April 2012
  28. ^ BFI Film database: Under One Roof Archived 7 January 2014 at the Wayback Machine Retrieved 14 April 2012