Derek Bailey obituary

Television producer and director who worked on the first ITV arts show

My former colleague Derek Bailey, a television producer and director who worked on the first ITV arts show, Aquarius, has died aged 85. Derek encouraged, challenged and instructed programme makers over a career spanning nearly 60 years.

For Aquarius in the 1970s, Derek made films about subjects ranging from the avant-garde art performances at the fateful 1972 Munich Olympics and the Amadeus Quartet, to two different approaches to playing Toad of Toad Hall. There were also profiles of Edna O’Brien, Alfred Hitchcock and the documentary maker Dennis Mitchell, and another, Thoroughly Modern Melly, about the jazzer George Melly.

Derek brought to Aquarius a sharp, unusual and penetrating style: quirky, informative and entertaining. His insight was especially searing in the films he made about the arts in his troubled home town of Belfast. For many viewers it was the first they had heard of Seamus Heaney, or seen of the Northern Irish arts scene. He made a film celebrating the New Orleans Mardi Gras, followed a touring production of the anti-war musical Hair to war-torn Israel, and chronicled the poignant closure of the original Covent Garden market.

Derek was born in Belfast. His father, Cecil Bailey, ran the family accountancy business and his mother, Edna (nee Stollery), taught gymnastics. He was educated at the Royal Belfast Academical Institution and then at Queen’s University, where he read economics. After studying at the Lamda drama school in London, he joined Ulster TV, where he soon started directing. In 1958 he married Patricia Hall, who had played Ophelia to his Hamlet at university.

Moving to London in the late 60s, he worked at London Weekend Television on the Frost Programme and various drama series. But Derek really hit his stride when he joined the team on Aquarius, where the presenter and editor Humphrey Burton, keen to make the arts accessible and attractive to the ITV audience, gave him his head.

When Aquarius ended in 1977, Derek’s path was set and his fresh “way of seeing” much in demand. His company, Landseer Productions, launched with a documentary film featuring Peter Ustinov and Natalie Wood visiting the Hermitage Museum in Leningrad. Derek went on to produce and direct scores of televised ballet and opera performances and documentaries with, among others, Franco Zeffirelli, Peter Hall, Joan Sutherland, Luciano Pavarotti, Darcey Bussell and Bill Bryden.

In later years Derek produced and directed the Northern Ireland segments for the Last Night of the Proms.

Derek and Patricia were divorced in 1984. The following year he married Gill Cormode (nee Easterby). Gill survives him, as do his son, Patrick, and daughter, Kate, from his first marriage, and a granddaughter, Jessica.

Alan Ravenscroft

The GuardianTramp

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