Goodbye Greg

Created on 26/2/2009

I have just returned from a very moving Tribute to the life of Greg Smith a film and theatrical Producer of some note who passed away last week. I had an intermittent but nevertheless intimate relationship with Greg.

Greg had a tough time growing up having lost much of his family before he was a teenager. He always kept this part of his life private and clearly found it a bit of a difficult subject. On leaving drama school in London at the age of 15, Greg joined the Argyle Theatre Touring Company and then took a job as a runner to impresario, Bernard, later Lord Delfont, where he learned the craft of being an agent.

I met Greg when he produced the documentaries,” Brendan Behan's Dublin" and “The London Nobody Knows”, which were both directed by his client and friend Norman Cohen with my late father’s film company where I was working during my school holidays as a very junior editor. Greg had also set up a small talent agency that represented a respectable client list of producers, directors and writers, amongst whom I was later to be a minor and very difficult client.

I wrote the outline for a novel and when I was about 18 Greg negotiated an offer for me to write the book for a publisher for a very healthy advance. Being a stupid and obstinate teenager I turned down the offer. Now I realize what a miracle worker Greg must have been and how disappointed he must have been at my reaction.

Greg and Norman made the film of the BBC TV series "Dad's Army" for Columbia Pictures and filmed Spike Milligan’s novel “Adolf Hitler - My Part in His Downfall” for United Artists, which quickly followed.

A short time later my father asked me to read a book whilst I was on a train journey to the North of England. Later dad asked me what I thought, I said it was very funny and asked him what his interest was in the book. He said he was going to make it into a film and asked me to work on it as the line producer with our old friend Greg Smith. Once again being a very silly young man I turned down the invitation saying I wouldn’t touch such raunchy material with a barge pole. Hence was born the "Confessions …." Series being produced by Greg and executive produced by my father.

The first of these was released in 1974, and it was the amazingly successful "Confessions of a Window Cleaner" which grossed a higher sum per dollar spent than any other Columbia film in the non-US markets and gained entry into the Guinness Film Book of Records. This proves conclusively that no one knows nothing, especially yours truly. Well perhaps Greg and Michael Klinger knew a great deal more than me!

Greg then produced "The Thirty Nine Steps" (starring Robert Powell, John Mills and David Warner) from Buchan's original book rather than as a remake of the famous Hitchcock version.

In 1979 Greg moved into television with the series "Tropic of Ruislip", followed by the TV movie "The Shillingbury Blowers" starring Trevor Howard and leading to the popular series "Shillingbury Tales" in 1981/82; then another Leslie Thomas creation "Dangerous Davies - The Last Detective".

In the early '80s Greg also produced the movies "Funny Money" and "The Boys in Blue" and the TV series "Cuffy” plus a 12 x 1 hour series for Euston Films "Prospects" (1984/85), and two series of the sitcom
"Rude Health".

"Great Expectations" followed in 1988/89, a mini-series (starring Anthony Hopkins, Jean Simmons, Ray McAnally and John Rhys Davies) that received two ACE awards and four EMMY nominations.

Perhaps the single most successful venture of Greg’s productive life came when he co-produced "Buddy - The Buddy Holly Story" , with Laurie Mansfield and Paul Elliott. The stage production proved a major hit World Wide. “Buddy” has been nominated for many international awards including two English Laurence Olivier Awards, one US Tony Award and six Canadian Dora Mavor Moore Awards.

During 1987 to '89, Greg chaired the British Cannes Action Committee and the British Pavilion at the Cannes Film Festival. In 1989-90, Greg produced Trevor Nunn's highly acclaimed "Othello" (starring Sir Ian McKellan and Willard White), which received two BAFTA nominations and in 1992 Trevor and Greg joined forces again to make the world television production of Gershwin's operatic masterpiece "Porgy and Bess".

Following the production of "The Old Curiosity Shop" as a mini-series starring Sir Peter Ustinov, Tom Courtney, Greg and Trevor Nunn formed Circus Films Limited, which, in 1995/96 produced, "Twelfth Night".

Laurie Mansfield, Paul Elliott and Greg then brought "Jolson" to London with Brian Conley playing the title role. The show was awarded the Laurence Olivier Award of "Best Musical 1996". In the spring of 1996, Greg produced Neil Simon's "London Suite".

In 1998-99 Greg, as Producer filmed George Orwell's "Animal Farm" in Ireland - and within weeks of the completion of this shoot - "David Copperfield", shot in Dublin, with Greg as Co-Producer.

During this period, he and Laurie Mansfield also Co-Produced "Agnes Brown" with Jim Sheridan and Morgan O'Sullivan. In the London theatre, Greg and Laurie Mansfield, with Chris Davis, Chris Marino and Effective Productions, brought "Animal Crackers", the Marx Brothers' comedy classic to the West End for a limited tour. In July 1999, Greg, Laurie Mansfield, Jim Davidson and Robin Clark launched "Great Balls of Fire", the Jerry Lee Lewis story,

A couple of years ago Greg and I spent some time discussing the idea of his studying American history at university as I had, by then, spent quite a lot of time in academia. I loved his enthusiasm as the ideas streamed off him but time and circumstances didn’t allow this opportunity to flower.

The last time we talked we were exploring the idea of putting on our moon boots to make a film together that my late father had developed many years previously. But ill health handled with the utmost discretion by Greg was one hurdle he was unable to overcome, it was not to be.

When I had need of some friendship, advice and a guiding hand I asked and Greg was there for me and there was no embarrassment. I hope that I have been as good with others when it has been my turn to pass along some of my good fortune. Greg felt he had a “fabulous” life doing all the things he wanted and not many of us can say that.

At the service celebrating the life of Greg there were sincere, funny and touching contributions from John Clive, Robin Askwith, Seamus Smith and the writer Leslie Thomas. Greg would have thought the whole thing was “Nonsense!” but we know better.

Sue Hayworth, Greg’s charming and accomplished assistant for many years finished the ceremony with this very appropriate poetry reading;

You can shed tears that he is gone,
Or you can smile because he lived,
You can close your eyes and pray that he will come back,
Or you can open your eyes and see all that he has left.

Your heart can be empty because you can’t see him
Or you can be full of the love that you shared,
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
Or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.

You can remember him and only that he is gone
Or you can cherish his memory and let it live on,
You can cry and close your mind be empty and turn your back,
Or you can do what he would want: smile, open your eyes,
love and go on.

Sue then smiled and added “he was a good boss” to which I would like to add, “he was a good man.”

To the family of Greg, his widow Gloria Thomas Smith and Officer-Cadet Jamie Thomas, he step-son I wanted to convey our fondest wishes and condolences as we say goodbye to Greg, from all your friends.