The Times obituary
December 19, 1937 - September 22, 2005
Director of Heavenly Pursuits and documentaries who did much to develop the film industry in Scotland
CHARLIE GORMLEY was an important figure in the development of the film industry in Scotland during the 1970s and 1980s. He graduated from short documentaries and information films, with such inauspicious titles as Keep Your Eye on Paisley, to the 1986 comedy feature film Heavenly Pursuits, which he wrote and directed.
For several years he worked with Bill Forsyth; he encouraged Forsyth’s own move into feature films and he helped many young Scots to get started in the business.
Born in Rutherglen, just outside Glasgow, in 1937, Gormley was the son of a sheetmetal worker and trade union activist. At school he showed a flair for writing, though he trained and worked as an optician, which was considered a more practical career choice for a working-class boy at the time. He switched careers in the 1960s and wrote scripts for the modest documentaries that virtually constituted the Scottish film industry at the time. He also became involved in other aspects of film production.
The Big Catch (1968), which he co-wrote, was a rare foray into fiction film-making. An hour-long children’s film, it revolved around a visit to the Highlands by an American boy and a foolhardy attempt to catch a wild pony.
In 1972 he founded Trees Films with Forsyth and Nick Lewis, with the firm aim of making feature films in Scotland. In reality, however, the bulk of their work remained much the same as before: information films sponsored by public bodies and private companies. One of their most ambitious films was The Legend of Los Tayos, for which Gormley and Forsyth spent a month in Ecuadorian jungle in 1976, investigating suggestions that local caves were the work of aliens.
Desperate to break into features, Gormley explored every possible avenue and pursued a fascinating parallel career in the Netherlands. At much the same time as he was making an information film about home improvement grants in Glasgow, he was also working as scriptwriter on Secrets of Naughty Susan. The Dutch sexploitation and adventure movies with which he was involved were to prove a fertile training ground. Jan de Bont served as cinematographer on a couple of his films, including the international hit Blue Movie (1971), and went on to a make a career in Hollywood and direct Speed (1994).
Gormley got his chance to write and direct full-length films in Scotland with the arrival of Channel 4, whose vigorous policy of producing its own films had a big impact on the development of film infrastructure in Scotland. His first effort was Living Apart Together, in which B. A. Robertson played a rock star returning to Glasgow for a funeral. It went out as part of Channel 4’s first ground-breaking Film on Four season in 1983.
His second film, Heavenly Pursuits, had a much bigger budget and was released in cinemas in the UK and US, where it was renamed The Gospel According to Vic. Set in a Roman Catholic school in Glasgow, it starred Tom Conti, Helen Mirren and a very young Ewen Bremner, and dealt with faith and miracles. Gormley largely avoided the whimsy of Bill Forsyth’s comedies, treated his subject with seriousness and shied away from easy answers.
After this he worked mainly in television, where credits include The Bogie Man (1992), a comic film noir with Robbie Coltrane. The first job of Michael Coulter, his brother-in-law, was on one of Gormley’s documentaries and he is now one of Britain’s top cinematographers. Several other in-laws work in the business, and his son Tommy Gormley is a respected assistant director.
Gormley is survived by his wife Martina and three sons.
Charlie Gormley, film-maker and writer, was born on December 19, 1937. He died on September 22, 2005, aged 67.
Innovative Scottish film director who nurtured young talent
Friday October 7, 2005
In the early 1960s, the Scottish film director and writer Charles "Charlie" Gormley, who has died of cancer aged 67, gave up his job as an optician and joined the grandly titled International Film Associates, which survived on a diet of industrial documentaries. In those days, the Scottish film industry could fit into the snug of the Halt bar in Glasgow's Woodlands Road and, indeed, was often to be found there.
Then, in 1967, Gormley co-wrote The Big Catch, a children's adventure set on a Scottish island. Three years later, he co-founded Tree Films with another aspiring filmmaker, Bill Forsyth. Again, the work was mainly industrial documentary. In the mid-1970s, Scottish local government was reformed and the pair spent much time persuading provosts of about-to-disappear councils to spend the remnants of their funds on documentaries. Gormley and Forsyth would go to any lengths - indeed, they went into an Ecuadorian jungle to make The Secrets of Los Tayos, based on Erik von Daniken's theories about cave drawings by spacemen.
No matter how small a project, Gormley approached it as a Hollywood epic. Filming a workman on a building site, Gormley borrowed a pram - and the cameraman found himself involved in a precarious, improvised tracking shot.
In the 1970s, Gormley commuted from Glasgow to Amsterdam as a jobbing scriptwriter for new wave Dutch filmmakers. He co-wrote Pim de la Parra's Dutch blockbuster Blue Movie (1971) and dabbled in acting, appearing alongside Anthony Perkins and Bibi Andersson in Twice a Woman (1979), directed by George Sluizer. In a spirit of cross-culturalism, Gormley took Sluizer to Scotland to make a documentary about land use in the Highlands.
Gormley also appeared in The Long Shot (1980), with art imitating life in a story of a struggling filmmaker trying to find backers for a movie set in Scotland. In this "half-hoax docu-farce", Gormley meets such film people as Sam Fuller and Wim Wenders in an exploration of the comedic travails of the shallow end of the movie business.
Gormley's ambitions came to fruition in the early 1980s, courtesy of Channel 4 and the Scottish Film Fund. He directed Living Apart Together (1982), starring pop star BA Robertson. This tale of urban angst was lovingly shot in Gormley's own Glasgow backyard, and he also chose a Glasgow setting for Heavenly Pursuits (1985), with Helen Mirren and Tom Conti, an uplifting comedy about minor miracles in a Catholic school. Then the BBC funded his films. There was The Bogie Man (1992), with Robbie Coltrane as a scary cartoon character, and Down Among the Big Boys (1993), with Billy Connolly masterminding a bank robbery.
Gormley, the son of a sheet-metal worker and trade union activist, was born in Rutherglen, and educated at Our Lady's high school, Motherwell. From an early age, he had a passion for literature and films, but a north Lanarkshire imperative to find steady employment led him to study to be an optician at Stow College, Glasgow. It was an occupation he followed for only a few years before the compulsion to see life through a film camera lens became too great.
Always disposed to nurture talent, Gormley was a visiting lecturer in the film and television department of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama. He inspired a small tribe of people to find work in the film business. Cameraman Michael Coulter, brother of Gormley's wife Martina, started with those pram-driven tracking shots and went on to win an Oscar nomination for Sense and Sensibility.
In Gormley's peregrinations around Glasgow, a city to which he was wedded and relentlessly faithful, he would routinely be stopped and engaged in conversations such as "I work at Gregg's the bakers, but I really want to work in the movies. Can you give me some advice, Mr Gormley." He always did.
Though diagnosed with cancer 14 months ago, Gormley worked on until two weeks before he died. His last piece of directorial work was The Prisoner, a play by William McIlvanney, last April. When his time came, Gormley dipped into his encyclopaedic knowledge of film to bid farewell with Edward G Robinson's quote from the movie Little Caesar: "Is this the end of Rico?"
He met his wife Martina on a Motherwell-Glasgow train 47 years ago. They married 42 years ago. She, and their three sons, survive him.
Charles Gormley, filmmaker, born Dec- ember 19 1937; died September 22 2005