WILLIAM BRAYNE OBITUARY
The "Guardian" didn't have the space for a full obituary (or so they claimed), so they referred me to their "Other Lives" section:
Here's Simon Farquhar's piece published by the "Independent":
The "Independent" had ignored the submission handed to them on a silver plate, as well as the "Globe and Mail" and the "Vancouver Sun". All right, guys - we know for next time. What follows is the full obituary submitted to the aforementioned newspapers.
- William Brayne 1935 - 2014
William Brayne, who has died aged 78, made his name as a documentary film cameraman and as a director of action-packed episodic television drama. Critics heaped praise on his "Sweeney" episode "Faces", calling it "one of the most exciting" segments of the series, "featuring a stunning car chase and very well-directed fight sequences, an example of small screen cinema that stands up well in comparison to big screen thrillers of the period". Others noted "cool car explosions" and discovered "fine directorial touches" in episodes which Brayne helmed for "The Professionals": "Blackout" and "Foxhole on the Roof", respectively. "These were two of many excellently crafted episodes he directed for me", affirmed Raymond Menmuir, who produced the series between 1978 and 1981. "They showed the artist exercising his skill to the fullest."
- Documentary cameraman and TV drama director
Brayne was born in Vancouver BC, Canada, the son of a local hardware store owner. Virtually unaffected by World War II, he graduated from North Vancouver High School, and being an admirer of the actor John Wayne, he was keen to join the army. He was not involved in any fighting action, but he witnessed shock tactics exerted by the military police, who - correctly - suspected the young recruits were carrying alcohol with them. He also learnt a lot about weapons and how to use them, knowledge he would put to good use in later years.
After his army stint, he found work at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Their Film Department was overseen by Arla Saare who, in Brayne's words, "influenced so many people at the time", including himself and filmmaker Allan King, who would become an important provider of future work. Brayne became increasingly involved with the various aspects of filming techniques and quickly worked himself up the ladder, becoming a floor manager. He started dating Ellen Finck, ten years his senior and a former child model. A well-educated, self-confident and audacious woman, she had emigrated from Germany in the early 1950s and found work in CBC's editing department. The couple were married eventually.
Brayne's first directorial efforts fell into this period. He purchased a small Bolex camera, collected film magazine leftovers, and made two shorts. With experience both in the editing room and behind the camera, his first big break came when he was recruited as cameraman on "Warrendale", which cemented Allan King's reputation as foremost Canadian documentary filmmaker. King and Brayne took - then state of the art - "direct cinema" techniques, mobile synchronized sound shooting on location, to a home for disturbed children, where they filmed them in interaction with their carers.
King's observational style - no talking heads, no authorial voices, no self-reflexive techniques - was shared by the dean of American documentary filmmakers, Frederick Wiseman. After seeing "Warrendale", he asked Brayne to join forces with him, and subsequently the pair worked on nine of Wiseman's films, including "Law and Order", "Hospital", "Basic Training", and "Welfare", all of which are in-depth investigations of American institutions. Wiseman's "studies of the exercise of power in American society (...) at the community level" (Erik Barnouw) examined ordinary people in interaction with those institutions. The filmmaker's method was to work with a two-man team only, acting as sound recordist himself. This would ensure minimum distraction on part of the filmed subjects and thus "authentic behaviour". Scholars observed that "a skilled cameraman like William Brayne can often place himself ahead of the action by anticipating it". Brayne remembered arduous shooting hours, as Wiseman required a wealth of material to start with. In his rare interviews, he mentioned a "bullshitmeter": when subjects started to behave unnaturally, affected by the presence of the camera, he and Wiseman would immediately realize what was going on and "go home".
The UK became Brayne's second base when Allan King set up a studio in London. AKA (Allan King Associates) and their 16mm equipment could be hired by TV companies around the globe for current affairs stories and documentaries. Brayne and his colleagues, an assortment of skilled filmmakers which included Richard Leiterman and Chris Wangler, later Mark Peploe, Ivan Sharrock and Chris Menges, were in constant demand. Working freelance for BBC, PBS and CBC, Brayne filmed world leaders such as Anwar al-Sadat and King Hussein, and writers Guenter Grass and Max Frisch.
Although there had been occasional forays into drama due to AKA hiring out personnel, Brayne's second career as a television director came about very much by accident. He claimed that the producers of the first all-film series of "Special Branch" (Thames, 1973) originally wanted Bill Bain on their directorial team, made up otherwise of established professionals who had also worked on previous Thames programmes. When a secretary called the wrong number, he saw the opportunity arising, eventually appeared on the set and seized control. In contrast to his colleagues on the show, he was unfamiliar with directing studio drama but he understood to use his experience with 16mm filming to his advantage. He claimed to have tackled the "Special Branch" challenge by studying American film books on formula shooting. He showed he could shoot a schedule and introduced concepts such as "weather cover sets" to the unsuspecting Britons. Fellow Canadian and executive producer Lloyd Shirley was impressed by the newcomer's work to the degree that he handed him even more episodes for the follow-up series of 13. That the two men got along well on a personal level was certainly helpful, too.
Over the next six years, Brayne alternated between working for Wiseman, being hired for the occasional news filming and directing more ITV drama (Thames' "The Sweeney", LWT's "The Professionals"). His reputation of being able to "bring them in on time" and having an eye for action preceded him and caught the attention of Raymond Menmuir, who was brought in as the new producer on "The Professionals". This was the start of a close friendship, and Menmuir made sure he got hold of Brayne as often as possible, on "The Professionals" as well as on similar shows of the following decade.
In frequent collaboration with stunt arranger Peter Brayham, Brayne staged numerous car chases, explosions and fistfights involving the characters of Doyle and Bodie, played by Martin Shaw and Lewis Collins. In the late 1970s, he gave up filming for Wiseman and concentrated on drama, which was more appealing to the artist in Brayne. He praised stars such as John Thaw, Gordon Jackson and Michael Brandon for being well-prepared and being able to do their job with the same discipline he brought to the director's chair. And he was downright fond of "Special Branch" lead actor George Sewell and especially Don Henderson, the lead in Granada's "Strangers" and "Bulman", both produced by Richard Everitt. Brayne had a stock company of actors he liked to use but among his casting decisions were a few remarkable one-offs, such as Ingrid Pitt ("Bulman"), Stephanie Beacham ("Special Branch"), and, in one of his first major roles, Liam Neeson ("Charlie Was a Rich Man").
Brayne's no-nonsense attitude and straightforwardness frequently earned him admiration. In his autobiography, Dennis Waterman called him "a smashing man, if somewhat proper and correct". Writers Christopher Wicking and P. J. Hammond lauded his "organic" directorial approach to their scripts. Bestselling writer Desmond Bagley sent him a note of gratitude after seeing his faithful adaptation of "Running Blind" for the BBC.
Throughout the 1980s, Brayne was hired for popular programmes such as "Dempsey and Makepeace", "C.A.T.S. Eyes" and "Lovejoy". Brayne claimed he could bring more creativity to his 1980s productions, particularly the "Dempsey and Makepeace" episode "Cry God For Harry", which featured a plot with tongue-in-cheek elements and an extended broadsword fight scene coordinated by legendary stuntman Alf Joint. Other memorable "fighting filming" achievements included breathtaking stunts on board a - supposedly - in-flight aircraft with subsequent amateur landing, modelled on the movie "Airport '74". On a more subdued note, Brayne also enhanced the quirky humour of "Bulman" provided by head writer Murray Smith. The two men shared an affection for classical music, which showed on the screen several times.
Professional commitments aside, Brayne and his wife were keen and experienced travellers. They explored parts of China at a time when the country was virtually inaccessible to tourists. One of their trips to Italy led to the holidaying director being hired as an extra for Bernardo Bertolucci's "The Last Emperor".
In the early 1990s, Brayne took his experience and knowledge to Germany, where production teams were still unused to shooting action-orientated drama in an economic way. His career then completed a circle when Allan King offered him television directing assignments in Canada.
In his twilight years, Brayne enjoyed golfing, watching baseball and discussing high-level politics. He appreciated a good meal and a good wine. Eventually relocating to his native Vancouver and having lost his wife to an illness, he battled cancer for a number of years and had to give up the regular journeys to his beloved Europe.
He is survived by his younger sister, Diana Fisher, her daughter Noele, her son Sean and her three grandchildren (Hillary, Ashley and Tyson).
- Charles William Brayne, director and cinematographer; born 10 October 1935; married Ellen Finck; died 01 April 2014.