Oliver Stutchbury

I should like to pay tribute to Oliver Stutchbury, who has died aged 84, and was instrumental back in the early 70s for helping me get started as a film-maker. I first met Oliver when I was a student at Sussex University and he was a part-time philosophy tutor—my first. In fact it was he who was in part responsible for my decision to switch to philosophy as my major. We bonded through a shared love of music—if I remember correctly, it was his father who in the early 30s had introduced John Christie to Fritz Bush, who thus became the first conductor of Christie’s opera house at Glyndebourne in the Sussex downs, which I visited as a student music critic.

A few years later, after making my first film for the BBC, I had an idea with my brother Noel about making educational films for the then emerging medium of video. This would require considerable funding, and the only person I knew who might know where to raise serious money was Oliver, whose full-time job was Chief Executive of Save and Prosper, then the largest unit trust group in Britain (I think it was he who had invented the idea of unit trusts); he was also chief fundraiser for the Labour Party. I went to visit him to explain our ideas.

By then I was at Oxford as a postgraduate student, studying the history of aesthetics with Isaiah Berlin, and one of my ideas was to make a film with him. I was immensely surprised to find myself leaving Oliver’s house a couple of hours later with a cheque for £25,000 in my pocket. In fact I was in a complete daze, because he’d plied me with barley wine, which I’d never drunk before, and didn’t know how strong it was. I went back to our cutting rooms and plonked it down in front of my brother, who looked at it for a moment, and then said, ‘It isn’t enough, what’s his phone number?’ The next day there was a second cheque in the post, and with £50,000 in the bank—a great deal of money in those days—we started on the production of the films that became ‘Logic Lane’. Isaiah had said yes, ‘but only if I’m not the only person in it’, and the result was a series featuring other luminaries like Iris Murdoch, A.J.Ayer, Bernard Williams, P.F.Strawson and Gilbert Ryle.

This is the kind of thing that only happens once in your life, if it happens at all. I was very lucky to have met Oliver when I did, and lucky indeed that he had the imagination to see an opportunity for what was actually a rather risky investment. The films were taken into distribution in the USA by Dan Talbot at New Yorker Films, although I doubt he ever recovered the investment. I now feel very distant from these films—even then I was highly critical of the dominant mode of English philosophy, and that is why I wanted to study the history of aesthetics with Berlin, rather than the contemporary variety. But they’ve proved to possess a certain historical value, and are now available on YouTube. Details on my website here.

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One Response to Oliver Stutchbury

  1. Wycliffe Stutchbury says:

    Hello Michael,

    I was finding the link for the Guardian obituary of my father Oliver Stutchbury and came upon your touching tribute to him. I vaguely remember A J Ayer and a blackboard on the front lawn of the house with the lawn set out like a classroom. Which film is that? I would love to show it to the kids. I have just called in on my mother who remembers you both well, and some incident involving Freddie Ayer and Mrs Lawson. All gossip you understand. Anyway, it is really lovely to hear that he made an impression on you.

    Best

    Wycliffe Stutchbury