Oscar Directors: Anderson, Lindsay–Background, Career, Awards (LGBTQ, Gay Director)

Lindsay Gordon Anderson (April 17, 1923–August 30, 1994) was British film, theatre and documentary director, film critic, and leading figure of the Free Cinema movement and the British New Wave.

He is most widely remembered for his 1968 film If…., which won the Palme d’Or at Cannes Film Fest in 1969 and marked Malcolm McDowell’s debut.

He is also notable, though not a professional actor, for playing a minor role in the 1981 Oscar film Chariots of Fire.

McDowell produced 2007 documentary about his experiences with Anderson, Never Apologize.

Lindsay Gordon Anderson was born in Bangalore, South India, where his father had been stationed with the Royal Engineers, on 17 April 1923. His father Captain (later Major General) Alexander Vass Anderson was a British Army officer who had been born in North India, and his mother Estelle Bell Gasson was born in Queenstown, South Africa, the daughter of a wool merchant.

Lindsay’s parents separated in 1926 and Estelle returned to England with her sons; however, they tried to reconcile in 1932 in Bangalore, and when Estelle returned to England she was pregnant with her third son, Alexander Vass Anderson.

The Andersons divorced and Estelle remarried Major Cuthbert Sleigh in 1936. Lindsay’s father remarried in India; although Gavin Lambert writes, in Mainly About Lindsay Anderson: A Memoir (Faber and Faber, 2000, p. 18), that Alexander Vass Anderson ‘cut (his first family) out of his life’, making no reference to them in his Who’s Who entry, Lindsay often saw his father and looked after his house and dogs when he was away.

Both Lindsay and his older brother Murray Anderson (1919–2016) were educated at Saint Ronan’s School in Worthing, West Sussex, and at Cheltenham College.

It was at Cheltenham that Lindsay had met his lifelong friend and biographer, the screenwriter and novelist Gavin Lambert. Lindsay won a scholarship for classical studies at Wadham College at the University of Oxford, in 1942.

Anderson served in the Army from 1943 until 1946, first with the 60th King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and then in the final year of World War II as a cryptographer for the Intelligence Corps, at the Wireless Experimental Centre in Delhi.

Anderson assisted in nailing the Red flag to the roof of the Junior Officers’ mess in Annan Parbat, in August 1945, after the victory of the Labour Party in the general election was confirmed.[16] The colonel did not approve, he recalled a decade later, but no disciplinary action was taken against them.

Lindsay returned to Oxford in 1946 but changed from classical studies to English;[11] he graduated in 1948.

Before going into filmmaking, Anderson was a prominent film critic writing for the influential Sequence magazine (1947–52), which he co-founded with Gavin Lambert, Peter Ericsson and Karel Reisz; later writing for the British Film Institute’s journal Sight and Sound and the left-wing political weekly the New Statesman.

In the 1956 polemical article, “Stand Up, Stand Up” for Sight and Sound, he attacked contemporary critical practices, in particular the pursuit of objectivity. Taking some comments made by Alistair Cooke in 1935, where Cooke claimed to be without politics as a critic, Anderson responded:

The problems of commitment are directly stated, but only apparently faced. …The denial of the critics moral responsibility is specific; but only at the cost of sacrificing his dignity. … [These assumptions:] the holding of liberal, or humane, values; the proviso that these must not be taken too far; the adoption of a tone which enables the writer to evade through humour [mean] the fundamental issues are balked.”

Following a series of screenings which he and the National Film Theatre programmer Karel Reisz organized for the venue of independently produced short films by himself and others, he developed a philosophy of cinema which found expression in what became known, by the late-1950s, as the Free Cinema movement. This was the belief that the British cinema must break away from its class-bound attitudes and that non-metropolitan Britain ought to be shown on the nation’s screens. He had already begun to make films himself, starting in 1948 with Meet the Pioneers, a documentary about a conveyor-belt factory.

Along with Karel Reisz and Tony Richardson, he secured funding from a variety of sources (including Ford of Britain) and they each made short documentaries on various subjects.

One of Anderson’s short films, Thursday’s Children (1954), about the education of deaf children, made in collaboration with Guy Brenton, a friend from his Oxford days, won an Oscar for Best Documentary Short in 1954.

Thursday’s Children was preserved by the Academy Film Archive in 2005.

These films, influenced by one of Anderson’ heroes, the French filmmaker Jean Vigo, and made in the tradition of the British documentaries of Humphrey Jennings, foreshadowed much of the social realism of British cinema.

The cycle emerged in the next decade, with Reisz’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning (1960), Richardson’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner (1962) and Anderson’s own This Sporting Life (1963), produced by Reisz. Initially, Anderson’s film received mixed reviews, and was not a commercial success.

Anderson is perhaps best remembered as a filmmaker for his “Mick Travis trilogy”, all of which star Malcolm McDowell as the title character: if…. (1968), a satire on public schools; O Lucky Man! (1973) a Pilgrim’s Progress inspired road movie; and Britannia Hospital (1982), a fantasia taking stylistic influence from the populist wing of British cinema represented by Hammer horror films and Carry On comedies.

In 1981, Anderson played the role of the Master of Caius College at Cambridge University in the Oscar-winning film Chariots of Fire.

Anderson developed acquaintance in 1950 with John Ford, which led to one of the standard books on that director, Anderson’s About John Ford (1983). Based on half a dozen meetings over more than two decades, and lifetime’s study of the man’s work, the book has been described as “One of the best books published by a filmmaker on a filmmaker.”

In 1985, producer Martin Lewis invited Anderson to chronicle Wham!’s visit to China, among the first-ever visits by Western pop artists, which resulted in Anderson’s film Foreign Skies: Wham! In China. He admitted in his diary on 31 March 1985, to having “no interest in Wham!” or China, and he was simply “‘doing this for the money'”.

In 1986, he was a member of the jury at the 36th Berlin International Film Festival.

Anderson was also significant British theatre director. He was associated with London’s Royal Court Theatre, where he was Co-Artistic Director 1969–70, and Associate Artistic Director 1971–75, directing premieres of plays by David Storey, among others.

In 1992, as close friend of actresses Jill Bennett and Rachel Roberts, Anderson included touching episode in the autobiographical BBC film Is That All There Is?, with a boat trip down the River Thames (several of their professional colleagues and friends aboard) to scatter their ashes on the waters while musician Alan Price sang the song “Is That All There Is?”

The International Documentary Festival in Amsterdam (IDFA) gives an acclaimed filmmaker the chance to screen his or her personal Top 10 favorite films.

In 2007, Iranian filmmaker Maziar Bahari selected O Dreamland and Every Day Except Christmas (1957), a record of a day in the old Covent Garden market, for his top 10 classics from the history of documentary.[3]

Gavin Lambert’s memoir, Mainly About Lindsay Anderson, stated that Anderson repressed his homosexuality.

In November 2006 Malcolm McDowell told The Independent: “I know that he was in love with Richard Harris the star of his first feature, This Sporting Life. I am sure that it was the same with me and Albert Finney and the rest. It wasn’t a physical thing. But I suppose he always fell in love with his leading men. He would always pick someone who was unattainable because he was heterosexual.”

Anderson died from a heart attack on 30 August 1994, at the age of 71.


All Royal Court, London, unless otherwise indicated:

The Waiting of Lester Abbs (Kathleen Sully, 1957)
The Long and the Short and the Tall (Willis Hall, 1959)
Progress to the Park (Alun Owen, 1959)
The Trial of Cob and Leach/Jazzetry (Christopher Logue, 1959)
Serjeant Musgrave’s Dance (John Arden, 1959)
The Lily White Boys (Harry Cookson, Christopher Logue, 1960)
Trials by Logue: Antigone/Cob and Leach (Christopher Logue, 1960)
Diary of a Madman (Gogol adaptation, 1963)
Box and Cox (John Maddison Morton, 1961)
The Fire Raisers (Max Frisch, 1961)
Julius Caesar (William Shakespeare, 1964)
Andorra (Max Frisch, National Theatre at the Old Vic, 1964)
The Cherry Orchard (Anton Chekhov, Chichester Festival Theatre, 1966)
Inadmissible Evidence (John Osborne, Teatr Współczesny, Warsaw, 1966)
The Contractor (David Storey, 1969)
Home (David Storey, also Morosco Theatre NY, 1970)
The Changing Room (David Storey, 1971)
The Farm (David Storey, 1973)
Life Class (David Storey, 1974)
In Celebration (David Storey 1974)
What the Butler Saw (Joe Orton, 1975)
The Seagull (Chekhov, Lyric Theatre, 1975); in repertory with The Bed Before Yesterday (Ben Travers, Lyric Theatre, 1975)
The Kingfisher (William Douglas Home, Lyric Theatre 1977, Biltmore NY, 1978)
Alice’s Boys (Felicity Brown and Jonathan Hayes, Savoy Theatre, 1978)
Early Days (David Storey, National Cottesloe Theatre, 1980)
The Holly and the Ivy (Wynyard Browne, Roundabout New York, 1982)
The Cherry Orchard (Anton Chekhov, Royal Haymarket, 1983)
The Playboy of the Western World (John Millington Synge, 1984)
In Celebration revival (David Storey, Manhattan Theatre Club, 1984)
Holiday (Philip Barry, Old Vic, 1987)
The March on Russia (David Storey, National Lyttelton Theatre, 1989)
The Fishing Trip (Frank Grimes, Warehouse Theatre, 1991)
Stages (David Storey, National Cottesloe Theatre, 1992)


1963 This Sporting Life Nominated—Palme d’Or

1967 The White Bus Also producer Short Film

1968 if…. Also producer
Palme d’Or
Nominated—BAFTA Award for Best Direction

1973 O Lucky Man! Also producer
Nominated—Palme d’Or
1975 In Celebration

1982 Britannia Hospital Fantasporto Audience Jury Award
Nominated—Palme d’Or
Nominated—Gold Hugo

1986 Wham! in China: Foreign Skies Documentary

1987 The Whales of August

1992 Is That All There Is? Mockumentary; also writer


1956–1957 The Adventures of Robin Hood 5 episodes
1972 Play for Today Episode: “Home”
1979 The Old Crowd Television film
1980 Look Back in Anger Television film
1986 Free Cinema Television documentary
1989 Glory! Glory! Television film
Documentary short films
Year Title
1948 Meet the Pioneers
1949 Idlers that Work
1952 Trunk Conveyor
1952 Three Installations
1954 Thursday’s Children
1955 The Children Upstairs
1955 Henry
1955 Green and Pleasant Land
1955 Foot and Mouth
1955 Energy First
1955 A Hundred Thousand Children
1955 £20 a Ton
1956 O Dreamland
1957 Wakefield Express
1957 Every Day Except Christmas
1959 March to Aldermaston
1967 The Singing Lesson


1973 O Lucky Man! Film Director Uncredited
1986 Inadmissible Evidence Barrister
1981 Chariots of Fire Master of Caius
1991 Prisoner of Honor War Minister Television film
1992 Blame It on the Bellboy Mr. Marshall Voice