7 UP director gives verdict on show's stars – admitting 'sometimes I wanted to kill them'

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Millions of us grew up with the children whose lives were tracked in the visionary TV series 7 Up.

We shared their joy in finding contented family lives or fulfilling careers and felt the pain inflicted when life turned sour.

Director Michael Apted was a young researcher at Granada TV who helped select the kids for the first ground-breaking show in 1963.

His passion for the experiment, which follows their lives every seven years, won him the helm of the next film and he’s been there ever since.

This week, Michael – also the voice of the series – reunited us with those bright-eyed, seven-year-olds as they near pensionable age in ITV’s 63 Up.

Michael with his wife Jo and their sons Paul and James at their home in Teddington, south west London

This week, Michael – who is also the voice of the series – reunited us with those bright-eyed, hopeful seven-year-olds as they approach pensionable age in ITV’s 63 Up

 

James Bond director Michael, 78, says: “These people are like my
children. Sometimes they annoy the s**t out of you. Sometimes you want to kiss them, sometimes to kill them.

“It is that intimate relationship that goes beyond a moment. We have arguments but, like having a child, it always gets sorted out.

“In the end they’ll have the last word because I want them to come back. If I alienate them, embarrass them or am mean to them they won’t come back. And I love these people – we’re a big part of each other’s lives.”

Charles Furneaux

“He was good in the first three films, so when he said he didn’t want to do it any more I called him a bloody idiot. “Even though we’re in the same business, I’ve never seen or spoken a word to Charles since cursing him out trying to make him do 28. “But if he called to say he’d come back, I’d let him.”

John Brassy

“He and I had a very up-and- down relationship. “I think he blamed me for being in the film, which is ridiculous because the school picked the kids. “He also thought I was mean to him in 21, which I wasn’t because I always liked him.”

It’s Michael’s job to keep the cast on board for decades and narrate each episode. His ability to persuade them to open up about all areas of their lives reflects the strength of their 56-year relationship.

But behind the scenes there have been bust-ups, swearing fits and flounce-offs. In fact, for more than 30 years one cast member has refused to be interviewed by Michael.

“John objected to the way I interviewed him way back in 21,” Michael says. “After a time he wouldn’t let me interview him, so executive producer Claire Lewis asks him the questions. I record my voice over hers.”

Jackie Bassett

“She is wonderful but she and I do fight all the time. I know that she’ll never let me down and will speak her mind. “She has had a tough time in her life — it’s unbelievable what has gone on and the people she has lost. “There’s a deep bond between us. I have to tell her the truth and she tells me the truth.”

Tony Walker

“He can drive me mad but I love him because I know he loves filming and will do anything for me. He has always been very open. “In 63 Up he was incredibly upset about his eldest daughter’s problems but then she appears in the film.”

Privately educated, John was orphaned at nine, brought up by a working mum and went to Oxford on a scholarship. He achieved his ambition of becoming a barrister.

Also glossed over on the show is Michael’s expletive-filled row with Kensington prep boy Charles when he left the show.

Charles, who said he was proud to go to Durham University instead of Oxford or Cambridge, went on to be a TV producer too, but the pair haven’t spoken since.

Michael says: “I did everything to keep him in it but he wouldn’t do it. I was so upset I behaved incredibly badly. I swore at him and everything.”

Suzy Lusk

“She was always difficult. We’d be an hour away from her home in Bath and she’d suddenly say, “don’t come”. “We’ve had a close relationship but she was having a tough time at Christmas during my last bid to persuade her back. “Last time we managed to pull it off but this time we didn’t. I know she regrets not doing it because she’s sent me a lovely letter.”

Neil Hughes

“My feelings for Neil are beyond love. We’ve been in pain for him. He’s family and my biggest asset. “We look after him and he delivers. I think he enjoys it because he’s very articulate. “It has made his life, I suppose. I feel proud of him.”

But, he adds: “I’ve mellowed now. If Charles called to say he wanted to come back, of course I’d say yes.”

Other rows took place on screen. “I had an awful fight with Jackie, some of which was in the film. But we fight all the time – we’re like an old married couple.

She gives me b****ckings and I give her a hard time. But like all family rows, there’s deep feeling underneath and we’ll be all right in the end.”

Susan Davis

“Sue’s cheerful, optimistic and energetic. “Her parents are still alive and she’s had no great tragedies in her life but is more reflective about the circle of life now. “She is divorced but very happy with her fiance.”

Symon Basterfield

“Me and Symon both support West Ham and that’s a big bond between us. “When he was 14, I took him to the club’s ground and they let him go into the dressing rooms. “He’s a wonderful guy and is also very clear-headed.”

Jackie, a comprehensive girl from the East End, settled in Glasgow and has three sons. Still in Scotland, she is now a grandmother.

Much harder to bear was the loss of Lynn Johnson, who we first met as a schoolgirl from London’s East End.

She thought she would work at Woolworths, but became a children’s librarian. She struggled with a brain condition and died suddenly in 2013.

Paul Kligerman

“He’s adorable. He’s honest with us, always very co-operative and is also very generous when we go to visit him in Australia. “He’s a very sweet and brave guy.”

Bruce Balden

“Bruce is bliss. He’s heaven, he’s divine. He is exactly like he is in the film – sweet and gentle. He’s straightforward. “The whole family is wonderful and don’t tend to hide their relationship. He and his wife snap a bit at each other but they’re great.”

“It was devastating for all of us –the first member of our Up family has gone,” says Michael.

“We knew while filming in her 40s she had an illness at work but it was a terrible shock when she died.”

Hearing that Nicholas, a farmer’s son from the Yorkshire Dales, who became a US university professor, has throat cancer was another painful blow.

Nicholas, who settled in America after marrying Jackie, later divorced and by 49 had a new wife Cryss.

“Nick has always been helpful and smart as hell. It’s unbearable to think of him so ill,” says Michael.

Peter Davies

“He and I are incredibly friendly. But he was very upset and full of resentment when he was criticised for his political views. “We’re both football maniacs and always got on well, so when he declined to appear in three films it made me doubly angry. “To persuade him back, I said: “I’ll play your songs – you can just stand there and sing.” That’s what won him over. We are very chummy now.”

Nicholas Hitchon

“Hearing he has cancer was horrific. He has always been helpful, smart as hell and always made his best effort. “He’s had a tough life. He made a decision about his career and it was wrong – and he and I had to work to get equilibrium back.”

Of all the cast, viewers perhaps have most affection for Neil Hughes, who endured mental heath struggles.

In 1964 the lovable Liverpudlian dreamed of being an astronaut.

But by 21 he was in a squat. By 28 he was homeless and living in the Highlands.

He got his life together and is now a Lib Dem councillor. But Michael still worries about him the most.

“We strike a balance between checking on everyone and respecting their privacy.

Andrew Brackfield

“Sweet and cautious, Andrew is the only one who insists on seeing his episode before it is locked down. “He gives us notes on what we can and can’t do. “He’ll do the film and won’t like it… until he sees it. Then he says, “Well, that wasn’t bad.” He’s a good guy.”

Lynn Johnson

“We were devastated to lose her and sad to make a tribute piece about her. “It was hard to do Lynn justice and heartbreaking to see the illness take hold throughout the years of filming. “She was the first of the Up family to go and will always be missed.”

But with Neil, because I live in Los Angeles, Claire frequently had him over for Christmas with her family.

“It was a shame his marriage fell apart. But I like to think we have helped, in some way, to look after Neil.”

Michael, married with four children and three grandchildren, is careful not to predict if there will be a 70 Up.

“I have no idea what will happen And I’m 78 – I might drop dead any minute!”



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