LONDON — Director Lewis Gilbert, whose dozens of movies included three James Bond thrillers — “You Only Live Twice,” “The Spy Who Loved Me” and “Moonraker” — and the Swinging London classic “Alfie,” has died at 97, colleagues said Tuesday.
Bond producers Barbara Broccoli and Michael G. Wilson said in a statement that “it is with great sadness that we learn of the passing of our dear friend Lewis Gilbert.” The Bond fan site “From Sweden With Love” said he died Friday in Monaco.
The British Film Institute’s filmography lists 33 features directed by Gilbert between 1947 and 2002, making him the most prolific of British filmmakers. But, he acknowledged, most people remembered him for his 007 thrillers.
“When I go around the world now when I’m working it’s amazing — they’re not interested in any of my films until I say ‘James Bond,’” Gilbert told the BBC in 2010. “And the minute I say ‘James Bond’ they practically genuflect.”
Born in London in 1920 into a family of vaudevillians, Gilbert got his start in the movies as a child actor before joining the Royal Air Force during World War II. He made his directing debut making documentaries while seconded to the U.S. Army Air Forces’ film unit.
His first postwar credit as director was for “The Ten Year Plan,” a documentary about housing; his first feature as director was “The Little Ballerina” in 1947.
In 1966 he directed a young Michael Caine as a London man-about-town in “Alfie,” which was nominated for five Academy Awards.
Gilbert was undaunted by the Bond thrillers’ scale and special effects.
“If I did anything with the Bonds, I think I made the humor work very well with Roger,” Gilbert told BBC radio’s “Desert Island Discs.”
“It’s no good trying to make him the great physical thing that Sean was. It’s far better that he won everybody over with his sense of humor.”
In the 1980s Gilbert changed gear, directing “Educating Rita” and “Shirley Valentine,” both character-driven stories of working-class women adapted from stage plays.
“Educating Rita” earned Oscar nominations for stars Julie Walters and Caine, while Pauline Collins received a best-actress nomination for “Shirley Valentine.”
Gilbert received the British Film Institute’s highest honor, the BFI Fellowship, in 2001.