Tony Imi, who has died aged 72, was one of the British film industry’s leading cinematographers, amassing more than 100 film and television
credits during a career spanning 50 years.
He began by lighting television films for Ken Loach and Tony Garnett,
two of his most memorable films being the powerful Up the Junction
(1965) and Cathy Come Home (1966). Broadcast on BBC1, both changed
British public awareness on such questions as abortion and homelessness
and are today regarded as milestones in a great era of television drama.
Full of Imi’s evocative images, Cathy Come Home focused on a young,
homeless couple with children caught in a poverty trap, and included a
memorable scene in which the family is forcibly evicted from its home by
bailiffs. Imi’s 16mm gritty, black and white film was seen by more than
12 million viewers ; a British Film Institute poll in 2000 voted it the
top film in the 100 greatest television programmes of all time.
His many feature films included The Slipper and the Rose (1976) and
International Velvet (1978), both directed by Bryan Forbes; Breakthrough
(1979), starring Richard Burton and Rod Steiger; The Sea Wolves (1980)
with Gregory Peck, David Niven and Roger Moore; Buster (1988), with Phil
Collins playing the eponymous Great Train robber; and, in the 1990s, a
number of gritty British action films like Shopping (1994), with Jude
Law, and Rancid Aluminium (2000) .
In 2001 he won the Best Cinematography award for Taliesin Jones (2000)
at the Santa Monica Film Festival and received an American Society of
Cinematographers’ nomination for his work on the miniseries Scarlett
(1994) and a Bafta Best Video Lighting nomination for The Life and
Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby (1982).
Anthony Imi was born on March 27 1937 in London, the eldest of two sons.
Evacuated during the war to Chippenham, Wiltshire, he then rejoined his
family and attended Cardinal Vaughan school in Holland Park.
On leaving school, Imi joined Fox Photos and then, following two years
of National Service with the RAF and a short spell with the Mobil Oil
Company, in the early 1960s he started his career in film and television
as a trainee assistant projectionist at the BBC, working with film
rushes, rough cuts and fine cuts. From there, he soon established
himself as a film cameraman, working for the BBC until 1967.
He left the BBC and went freelance in 1968, principally to work as
cinematographer on The Olympics in Mexico (1969). Thereafter, Imi worked
on film or television productions, both at home and in many countries
abroad, every year until 2010.
Asked about his approach to cinematography Imi once said: “I do my best
work when I’m thinking on my feet. My philosophy is that I don’t want my
work to intrude upon the story. If the story works, everything should
work. You can’t really beautifully photograph a load of rubbish… well
you can, but ultimately it means nothing.”
A former president of the British Society of Cinematographers (1982-84),
Imi continued to serve on the board as a governor. He had a good sense
of humour, and meetings would invariably begin with a joke. He worked
tirelessly for all cinematographers throughout his career and lectured
on a regular basis at various film schools around the country.
Tony Imi, who died on March 8, is survived by his wife, Marilyn, whom he
married in 1961, and their son and daughter.
IMI, Tony (Anthony Imi)
Born: 2/27/1937, London, England, U.K.
Died: 3/8/2010, England, U.K.
Tony Imi's western - cinematographer:
The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James (TV) - 1986