Acclaimed documentary maker, Roger Graef, has died after a short illness. He was 85.

Channel 4 made the announcement on behalf of Graef’s family.

Born in New York in April 1936, Roger enjoyed  a successful career as a theatre director and a documentary film-maker first in the US and then the UK. He moved to Britain in 1962 and quickly established himself as a pre-eminent producer of award-winning documentaries for every major broadcaster. His work helped to influence and shape public opinion and attitudes on a range of subjects ranging from public health, politics, crime and religion to programmes about both public and private institutions.

From his first UK documentary, One Of Them Is Brett (pictured), which demonstrated that the physical challenges of children with Thalidomide did not preclude them from being mentally active, Roger was the first producer to make documentaries about the workings of the UK Government in State of the Nation: A Law in the Making. This was followed by documentaries on the European Union as well as private companies including Occidental Petroleum and British Steel. In 1982, his observational documentary, Police about the Thames Valley Police led to changes in the handling of rape cases and, as a criminologist, he made more than 30 films on the police and the justice system from race and policing to youth offending and domestic violence.

During his career, Roger also directed a number of TV specials including the first three Amnesty International Comedy Galas between 1976 and 1979, the last of which was the first Secret Policeman’s Ball and he co-produced the first Comic Relief with Richard Curtis in 1985.

As a member of the board of the ICA in 1973, Roger founded and chaired its Architectural Forum. His active role in the field of architecture and planning resulted in changes to public planning that are still used today and in 2016 he was made an Honorary Fellow of RIBA.

Roger became a British citizen in 1992 and was actively involved in a number of charities – the Koestler Trust which promotes art in prisons, the Rehabilitation for Addicted Prisoners Trust, Prisoners Abroad, the Irene Taylor Trust for Music in Prisons and the Voice of the Child in Care, Who Cares? Trust. He was also a patron of Compassion in Care which campaigned against the abuse of the elderly.

In 1982, Roger was a founding Board member of Channel 4 between 1982 and 1986 and was also on the on the Board of Trustees of the Media Standards Trust. A News International Visiting Professor of Media and Communications at the University of Oxford, Roger was also a regular writer for The Sunday Times, Daily and Sunday Telegraph, the Daily Mail and Mail on Sunday, The Guardian and the Observer. He was also a regular contributor on BBC Radio 4 and BBC Radio 5 live.

Roger died after a short illness, peacefully with his family by his side.

Alex Mahon, Chief Executive, Channel 4, said: “Roger Graef was one of the founding Channel 4 Board members. Starting in theatre, he became one of broadcasting’s most original and influential documentary film-makers and remained an advocate and critical friend of Channel 4. He believed in its remit that, in his own words, was ‘committed to creativity and risk-taking in cinema, drama, comedy, documentaries and current affairs’. Beyond his contribution to Channel 4, his extensive legacy of documentaries has helped to inform and change people’s views on some of the most challenging aspects of British society and its private and public institutions. Roger was a delight to chat to, to be pushed and provoked by and his love for television and culture shone through in every conversation. He once said that he wanted his epitaph to be that he made a difference. Without doubt, Roger did exactly that.”

Roger Graef set up Films of Record, his production company, in 1979. The indie latterly became part of the Zinc Group. Graef was no longer at Films of Record at the time of his death but Mark Browning, CEO, Zinc Media Group, made the folowing statement.

“The news of the passing of Roger Graef is extremely sad for the Zinc family. Roger was widely celebrated as a powerful and influential voice in documentary-making and journalism, and we feel proud to have been part of his story.

“Roger set up Films of Record in 1979 and it became part of Zinc Media Group (then Ten Alps) in 2008.  Roger stayed with the Group until 2016. He was a trailblazer in programme-making and used documentary to open people’s eyes to issues in society and the changing world around them.  He made observational documentaries on a wide range of subjects including social issues, criminal justice and business, current affairs and science.  His pioneering work helped establish documentaries as an authoritative force for positive change in our world,  and this became part of the DNA of Films of Record.  The contribution which Roger made to the genre cannot be underestimated.  His contribution to the industry will be sorely missed, but he leaves behind an industry which is all the better for him having been part of it.”

Charlotte Moore, BBC’s Chief Content Officer said: “Roger Graef was a titan of documentary filmmaking. A true pioneer who gained unprecedented access to many previously closed institutions to make ground breaking documentaries over a long and successful career. He paved the way for documentary film makers and the entire industry with his resourcefulness and relentless pursuit of the truth.   It was a privilege to work with Roger, he has always been a real inspiration and support to me personally.  He will be greatly missed by us all and our thoughts are with his family and friends at this difficult time.“

Jon Creamer

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