Geoff Wonfor, director of Beatles ‘Anthology,’ dead at 73
NEW YORK (AP) — Geoff Wonfor, a Grammy-winning British filmmaker who directed the Beatles’ acclaimed “Anthology” documentary series and worked on the 1980s music program “The Tube” as well as several projects with Paul McCartney, has died at age 73.
His death was confirmed Tuesday by daughter Sam Wonfor, who said he died in Newcastle, where he grew up. Additional details were not immediately available.
Released in the mid-1990s, “The Beatles Anthology” was an authorized, multimedia project that included an eight-part documentary, three double albums and a coffee table book. Wonfor spent 4 1/2 years on the film, which combined archival footage with new interviews with the then-three surviving Beatles (McCartney, Ringo Starr and George Harrison, who died in 2001). Wonfor’s challenges included weaving in commentary from John Lennon, who had been murdered in 1980.
“He was very vocal (in interviews),” Wonfor told the Los Angeles Times in 1995. “I hit on the idea of listening to his interviews that were done ... getting all the pertinent questions and answers to any year we were doing (in the documentary) and then pose the exact same question to the other three Beatles, so it looked like the four of them were answering the same questions, which of course they were.”
The Anthology helped renew worldwide obsession in a band that had hardly been forgotten and brought Wonfor and co-director Bob Smeaton a Grammy in 1997 for best long form music video.
Wonfor also directed the McCartney videos “In the World Tonight” and “Young Boy” and a McCartney concert video from the Cavern Club, the Liverpool venue where the Beatles played many of their early shows. He was on hand, too, for a Beatles “reunion” from the 1990s — a video of “Real Love,” a song left unfinished by Lennon that the remaining Beatles completed and recorded.
His other credits included “Band Aid 20,” a documentary about the anniversary re-recording of the British charity song “Do They Know It’s Christmas?” and “Sunday for Sammy,” a tribute to the late British actor Sammy Johnson.
Wonfor had been prominent in British entertainment since the 1980s, when he directed a handful of episodes of “The Tube” and made a documentary about “Shanghai Surprise,” a feature film produced by Harrison and starring Madonna and Sean Penn. His work with Harrison would unexpectedly lead to the biggest undertaking of his career.
“I was at my dad’s and it was Paul McCartney who rang up and he says, ‘Hello there, you’re alright’? And I say, ‘Yeah, I’m fine,’” Wonfor explained during a 2018 appearance at the Newcastle Film Festival.
“He said, ‘I was talking to a mate of yours last night.’ I went, ‘Who the hell does he know that I know?’ He says, ‘A little guy called George Harrison.’ ... And he says, ‘Anyway,’ and we talked long into the night and he says, ‘We want to do a history of the Beatles and you are that man.’”