How did they get there?;Career development;Interview;Lord Puttnam of Queensgate

19th March 1999 at 00:00
LORD PUTTNAM of Queensgate

David Puttnam, 58, made his name as a film producer. Now he is chair of the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts; a member of the Educational Standards Task Force and chair of the sub-group Reviving and Valuing the Teaching Profession; is working on a section of the Millennium Dome about the future of learning and work; and is a Labour peer. He is also chairman of the trustees of the Teaching Awards Trust. He works around 80 hours a week.

How did you get where you are?

As a kid I used to hound the cinema and imagine my name up there with the film credits. I drifted through grammar school with a strong sense that it had nothing to do with me. My dad, who was a photographer, knew someone in advertising and got me a job as a messenger when I was 17.

I quickly got promoted and at 23 was said to be one of the highest-paid people of my age in Britain. I'd got married at 20, had a child and for five years went to night school. By 27 I needed to do something different, so I set up an agency for photographers.

Two years later, with the money I made, I decided to enter the film industry - knowing nothing about it. Alan Parker and Charles Saatchi, who were at the same advertising agency as me, each wrote a script, but we had to borrow a real one to see what scripts were supposed to look like. My first film went like a dream but everything went wrong with the second one, which taught me a great deal.

I was always interested in training and over the years did a lot of work for the Labour party. I contributed to policy before the election and thought I might be asked to work with Chris Smith. I was a bit surprised at the election-night party when someone, who turned out to be Michael Barber, told me how pleased he was we'd be working together!

Would you do anything differently second time round?

No. In 1985 when I was offered a fellowship at Harvard, the job as head of Columbia pictures came up. I would have loved Harvard but the Columbia job made me financially secure. I was always determined not to be an old film producer shuffling up and down Wardour Street.

What are your main challenges?

Finding a way to frame the future, so that people see their opportunities outweighing their fears.

What do you enjoy about your work?

The excitement of starting again in something with so much hanging on getting it right. I've met people of a quality that I never met in the film industry.

What don't you enjoy?

Tailoring myself to the demands of bureaucracy.

What has surprised you?

How hard ministers, civil servants and teachers work. Teachers are heroic. No company in Britain would dream of asking middle management to work in the conditions they do.

Who or what inspired you and influenced your approach?

I learned about kindness from my dad, learning and imagination from Miss Kirpatrick, my history teacher, standards from Colin Millward, my boss from the advertising agency, and the value of the right combination of discipline and anarchy from Brian Duffy, a photographer friend.

Future plans?

I hope to be around for the first two years after the next election because they could be the most radical and interesting of my life.

Kate Myers is professor of professional development at Keele University.


7.15 Get up

8.00 Breakfast with Dr Mike Adler re: National Aids Trust for which I am a trustee

9.30 Meeting with Tessa Jowell, MP, and Michael Grade re: Breakfast Learning Clubs

10.30 Meeting with Teacher Training Agency

1.00 Attend Creative Britons lunch for judges and winners

2.00 Meeting of Labour peers in House of Lords

4.00 Meeting with BBC on Teaching Awards, to be televised on July 11

5.15 Meeting with John Woodward of BFI

6.30 Meeting with Nick Barter, principal of RADA, re: training in the arts

7.30 Roster duty at House of Lords. Dinner with Lord Melvyn Bragg

11.30 Bed

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