News Column


August 21, 2013


A new documentary about the life of Richard Attenborough is due to be released today as part of his 90th birthday celebrations.

The short film tells the Oscar winner's life story from his first performances at the Little Theatre, Leicester, to his friendship with Princess Diana.

It also describes how his family took in Jewish refugees in 1939 who had escaped Germany just months before the outbreak of the Second World War. Among the contributors to the film are city mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and Dr Frank May, a friend of Lord Attenborough's for more than 20 years.

Leicester filmmaker Dipak Joshi also remembers meeting him as a youngster on the set of Gandhi, which was shot in India, in the 1980s.

I was just watching that guy and he was so powerful in his thoughts, said Dipak.

As well as Lord Attenborough's film career, the documentary a describes his early life in Leicester.

One interview with a German Jewish refugee, details how the Attenborough family supported the displaced Jewish community following a mass influx from Nazi Germany before war broke out in September 1939.

Refugee Gerta Silverberg, speaking on the film, said: The Leicester Jewish community was very unhelpful.

On Rosh Hashanah they told us to get out because we hadn't paid for our seats.

So we told Mrs Attenborough what had happened and she said, 'there's my front room, you cook yourselves whatever you like and invite whoever you want, and have your festival in my house.' In January 1939, the Attenboroughs took in two German Jewish sisters, Helga and Irene Bejach, both 15, who had taken the Kindertransport from Germany, and who lived with the family for seven years before moving to America.

Lord Attenborough's friend, Dr May, said: The parents got the boys together... and they all agreed that they could become part of the family.

The 19-minute film was commissioned by the University of Leicester's Embrace Arts, of which Lord Attenborough is patron. It has been created in partnership with Phoenix Square cinema.

The film can be seen on a new website dedicated to Lord Attenborough. Embrace Arts co-director Louisa Milburn said: Unbelievably, there was no website celebrating Richard's life and achievements. Phoenix Square is hosting a month-long season of films dedicated to his career as actor and director. Cry Freedom, can be seen tomorrow and Shadowlands is showing on August 28. Phoenix CEO John Rance said: Richard is a hugely important figure in cinema and an inspiration to budding actors and film-makers alike.

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