Born March 16 1920 - Died October 19 2005. (85)
Wolf Rilla, accurately defined himself as a writer, filmmaker and television maker. He published six novels, directed 24 movies, notably Village of the Damned (1962), and was active in television from the brave days when the BBC's pioneer service was resuming at Alexandra Palace in 1946, after a wartime closedown of six and a half years.
As its first drama script editor, charged with seeking out plays and stories that could be enacted live in cramped studios, he alighted with glee on a taut thriller taking place in one room. Alas, the BBC did not rise to his recommendation, and Frederick Knott's Dial M for Murder went on instead to enjoy a long West End theatre run and a Hollywood production by Alfred Hitchcock.
Rilla was born in Berlin, where his part-Jewish father Walter Rilla was a prominent actor. In common with many others in entertainment and the arts, Walter recognised the dangers when Hitler came to power, and the family moved to London in 1934 when Wolf was 14. He completed his schooling at the enlightened co-educational Frensham Heights school, Surrey, and went on to St Catherine's College, Cambridge. In 1942 he joined the BBC World Service's German section, transferring to television in the late 1940s.
He left the BBC staff in 1952 to pursue his ambition to make films, but continued to take on television productions as a freelance. In a collective memoir of those times, Coming to You Live, a BBC production secretary told of her baptism to live drama in a Sunday night play of his. It was a seaside thriller thought rather daring at the time. But then, she added rather unkindly, Wolf was "one of those trendy-type guest producers". In fact, he was a reliable, steady pair of hands and much loved by the crews he worked with.
In the cinema he was dependent at first on Group 3, an idealistic production company set up by the National Film Finance Corporation with Michael Balcon, John Baxter and John Grierson in charge. The idea was to give young talent a chance to make low-budget quickies, unfortunately - as it turned out - to no great acclaim. But by 1960 Rilla was working regularly for MGM in Britain. He directed his father, along with George Sanders and Richard Johnson, in Cairo (1963), a remake of John Huston's The Asphalt Jungle, with Tutankhamun's jewels in a Cairo museum now the target of the robbers.
His masterwork remains Village of the Damned, from John Wyndham's sci-fi novel The Midwich Cuckoos. As well as directing it, Rilla was responsible, with Geoffrey Barclay and the American screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, for the adaptation. George Sanders also starred in this, with Barbara Shelley.
For television he dabbled in all manner of series, from The Adventures of Aggie, a 1956 BBC sitcom aimed chiefly at the American market, to the TV version (1969-71) of radio's popular Send for Paul Temple detective series. His novels included Greek Chorus, The Dispensable Man, The Chinese Consortium and one simply entitled Movie.
But for all his energy and creative output, it may well be that his lasting contribution to the popular culture of his day was educational. He lectured at the London International Film School, and wrote A-Z of Movie Making (1970), one of the most lucid, comprehensive and intelligent guides to writing for the industry that I know.
In bachelor days a member of the convivial Soho set revolving around Dylan Thomas and Jeffrey Bernard, Rilla was also a serious reader and music-lover. In 1958 he married Shirley Graham-Ellis, a publicist for the tea suppliers Jacksons of Piccadilly and London Films. They had a son, Nico, who as a filmmaker himself continues a family tradition that now spans three generations and 85 years.
After Wolf had held office in both the film technicians' union ACTT and the Directors' Guild, he and Shirley moved to the south of France, to buy and run a hotel at Fayence in Provence, where she survives him.
Wolf Rilla, writer, film and television programme maker and hotelier.
Wolf Rilla Writer
The German-born director and writer Wolf Rilla had a prolific career in British television and cinema, and will be particularly remembered for his direction of the 1960 film Village of the Damned, a chilling version (co-scripted by Rilla) of John Wyndham's classic sci-fi tale The Midwich Cuckoos.