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Arts and Entertainment

The Man Behind Britain's Fascinating 'Seven Up!' TV Series Dies

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Paul Almond, the man behind the fascinating British documentary Seven Up! series, passed away last week in Beverly Hills at the age of 83. His son told the New York Times that he died from complications of a heart attack.

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Almond was a TV and film director as well as novelist who hailed from Canada, but he was most famous for the Seven Up! TV series. He directed the first installment that aired on British television in 1964, and he reportedly came up with idea over drinks with a Granada TV producer as a way to explore the British class system. The series was inspired by the Jesuit proverb: "Give me a child until he is seven and I will give you the man."

The series profiled 14 British 7-year-olds that were meant to represent a cross-section of British society at the time. There was a shy boy who raised on a farm, others from charity homes, a feisty kid from London's East End, a boy being raised by a single mom, and a kid who haughtily announces that his father reads The Financial Times. There were only four girls, and everyone is white besides one mixed-race boy. It's not a perfectly scientific experiment by any stretch, but the project evolved into one of the most compelling documentary series of all time. Roger Ebert wrote that the series "strike me as an inspired, even noble, use of the film medium."

The project was originally intended to be a one-off project that would give Britain a snapshot of its future. But Michael Apted, a young researcher on the original film, ended up continuing the project and directing future installments that have come out every seven years since the original. We follow the subjects and get to know them intimately as they marry, divorce and have children. They wrestle with grief, homelessness, miscarriages, infidelity and mental illness.

Apted also gives the participants space to vent about the limitations of the project and their portrayals—all of them struggle with the project at varying points and some of them bowed out certain years. But in 56 Up, which came out in 2012, everybody but one showed up. If you haven't caught the series, they're definitely worth catching up on before the next one is slated to come out (in 2019, we assume).

Almond didn't keep in touch with the subjects, except for one: "The only one I keep in touch with is Tony, the taxi driver, who has been loyal and faithful through the years. I guess he’s the only one who recognized my contribution in creating and shooting and editing the first one in the way that made it special."

He sounded a little bitter that he wasn't given credit for creating the series that sparked many imitators around the world: "When a new episode comes out, Tony sends me the press clippings — in which I continue to see no mention of my name anywhere."

Almond returned to Canada where he directed a 1961 TV production of "Macbeth" starring Sean Connery, and in the US he directed a few episodes of "Alfred Hitchcock Presents." He also directed several feature films in the 60s and 70s, starring his wife at the time Genevieve Bujold, according to The Hollywood Reporter. He was the author of the Alford Saga, a series of historical novels based on the lives of his pioneer ancestors that spans 200 years. He retired in Malibu but maintained a home on the coast of Quebec.

Almond is survived by his son Matthew James Almond; third wife Joan Harwood Elkins; four stepchildren, Trey, Tim, Chris and Tracy Elkins; and eight grandchildren.

Here's the trailer for the latest installment:

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