Widely regarded as one of the UK’s great documentary filmmakers, Roger Graef was actually not originally native to the country, having been born and raised in New York and then moved to the UK in 1962, becoming officially a British citizen in 1992. He was known for making bold, informative and influential documentaries, often airing as specials for the likes of Panorama, Omnibus and Cutting Edge.
Graef’s films, usually made through his production company, Films of Record, were often provocative with the aim of changing public opinion and social policy. One example was A Complaint of Rape (1982), one of the episodes in the 11-part fly-on-the-wall Police series made for the BBC. This featured eye-opening footage of a woman being aggressively questioned by police about an alleged gang-rape that led to major changes in how the police now interview in such cases. This episode was nominated for a BAFTA, while the entire series won producer Graef (with director Charles Stewart) the first of three BAFTAs.
He was first nominated for One of Them Is Named Brett (1965), a 30-minute documentary that highlighted the plight of thalidomide children. Graef won his second BAFTA (shared with director Brian Hill) for Feltham Sings (2002), about the prison system. He was named twice more, for social care and adoption docs The Truth About Adoption and Kids in Care, both made for Panorama and broadcast in 2011. In 2004, he was presented with BAFTA’s highest award, the Fellowship, adding an OBE in 2006 and Sheffield Doc/Fest’s Lifetime Achievement award in 2014. BAFTA held a special Tribute event for him in 2014.
His influence was felt outside of the documentary sphere, too. Graef co-produced the first live Comic Relief show (1986) with Richard Curtis, following on from directing several Amnesty International benefit shows, including the first Secret Policeman’s Ball (1979). He was one of the founding board members of Channel 4; was on the board of trustees of the Media Standards Trust; was a published author on the criminal justice system; wrote extensively for British newspapers; and also tutored in criminology and broadcast communication.