Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
O'Hara, Gerry (1924-)

Director, Writer

Main image of O'Hara, Gerry (1924-)

"A writer who did a bit of directing" is Gerry O'Hara's modest description of his 50-year career in film and television. While many found the industry an unforgiving place, O'Hara had more than his share of ups and downs: from the highs of learning the craft of directing on set with Laurence Olivier, Carol Reed and Otto Preminger, to the disastrous shoot of Maroc 7 (1966); from the success of his Swinging 60s film The Pleasure Girls (1965) to the hostile press he received for battered wife drama The Brute (1976). Much of the time he was a jobbing assistant director, a role he enjoyed and returned to often, branching out into directing and writing later in his career. Film Dope perceptively sums up his filmography as "the sort of CV where the concepts of 'artist' and 'artisan' ebb and flow into each other across a pleasingly incongruous collection of movies.... the quintessence of a freelance British director's output, circa 1965-85."

Son of a bookmaker, O'Hara's first job was cub reporter on a local paper; one of his assignments was to interview Michael Powell, who was in his home town of Boston, Lincolnshire to film "...One of Our Aircraft is Missing" (co-d. Emeric Pressburger, 1942). The experience awakened an interest in film making in the teenage O'Hara and he set off to London at Powell's invitation, landing a job at documentary company Verity Films. A colleague there was Ken Annakin, who later took him on as his assistant when he was promoted to the director's chair. Throughout the 1950s O'Hara worked steadily as an assistant director on British films but, towards the end of the decade, he began to get onto bigger budget productions, working with Anatole Litvak and Carol Reed. In 1960, he was offered the first of two assignments for Otto Preminger which led to other work for American studios in Europe. This experience, along with assisting Tony Richardson on Tom Jones (1963), showed O'Hara the depth and realism that could be achieved by location shooting, something which he later strove to capture in his own films.

After fifteen years as an assistant, O'Hara's directorial debut came with That Kind of Girl (1963), a low budget film on the horrors of venereal disease produced by Tony Tenser, Michael Klinger and Robert Hartford-Davis. He was also touting scripts around at this time, having no success until he was offered a piece of advice by producer Raymond Stross, who told him to write about what he knew. He came up with a story about the events that befall a group of young people living in Chelsea digs over one weekend; Klinger picked it up and it became The Pleasure Girls. This was the first of three personal projects O'Hara was able to bring to the screen, the others being All the Right Noises and The Brute. All three told the kind of stories one might read in the tabloid press but they were based on people and situations from O'Hara's sphere of experience and focused on the human rather than the sensational aspects.

In between these, he continued taking whatever work came his way, although his next job nearly finished his career. Due to sickness and the temperaments of a cast of impatient stars, the location shoot of Maroc 7 went over budget and over schedule, all but ruining O'Hara's reputation. But a combination of talent, resilience and business sense saw him through this and other crises and he continued to work into the 1970s, when times became tougher still for British cinema. Projects for the Children's Film Foundation kept his head above water until television came to the rescue; a writing and directing job on The Professionals (ITV, 1977-1983) led to further assignments, including work on the Australian version of the series, called Special Squad (1984). Between this and the occasional return to film work, O'Hara's career continued into the mid-1990s.

Perhaps unfortunately, his best known film is probably The Bitch (1979), of which he is not proud and which is not representative of his style or sensibilities. O'Hara had few opportunities to make his mark on British cinema but, when they did arise, he did so with an unusual feel for characterisation, both male and female, a fine ear for dialogue and a talent for bringing out the naturalness in his actors.

Josephine Botting

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Boys in Brown (1949)Boys in Brown (1949)

A progressive Borstal governor tries to reform his boys

Thumbnail image of L-Shaped Room, The (1962)L-Shaped Room, The (1962)

Leslie Caron plays a pregnant Frenchwoman who starts an affair

Thumbnail image of Our Man in Havana (1959)Our Man in Havana (1959)

Alec Guinness is out of his depth in pre-revolution Cuba

Thumbnail image of Richard III (1955)Richard III (1955)

Laurence Olivier's definitive version of Shakespeare's great history play

Thumbnail image of Avengers, The (1961-69)Avengers, The (1961-69)

Ultra-stylish '60s spy drama that all but invented cult TV

Thumbnail image of Bergerac (1981-91)Bergerac (1981-91)

Long-running detective series set on the island tax haven of Jersey

Thumbnail image of Man in a Suitcase (1967-68)Man in a Suitcase (1967-68)

Memorably gritty ITC series about an ex-CIA private investigator

Related collections

Related people and organisations