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MacNaughton, Ian (1925-2002)

Director, Producer, Actor

Main image of MacNaughton, Ian (1925-2002)

An actor turned television producer/director, Ian MacNaughton is best remembered for his work on Spike Milligan's Q series and Monty Python's Flying Circus, where his eagerness to experiment with the television medium, combined with his ability to exert a degree of control over eccentric talents, proved crucial in the shaping of these groundbreaking series and in preventing them from descending into abject chaos.

Born in Glasgow on 30 December 1925, he began his acting career in 1950, following war service and an acting course, and appeared in numerous small screen roles in the 1950s. It was television, however, that offered him greater opportunities, providing him with lead roles in the single dramas The Ballad of Peckham Rye (BBC, tx. 5/3/1962) and The Night of the Reckoning (ITV, tx. 5/9/1963).

In the early 1960s he enrolled on a directors' course at the BBC, which led to him directing two episodes of Teletale (BBC, 1963-1964), a series devised to promote the work of new writers and directors. He subsequently worked in the BBC's Drama Department until moving to Light Entertainment in 1969, where he was immediately assigned to production duties on the well-received Spike Milligan sketch series Q5 (BBC, 1969).

Owing to his success with the anarchic format of Q5, he was first choice to try and control the madness that would be Monty Python's Flying Circus (BBC, 1969-1974). Although for the first four episodes he only directed the film inserts (John Howard Davies acted as producer), he produced all succeeding episodes, and was, as Michael Palin was to say, very much at home with the anti-authoritarian aspect of the series. He also directed the first Python film, And Now For Something Completely Different (1971), and two specials made for German television in 1971 and 1973, Monty Python's Fliegender Zirkus.

Work following the Python series included the production and direction of the pilot episode of Rising Damp (ITV, tx. 2/9/1974), the production of two further Spike Milligan series, Q6 (1975) and Q7 (1978, both BBC), the direction of five episodes of the six-part Alan Plater scripted sitcom Middlemen (BBC, 1977) and direction of the short comedy film Le Petomane (1979) starring Leonard Rossiter.

From the mid-1970s onwards he was based in Germany, where he worked in television and, increasingly, the theatre. He died on 10 December 2002 from injuries sustained in a car accident in Austria the previous year.

John Oliver

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