Remembering Hugh Hudson of ‘Chariots of Fire’ and iconic CDP ad ‘Iguana’

Hugh Hudson, who has died aged 86, was one of those British commercials directors turned feature directors who seemed to be taking over the world in the late 1970s and 1980s. Best known for 1981’s Chariots of Fire, his Hollywood career imploded when he made Revolution in 1985, which cost $28m and took less than $1m in the US of A. (Matters probably weren’t helped when this piece of expensive Americana was mostly filmed in Devon and Norfolk.)

Ronald Grant Archive

Famous critic Paul Kael described it as “a certifiably loony picture; it’s so bad it puts you in a state of shock.”

Some cineastes today would dispute this, rather as they do the initial reaction to Michael Cimino’s also career-ending Heaven’s Gate.

Like his directorial peers – Ridley Scott, Alan Parker, Adrian Lyne – Eton-educated Hudson cut his teeth on commercials, mostly for Collett Dickenson Pearce. CDP had the Gallaher account (Benson & Hedges, Hamlet) at a time when tobacco companies’ ad canvas was beginning to be sharply reduced, cinema and posters were all that was left. This meant, of course, that they made even more money as their vast marketing budges were dramatically reduced.

The most famous was ‘Iguana,’ filmed at vast expense in the Arizona desert, the more so as the cast of thousands, including CDP’s imperious MD Frank Lowe, were becalmed in the desert as it rained for the time in 30 years – for two weeks. In all the shoot took six and cost somewhere north of £1m. The complete circus, including Gallaher’s superhuman patience, is memorably described in Mike Everett’s Methods of the Madmen. Interestingly, the original script called for a rain forest, which might have saved time.

But it was worth it.

Here’s Hudson talking to (a rather younger) Tony Robinson.

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