Academy Award Winning Independent Film Producer. Former Chancellor of the University of Sunderland (1997- 2007). Patron of the Puttnam Scholars.
Lord David Puttnam was the first Chancellor of the University, holding the post for ten years from 1997 to 2007. The producer of Chariots of Fire, the Mission and Bugsy Malone, Lord Puttnam is the recipient of many awards and accolades within the film industry. He is passionate about recognising and promoting young talent and in 2012 he founded Atticus Education delivering interactive seminars on film, media and screen to students at universities all over the world. In 2018 he launched The Puttnam Scholars programme where a number of students undertake a project set by Lord Puttnam himself, resulting in a film or documentary being premiered at a special ceremony.
Lord Puttnam was appointed an Honorary Doctor of Education during the School of Education and Lifelong Learning’s Academic Awards Ceremonies and upon his retirement, he was granted the Freedom of the City of Sunderland.
Listen to Lord Puttnam’s story:
Read the transcript from Lord Puttnam’s interview:
On becoming Chancellor of the University
“I’d like to think that the development of the arts within the University was connected with me being the first Chancellor. There was an offering when I first arrived, and there had been offering at the Polytechnic. But I do think that we managed to massively enhance it. I have to say it was something of a shock. I’d been up and done a speech in Sunderland, I think at the University in fairness, yes it was. And then I got a call from the then Vice Chancellor who was coming to London, and she said ‘Can I come and see you?’ And I had just recently been made, a year before, knighted. ‘So, David, can I come and see you?’ So anyway, she, turned up and sat in my office and she said, ‘We’ve decided as a University to have a Chancellor’. I said, ‘Oh, that’s that sounds great’. And she said, ‘We wondered if you’d like to be the first Chancellor’. ‘What?’
I then recounted to her my academic experience, she said, ‘Well, that’s perfect for us because we want to be an access university’. There was a kind of confluence between what she wanted at the University and what I was saying was wrong with education. Maybe that had been the contents of that speech. I can’t honestly remember. But certainly we found an identity of interest. I was also knocked out, I must say, absolutely knocked out by the build- the University itself. I don’t know what I was expecting when I came up to speak at the University, but it wasn’t what I encountered”.
First impressions of the University
“I was very struck by the architecture, the harmony of the architecture of the University and being where it was. And I remember Anne (Dr. Anne Wright, the first Vice- Chancellor) telling me that it was on the site of St. Bede and that she’d won a big battle with the council. And there was a big battle about the shipyards and whether the shipyards should either be rebuilt or commemorated. And her argument was that St. Bede had been there a long, long time before the shipyards. So therefore, if the site was sacred in any way, it was sacred educationally, not industrially. You know, I was always worried about the decision to change all the polytechnics into universities. I thought that there were pros and cons, but I think that the University of Sunderland is a really stellar example of why it was a great idea in that the impact it had on the the city, on the region and the city feeling it deserved to have a university was really, really important. I think more than almost any other university in the country, it proved that an industrial city with an industrial heritage had every right to be a centre of learning. It was a huge decision and it was, I think, a decision that was completely vindicated.”
On graduation ceremonies
“I used to love the graduation ceremonies, which we really made a big deal of. I think we were the first university to really turn graduation ceremonies into celebrations as opposed to ceremonies. The traditional university ceremony was a pretty sombre, quite pompous affair. And we did almost the exact opposite. We turned them into celebrations, but we got some wonderful honorary graduates as well. My biggest memory was Naill Quinn, because the entire place went nuts. He’d just given his testimonial to the city of Sunderland, which included the University. I remember standing on the stage, and every third girl that came across the stage ignored me and went and kissed him. That I remember very, very vividly as being the one of the odder ones.”
Lord Puttnam’s legacy
“I think more importantly recently, is the work we’re doing through the University with the wider region, and that there are a lot of jobs in the film industry. It’s not just directors and producers and writers. It’s an enormous industry with a very, very big pyramid structure where some of the skills are unique, they’re changing all the time. They provide a very, very good living for a lot of people and dragging the industry up into the North East and making sure the skills are available to the North East to complement that is quite a big task. So, I think that through the University and working with various regional bodies, we’re doing a very, very good job of taking that message out.”