Earlier this year, Blazing Saddles and Young Frankenstein director Mel Brooks was awarded the BFI Fellowship, the British Film Institute’s highest honour.
Mel Brooks said: “I am deeply honoured to be the recipient of the BFI Fellowship and to be inducted into such distinguished company. When I was informed that I had been chosen, I was surprised and delighted. Not many Americans have been offered this prestigious award…and for good reason.”
Greg Dyke, BFI Chair said: “We are thrilled to honour Mel Brooks with a BFI Fellowship. His brilliant wit and satire have continued to surprise and delight and, sometimes, astonish, as he delights in flouting convention, taking comedy to areas once held taboo. Mel’s irrepressible energy and dazzling originality have made the world a much funnier place.”
Sir John Hurt, BFI Fellow and star of Mel Brooks’ films including The Elephant Man (which he helped finance), A History of the World Part 1 and Spaceballs, gave a citation at the event. Alan Yentob, also a BFI Fellow, interviewed Mel at the event in front of guests.
Mel Brooks is a giant of world cinema whose unparalleled career has encompassed an enormous range of work in both television and film, as a writer, actor, producer and director. His legendary comic genius has created a brilliantly original and hugely influential body of work which has inspired and entertained audiences around the world
and won him Tony, Emmy, Grammy and Oscar awards along the way.
Mel Brooks’ first feature film The Producers (1968), an affectionate celebration of a particular type of theatrical impresario with its unforgettable big budget, musical number, “Springtime for Hitler”, took on a new lease of life with its re-creation as a Broadway musical in 2001. Blazing Saddles (1974), co-written with Richard Pryor and starring Cleavon Little as an unconventional cowboy, was a fantastic satire on the Western and Hollywood clichés. Subsequent films have mined a rich seam of comedy brilliantly sending up film genres such as the silent cinema in Silent Movie (1976), the thriller in High Anxiety (1977), the horror film in Young Frankenstein (1974) and Dracula: Dead and Loving It (1995), costume drama in Robin Hood: Men in Tights (1993) and science fiction with Spaceballs (1987).
Part of the real success of Brooks’ work is his deep knowledge and affection for his subjects, so while he may be pointing up the absurdity of Hollywood musical numbers or the conventions of the horror film, he does it with a grace and verve which can only come from the heart.
His fearless comic instincts were honed from an early age in stand-up comedy, then radio and television. He was a writer on the legendary TV show Your Show of Shows, and the radio show Caesar’s Hour for Sid Caesar in the early 1950s. He created the stylish television satire of the spying world, Get Smart (1965), a delicious riposte to the then current obsession with slick, secret agents, and he also worked on The 2000 Year Old Man (1975). His skill as a stand-up comedian will be on display in London for a one-man
show at London’s Prince of Wales Theatre on Sunday 22 March. The Producers also starts a new UK tour this month.
The BFI Fellowship is awarded by the BFI Board of Governors and it is presented for outstanding achievement in film and television. Previous recipients include Sir Christopher Lee, Ralph Fiennes, David Cronenberg, Dame Judi Dench, Isabelle Huppert, Tim Burton, Martin Scorsese and Orson Welles. Since 1983, a total of seventy nine Fellowships have been awarded – the full list is a roll-call of the leading lights of the world of film and television.