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Peter Yates 1929-2011

30 January 2013 by Tim Evans

Peter-Yates-1British director Peter Yates - the genius behind the car chase classic Bullitt - had died. He was 81.

The army officer's son, who also received plaudits for the underwater thriller The Deep to the coming-of-age drama Breaking Away - died in London following an illness, his agent said.


The versatile director ensured Oscar nominations for three actors and four for himself...but never actually landed an Academy Award.

During a varied career in which he directed Cliff Richard in Summer Holiday and Albert Finney in The Dresser, he is also credited with inventing the modern car chase with the Steve McQueen thriller Bullitt.

BullittBullittOfficial recognition for his movies can be gauged by the best supporting actress nominations for Barbara Barrie for Breaking Away while Finney and Tom Courtenay vied for the best actor award for The Dresser.

The son of an army officer, Yates attended Charterhouse School as a boy and graduated from the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art before working for some years as an actor, director and stage manager.

In the 1950s he started in the movie industry as a dubbing assistant and later an assistant director for Tony Richardson, director of Tom Jones and The Entertainer.

After working on TV's The Saint with Roger Moore, he made his big screen debut with the Cliff Richard musical vehicle Summer Holiday in 1963.

Yates had directed the original Royal Court production of N F Simpson's play One Way Pendulum and was chosen to make the film version, starring Eric Sykes and George Cole.

Breaking-AwayNext up was crime thriller Robbery, a fictionalised version of the Great Train Robbery in 1963 which also went on to influence the TV classic The Sweeney as well as the British classic The Long Good Friday.

However, it was Bullitt starring Steve MccQueen as a San Francisco cop charged with protecting a key witness in a case against a mob kingpin.

The stunning car chase featuring McQueen at the wheel of a Ford Mustang GT is credited with originating the modern cinematic car chase and the movie has been placed in the United States National Film Registry.

Subsequent outings included the Peter O'Toole WWII drama Murphy's War and the crime thriller The Friends of Eddie Coyle, starring Robert Mitchum.

In 1977, he scored a box office hit with the underwater thriller The Deep, starring Jacqueline Bisset and Robert Shaw and followThe-Dressering that up with the acclaimed Breaking Away, which landed Oscar nominations for best picture and best director.

His subsequent film Krull was a relative disappointment but he was back on form with The Dresser, starring  Tom Courtenay as a minion living his life through his exuberant star employer (Albert Finney). The film was Oscar-nominated for best picture and best director.

His subsequent output never reached the dizzy heights of his earlier and work and he pursued his interests of skiing, tennis and sailing until his death.