David Turton 1940 – 2023.

By Posted in - News on February 6th, 2024

Image above: David Turton visiting the Mursi in the summer of 2023. Along with some of the protagonists and their families, he watched The Migrants, a film that he made with Leslie Woodhead for Disappearing World in 1985.

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of David Turton, one of the founding figures of the Granada Centre. David died in London on 9 December 2023, unexpectedly, whilst undergoing an operation to repair a broken hip. He had been suffering from a heart condition for some time and the anaesthetic proved too much for him.  He was 83.

Although far too modest to have ever said so himself, David could rightfully have claimed to have come up with the idea that led to the creation of the Granada Centre. In the early 1980s, he was a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Social Anthropology while also being a consultant to Disappearing World, an anthropological series produced by Granada Television, holder of the regional franchise for television in the Northwest of England. David’s involvement in the series dated back to 1974, when he acted as an adviser on The Mursi, a film based on his field research with this group of pastoralists who live in the Omo river valley of southern Ethiopia and with whom he had been working since 1968. The director was Leslie Woodhead, a senior figure in Granada Television, with a distinguished record in both documentary and political drama-documentary. Together with Leslie, David would eventually make six films for British television, at various points between 1974 and 2001. Five of these were for Disappearing World and one for Channel 4.

Around that time, David became aware of the Center for Visual Anthropology at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles, mainly because a former undergraduate student of his, Dan Marks, had enrolled on the MA offered by the Center. Thinking that Manchester should set up a similar centre, David put the idea to Marilyn Strathern, recently appointed to the Chair of Social Anthropology. Although not actively engaged with ethnographic film-making herself, she enthusiastically endorsed the idea, which then, with Leslie Woodhead’s support, was pitched to David Plowright, the CEO of Granada Television. Plowright agreed that Granada Television would sponsor the proposed centre for an initial period of three years. Although this sponsorship constituted only a small fraction of the cost of running the centre, the then Vice-Chancellor of the University, Sir Mark Richmond, insisted that the centre should bear the sponsor’s name. And so the Granada Centre for Visual Anthropology was born, formally coming into existence in January 1987.

I was appointed the first Director of the Centre in July 1987 and during its early years, I was deeply indebted to David for his practical support, encouragement and wisdom, as well as his entirely disinterested friendship and dry sense of humour. He played a particularly important role, along with the Danish anthropologist, Peter Crawford, then a Lecturer in the Centre, in the organisation at Manchester of the 2nd International Film Festival of the Royal Anthropological Institute in September 1990. This extended over five days and was a collaborative venture with USC. It was attended by people from all over the world, including many of the leading lights of ethnographic film-making of the time, including Jean Rouch, Asen Balikci, Tim Asch, Colin Young, Herb di Gioia, David MacDougall, Ian Dunlop, Brian Moser and André Singer. The associated conference proceedings, to which a similarly distinguished roster of more theoretical visual anthropologists contributed, were published by Manchester University Press under the editorship of David and Peter, as Film as Ethnography in 1992.

This event served not only to launch the RAI Film Festival as a major biennial event, but also to establish the Granada Centre as a significant new player in the world of academic visual anthropology. Not long after the publication of Film as Ethnography, to my great regret, David took early retirement from his post at Manchester, though he continued to offer friendly and astute advice from afar. After an interlude, in 1997, he became director of the Refugee Studies Centre (RSC) at the University of Oxford. In practice, the interest of the RSC lies more broadly in forced migration and as such, it provided David with a platform to pursue his campaign to protect the Mursi from being displaced by a vast hydroelectric scheme. He continued to be an advocate on behalf of the Mursi in retirement, and made his last visit to them only recently, in the summer of 2023.

Some thirty-five years after David first conceived the idea, the Granada Centre is still going strong, outlasting not only Disappearing World, which ceased broadcasting in 1993, but even Granada Television, which merged with various other regional broadcasters to become ITV plc in 2004. The many postgraduate students who have passed through the Centre’s programmes, who must now number over 600, as well as all of us who have taught or carried out research under its wing, owe David a profound debt of thanks for the many opportunities that the Centre has provided. Both personally and professionally, we shall miss him greatly.

Paul Henley, 5 February 2024

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