Ella: Just One of Those Things

As a lifelong jazz fan, this has been a labour of love for me. The film follows her extraordinary journey over six decades as her sublime voice transforms the tragedies of her own life and the troubles of her times into joy.

The documentary uses never-before-seen images and unheard interviews  to bring Ella Fitzgerald to life and to tell the story of her music. – a black woman who makes her career in the face of horrifying racism.

Here is an Ella the world never knew – tough, thoughtful, funny, a dazzling musical innovator. The film also uncovers Ella’s commitment to the battle Civil Rights; and it explores the conflicts that always haunted this intensely private woman.

Diana: The Day Britain Cried

One of the pallbearers who accompanied the coffin of Diana, Princess of Wales, to her funeral at Westminster Abbey on 6 September 1997, was taken aback by the unprecedented outpouring of public grief.

“I thought [the funeral] was going to be quite sober and quiet, we’re English,” he says, in this excellent documentary. But he and his colleagues, who’d been kept well away from the outside world as they rehearsed their grim task, were staggered by what they saw and heard on that eerie day.

From that first wail of “Diana, we love you!” from a member of the public as the cortège left Kensington Palace, to the rainstorm of flowers that carpeted the hearse on Diana’s final journey, it was a day of the unexpected. 

Diana: The Day Britain Cried constructs a powerful minute-by-minute account of that day, from the chime of the tenor bell marking Diana’s departure from Kensington Palace on a lonely gun carriage to the remarkable journey of the hearse along a deserted motorway to her final resting place at her family home of Althorp.

Narrated by Kate Winslet, the documentary tells the story of the ritual and pageantry of Diana’s funeral and of how the decisions were made through those who were intimately involved – many talking to us exclusively and for the first time. Their extraordinary testimonies are illustrated with archive footage from the time, some of which has never been seen before.

Those interviewed include Sir Malcolm Ross, the senior Buckingham Palace courtier who was responsible for the planning and execution of the funeral in just five days; Captain Richard Williams, the chief pallbearer; Martin Neary, the musical director of Westminster Abbey; Graham Craker, Prince William and Prince Harry’s former Royal Protection Officer; Lisa Webb, who arranged the floral tributes from the two young princes for their mother’s coffin; as well as reporters, police and some of the people who joined the crowds.

Through these witnesses, the film explores the day of Diana’s funeral from beginning to end, as well as the wider impact of her death on Britain and the world.

Praise for Diana: The Day Britain Cried

“Gripping” – The Daily Mail

“An excellent documentary” – Radio Times

Watch an Excerpt

Cast & Creatives

Producer: Lorraine McKechnie

Director: Leslie Woodhead

Narrator: Kate Winslet

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BAFTA nomination for “The Day Kennedy Died”

“The Day Kennedy Died”, directed by Leslie Woodhead and produced by Lorraine McKechnie and Sue Summers, was nominated for a 2014 BAFTA Award in the category Television | Single Documentary.

Commissioned by ITV in conjunction with the Smithsonian Channel, the documentary, A minute-by-minute account of events surrounding President John F Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas on 22 November 1963, with unique witnesses and rare archive footage, it was first broadcast on November 14, 2013, and was greeted by glowing reviews from the press.


Interviewed about the film, Leslie Woodhead said:

As our film was to be a forensic, minute-by-minute account, we decided to focus on just two elements: the testimonies of witnesses, and archive material shot on the day.

That put an emphasis on the interviews, and I worked with cameraman Ross Keith to give a particular intensity to the look of those first-hand accounts. We hunted out locations that would allow us to set up the camera at an unintimidating distance from the interviewees. I put the questions sitting closer to the witnesses, just outside the frame, allowing Ross to shoot on a long lens that would diffuse the backgrounds to concentrate intently on faces.

We chose not to employ reconstruction, CGI or graphics, preferring the authenticity of archive material gathered on the day. We tracked down every frame we could find, including reports from local TV stations, and an extraordinary range of photographs recording the sequence of events.

The archive was crucial in providing the immersive sense of the day we were aiming to create. Amateur homemovie footage was a particularly rich source.

We were always on the lookout for archive that related directly to the stories of our witnesses. There was a special frisson when we were able to illustrate the Newman family’s account of diving to the ground to shield their kids as the shots rang out in Dealey Plaza with archive that captured them at that exact moment.

We also made our own discoveries. James Tague told us how he became the only bystander to be wounded in Dealey Plaza, grazed by a ricochet from one of the assassin’s shots. In a photograph of the chaos after the shooting, we found a shadowy image of Tague at that instant. It had been unnoticed in the archive for 50 years.



The Day They Dropped The Bomb

nagazakiA Documentary for the 70th Anniversary of Hiroshima

On August 6 1945, one plane dropped one bomb on the Japanese city of Hiroshima. In an instant, the city was destroyed and 80,000 people were dead. But the dropping of the Atomic bomb also launched the Nuclear age, shaping all of our lives  and changing the world for ever.

For this film we have tracked down people who made the bomb, people who dropped the bomb, and people who were in Hiroshima – some less than half a mile from ground zero -when the bomb fell on their city. Many of the witnesses are in their 90s and this will be the  last time they will be able to tell their extraordinary stories.

The Day They Dropped The Bomb is told through witness recollections, rare archive film and photographs shot at the time. The documentary  will  be broadcast for the 70th anniversary of Hiroshima next year by ITV and in America by the Smithsonian Channel.

“How The Beatles Rocked The Kremlin”

“Leslie Woodhead has given us a priceless addition to Beatle literature—and a beautifully observed and witty insight into the cultural underbelly of the Soviet Union.”
Paul Greengrass, director of The Bourne Supremacy


Lifetime Achievement Award

Leslie received a lifetime achievement award from actor Bill Nighy at the Aldeburgh Documentary Festival.

(see BBC news story)

He had worked with Granada Television’s drama documentary unit until 1989 when he started work as a freelance.

Among his famous films are Stones in the Park, documenting the Rolling Stones’ free concert in Hyde Park in 1969, and The Hunt For Bin Laden.

He received an etching donated by Suffolk resident and artist Maggi Hambling to mark the award.

Paying tribute to Mr Woodhead’s documentary work, Mr Nighy said: “In a world that is often unreliably described by commercial industries, we increasingly look elsewhere for the facts and for the true wonder of the world.

“For his brilliant and unique contribution to the genre it gives me great pleasure on behalf of the Aldeburgh Documentary Festival, to award its very first Lifetime Achievement Award to one of the original masters of the universe, Mr Leslie Woodhead.” Mr Woodhead said it was “a completely unexpected thrill”. “Thank you so much,” he added.


“The Day Kennedy Died”

Filming “The Day Kennedy Died”

I have completed the first shoot for my latest documentary ” THE DAY KENNEDY DIED”. Made through FINESTRIPE PRODUCTIONS in Glasgow. The production is an ITV film in association with the Smithsonian Channel in the US  and is due to be screened for the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination in November 2013.

The first shoot in Dallas and Washington DC gathered interviews with witnesses of the assassination – many speaking for the first time – and with Jackie Kennedy’s Secret Service agent Clint Hill who famously dived onto the back of the Kennedy limo after the shooting. A second shoot is scheduled for November 2012.


Filmed on location in Dallas and Washington D.C., The Day Kennedy Died is an exclusive one-hour special commemorating the 50th anniversary of JFK’s assassination.  Those who were there share their first-hand account of the final hours immediately leading up to his untimely death.

From the journalist who was with the Kennedy family all day, to the nurse who checked his vital signs at the hospital, The Day Kennedy Died features exclusive never-before-seen interviews and powerful, rare archive footage. It casts new light on the tragic events of that fateful day in 1963.

“The Hunt for Bin Laden”

Following his the critically acclaimed film 9/11: Day That Changed the World, Leslie Woodhead wrote and directed THE HUNT FOR BIN LADEN, which premieres on ITV on May 1, 2012, and in the USA on Sunday, April 29  on Smithsonian Channel. The two-hour special features insightful interviews with Leon Panetta, Donald Rumsfeld, Richard Clarke as well as a host of CIA and FBI counter-terrorism officials.


It was the most complex and expensive manhunt in American history. Over the course of two decades, three presidential administrations, countless deaths and billions of dollars, the world’s most wanted criminal somehow remained elusive. Then, on the evening of May 1, 2011, President Barack Obama announced to the world: “Justice has been done.” Just hours earlier, U.S. Special Forces conducted a top-secret mission to storm a house on the outskirts of Abbottabad, Pakistan, killing Osama bin Laden and four others with no loss of American lives.

Now for the first time comes the full, inside story of the manhunt, told by the men and women who dedicated much of their lives to this mission impossible. Years before the tragic events of 9/11, many in government understood the threat bin Laden and Al Qaeda posed to the United States and worked frantically to uncover their secrets. “Terrorism consumes you,” says Pat D’Amuro, former assistant director for the FBI’s counter-terrorism unit. “You don’t see your family, you miss birthdays, you miss holidays. If you don’t let it consume you, it’ll destroy you.”

Through the eyes of hunters like D’Amuro, THE HUNT FOR BIN LADEN reveals the epic rise and fall of the world’s most notorious terrorist, from his start as a mujahidin fighter in Afghanistan to his declaration of war on America and the stream of vicious attacks around the world that made him a household name. The special also offers new details into earlier attempts to capture or kill bin Laden, including “Operation Infinite Reach,” the Clinton administration’s 1993 bombing of training camps in Afghanistan that missed him by only two hours. There was also the infamous failure at Tora Bora, when Afghan forces and a small group of U.S Special Forces had bin Laden cornered in a mountain cave, only to let him slip away.

Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda presented a historic challenge for a superpower accustomed to defending itself against nation states. THE HUNT FOR BIN LADEN tells a story of political caution, missed opportunities, shifting agendas and growing tension between intelligence chiefs, presidents and the military as America wavered between two approaches: treating terrorism as a crime to be investigated or a war to be fought with all the necessary tools. September 11 settled the matter, but it would be 10 long years before its mastermind was brought to justice. THE HUNT FOR BIN LADEN puts viewers inside the room with President Barack Obama and his advisors for the pulse-pounding moments leading up to the message from Pakistan: “Geronimo EKIA.” Osama Bin Laden, enemy killed in action.

THE HUNT FOR BIN LADEN is produced by Brook Lapping Productions for Smithsonian Channel in association with ITV. Executive Producers are Brian Lapping and Kate Botting. The Director is Leslie Woodhead and Producer is Talya Tibbon. Executive Producers for Smithsonian Channel are David Royle and Charles Poe.


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“9/11 : The Day that Changed the World”

This film for the tenth anniversary of 9/11 was a rare challenge – to tell the story of that terrible day using only interviews with America’s key decision-makers and extraordinary archive film shot on the day.


On September 11th, 2001 millions shared with the people of New York the unimaginable horror of the attack on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon. Now, through the memories of America’s key decision makers this film goes behind the scenes to show, minute by minute, how the men and women at the heart of American power struggled to manage the assault on their nation.

Together with the record of events filmed on that day The Day That Changed The World is the inside story of what happened on one extraordinary day ten years ago.

Told entirely through archive and interview, it goes behind the scenes and shows how the events unfurled in the aircraft, the offices, the bunkers and the military headquarters as the President, advisors, security services and the military tried to piece together what was happening, who was attacking the country and what was going to happen next.

Now America’s top decision makers on 9/11 including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani as well as America’s top generals, CIA and FBI anti-terror chiefs as well as those in the White House Situation Room, on board Air Force One and on the ground in New York reveal the inside story of 9/11.

Praise for : “9/11 : The Day that Changed the World”

“Leslie Woodhead’s superb film… An electrifying inside account … a jaw-dropping perspective”

The Times