Deborah Shipley – 13/11/55 - 22/11/15
Deborah Shipley, the bold and passionate BAFTA winning documentary maker, died peacefully at home on Sunday November 22nd after a long and brave dance with cancer. Co-founder of True Vision Productions with husband Brian Woods, Deborah was involved in numerous ground-breaking documentaries, directing BAFTA nominated Lost Girls of South Africa, and co-directing the BAFTA winning Orphans of Nkandla among many others.
Born in Kisumu, Kenya, on the banks of Lake Victoria and raised there and in South Africa, Deborah later became active in one of the first multi-racial theatre companies in South Africa with whom she performed anti-apartheid plays in different communities in Natal, South Africa. She developed a life-long love of theatre and a passion for exposing injustices and advocating for social change.
Deborah moved to the UK in the 80s to pursue an acting career and expand her experience in multi-cultural community theatre. During this time she also developed her business skills in various sectors, including managing one of the first centers for alternative medicine in England. In 1995 she and Brian co-founded True Vision Productions. The company’s first film was the policy influencing film The Dying Rooms.
As well as directing a BAFTA winning film herself, Deborah also worked on most of the company’s productions as a roving troubleshooter – covering a variety of roles across research, administration and production – and was a fierce advocate for producing only films that had a strong social purpose. She was acutely sensitive to injustice, and strived to ensure the company produced only hard-hitting, revelatory films that gave a voice to those seldom heard in their own words. Throughout her illness she continued to demonstrate her great determination and remained unstintingly passionate about global causes.
In early November 2015, after winning a Grierson for the Channel Four film Curing Cancer, Brian Woods dedicated the award to Deborah in a profoundly moving acceptance speech (below).
And anyone who knew her will also remember her wry humour,her passion for life, social grace and love for a bit of fun. She was living right to the very end - she celebrated her 60th birthday at home with friends, at a Mad Hatter’s tea party, just a week before she died. She was dressed as Alice. And a week before that, with a little help from some morphine and a wheelchair taxi, she was at the Royal Opera House to watch Carmen.
Apart from Brian and her beloved cat, Harry, Debs was devoted to her brother, David and the family - Heather, Callum, Gareth, Olympia, Nuum, Oscar & Ralph.
If you would like to make a donation to The Aletheia Foundation, the charity we set up to support those in need whose lives we highlight in our films, please feel free, and please add your own memories of Debs below.
One of the contributors to a recent True Vision film said of Debs:-
There are few people in this world that get to make a difference and change peoples perceptions and together you both achieved this on many occasions. Her legacy is not measured by the awards won or indeed the films you've made together but by the actions of those who were inspired by your work to make a positive contribution to the world.
Charlotte Moore, Controller of BBC ONE said:-
It has been a privilege knowing Debs over the years. She has always been an extraordinary person, full of kindness and generosity alongside an impressive strength and resilience, and above all a force for good in everything she's done. She has always been a real inspiration in the world of television, in the way she dealt with colleagues and contributors, in her commitment to the art of documentary-making and in the way she felt driven to give a voice to the vulnerable and disadvantaged and to out the injustices of the world so often on our doorstep. And for the last 15 years she has been an inspiration to all of us whose lives have been touched by cancer. She was a remarkable woman and I feel lucky to have known her - and spent so many enjoyable awards evenings in her company. She will be truly missed by many.
I was very lucky to find someone I could love so completely, and who loved me in return in the same way. That seems to be so rare these days. I fear the road of grief I have to walk - so much harder because for the first time in 25 years I walk it alone. But every iota of the pain in the days and moths to come I would endure a thousand fold for the deep joy and love we shared for the last quarter of a century.
My darling Debs, my soulmate, moral compass of True Vision, and the inspiration for anything good and worthwhile I have done in and with my life, I will miss you as long as I live.
If you knew Debs and have memories or thoughts to share, then please feel free to do so below.
Brian’s speech about Debs at the Grierson Awards.
And the film of Debs Brian made for her 60th birthday... (quite long!)