Mark Blandford was a linguistic and cultural chameleon whose unusual upbringing and talents allowed him to conquer the worlds of television drama in both English and French Canada.
When he arrived in Montreal after attending film school at Columbia University, he initially worked in local current affairs on the English side of CBC Television. His first ambitious project was 1975's The October Crisis, a contentious program that ran three hours in one evening.
The program was unique at the time because it was a docu-drama, mixing the work of real journalists with actors playing the parts of people such as Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, who invoked the War Measures Act in October, 1970, after the FLQ kidnappings of British diplomat James Cross and Quebec cabinet minister Pierre Laporte.
"Some people criticized the use of actors at the time. But we broke real ground with the program," said journalist David Halton, who was seconded from the CBC News service to work on it and conducted what he described as a "remarkable" interview with James Cross, remarkable because Mr. Cross was so forthcoming about the events.
"Mark Blandford was an amazingly talented guy who infused our group with great enthusiasm," Mr. Halton said.
Mr. Blandford, who died on Nov. 2 in Montreal of cardiovascular complications at the age of 73, drew wide attention with his first big project. The program had many critics, including Mr. Trudeau. "Trudeau hated it because it did not paint him in a very positive light," said journalist Antonia Zerbisias, Mr. Blandford's second wife. "It was very controversial."
Mark Blandford was born on Jan. 24, 1942, in Wimbledon, England, a suburb of London. His father was a lieutenant-colonel in the Royal Marines and after the Second World War was posted to what is now Sri Lanka. When Mark was five, his father was bitten by a dog and died of rabies.
Mark's widowed mother, a baroness from the Alsace region of France, moved to Bordighera, on the Italian Riviera, where Mark went to primary school. Then they moved 80 kilometres west to Cannes, on the French Riviera, where Mark attended the prestigious Stanislas school. By the age of 17, he was not only fluent in English, Italian and French, but also was at home in each culture.
Around the time he finished at Stanislas, France was embroiled in a war in Algeria and his mother worried that Mark, a French citizen, would be drafted into the army.
"Having lost her father to war and her husband, she did not want to lose her only son to the war in Algeria," said Laurence Blandford, Mark's son with his first wife, Bianca Zagolin. "They decided to move to Canada."
They chose Vancouver because they had met a charming Canadian couple in Cannes who said the French Riviera reminded them of home, with the ocean and the mountains in the background. Mark enrolled at the University of British Columbia, where he earned his bachelor of arts degree.
While in the UBC library, he came across a row of books by Quebec authors, and, after graduating, headed to Montreal, where he took some courses at McGill University. Then he was off to New York for a master's degree in film before returning to Montreal, which became his home.
He landed a job with a public affairs program at CBC Television in Montreal. Soon, he was producing ambitious projects such as The October Crisis, at a time when the English and French sides of the CBC were quite distant.
Mr. Blandford moved to the French network, where he produced and directed a 1978 drama about Maurice Duplessis, who was premier of Quebec before the Quiet Revolution of the early 1960s. The program revived the career of Quebec director Denys Arcand, who was its screenwriter, working from the 1977 book Duplessis by Conrad Black.
"Mark was extremely bilingual, very convivial, and I always found him easy to work with, informal, relaxed, but thorough and efficient. He kept a positive atmosphere around the Duplessis project and had read my book and some of the sources in my bibliography very carefully," Mr. Black recalled in an interview. "I remember him clearly as a very jovial and entertaining collaborator and, on a few most pleasant occasions, drinking companion."
Following the success of Duplessis, Mr. Blandford went on to produce television versions of works such as Balconville, David Fennario's play about growing up in the working-class suburb of Verdun; and La Sagouine, Antonine Maillet's play about an Acadian cleaning lady.
There were also bilingual co-productions with the English and French networks, such as the six-part 1983 miniseries Empire Inc., starring Jennifer Dale and Kenneth Walsh.
In 1988, he produced Chasing Rainbows, a 14-part series based on the aftermath of the First World War, which Ms. Zerbisias said launched the career of actor Paul Gross. It was the first television program in the world to be filmed in high-definition.
Over the years, Mr. Blandford was nominated for 20 Gemini Awards and won the French-language equivalent, Prix Gémeaux, four times. He was also honoured in 1983 as a "Great Montrealer" by the city's board of trade for his cultural contributions.
He was named head of drama at Radio-Canada in 1990 with the mandate of bringing Quebec theatre to the screen, and stayed in that job for seven years.
In 2002, working in English, he produced a documentary about depression that aired on the CBC's The Nature of Things. The film, titled Le Journal d'un Fou/A Madman's Journal, drew from his personal experiences with depression. "It's a very personal drama. He did it to break the taboo around discussing depression," said his son, Laurence.
One of Mr. Blandford's legacies is the Quebec film and television school, Institut national de l'image et du son (INIS), which he co-founded and which opened its doors in 1996 with Mr. Blandford as artistic director. He also served as an adviser to an Italian film school, La Scuola Nazionale di Cinema, in L'Aquila, Italy.
Mr. Blandford, who was predeceased by his third wife, Sophie Sénécal, leaves his son, Laurence.