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Robert Altman (1925 -- 2006)

How fitting that in March 2006 Robert Altman should have received a lifetime achievement Academy Award®, just eight months before he passed away in Los Angeles aged 81. Altman was in his mid forties when he directed the dark comedy M*A*S*H, starring Elliot Gould and Donald Sutherland, the film that inspired the long-running TV series.

He had worked mainly in US television until then but his career as an eclectic screen writer, producer and director would span more than 50 years. After M*A*S*H, Altman made such movies as McCabe and Mrs Miller and Nashville in the 1970s, consolidating his fine reputation as a distinctive maverick with an improvisational style and a flair for making loose narratives and intertwined stories work for audiences.

After a relatively lean period in the '80s, he served up the all-star satire, The Player, in 1992 and Short Cuts the following year. In 2001, he made Gosford Park in the UK, which became a substantial box-office hit and earned Julian Fellowes a screenwriting Oscar. A big beast in the film jungle, Robert Altman's last work, A Prairie Home Companion (2006), starring Meryl Streep, will receive a posthumous UK release.