A little boy discovers his father was a spy. A young man’s brainwave rocks the financial world. A rookie film director is befriended by a Hollywood actress. A man has a plan to focus children on film. And this is just one man’s story.

He’s a man so well rounded it’s hard to catch an edge with which to begin his story. Bill Bristow has come to the Island with a mission: to start a film festival for children. “Children are amazing at using the technology so available to make short films and animations,” he says, “and I’d love to showcase their creativity.” He’s got the contacts to make this a reality: but, more essentially, he’s got the drive. Bill’s life has been about making things happen.

His story starts with a sense of disaffection. “I had no idea what my father had done in the war. All the other boys at my boarding school could say ‘my dad was a Spitfire pilot’ or whatever,” says Bill. This led, one holiday, to a rummage around in his fathers’ things. Bill was about 11 and his father, Desmond, a director of De Beers the diamond firm, was away on business. “I found some German sunglasses, some German medals and a German pistol,” says Bill. The questions he had for his father burned inside him until he noticed in the newspaper a government call for unlicensed guns to be handed in. He broached the subject with studied nonchalance: “You know that gun, Dad… and, by the way, why have you got a German gun?”

Initial fobbings off about the better craftsmanship of German guns, and indeed sunglasses, were not entirely satisfactory, and as he got older Bill began drawing connections from overheard conversations about the infamous ‘third man.’ “I remembered the name Kim Philby and I read back about that time and went into the fact he’d known all these double agents; then that conversation I’d had with my father came back to me.” By judicious research he discovered not just that Desmond had been a spy, but that he had been head of MI6 in Spain, Morocco, and Portugal from 1946 to 1954. He had been recruited after his degree at Cambridge – being au fait with Spain and its language made him an attractive proposition for the service. And that Kim Philby had indeed been a great friend. “When Philby defected to Russia he sent my father a postcard with the three kings on it: indicating he was indeed the third man.”

This was no ordinary ‘what did you do in the war, Daddy’ story, and by the time he was 15 Bill was convinced his father should write it down. The controversial publication of Spycatcher, by Peter Wright – whom his father had known – broke the taboo that secrets should remain secrets, opening the way for others to follow.

In the meantime Bill had left school with some healthy A Levels, and joined his father at De Beers. But a career in diamonds failed to sparkle for him. “Because I was the son of a director my road was almost carved out before I got there. I felt I’d have to toe the line.”

Toeing lines isn’t something Bill Bristow readily does. It was 1977 and he and a friend set up their own headhunting company in the City. “What amazed me was coming across school leavers who knew they wanted to go into stock broking. I didn’t know what I wanted to do even then!”

Bill is an affable chap, at ease in company, and it was through a conversation with an American stockbroker that his next notable moment came about. At the time London didn’t have a futures market – despite the fact that its time zone means it is ideally placed to trade with both New York and the Far East. Bill’s broker friend described the frustration of dealing with London: that where English companies could trade freely in the States, American companies had to buy part of an English company in order to trade.

“So I ended up writing down my thoughts, which I sent up to the Bank of England, and about three weeks later I got this call saying would you mind coming in and talking to the Secretary of the Bank of England!” Bill lets out a delighted high pitched laugh. “I said yeah ok.” (Giggle.) “We talked for four or five hours about how they were missing a fortune: trades were being bought with dollars, but everything has to be done through Sterling, so the Bank of England must be able to manipulate how trading is being done.”

It took another eight years or so to overcome entrenched systems, but a seed was sown and London did, of course, give birth to a futures market.

Bill believes his ability to think outside the established ideas of the time came from having a more international outlook. His father, though educated in Britain, was raised with a very un-British freedom: living on the Spanish copper mines, he had been allowed to roam all over the land on his horse – until being sent to British prep school, public school and Cambridge. Bill’s siblings were brought up in the British Embassy in Spain, but Bill, much younger, was raised without the inhibitions associated with their class. “We were living on a farm in Essex. My mother would suddenly realise she hadn’t seen me for hours. I’d be off on my horse.”

Self sufficiency born of such freedom, and the confidence instilled by public school probably accounts for a lot. For when, after the headhunting profession had set them up pretty comfortably his business partner’s friend wanted to make a film for the British Film Institute, Bill, as well as part funding the venture, ended up acting in the film, The Swan, and producing it. “I’d done a bit of acting at school,” he says. Among the contacts made through The Swan was a man who’d written a book about space. So Bill and his partner decided to go to Los Angeles, to try to make the book into a film.

For most of us even making the mental connection between recruiting for the City and making films is unlikely – and Bill, looking back, laughs delightedly at his young self’s arrogance: “There was I, a berk with a screenplay and a rough idea!”  Despite – or maybe because of – his berk status, Bill managed to get audiences with the likes of Verna Fields, head of Universal Pictures. “She was 68 and was tough! But she gave us loads of time, as did John Goldhammer, who took us out in his twin propeller plane!” He thinks that, for the giant heads of studios, the attraction was the sheer amusement factor. “Here were two people who had never been in film thinking you just had come over, make a booking and then you could make a film!”

But naïve cheek can only get you so far, and after working (for nothing) as production assistant on one or two films, Bill went to study film at LACC. While there, he acted as the stunt double for the Dutch actor and director Rutger Hauer in the sinister movie The Hitcher (1986), and a close friendship formed. The diminutive actor Danny de Vito was directing his first movie, The Ratings Game, and Bill did his set production.

At the LACC Bill had been set a project to make a documentary, and his subject was homelessness. Now he revisited the topic, directing his own film, Who Are They? “I found this homeless guy – well he found me really, he was begging for money – I thought he’d be a brilliant character – black, gay, epileptic, with one leg.” The music was written by Robbie Krieger, the lead guitarist of The Doors. “This was a great highlight of my life as I spent about five days with Robbie at his house in his own recording studio. I’d been a big fan since school.”

Although the resulting film was possibly “a bit too poetic for LA at the time, maybe!” – the subject chimed with a project called Hands Across America, championed by no less a figure than Whoopi Goldberg. Goldberg and Hauer went on to be Executive Producers on Bill’s film.

With the input of so many eminent people maybe it wasn’t a surprise that the film was nominated for awards at Seattle and Los Angeles Film Festivals. It also marked the start of a valuable relationship for Bill and the actress. “Although her success never really fazed her she did get shy when she was bothered by people. I think that’s why she liked going out with me: she was left alone because she was with somebody who was nobody!”

Goldberg was intrigued by the fact upper-middle class Englishman Bill was interested in homelessness in LA. “Most Americans just say ‘hey, you’re English I love your accent’,” Bill smiles. “Whoopi’s mother was homeless so it was a big issue for her. She’s a very insightful person about people.”

At Goldberg’s home, Bill met legends such as Chevy Chase (“Always likes much younger woman, very high heels, very short skirts and very large boobs. Fatal pattern!”), as well as Robin Williams, Dudley Moore and Robert Palmer. “That led to me being a final link in the Hands Across America chain with them.”

The next few years in LA saw Bill marrying an American, and working on various short films with Hauer, including a documentary so controversial that two of the people lined up to contribute disappeared without trace. “But I never really got sucked into anything concrete.” His work with Hauer had led to a fair amount of travel, and Bill began writing travel articles. “And then I ended up becoming Travel Editor for a Hollywood publication called Venice Magazine,” he says, in that sort of ‘like you do’ manner. “The first big interview we had was with Dennis Hopper, who was mad as a hatter.”

But after nine years, a couple of screen plays that came to nothing and his increasingly rocky relationship with his American wife, Bill decided it was time to go. He filed for divorce and left the States.

Next time: Spy secrets published: feelers go out for Children’s Film Festival.