Alan J. ‘Willy’ Wands, a producer of The Magdalene Sisters and detective series Rebus was an outspoken advocate of the Scottish production industry. Willy had more than 35 feature film credits and numerous TV drama series to his name.
Born in Ayr, on the west coast of Scotland, he started his career in the 1970s in theatre before moving into screen work as an associate producer on features including Mike Figgis’ 1988 crime drama Stormy Monday and David Hayman’s 1990 gritty drama Silent Screen.
Willy went on to executive produce the hit comedy drama East Is East, which debuted at Cannes in 1999; line produce Bill Forsyth’s Gregory’s Two Girls; co-produce Terence Davies’ The House Of Mirth, which screened at Toronto in 2000; and co-produce Peter Mullan’s The Magdalene Sisters, which won the Golden Lion at Venice in 2002.
He was also an accomplished assistant director on films including Paul W.S. Anderson’s Shopping, starring Jude Law, Shekhar Kapur’s Elizabeth: The Golden Age, TV drama series The Borgias and more recently coming-of-age drama Beats.
In recent years, Wands worked as the executive producer and line producer on UK box office hit The Gentlemen, directed by Guy Ritchie; was the producer of ITV crime drama The Loch; and was a producer of Gillies MacKinnon’s 2016 remake of Ealing classic Whisky Galore.
He also served as the production supervisor on Liam Neeson action thriller Unknown.
You can see details of Willy's career here: IMDb
Read Screen's tribute to Willy here.
Read a tribute from The Times to Willy here.
Memories of Willy
Brian Donovan and Steve Clark-Hall
"On Sunday we lost a friend and colleague. Alan J ‘Willy’ Wands passed peacefully after an illness. He was at home with his family, Julia his wife and their two daughters Ola and Georgia.
Willy, above all, was grounded and never allowed the heady heights of international feature film making to turn his head. Ultimately and always he was - in his own words - 'a small working class boy from Maybole who wanted to work in movies’.
And he let everybody know that.
An inspiration to many of us across generations, Willy was often described as a Force of Nature. Those of us who knew him remember no problem being so small that Willy could not become enraged, no problem too big that he could not calmly fix! And most of all, he made us laugh while he went about it.
He started his career in the 70s in Scottish theatre at Borderline, the Glasgow Citizens, and Calton Studios. With the emergence of Channel 4 in the 80s, he moved into Film and TV along with a generation of fellow theatre types who became the new entrants for a re-energised Scottish industry. Willy was front and centre in that crew and, in his heart, remained always a Scottish film technician.
Based variously in Glasgow or London, his career encompassed Commercials, TV Drama, domestic and international Independent features, and Major US Studio Features across the span of four decades. He excelled as an Assistant Director and Production Manager. Latterly he was valued as a Producer.
He was welcomed and befriended by crew, cast, and producers wherever he went both at home and abroad. His generosity of spirit and unbending professionalism made him a true ambassador for the British industry.
Willy will be missed greatly by those who knew him. A unique dynamism, charisma, and relentless and all-welcoming humanity set him apart.
He was the Flower of Scotland’s Film Industry. We may never see his likes again."
”I first met Willy when he worked on Restless Natives back in the mid-1980s. He was immediately likeable, and passionate, with a winning smile and a quiet determination to make films in spite of his humble beginnings.
”We remained good friends over the years, and almost came close to working together a couple of times. Willy was known for not ’taking any prisoners’, and somehow managed to do this in a way that made everyone love him. A valuable asset for a producer. Everybody loved him. He will be sorely missed.”
Michael Wilson, Producer - Outlander
"I first met Willy in 1999, on a film called Beautiful Creatures. He was the Producer, I was the floor runner. I was the lowest of the low. But you wouldnae ken it. Willy always took time to make conversation and seemed genuinely interested in me. He had an uncanny ability to make you feel like an equal. Whatever the occasion he was as likely to spend as much time talking to the unit drivers and facilities team as he did talking to the actors. Eight year's later, Willy would promote me to become his Production Manager. It was a position I enjoyed undertaking on a number of other occasions. He was old school in his methods, tough and often blusteringly so, but he had a sensitive side too, and could also be hilariously funny. He believed in me before I believed in myself. He gave me confidence, what a gift to give. We all loved him and loved working with him. He was a wise and generous teacher. He taught me about schedules and budgets. He looked me in the eye very seriously one day when we were budgeting and told me what an important skill it was, ‘one day soon it will be your responsibility you know, to bring in the work for everyone’. And that’s the way he saw it. He was a provider and he provided a lot, for a great many.
Often on a recce, as is the standard on these things, someone would make a suggestion which had a significant expense attached to it. Like a DP saying ‘the only way to get that shot is with a technocrane’. Or a gaffer saying he needed a particularly expensive light. The budget was often tight so the statement would be accompanied with a pregnant silence. Eyes would cautiously fall toward me and Willy. He’d look at me and shake his head. Perhaps an intake of breath. He’d lower his eyes, remove his wallet from his back pocket and he’d mop his brow dramatically. Then he’d turn and walk away from the group, shaking his head. It said it all. He didn’t over-use this little performance. It was sparingly employed, but it did the trick every time and I loved it. Genius!
Many of Willy’s turns of phrase have entered into the Scottish industry jargon. Here’s a few of our favourites:
A Molly, Milly, Mandy Map - Detailed location site plan.
The Ying and the Yang – The fine art of balancing the budget (something he was particularly good at).
The Village Idiot – Often used to refer to an Executive Producer, but could be pointed at any member of the crew who had a track record of bad decisions.
A Monkey Smoking a Pipe – Any item which held great significance to somebody, but which Willy knew was completely pointless.
Assumption is the mother of all f*ck ups – no explanation needed.
The Swallay Runner – The person who buys the wine (swallow) around callsheet time (any runner who was close to hand).
C*ntish – any event which had not gone to plan.
Willy was gifted producer, a kind and caring person with a huge personality. We all feel lucky to have known him and we will all miss him dearly."
"Willy and I first met when we worked together on the movie Salt On Our Skin it was shot around the east cost of Scotland and the Virgin Isles.
I went on to do a another seven pictures with Willy including 51st State and The Magdalen Girls. In all the time we new each other at work or play I never had a crossed word with Mr Wands we were always in perfect harmony.
My thoughts are with Jules, Ola and Georgia at this time, this is a terrible tragedy, Willy was taken far too young he still had a big job to do within our wonderful industry.
Willy Wands was a truly great man and a wonderful friend, I doubt if he will ever be replaced in our lifetime - there is no one around who can take up his role.
Sleep well "Bonnie Lad," we're gonna miss you forever."
"I first worked with Willy in the 90’s when I Production Supervised a series with him, in Leeds, called Seaforth. We got on well and kept in touch.
Some time later, I had become Head of Production for Granada Film and Willy Line Produced one of our films called Rogue Trader. At our first meeting he greeted me with his beaming grin and said ‘Ah ha, the poacher has turned game keeper.’
More recently, I was working for Left Bank Pictures, Co-Producing a number of series called Strike Back. Willy and I had always kept in touch and I suggested he come in and meet, with a view to Producing one of the Countries.
We met with Left Bank Execs and before the meeting had really got underway Willy launched into a vitriolic attack on one of the Directors who had worked on the previous season.
It went very quiet. This Director was lined up to be the lead on the next series. Willy beamed, thanked us for coffee and wished us good luck.
I shall miss him, Bill."
"The best thing about working on the film Venus Peter in the Orkney Islands was Mr. Wands. Clever, funny and just wonderful to work for."
"I first had the pleasure of working with Willy and what I fondly termed the Glasgow McFia on the film “Restless Natives”. Only the once but, like Willy never to be forgotten."
"Here's to you Willy Wands, yer some man.....never thought that being held in a headlock at a wrap party being threatened with, 'you're mine now' could have a positive steer, but it did. What a privilege to stand by your side.
You were our fearless leader and lead you did.
What an honour and a pleasure, this place will never be the same without you. Love you always, RIP Willy ❤️"
"Working for Willy on The Gentleman was a career hi-light for me. His knowledge of the industry was vast and he dispensed advice generously and always with an anecdote or two. His ability to regale a story with detail and a cracking punchline was something else. He cared about the future of the industry and was a big advocator of nurturing new talent. He made me laugh every day and despite his sometimes gruff exterior he was a big hearted soul. He will be greatly missed."
"Godspeed to you now Willy. Will never forget the fun and laughter including, "Eating the spam with a pen in your hotel room in Lagos." Story teller, family man and all round good guy. May your soul and all the souls of the faithfully departed Rest In Peace."
"I am so sad to hear of the death of Willy Wands. Willy gave me my first job 25 years ago and is still the bar against which I measure all subsequent Line Producers - few come close."
Andy Harris, Production Designer
"I first met Willy in The Griffin Bar Glasgow in 1982. On a glorious summer’s evening we forged a friendship that I cherish to this day. In the industry he worked as a buyer, location manager, 1st AD, production manager and producer and as a consequence he knew every nut and bolt of a production. As a producer he would wander around various departments looking over shoulders finding out what was going on, mischievously making fun of all our efforts and asking, “What’s going on here then, what is that going to cost me?" I never had to disagree with him about the art dept budget, as he had worked it out beforehand. My various art dept crews loved working on a "Willy Wand's Show," it would be organised, he would look after them, it would be artistically satisfying and without doubt it would be tremendous great fun. People who knew and worked with him will all miss him terribly, he was such a huge fascinating character and one of the finest human beings I have ever had the pleasure of knowing."
The last time I saw him was early last year. We were in a quirky little wine bar he loved in Ealing, Crispin’s. We stood at the bar. I wish I could recount great pearls of wisdom, profound moments or lessons learned from a life richly lived, but we just stood together, talking of nothing and everything and all points in between.
I wish now, of course, that we were still there...
Behind the scenes was Willy’s stage. The cast and crew, his audience. His energy inspired us and our industry fuelled him.
Such a life, such an energy, such a genuine, wilful joy in work and play, How can such a force be gone?
Truth is, he isn’t gone. If we can remember his energy as we continue in this duller world, if we can carry a piece of his lifeforce to our next films, TV shows or plays, then he will forever live on.
And who can say fairer than that...
"In case people hadn't heard, one of the best producers in the business died this morning - Willy Wands RIP. He will be sorely missed, not least for his arse-kicking."
Eddie Marsan, Actor
"One of the best from British cinema, Willy Wands has passed away. I worked with him as a producer on Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. He was as Straight as a dye, called it as it was and hilariously funny. One of those people who make you proud to be in this profession."
Jack Thomas O'Brien
"Really sorry to hear that today a legend of Scottish cinema died. Alan J 'Willy' Wands. He was the 1st AD on 'Beats'. I remember the first day he turned up and everyone knew the whole thing would come together from that point. A HUGE presence I will not forget. Rest in peace Willy."
Sean Biggerstaff, Actor
"Christ. Willy Wands is away. He was an absolute one-off. By far the most comprehensively capable producer I've ever encountered and a total maniac in a brilliant way. Seemed immortal to me. Tragic timing as his wake, under normal circumstances, would be one for the ages. RIP."
"You never know how much a person is going to have an influence on your life. He was my mentor and friend. A straight talking no nonsense person who told you it as it is and who I could always turn to. The world is a sadder place. RIP Willy Wands, your legend lives on."
Peter Harness, Writer
"Terribly sad to hear about the passing of Willy Wands. A great man, brilliant producer on every level and could give the best bollocking in the business. Loved and respected by all who were lucky enough to work with him. Will be missed like crazy. RIP."
Liverpool Film Office
"So very sad to hear of the passing of a friend to Liverpool, Producer, Willy Wands. We have very fond memories of working with him on ‘The 51st State’ with Samuel L Jackson, where he gave so many local talent their first break into the film industry. RIP Willy."