Three-D Issue 28: Obituary: Professor Mike O’Brien

Mike O’Brien was my colleague at the University of Sunderland from 1996 to 2005. He was born in Morpeth, north-east England but was a naturalised Australian. He had been an English teacher and lecturer in teacher education in Zimbabwe and New Zealand and a producer and designer of curriculum resources and customised media services in Fiji, Australia and the UK. At Sunderland, as well as leading the film and video team, his brief was to move our media production resources into the digital 21st century. Brokering a partnership with Sony UK, he masterminded the design concept and management of building a high spec. integrated Media Centre for Film, TV, Radio Production and Journalism. Overlooking the River Wear, The Sony Media Centre (Now the David Puttnam Media Centre) remains a high quality centre for Media Production courses including the highly rated MA TV & Video Production which Mike developed. He had a huge energy and appetite for getting things moving and was a master of networking to promote film and media practice education across the world (particularly in China) and he spent many hours mentoring students past and present. On retirement from Sunderland Mike continued to lecture at Chinese Universities, and with his partner, Professor Sue Thornham, he managed the conversion of a ‘dilapidated cow and tractor shed’ in France. Before he died (of a cancer that he called Bruno after a particularly recalcitrant French neighbour, although he also said that it was a toss up between him and Rupert Murdoch), he wrote a book called ‘Tomorrow the Palace- A $10 Billion Scam’, based on his experiences during a short but traumatic and eventful period of his life in the Philippines.

Mike’s influence can be summed up by one of his Sunderland students, now working as producer for James Corden’s Late Late show in Los Angeles: “he touched the lives of many young, aspiring, visionary film makers. He gave us the tools, the passion and the drive to succeed…he was an inspiration, without his guidance and wise words of advice many would not have succeeded. His ‘maverick’ style affected many in a truly positive way; a stand out influence with his humour, honesty, integrity and kindness always present.”

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