He turned to film production in the late 1960s, working with Sanford Lieberson’s production company Goodtime Enterprises. His success as a producer include, Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express, The Duellists, Chariots of Fire (which won the Academy Award for Best Picture), Local Hero, Memphis Belle and The Killing Fields. In 1982 he received the BAFTA Michael Balcon Award for his outstanding contribution to the British Film Industry. One of his finest films, The Mission, won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival in 1986.
He was Chair and Chief Executive Officer of Columbia Pictures from 1986 to 1988. Following his retirement from film production in 1998, Lord Puttnam now focuses his work on the field of education. He was appointed president of UNICEF UK in 2002 and has since played a key role in promoting UNICEF’s advocacy, awareness and fundraising objectives. In addition to founding the National Teaching Awards in 1998, he served as Chairman of NESTA (the National Endowment for Science, Technology and the Arts) from 1998 to 2003 and was elected as the inaugural Chair of the General Teaching Council for England in 2001 and was for ten years (1996 to 2006) Chancellor of the University of Sunderland.
In February 2006, he was awarded the Orange BAFTA Fellowship of the Academy.
In 2007 Lord Puttnam was appointed Chancellor of the Open University.
“Lord Puttnam’s achievements across the whole education arena – most notably his work in encouraging excellence and opportunity – make him a particularly good choice for the role of Chancellor. He embodies a vision of encouraging educational aspiration for all – a vision that precisely reflects the University’s mission”. said Professor Brenda Gourley, the University’s Vice-Chancellor on his appointment.
Alongside his vision for encouraging education as an aspiration for all, Puttnam also, quite logically, stresses broadband access as an essential component in the distance learning model advocated by the OU, but also as an essential ingredient in any attempt to rethink Ireland’s economy. At a conference for independent entrepreneurs and Small Office Home Office (SOHO) enterprises in Kinsale in 2009, he pointed to forward-thinking nations like Singapore and their ongoing investment in next-generation communications infrastructure, using them to highlight the shortfall of similar forward thinking and investment in Ireland. Lord Puttnam warned that unless Ireland acts fast to catch up with international competition it’s in danger of becoming a ‘communications backwater’ in what he called ‘the golden age of information’.
David Puttnam believes Ireland’s industrial policy should strive to make the country the smartest nation on earth. This, he said, should be achieved by investing in talent and infrastructure rather than relying solely on low corporate taxation. An outspoken critic of multinationals earning revenues in one country but paying their taxes elsewhere, Puttnam believes Ireland should be positioning itself to be a global innovation leader by being the location of choice, because the country has the best trained and smartest talent. Lord Puttnam sits on the board of the educational IT company Promothean.
Speaking in his capacity as Chair of the UK’s Joint Parliamentary Committee on Climate Change, he said “Ireland should focus on being the best connected country in the world, not just in terms of physical infrastructure, but if you want a combination of modern language skills, good hook-ups with excellent universities, great research capacity, your first choice should be Ireland.
My greatest single fear is that Ireland tries to devise an economic future based on becoming a kind of Lichtenstein-on-Sea, but at best that might get you a 15-year furlough before reality sets in.
There are politicians who believe their responsibilities involve looking only fifteen years ahead; those people are typified by also being in the forefront of climate denial! But if you are a genuinely serious politician, and you want to make any real mark on your country, you have an obligation to be thinking now about 2025 and beyond.”