The versatile British director/producer has died in London, aged 81. 
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11 Jan 2011 - 12:09 PM  UPDATED 26 Feb 2014 - 4:08 PM

Directing Steve McQueen in Bullitt, Peter Yates climbed into the back of a Ford Mustang while the star roared along the streets of San Francisco at nearly 200km per hour. When they reached the last downhill section Yates tapped McQueen on the shoulder and said, “We can slow down now, we're almost out of film.” To which the actor replied laconically, “We can't. There aren't any brakes.”

Bullitt was among the most memorable films directed by the Brit, who died in London on Sunday aged 81, after a long, unspecified illness."

A graduate of the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, Yates started out as an actor in repertory theatre but got such lousy reviews he gave up. After working as an assistant director on films such as D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, The Guns of Navarone and A Taste of Honey, he made his directorial debut in 1963 with the Cliff Richard musical Summer Holiday. Branching into TV, he directed episodes of The Saint and Danger Man, then in 1967 he directed and co-wrote Robbery, a dramatisation of 1963's Great Train Robbery of 1963.

After the success of Bullitt, his first US film in 1968, he worked with Mia Farrow and Dustin Hoffman in the romantic drama John and Mary and with Peter O'Toole in Murphy's War.

He was nominated for Oscars four times as the director and producer of 1979's Breaking Away, a coming-of-age film about working class friends who compete in a cycling race, and for the 1983 drama The Dresser, which starred Albert Finney and Tom Courtenay.

His other films included The Friends of Eddie Coyle, a Boston crime drama starring Robert Mitchum, Mother, Jugs & Speed, an ambulance-chasing comedy featuring Bill Cosby and Raquel Welch, and The Deep, an undersea thriller with Jacqueline Bisset and Nick Nolte, which was critically maligned but became his biggest hit, earning $US51 million at US cinemas in 1977.

Among his lesser efforts were the 1974 comedy For Pete's Sake, starring Barbra Streisand, the 1983 sword and sorcery saga Krull, and 1995's Roommates, a sentimental tale of an elderly man who moves in with his grandson, which some critics judged was redeemed only by Peter Falk's virtuoso performance.

His last theatrical feature was 1999's Curtain Call, which starred Michael Caine and Maggie Smith as theatrical ghosts. His final directing effort was the telemovie A Separate Peace in 2004.

He is survived by his wife Virginia Pope, son Toby, daughter Miranda and two grandchildren. His family is planning a private funeral.