TV and film director;

Born: February 15, 1947; Died: February 13, 2012.

Jim O'Brien, who has died aged 64, was born into poverty in Dundee but went on to make an indelible mark on British television with two notable drama series of the 1980s, both set in societies where birth, class and privilege meant everything.

The Jewel in the Crown (1984) was one of the most expensive drama series ever made for British television. Set during the last days of the Raj, it featured rape, torture and corruption, but viewers were charmed by the costumes, exotic locations and the elegance and grandeur of a lost age.

The Monocled Mutineer (1986) was set during the First World War and revolved around Percy Toplis, a real-life character, who pretended to be an officer, and according to the drama orchestrated a mutiny. The series empathised with Toplis (Paul McGann) and outraged Conservative politicians.

Relations were already at a low point with the BBC, which stood accused of left-wing bias. The series prompted accusations that the BBC was rewriting history for its own ends, with suggestions that soldiers were shot without trial and the Secret Service was involved in a plot to kill a Labour politician.

O'Brien graduated to the big screen with The Dressmaker (1988), which was written and produced by John McGrath and starred Joan Plowright, Billie Whitelaw and a debutant Jane Horrocks.

An adaptation of a Beryl Bainbridge novel, it was set in Liverpool during the Second World War, but key personnel behind the cameras were Scottish, and the intention had been to shoot most of it in Scotland.

However the film-makers could not find suitable studio space. Nevertheless it was chosen to open the 1988 Edinburgh Film Festival.

O'Brien's film career never really took off and he returned to work in television without ever attracting the acclaim or controversy accorded The Jewel in the Crown and The Monocled Mutineer.

O'Brien was born in Dundee, where his father was a labourer and his mother worked in a jute mill. They moved to England when O'Brien was an infant and he grew up in London. He left school at 15, had a series of jobs and got involved in acting.

He secured a place at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London and gained experience as an actor and director at Nottingham Playhouse. After a stint running a small theatre in Soho, he enrolled at the National Film and Television School. "I was interested in the scale of the arena, the scale of story telling," he said.

His film school shorts helped land commissions for single dramas at the BBC – Another Day (1978); Shadows on Our Skin (1980), about a boy growing up against the backdrop of "The Troubles" in Northern Ireland; and Jake's End (1982), which explored the sense of community among small-time crooks.

Serious period drama had been largely the preserve of the BBC, but Granada had thrown down the gauntlet with its lavish adaptation of Brideshead Revisited (1981) and they poached O'Brien from the BBC for The Jewel in the Crown, a 14-part adaptation of Paul Scott's Raj Quartet novels.

O'Brien was one of two directors on the production and he won a Bafta award for best drama series.

Any thoughts that O'Brien might settle for turning out period dramas in which the conflicts had been suitably softened by geography and time were vanquished by The Monocled Mutineer. It was set in the early part of the 20th Century, but it was perceived as an attack on British cultural traditions and values.

O'Brien's later credits include The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles (1992) and a TV movie version of Rebecca (1997), which reunited him with Jewel in the Crown stars Charles Dance and Geraldine James, and featured Diana Rigg and Faye Dunaway.

He also taught at the National Film and Television School and the Met Film School in London. He is survived by his wife Christine and two sons.