Brian Lapping

Interviewed by Geoff More, 1 November 2018.

So before we get onto the Granada time, can you tell us a bit about your background?

Well, I was born in 1937. So during the war we were shipped out of London and went to various places in the country to live and got rather well educated, and eventually went up to Cambridge.

And at Cambridge, what did you read?


History. During that time at Cambridge did you become aware of what you would like to do as a…

I was planning to become a lawyer. I was quite serious about becoming a lawyer when a chap called André Schiffrin decided to devote an issue of Cambridge Opinion, a local undergraduate journal, to the press, and he asked me to write the article about the Daily Mirror. Until then, I had never read the Daily Mirror in my life. So for an entire month, every day, I read the Daily Mirror from cover to cover meticulously and I wrote my piece. Quite soon after I’d written my piece I received a letter from the editor of the Mirror, whose name I’m afraid escapes me… Jack Nener, that was his name, yes, saying will I go and see him. So, of course, I got a train up and went to see him and, actually, I remember the arrival. I went to the office and went to the front desk and showed this letter I’d had from him, and the woman at the front desk said, “Go up to the office of the deputy editor.” I was very put down. So I went to the office of the deputy editor, and a girl outside said, “What was the price of your train from Cambridge?” So I showed her. I had a cheap day return, two and thrippence, and somebody behind her, must have been the deputy editor, said, “Put in first class return.” And then she said, “What was the price of your taxi from the station?” So I said, “I didn’t get a taxi. I got a bus,” and the chap behind shouted out, “Put in taxis from the station and here, and from here onward everywhere!” And then she said, “Where are you staying?” I said, “I’m not staying. I’ve got a cheap day return,” and the chap behind said, “Find out the cost of an overnight at the Dorchester and put that in,” and then she took me along, gave me £50, and then I went up and saw the editor, Jack Nener, and then he took me up to see… I think it was the editor-in-chief. Oh dear, I’ve forgotten his name. Anyway, the boss. So that was my first job. I got a job at the Daily Mirror. And then I moved from the Mirror to the Guardian, and from the Guardian to the Financial Times, and then from the Financial Times to New Society, and it was when I was working on New Society, a weekly magazine, I was writing leaders in New Society, and one day one of the assistants on the magazine said to me, “You had a phone call asking who wrote this week’s leader.” And I glanced at it and said, “I did, why?” And she said, “Well, somebody’s asked.” And then I had a letter, it was addressed to me, “Dear Mr Mapping.” It was not the L, it was an M. “We’ve read an article you wrote last week and would be interested to me meet you. Would you be prepared to come to Manchester to meet us?” Signed Denis Forman. And when I got there, he told me that his wife, Helen Forman, his first wife, had read the article in New Society, shown it to him, and that was why he’d asked me to come and meet him to talk about joining Granada.

Just going back to the journalism, were you a journalist or a reporter? What was your job?

Oh, yes. On the Guardian I went to India and Pakistan and various places in Africa, and I can actually show you a big article in there I wrote when I was on one of my trips to Africa. That was my main thing on the Guardian and that was why I came to be hired by the FT, and on the FT I wrote all sorts of… I was major centre page writer of columns, and then I was deputy editor at New Society, and that’s when I got hired to work for Granada.

So it’s really Denis Forman’s wife…

Helen, yes. His first wife.

His first wife, spotted something and said to Denis, “You should talk to this man.” So you went up to Manchester to meet Denis Forman.

I met Denis Forman, I met David Plowright, I met Mike Scott, and possibly one or two other people. I was, sort of, shipped round the building and introduced to everybody, and then I was offered a job.

What was that job offered to you?

Well, it was not explicit, but Denis certainly asked me how much I got paid at New Society and I lied, I told him I got paid more than I really did, and he immediately offered me more than I’d lied about. So it was a bit tempting. So he offered me a job saying, “Come up and we’ll start you in work and we’ll have interesting work for you.” That was all.

So it wasn’t specifically to work on World in Action?

Not at all. No, World in Action wasn’t mentioned, and I’m ashamed to admit at that stage in my life, I’d never watched World in Action.

So you moved up to Manchester, did you?

Yes, I moved up to Manchester, not the whole time. I still had my parental home in London. Actually, my wife… and possibly we only had one daughter. Maybe we didn’t… I think probably we did have one daughter by then, still lived in London. So I used to go up to Manchester for however many days a week it was.

So what did you do at Granada? What were the first jobs you had there?

Well, first of all I was put onto local programmes for a few weeks and sort of learned about things, and then I was given What the Papers Say to run, and I remember my first week on What the Papers Say because something odd happened. I’d come up with an idea, which I put to Jeremy Wallington, who was then the executive producer of World in Action, and the idea was to go to Lincoln. Lincoln was the seat of a Labour MP, Dick Taverne, and he was being challenged by a whole group of extreme left wingers in the Party, who looked as though they were going to succeed in throwing him out, and I said to Jeremy Wallington, “Why don’t we go and make a programme in Lincoln about the extreme left taking over the Party?” and he sent me to Lincoln with John Birt. John Birt was an actual producer on World in Action and I was just the young twit who didn’t know much about making programmes. He was there to help. And so we went and we interviewed various people in Lincoln Labour Party and, while we were in the middle of making the programme, I remember something happened. We were going to be doing an interview and I needed something from my hotel room in order to do the interview. So I nipped back to my hotel bedroom and while I was there the phone rang and I picked it up and it was Sidney Bernstein and he said, “Brian, I understand you’re taking over What the Papers Say. I’d like to tell you exactly how that programme runs and, for about 10 minutes, he lectured me on that. Of course, I had to rush back for this interview, there was a chap waiting for the interview, because I couldn’t tell the boss, Sidney Bernstein, to fuck off, could I? So I had to listen to him politely about how I was supposed to run What the Papers Say while he lectured me. And then, of course, eventually he said, “Fine,” and then I was able to go and complete the interview.

So were you a researcher?

No, I was never exactly a researcher. I was an about to be senior producer.

Did you produce What the Papers Say?

Well, I did, yes. I took over What the Papers Say. I ran that for some time.

So in what year did you join Granada?

  1. I put, “1970?” in my notes.

Oh, okay. So moving on to World in Action, how long was it before… I remember being at a meeting in, I think it was three Upper James Street, in the mid-70s, where you faced the staff of World in Action. It was meet the boss, sort of thing. Do you remember that meeting?

More than one.

More than one. Perhaps I wasn’t there more than once. Anyway, I digress. Tell me how you came to be on World in Action.

I don’t think it was anything to do with me. It was simply I was told by Denis or David Plowright or whoever, “Will you take over World in Action?” Hah! It’s come back to me. I had a telephone call. I was doing something, somewhere, I can’t remember where, but for Granada. I had a telephone call and it was David Plowright who said, “Are you willing to take on World in Action? You’ll be executive producer and the…” What was the other title? Not series producer, “You’ll be executive…”


“The editor will be Ray Fitzwalter. You’ll be happy with that?” And I said, “Sure.” So maybe I was doing What the Papers Say then, I can’t remember, but certainly I remember the call from David Plowright, and that’s somewhat surprising, the initiation of my job on World in Action.

And you were based in London for World in Action?

No, both London and Manchester. I was on the train to and fro between them constantly.

Well, this would be the sort of time I was… throughout the 70s, so I remember some of the things you’ll remember, and one of them was I was quite in awe of my colleagues. I thought they were a fearsome group of men, mainly men, who had knew how the job was done and perhaps didn’t take too kindly to outsiders. Does that ring a bell with you? Is that your experience?

I never suffered any such resistance as being an outsider. Absolutely not. I had a very luxurious and easy time there.

What did you make of them?

I thought that they were a bright enough group. I remember quite a few of them, and they were very nice to me, and I rather enjoyed working with them, but I was always interested in other things. One of the things I remember doing quite early on when I was on World in Action was saying to Denis Forman, “Why don’t we make a series about the end of the British Empire?” and he said, “Sure,” and I now realise that the sum of money he allowed me to make that series was just sensational! If I remember rightly we made 14 programmes, maybe three about India. I’m 90% certain we made one about Iran. 100% certain we made one about Egypt, several about all the other countries around the Empire and, of course, each one involved sending a team to that place and digging up various archives, and it went out on Channel 4. Actually very near one of the first big series on Channel 4. But I was still responsible for World in Action while we were doing that.

How long were you on World in Action?

I don’t think I know the answer to that question. I would say, probably, about three years, maybe four.

Yes, yes, yes. In terms of the World in Action programmes, had you seen World in Action before you came to work on it?

Well, once I was asked to work on it, of course…

Because then you saw it.

I did a little bit of quick studying, and Jeremy Wallington helped me a lot in getting prepared for it, but I, myself, thought that, for example, Ray understood World in Action much better than I did, and I was rather surprised that they were so tolerant of my rather more theoretical and abstract approach. But they were very tolerant of it.

Well, what did you make of the programmes themselves? Did you think it was a job to be done in terms of refocusing the direction of World in Action? Do you think the programmes needed… I suppose the philosophy needed changing or refreshing?

Do you know I didn’t really think analytically like that at all. What I thought was, “Can we make my sort of programmes,” and I can’t remember. But the first programme made when I took over as executive producer of World in Action, was some abstract little programme, absolute third rate rubbish, and I’m surprised they let me make it, and I can’t remember who I hired, who of the team actually worked on it, but it wasn’t in the proper World in Action tradition at all. Ray was much more fundamental to the real World in Action tradition, and there were several people I particularly enjoyed working with, John Sheppard, and various other people. They went for good, straight, simple stories. I tended to go for rather more abstract analytical stuff. Nevertheless, they let me keep on at it.

Yes. What did you like and dislike about working on World in Action?

Well, I didn’t think all the members of the team were analytical in the way I like being analytical about current affairs. They liked to tell pretty simple stories, and I wasn’t all that enthused about that, but particularly Ray had a magnificent instinct for digging out wicked stuff and I couldn’t but approve of, and I gave a lot of backing and help to Ray. He bullied the other members of the team to actually do the dirty work on some of that. I very much enjoyed working with Ray. That was terrific. Some of the others I did enjoy working with, some less. It wasn’t exactly my personality, World In Action.

No. No. What was the structure? Was Ray your boss?

No. No. I was Ray’s boss.

You were Ray’s boss. He was editor. That’s right. I forgot what the title was, the man who ran World in Action.

That’s right. Yes.

But I was around in the 70s myself working on some of those with Ray and Mike Ryan, Mike Beckham and so on.

Yes, all those were familiar chaps. Yes.

Yes. Those team meetings… I was young and they used to terrify me some of these…

When I was on the Guardian, my job was largely writing about Commonwealth affairs. I went to the subcontinent and to Africa. I wrote quite a lot of stories about the conflicts Britain was having with the rebels there and the measures that were leading, in effect, quite a number of them moving to independence, so that was a big interest for me. I did move on from the Guardian to the FT and from the FT two New Society, but those imperial stories were big in my mind. Quite early on, when I was at Granada, I said to Denis Forman, who was very relaxed and nice about ambitions and things you want to do, “Why don’t we try to make it serious about the end of the British empire?” And seeing that I was able to demonstrate to him I really knew quite a lot about it, he readily said yes. What I then did not realise was how huge an undertaking that was and how huge and complicated each of the subjects were, because of course, one wanted to get people both out there and back in London who had taken part in the conflict of the arguments. Actually, now that I remember it, bloody hell, I’d forgotten this, before I started working even at the Guardian, I worked for a Fabian Society Journal called Venture. Venture was left-wing Labour Party sort of thing. But quite a number of quite senior people from Commonwealth countries wrote to Venture and I remember them coming to see me in Dartmouth Street just by Westminster. That was why I got so enthusiastic about this theme. So a, my background on Venture, b, having written about this extensively, being able to travel to these countries when I was at the Guardian, enabled me to say to Denis Forman, “I really do know a thing or two about these people in these themes, and not only have I been to countries, I’ve met many of the top leaders.” That was how I came to sell that to him.

He responded favourably?

As far as I can recall. I don’t remember the detail of it. What I do remember is at some point when we’re making it thinking, “Bloody hell, I’m being allowed to spend an absolute bloody fortune on this.” Other programmes, and I was knowledgeable about the costs of making World in Action programmes and so on, never had budgets as large as we got for making End of Empire.

Tell us how many programmes and what length they were in the series.

Well, the series was 14 programmes, and most of them were one programme, one country, except India. We did three on India. Everything else was one programme per country. By and large, had a different team for each programme, so it was quite a big project.

What was the slot? It was on ITV, Yes?

It definitely went out on ITV. I don’t think there was any slot. I think they created the slots especially for it, and they gave it a degree of promotion, which for ITV was amazing, because it was dead serious, boring stuff. Independent television was supposed to be lively and fun.

Indeed. You mentioned Denis Forman. You weren’t aware that he went to the same college at Cambridge.

Not at all, no.

Could you just tell us that story again?

Well, I worked for Denis for years, and Denis was very nice and kind and helpful. As a matter of fact, Anne, my wife and I went to see Denis in a nursing home about two days before he died. As always, his memory was completely unimpaired. He had lots and lots of detailed recollections of people I’d worked with, things we’d done together in Granada and so forth. He was lovely and friendly and lively. Then after he died, of course I read his obits and read more about him and discovered for the first time, to my complete amazement, that he had been at Pembroke College, Cambridge the same as I had. For all those years that I’d, A, worked for him and B, been a friend and colleague, he had never told me he went to Pembroke.

Of course the reason he never told me he went to Pembroke was because he was a failure at Pembroke. He failed to get his degree, was apparently disastrous. So he just never spoke about it.

That’s a fascinating story. Can I move onto another? The Hypotheticals series? Can you tell us a bit about that and how that came about?

Well for me, it was a complete accident. Anne, my wife, was invited to take part in some event I didn’t know what the hell it was, and she told me about it. It was in Brighton and there was another chap there, , Denis Forman who was my boss at Granada. She said she’d spoken to him and they both said, “This is a technique that might make television programmes.” Anne said to me, “Why don’t you work it up and see if you can turn it into television programmes?” In those days, she worked for the Economist. I mentioned it to Denis Forman, and then Denis Forman said to me, “There’s a hypothetical, or two or three hypotheticals, taking place in India shortly. Why don’t you come to that and then you can see how it works and see if you can turn it into television programmes?” So I went, and of course Anne went with me. That was how I wrote it up and proposed it as a type of television programme to be made by Granada.

Yes. I remember. It ran for a few years, did it? Can’t remember.

I would say it ran for probably about 12 years.

Did it really? That was channel four, wasn’t it? Hypotheticals?

Sorry, I can’t remember. I don’t think so. I think it would be easy to…

I can’t remember. Yes, I think you’re right. It was.

I’m sure it was BBC2, because it was BBC2 who closed it down. It was the controller of BBC2 who I went and argued with who told me it was an out of dated formula by them, and so that they weren’t continuing with it.

I see. A mate of mine, (Adam Coughlin? 21:44), worked on that.


Yes. Would you say it was an idea of its time? Perhaps a hard one to sell these days.

I imagine that that is the case. It was a format that simply came from America. Fred Friendly who adapted it from the Harvard Law School teaching method, Fred Friendly being a journalist and academic. I remember that we hired two or three of the presenters that he had had worked with. (Arthur Miller? 22:21) and (Benno Schmidt? 22:21), and damn, I can’t remember the name of the third of them. For the first two or three, we used the American presenters who had originally been doing it in America, and then we brought in some British presenters as well. By the end, we had British presenters for it. It seemed to be, to me, a thoroughly successful format. But by the end, BBC2 decided it was out of date.

Did Denis Forman twist your arm to do World in Action?

I don’t think twist my arm is right. No. My impression is that quite early on, he told me that the possibility that I might take World in Action was on the agenda. I had friendly conversations with him and with David Plowright and with Mike Scott about how it would run and so forth. I was rather surprised when they gave me the job of whatever it’s called.

Yes. One of my colleagues said, “I think Brian Lapping was more of a scholar than a journalist.”

Yes, I think that’s possibly right.

Probably how some of them perceived, yes. Okay. On your exit from Granada, how did that come about?

Oh, well, it was perfect example. Channel 4 was about to be started, and somebody, I’m afraid I can’t remember who, said to me, “Rather than work for a company like Granada, why don’t you set up your own company and then you can sell to either the BBC or Channel 4? Because there’s a totally new market opening for making programmes?” And come to think of it, yes, by then Anne had started her company, (Brooke? 24:15) Productions, and they were making something, A Week in Politics, I think. I came in at the start of Channel 4. But actually, the first thing I did was for BBC.

Sorry, what was the first job outside of Granada for the BBC? What programme was that?

Can’t remember. Sorry.

That’s all right. What was your last Granada production that you worked on before you left? I’m going out of sequence now.

Yes. I can’t remember my last.

What was your last job with Granada? Was it Hypotheticals?

No, Hypotheticals was just something that from time to time I concentrated on. I think that, I’m very sorry, I don’t think I had a specific job right at the end. I remember going to meetings of the board with Denis and Plowright and Scott and various others talking about planning things. I remember toing and froing between London and Manchester. I do remember having some dealings with Sidney, and Cecil, and Alex. and I remember, this is outrageous, I don’t know why I should even tell you this, but when I went up to Manchester and I was sometimes partly running World in Action, but partly I wanted to do things with my own, I used to go up to the top floor where Alex was not there, so I used to take his office. I remember one occasion, I was sitting in his office working and Alex showed up, so of course I said, “I’m off. Sorry.” And he was so polite and courteous and charming. He said, “No, no, no, you stay here.” I said, “This is your office. You can’t leave me here.” Anyway, but it was very easy, charming, relaxed place.

One of the questions is what did you make of the grand days of Granada and the Bernsteins, and Denis Forman and Plowright?

Well, I did get to know Sidney moderately well. Sidney was extraordinary. Very incisive and intrusive and fascinating to talk to. Cecil I didn’t know scarcely at all. But I had quite a number of conversations with Sidney, and I always came away thinking, “That’s really a clever man.” Very ambitious and so forth, but I was definitely very impressed with Sidney. Mike Scott was much more relaxed and nice and easy, but not in the same brain league at all. But the one I most enjoyed, of course, was Denis. Denis was smashing.

Just give us your opinion of Denis Forman. You’ve talked a little bit there about Sidney. Do you remember Denis Forman?

I remember so many things about Denis, particularly Denis chairing those meetings about what programmes we should make and what effort should be put in and who should do what. Denis was, in my view, completely brilliant. He was absolutely on top of the company, prepared to work all hours of day and night. I just thought he was wonderful and he applied his might tremendously creatively to my projects, but he applied his might equally painstakingly to other projects and he would simply come in, think, read. He was just very hard working, very relaxed, lovely man, absolutely smashing. I think possibly he’s the cleverest and lightest person I’ve ever worked with.

Good. Now some general questions because looking back, talking about programmes in the 70s and 80s, early 80s for you, a golden period for Granada as well as current affairs and on the drama front, they were having smash hits. I remember that feeling as well. But, looking back on your Granada years, how did you feel about Granada as a company and how did you rate it? Did you feel that you were at the right place at the right time? What were your feelings?

I occasionally came down to, it was called LWT? Yes. Because Ann worked at LWT and I was amazed at how inferior LWT was to Granada as an organisation. We had some close friends, particularly David Elstein working in Thames. And again, I got to know Thames quite well and it was no question that there was a commitment by Denis and by Sidney to doing outrageously ambitious things. Here was independent television trying to enlarge audiences for popular programmes, and Sidney allowed Denis to spend fortunes on much, much more ambitious programmes that were never going to win those large audiences because Sidney agreed with Denis this is just really interesting. And what was that superb series that they made in India?

Jewel in the Crown?

Precisely. They spent a fortune on that and it was silly because Denis, I remember talking – not me talking, Denis talking – enthusiastically about Jewel in the Crown. It was just he was fascinated by India. Had he been born in India?

Not sure.

But he had links to India. To be around in what was supposed to be a commercial organisation when the supreme boss, Sidney, allowed the effective boss, it was then I think managing director, Denis, to spend vast sums on something that wasn’t central to what independent television was supposed to be about. And, was somewhat critically viewed by people at LWT and Thames, “God, Granada spends too much money on those boring programmes.” They didn’t really like it, but they had to transmit them because I supposed Denis or Sidney or somebody twisted arms. It was just a treat of a place to be. It was a place that was in conflict with its proper role. Its proper role was just to make money. Sidney didn’t give all his mind to making money, he gave quite a lot of his mind. He had to make enough money of course, but he gave most of his mind, I think, certainly from some of my conversations with him, to make this programme as good as it can possibly be, and it was inspiring.

It did seem to me that Granada was the Jewel in the crown of the ITV network. Would you say?

Yes. Absolutely.

Good. We’re on to number 11 now. When Channel 4 started in ‘82 I think it was, Channel 4, you saw an opportunity to forge a new direction in your career and you became an independent. And to this day you’re still an independent in the industry making programmes. How does it feel, is it better, is life better out on your own rather than within a large broadcaster?

Well since Granada was the large broadcaster I was in, and since particularly under Denis and Sidney it was such a relaxed and lovely place and I was so encouraged to make things that in my view were not part of the ITV pattern but just what I wanted to make and Denis wanted me to make. No. It wasn’t better being outside. There was a degree of independence, there was a degree of opportunity. And so, when Channel 4 came into existence and people said to me, “Why don’t you set up as an independent?” I did. It’s worked, I’ve had a lot of fun and have managed to carry on making programmes. To my amazement I’m now 81 and we’re still making programmes so it’s pretty freakish. But if you said to me was it better being an independent than working for Granada? No. It’s 50/50. It couldn’t be better than working for Granada. It was for somebody like me the most wonderful place in the world to work.

You worked a lot with Norma Percy over the years. You worked in Granada with Norma didn’t you? And since as an independent? How important has she been in your career?

Absolutely crucial. It’s quite freakish. John Mackintosh MP, Labour MP, great enthusiasm for the creation of select committees, very significant figure. At the time of a general election, I can’t think which one, 1970 something, had his ability to pay staff cut because when there’s an election you cease to be an MP. And so, he said to me, “I’ve got this bright American woman who maybe could come and work for you.” She came and helped me with Inside British Politics. Now I can’t remember what Inside British Politics was but we certainly had debates which we ran in which John Mackintosh took part. I have a memory of John Mackintosh slanging off Michael Foot and John Mackintosh slanging off Enoch Powell in one of those debates which was very much Norma’s creation. Norma has one capacity which is just unbelievably freakish, and it happens every bloody time. She is so determined to get the key interviews, and to prepare unbelievably meticulously for those key interviews. And this same thing happens, I remember it happening with, I think it was Iran and the West. We hadn’t got Jimmy Carter, the American President, and we had delivered the programmes, we finished, Norma of course kept trying and she came into my office and said, “I’ve just had a message, Jimmy Carter’s in England next week. I’m going to sit next to him at dinner, I’m going to make him give us an interview.” I said, “Norma, we’ve run out of money to deliver the programme.” She said, “I’m going to do it just the same.” She doesn’t pay any attention to me. Of course, she got Jimmy Carter and so we had to get the programmes back from the BBC and the other broadcasters. And I remember my head of production, (name? 35:24), saying to me, “Brian, we’re going to go bankrupt if you insist on reediting the programmes after we’ve delivered them.” But of course, if Norma gets me Jimmy Carter what can I do? And Norma always does that, she persists and persists and persists in trying to get the key interviewees, irrespective of anything else that’s going on. She persists and persists. Let me just tell you another story about Norma. This was The Death of Yugoslavia and we had tried and tried and tried and we got practically everybody. We had not got Milošević, Milošević who was the president of Serbia. She eventually got Milošević, and of course we sent a crew down and she was there with the crew. I didn’t go. And the following happened. They had a little room set up next to Milošević’s office and the presidential palace, and cameras were set up, everything was ready. The president’s secretary came in a said, “President Milošević has asked me to give you this letter which you must sign.” And it said, “We hereby undertake that this interview will be broadcast in full.” So of course Norma signed it and we got the interview. When she came back to London I thought, “Fuck me. What do I do about this?” I went in to see the controller at BBC2. I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten who it was. I said, “Look Norma has signed this letter to Milošević saying that we’re going to broadcast the interview in full, and of course always we cut interviews. We will intercut him with Tuđman or however else from the… presidents of the other states. And he said, “Brian, you’re in luck. We have just started broadcasting from midnight til 6:00 AM. We can broadcast this in full at 3:00 AM.” And that’s what we did. Well, Norma is like that, she is absolutely obsessive about getting what has to be got, be it the precise question, the detailed information, or most significantly of all the interviewee. Basically the only thing I’m any good at writing and putting in the odd comma. But she contributes the determination to get the key figures, and that’s what actually is this most significant thing about the success of our series.

That’s what I remember of her, in the Golden Square I remember her coming across and I just thought she was about the most hardworking person I’d ever met inside of Granada.

That is one of the little problems that I have with her, she rings me at 11:00 at night and says, “Will you do this before tomorrow morning?” And of course I have to get it downloaded and do it and take it into the office the next morning. And she still does that.

I suppose this is the final question, is the last one as follows. I would like your thoughts on the current scene for current affairs and politics. We live in troubled times I think is fair to say, and social media plays a part in that. Things are quite divisive internationally and nationally and so on, in lots of ways. For you as a documentary maker, is it harder to make programmes in this climate now?

Well it is, yes, now. But that is because the budgets we get are lower than they used to be.

Yes. You were talking about how different it is making programmes now as an independent, you mentioned budgets. Perhaps you could pick that up again?

The sum that we get from the BBC is less than it was. We, of course, continue to be able to get lots from lots and lots of broadcasters around the world because they have shown our programmes. But, they nearly all pay us less than they used to so that the budget for making our current Europe series is less per programme than we have been accustomed to having. And the budget for our Cuba series that we’re working on is less than we’re accustomed to having per programme for such a series. So it’s getting harder, and of course we notice that the traditional broadcasters are being displaced by people doing stuff online, and young people never watching television anymore, not traditional television. And so, I’m feeling I’m jolly glad I’m ageing and getting out of it at about the right time.

Do you intend to retire at some point?

I will retire as soon as there’s no demand for me to carry on doing stuff. I tremendously enjoy being asked to do things and finding that I can still do them. At the age of 81 the fact that my colleagues in Brook Lapping find my rewriting of a script, my writing of a draught letter to President Sarkozy or whoever, helps them, cheers me up. It’s quite nice going into the office and finding people value you, so of course I want to carry on going in. But, I suspect be it next week or next month or next year, they’re going to find, “Oh that’s old fart’s past it” and I’ll have to stop.

Okay. Flabbergasted. I think that Sidney Bernstein was not an ordinary businessman in any sense of the word. I mean, there he was, he won the contract to be the ITV head of programmes, head of production, head of a company for the north west, but actually he didn’t apply his mind to the narrow question of making a profit from just making programmes in the north west, or even the north west and doing a small contribution to the ITV national output. What he seems to me to have set out to do was, what I find fascinating, what I find intriguing, what I find ambitious. He was the prime inspiration… of course, that he employed Denis Forman, and that Denis was able to do the actual work of creativity on all those things, was decisive. But, of course, Denis couldn’t have done it without Sidney’s backing. You’ve got to have the boss behind you, and I just think Sidney was sensational.

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