Brian Lapping’s gratitude to his colleague, Norma Percy

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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, saying to me, “Brian, we’re going to go bankrupt if you insist on re-editing 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.

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