Claire Lewis on researching for 28 Up

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I think he (Steve Morrison) was quite sympathetic to me doing Seven Up, and because I’d asked for him, so it suddenly came up and there I was… we’re going to do 28 Up. And there’s a very interesting story about 28 Up. Somebody else did a little tiny bit of research and handed me a piece of paper saying, “These are the people, they’re all missing, there are no programme notes.” Nobody had been in touch with them between 21 and 28. Nobody could find the files. And that was me. Steve Morrison said, “Right, off you go, you can go off and do 28.” But there was history to this. Because Mike Scott, who was then programme controller, thought that 28 Up would be boring, and they weren’t going to do it. They had decided apparently – and this is an apocryphal tale – they had decided that people are boring at 28 and there was no point doing it. And the only reason it got done was because Jeremy Wallington, who was then at Granada, series exec producer, had left and gone freelance and had set up his own company. And Jeremy Wallington said, “Well, if you don’t do it, I will. If you don’t want to do 28 Up, I will do it.” And at that point they realised they couldn’t allow that to happen. So they reluctantly, Mike Scott believing that 28 Up was going to be boring because nothing happened to people when they were 28, that was how I got the gig.
And so of course, I then set off on this momentous, world-changing, life-changing experience of working on Seven Up with absolute gusto and great delight because it’s exactly what I wanted to do. It was perfect for me at the time. Except it was tough, because there were no programme notes. I had to find people, right from the beginning. All the girls had got married and changed their names. Neil was completely missing, Symon was completely missing. No addresses, absolutely no record of where they were. And I had to start… there were a few old phone numbers of some of the people in some old programme file somewhere, I think probably the contracts department had a few contact details for some of them, but that was it. And I had to start from the beginning.

And you managed to track them all down?
I learned how to find a missing person, yes. I tracked them all down. I got to the point where I had to go through the electoral roll in Southall to find one of them. Luckily he’s got a very unusual surname so it was quite easy to do that once I realised. Finding Neil, who was completely missing, took three months. Nobody had seen him. His parents hadn’t seen him, his brother hadn’t seen him. Nobody knew where he was. Absolutely nobody. So I literally had to try and do what the police do when you’re looking for a missing person. And I did. And it’s a very interesting experience in that when you’re looking for a missing person, the way you find them is somebody always tells you something they shouldn’t. And that’s the key to it. Eventually somebody will tell you something that they shouldn’t tell you. Give you a piece of information that you shouldn’t really have. And that’s how you find them. And I finally found him, after three months of tracking him and tracking phone calls, the blind alleys, I found him in North Wales. And I found him because somebody told me, two people told me things they shouldn’t have told me. Key people. And I found him in a caravan in North Wales. Finally. And I drove there, knocked on the caravan door in the middle of this field. He opened the door and I said, “Hi, I’m Claire, I’m from Granada.” He went, “Oh, hello. Come in.” And he told me many years later, many years later, that he thought I was the cleaner come to clean his caravan, which is why he let me in. So working on that was amazing.

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