Claire Lewis on tracking down the participants for 28 Up

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I suppose 28 Up had the funniest stories. They were the ones where – I mean, there’s constant funny stories – but you have to remember, that when we made 28 Up there were no mobile phones. And I found Neil, who was a missing person, in this field in Wales. The problem with Neil was he kept moving – he was homeless. So he would move, and he would never stay in one place more than three or four days. And I could not keep track of him. I couldn’t keep track of him. He then moved up to the Highlands of Scotland, and I had to try somehow and find a way of tracking him. There were no phones. He wouldn’t use the phone anyway, and I had to arrange for this Hollywood film director to come over and film him with a big film crew, with George Turner and everybody, all of us. And I couldn’t find him. So eventually I worked out a system where I realised that the only thing… he had to collect his giro, Social Security, money every week. And the only place he could do that was in post offices in the Highlands. So what I did was I befriended all the people who ran the local post offices, and they would pin notes for me on their notice board for Neil. And I said, “If Neil comes in, you have to tell him this, you have to get him to read the notice board, and you have to tell him this.” It was the only way. So I had to fix two days filming in the Highlands, three days’ filming.
So we fixed the shoot, we went to him, we flew to Inverness with a film crew and Michael, and we were all waiting around. We fixed a time and a place, and I didn’t know whether Neil had got any of my messages. I had no alternative but to try. So we were all there waiting at the appointed time, the appointed place, and I had absolutely no idea whether Neil was going to turn up or not. And absolutely bless him, we waited about half an hour, and Michael – who is not the most famous person on the planet – was about to have a bit of a nervous breakdown, and bless him he turns up. Have you got one of the many, many hundreds of messages that I had plastered all over the walls of the post offices, and he said, “You left me a lot of messages!” I said, “Yes, I did, actually.” So we did that.
And then the worst experience was, one of the people in 28 Up, Symon, had basically… he changed his life a lot between seven and 28. I’d met him and I found him, he was also missing, but I found him. And we had arranged that we would film in Chessington Zoo for a whole day with Michael. It was all arranged, I’ll get a mini bus, I’ll pick you all up. He’d already have five children between 21 and 28. He’d got no children at 21 and five children by 28. So it was a good, interesting story. I turn up at 8am on a Saturday to film, nobody there in his flat. Nobody there at all. No reply No response. Knock on the door. Nothing. I had a film crew waiting at Chessington Zoo with Michael, Hollywood film director, and no way of communicating. Okay. I wait for about half an hour, three quarters of an hour, outside the flat. Nothing. Knock on the door again. Nothing. Knock on the door again. Nothing. Okay. After about an hour I saw the curtains twitch in the flat. I thought, “They’re in there!” So I went and knocked on the door and opened the letterbox and said, “Hi – are you in there? What’s the problem? Do you want to have a chat?” You know, “Why don’t we just talk about this?” Anyway, so reluctantly he let me in. They were hiding behind the sofa because he didn’t want to do the film.

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