Norma Percy describes the journalistic reconstructions she made with Granada

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Brian (Lapping), very soon, with our fly on the wall films, we discovered that you could only get access to what they really want to let you in for, and it’s not the top stuff. Therefore you have to find other ways of doing it. It wasn’t the top stuff. He came up with two ways that were the reverse of each other.

Hypotheticals when you’ve got the real people who did the decisions, and you got them to discuss hypothetical cases which were very much based on the real ones. It was the people who took the decisions telling you how they took the decision on a hypothetical case.

Journalist reconstructions are the reverse. When there was a huge row between cabinet, and then we went on to do international EU ones, and again, something leaked out. We got the top journalist in the cabinet case, we got the top journalist, who seemed from his writings to be closest to the cabinet minister who was taking a particular position.

Peter Jenkins… no, the first one was Adam Rafael, who is another person who is still working, he’s on The Economist. Adam Rafael had seemed to… Eric Varley. I think Eric Varley was the minister of industry and he wanted to let Chrysler go. And a story briefed by Eric Varley appeared in the Economist.

Then Peter Jenkins had a fantastic piece in the Guardian, which was briefed by, I think, Harold Lever and yes, they must have been because …., Harold Lever, and it said that he made the case for bailing out Chrysler.

And then David Watt had a fantastic piece in the FT, which seemed to be based on Wilson, because it put the prime minister’s point of view, and deciding between them.

So each of those people… and we then peopled the rest of the cabinet with top journalists, were told to go back to their guy, say, “I’m playing you on television, you have to tell me exactly what happened in cabinet, and what you said, and what they said to you and I’ve got to get this right.” And it was very good, it made the journalists work hard because they were going out, and they were going to be on television, and they couldn’t make a fool of themselves, and it made the politician want to… well, it gave them anonymity because we couldn’t say they were briefed by them. We said they know politicians well, and I sat there gathering these reports of everybody going to see their cabinet minister.

And then before we shot each scene, I drafted a scenario. But before we shot each scene we would have an argument, which was even more exciting, between the various journalists about what happened. Because sometimes their accounts differed, and we had to come to some basic agreement as to what happened and we would shoot the scene and then we would discuss it.

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Brian Lapping was a genius at finding ways of finding ways of doing these things.

 

The BBC wasn’t doing anything like this.

Nothing like this, no. And they went out as World In Action’s, and everybody thought in those days that Panorama was better at politics than World In Action, but I think these things were… they got at the truth. But something occurred to us when doing the international ones. Because in one sense, all you could say is this is the ravings of journalists, and you couldn’t say that… it was the truth.

The EU ones were even better because each journalist had the national characteristic of their guys, so that the chap who played Giscard was tall and elegant and looked like he changed his shirt three times a day, and the German was also terribly supercilious, and when it came onto the Mrs Thatcher era, we got Sarah Hogg who absolutely had the manner of Mrs Thatcher down. But people didn’t believe them.

So I realised that one of the prime ministers had left between the meetings and the broadcast, and we showed him the fine cut and filmed his reaction. And that was something that made people believe it, because one of the ones… he didn’t even have to say, he didn’t have to give secrets. He would come in at the end of a scene and he would say, “Yes, Mrs Thatcher really was that arrogant and bullying.” And so it gave it credibility.

But it started in my head the fact that you really need to have the real people talking about the real events to get people to believe you. I mean, those five journalist reconstructions I think are absolutely accurate, but nobody knew it.

 

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