Arthur Taylor on producing the Cinema programme

When I was at university in London, I frittered away my time going to the cinema – I was a member of the National Film Theatre – going to the pub, and playing a lot of jazz. What I didn’t realise was that the time I frittered away became far more useful than the degree! So I used to rabbit on about film because I’d read the books about Eisenstein and Pudovkin on directions. Didn’t know anything about it, but I’d read the books and talked about the classic films and so on and so forth. So something completely out of the blue, Scott said to me, “Plowright wants to see you.” I said, “Oh? What for?” he said, “Well, go and find out!” So I had no idea. No idea. So I went in and David’s there, and he said, “We want you to take over Cinema. Do you think you can do it?” And my instinctive response every time at Granada was always, “Yes, of course!” without thinking about it. So I said yes, of course I can do it. Yes. And I did. And they really, really dropped me in it because Mike Parkinson had just left and gone to the BBC. He’d been presenting Cinema very successfully. And so there was no presenter, and there were a few programmes still to go. And the only thing that happened was that Plowright said, “Well, you’d better take Johnny Hamp with you on the first interview,” because Johnny Hamp had been producing Cinema with Mike Parkinson. So we went down to Golden Square, and thank God there was a terrific team at Golden Square. A wonderful researcher called Nora Watts, a nice guy called Graham Murray, Leslie Halliwell, of course, was there, so they knew their stuff. They were incredibly helpful. The system was that when you interviewed someone, you went to a posh restaurant that they had decided on, it’s kind of a club, can’t remember the name. Had lunch with whoever it was, brought them back to Golden Square, did the interview – on camera, not on video – and then stitched it together into a programme.
And again, I was lucky. The guy that I interviewed was called Norman Jewison. He was a Canadian director who was very famous because he had already won Oscars for a wonderful film called In the Heat of the Night, with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. And he was in town to publicise another of his films, it was his version of Fiddler on the Roof. And so we sat down and this dinner table, Johnny Hamp and this guy and a minder from the film company. And we chatted, and I was being very earnest and asking very serious questions. And I don’t know whether this would be for publication, but it is true. And I must tell you. And so Johnny Hamp is clearly very bored by me in the conversation and everything, and suddenly turns to Norman Jewison and says, “Who do you think has got the biggest dick in Hollywood?” I nearly fell through the floor in embarrassment! And Norman said… burst into (??) and went into a long spiel about who the possible candidates were. And he said apparently Milton Berle. He told a terrible story, which I won’t repeat, about Milton Berle’s dick. And so the ice is broken, this guy’s talking. So we went to do the interview and we stitched it together. And I never saw Johnny Hamp again. And the next round before the next… I must have done quite a few programmes with no presenter, and then we had a break. And then I had chance to do some auditions, and there were quite a few people who wanted to do it who I didn’t want. Kind of quite important film critics and people already on television shows of one sort or another. And I did a series of auditions with this guy called Clive James. Now, Clive has written this up, it’s in the third volume of his Unreliable Memoirs, memories, whatever they are. And what he says is not quite true. Because what happened was, there was a guy called Malcolm Southern, who was on World in Action, who I knew very well, and he tipped me off that this bright guy, this Australian guy, was doing What the Papers Say, and was rabbiting on, boring everybody shitless about film. So I thought, “Well, he sounds interesting,” and I watched the programme and he seemed… he was all right, but he gabbled his words. He was too fast, and he swallowed the end of every sentence. And he looked weird. But he was obviously an extraordinary wordsmith. So we did an audition, which he writes about in his book, and of course he was head and shoulders above anybody else, so there we go. There we go. Me and Clive, you know, doing Cinema. And we had a ball! We had a most wonderful time for about… he says he did 39 programmes, so that must have been a series of 13 and then time off and then a series of 13. So it have been about a year and a half maybe? And just fantastic. About half a dozen of the people we interviewed were genuinely interesting, and the rest you can’t help but sympathise, because here’s a poor film star who’s been pushed around the world listening to the same stupid questions about the same film. I tell you, they must be bored out of their minds. And then we take them to this cell in the basement of Golden Square, with a camera that runs out every 10 minutes! You have to change the magazine. But it’s just it’s like an interrogation. And so they are all pros of course, they all did it. They all did it.
But some of them seemed to genuinely enjoy it, and some of them asked if I could take them to an English pub afterwards, which of course I did, so I had an absolutely riotous time with Robert Mitchum, and with Robert Altman, the director who made M.A.S.H., and Donald Sutherland. Donald Sutherland was in that as well. But the others, you know, they came in, did the business and went, and that was it. And did you know, I never had an executive producer on Cinema? After Plowright said, “Go and do it,” that was it. That was it. I occasionally got called in to Cecil Bernstein’s office, because Cecil was part of the film industry, he was chairman of the board of the people who pick the Royal Command Film Performance, so he was kind of interested. He used to occasionally haul me into his office and say why did we do two programmes with that Robert Mitchum fellow, I couldn’t understand what he was saying. And I said, “Well, Cecil, it was a very popular programme.” But no, no guidance, no stern hand. All that time. Network programme.

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