Brian Lapping remembers the GTV series End of Empire (1985)

 When I was on the Guardian, my job was largely writing about Commonwealth affairs. I went to the subcontinent and to Africa. I wrote quite a lot of stories about the conflicts Britain was having with the rebels there and the measures that were leading, in effect, quite a number of them moving to independence, so that was a big interest for me. I did move on from the Guardian to the FT and from the FT two New Society, but those imperial stories were big in my mind. Quite early on, when I was at Granada, I said to Denis Forman, who was very relaxed and nice about ambitions and things you want to do, “Why don’t we try to make it serious about the end of the British empire?” And seeing that I was able to demonstrate to him I really knew quite a lot about it, he readily said yes. What I then did not realise was how huge an undertaking that was and how huge and complicated each of the subjects were, because of course, one wanted to get people both out there and back in London who had taken part in the conflict of the arguments. Actually, now that I remember it, bloody hell, I’d forgotten this, before I started working even at the Guardian, I worked for a Fabian Society Journal called Venture. Venture was left-wing Labour Party sort of thing. But quite a number of quite senior people from Commonwealth countries wrote to Venture and I remember them coming to see me in Dartmouth Street just by Westminster. That was why I got so enthusiastic about this theme. So a, my background on Venture, b, having written about this extensively, being able to travel to these countries when I was at the Guardian, enabled me to say to Denis Forman, “I really do know a thing or two about these people in these themes, and not only have I been to countries, I’ve met many of the top leaders.” That was how I came to sell that to him.

He responded favourably?

as far as I can recall. I don’t remember the detail of it. What I do remember is at some point when we’re making it thinking, “Bloody hell, I’m being allowed to spend an absolute bloody fortune on this.” Other programmes, and I was knowledgeable about the costs of making World in Action programmes and so on, never had budgets as large as we got for making End of Empire.

Tell us how many programmes and what length they were in the series.

Well, the series was 14 programmes, and most of them were one programme, one country, except India. We did three on India. Everything else was one programme per country. By and large, had a different team for each programme, so it was quite a big project.


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