Tell me how you came to be on World in Action.
I don’t think it was anything to do with me. It was simply I was told by Denis (Forman) or David Plowright or whoever, “Will you take over World in Action?” Hah! It’s come back to me. I had a telephone call. I was doing something, somewhere, I can’t remember where, but for Granada. I had a telephone call and it was David Plowright who said, “Are you willing to take on World in Action? You’ll be executive producer and the…” What was the other title? Not series producer, “You’ll be executive…”
“The editor will be Ray Fitzwalter. You’ll be happy with that?” And I said, “Sure.” So maybe I was doing What the Papers Say then, I can’t remember, but certainly I remember the call from David Plowright, and that’s somewhat surprising, the initiation of my job on World in Action.
What did you make of them (his colleagues on WIA)?
I thought that they were a bright enough group. I remember quite a few of them, and they were very nice to me, and I rather enjoyed working with them, but I was always interested in other things. One of the things I remember doing quite early on when I was on World in Action was saying to Denis Forman, “Why don’t we make a series about the end of the British Empire?” and he said, “Sure,” and I now realise that the sum of money he allowed me to make that series was just sensational! If I remember rightly we made 14 programmes, maybe three about India. I’m 90% certain we made one about Iran. 100% certain we made one about Egypt, several about all the other countries around the Empire and, of course, each one involved sending a team to that place and digging up various archives, and it went out on Channel 4. Actually very near one of the first big series on Channel 4. But I was still responsible for World in Action while we were doing that.
Well, what did you make of the programmes themselves? Did you think it was a job to be done in terms of refocusing the direction of World in Action? Do you think the programmes needed… I suppose the philosophy needed changing or refreshing?
Do you know I didn’t really think analytically like that at all. What I thought was, “Can we make my sort of programmes,” and I can’t remember. But the first programme made when I took over as executive producer of World in Action, was some abstract little programme, absolute third rate rubbish, and I’m surprised they let me make it, and I can’t remember who I hired, who of the team actually worked on it, but it wasn’t in the proper World in Action tradition at all. Ray was much more fundamental to the real World in Action tradition, and there were several people I particularly enjoyed working with, John Sheppard, and various other people. They went for good, straight, simple stories. I tended to go for rather more abstract analytical stuff. Nevertheless, they let me keep on at it.
Yes. What did you like and dislike about working on World in Action?
Well, I didn’t think all the members of the team were analytical in the way I like being analytical about current affairs. They liked to tell pretty simple stories, and I wasn’t all that enthused about that, but particularly Ray had a magnificent instinct for digging out wicked stuff and I couldn’t but approve of, and I gave a lot of backing and help to Ray. He bullied the other members of the team to actually do the dirty work on some of that. I very much enjoyed working with Ray. That was terrific. Some of the others I did enjoy working with, some less. It wasn’t exactly my personality, World In Action.