Brian Moser on his first film as a producer in Basutoland and a lucky escape

The first film I actually produced myself with an experienced crew was a film we made in Basutoland, it was then called Basutoland. In fact, it’s now Lesotho. And Verwoerd, the South African premier, had just died. Actually, I think he died in parliament. And so World in Action sent me out to get reactions on his death. And the condition of what had been, and still was, a British colony, Basutoland. And I was, on the day that Verwoerd was assassinated for God’s sake, he didn’t just die. He was assassinated in the parliament. I was up with a Catholic missionary up in the hills. I don’t know what kind of a mine it was. I think it was just… could have been looking for diamonds. Yes, they were looking for diamonds, panning for diamonds. Anyway, on that crucial day, we weren’t in contact with anybody, we were up in this remote village where this marvellous Catholic priest was laying drainage systems for all the houses with plastic pipes. Never forget it. And we’d done that, and we came down to the capital of Basutoland, Maseru. We were just relaxing. And somebody says, “You know that Verwoerd’s been assassinated?” And I then had a… telex, I think it would it have been, from Granada saying, get reactions, get reactions. Well, it was too late. That was at the end of the day. 

So, what I did probably, which was perhaps very silly, but it was the only way I could think of getting quick reactions was I paid groups of people who are inside this bar. I don’t know what it was, equivalent of a quid each or something. To give us their reactions of the situation and what was going to happen to South Africa. And what did they think about apartheid and all of that. And of course, the secret service was in there, so we were then imprisoned in a little jail in the capital, in Maseru. They let the crew out, the authorities, the police, but they kept me. 

Luckily, we certainly didn’t have mobile phones, but one of the crew went out with all their gear to go back to England and, well, to Manchester. And they held onto me. And I got this message from the sound recordist, I think it was. Yes, it was. And he said, “Brian, for heaven’s sakes, don’t come out by road.” Because I still had all the film in the prison. And so I thought, “What the heck can I do?” So, I went down, there was an air strip in Maseru, and I got talking to a pilot. And I said, “What can you do to get me out of here really very quickly please.” “Well,” he said, “I’ll fly you to Johannesburg.” So, I had the film, I had the few possessions I had. And I put all the film in a wooden box and wrapped it… I don’t know what kind of a skin it was, but anyway, in a skin. And then with one of their, they make these lovely blankets, the families living in the villages, and I wrapped it up outside with this blanket. And all the film cans were in there. And when the guy said, “That seems very heavy. What you got in there?” I said, “I’ve got my rock samples.” Luckily, I always held onto my passport with geologist as my profession. S,o I got on the plane with the film, and so it became a film. 

There was a terrible row about that, but Granada had these very good lawyers – a firm called Goodman Derrick. And Lord Goodman himself must have been a really good friend of Sydney and Denis. Well, they fixed it, but Goodman, in a sense, must’ve had some hand in making sure that I got out. On the same plane coming back to England, was the Panorama crew. The fact that I got out with this film that we shouldn’t have got was… they said they had hell in South Africa. They themselves had to get out, because they were a British television crew. Anyway, we got the film on air eventually.

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