Brian Moser transcript

Interview with Brian Moser on June 22, 2020

So just kind of start at the very beginning. Tell me, what year did you join Granada? Can you remember?

1964.

Right. And you were a geologist by training or by, in terms of your academic background. So how did you get to join the television company?

I never had any ideas of going into telly at all, but I thought I was going to be a geologist, and I got my degree at Cambridge in geology – but before that, I’d done geography. And geography was really, when I was at school, the heart of my mind. I loved travel, and just going to and thinking about eccentric places, so it was somehow in my blood to think all the time about where can I go next. I first did my National Service in the Middle East, in Suez Canal zone initially and then in Tripoli. And after that, this is in the mid-50s, I went to Cambridge. I liked geography very much, and fell madly in love with another geography student, and she decided, “No more with this madman, Brian,” and I left. I went to see my tutor in Cambridge, and he asked me if I could join the geology department. Start all over again and get a degree in geology. And that’s what I did. 

At the end of my time at Cambridge, there was a thing called The Explorers’ and Travellers’ Club and I got together with some friends, we got together an expedition to go to Colombia. Another geologist in the same year as me and myself spent three months high up in the Andes on the Eastern side of the range of the Andes before it would reach the Caribbean. Way up, on the snow line. We were trying to find a specific limestone band, and we found out that, in fact, lupins grew along this band without ever knowing that. So, it was dead easy to just follow the lupins, which were profuse up there. It was three and a half, four months.

The other part of the Cambridge expedition went down into the lowlands on the Eastern side of the Andes and made contact with people who had been very war-like against the petroleum companies, which were just beginning to come in at that stage. That was 1960. Well, the petroleum guys, geologists etc., went in, in the mid to late 30s, and found enormous amounts of oil – as indeed they’ve found ever since then – going further out into the plains towards the River Orinoco. They found a lot of oil. They’re still extracting the oil from that area today. And I decided at the end of our trip, I loved it so much out there – the scenery’s marvellous, the people, once you got some Spanish behind you, were marvellous – and I stayed on. I think there were about seven or eight of us that went out. Two of us stayed up in the higher parts of the range, another two climbed two or three peaks up there. And Peter Woods and myself stayed doing this geology. So, when they went off back to England, I stayed in Bogotá. And as a way of making money, I taught English – in fact, in the German school, and I didn’t speak a word of German and they didn’t speak any English. I mean, how on earth we managed, I do not know. But anyway, we got by, and did that. 

And then I joined a subsidiary of Texas Oil – mud-logging, it’s called – on exploration wells. You log all the drilling debris that comes up from way down there. And you’re looking obviously for oil shows, and we did on one well, we didn’t on another, then on a third we didn’t either. But anyway, so I had that experience, and I stayed on and on in Colombia. And then was sent Patagonia by this little company, Texan guy who was working for, was running this small company. Which was basically, this was all sort of, so-called secret, he went in a secret and he took a Colombian geologist and myself, and we stayed four or five months all in the winter. My god, it was cold, but it was amazing.

I bet. Yes.

Yes. I had a quarrel with him, it wasn’t a very sensible thing to do. And so, I cleared off. I left, got my pay packet, and off I went, and went back to Colombia. You get what I mean? I wasn’t married when I went out to Colombia. I got married to Caroline who was a tremendous help to me when I was researching for World in Action, in the earliest part of Disappearing World. And we lived in Manchester and all of those things, it was another new experience and just outside Charlesworth? Do you know Charlesworth? Nice, very nice village. The village that Lowry lived in, I don’t know if it was all his life. So was Mottram. I went through Mottram every day I went into Granada. And I love his paintings. Leslie Woodhead has got one, I think.

When I got back to England… we’d made a film, a little film in north west Amazonia, because by chance, we met a Dutch cameraman at a party. And we had no idea who he was, but we got talking, and I was working with my very best friend, Donald Taylor. We knew each other at Cambridge, and then he a curator at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford. Got his doctorate and all those things. But Donald and I decided we’d go back to England. Our objective on this one-and-a-half-year trip was to record for tribal music. And we recorded hours and hours of music, 90 tapes, much of which now you’d never be able to record again because the tribal groups disappeared. Anyway, after the oil business, we came back and as I say, I didn’t know what I was going to do. My father wanted me to go into a friend, a friend of his business who was connected with geology. A very, very hard, metamorphic rock was being used a lot in the building business stuff for outside, especially for stairways. And facings. There’s quite a lot of it in the City of London, you know, in the proper City, cladding for buildings and for steps, etc. Because it’s extremely hard, sort of slate in a way, but not as fractious as a slate. And I said, “Yes, Dad, it’s steady business, but I’d like something a bit more interesting.” 

And the film that Neil shot, I took up together with a roll of photographs, because Donald and I published a book about our travels and the Indians we met, and the music they recorded, called The Cocaine Eaters. And the film, we made three little films, and all of them got themselves on to television. Two of them were shown on Anglia Television, and one of them, best one, got into whatever David Attenborough series was called at that time. I Search for Adventure? I’m not sure. Doesn’t matter. And once we had an extremely good editor who edited our own film – not what Anglia Television made, nor what the BBC with Attenborough made, which was fine, but we made a different version – and set it to music, using the instruments that we recorded amongst the tribal groups, or some of them. Some absolutely lovely melodies, and hand pipe, and flute, and the extraordinary dancing one specific tribe in north west Amazonia, the dances they did. I went back and back actually to this area, making films for telly. Somehow organised it quite well!

So, you could go back.

Without knowing. And well, when I went up to Granada first, I saw a very nice guy called Duncan Crowe. I think he became press officer. Then I went back and I went back with him because we then published this book and I took the sort of test roll of photos up and showed them to Denis Forman, and he was enthralled by this. I was very lucky. And he said, “Yes, we’ll have you for a spell, Brian, and we’ll teach you how to make films.” And I got a two-week contract initially, and I worked as a researcher for World in Action

And then, well, I made some very interesting and quite an important film then, with a director called Ken Ashton. And it was a one-hour, maybe it was more even, maybe 70 minutes or something, special on bronchitis and its prevalence in the north, in the industrial areas, but all over Britain. And Ken knew what he wanted, and set out to get it – one of these ideal guys for World in Action perhaps. And I disagreed with him because he was a chain smoker. He was going to put smoking into the background. And I said, “Ken, if you’re going to do that, I’m afraid I’m going to have to leave. I could lose my job, but I absolutely do not agree with you. Smoking plays a very, very big part in the damage it does obviously to your lungs.” Anyway, we came to, thank god, a good agreement. We got this film out, which did cause quite a rumble. Perhaps one of the unknown things about it was unbeknown to the authorities, both at Granada and in Salford Council, where we decided we’d illustrate the deaths from bronchitis statistics. Not in just a graph or whatever, but we do it visually – and we’d have coffins coming out a back street in Salford. Which really was a Coronation Street, I mean, the ideal situation. And in order to push the environmental effect, we had smoke being pumped out and all kinds of things. But above all, I got a hold of a very big crane. So, we had the cameraman right up on this crane. And gradually, to illustrate the increase in deaths, we had these coffins coming out of each door on both sides of the road. And that made the press, in a sense in a bad way for me. And I was hauled up, I’ll never forget this, I was hauled up in that building, Granada building, it must still be the same building you see, where they, yes, they do operate from the same building at Granada.

Well, they’re not in Quay Street any more. But they were up until…

Oh, good lord!

They’re in another site not far from where the BBC are in Media City. But certainly, when I was working in Granada, they were still in Quay Street. So, I know the building you mean.

Yes. So, the real brass in Granada was up on the sixth floor. And I was hauled up there to see none other than Sidney himself. And I thought, “My god, that’s it, I’m out.” And the first thing he said to me, “Well, did you get the mayor’s permission?” And I said, “Yes, I did. Yes.” Which is true. To do this sort of illustration. And so I was off the hook, thank God. But that was quite a scare. Because I was a nobody on two-week contracts, and nothing to prove myself except the little film we made in the Amazon, with Donald, and Nils the cameraman. Which, yes, I’ve still got it. It still stands up. It’s a film about the daily life of a group of, well, at that time, pretty well unknown Amazonian Indians. So there we went. So, the bronchitis thing. And it did cause people to really sit up and wonder should they be smoking. I mean, I think it helped a lot to quite soon after get a ban on smoking. In fact, I’m sure it did. So, I sort of had the beginnings of being able to do stuff myself as it were. And, well, became a very junior producer. 

An interesting World in Action I did then, it was probably before your time. The Americans had one of these special sort of spy aeroplanes that were continuously going around up in the sky, very, very high up. And I don’t know how we got to know this, but it had to be refuelled, and it was refuelled right on the edge of the Mediterranean, at a place called Palomares. I mean, way up in the sky. And for whatever reason, things went wrong and the plane came down – but it was also carrying an atomic bomb. And the person who was running World in Action at that time was – well, I think he started World in Action, obviously with the powers-that-be in command at the time in Granada – Tim Hewitt, a very vibrant, enormous man, there is no other way of describing him. And he said, “Brian, you speak Spanish, don’t you, a bit?” And I said, “Yes, a bit.” “Well, get yourself off to Alicante, and then get yourself to the fishing village of Palomares and see what you can get.” And where the bomber came down, I think the bomber landed in one of the melon fields there, so I got a very good cameraman who said he’d come. And off we went. 

I remember we got to Palomares, there was a lot of hustle and bustle and a lot of American troops around, and the wreckage from that bomber was across this very big field of melons. And Louie Wolfers was the cameraman. Lovely guy. And he and I crawled right across the melon field to where the wreckage was of the plane. The atomic bomb was still in the Mediterranean. And when we got up as close as we could. We started filming. And lo and behold, they got us! The Americans. Luckily, luckily… I mean, we just had a… I don’t think it was a hand-wound Bolex. But it was sort of a very small camera for those days. And I had a very small tape recorder, so I was able to make basic recordings of the atmosphere, etc. And luckily, the very small reels of film fitted nicely into my trousers, as it were, into my pants in fact. The crucial two rolls. And the commander was furious that we’d been doing this. I can remember he sort of picked me up – I’m not a terribly big guy – sort of shook me and said, “Now get yourselves out of here.” So we got out quick, but we had the two crucial reels of film of the wreckage. 

Then, quite unbelievably, some weeks later Tim went off to Australia, Tim Hewitt, he started putting the film together. I’ll never forget this. He came in one Monday morning when… I don’t know if World in Action later continued… we always had that Monday meeting where we decided basically what we were going to do next week, and a few weeks after as it were. And Tim said, “I think they’re going to get that bomb out of the sea. Brian, off you go again and see what you can get.” And we went back to Alicante. The bomb was in the sea. At the time, still they hadn’t got it up. And we had to get out to where the American fleet was, all the ships they had there to pull this bomb out of the sea. And so we decided to get a yacht. So we went down to one of the sailing clubs and we got ourselves a sailing boat. It so happened that the woman’s boat to whom it belonged was a very pretty girl. I don’t know, early 20s. And we asked her if she’d mind, when we got near to the fleet – well, she was probably in her bikini already – would she get into a bikini and just sort of be obvious on the bough of the boat. Sat there. And you know, we sailed through these ships. And there was the cameraman – Mike Boltby was his name, just the kind of guy one needed for that type of sort of exercise – with a lovely lass on the bow of the boat, laughing as well. Because he was filming. And so we did. We got this. We put the film together. And it, yes, it did all right, I think. In fact, I know it did. Yes. Anyway, that was another story. 

What was the first film you produced? 

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. Yes. 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. So 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. So, that was good. I think that’s the only crazy interesting thing. Well, I did lots of World in Action’s, but the Guevara thing was certainly the luckiest scoop of my life. Well, I do my own work, which takes up all of my time. I mean, I enjoy gardening. You wouldn’t think so if you came here because you see, I live or have been living half a year in Bogota, Colombia, and half a year here because of my wife’s Alzheimer’s. She has to stay in one place. But anyway.

So, how did you get to be in Bolivia then? Was that for World in Action?

It’s an interesting story. Thank you for jogging my lagging memory. Every morning when we came into the World in Action office, or certainly I remember doing this, we read the papers, we read the magazines. I’d obviously always been attached to Latin America since I went off first expedition as a geologist, and I found in the Times a tiny little citation saying that it was almost certain that Che Guevara was in Bolivia, gathering a group of guerrillas together, right in the centre of Latin America to form the basis of a revolution. Bolivia had, I think even when we were there, it had about 186, 191, I can’t remember the exact… revolutions in its life. And it said it wasn’t certain and the guy who wrote it, who was a Latin American correspondent, an Australian called Murray Sail. I read this thing. 

David Plowright was the executive producer of World in Action at that time, and I said, “We ought to do this story. If he is in Bolivia, it will be absolutely incredible to write a story about what happens.” And I was in touch with sort of younger, Latin Americanists in Britain, some journalists. Christopher Roper was the Reuters representative, I think, in Peru and Bolivia at that time, and Ecuador. And whether it was Christopher or whether it was Noah… I think it was just the… I was told there was a very good institute in Santiago, in Chile, who might well… who was a bit of an expert on Bolivia and the politics of Bolivia, and knew it well. Why didn’t I get myself together with Richard Galt? He was the correspondent for the Guardian at that time, but as a sort of stringer. Rang up Richard in the Instituto de Asuntos Sociales. Claudio Velez was the professor there. Richard was obviously one of his researcher academics. Why don’t you see if you can get Richard to come up with you? And indeed, we flew to Santiago. 

We got together, and we went straight up to Bolivia and to La Paz. And Richard knew people in La Paz. I mean, he was essential for getting that film together in the way we did. And we set up the basis for a film. But we didn’t know that Che was not only going to be caught, but also was then killed, as you know. But I mean, he was killed by a Bolivian, at that time, Sergeant, I think he’s still alive. Most of the people who had anything to do with Che and are still alive, most of them were killed. It was strange. Afterwards, in the years after he was dead, they just disappeared. But anyway, Che ended up with his band of guerrillas in bad shape, close to Vallegrande. But what was quite an amazing bit of luck, the nearest town of any size was a place called Santa Cruz. And the world’s press wasn’t there because they already… they must’ve known that there was a band of guerrillas in the area, but they didn’t know Che was amongst them. And I think the trial of Régis Debray was going on in Santa Cruz, and there was a sort of a weekend when nobody was doing anything. 

And I remember saying, “Why don’t we…” to Richard and Chris, we discussed it. “What’s going on in the oil town of Camiri? Why don’t we take a weekend off in Santa Cruz and enjoy ourselves?” So, off we went, the three British journalists who were there. And as Richard and I were walking round the main plaza of Santa Cruz, suddenly there was a voice shouted out, “Hey, Limey!” You know, cockney is the… “Come over! Come over here. Have a beer.” And we went over and he was a sergeant in the green berets, the rangers, American Rangers. He said, “We got him. We got him this afternoon.” And he said, “We don’t know what’s going to happen, but why don’t you get yourselves out of here, get over to Vallegrande,” which was the… well, it was no more than… it was bigger than a little village but it wasn’t much bigger. There was an airstrip though. And we motored all night. We picked up… luckily, we found him because he was… the Reuters correspondent at that time, Christopher Roper, we picked up Christopher from a bar, and we hired a Jeep and we motored all night. And about 6am, very early in the next morning, we were in Vallegrande. And already there was a hubbub going on, lots of Bolivian troops, but not any Americans except for a CIA agent. I had a stills camera, but I didn’t have a crew in Bolivia at that time. David who, as I said, was in charge of it, hadn’t sent one, and I’d asked him. Anyway… oh, I know what it was. The grave of a guerrilla leader, a woman, Tania, was buried in the cemetery there at Valeramide, and I was taking photographs of that, and this CIA guy or one of his cohorts must have seen me, had gone back to Colonel Zenteno Anaya was the name of the guy, Colonel Zenteno Anaya. Luckily, he was… turned out to be a reasonable man, because he could have imprisoned us for that. Because I was taking photographs, quite a lot, of this grave. Anyway. 

And later in the same day, which I think was October the ninth, there must have been something was going to happen. And Che was actually shot by the Sergeant, who had got himself drunk in order to shoot him, as it were. And at five o’clock that evening, I don’t know, the head of the air force was there, don’t know about the army head, but yes, he must’ve been there. Vallegrande airport, they all came in. And very soon after that Che’s body was brought in on the helicopter rails. Have you seen any of the photos? Because you can see a body strapped. It’s taken with a telephoto lens. Came in just before dusk and then they laid it out on the… in fact, in the wash house. It was the village wash house, on the concrete… what you call it? Laundry slab where you rubbed your clothing down hard and the water escaped underneath. Like a bar, little bar, flat top. And they laid Che on that. 

And that’s when I managed to get those for first photographs of his body, which hadn’t been cleaned up by then. And his legs were in a hell of a state. You could see the bullet wounds. He was on the back of a mule when he was brought in, still alive. And he’d spent the night before, I believe, having an argument with the guy who was guarding him. And the next day – it was lunchtime, apparently, that they shot him. His body was still supple when it came in. And the photograph I never got, because I’d run out of film, was when they sat him up to face the crowd. What a shame.

But it was an amazing event. I mean, it was breath-taking. I don’t know. Luckily, I got… I stood on this concrete, don’t know what you call it… plinth, while they did the washing, and got a shot of his legs and his feet, which had two pairs of oiled stockings on. He had very bad asthma. One of the reasons he became trapped, this group of guerrillas became trapped, because he had to send somebody to a village chemist. I mean, a tiny village, but it had some kinds of drugs. And they brought the drugs in, and then the fun started, and they were fighting in the ravine called the Valle de Yeso. It’s a rock, yes. Yes. Anyway.

And did you end up making a film? Did you get the film crew or did that not happen?

Oh, yes. We went and got a film crew out immediately. And we then… luckily, I had those photographs. Oh, getting the photographs out was actually damn lucky because for some reason, the First Secretary of the French embassy came… oh, of course that was the reason, came to… was Régis Debray, the French intellectual Marxist who was there, who then in one of the later governments, I believe, became the French Foreign minister for a left-wing government… don’t mind French politics but anyway, this First Secretary was… we got talking and he was a nice guy. And I said, “Would you do me an immense favour, Jacques? Would you take two reels of film out for me? They’re terribly important.”

He took my two reels of 35mm film that I’d taken with my Pentax camera. Yes. Luckily, I had the telephoto lens – because I was still a geologist, you see, before, working as a field geologist in what is now Malawi, in Nyasaland. And when I went out, I thought, “Well, the one thing I should get is my camera,” and I had nothing at that stage, nothing to do with television. And I thought, “Well, I must get myself somehow to one of the game reserves, so I need a telephoto lens for that.” That’s why I had, which I’ve got here, the old German telephoto lens. Anyway, the Frenchman got the photos out and apparently, I can’t really believe this, News at Ten wouldn’t put them on air because they were too bloody. I don’t think that they are, but they are. There’s quite a lot on his neck and things. You’ve seen them? 

I have seen them, yes.

Are they in a Granada library or not?

I don’t know where they are. I’m not sure. I’d love to find out. We’re actually going to interview Sylvia, who was the Granada photo librarian. So, I’ll ask her if she knows.

Yes, I remember Sylvia. And there was a very nice woman who was, I think, running the film library, or ended up… and then I believe she very sadly died of cancer. Oh, Maureen? No, I can’t remember.

I will see if I can remember. Yes, find out for you.

Sadly died. But the other guy, was there a guy called Gerry Hapgood? Wasn’t he the cuttings librarian?

I don’t know but I’ll make a note of that and we’ll see what we can find out.

Because he was very kind to me. I mean, if he can get some of the photos out. Actually, I’ve got the two reels of negatives, the film library has, a stills library in Sussex has them. If you want, I’m sure that you’re doing this for the good of mankind, they won’t charge. But if you want to, I’ll send you their number.

Yes, that would be kind. Thank you. 

Anyway, so everything worked out quite well, and then we shot the film as found in the stills. There was no other film. However, a Brazilian film crew turned up, on the second day so they weren’t there first, but… no, I’m wrong. They were there, but I don’t remember seeing them in the morgue. But they got some footage, but then in their company in Rio de Janeiro, their building got burnt down so those eventually got lost.

That’s intriguing. Yes. Yes.

Shame, because they had the only first-day footage, I know that. Well, actually, the story isn’t over, because Caroline was there too in Santa Cruz, and she stayed with the crew and I went ahead, a day ahead, to get out of… Well, get back to Santa Cruz and then fly back up to La Paz. I had threats from the American Embassy that if I didn’t hand over the footage, I’d be… 

Really?

Oh, yes. I mean, that was for real. They threatened me. And I said no. And immediately I got into a taxi and went straight to where I had the footage in my hotel room and put it into the British Embassy. The British ambassador at that time was very kind. And the press officer, who’s still alive… oh, his name’s vanished. Oh, it’ll come back before we depart. He had a big hand in helping, whether I initially put it into his house… oh, what is his name? Sorry. But anyway, put it into his house and then they kept it in the Embassy. Bailey was the ambassador. Oh, it’s on the tip of my tongue.

But anyway, so one was in danger. I mean, if we’d lost all that film, I mean, oh man! Because I mean, the film was shot about a week after the death of Che, and then we set about making the film. But we managed to… well, the film worked because it was well put together. It was very well put together by a really marvellous editor who I then used very often. A guy called Dai Vaughan, he put together the film. I mean, we did it together but he was the cutter. And he as well, god, he’s dead. He died of prostate cancer. Is Kelvin Hendrie… because he was a very good Granada documentary…

Yes, I remember him.

Is he still alive or is he…

I don’t know. I can find out for you because we speak every week to Roland Coburn. He’s a good friend of my husband.

Roland Coburn? One of the sons of the journalist?

No, Roland is the son of… his mother and father both worked at Granada and his mother was a woman called Ursula, and she was German, and she was a production assistant. And Roland went on to be a film editor and worked mainly on World in Action.

Yes. Yes. Coburn.

So he would know whether Kelvin was still alive. I’ll ask him.

I’ve got a funny feeling he isn’t, which would be a great shame. He was younger than I am. 

Roland’s father, I think, was something like an engineer. He was something technical. And Ursula, as I say, was German and Roland, that was their son who became a film editor. 

Well, good Lord. Anyway, Dai edited the film very quickly, because he was part of the David Naden Associates, which was the best documentary editing place at the time in Britain, in Soho, certainly. They had a marvellous reputation and I worked with their editors a lot. 

So, you mentioned that there was a World in Action that you were going to do about the Freemasons that never happened.

Oh, well the person you must ring up, at least, is Mike Hodges. I was his researcher, but I… I mean, it was absolutely fascinating. Mike, I don’t know how he got the idea or what it was really about. Maybe the Freemasons were having an annual, very important meeting in whatever Freemasons’ Hall or wherever it would be, at their Temple in the City of London, and Mike, I think he asked me to be the researcher with him. Well, Mike Hodges was the director of a very well known, sort of left of centre film, leftish film, under a brilliant director himself, and he and I worked together on it. It was quite an amazing coincidence because my dad worked… he had his little office, he worked polishing marble and granite, so he knew the stone trade very well and he worked in Fulham in a big set of offices, which had been there for ages, who had the original Adams moulds. Do you know the moulds that go around ceilings?

Yes. Yes.

Well, the original ones which must have been in the 18th century, I should think, Adams moulds. I can’t remember, but Adams originated them. Anyway, a lot of those people working, and indeed the owner of this firm, were masons. And my dad, who wasn’t a mason, but he put me in touch with the head of Harry Leighton was his name. And do you know, they had loads of the ceremonial gear for… well, the main scene was the initiation ceremony, which we did absolutely to the book. But we had to have all the gear and all the materials that were used for this ceremony and the wives and women involved in… of the World in Action people, plus others, plus people from this firm that gave us, or gave me, all the bits and pieces, all of the stuff they wore. And so, we were able to use all of this in the final film.

But it was sort of kept under wraps at Granada because a lot of Granada people, believe it or not, were masons. Well, we decided to show the probably… no, it was a long time cut. It wasn’t the final film, but it was a long time cut, and Forman came down and looked at it and he knew exactly what was going on. And one of the most foolish things, and I didn’t even know, other than Forman I didn’t know, I went up in the lift in Golden Square during the process of researching the film and everything and he said – well, he always called me Mo – “Hey Mo. How’s it all going?” I didn’t think who was around, but I mean, one of the Bernstein’s, I think it was Alex but anyway, Sidney’s brother Cecil was there. Alex was there. Was Alex Cecil’s son?

I think so, yes. 

And Denis was there. And in answer I said, “Oh, it’s a hell of a job. You know, I was trying to get into this, that and the other and to talk to the Grand Master of Sutton Lodge, and this and that.” And he said, “Oh, well, but it’s going okay, is it?” “Yes, fine.” But obviously the Bernstein family in the lift pricked up their ears. So, it had gone out of secrecy a bit, but luckily, I don’t think… no, well, it would have been stopped then if it was known. But anyway, we then showed this fine cut, a sort of prior-to-fine cut, of the Freemasonry film. In… I don’t know if the viewing… there’s a tiny viewing theatre. Did you know Bill Lloyd?

Yes. Yes.

Yes, well Bill Lloyd, just the other side of that corridor, there’s a little viewing theatre there. I don’t know if you knew it, but anyway, we showed the film as it stood. And apparently the guy showing the film, the projectionist, must have gone and seen Bill, and Bill, who was apparently a staunch Freemason, he must’ve gone up to floor six and whoever he saw and said, “That film really shouldn’t be shown.” Because it showed the whole… this is where you must talk to Mike Hodges. It showed the whole initiation ceremony, for God’s sake. And anyway, it got straight up to… well, Cecil was the Grand Master. I don’t know of which Lodge. And I don’t know about Sidney, but they both… I know Cecil, it went round that Cecil said to Sidney, “You can’t do this to me, Sidney. You’re my brother. You can’t transmit that film.” Now, I don’t know of any other film in Granada’s time that was stopped from inside the company, as it were. We had films banned, I think we did, but not actually just put under wraps. It was tremendously serious for them as a family. So, stopped. 

One of my worst periods in Granada was trying to make Scene at 6:30, I think. Do you remember Scene at 6:30?

I remember Granada Reports that followed on from it.

Yes, Granada Reports. I remember doing those, but I never had any training in any of that. I was making a mess of it.

Tell me about the first Disappearing World that you did. And what was the very first one that you did?

Yes, I will. The Last of the Cuiva. And that… well, the cameraman was Ernie Vincze, and Bruce White was the sound recordist. Dai Vaughan, again, was the editor. It wasn’t the first one we shot; we quite often shot these films three at a time, as it were. Well, I did. I got three films in Colombia. Okay. And basically, they started the series, but actually the first one was made… I’d found an anthropologist who was working in Venezuela on a similar type of tribe, called the Panare. And Charlie Nairn made that probably about six months before the first of the three Colombian ones ,which was The Last of the Cuiva. Now, that film was, I think we shot it second. First was Cuiva, second was Embera: The End of the Road, and third was War of the Gods. The location of the film was where the Andes, in Colombia, dropped right down into the plains. 

When I was still working on World in Action, we were going to make a film about, and I can’t remember which Pope it was, but the Pope’s first arrival, I think it was in Latin America, for an ecumenical, big, big, big conference. And ITV as a whole had a strike. I don’t know if you were working in telly at that time, but strikes were terrible. I think. I wasn’t in the country. I mean, I was out in Colombia then with Caroline. And there was this giant ITV strike, there was no way a crew could come out. And there was a terrible murder of indigenous Indians in this area, where the Andes end, and these were nomadic Indians so they were always on the move over these plains which ran right the way down from the Andes to the Orinoco, very much like, in a sense, grasslands, cattle lands etc. and they were being colonised by, in this case, Campesinos, peasants, coming out of the centre of the more highland region, coming down and then just invading the land. It was a ‘cowboys and Indians’ story. 

And the crew came out, the crew consisting, as I that time always tried to insist, and eventually the collapse of the original Disappearing World basically knew, because actually, you people, the PAs and the electricians, revolted at the way we were not prepared to take in extra heads of people. Why did we need a PA? And electricians, we used primitive lighting. We had leather belts which were crammed with batteries, and you had sun guns, sources of light. Anyway. So, we were minimal, minimal, minimal crewing. And it was absolutely essential that we did it that way. But we went down to the beginning of these plains, the Llanos, to an airport, which was one of the very first airports ever constructed in Colombia, it must have been the beginnings of the 20th century, say the 1920s. Anyway, down to this airport, and actually… no it must have been on this film. And we got stuck in a traffic jam going off the mountains from Bogota down to the plains, and I will never forget this, arrived at the airport. The aeroplane was just about to leave, and we had a lot of gear to put into it. We got done to the airport, and lo and behold, this plane was literally just about to take off! And it took off, I did a crazy thing, but it actually saved the day. I had all the money in a sort of watertight aluminium tube with a sealed top. So, I ran out onto the airstrip, I fished out one handful of notes, then fished out another handful of notes, and stood on the runway, and waved these notes at the aeroplane as it was taking off. In other words, “Stop, stop, stop!” And he did! He had to circle back around, picked us up, and off we went. But these crazy incidents that I remembered. 

Anyway, everything was going smoothly. We met the anthropologist, a marvellous French Canadian guy, Bernard Arcand. … And immediately that afternoon, we took off down one of the big rivers in this area, as I say, of grasslands, and we were going down this river in a large wooden canoe, with an outboard motor, obviously. And we came to the junction where I didn’t notice at the time, they suddenly said, “Hey, let’s stop here. It’s a little settlement.” And we got, I don’t know, beer, and lemonades in bottles, because they’re always delivered, Western food, from launches, fly the rivers and make their living that way. So anyway, we sat down on the riverbank. And Bernard said, “Well, I’ve been thinking about this on our journey down, and I’ve got a proposition which may be useful, maybe not. You’ve got two choices now, we either go up this little river or you continue downstream where we will work with the community of these semi-nomadic Indians. They’re very interesting, I know them all, and I think it’ll make a good film. They’ve all put clothes on now.” I mean, Colombia being a smaller sense of indigenous people. There’s a sense in Brazil, which is giant, you’ve got unknown tribes, or did have at that time, in the early 1970s… “Or we could go up this small river, clear water river, and I think there is a group which is still completely original, which will take us about a week.” We had to unpack our rubber dinghy. It’s one of these lifeboat-type things that you inflate. And we can go so far, we’ll take two Indians with us …. and we’ll go and see whether we can get in touch with that cousin, who is still completely nomadic.” With a nomadic band that moves all the time, is scared to death by the presence of the cowboys coming in with the cattle, but the Indians are armed with bows and arrows, and they are very good shots. They respect each other. Because they made metal tips, arrowheads, out of the machetes that were broken or whatever, which they traded with the cowboys. “And so, you’ve got a choice. We don’t know whether it’ll work out. We have no idea. But at least a week, maybe two weeks, but we will find and be able to communicate with this small group, we think there are about 30 to 40 people, and we can get their way of living. So, if you can get something of that, it could be a very good start to a film.” And I said, “Oh, without a doubt, we’ll go for it. Then we’ll come back with you, Bernard, and visit your community, see all the changes that are happening, very rapidly.” So, we did that. So that was a very important decision to have made – and it worked. We were able to be with the Aguantara (?) group, for Cuiva… it was absolutely fascinating.

How long would you normally spend there, or is it difficult to say? 

Well, it took us five days, in fact, to get upstream. We then took Bernard and his two indigenous Cuiva, who were semi-acculturated, they had their shirts on when it was necessary. Six, seven days… they spent three days away, and then we went back in and we spent four days. But it gave sequences. Fishing, collecting fruits, and… well, things we would never have got if we hadn’t done it that way. And they were burning the grasslands. It was an amazing piece of luck. Then we came back. They were terribly courteous, lovely people. And they didn’t… like hippies. Instead of shaking hands, they just touched hands, it was beautiful. Suddenly, when we… they just had their hammock, they might have had a sort of banana leaf container made to carry water, and put their food on, a machete if they were lucky, not all of them had machetes, and a string hammock, a palm string hammock. Oh, and a bow and arrows. A hardwood bow, and bamboo-type arrows with metal heads from broken machetes. They had nothing else, absolutely nothing. 

And were the women and children with them as well?

Yes, children… oh, and their clothing consisted of beaten bark cloth. The women, well, most of them wore sort of a bark cloth skirt, type thing. And some of them already had somehow got a hold of a cotton dress. But very few. The men just had jock strap, …..again made of bark cloth. So, we were totally out of contact with the Western world. To have filmed that was amazing. And all the time they were running scared of the cowboys coming in from southern Columbia.  Well, mostly from the Andean areas, where they were driven off their land, most often by rival political parties. The conservatives… and the liberals, the liberals. The villages in Colombia at that time, during the time of the violence, were fighting each other. Shocking state. Anyway, the whole film took us six weeks, which was nothing. And to make contact, in a sense, with an uncontacted tribe at that time was… well, they were cousins, and they obviously did have some contact… by now, they’ve probably disappeared completely.

And how long did it take you to edit it then?

Very quick. I think about two months. …………………… 

So, when the Disappearing Worlds were actually transmitted, what was the reaction? Because they must have been unlike anything that had been seen on television by then.

Well, we went in to make Disappearing World with the express purpose – and we even wrote this in the original document Caroline and I sent in, in 1967 – and we were making the Cuiva from… I think it was the end of ‘69. 

What was the reaction? What was the reception when the films were screened? 

Well, it was varied. Reaction was, on the whole, good. You should try and see that film, actually. Well, the Che Guevara film was a piece of news. And the Cuiva film. There are much better films, in a way, later on in Disappearing World, but this, I think, has some essence of the original sort of picture. And got some good sequences. Because the whole idea was to try and make the films with the Indians speaking for themselves. It didn’t turn out like that initially because, with these uncontacted people, they didn’t really talk to us, but they talk to these two friends or Bernard’s.  And we used areas of what they were saying and what they did. But the real, as it were, indigenous speak films weren’t being made, it was always… up to then, it has always been a sort of, I suppose, and I admire the man, David Attenborough, a documentary where David is telling you everything about everything. The idea was to let people speak for themselves. Which they did. And especially later in the film about the killing of them by the invaders. We had one older man who told us from… on his horse, riding towards these… he called these Indians, savages, animals. That was the attitude. There were there to be driven off, and we’d capture their land, and fence it, and make money out of it. I mean, get into the normal economy of the… proper cowboys, which they were. And they had their lives to live. The Indians were being driven off the land. If you can, have a look at that film. 

When you were talking before both about what you were eating, and about travelling, the thought came to my mind was were there any health issues, because you must have been very fit. And it was a diet that you were not used to. So, did anybody ever get ill? And then what would you do if that was the case? 

On Disappearing World

Yes. Or were you all so fit and healthy that it didn’t matter?

Having to be shipped out… no. but flu-type illness, yes, it could knock you out for three days, so who knows, how to deal with a virus… I mean, no, I hope not. As well, I think that it was, you know, you get a kind of a flu, which just knocked you out really. But we were very lucky. 

I think if you were doing that kind of programme today, they would insist that you took a doctor with you or something.

Yes. But let me tell you… Leslie could tell you about it. But I chose Leslie to do a film in Africa, Leslie Woodhead, John Sheppard, all these people made, you know, contributed good films for Disappearing World,  but none of them, as far as I know, got really ill. ……

But you take with you the bare essentials, so you take a bit of morphine, if it was a mosquito area you would be taking an anti-malarial pill. You’d take anti-snakebite serum, some splints. It amounted to a bit of stuff. Because we had to carry it. Well, in this case with the Cuiva, we were mostly in canoes, their canoes or our inflatable dinghy. It was essential in order to carry the cans, because all the film was in cans. 

From a technical point of view, they weren’t ideal circumstances for filming and then making sure that the film was kept…

Well, you had to keep it, to a degree, air-tight. Actually, on our first film, a zoologist friend had told me before we went in, he said, “Oh, make sure, if you can, bring it from England, bring a small milk churn out with you.” And from there on in, we kept the film in a watertight, airtight milk churn. Which was our saviour. Because in the very first film, called Pira Paraná, in northwest Amazonia, we actually turned the canoe over. We went broadside on into a rapid. I mean, our Indian guide shouldn’t have let us get to that stage. Everything went into the water – including the camera and the tape recorder. So, before it even started, we had to dry out all the gear. Luckily, the film was all sealed, but to see it bobbing gown over these rapids… you were able to go and pick it all up and dry it all out. And luckily again – I suppose it was so obvious, but it wasn’t at the time – you had pretty sealable plastic bags to put our clothing in. We did have that. And if you put desiccators… 

Yes, I know what you mean. 

And the other alternative is to desiccate your rice. In other words, sort of begin to dry it out, then sealing your valuable things into that, leave it each night in sealed plastic bags, and we managed to dry out the camera. And also, we obviously had to leave it out in the sunlight to get dry, and it worked. After three days, it was working. So that’s the answer to that. 

You must have taken a minimal amount of technical equipment, presumably camera, tripod…

Well, the cameraman and sound recordist were the two absolutely essential people. Well, we won’t get into the union, but… the instances of… well, there was a terrible time when I had to walk out the door because the union wouldn’t let me (operate? 41:30). I had to leave Granada completely. …… 

What year did you leave Granada? 

I think it was the end of… I was still with Granada when we made Mongolia. It was the mid-‘70s, maybe before. 

We can check. And what you seem to be saying is at that point, it became really difficult for you to make the kind of programmes you wanted to make.

Carlos Pasini Hansen, do you remember him? 

No. 

He was an Argentinian now living in Brazil, he made beautiful film about a Brazilian tribe called the Mehinacu. And it had a very good cameraman, Steve Goldenblatt. He then went into advertising, so he must have made … But still, he was a marvellous cameraman. And Carlos went up to make a film with the Quechua … high in the Andes, in Peru. Apparently there were more crew members than there were people already living there. …..

But you didn’t get the same film. But working in such small such a small group in such difficult circumstances for a long time, you must have had to trust each other. 

Yes. And get on with each other. 

……………

And it must have been difficult, because you had to make a judgement before you went out about exactly how much film you were going to use.

Ah, yes. On the Cuiva, I never thought we were going to use up our film as fast as we did. And the last part involved – actually it was this frontier town– a big sort of cowboy festival with a religious input. Catholic, very Catholic. Well, Colombia is a very Catholic country. So, there was one of the Easter ceremonies going on. And yes, lots of Indians… …..

You must have been worried that you’re going to run out of film. 

We did run out of film. And we were still going on, and luckily, I was able to telex Granada, who sent some back, sent to Bogota, literally gave up the idea of sleeping and just went for 36 hours, and came back with another small vats of film. I mean, 16mm film cameras weren’t that light, so we had to get them back. Luckily, we’re now at that stage where we’re at the end of the film, and we were able to film the end of the festival. Otherwise, that would never have been in the film, and the film would have suffered, because it would have put the balance so much to the Indian side that you wouldn’t have had the crux of the film, which was to show the counterbalance to the Indian way of life. The cowboy way of life. Which we did manage to do successfully. 

I remember you used to have to have very detailed inventories whenever you went in or out of a country for the customs officers, and they would have to tick them off.

Oh, yes. When Caroline and I went out initially, and started the first three Disappearing World films, excluding the one that Charlie had already made… because we took Titus, our poor son, we took him with us. He was just under a year old. He didn’t come into the jungle though. 

Just a couple of things and then I’ll let you go. You knew Denis Forman, you must have known him well. What were your memories of him? What was it? What was he like?

Oh, an absolutely extraordinary man. A renaissance man. 

Really? 

Oh, just a marvellous man. Absolutely marvellous. I’m sure he could be different from being marvellous. If he hadn’t done what he does, or if he didn’t manage to get the film we all wanted to get… but a man of so many parts, that was so extraordinary about him. 

I mean, I was just thinking… I love classical music. My second wife, Marina, was a Colombian opera singer in Latin America, Europe and even in London, at Festival Hall. She wasn’t anything tremendously special. She didn’t have a very powerful voice. Our eldest daughter is also an opera singer. Much better trained, a lot more powerful, but Marina had this marvellous, very clear voice. But Denis became head of Covent Garden, the director of Covent Garden…… So, there was all that side. His love of music… I think he wrote at least one book on Mozart. And he had this… he was a very affable person, if he wanted to be. I think when I first took the roll of photographs for the book which we wrote together, and I, took this roll of photos that were going to go in the book. It was an Italian publisher which published the colour photographs, and it very well. A bit sheet just unrolled in front of him. He said, “Yes, we’ll do it!” And David Plowright, at that time programme controller, and bit later on head of World in Action, dd you know him at all? 

I knew of him. I worked with his son, Nick. 

He was a cameraman! 

Yes. So, I know Nick much better than I know David.

I didn’t know Nick that well. 

What was David like, then?

Oh, David was a determined devil. He made sure that he got out of you what he knew he could get. If you didn’t come back with the goods, you were in trouble. You had to work extremely hard on World in Action, I’m sure Leslie would have told you that. All the people around, the crew, were extraordinary. It was a real team. It was teamwork. We helped each other. There was one guy. He was a really incredible investigative journalist. You know who I mean? No, but don’t worry. Shut himself up in a glass cubicle, as it were. Locked, always locked. Brilliant. What was his name? Gillard! 

Mike Gillard? 

I mean a very helpful person. But my God, he kept his stories absolutely locked up until he managed to get them out, and very much worthwhile. But he did … it was… he just knew so much. There were brilliant people on that programme. I mean, they became Cabinet ministers. Initially, basically, we wanted to make these films that people think, “This is Disappearing World.” That was absolutely essential. The only way we could do that was to make sure we worked with somebody who really knew the group of people we were filming. That hadn’t been really done to the same extent it was done with Attenborough natural history films, because they always worked with exceptional people who understood the insects, animals, the birds that they were dealing with. And as much as I admired David, I mean, I really respected him and liked him, …. he was an amazing man, a bit like Forman. I thought, teamwork, that we managed to push together, both on World in Action – I mean, I was just a little cog in a very, very big and important wheel, particularly on World in Action – made so many changes possible in the way the country worked, I think, by exposing things that shouldn’t have been happening. But we did that as a team, and that was terribly important. 

It’s the same thing we did as a group of people on Disappearing World. I mean, I had absolutely no film experience except for the little films we made, but thanks to a very good cameraman – I mean, I never went to drama school, never knew anything about drama – so it was a group of people. And I think that was very important. We had to make sure that we got on with each other. I always remember on one of the films I made in Colombia, the sound recordist was a lovely guy, but he said, as we came down in our canoes from doing a major part of the filming, then coming up in this area, actually on the west coast of Colombia, a group of people we’d worked with, …Colin Richards, who again, sadly died very young, again of cancer. Did you know Colin? 

No, no, that name doesn’t ring a bell with me.

Anyway, he was a very good sound recordist. He took me aside, but there seemed to be nobody else around. And we’d had some real trouble through a rainstorm or something, and it flooded… it was chaos. He said to me, “Brian, you’re taking us through all these rapids and jungle and all this stuff, and you haven’t got a clue what you’re really doing. You’re in chaos, mate. What are we going to eat?” And of course, there was food, there was lots of fish there, veggies, so we weren’t going to starve. But in the nicest of ways, because Colin was a very nice person, lovely person, yelling, “Chaos!” I liked that. Anyway, there we are. 

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