Claire Lewis explains the origins of Seven Up

Seven Up was a World in Action special made in 1963, and it was commissioned by the then editor of World in Action, Tim Hewat. Tim Hewat had been brought to Granada by Sidney Bernstein and Denis Forman as the very first editor of World in Action. He was an Australian and he was editing the Daily Express, which was at the time a very, very popular, quite incisive newspaper.

What Granada was set up in the early sixties, Sidney Bernstein and Denis Forman wanted to do something different with current affairs. They wanted a new immediate, popular current affairs programme that wasn’t didn’t reek of social class and posh people, and Panorama and those things. So they poached Tim Hewat, they got him over from the Daily Express, and he started and created World in Action, which was absolutely phenomenal. There was nothing like it in television at the time; it was ground-breaking and so popular. They did programmes on topics from all over the world, as well as UK topics, in a completely different way. Very appealing, very accessible, very populist.

Tim Hewat did that for a couple of years, I think. And I don’t know what happened, but he got bored, wanted to go back to Australia, but he had one burning idea that he desperately wanted to do, which was born out of the fact that he was an Australian and he was appalled by the rigidity of social class. And I spoke to him on the phone several times when I was doing the book for 35 Up. And he told me about why he felt so strongly and why he felt that he needed to make a film about social class for World in Action. It turned out that it was his swansong. He commissioned Seven Up.

Seven Up was created by a number of people who happened to be working at Granada over the time. And it was directed by Paul Almond, who was a drama director, who was in between jobs. The two researchers were people who’d just joined Granada. One was Michael Apted, fresh from university, and the other was Gordon McDougall. They were the two researchers. It was shot by a news cameraman who had never shot anything like this before, one of the Samuelsons, David Samuelson, who was a news cameraman. And Tim Hewat said, “I want to make a film about social class in Britain.” He wanted also to take on board what he believed was the kind of Jesuit maxim, “Give me a child until he is seven and I’ll show you the man.” In other words, he wanted to know what the seven-year-olds of 1963 were going to be doing in the year 2000, which is what the film was about. And it was to look at social class, pure and simple. Opportunity and social class in Britain. And it was England, it wasn’t Britain. It was only England.

So the brief to the two researchers was they had six weeks to find the kids. Six weeks only. They had to turn this programme around in six weeks, a special World in Action. So they did that. They found the kids, Michael found half, Gordon found the other half. Meanwhile, Tim Hewat decides to go back to Australia and be a sheep farmer in Victoria. And he went. So he left in the middle of the production process and went back to Australia, leaving Seven Up adrift, without an exec producer, without a producer. They were all beavering away. So Derek Granger came in and oversaw Seven Up for Tim, and Tim had gone. And that’s how it all came about.

So this motley crew of people who happened to be in Granada at the time, just gelled and made the most extraordinary film. Seven Up was groundbreaking. Again. It’s the first time… there were no adults at all in Seven Up, just children talking. First time that had ever been done. Nobody had ever done that before. Just kids talking. Their lives, their hopes and dreams. Wonderful film, beautifully directed, because it was directed by drama director, not a documentary or a news director. So there were shots in it that would never have happened had it been directed by some, you know, not good, but ordinary sort of documentary film maker, and I don’t mean that pejoratively, but having a drama director in it made all the difference to the way it looked – and it looked amazing. And that’s how it came about.

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