David Liddiment’s thoughts on World in Action

Let me talk about World in Action. Because others have said that you didn’t like World in Action.

I loved World in Action.


This was when you were head of… controller of programmes?

At ITV or Granada?

At Granada.

Well, don’t forget, this was a muddy time, Charles Allen had come in from group, and was fitting us for the future… I was only there for about a year before I left, and I was director of programmes and I had three heads of factual programmes. I had four, I think. I had Rod Caird, I had Ray Fitzwalter, I had Stuart Prebble… and we didn’t need that many. And in the end I gave it all to Dianne Nelmes, on the basis that she and I worked very well together, she was smart and good, she was interested in the serious and the light, and in the sense to plump for any one of the others would… I think Stuart didn’t allow me to get to that point because he left to go to ITV Network. Rod and Ray hung on, and in the end Ray went, and then Rod went. So yes… you take on these jobs where you are controlling… erm… the output, and you have to work within the terms that you find yourself in.


Granada was under huge pressure from ITV re World in Action, because it sat in the peak of the schedule, and the modern ITV didn’t like it sat in the peak of schedule, didn’t think it should be there, and Granada fought like billy-o to keep it there – and nobody fought harder than Steve Morrison. But Ray Fitzwalter and others may well think they didn’t fight hard enough, but they weren’t in the network meetings, they weren’t dealing with the sheer pummelling that World in Action got week in, week out.

Why did it get that?

Because it didn’t deliver the figures – it did occasionally deliver the figures – and in reality it was never going to deliver the kind of figures… it was a false battle, because it really… which World in Action could never win because it was never going to deliver except… I remember Charles making a show about dodgy plumbers and… secret film… what became House of Horrors was originally a World in Action one-off, and it got 11 million, it was a bit like Neighbours From Hell was a documentary one-off from central and became this incredible brand, and House of Horrors was similar, that came out of World in Action. You think about the Matthew Parris’s World in Action, that was a sort of precursor of reality TV. You can’t do it every week. And there were some pretty drab World in Action’s in amongst them, and that’s inevitable. You are either committed to weekly current affairs or you’re not. …..I’m sad that, when I went to ITV, effectively I killed World in Action.

What do you mean?

Because what I said was, for current affairs to survive in the modern market on ITV, it needs to survive as a weekly, one-hour, properly resourced current affairs show that from time to tie will one-hour stories when the stories are strong enough, but can run 10-minute items or 20-minute items. Because the problem with World in Action every week for 26 minutes was some of the stories, frankly, were a stretch at 26 minutes, and that’s what I believed in. And because it was a big change and it was part of the move to News at 10, and we were going to put this new show midweek at 10 o’clock, and we put it out to tender to the other ITV companies, and the indie sector, and Granada pitched The Tonight Show. And when Granada won The Tonight Show, it was a properly resourced, well funded show with the ability to do serious long-term investigations – and I was very proud of that show, and it grieved me more than any other single thing when we lost the News at 10 battle, or the bosses at ITV stopped fighting the battle, because they did, and they ceded it to the ITC, that the biggest casualty in that was Tonight – which was the big success in the 10 o’clock schedule, and was a good show.


Do you think they could bring World in Action back?

No, because they wouldn’t resource it properly enough, and it wouldn’t be World in Action. For World in Action to be sustainable, it has to be resourced as an investigative series. But, you know… it could have… it became restricted by its own form. In its heyday it was an amazing show, but actually a film and later VT, location-based half-hour per week is not sufficiently flexible to properly tell Britain what’s happening to itself, and from time to time you want to do a big set piece interview in the studio – you want to give yourself the flexibility to be more than that. And this is going to be the weekly one hour, that’s what I did, we closed down the other stands, which were a remnant of old ITV, because every company had to have a half-hour current affairs for pride reasons, you know, because you used to get brownie points for that, and they wouldn’t give them up! Well, the new ITV, you were able to take some rational decisions on that, and actually Granada won fair and square – they won the contract to do a one-hour, weekly current affairs magazine, properly funded – and I think a lot of people who were involved in that are very proud of what it did and, like me, regret that… partly because of the news returning, and partly because of just over the years being squeezed by the penny-pinchers at the network, the show can’t be all things that I’m sure a lot of people so wanted it to be. But the notion that there was something… World in Action was only ever as good as its storytelling and its stories, and its finger on the pulse of what interested Britain. I went back to early World in Action – Tim Hewat ‘s World in Action – that was shocking, tabloid, arresting at their time. That’s as legitimate a part of the World in Action heritage as the drama doc behind the scenes in Russia and the reports from the Vietnam War, and both were legitimate and right for their times. I think by the end, World in Action… I think people had fought nobly to keep World in Action relevant and alive, and I’m not decrying what they did, but in the end, the form was not helpful, and giving them an hour and a later slot, I think gave them the opportunity to modernise and make it more relevant. But it’s all academic now because that slot didn’t survive.

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