Eric Harrison on his proudest programme, Hypotheticals

We did various programmes, like nuts and bolts of the economy and so on, which we did out in London; we brought MPs across and we talked about politics. And then Brian Lapping had seen the way the Americans taught law in Harvard, and they all saw… the Americans were doing a programme called Hypotheticals where they posed a case and they talked about it as a hypothetical case and got people who are relevant to the thing to talk about what they would and wouldn’t do and so n. And they thought this programme would probably work in England. So Brian approached Fred Friendly, who was Edward R. Murrow’s producer, who produced this in America, and got permission to do it. The Americans did it in a rather complicated way, but what we did, we got a U-shaped table which we built, around which we put something like 20 people of different professions who had got something to do with a particularly subject. And they brought two moderators in from America.
And they would go around the table and say… so a particularly subject was proposed, so at a particularly time you might have ‘state of the nation’ or ‘Mrs Smith is dying’ and so on, and they would build up and this and say, “What would you do?” and so on. And it was fascinating to watch the way people’s minds worked. And it was a programme that was quite difficult to direct. Well, you didn’t direct it; you just followed it. And I did my own vision mixing on it because it was the only way I could anticipate what was happening. And at the same time, shooting it in such a way that you didn’t see the cameras. Because we were virtually shooting 360 degrees. And also, as you know, the other things, which we called reverse angles, obviously avoiding that as well. And they tried it first of all at Painter’s Hall in London, I can’t remember what the programme was.

] It was about journalism, the first one.
The first one. That was Painter’s Hall?

Yes, that was a trial one.
That was the trial one, yes. And it worked. We made it work. And from there onwards we went on to do other ones, to such an extent that it was nominated for an Emmy, it got a Royal Television Society award, which I can show you, there’s a silver award from somewhere else. So in other words it was quite highly thought of as well throughout the world. But as I say, the big problem was shooting it whereby you didn’t even see the camera and give the game away. And also it was shot with no editing. The only editing as such was afterwards to shorten it. The Americans came when we were at Warwick Castle, we did one at Warwick Castle, flew in various people from America and so on, and the American network wanted to do it as well. And they then said, “Oh, we do this normally, don’t worry, we’ll send our people.” Well, they sent a Portakabin with 20-odd video tape machines, and they wanted the output from each camera into each of these video tape machines so they could get the separate… so they could edit it together later. I said, well, you know, we don’t do this. You can have the feed and what have you… anyway, we gave them a feed off each camera and they edited from the mixer, my output… anyway, to cut a long story short, they had a meeting that night and decided that they wouldn’t bother doing this, they’d just take our output. And apparently all they simply did was cut off a couple of bits and what have you when they arrived in America, and that was it, instead of spending four weeks editing it like they usually do.

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