George Turner on some of the memorable World in Action programmes he worked on

There’s no one favourite programme, and that sounds slightly glib because, you know, the variety of the programmes was so varied from, you know, spending time with ministers through to spending it with people who’d got illnesses, thalidomide being one of the cases, but, you know, people that had struggles in life, I’m thinking mainly programmes in this country. But then you’d go abroad, and World in Action was very good at finding stories that had an international appeal, so it could be a medical story about, you know, breast implants, later on, which we did, which nobody else would have done but through to things like people who were having dodgy heart valves put in because they were being made in a country that weren’t making them as good as they should have been, so people were having a new bit put in their heart, but, oh, by the way, it might not work very well, and it’s a bit bad news that we have to say that, but, we want to stop it.

So there’s a number of programmes that I’ve got lots of fond memories with. I think the programme that we made in South Africa with Janice Finch and Dorothy Byrne where we spent a morning with Nelson Mandela some 15 months after he’d been released, it was very special. Of all the people I interviewed, and it’s easy to be very sentimental, but he for sure, I think, could have made the waves part. I mean, I had great charisma, very humble, and just a great person to spend four or five hours with, which is what we did.

And I think probably the most important part of that is, I think it would be somewhere in the ‘70s, we made a programme about apartheid, and it was called The Dumping Grounds. We went as World in Action did in those days rather cheekily, under the pretence we were going to follow the Archbishop of Canterbury on a tour in South Africa. Well we did a bit but not very much. We wanted to go and see what was happening with these people that were being shoved into the Kalahari Desert, separating them from their loved ones, and it was an awful situation because that’s how it was. And we made the programme and the South Africans were so furious with us. And in fact the four of us that made the programme, we were banned for some 16 years. And so I suppose because of the experience of that and the programme we made and the rumpus that it caused, and then to see what Mandela had been though, and you think, well, he stood up for what he believed was right and he had to suffer awful times, but in the end he did a good job.

So I think that was an important programme, but I think there were other programmes. Obviously, briefly when I first got shot by the Israelis, the famous story where we wanted to go with the Al-Fateh guerrillas across the River Jordan, that was the kind of thing that we did in those days because, we did. And it was on my birthday, and at the end of it we floated across the river on a rubber tube at night, and then walked for about four or five kilometres just near the Allenby Bridge, and somebody tripped over a trip wire, and the next minute this flare went up and it was like sunlight, and we all hit the deck. And after about 40 seconds there’s all this tracer fire that’s going around because that’s the only way they know where the bullets are going. I get hit, and I said to John Sheppard, I said, “I’ve been hit.” And he said, “Where?” And I said, “Up the fucking arse.” And you could hear it on the tape. And what it had done, it had gone through the cheeky bit of my bottom, just missed the battery on my shoulder here, and just missed my head. So I never really thought too much about it; it’s just like somebody’s smacked your bottom really hard. But it did come a bit more in focus in my mind and then about four or five days later we’d gone from the Arab side, we’d had to go back to Cyprus to get into Israel, and we’d got a French doctor, and he had to redo the dressing, and he said to me, “You’re a lucky lad!” So I said, “Why?” And he said, “Ooh, a quarter of an inch lower and you’d probably have been paralysed, could have been killed.” So you know, I think I learned a lesson fairly early on. But it’s kind of- it didn’t deter me. Some might say it’s foolhardy. But you got used to going to programmes for like – if you went to Vietnam, I’ve seen landmines, I’ve seen people mutilated. War is horrible. It’s the innocent victims that always suffer the most because it goes on for a long time, particularly with landmines, because they just don’t melt, they stay there, and I’ve seen lots of children with legs blown off and hands blown off, and I don’t like that particularly because I think it’s awful.

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