George Turner on the team work on World In Action

You have to remember that in the World in Action days we always had a director/producer, and there was nearly always a researcher. World in Action of course didn’t have presenters. It was one of the things that we didn’t have, not until much later on, but in the period that I remember with most fondness, obviously the sound man, the cameraman, an assistant cameraman and assistant sound man, and most of the time an electrician as well….

But the relationship that was most important to me was that between the director and the producer. And this is the most important thing, which is different from today. The only person that saw the footage was the cameraman because it was on film; we didn’t have any monitors. And it the director said to you, “Was that alright?” you had to make that decision, if it’s alright or not. Now the thing with the kind of documentaries that we made in those days, you usually only got one chance at it. Not always, but most of the times you only got one chance.

So you always had to be anticipating. I’m amazed that I actually was able to look through the camera with one eye and I’d be watching with my other eye what’s going on. Because you were only seeing with the eye through the camera what’s there. So you’ve got to be looking, because there might be something happening here, so you think, alright, that’s alright here, so I’ll come to this person over there. So you had to have this sense of what was going on.

I think the programmes with people like Leslie Woodhead and Mike Beckham and John Sheppard, Charles Denton, Pilger and things like that, it was very much a team game, you know. They get you through the gate into the film where the goodies are, and you know, they more or less say, “Off you go!” And they’d watch you and if you hadn’t done- you’ve got the cutaways or- can we do this? But as a general rule, the camera’s on the shoulder, you’ve got really good sound recordists, Alan Bale, Phil Smith, Phil Taylor, they were just great to have around. And it was a team game so when it came back you might come back with 12,000 feet of film, which is about six hours, and you know that’s going to be edited down into 24 minutes and 15 seconds or whatever the length of World in Action was.

Now of course a lot of that footage might have been taken up with interviews. The great Russell Spare (?) used to sit down to do an interview with somebody, and after three or four minutes, if it wasn’t going the way he wanted it to go, he’d stop rather than just keep going on and on because he didn’t want to waste the footage. He’d rather use it on his visuals. Because, you know, if you’re out in Korea, you can’t go along to the local Boots shop and say, “Oh, can I have six rolls of film? Because they just didn’t have it. So we were very conscious that, you know, you mustn’t waste the footage, and you use the footage in way that you’re going to get the overall effect.

And I think that it was very much a team game and I think that the strength that I was lucky to have was, well, first of all I wanted to do World in Action, and I think the people around the team were obviously quite happy to have this quite young person who’d got a ton of energy who didn’t mind where he went. Because he’d do the best job possible. And I suppose as well, there are lots of cameramen out here now all doing great jobs because we’ve now got multi-channel television. Now I always felt that what I was able to do was if somebody said, well you go and do a bit of something about betting, we’ll go down to the racetrack, I knew what to get. I might not be quite in the right place, but I’d get enough material that was good enough. And if we had to go and do something that was about motor racing, I could do motor racing. I did everything, I think, reasonably well, but not exceptionally well.


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