Michael Ryan recalls working on World In Action

I went to World in Action as a producer/director in the autumn of 1968 and basically I stayed there for ten years and I didn’t do anything else, with the exceptions of oddities like election programmes. But to all intents and purposes I was on World in Action as a producer….

I had the long run on World in Action. I’ll mention just a few of them. I think I’ve got something between 30 and 40 programmes under my belt. I particularly specialised in the fast turnaround programme. We were exclusively working on film because we didn’t have presenters. We weren’t in the studio at all. I actually did a thing with Claudia on Meg Murray, the lady with multiple sclerosis. The film was called Death by Request. That was out on a Tuesday, finished in a couple of days, one overnight edit, and out the following Monday. There were quite a few like that; some of them didn’t work. The simple defence was that you always had to fill the slot. That was a programme that went on for years, in terms of consequences. It was shown in Japan and we had to deal with about six sacks of mail from Japan just on the argument. Somebody with a disease who wants that final assistance which wasn’t possible under the Suicide Act. And that argument has never gone away. That was one.

I did a film with Gavin MacFadyen called The Watergate, he was a researcher in 1973. It eventually led to the collapse of Nixon but at the time he was saying it was all untrue. But what was particularly funny was that the Watergate department actually were owned by the Mafia, and we’d managed to reconstruct the raid, to the total horror of the Republican Party when they found out we’d done it. These Mafia guys told us we could do what we liked, and turned up with their moles and Cadillacs and gold and it was totally hilarious. They said, “Hey, these British guys are doing this!” That was memorable.

I had a period in ’69… the first person to be editor of something called the ‘investigative bureau’ was one Gus Macdonald. That come out of the appointment of Jeremy Wallington. Wallington was, again, the classic Fleet Street type journalist who wasn’t a graduate but Plowright brought him in I think to assist Leslie Woodhead, they were joint editors of World in Action. Then they set up an investigative unit and Gus was the first one, and I can’t remember the sequence now. I was asked to do it and it faltered in one way, and then they were chronically understaffed and I simply couldn’t do it for about four or five months. Then they decided that the best thing to do was maybe to not have a labelled unit but rather to do investigative programmes. I did a few things with Ray Fitzwalter, for example we brought Reginald Maudling to account over his relationships with John Poulson and the famous fiddles over the hospital in Gozo in Malta. That was front page of The Mirror stuff when it was done.


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