Mike Beckham moving from Coronation Street to World In Action

I then did some not very good detective series that I didn’t like and they weren’t all that good. I asked to start making films. I joined a series called ‘This England’ run by Denis Mitchell and Norman Swallow, who were two very good documentary filmmakers. The key to the series was that there would be no commentary, so these were authored films. So you’d make films about something that you had a passion about. They were very difficult to make because we were kind of babies in this new genre. And portable film cameras had just appeared, the Aaton. And I remember Denis Mitchell didn’t suffer fools gladly. You’d show him a rough cut, and he’d look at it and say, OK, well when you’ve got something to show me, I’ll come again, and he’d walk out of the cutting room.

They were both vey tough, but in the end there were some quite nice films made there. I made a film about Manchester University and found Anna Ford actually, she was one of the people in my… I picked out four students. What else did I make? I made a film about a village in Derbyshire.

Anyway, after that, around 1968, I saw a lot of people like John Sheppard walking around Granada in combat fatigues, and I thought, that looks interesting. He’d just come back from Vietnam. I’d done quite a lot of journalism at university, and I said, can I join World In Action? And within two years, I found myself climbing in helicopters in Vietnam, which was extraordinary. You know, you’d be in Manchester in the Stables and a week later you’d be in a battle somewhere in Vietnam.

I made, I think, over 100 World In Actions over twenty years. I was on the series far too long. It became like a drug. I filmed in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Chile, Bangladesh, Brazil, Israel, Uganda. Trouble spots. I did a lot of war films. And there were a lot of very good colleagues on World In Action – John Sheppard, Jo Durden-Smith, very talented people, Leslie Woodhead, Geoff Moore, John Birt. And it was a unique programme. It was the programme to be on, because we did shows that nobody else touched.

I started as a director-producer. The first film I made for World In Action was about a public school, Marlborough, which was letting working-class children in. It was called The Guinea Pigs. The next film I made with Geoff Moore about James Griffiths, which caused a lot of trouble but it was a very strong film. It was about a man who was psychiatrically disturbed, who shot eight people in Glasgow, and we looked into his background and reconstructed it. It caused a lot of trouble, but it was an authored film, and you know, it was good.

In what way did it cause trouble? Just remind me.

MB: It caused trouble in that we had a camera on the streets and a man running round with a rifle, and we didn’t tell the police. The police were very upset about this and they complained to Granada. It was very naïve on my part, but it was a good film in the end.


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