Norma Percy described the first programme she worked on

This was State of the Nation Parliament.

And roughly what year?

Brian first came to me to help develop it in February 1972, and we wrote a proposal. I guess we got started actually. You didn’t have to write proposals and get them to develop it. We started work. But there were a lot of us. I was the kind of Labour parliamentary researcher, there was a former lobby correspondent, there was a Tory researcher. But Brian and I got on, so I stayed. But parliament wasn’t televised yet, so we decided to use the structures of parliament to examine parliament. Actually this was the reason I stayed, because we commissioned an opinion poll from MORI about what was wrong with parliament. That had happened before I joined, and I said it was ridiculous. You don’t care about what ordinary people think about what’s wrong with parliament, you care about what the practitioners think, what the MPs think.

So in the end we did a select committee looking into what was wrong with parliament and how to reform it. We did a mock parliamentary debate, which was absolutely fantastic. With the pro and anti… the reform I believed in, the reform I had learned from my MP, John Mackintosh, was that there should be more select committees, that it would make MPs far better able to scrutinise the executives, and the sort of cheerleader stuff that they did on the floor of the House of Commons. And MPs were divided as to whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. So the centrepiece of the programme was a mock parliamentary debate on each side, eight people. And the people who believed in the floor of the House were people like Brian Walden, Michael Fuller, Enoch Powell. And on the other side was Anthony Crosland, Sir Richard Crossman, my MP, John Mackintosh, Reggie Maudling ……

So this was a series, was it?

No, it was… so it took us two years to research. There was also a film, which was supposed to be directed by Leslie Woodhead, in which we were going for a fly on the wall of one bill… of one clause of a bill going to the civil service and the House of Commons. And it took us so long to negotiate permission for this that Leslie went on to do something else.

And we looked around for someone else to do it, and we realised this was modelled on Roger Graef’s film, Diplomacy, which had gone out recently. And so we thought, “Why don’t we go and talk to Roger Graef?” Roger Graef was so outraged that we had gone to anyone else in the first place, but when he swallowed this he agreed to do it. So in the end we got permission from Geoffrey Howe, who was in charge of consumer affairs in the Department of Trade and Industry to study clause two of the Fair Trading Bill, which set up a director general of fair trading. It was kind of the fuzzy end of the Heath government, and it was doing something good to protect the consumer, which was why they let us in. And we filmed for six months. And whenever this director general was being discussed by the civil servants who were about to go to the House of Commons…

It sounds like a dream job for you.

It was a dream job, yes. It was a dream job. So anyway, at the end of this two years, we did actually make some programmes, and I think it ended up being five hours of television on three consecutive nights.

Leave a Reply