Paul Greengrass on the world that was World in Action

So World in Action in that period was very much a closed world. The offices were up there on the third floor I want to say, off to an annexe at the back of the street. They were sort of their own space, weren’t they?

They were.

I’m not sure, actually, that was the very best thing for World in Action if I’m honest, because I think it fed the sense of separateness. Do you know what I mean?

Absolutely know what you mean.

And built walls where they would have been better taken down, so that World in Action was much more part of the overall output of the company. And there was cross-fertilisation and creative pollination between, I think it would have been good for World in Action, good for the people there, particularly myself, and good the other way round too. Because I think at that stage I, and most people on World in Action were rather…well, at its worse arrogant, but it’s perhaps best, kind of into what we were doing. And not really team players. It was a lovely space that third floor, the corridor and Ray at the end, dear old Tom Gill, who arranged all the crews and everything. And there were cutting rooms there with Kim Fletcher, I recall. And Roly Coburn, who did many, many years’ service. Yes. So it was a lovely community. Margaret, Marion I think it was, in the office, and the office is each side of the corridor. There was a great sense of esprit de corps balanced against the separateness of it. And it was fun.

You know, you’d kind of leave at the drop of a hat. I remember the day the Falklands War broke out, we sort of all heard on the radio that they were about to invade. And literally, I hadn’t even left the house yet to go into work, when suddenly Tom Gill phoned and said, “You’re going to Argentina.” You’d get your bag and go and go off for months. Then you come back and it was like you’d never been away. Of course, it was a bifurcated office, because you also had 3 Upper James Street, where there was a World in Action bunker on the top floor, which also was quite remote. It was smaller and there were always tensions between the London-based World of Action operation and the Manchester-based one, because lots of people, like me, wanted to be in London. That was a strange but rather magical place. It was right up high and quite bunker like. There weren’t very many windows. And Michael Gillard had his own sort of super locked, fortress-like office. He was a very secretive, romantic kind of figure. You sort of never really knew what he was doing. Nobody did. His telephone number was never on the team sheet. It was hilarious when I think back, it used to send Ray Fitzwalter demented.

If you weren’t hard at work on a film, you’d end up having lunch together in some place somewhere, and the conversation would always be about what was going to happen to the World in Action and how it could be made better. And generally that involved deposing Ray and installing somebody else. It was all ludicrous when I look back at it, it’s stupid politics, but then that would also… the sort of student politics side of it also was hard up against a really dedicated, serious journalistic and filmmaking side. And also the hilarity of it. It was very male, but that of course played into its insularity. And some of the women who work there like Jenny Rathbone were not treated… I think it would be, it was tough to be a woman in that environment, as it was in television at that time. And I think in many ways that generation of women generally were tenacious in fighting for their space, actually. I rather admired them. It was hard to get an airing for programmes that were about issues actually that were very, very important to people’s everyday lives.

Particularly women’s everyday lives.

Definitely. They were considered less important. I think that was part of the broader culture at the time, and television culture, and certainly World in Action culture. What was prized with a sort of CIA investigations, that sort of thing. I think actually Ray was rather good at trying to get those things going. Although he was more comfortable in the sort of harder-edged, journalistic side. He was, I think always trying to open the programme up to different sorts of programmes. Sorts of types of World in Action. I think he was rather good at that, and probably rather underestimated in his commitment to it. One of the good things about the culture was it was very much, you got thrown in the deep end, but there was a sort of, well, that was a hard school. It wasn’t without its sort of older male benevolence actually.

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