Paul Greengrass remembers some of his colleagues from World in Action

David (Boulton) was a very gifted man, highly intelligent, thoughtful. I think probably one of their very best executives, but he wasn’t very popular. I don’t really know why.

… but he wasn’t popular with the troops, I think because there were people around…now I’m guessing, because the first time he was obviously before my time, but I think the second time around he’d learned his lesson and was much more laid back. I think he had, I don’t know because, I think the problem was that he became a boss amongst first month equals with a generation of people who were his age. And I think there was a lot of paranoia, left-wing agitation and basically frankly, ‘we’re not having a boss, we’ll do it ourselves’ kind of thing. I think it was pretty anarchic, is my sense of it. But I didn’t… I think the problem with David was that there were people around who’d been through that thing with him. And so younger people like me got that sense, and he struck me as a man who was trying to be correct, but basically did have a point of view.


I think of somebody like Brian Blake, who was very, very good to me, a very experienced producer on World in Action, and actually he’d been there many, many years and worked in Northern Ireland. Stephen Clark would be another one, Michael Beckham, Mike Beckham, people who’d been around many, many years that done it for many… and from the outset, when I first came in, they looked rather scary. But actually, they were all in their various ways, extremely good to me and other young people. If you gave your all for them, as the researcher to the producers, as I was at the beginning, you’d be looked after and you would learn in the best way that you could.

I remember Brian very early on; I can’t remember when it would be. About 1980, I suppose, ‘81. I suggested a programme which will be about Alexander Haig, who’d just been nominated to be Secretary of State in the Reagan administration. So, it would be early ‘81, I guess. I remember the sort of headline in the Guardian being, “Alexander Haig, nomination hearings in front of the Senate expected to be explosive revelations about Korea, Chile, Watergate, etc.” I remember saying to him, “Can’t we go and do a film about the nomination hearings?” “Oh yes, absolutely,” he said. Next minute, Brian’s coming down the corridor coming in to the office, we hadn’t even met really. He said, “Oh, you know, we’re going to Washington?” I said, “Oh, really?” He said “Yes, I’ll see you in the morning. We’re leaving tomorrow morning.” So, we turn up at Manchester Airport and I go and get the papers. And I open the papers, and the headline in the Guardian, I’m making it up, but it was something like, “Alexander Haig hearings now expected to be damp squib.” I handed this over to Brian. And I remember him saying, “Don’t worry, old boy. Never abort a story at the airport.” And that was very much the atmosphere there.

And there were a lot of extremely interesting, able people. I mean, Michael Gillard. Laurie Flynn was another very interesting man who’d done a lot in his life, and of course did the British Steel case. And there was an example, I think, of a golden page in the World in Action story, but also a golden page in the Granada story. Because there was a man, Laurie, who had got these papers and who knew who the source was. And obviously the injunction came down that he had to reveal his source, and the company stood behind him. And at great risk, too. They were amazing like that. There was a ballsiness there.


There was a camaraderie there, as I say. It was tough for women. It was probably a little too prone to its own mythology. It certainly was prone to a bit of infighting. Much less than there had been in the 70s, I think, but it still was. And I’m sure I was as bad as the next person. But there was, as I said earlier, a great esprit de corps. A great sense of camaraderie. To be with John Ware on a story, or Ed Vulliamy of course was there, or Mike Beckham. Simon Berthon. To be in tight spots, in difficult places, and feel that your back was covered by the producer you were working with. Or conversely, when I became a producer, the researcher you were working with. And you’d be backed by your editor, and your company. So, for all the Hollywood-on-the-Irwell fantasies of it all, there was a core of real integrity and accomplishment.

And I remember it, like you do with people that you were young with once, they’re always young in your mind. I remember them all with fondness. I’m sure I was a pain in the arse, and I’m sure I was certainly very insecure. I was a young man growing up. I had an old World in Action team list. And I looked at it, with all the phone numbers in it. It gave me a warm feeling that never leaves you. That sense of being marked by that programme, marked by that company. And I owe it just a boundless debt, and all the people that I worked with there.

Leave a Reply