Stephen Kelly recalls working on the Hypotheticals programme

So I worked on Reports Politics for about a year and then after that went onto a programme called Hypotheticals. Hypotheticals was a networked programme. Sixteen people sit around a horseshoe table with a moderator and each of these people play a hypothetical role and a story is presented to them. For instance you have somebody – you’re a journalist. The first programme they did was about journalism. An envelope falls on your desk and inside the envelope is the secret minutes of a Cabinet meeting – what do you do? And there would be an editor of a newspaper, a Cabinet Minister, the police and so on. And you work out a story.

It had been devised by the Ford Foundation in America in the 1950s and a man called Fred Friendly saw it in action. And Fred Friendly was one of the greatest TV producers of all time. He produced the Ed Murrow Show and produced that very famous one about McCarthy. Fred Friendly was a legend and he saw this and he changed it and devised a scheme for television.

So the first one we did was about journalism, the second series was about doctors. The thing was that you confronted an ethical or moral dilemma; it was about decision-making. What do you do if a 14-year-old girl comes into your surgery and wants to go on the pill? What decision do you make? Well, I worked on a series about the police and I spent about a year working on it. I have to say that it wasn’t altogether successful, mainly because the police wouldn’t play ball. You try to introduce an element of surprise; you say, for instance, the prisoner has been found in his cell the following morning black and blue, black eyes, bleeding nose. What do you do? And the police would then say, “Well that wouldn’t happen. It wouldn’t happen in the police. Sorry.” The police are a very rigid organization, so it was very, very difficult to get them to face moral dilemmas because it had all been worked out beforehand.

So, it wasn’t hugely successful that but I quite enjoyed it and I got a couple of trips to New York because the moderator was a man called Benno Schmidt who was a professor at Columbia University. He’s now quite famous. He became president of Yale University and is now one of the leading academics in America and a great friend of Woody Allen. If you go to see Woody Allen films, Benno nearly always has a walk on part! So I did that for a year.

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