Steve Morrison’s memories of working on World In Action

After I had ben running the documentary unit, Gayle and I – who were not romantically connected, but did films together – were invited to join World in Action, which obviously was a very glamorous programme, and we soon discovered that we were the ‘quick turnaround’ team. So while all the more established members of World in Action would be doing very important investigations that took 3-6 months, they had to have some young people that actually got out some programmes in the meantime. So we were sent out on very fast turnaround to make very quick, cheap World in Actions to allow other people to do their very important investigations, and the first programme that Gayle and I worked on was called The Blood and Guts Shift, and again, it was in Liverpool in a hospital, overnight in the casualty ward, which actually you see an awful lot of now, but in those days was very close to the action and a little bit unusual, and Gayle, who had been a senior staff nurse in casualty in Liverpool in a previous life, came up to me and she said, “The staff nurse, who is like a matron, does not rate or respect the doctor, who is a locum, and she has told him twice that if he doesn’t wear mask and gloves when stitching a patient, she’s going to kick him out of the ward, and this is going to be the third time, and it’s going to happen in five minutes.” And I said to Gayle, “You know, it’s absolutely wonderful when a researcher tells a director that something is actually happening and to go over and film it, but to have a researcher tell you before it is going to happen is pure gold dust. We will get over there and prepare for this explosion.” And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened.

And at the very end, overnight, at the very end of the shift, which was about 6am, I said to the staff nurse, “How do you clock off?” And she said, “Well, I go to my locker room, I put on my coat and I come out.” And I said, “Well, do you take off anything? Do you change?” She said, “I don’t change out of my uniform, but I take off the cardboard thing off the top of my head, because I think that looks pretty stupid walking down the street.” And of course, in uniform she had the watch on her bosom, she had the very starched uniform, she had the little cardboard cut-out sitting on her head, she had her hair very neatly and primly tied up, which made her look an incredible authority figure. So I said to the camera person, who was a brilliant cameraman, “When this woman comes out of this locker room, she’s going to look totally different from how she’s done for the last 12 hours. We’re not going to say a word; I’d like you just to follow her out of the hospital and down the street for 30 seconds – this is going to be the shot which is the credits of the film.” He said, “Yes, that’s absolutely fine, it’s all hand-held, I won’t say a word, nobody will say anything, there’s going to be no ‘action’, no clapper board, we’re just going to follow her.” And into the locker room goes this severe authority figure, and out comes this woman in a black leather coat and blonde hair all the way down her back to her waist – totally different – having taken off her authority and become a beautiful young woman, and walked off to go to bed, and that was the end o the film.

So Gayle and I had a wonderful time for a couple of years making these sort of quick turnaround, short, sharp World in Actions, so we would be sent to Scotland to do Scottish devolution, and then told half way through that it was going to be two weeks of World in Action, because there was a gap, and we had to stay up there and vend another one – it was all very fast and furious. We actually filmed domestic disputes where husbands would be bashing up their wives, which was very controversial at the time, and I remember the head of the West Midlands Police, the chief constable, very, very nice guy, calling us in and saying how much he supported this film we were going to make, and how were we going to do it. I said, “Well, there’s a routine, we have a release form, and we film, and maybe after the filming we get people to sign a release form,” and he said, “I wouldn’t use release forms.” And we said, “Why not? We have to, it’s part of the rules of the IBA regulator.” And he said, “Working class people might sign them, but I can tell you that no middle class husband, having had too much to drink and possibly hit his wife, is going to sign a release form for any film, so I think you’re going to find this very difficult.” So this was the long arm of the law telling us how to be realistic while we had Chinese suppers on the bonnets of police panda cars, and the production manager of World in Action, who was a fearsome character, called us into his office and he said, “Look, I know you two are an item, and you don’t need to say you’re not, but there is absolutely no point in you two booking two hotels rooms. Is that clear?” So it gradually became obvious to ourselves and to the rest of the team that Gayle and I were going to be engaged on a level more than engaged to make a film, and ultimately we got married.

‘The Blood and Guts Shift’ can be viewed at

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