My window faces the South part 3: Lawrence of England

A few weeks ago a friend mentioned he had seen an exhibition about T.E. Lawrence in Newark, and he asked me if I knew anything about him. I replied, yes, just a bit, and tried to talk about the TV programme I made in 1978 called “Lawrence of England”. It was a difficult conversation, walking along the beach at Gibraltar point in a howling gale, but it prompted me to bring forward my vague plan to write about the making of the programme at BBC South.

For many people, the image of Thomas Edward Lawrence, Lawrence of Arabia, is that of the dashing first world war hero depicted in David Lean’s eponymous blockbuster movie. The depiction is seriously flawed; for starters, Lawrence (5′ 5″)  was not as tall as Peter O’Toole, and he did not become a masochist obsessed with blood-lust. Quite the reverse. And so on.

The film’s popular success also made things difficult for Lawrence’s younger brother Arnold and for anyone else interested in documenting the real Lawrence, as I found out having quite accidentally discovered that he had spent some time at military establishments and elsewhere in the South of England after the great war, apparently intent on avoiding celebrity, until his retirement and untimely death in 1935.

I first came across Lawrence’s celebrated “Seven Pillars of Wisdom” as a schoolboy haunting Wembley Park public library in the fifties. I was actually looking for DH Lawrence novels (for fairly obvious reasons,) but I borrowed TE’s book on the evidence of a quick peek at the illustrations and some random text. I took it home and tried hard to read it – I really did, but without much success. I was also a bit confused – was this fact or fiction? Like most boys of that time I had been pretty keen on Biggles, Bulldog Drummond, The Saint and other tales of derring-do. Fortunately it wore off quite quickly. Continue reading


My window faces the south Part 2: John Fowles

If you have read Part One of this memoir, you will remember that my main aim was to move away from routine directing of South Today, working more and more on regional “opt out” features made at BBC South. I will write later about this period, but it’s going to be quite a long job, so in the meantime, here’s a clip from one episode of a programme strand which I created and produced in the early eighties, called “Don’t Fence Me In”. In this edition John Fowles, celebrated author of “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and other best sellers, who normally refused to appear on television following some bad experiences, broke cover and gave me an exclusive in his less well-known role as curator of the Philpot Museum in Lyme Regis.

The story was about claims that fossil hunters, both amateur and professional, were a threat to fossil conservation along the Dorset Jurassic Coast and even to the homes of residents on the cliff tops. The interviewer was Michael Jordan:

This story raised a few eyebrows among my NUJ card-carrying journalist colleagues
not for the first time, not because the story itself was momentous, but simply on the grounds that I had somehow persuaded an international celeb to appear on TV. For the record, I didn’t need to persuade him. I just phoned him and he readily agreed on condition that he would not be asked to talk about his books. Continue reading

My window faces the South: Part 1

Coming into the BBC from New Zealand television in 1973, I quickly realised that my training and experience as a TV producer / director there did not fit well into the quasi civil service BBC job hierarchy, so at the time I had no choice but to settle for the assistant producer “rank” when I was hired to work as a network director (transmission controller) at the TV Centre in London, on a series of short-term contracts. The job was a means to an end; I wanted get back to making programmes as soon as possible.

In those days BBC Television didn’t normally hire programme directors. Instead they called them assistant producers. A fairly meaningless title really, as almost everyone on a production assists a producer. Also an insulting title, especially on live programmes, where the split second decisions of the programme director translate instantaneously into actions which dictate what the viewer sees and hears, independently of a producer. Continue reading

Working for Auntie in the seventies (continued)

Previous post: 1973 – 74

A few more incidents and situations come to mind from my relatively short stay in BBC TV presentation department in the mid seventies.




I got a surprise when an outside broadcast involving royalty was scheduled to be transmitted during one of my shifts. I haven’t been able to track down what the occasion was, but I remember that I was told that I should leave the control room prior to the broadcast, to be replaced by a colleague. Continue reading