This Week is 10 – part 2
On Thursday, January 6, [1966,] ‘This Week’ celebrates its 10th anniversary. The serious side of producing a weekly current affairs programme is dealt with in a special publication marking the anniversary. Here Fusion [41, published Christmas 1965] takes a lighter look at the past through the eyes of PETER HUNT, who worked on the programme in various executive capacities in its early days, and GILLIAN MORPHEW, who has worked on the programme in various secretarial capacities for the last three years.
It was about three years ago that I arrived on the 6th floor to work with Cyril Bennett who was producing ‘This Week’. And I was apprehensive. Until then, I had worked for Cyril Butcher in admags. ‘This Week’ meant no more to me than a paragraph in the TV Times, occasional glimpses of Brian Connell and a few bars of the Karelia Suite by Sibelius.
Down on the 2nd floor, where my days had revolved round ‘Jim’s Inn’, the world of current affairs programmes was a mystery. I didn’t know how they worked or who worked them. It wasn’t very long before I found out. Looking back, now, I remember very little about the content of the programmes when I first began. I do, however, remember that each week began quietly and ended in a blurr of running feet, harassed faces, raised voices and the latest editions of the Evenings.
I shared an office with Cyril Bennett then. It was small and airless. This had an interesting effect when it was subjected to hour-long production meetings with six chain-smoking programme makers. These meetings at first would fill me with terror because the telephone would always ring, stopping conversation and often heralding a very persuasive P.R.O. trying to sell his client’s programme idea. These ideas were always completely unsuitable for a weekly current affairs programme and their very suggestion would leave me paralysed and nearly speechless. My symptoms must have been taken to mean disinterest for when not faced with the usual barrage of reasons why his idea was hopeless, the poor man would soon ring off.
It is very easy to compare the programmes now with the programmes then – how ulcer-making it was with last minute additions on Thursdays, very little forward planning and two or three items in each half-hour. How comparatively more leisurely it is now, with two or more one-subject film programmes being shot and put together at the same time for forward dates. This means that today, studies can be made in greater depth.
All I remember about what I actually did in those days was typing and circulating the features bulletin twice a week and keeping Cyril supplied with endless cups of coffee and codeine, though I suppose I must also have done something else with my time – perhaps some of it was taken up avoiding the two wolves of the section who I had been told by my predecessor to beware of at all costs. She must have impressed me for I never got past the ‘Good morning’ stage with either of them.
Though it seems now that I worked for Cyril in that office for years, it was only four months later when he told me he had been offered Lord Windlesham’s job as head of features but that until he could find somebody else to take over, he would still produce ‘This Week’ with Peter Morley. I stayed with him as his secretary.
So we moved up to the office of head of features with fitted carpet, armchairs and space for me at the end of a Plan 7 in the next room and our double duties began.
During the next few months, Cyril spent quite a lot of his time interviewing people for the producership of ‘This Week’. I met countless interviewees at the 6th floor lifts and ferried them along to Room 601 and back again afterwards.
‘This Week’ itself seemed to have evolved slightly from less of a battle into more of a steady struggle but never did it become tedious. I cannot remember one moment of boredom for, not only was the business of being with a weekly programme time consuming, but the very fact that it was current affairs, newsy and real made it absorbing. And I was always impressed by the importance of it all, by the people we spoke to on the phone and the people we had in the studio; that Lord Montgomery was actually on the other end of the line and the Archbishop of Canterbury and so many MP’s who up till then had been only names in the papers. And I still have a very vivid memory of Stephen Ward being interviewed in one of the offices and then being hurried out the back way to avoid recognition and the police. And that Prime Ministers should also come to Studio 9…
Jeremy Isaacs arrived as producer of ‘This Week’ seven months after Cyril’s promotion. I moved over to work for him. Jeremy concentrated on racier film reports with the reporter on the story doing any commentary that was needed, obviating the necessity for the studio linkman.
The one and a half years I spent as Jeremy’s secretary I enjoyed enormously. He left more and more of the administrative side for me to do. I remember him beginning very quietly – nobody noticed him, few heard him and his presence was only felt in the department by those working closest to him. But by the time he had settled in, his voice was the most distinct in the front corridors of the 6th floor. Without moving out of his chair, he would summon the current production team into his office, vocally, and also without moving he would pick up the threads of any conversation we were having in the office next door and offer his opinions on the latest dresswear, hairstyles or whatever.
Programmewise, I was scarcely involved in the making of film stories. My job was in the initiating stages and in the commentary writing and editing. Jeremy would decide on Vietnam say, for the next week’s programme and I would check film crew availability, have the travel and hotels booked and generally see that the machine was set in motion. On the Thursday, Jeremy, or the reporter, would write the commentary and I would type it, often several times before it was either down to the length or as he wanted it. As often as not it was only by the skin of our teeth that the commentary would be recorded and dubbed on to the film in time for transmission at 9.10 p.m. Thursdays would mostly develop into a nightmare fight against time – but the nightmare was the producer’s, not mine – the feeling of not having the responsibility was elating.
And then Jeremy Isaacs left in July this year to see what impression he could make on ‘Panorama’ and ‘This Week’ fell back into the overworked lap of Cyril Bennett. At the time of writing, I am now bossless and typewriterless – both Isaacs and Bennett having decided that typing is no longer for me and I have been given some aweinspiring title like programme liaison or programme organiser, I keep forgetting what exactly, but in any case, it just means that I am doing the same job only more so. And that is almost everything to do with ‘This Week’ that is not directly the producer’s or director’s problem, from programme correspondence to chasing film rushes from overseas locations into the labs. No more commentary typing on Thursday evenings – the reporters do their own – but Thursdays often involve the meeting of journalists and Government spokesmen, escorting them to the guest room for drinks, down to the studio for transmission and back to the guest room to recover, leaving us all slightly wilted by 10 o’clock.
But of all the departments for which I have worked in Television House, this has been the most exciting, eye-opening and intriguing and ‘This Week’ itself the most rewarding. It is at the time of writing in the hands of Alasdair Milne, formerly editor of ‘Tonight’. But nothing ever changes – only the names and the faces.