This week for most people will last seven days. But This Week for Peter Morley and Cyril Bennett has lasted a little over two years.
Next week, with the Thursday programme at its peak, they are to hand over to a new producer, Jeremy Isaacs, so that Bennett, a former national newspaper journalist, can devote all his time to his appointment as head of an ITV company’s feature department, and Morley can concentrate on the production of special documentaries.
Tall, dark-haired Morley, who began his working life in the projection box of a West End cinema, lit a cigar as we talked in his office six floors above London’s busy Kingsway. There was a two-hour delay on the phone to Moscow, no impending Cabinet crisis, and the cigar smelled good.
“These have been two exciting years for us,” he said. “During our ‘reign,’ This Week has visited every continent and has had as guests, world leaders in politics, industry, commerce and royalty.
“We’ve spotlighted race riots in America’s Deep South, troop trouble in Minden, rocket bases in Cuba and conditions under Communism in Poland.
“We’ve had interviews with Mr. Nehru, the Shah of Iran, the Prime Minister, and every member of the Cabinet. And we’ve put out a 45-minute programme with Prince Philip on his tour of America. Without doubt, this was the highlight in our two years with This Week.”
Another programme which brought praise for the Bennett-Morley partnership from both critics and viewers, was one taking the lid off the unemployment position in Hartlepool and the North East.
“This was the first time the public had really been made aware of the poverty and hard times in that area. The programme had a tremendous impact,” said Morley.
“But” he added, “when one has to produce a topical current afFairs programme once a week, one steps unavoidably on a number of toes.
“We had an altercation with the War Office following our coverage of the British troop skirmishes in the German town of Minden. And we were not too popular with the Polish Embassy after our pro gramme on conditions in their country under the Hammer and Sickle.”
Another programme which raised the prestige of This Week was one pin-pointing violence on TV. Naked City, one of ITV’s own programmes came in for criticism. And no punches were pulled.
In recent weeks, This Week scooped Fleet Street with a revealing pre-arrest interview with Dr. Stephen Ward, the society osteopath and friend of Christine Keeler. The following morning, the world’s top newspapers carried the interview on their front pages. A fitting retirement compliment to Bennett and Morley.
Past successes notched by the partnership include Tyranny (the years of Adolf Hitler), Heartbeat of France, Two Faces of Japan — which has been shown by every television network outside the Iron Curtain — and their famous documentary about British trade unionism called United We Stand.
Peter Morley also directed the only full length opera ever to be shown on independent television, Benjamin Britten’s The Turn of the Screw.
But both of them are justly proud of the part they have played in raising the prestige of independent television in the field of current affairs. They leave This Week in a position of strength and influence.
About the author
John Morrell (1939-2007) was a feature writer at the TVTimes until he joined ATV as a research assistant for 'On the Braden Beat'. He then moved on to be a film director for the BBC's '24 Hours', edited 'That's Life' and the 1979 BBC General Election coverage, then worked at Meridian Broadcasting and at BAFTA.