Transcribed by Graeme Hobbs.
This recording, is vested in the ACTT [Association of Cinematograph and Television Technicians] history project. Jack Gold, film and television director, interviewers, Norman Swallow and Alan Lawson, recorded on the 27th February, 1990, side 1.
NS Going to kick off Alan?
AL Um, right, er, first of all Jack, when and where were you born?
JG London, 1930, North London, born.
AL And schooling?
JG Oh my God, I went through a whole variety of schools, it was leading up to and during the war, was my school period and I was sort of semi-evacuated. I think I must have gone through something … before I finished school age … something like 10 or 11 schools, dotted round London, Stratford, villages round Stratford, Exeter …
NS What, Stratford-on-Avon?
JG Stratford-on-Avon yes, Exeter, Bristol, Bournemouth, I mean, I was um. I went to a whole variety … some schools I was never in for more than about three months, and some for two or three years, but very rarely much longer than that.
AL And what kind of … did you have any training after school?
JG What, in film?
AL No, no, no.
JG Oh, anything. Oh, I went to university, I went to the Poly, the Poly of London.
AL What, the Regent Street?
JG And I did, that’s right, and I did a degree in economics, and then I was supposed to go in the army, because it was national conscription, but I was grade 4 cause I had a perforated eardrum, from that, you know when I was about 3 or 4, and I thought I had two years profit if you know what I mean, and it’s rather than going in for two or three years and I thought that wasn’t bad and I didn’t know what to do so I took a … I went to University college to do law on a sort of, almost like a part-time basis, I used to work in the mornings and go to college in the afternoons and evenings and eventually did a law degree.
NS Sorry, you used to work in the mornings?
JG Yeah, I used to make false teeth. [Laughter ]
JG Yeah, a cousin of mine had a … was in the false-teeth business and they needed, he was very kind I think, I just need pocket money really, and I used to make false teeth, so if you drink the coffee too hot you’ll know which teeth I made, you’ll be gummed [Laughter] - it was very weird, but quite fun, you know, and I did lots of holiday jobs, and all sorts of things, factories, and things like that, shops, and then … so I took … ended up with two degrees, one from the poly which was a sort of external BSE, and then a law degree.
AL An LLB?
AL And you didn’t use it then?
JG No, I was very interested in industrial and trade union law, and that was my speciality, and when I left college I was … went to the careers office and they suggested me for two basic jobs, and one was a research oficer at Equity and one was a trainee in BBC radio, and I applied for both and got down to the last two of the Equity job, but i was, you know, all I had was an academic degree I had absolutely no experience, and it went to someone who was much more qualified than me, a guy called Malcolm Dunbar I think it was at the time, so I then took the BBC one, so I went into radio as a trainee, assistant, studio manager I think we were called …
NS Could be.
JG … and that was it.
AL Was there a course, or did they give you … ?
JG They had a training course, there was a terrific guy there caled John Borwick, um, who was their chief trainer, on studio management in particular, I mean he was sort of brilliant and he took us, I think there were three of us in a course at the time, three or four, I think there were only three, which went on I think for about, I can’t remember, was it six weeks, or two months, or something, but it was basic studio managing techniques, sound effects up through microphone balancing and basic recording and things like that and then we were attached to various parts of radio. I was in schools, talks at BBC, went to Oxford Circus and Bush House which were the overseas stations, and then ended up in variety in the Odeon Hall which was terrific, I mean it was quite unlike anything else I’d ever been in or worked in, and I was enjoying it, I had, I was having a great time, and then, one of our, my colleagues who’d been there much longer than me said, ‘everybody’s always filling in application forms for jobs, like crazy,’ ‘I said what is it this time?’ He said, ‘oh, they want trainees in the film department’. I said, ‘what’s that?’ You know. He said there was television, film … this was ’54, 1954. So I thought, well that sounds alright. Because I did a lot - not a lot - I was in the film society at college, and I’d made a couple of films, or worked on some films there and I applied for trainee assistant film editor, BBC television, and I got a place on that in, I think, April ’55 or something. So I’d hardly been in radio, I’d only been in radio for about I think it was August till April, something like that, 8-9 months, but I mean the BBC was wonderful I mean they’d happily train you in one section and they’d move you on to another one if they thought that … there was no sort of recrimination about ‘we’ve trained you, you’ve got to stay here you can’t move on, ’ I thought it was a tremendous attitude on their part to allow me to apply, and get it, there were no sort of reins or anything else about not doing it.
AL Tell us about the training course on the television.
JG Well there wasn’t one really. We were … I was attached to an editor, who I think had an assistant, I don’t know, it was the time of the great explosion - BBC2, Schools, commercial television, all that was happening or about to happen.
NS Well we are ahead of BBC2 by a decade, aren’t we?
JG Am I, much too ahead, anyway, whatever, maybe it was a thought in their heads anyway, well you were there weren’t you, I mean um … you both were, I mean there was a great demand … you knew there was a demand then but they must have been planning for an increased demand for technicians, editors - I mean it was editors, cameramen and recordists they wanted at the time.
AL It was also empire building.
JG Well maybe, it could be, but whatever i mean it was the first training scheme, or whatever you want to call it, there was I think in film departments.
AL Who was the editor you were attached to, do you remember?
NS Ian Callaway.
JG Well it was Ian Callaway, but it was Alan Martin, I think Alan Martin was the first one I was attached to - it’s so hazy now but I think it was Alan before Ian and you were, you know, plunged right in, I mean I was a great film buff, I mean I belonged to film societies and lived at the film theatre and, um - virtually - and made these little things at college and read everything, so I had all that sort of earnestness and interest and things. And there I was working, but they used to have … there was a … there were training courses going on in television, to which we trainees went, were attached to sometimes, I mean Denis Mitchell was on the one, a training course and I remember going … a very great fan of his radio things … I remember being in the same room while we were all sitting down learning things, but it wasn’t in any way, it seemed to me, a constructed course about film editing, it was mainly a course, like a general course for BBC trainees, so we learnt about the ABS, and the hierarchy, and some very simple studio set-ups or techniques and what film was used for, but I don’t ever remember having any instruction at all in an academic way on how to cut film.
AL Who, who, can you remember who the training people were?
JG I think it was Andrew Miller-Jones.
NS Could well have been, yes.
AL He was in charge.
NS He did that for a time, yes.
JG I think he was running …
NS It was his job for a time I know, yes.
JG I think it was Andrew Miller-Jones.
NS He was in the talks department, with me.
JG And then he went to television, and then he was I think in charge of staff training or something, or television training.
NS I think so, and then he went to Brussels for some reason.
AL Yes, he did.
JG Yup, anyway I think it was … I seem to remember Andrew Miller-Jones. But I don’t remember learning a great deal off the course other than right BBC structures and things. But the … the great thing about television in the cutting rooms was that, if you’d been in features, it would be like three years before they gave you a piece of film to cut, or four, and then it would be under enormous supervision, or even longer, because so much was coming in to an editor, it was very rare he’d be doing just one programme, they may be doing a documentary, or someone may say, ‘well look, we’ve got these five shots that we need to put together for Woman’s Hour,’ or something like that and very quickly, I remember being given tiny little film sequences to cut - only three or four shots, and I remember agonising all day on where to put the cut between the wide-angle of the barge coming down the canal and the close shot, you know I mean … and you ended up getting a credit too, which was even stranger, there was Woman’s Hour …
NS Editor, Film editor.
JG … film editor Jack Gold, you know, and all I did was join three shots together. It was probably a bigger credit, being Woman’s Hour, than you’d get on, than poor Alan Martin was getting on a documentary or something. Anyway, the point was you were actually making cutting decisions. So apart from all the normal assistants in the cutting room, although we were trainees, we were doing assistants’ jobs. But there were very few, there were five of us went in at the same time
AL Can you remember who those were?
JG Yeah, there was Mike Tuchner, who I was at college with, which was funny, so we met, in the film society, from the film society at college, we met on the first induction day at the BBC; Douglas Canfield, who was a director who died a few years ago; David Thompson, who eventually became art critic on The Times, and made a series of very good arts documentaries, and a guy called Fred Senior, who I think wasn’t really very suited to the film business, or film, and I think his father was something in … he was Scots … and I think his father was something in the BBC system I think he ended up working in Scotland, in Edinburgh or Glasgow. But we all left the cutting rooms, eventually, and I think for a period we … I think David was the only one that left and left the BBC, cause I remember, he went to become art critic on The Times. But my… Dougie, myself certainly stayed in the BBC and went on to through the editing into other areas, as did … I never quite knew what happened to Fred Senior … anyway, there we all were, five of us, and we were cutting bits of film.
NS When, when I first worked with you.
NS That was with Denis Mitchell, on his …
JG Well, I was working with Ian, wasn’t I?
NS Yes, on London’s teenagers, teddy boys and so on.
JG That’s right, that’s right.
NS Were you his assistant then or …?
JG I think I was his assistant …
NS I think you were.
JG I mean I was by then, I mean we were promoted so quickly, I think I was a trainee for eight months or something.
NS Well that went out in July, August ’55.
JG Did it? So I mean I must have been there then. Yeah.
NS I remember you now as I’m talking, sitting beside Ian in the cutting room on that particular, special [indistinct] series.
JG That’s right I remember that, and then you did the Paul Rotha.
JG And I was certainly Ian’s assistant, that I remember very clearly, on that. So I think I went from Alan Martin to Ian very quickly, it must have been very very quickly.
JG And then I was basically Ian Calloway’s assistant for a long period.
AL So you worked on Panorama then?
JG No, it was before he went to Panorama.
AL I see.
JG Because, then the Tonight programme started, and Tony Essex, who had been an editor at Ealing, who was, and was cutting a lot of things for Bavistock, and Aidan Crawley [indistinct], I remember, and David Thompson was his assistant and we all used to have chats and everything else, up and down the corridors, and he went over to become supervising editor on the Tonight, or even the Highlight programme as it was then, and anyway they needed people, and I went over as an assistant on the Tonight programme when it very first started. And I was, then I was actually given films to cut as an assistant, short sequences, not sequences, but tiny little two minute stories, or three minute stories, things like that.
AL But you were based weren’t you at St Mary Abbots, wasn’t it.
JG Very briefly, but the programme went out from the Marconi studio in Kensington somewhere.
NS Yes, yes, just off the High Street.
JG That’s right, that’s right. But we were cutting at Lime … basically at Lime Grove I think. And I think it was while I was an assistant then that I cut Schlesinger’s first film. He was taken on as a director and he did a lot of very short films, two or three minute films. And he did his one, I think, one on Petticoat Lane that I cut I remember. And then I was, well I was an assistant on the programme which was quite unlike anything else there had ever been, I mean, I mean I always thought Tony was like the Roger Bannister of editing, they always said it couldn’t be done, and he said, ‘why not?’ and did it, broke every rule in the book and was a sort of genius in the cutting rooms. I mean I’m not sure how great an editor he was but as a supervising editor and getting that whole film machine working for the programme he was extraordinary. And then they advertised for schools, television editors, which I applied for, and got, Barry Toovey, Toovey and I were the two editors on Schools when it started. So I left the Tonight programme, because one wanted to go up the ladder, you know, I was now a fully qualified editor, and I was an editor on the first year of Schools television, and I worked with Peggy Broadhead - remember Peggy? - I mean, never stopped talking …
AL That’s right, yes
JG … and Felicia Ellwell …
JG and a lovely producer who died, Ivan Gilman? he had cancer eventually, he did sort of current affairs with Peter Dunkley, who was his PA or something, they were very bright and I remember - I was doing all the other things, but what was happening with Felicia or Peggy, who were very, who knew nothing about filmmaking, knew everything about educational - I used to go out and help them direct - much to the sort of annoyance of the various old-time camaeramen like Tubby and Charlie Parnell and Ken Hodges - what’s he doing here? just trying to save me having problems in the cutting room. So I was out there sort of assisting the producers and directing, you know, let’s go into a close-shot or something, that sort of thing, can I have a close-up here? So that when I got into the cutting room it fell into place much easier. And then, Tonight was expanding at a rate of notes, and I can’t remember whether there was a job advertised on Tonight or whether Tony worked the machine to get me on to Tonight, but I then went to Tonight as an editor after a year on Schools, I went to Tonight as an editor, where I was - I can’t remember - it was two years, or three years, cutting. But we were cutting maybe an average of two or three films a week. Well I say films, I mean they were sort of …
AL They were features.
JG Basically the reporter’s stories … Yeah, they were sort of eight, nine, ten minutes long, or even longer, and sometimes very short sequences, or whatever, but the experience was extraordinary, because I mean the mere output that one was …
AL Were you working on 35?
AL You were still on 35.
JG Still on 35.
NS What year have we reached now?
JG This was …
JG Fifty-five, when was the first year of Schools - Fifty-six?
NS Something like that.
JG Fifty-six, fifty-seven? So I should have thought from Fifty-seven or Fifty-eight I was on the Tonight programme, editing.
NS Sorry if I’m interrupting.
AL That’s OK.
NS Why I was going to interrupt was because I remember - you will remember because we were both involved in this - was that you made a 16mm one-reeler about a … do you remember?
JG That’s right, that was when I was working for schools. So while I was working … that was Fifty-eight I think, when you were assistant Head of Films?
NS Yes, that’s right. Correct, yes.
JG There are two sidelines along all this. I made two independent films. one was sort of - well I made two films - one was for the BFI Experimental Fund, called The Visit, which I made while I was at Ealing, so it must have been in the year I was working on the Schools, basically. Which was 35mm and black and white, in which - I mean, apart from anything else, Chris Menges, who’s now our Oscar-winning cameraman, was a clapper loader, focus-puller. I made that film and then we, well we cut it at the BBC and dubbed it in spare time at the BBC and used a lot of BBC cheap short ends, and things like that, we built a blimp for a 35 wild Arri and I mean we were doing the most extraordinary things, working out synch systems and building the most appalling blimp with a - what were those coloured cloths you used to have on kitchen tables, it was covered in that, I mean, it was, I don’t know, plastic. Anyway, the whole thing was extraordinary. We made this film for the BFI and at the same time I had an idea; when I used to work in the holidays I used to work in this factory in Bermondsey and every year they’d have a charabanc outing, down to Margate, to Dreamland, and I thought it would make a nice film, so I suggested it to Norman, who was assistant head of films, and said, ‘I could shoot the whole thing, I think it was, in a day’.
NS Yes, it was
JG yes, that’s right, a day. I think I needed an hour of back build-up, just at the factory, and it was terrific, it was terrific, he gave me two camera crews. Hugh Wilson - Watson?
AL Yes, Hugh Wilson.
JG Hugh Wilson, and Fred Hamilton.
AL, Yes, yes, Fred.
JG I think Freddie Downton was the recordist but I wouldn’t swear to it, but what it was, it was very early on of the 16mm, it was very early on on the transistorised recorders, the little green EMI box, and it was very early on with the fast film stocks, so what we were doing in fact was a very early cinéma-vérité film, I suppose. This must have been one of the first made in the country I would have thought, I would guess.
NS Could be, that would be 1958, wasn’t it?
JG Yeah, must have been one of the first. And I knew the factory, and I knew the workers there, and we went down with the two crews and we started filming at six in the morning, I think BBC donated a crate of Guinness or something, of expenses, whatever.
NS Very likely, very likely
JG To the making of the film. And we filmed from 6am till midnight, on the coach, in pubs, what they did at Dreamland, I mean really letting cameramen find the shots, or I would suggest things or whatever, but it was - the whole thing was mobile, the whole thing was hand-held, available light, available sound, recording songs, just, you know, it was, because - I’m sure this has been gone into before by you - but I mean it was near the change when documentaries were structured because they had to be, because of the equipment, and lighting, etc, etc, to the more newsreely, or vérité type of films when you interposed much less between camera and subject. So we shot this thing, and I cut it, made a 15-minute film out of it, called Happy As Can Be, I think it was called.
NS It wasn’t called The Outing?
JG No, it wasn’t called The Outing
NS The working title…
JG We described it as The Outing but gave it up as Happy As Can Be and I think it went out two or three times.
NS The only thing I can add to that was, in terms of what we were given, you were talking about the crates of Guinness, I remember that I was given by Kenneth Adam, who was then the Head of Programmes …
NS Only one channel of course. I think he gave me £300 to …
AL To make it
NS To contribute to it. And the pattern was, other things, other people, Bob Saunders made …
JG That’s right
NS … the dubbing mixer, and the plan was that, if it was transmitted, I got the £300 pounds back for another one.
JG Oh, that’s great, so in fact …
NS But it was £300, £350 quid.
JG I mean everything was obviously, the money doesn’t mean the same, but the point was, I had a terrific BBC backup, totally professional backup, to make a different sort of film, and it was transmittable, which was terrific, not just once, but I think certainly twice, and I think three times, and got great reviews and all sorts of things, so it was all very pleasant. Anyway, those were the two, actually what I remember I did direct another film when I was at college, because I used to play a lot of basketball and I directed … they decided to make training films for basketball, and I directed a three minute film called The Two-Handed Chest Pass I remember [Laughter].
NS Why not? Why not?
JG Anyway, that’s somewhere in the basketball archive somewhere, anyway, that aside, anyway, I was now working on the Tonight programme as an editor, and gradually started going out with the odd re…, director or reporter, as I did with Schools to help them shape the thing so it would be easier to cut, and once more ran into sort-of resistance problems from the old cameramen, the older cameramen, who wouldn’t … this is very un… of course they liked, they in fact were directing the things very often, or thought they were, so I became very much part of the Tonight team, in the cutting and filtering through into the directing. And because I knew a lot about films I was also keeping my eye open for interesting films that were around that they could show clips of, and one of the ones I remember that was very influential, certainly on me, was, I think it was Richard Leacock’s film, called Football, which was a very early American cinéma-vérité, or direct cinema film, about American football, American football colleges, and it was like a revelation those films, as to what they were actually putting on the screen. And all that was seeping through. They took on Slim Hewitt, who was a great stills cameraman, who was now working around the little Bolex, with Trevor Philpott and I remember cutting their first films and talking to them about how to construct a story and everything else, and the whole look of filming, I mean, news, current affairs, was changing. And then they advertised again for PA’s, as we were then - Production Assistants - which doesn’t mean the same thing nowadays.
NS I think it still does, doesn’t it?
JG Oh, they, I don’t know, whatever … and I went on the board.
NS Or Assistant Producers are they now? I don’t know.
JG They’re something, they’re called something different. Anyway, I applied for one of those, and I think Leonard Meyer was on the board, and all those … anyway, I was now out on the road, directing, with the old Tonight stars - Whicker, and Fyfe Robinson and Donald Hastings, and people like that, and we’d go off wherever, you know round England, Europe, abroad, and ship back three or four stories a week, or whatever, which we would have no way of cutting, or supervising the cutting, one because we weren’t there and two because Tony Essex didn’t believe in directors interfering with his empire. And he may well be right, I mean, it’s … there wasn’t much time to do both. And I did, I can’t remember how long I did that for, but certainly two or three years, and in that time I also made a jazz documentary, which was … it was sort of privately financed by a record shop, and I think thre BFI were involved as well, the educatioonal department, it’s a film called Living Jazz, which I wanted to do vérité style, but there wasn’t enbough money to keep shooting film, so it ended up as a sort of semi-structured documentary, which had some good things in it, but not really very good altogether, lovely cameraman called Brian Probyn.
AL Oh yes.
JG Who died, I think.
NS Did he?
JG Yes, I think so. He was a freelance cameraman, but terrific, did some great stuff on that.
NS But vérité does have a high shooting ratio, doesn’t it?
JG Yes, absolutely, I mean that’s what it depends on.
AL Oh, yes.
NS By definition.
JG By definition, you just, you know, that’s what I wanted, which we couldn’t afford, so it was a sort of curious mixture and looked it, whatever, for lots of other reasons, so I think there’s some very good things in it, but it doesn’t really work as a film. So I was now directing on Tonight, whose empire was growing and I suppose within that there were several specific documentaries we started to make. There was - Whicker started doing full-length documentaries, and I did the first few of those; one with Paul Getty, and one on - called The Solitary Billionaire, and then we did one on Fiona Thyssen, Baron Thyssen’s wife who was a famous English model, and we made a film of that called Model Millionairess, and then we did one on foxhunting, Death in the Morning, with Whicker.
NS Now that, the Getty and the foxhunting, are very famous.
JG Well, yes, yes, anyway.
NS Well I mean, you know, people talk about early television documentaries …
JG That’s right.
NS … with respect, you know, they mention those - always.
JG Well, anyway, we did those. I mean the Getty one was basically an interview, the Fiona Thyssen one was much more interesting, we … the whole interview was very free-floating and mobile, I mean we had her in all sorts - rather than just sitting in a chair - we had her in all sorts of actuality situations - skiing, driving a car, in an aeroplane, anything else, and that was quite a big change, it was beuaitifully shot by Peter Hall - wonderfully shot - who also shot Death In The Morning. And again they were getting much more - the reporter who was Whicker in all those cases, was certainly there, but was gradually becoming more and more a voice, rather than a presence, as the film was developed. And I did a long documentary with Muggeridge, who was doinga lecture tour across the States, and we did a very vérité film of his tour across the States, called, Ladies and Gentlemen, It Is My Pleasure, because that was the introduction he always used to give. And it was - I enjoyed that - he was great, we went to the most extraordinary places you could never normally get to. So we were travelling all over the place, Europe, America, Alaska, and I was … then, there came a shift. Macdonald Hastings, who was one of the old Tonight stalwarts, had written a book about a very famous gun expert, called Churchill, who used to have the gun shop down the back of - you know - who was like the first English ballistics expert in famous crime trials. And we reconstructed six, I think it was, of his famous cases, which was a mixture of Mac Hastings as a sort of anchor link, and reconstructions of the crimes, and Churchill in court, etc, etc, of the cases, so we made six half-hours, which was I suppose in a way my first professional experience with actors. But they were very carefully scripted, and I mean, which I did with Mac, but very carefully from the film point of view, exactly of how to move from past into present and all that sort of thing, so they were … and they were very succesful, again I remember sort-of the audience and everything else. And I was at this time starting to get … feeling straitjacketed by documentaries, or the Tonight programme in effect.
AL Where are we now - about 1960s?
JG Oh god, oh, early sixties, I was, I wanted, I just felt I wanted to do things without reporters, or whatever, and then there were internal changes in Tonight, I think Baverstock went to Head of BBC2 or something, controller of BBC2
NS No it was pre-Two, wasn’t it? Was he One? I forget
JG No, he wasn’t One … I don’t think he was One. Anyway, and then, the whole thing, you know, then Whicker started not wanting to do Tonight programmes, he wanted to do his thing … BBC2 was starting round about …
NS Middle of the sixties wasn’t it?
JG … this period, cause they, I remember - when David Attenborough … I was now part of Dick Cawston’s documentary unit, and Whicker was about to become a star on BBC2, and they asked me if I’d direct one of his things - I didn’t really want to, but, partly out of friendship, whatever, I did a Whicker’s - one of his first ever
AL Whicker’s World
JG Whicker’s World things, called, about beauty contests, called What’s A Pretty Girl Like You etc, whatever, something like that.
NS Yes, I remember it.
JG Which was a sort of vérité thing again. Now I was working in documentaries, and while I was there, I did a filme about Ruth Furst, who was the South African woman who was put in prison, under solitary confinement. I was thinking - I was researching a film about brainwashing, and talking to people at Amnesty International and things, and then I read an extract from her book which was in the Observer or something, thought it was very interesting, cause it was about, if you like, brainwashing apart from anything else, read the book and asked Dick Cawston if I could make it. And of course it was now going slightly out of the documentary area, cause it meant a reconstruction, and the internal divisions in the BBC were very strict. I mean, Drama hated the idea of documentaries using actors, I think Peter Watkins has made his Culloden round about this time from the documentary unit, I think dra … and it got wonderful reaction, and I think drama department were sort of getting very worried about their little empire. So Dick said I could make it, but I had to use her - Ruth Furst - play her own part, she was not an actress at all, but we did it, with her, I mean I did the script with her, and she lived, relived her own part, and we had a lot of South African emigres, or actors, playing the people around her. We made this film called Ninety Days, which I’m, I was very pleased with, cause it tried to use reconstruction and documentary evidence, etc, etc
AL Just on that point.
AL Did … was there any kind of political interference at all?
JG Not during at all, but afterwards, it got a terrible pasting. It turned out - and I never asked her because I never thought it was actually relevant, that she was in the Communist Party, and someone picked it up, I think a man, one of the MPs, it was a South African lobbyist called Sorif, Soref - S-O-R-E-F - picked up on it, and I think Milton Shulman picked up on it, and there was a terrible blast, I mean there were questions in the House and everything else. Although I thought I’d covered myself - although I suspected it, I didn’t think it was actually any, it was in any way relevant to the story. but I remember quoting a Times - it’s a sore point this - cause I thought I’d covered myself - there was a Times leader about her, before we made it, saying, ‘no matter what this woman had done, there is no excuse for the way she had been treated’, which was what the film was about, which I quoted in the thing, but no-one … anyway I remember there was a Late Night Line-Up afterwards, in which Joe Slovo, who was her husband, and is now on the executive of the ANC - very high-powered guy - and was a Communist, was tremendous, cause he faced this Soref and everything else in the studio and he wiped the floor with them, he was absolutely extraordinary. But there were a lot of reverberations, I think Huw Wheldon came up to me afterwards and he said, if you’d have said in this film that she’d been a Communist, he said none of this would have happened and you’d have got on to awards and we could have got behind you and everything else, anyway, whatever, in my innocence I did nothing, you know, I’m … anyway, there was quite a fuss after the programme, but it was an interesting piece. I also made a film called Dispute, which was something again I’d been trying to do, which was - there’d been lots of trade disputes, and you kept seeing people come out on the steps on the news, outside the TUC, and the union leader would say something or the employer would say something, but you never knew what went on behind the doors, and I spent months chasing round before I finally got permission from an employer and a trade union organiser, who were sort of friendly enemies, that a dispute was coming up, and they agreed to let me film it. But I had three camera crews, I had one crew with the employer, one with the union guy, and one floating with the workforce, and Ken Ashton was a director who was with the union guy, I directed the crew with the employer, and Paul Watson, who is now - I think he was like a trainee or something - he was with the third unit, learning whatever. And we made two one-hours out of this dispute, and it was very interesting, the crews stuck with the units, stuck with the individuals, I would liaise with my director, so I knew what was going on, but we would never pass on to our employer anything we’d found out, so we could film two ends of a phone conversation, and we also tried something else in it, was that they’d have a meeting in a room like this, you know, ding-dong, and then one would leave to have their meeting, and I would stay with the employer and then he would talk to the camera about where he thought he was in the negotiations, you know, what he thought they were thinking and what he was going to do as his next step, and that … my other unit would be doing the same thing in the … so the audience had an idea of what was ticking behind their heads. So we linked it with a commentary, but basically it was like a vérité situation over these two hours. And that was a mass of footage, and Alan Tyrer cut it brilliantly, I mean he … I mean there were yards of transcripts, you can imagine, it went on and on, and to try to shape a story out of it, cause it was, the actual dispute was quite esoteric too, I mean it was all on fine print stuff, it was, it wasn’t easy, but he did a great job, which was compounded by the problem that I was directing another film at the time. Is this alright all this stuff?
AL Yes, yes.
JG Ned Sherrin, who was directing TW3 at the time, That Was The Week That Was, of which I directed odd little inserts for, during the time, they were going to make a full-length film, satire film that John Bird had written, and they wanted to know if I’d direct it, which I said yeah, and it was called My Father Knew Lloyd George, which was written and acted by John Bird, Eleanor Bron, John Fortune and Alan Bennett, who played something like fifty parts between them. And it was based on the idea that it was a nineteenth century political scandal which was being investigated by a contemporary documentary director, and there were constant interviews with the survivors, the survivors, ancstors - not ancestors, what do you call them, the other end of ancestors? - descendants, descendants of the original protagonists, who would all have confused memories about what happened in the past, and then we’d reconstruct the past, so these four actors playing fifty parts, and I thought it was very funny - it was shown at the film theatre actually, recently - a lot of them wrote their own bits as well, and it was most - if I try, someone said to me, ‘would you film it now in the sort of circumstances we did it then?’ I’d say you’d be crazy, cause we shot it was something like a 70-minute film, which we shot I think in less than three weeks, there was no script, other than an idea of what it was about and who the characters were, so we had to have an enormous wardrobe covering Victorian up to contemporary period, a series of locations - we knew we had to have a stately home - etc, and then Bird would go away and write all night, and I’d say, ‘what are we doing tomorrow?’. He said, ‘I think I’ll have a scene in the library between Asquith and his wife’. So we’re saying, ‘right, I need a library, find the costume for Asquith and his wife,’ and the next morning he’d come out with a page and a half of script and we’d film it, and it meant enormosly complicated make-up, wardrobe, set design, and Peter Hall lighting it, it was beautifully lit, and the whole thing was done in less than three weeks, and it would not be conceived as being possible, but it was under … it was when Carleton Greene was a sort of very benign influence, god bless him, over all that. Didn’t go down very well, no- one quite understood it I think, and I think it was ahead of its time. Anyway, so that was going on at the same time as I was directing, having just directed The Dispute - am I getting slightly confused around the dates here? - I may be getting … there may be a time slip here, because somewhere along the line … when I was, I think I’ve got a slight confusion, when I was directing Dispute, there was a new late-night show, satire show, called The Late Show, that Hugh Burnett was producing, and for some unknown reason, which I … whatever it was … was now no longer going to produce, and Michael Peacock, who was One or Two, controller of …
AL He was one, wasn’t he?
NS He, didn’t he … wasn’t he both? He moved from One to Two.
JG I don’t know, but somewhere along this line, I think I’ve got slightly … I think the Lloyd George was before this. Somewhere along this line I was asked if I’d take over producing this late show, satire show, and stupidly I said yes because I wasn’t really right for it, and so I was producing the last of the satire shows, the death of satire, except [Laughs] … except for the fact that on that show, I think was when Barry Humphries was starting, with his Edna Everage, and Mike Palin, Terry Jones were doing their first little films, comedy films, so, although while the old were waning out like Fortune and Bird, and all that - were sort-of now being a little over-familiar, these new people coming up - but I … it wasn’t a happy period
NS I’m sure Michael Peacock was the first controller of Two.
JG I don’t … I can’t remember what side The Late Show was on. Anyway, there was I producing a late night weekly satire show.
AL But you’re now in the gallery.
JG Well no, I wasn’t directing.
AL Oh, I see.
JG Darrell Blake was directing, in the gallery, I was producing, and Esther Rantzen I think was one of our research assistants in that mix, fits into things, anyway, so that was sort of producing,. But it was not a good time of my life as a programme maker, I was really in the wrong … wearing the wrong clothes, the wrong hat for all that. You ok?
AL I’m going to turn over.
AL Jack Gold side two. Would you like to talk at all about Carleton Greene?
JG Well I mean I never met … I think I met him once, when he came to visit the Tonight programme. Well the atmosphere was very benign, I remember. I mean, you got the feeling anything could be tried in televison at the time. I mean, I was mainly concerned with the documentary, and Tonight, and current affairs, and TW3, and you knew it was a very sort of liberating atmosphere that was around. And I think I started watching drama as well at that time, and that seemed to me to be getting much more daring, both technically and in subject matter. I think it was when Sydney Newman might have been Head of Drama, round about that period, who again was a very sort of benign, paternalistic, liberating, pushy, hustling entrepreneur in drama. But there was definitely an atmosphere of, you know, not that anything goes, but anything can be tried.
JG Oh, very relaxed. It didn’t mean to say that any sort of professional craft standards were being dropped, in fact they were being improved the whole time, much more experimentation was going on technically than there’d been before. But there certainly was an atmosphere you could try things without being told you couldn’t even begin to try them. You know, if there was any sort of inhibitions, they were after the fact rather than before or during, is my remembrance … memory of them. I remember getting shot, again, questions in the House, One of the items we produced, I produced on The Late Show that Barry Humphries had written, he used to write little musicals, and he wrote … they were absolutely brilliant … he wrote one about James Joyce in Paris which Arthur Mullard played Gertrude Stein I remember. Anyway, he’d written one about the Pre-Raphaelites, and there was a scene in it with John Ruskin, played by Barry, sitting in his room writing The Seven Lamps of Wisdom, and there were seven paraffin lamps round, all of which went out, whereupon there was knock at his study door, and he opened the door, and there filling the frame was the Holman Hunt picture, The Light of the World, you know, the guy with the paraffin lamp, with the mouth and eyes cut out, into which John Bird is saying, ‘if you need any pink paraffin, phone Holman Hunter - cause Hunter was the exchange then - 1,2,3,4 or whatever, and I said, ‘look guys, look, I’m Jewish, I don’t know about these things, but is this slightly risky? ‘Oh, no Jack,’ says Bird and Humphries and everyone else, it’s perfectly … it’s just a joke. So we did it, and the Bishop of Winchester was quite, I mean, all hell broke loose, and Huw Wheldon again took me by the elbow and said, ‘the trouble is Jack, you don’t realise, but that painting is an icon, it’s on every Sunday school bible throughout the land,’ he said. But that was it, I mean that was Huw, I mean it was, you know, it was, ‘off, next,’, so … but I didn’t know, you know, I just thought it might be slightly dodgy, but it was a very funny joke.
NS If I could go back a bit on the general documentary thing, there are two strands that you’ve put into my mind. One is that the kind of documentary which you made with Alan Whicker, Muggeridge, etc, etc, which is a sort of written, scripted …
NS Reportage …
JG Well it was sort of written post the fact.
NS … and vérité. It’s a kind of, not a conflict, but it’s separate things. You know Denis Mitchell and I moved in one direction …
JG Yes, absolutely.
NS … and this thing done for Granada, we didn’t have a commentary at all,
JG Yep, yep.
NS … and I remember a couple of years ago going to a BBC seminar in Bristol, which was pompously called, ‘Do Documentaries Need Writers?’
JG Oh, that’s right, yes.
NS And that was a philosophical debate and those who’d started the seminar at BBC Bristol felt definitely they did, and, you know - there’s Whicker still left, there’s no James Cameron any more, but what has happened? You know. And I’m afraid I stood up at the meeting, and I said, in a sense the creator of the documentary is himself an auteur, if you like.
JG Yeah, sure.
NS But there is the kind of, not a clash, but two different facts there.
JG There are there are sort of three basic strains. Until the vérité techniques, or capabilities, came into being - I’m sure everybody else has said this - you couldn’t actually move around with a 35 Mitchell camera, and catch people by surprise, I mean there was no way of doing it. You had to … and the film stocks wouldn’t allow it, and the microphones, so everything had to be reconstructed. If you were working with non-actors, you had to tell the non-actors, ‘do what you normally do again please,’ and you’d get yourself into a terrible problem. So, and because the actual business of moving the stuff around, you had to pre-script basically, didn’t you, you actually had to have a shape. You had to have a story into which people would say the things you’d researched them to say, etc, so you’d end up with something that was written in advance, basically, and you would shoot the script. The reaction to that which was made possible because of the new techniques - hand-held cameras, stocks, etc - meant that you could actually record an event or a situation, and think afterwards about the best structure for it. Didn’t mean to say you wouldn’t have an idea, or a narrative idea in your head, but it left things much more fluid, which were the things that Norman and Denis were certainly doing, into which if there was a commentary at all, it’d be like signposts rather than, ‘without the commentary this thing would not make sense.’ And so there was that sort of documentary. There was the old documentary which was really going out of fashion, that Tony Le Binier, and yourself, and all the other people … of course, you couldn’t do it any other way.
JG And then there was the reporter documentary which had come out of the Tonight, or Jimmy Cameron and everything else, where you actually had a guide, who was like a semi-star, or something, a personality documentary, who would take you by the hand and lead you through whatever the story was. And actually, more and more directors were resisting, certainly the old style documentary but the reporter style documentary. And what documentaries we made without reporters, if they were they were being reduced to voices, and then finally they were an anonymous voice, which was a just a linking narrator, of which I did a couple, but not for the BBC. I mean Dispute was done like that, but that was a strange mixture because I actually had the protagonists talking to camera, as a sort of linking you through, which I thought was very interesting at the time. And then I, when I left the BBC in, it must have been 1965, I left as a full-time, I was a full-time employee, then I left when I was sort of, a six month contract, working six months for the BBC and six months freelance, and during that period I think I made the Dispute programme, and I made two documentaries outside - or was it three? - I made one called Wall Street for ATV, which was totally a montage documentary with just a narrator linking.
NS That’d be for Bob Heller, would it?
JG For Bob Heller, who was sort of signposting various things. But I mean they said, ‘would you go across, would you make a documentary about Wall Street?’ So I went over and recce’d Wall Street for ten days, and a crew came over, Louis Wolfers I think it was, and Bob Allen. We went over there, and filmed something like thirty sequences that I thought were interesting aspects of Wall Street. Very much a la varite, and I came back and cut out thirty bits of paper with te names of sequences and shuffled them round the desk for five days, or something. And then, brilliantly edited by Stan Hawks, who was wonderful. I gave the stuff, I said, ‘I think this is an order, I think I can find a commentary, or a line out of a dialogue piece that will actually make sense and get a sort of structure, and it was a sort of, just a montage documentary, with a commentary, a narr…, an anonymous narrator just linking things. I also did a documentary for Jeremy Isaacs of famine, an Indian famine situation in Bihar, where again we tried something.
NS This is Rediffusion
JG That’s right, Rediffusion, in higher, in Holborn, Kingsway, which was again slightly different, we didn’t have a reporter with us, but what I had was an Indian who could speak English, a sort of local journalist, and we’d go out and find the sequences and we’d film and he would interview, in Indian, he was offscreen, the various things, and they would answer in indian, and he would simultaneously, or nearly, give a translation in his very haltering, halting English of what they were saying, and because he was concentrating on the technicalities of translation, they were sort of unemotional narration which gave it even more power. So, it had a very curious effect, and I was very, again - well, not again - I was very pleased with that film, I thought we’d tried something, not novel necessarily, but it had a very interesting look, a way of doing that sort of subject. Very much hand-held and, you know, I remember going into a village once, and people, whenever you stopped the Jeep people would just come and meet you out of the villages, and he would say, ‘what is happening in this village?’, and they would say something like, ‘smallpox’, or whatever, and he, a woman would say, ‘come with me,’ the camera wouldn’t stop, he’d just go with this woman right through the village, hand-held, he’d go to the door of her hut, she’d reach into the hut, the camera would be changing exposure and pulling focus, and out would come this kid, raddled with smallpox, and I mean, it was just, it was very alive documentary work, I mean it was just - you were there, absolutely. So I did that during my freelance area. I also did - I can’t remember the dates now - a documentary for Jeremy when he went to Thames, about Hollywood, which again was a similar sort of thing called, Dowager in Hot Pants, it was called, about Hollywood. And then I, while I was in my hiatus period - it was a very American phrase that, hiatus - well I was on my six months off from documentaries, I did a programme for Omnibus, I think it was then, Stephen Hearst, of three short stories, fictional stories, called The World of Coppard. I mean, there was a writer called A.E. Coppard, wonderful English short story writer, in the tens, twenties, early thirties, and I was very fond of these stories, and suggested they’d make an interesting film, and - god bless the BBC again, or Stephen - said ‘OK’. So now we were … but they’d already been working with actors in Omnibus, Ken Russell’s films, things like that.
NS That’s right, well I took over Omnibus after …
JG Was it after that?
NS … shortly after that, in fact the first one that went out when I was in charge of Omnibus was Ken Russell’s Delius,
NS … and Tony Palmer
JG Was … that was after his Elgar and everything, wasn’t it?
NS Oh yes.
JG So, Omnibus … the arts programmes were now very much into actors - much to again the annoyance of drama departments, and - I’m not sure about any of these dates now, I’m all confused, anyway I made these three short stories.
NS That was ’68
JG Was it ’68? Called The World of Coppard, which were pure acting, you know, straight fiction. And because the BBC being the BBC it came out at something like 68 minutes but no-one said, ‘lose a story’ or ‘fill it up’, we’ll have a programme lasting 68 minutes, which was wonderful, and each story ran its right length, I mean one story was like 11 minutes, one was eighteen, and one was twenty-four or something; no-one said they had to make … you know, the quarter of an hour or the thirty minutes or whatever. So it was a wonderful thing to do and I had a great time doing it. And now things started taking another turn because I was asked to do work for drama department. Tony Garnett was one of the producers on drama. And I was … I can’t remember how the introduction happened, it may have been because, no, I can’t remember, anyway, an introduction was somehow made, and he offered me the first Jim Allen script, called The Lump, which was about building workers on on the lump and it may have been because of my documentary work and it was very much a sort of documentary subject and very powerfully written by Jim Allen; I think he’d been writing like, for Coronation Street and I think this was his first full-length drama. And this was at the time when Drama department couldn’t do everything on film, because of the union agreements, they had to have a proportion of the programme done in the studio, electronically, before everything could be done on film. You could do everything on film in the Arts department with actors, but you couldn’t do everything on film in the Drama department.
NS I don’t see the logic, do you?
JG There wasn’t any, it was just people hanging on to various agreements. So in this 75-minute, whatever it was, drama, I think 70 minutes was on film, and there’s an appalling quality change for the five-minute telerecording, as it was then, studio, which was only because of … I mean, it’s just like a punch in the face when you see it. Anyway, that was my first, if you like, Drama department work with actors.
NS We talked, didn’t we, about - which didn’t happen for some reason - again I must have been Omnibus, wasn’t it about Rimbaud?
NS French writer, or a French poet then.
JG With me?
JG No, don’t think so.
NS Oh. It had … the script had been or the synopsis written, never mind, by a, I think a scriptwriter you knew. No?
JG May have been. I …
NS Came from the West Country? Never mind, it never happened.
JG I can’t remember. I really can’t remember that.
NS I remember three of us talking about it, you, and the anonymous author and me, and it was about a French poet, or two French poets, however forget it, let’s not waste tape on something that never happened anyway.
JG I can’t remember, I can’t remember that. Where was I?
AL You were …
JG Drama department.
AL yes, yes, Drama department, The Lump.
JG Well we made that, that was Tony Imi I remember who did that, that was almost his last BBC thing before he went out. But that was very much sort of documentary style filming - hand-held cameras, very gritty backgrounds and apart from Leslie Sands they were all newish faces and things like that, so it was very much in that new wave of doing … bringing the documentary experience of real locations, etc, etc, into drama. Cause that … drama was shifting from studio drama, electronic drama, or Rudy Cartier type, well constructed ba-bom, except that I mean the other interesting thing that was going which was crossing that line at that time were Gil Corder’s and Colin Morris’s things, which tend to get forgotten but they were a very important transitionary, transitory, link between straight documentary to reconstructed documentary, weren’t they?
NS Absolutely, yes.
JG And they, that, that area of, of programming often tends to get forgotten I think in this whole history.
NS Well, aren’t we in the same age as Cathy Come Home etc?
JG Well Cathy was later, I think Cathy was just after The Lump, I think Colin’s and Gil’s were before that, you see.
AL Yes, they were, yes.
JG I must go to the loo.
AL You heard what your last bit was
JG It was about Colin …
NS …and Gil.
JG … Morris and Gil Corder. They, I think … as I say they were sort of - but you did something with Tony Lebinier about that time too, I remember there was one about … or was that much earlier? … about small-time crooks or something, or police or something, I seem to remember.
NS No, that wasn’t me, I mean Tony did it, I think, yes.
JG Maybe Tony Lebinier did it.
NS Yes. He’d probably have done it for Dick Cawston’s department I think.
JG I can’t remember. Anyway, everything was moving around and changing, and there was a lot of cross-breeding between documentary techniques and drama programmes, I mean … which has been heavily influenced, I think, by people that worked on Tonight, particularly people like Slim Hewitt, who was totally independent from the film department, but had a wonderful stills man’s, Picture Post eye, and no-one seemed to mind too much if there was a slight wobble on his hand-held shots, cause the shots he was getting were so terrific. And gradually the Ealing cameramen - I mean I’m going back a bit now, but I’m also going forward - were learning that in fact the rock-steady shot which may be dead wasn’t as good as a slightly wobbly finding the focus on something that was really alive. And so more and more the newer, the younger Ealing cameramen, were quite happy to put those cameras on their shoulders and go walkabout and do everything, and the early Man Alives, and things like that, I think were a great testament to all that, particularly the cameramen. But all that was now affecting drama because drama couldn’t look as it used to look, because there was so much television, and people seeing what actually happened in life, sort of carefully lit dramas on location started looking phoney. So the cross-fertilisation if you like from current affairs and documentary was certainly seeping into drama - particularly people like Ken Loach, who could see that the reality of drama could be - or the fiction part of drama - could be very easily blurred into what looked like documentary if you used in a way documentary filming techniques as they were then, which is sort of long lens, available light, etc, etc, although they’d be very carefully reconstructed that was where he was aiming, so things like Cathy, which is a docu-drama - whatever that awful … friction I think they call them, friction, as opposed to faction, or whatever - anyway, drama started looking more and more like documentary, but documentary didn’t look more like drama, documentary still was now hoist on its own petard of cinéma-vérité, and seemed to me to get, I don’t know, looser and looser, like anything you filmed was of value, and of course it isn’t. And so documentaries sort of became less interesting I thought, in many ways, and drama became more interesting. And I … by which time I was now getting slightly - fed-up I suppose is the phrase - with, of, of relying on other people’s reality to make my films. I didn’t know how to do them any more, I didn’t know how to find a new way of making a documentary. That sounds awfully presumptuous, but I couldn’t, you know, I’d gone through the whole vérité bit, I’d worked earlier in the cutting rooms on the sort-of reconstructed, or the old, the older type of documentary, most innovatory were the things that Denis and Norman were doing, which was coupling the two things together, it seemed to me, and I couldn’t think of any other way of doing it, because there was also … I also felt a reaction, which I think now was possibly misplaced against that sort of Humphrey Jennings sort-of documentary, because it felt sort-of narcissistic I suppose …
NS Yes, not so heavy.
JG Yes, sort-of, I mean, one admired thimgs like, you know, the great classics like Song of Ceylon and all those sort of things, cause they were beautifully crafted, but at the same time you knew that they were manipulated, and there … I suppose there was a sort-of political feeling going through, in a way, that there was raw life out there, and we shouldn’t interfere without too much.
NS They were also 35mm of course.
JG Oh, yeah, absolutely, so that the manipulated documentary, like Jennings’ or Basil Wright’s, or whatever, sort-of, one would say, shying away from, as though that wasn’t really documentary making, it was a form of … I don’t know whatever you would call it, I’m not sure how one would describe it - but I’d got to the stage when I couldn’t think of any other way of doing documentaries, and wanted more … having had tastes of drama in the Coppard, and the Mac Hastings thing, I rather liked the idea of going in with a script - I’d gone sort-of full circle - and actually knowing in advance what I was going to do, and working with actors and really constructing a story, but being much more in control of the material than I was as a documentary director, where you were very much responding to material, as opposed to activating it. So temperamentally I was moving away from documentaries, and it was then I think that I did my first feature film, which was The Bofors Gun.
AL How did that come about?
JG Well, when I started The Lump, Tony Garnett said, ‘who’s your agent?’, and I said, ‘what’s an agent?’, you know, I didn’t know what that was, he said, ‘well, you need someone to get you the best deal I’m going to give you.’
NS He recommended his agent?
JG So, he recommended his agent, who was a brilliant agent called Clive Goodwin, who had very few directots then but a lot of very good writers.
NS I remember him.
JG He was terrific, he actually died of a brain haemorrhage in America, anyway, but he was very, very good, and very sort of radical agent, I mean politically. Anyway, I was now with him and he started I think hustling me around, in crude terms, and he recommended me. I also knew - cause a lot of my contemporaries were now doing features or just starting to do features - and I just sort of knew that just to do a feature for the sake of doing a feature wasn’t sufficient, that it had to be something I really cared about, because if you fail at first feature, it’s got to have some sort of quality about it, you know, even if it’s not necessarily a commercial success, it needs to be something you believe in. And he put me in touch, and I met this producer, called Otto Plaschkes, who worked as assistant director and production manager on various films and had just produced, or co-produced, a very great success called Georgy Girl, and he was sort of very up, and he was … I mean he’s now a very old friend … had got John McGrath’s play, he bought the rights to Bofors Gun, or Events While Guarding The Bofors Gun, I think was the title, which had been a play put on at Hampstead, and he wanted to make a film of it, and we met - he actually sent me a couple of other scripts before that which I said no to - which may be helped, because he came up with this one, which I said yes to. And so I was doing my first feature, and it was very, very interesting on all sorts of levels, I mean I … the … I said, ‘how long have I got to shoot it?’ amongst other questions, he said, ‘six weeks’ - I thought that was a great luxury, having done four-week BBC ones, I said, he said, ‘I’m afraid it’s only six weeks,’ I said, ‘wow, that’s wonderful!’, you know, so that was different, the sort of back-up on the production side was terrific, I mean the sort of the specialised professionalism of the people he had, he had a wonderful production man called Clive Reed, who used to be one of the best first assistants in the country, and was his sort of production man, who I’ve worked with many times since, who was terrific, brilliant cameraman Alan Hume, who … dozens, I mean he’s just on films, Shirley Valentine, and I did a Graham Greene last year, I mean he’s a top class cameraman. And a brilliant cast, we had David Warner, Nicol Williamson, Ian Holm in his first film, John Thaw, Barry Jackson, Donald Gee, I mean a brilliant, brilliant cast. And we shot this thing - I think it must have been ’68, and it was a great success.
AL Where did you shoot it?
JG We shot it out at … there was a little airfield called Panshanger, near, just north London, Bushey way, and in Bushey Studios, which was, I mean, the Studio was as big as the Nissen hut, I mean the hut just, so it was very, very cheaply done, and was a great critical success, but wasn’t released, Rank refused to release it
JG I think it had about a couple of showings out of town and that was that. Don’t know why.
JG But they didn’t release it. Didn’t go on general release. It did - as a film it did me a lot of good, I mean it was - two things, I mean people liked it as a film and two I did it on schedule and on budget, which is always useful. And then I started basically doing nothing but drama …
AL Back at the Beeb?
JG Back at the Beeb, or - yes it was always, nearly always - I think the drama was always at the Beeb, except for The Naked Civil Servant, which was done at Thames, or features, with two or three plays dotting along the path.
AL The plays?
JG Yeah, theatre.
Al, Yes, what?
JG Well … I can’t remember, I don’t know why I was asked … oh yes I think I probably do, John Bird had written an adaptation of a play called Council of Love, and I think - I suspect it was because I knew him and worked with him that my name came up as a director, and I ended up in court on this on a charge of blasphemy, which is …. very interesting piece, it was originally written by … do you want to hear this?
AL Yes, yes.
NS I remember, yes.
JG It was originally written by an Austrian called Oskar Panizza at the turn of the century, and he went to jail for two years for blasphemy. It was then revivied in Paris just before the production I did, and was a great success there, and there was an English management who wanted to do an English version of it, and asked John to adapt it. Very, very briefly, I’ll try and give you a quick synopsis. It opens up in heaven, at the middle ages, and all the heavenly throng are gathered for a canonisation ceremony. The Virgin Mary appears knitting an enormous scarf for Jesus who is always ill. Jesus appears in a bath chair with his bandaged bloodied hands and feet, wheeled by angels, and he’s very weak, because they don’t understand down there that it’s supposed to be symbolic this eating of the flesh and drinking of the blood. He hates his mother because she’s always fussing over him, and she’s always fussing over him and she can’t bear God cause he won’t let her in the Holy Trinity, and Jesus can’t bear God because he forsake him, and God can’t bear the Virgin Mary cause she keeps wanting to get into the Holy Trinity and fusses over this whining boy, and God appears - decrepit, cobwebbed costume - saying ‘why are we all here,’ and Gabriel says, ‘it’s a canonisation ceremony,’ he says, ‘oh, another one.’ he says, ‘who is it this time?’, he says, ‘there’s this 12 year-old girl.’ ‘Why?’ ‘Well, she’s been raped.’ ‘But girls are being raped all the time,’ says God, ‘but this is five hundred times,’ So?’ says God, ‘it’s by Benedictine monks,’ says Gabriel. So God goes mad, he says the world’s got out of hand, licentiousness is rampant, and something’s gone wrong down there. So the Virgin Mary says, ‘why don’t we go and see what’s happening in the Vatican? They always do a good show this time of the year, it’s Easter.’ Transformation scene, we’re in the Vatican, the Borgias are the popes and there’s an orgy going on in the Vatican - girls are being screwed and there’s nude wrestling and it’s a complete shambles. God is furious. They’ve got to be punished, so he summons up the Devil - played by Warren Mitchell, who hasn’t been in heaven for a long time - looks around and they have a great sort of witty debate, I thought, that John had written, a la Shaw, about free will, and determinism and everything else, anyway, God says to the Devil, ‘you’ve got to find a punishment for humankind, they’re out of hand.’ So the Devil goes down to his laboratory, which is like Heath Robinson, and auditions the most beautiful women in the world, and finally spends the night with Salome, and gives birth to a beautiful girl, who they call Syphille - S-Y-P-H-I-L-L-E - and at the next Vatcian orgy the Devil appears and introduces this girl into the throng, and all the guys jump on her and the stage goes dark and there’s a terrifying male scream, cause venereal disease, syphilis, has now entered the world, and the dates coincide apparently, in medical history the first version of syphilis was found in Rome … ba-ba-bum … at this period of time, and it was the end of the Renaissance; city-states no longer trusted each other, the drawbridges went up etc, etc, it was the end of the great flowering, and that was the play I did, and - I must have been mad, I mean it was the first thing of the theatre I’d ever done, it was a cast of over thirty, it was going straight into the West End at the Criterion, it was a dodgy subject, it was a time when I was, you know, flexing muscles I suppose … and I ended up in court on a private prosecution, brought by the dowager Lady Birdwood, who was part of the Festival of Light …
AL [Laughter] Oh, yes.
JG … on a charge of blasphemy. I had a co-director who did the choreography, called Eleanor Fazan, and we ended up at Bow Street, this private prosecution, and we were defended by John Mortimer, or at least she was, and we were sort of co-joined, and he was so funny and witty in the court, I mean the whole thing was thrown out on a technicality only. I thought it was all a joke when someone said you were going to be summonsed, I thought I’d read about it in the Daily Express or something, but I was actually in court, it was a committal proceedings, and I could have ended up at the Old Bailey. So that was my first experience in the drama. But the interesting thing is the day I went to court was the day I’d heard I’d won the Catholic award for a film called Mad Jack I’d made for BBC in Monte Carlo. So I was going to use that if necessary to prove my bona fides. Anyway, that was my first theatric experience. So from this period on I was making a lot of BBC … quite a lot … several BBC dramas - Mad Jack, which was about Siegfried Sassoon, Stocker’s Copper, which was about the Cornish clay miners’ strike. I did another feature called The Reckoning.
NS Well The Naked Civil Servant you briefly, modestly, mentioned.
JG Then The Naked Civil Servant came in, that was 1974.
NS Something like that.
JG Something like that.
NS I mean that’s very important.
JG Yeah, what happened was Philip Mackie - who used to be one of the great television writers, God rest his soul - had written this film based on the autobiography of Quentin Crisp, that Denis Mitchell had already done a half-hour documentary with - I cant’ remember what his series was called then, for Granada.
NS It was just … no, it was single interviews wasn’t it?
JG Yes, that’s right, he did a half-hour programme with Quentin Crisp.
JG I don’t know whether it was as a result of that or whatever, anyway, Philip had written a script about Quentin Crisp, called The Naked Civil Servant, which was the name of his autobiography, who as also … we had the joint … the same agent, Clive Goodwin, and this script was sent to me, and I thought this was the best film script I’d ever read, it was absolutely wonderful. And we tried to get it made for something like 2-3 years, and no-one would make it, no-one in television, no television organisation would make it. I think BBC turned it down two or three times, it went the whole circuit, they … it got as far as … it got turned down by a lot of stars, like O’Toole, and people like that. They - somebody, I think it was Tony Tenser - said he would make it as a feature of Danny La Rue could play the lead, which was rejected. Jeremy read it when he was running Features department at Thames, and said he wanted to do it but didn’t think he’d get it past his board. And then he became controller, and Verity became head of his drama, Verity Lambert became head of his drama department, and they pushed the thing through. So we made it, in a very strange atmosphere - not atmosphere - working conditions at Thames, because they didn’t have a film drama department. They had a drama department which had a studio base down at Teddington somewhere, and a documentary department based in the Euston road, and here we were making a film about a real person, and no-one knew quite how to service it, so it was an enormous problem, I mean I was having crews changed every three days, because the crews were on a shift system for the studio at drama, I mean this is on the prop men, and the make-up assistants, the wardrobe assistants; the cameraman stayed the same, Mike Fash, cause that was … he came from Features … and I think the designer stayed the same, Alan Cameron, but all the support crews were changing every three days, it was weird. And I think as a result of that Euston Films was formed, because they knew they had to change, whatever they wanted to do … anyway The Naked Civil Servant which was certainly important for me, I mean it helped reputation and everything, and was an incredibly successful film.
NS Quite right.
JG Everywhere, I mean …
JG … it won award after award, it won the Italia, it won the Monte Carlo, you know, it just reaped everything. Great success in America, I mean it was, it was just … I’m still living off it really I suppose, I mean people who know nothing else that I’ve done, they certainly know that film, and it was very enjoyable to make, and … but it was such a brilliant script …I mean, and John Hurt was wonderful. Everything about it worked, I thought. It was a very good experience, and …
NS What else springs to mind?
JG God, um …
NS You better think of them, not us, if it’s important to you.
JG Well I made a film of The National Health, Peter Nichols’ play.
JG Film about the First World War, flying, called Aces High.
NS Right, that was quite a long time ago wasn’t it?
JG That was ’76.
JG The same year I did a play at the Royal Shakespeare Company, The Devil’s Disciple, which was a totally pleasurable experience, it’s quite different from the Council of Love thing. The devil was there again - suddenly thought of that. And I was now working on three strands - I was doing television drama, Granada drama - Euston drama - and feature films and the occasional play, and then Norman asked me if I’d do a documentary, brought me back into documentary life
NS We met by chance in this very street.
JG That’s right. It was about, it was involved with Kenneth MacMillan, his anniversary or something, fiftieth birthday, something …
JG … was coming up, and it was suggested doing a programme about it, and I had an idea about Arts programmes, or whatever, which Norman was happy with, and was happy with, and so we made it. It was the first documentary I’d made for a long time. But it was … again, I thought an interesting approach to documentary making. Very briefly, with MacMillan’s total co-operation, the idea was to … for him to choreograph a ballet which would eventually be shown and choreographed for television. We would film the rehearsal, but not just observe it, but get him to actually explain what he was doing, while he was doing it. So instead of us just watching and him saying, ‘pirouette’, we would say, ‘why a pirouette?, what is a pirouette? what’s it doing?’ except we never even used a word like pirouette, I mean we avoided all that sort of language. Then having filmed the rehearsal, we ran - he only used two dancers - we would then run the rushes, back on the Steenbeck to himself and the dancers and they would analyse their work, and now they could stop the frame, they could freeze it and say, ‘what I was after here was that shape’ or whatever, so we were now in the second stage, the first stage was actually filming and analysing the rehearsal while it’s going on, the second stage was actually seeing the results on film of that rehearsal, and then the third stage was actually going in to a television studio where he’d made the ballet that he’d choreographed for television, and actually record it for television, and he’s now in the gallery and I’m assisting him and working out the shots for him, but he’s again explaining why he wants that shot rather than that shot. And then finally, we see the three ballets, very short, what were they, ten minutes at the most?
NS Yes, I think they were eight.
JG Eight minutes, of the actual finished ballet on the screen, so the programme was, what, seventy minutes or something. Some odd time which you’d managed to persuade them …
NS Yes, yes - a commercial hour and a quarter, whatever it is.
JG Whatever. So it was something I’d been very interested in, I’d got sort of tired of the bio-documentaries of ‘this man had eight mistresses, three wives and two children and painted Mont Saint-Victoire,’ and I’d say, ‘well why … we’re not interested in all that, we’re interested in that painting, why did he paint it like that?’, and I’d never … never really seen that. I mean I did lots of interviews with artists that John Reed used to do, and things like that, but never actually working out the detail, the mechanics of why they did things …
NS And of course you …
JG … you know, why that brushstroke instead of that brushstroke?
NS I was saying, it’s the case that people read the transcript and don’t remember it or didn’t see it, that you of course were a key part of it, I mean, you were in it.
JG Well, yes, I was asking the questions, yes, trying to stay off camera.
NS I mean, you were directing it, we saw you directing it from the gallery.
JG So I thought that was an interesting approach to do it, and tat was a great success too.
NS Yes, it was. That won an Emmy, didn’t it?
JG Yep. [Laughter]
NS Ho, ho.
JG Yes, it did.
NS The one person I think we owe a lot to on that of course was Denis Forman.
JG Absolutely, who pushed it through - cause it was a very strange experiment to do, really, it could have failed, disastrously.
AL You were talking about working in the gallery then.
JG Yep. Oh, yes I mean, I …
NS You did Shakespeare then, Shakespeare at the Beeb
JG Yes, I’d done, I’d done now … I did two of the Shakespeare’s, BBS Shakespeare’s, which were totally studio, in the gallery - video - The Merchant of Venice and Macbeth. I’d also done some other drama in the gallery at the BBC, which had - it was a reverse now, it was mainly gallery - mainly video, with a few film inserts funnily enough, called Bavarian Nights, and I’d done another studio drama called Maria, which was an Isaac Babel play, which was all studio. But I never really … and I did another one with … a Noël Coward one, which was a mixture of all video, OB and mainly studio, with Tom Courtenay, so I was dabbling in the studio work too, which I never really enjoyed.
AL I want going to come to that, I’m going to turn over, I’m going to put another …
AL Side three. Now, let’s talk about working in the gallery as opposed to sitting in a director’s chair on the floor.
JG Um, well, the thing … the big problem … I mean, I’d never really believed in any fundamental difference in how you set up shots. I think a television camera and a film camera is a camera is a camera is a camera, an actor is an actor is an actor, you can move it or not move it, you can cut, you can do all of those things in the studio or not. I think there is a look that’s different, on the actual electronic look as opposed to a film look on the screen - I prefer the celluloid emulsion grading to electronic grading, but that’s a question of taste. But the big problem with studio work - video studio work - is the time problem. For say one of the Shakespeare’s, you’d get, what, four weeks rehearsal, which is terrific, with the actors, to work out exactly what the play’s about, etc, etc, which you would never get on a film. You also have a very brief technical rehearsal with the camera crew, and the sound crew, so that they know the problems - and then the trouble begins, because you’re now in a very limited time in the studio, which is really limited, I think. begins on the second dot, and ends on the second dot, and trying to get overtime is a nightmare. And what you are now doing is something like twenty minutes of recording - or whatever it is, I can’t remember the exact - in the day. Now if you’re doing a film, you’re doing pretty good if you can do say four minutes a day. I mean there are days when I’ve done eight, nine, ten minutes in a day on film, but that’s fairly simple sort of setups. But in the television studio where the clock doesn’t stop ticking and the chances of actually over-running are incredibly slight, almost impossible, everything becomes technical, and although you try to iron out every variation, of possible problems in the technical side in the run-up, and although you … although I tend to shoot in the studio with very little cutting unless the sequence needs it, I try to do it in long camera moves and long takes, the clock doesn’t stop ticking, so the thing that has the least chance in front of the camera are the actors, because basically the camera crew and the sound crew and the lighting crew are doing all their job while you’re doing it, so you have to rely on the fact that four weeks rehearsal with the actors is sufficiently … is sufficient to let the actors carry through and give you a performance at the end of all this technical thing that is going on. And I think it’s … terrible. I mean I’m not experienced enough really in the gallery to say that maybe that one should be more on top of it, but it struck me that the things I was asking for weren’t really complicated, and even if they were, they, they should be quite possible, no-one ever said you can’t do this sort of thing in the technical run-ups, of which there were several, and I just found it very frustrating. I mean it’s very good say from the sound point of view, it’s under control and all sorts of things like that and the servicing is right round you, but the clock doesn’t stop ticking and the pressure on the actors, and I found on myself, is far greater than it was in a film situation which may go on a lot longer, goes on for weeks, but at least you feel … on the whole you tend to feel more in control, or I do … on a film set than I do in a television set, even though everything theoretically is very much more under your control in the studio, I just find that that clock is a killer.
AL Also I think, one of the, one of the things that I’ve found watching television drama now is that often you can’t hear.
JG Oh, terrible. But that happens in films a lot, the dialogue is not important - and mostly the way that stuff is written it isn’t [laughter] - you’re better off …
NS It’s just as well it isn’t.
JG Yes, but I do feel … I mean I’ve, I’ve done the studio, I haven’t done nearly as much as other very experinced directors who maybe doen’t feel this at all, because you look at their stuff and it looks terrific. I don’t know what hell they’ve gone through in getting it, or wish they’d had more time, or whatever. I just know I would rather film than be in a studio gallery, and I … actually the first studio gallery proper I did was - apart from this little bit in The Lump - was this thing for Granada, about the Nixon tapes, Watergate.
AL You didn’t get any experience on the Tonight programme?
JG I used to sit in the gallery and watch sometimes but it’s quite different that, I mean Ned Sherrin, who was in … running the gallery then, was a sort of genius in the studio, he just … everything was a great game to him, you know, it didn’t matter, I mean he just fluttered through everything - ’it’s only television, you know,’ he said - wonderful sort of attitude [laughter], so I’d done - not a lot, not by any means - a great deal of gallery work, and although some parts … the rehearsal period’s wonderful, to get all that amount of rehearsal with the actors, it was terrific, and the rehearsal’s always geared not just to interpretation but what I’m going to do with the cameras, it’s not like they’re going to be totally separate when they get into the studio, now where do I put the camera. Everything is rehearsed for the camera. But I do find that inexorable clock a real problem in the studio.
NS does this mean you’re probably going to stick to filmmaking, in future?
JG Well, yeah, I should think so, but I mean there’s not much studio work around now anyway.
AL When you were making, you know, when you made The Bofors Gun, did you have a … did you rehearse with your actors?
JG Yes, we had two weeks rehearsal.
AL This is important.
JG Yes, actually quite a lot of the time was spent up in just army drilling, so, cause they had to do a lot of that in. But I try never to make anything without some sort of rehearsal, no matter what the film is. If I can get a week I’m happy, sometimes you only get a day, but anything is worth it. Ideally a week or two weeks is what you need, a week is usually, probably, sufficient.
AL Well, it depends on the film.
JG Well, no matter what the film, because if you can get the broadest outlines, or even a little more than that, everything ch … you know the thing you’ve rehearsed say in the period before, you may not be filming for five weeks afterwards. So over-rehearsal doesn’t mean too much …
AL No, no.
JG … in a, in a film thing, but if you can answer all the questions in a rehearsal period, then that’s that’s probably all you should have to do, I think, on a film. I mean unless you’re the sort of director like Mike Leigh, whose film is a result of the rehearsal, you know, but mostly you’re rehearsing a script.
NS I always feel when I see your films Jack - I’m talking about films now - that the feeling of a location is very important, generally.
NS I mean, to name only the most recent one, which we call Le Camping.
JG Le Camping.
NS Whatever, you better tell.
JG Ball-Trap …
NS … yes, what it’s really called.
JG Ball-Trap on the Cote Sauvage.
NS I mean, again, the atmosphere of the location …
NS … I think that’s - I would say - is fairly common to almost everything you do, isn’t it? It means a lot to you, whether consciously or unconsciously.
JG I suppose so, yes it does. I don’t know, I mean, yeah, I mean if … I’m very much aware of the setting of the … whatever the story is, and trying to …
AL What, this film that Norman was talking about?
JG It was set in a holiday camp, camping holiday, you know, bring your own tent, or the tents are there, rather than Pontins or Butlins, in Brittany. And it’s about a group of five or six families, and how they interact with each other on this campsite. We filmed a couple of days in Brittany but most of it was done in Cornwall. But the sort of the relationships between the people and where they were on the locations and everything else was … it’s not just a matter of saying a wide-angle is a wide-angle, it’s a matter of saying this place is important at this particular time in the story. I don’t know if it’s conscious or not really, I mean it’s…
NS I don’t know, I just feel, you know, I’m aware of it, as somebody who watches your work, or a mere cinema audience member.
AL Have you made any commercials at all?
JG Yes - not many cause I don’t enjoy them. I think at the time … I did the first one after Bofors Gun, and I remember on the floor someone kept saying, ‘what do you want, sir?’ And I didn’t know who they were talking to until I finally got a tap on the shoulder and it was the assistant director saying, ‘Jack, what do you want, sir for your breakfast?’ ‘Sir! I mean, what is all … I couldn’t believe it. I mean, it was very, very strange. But the, sort of, the hierarchy in … outside of television, it was very strict, I mean of … which I found very odd.
AL I mean the sponsor and the …
JG Well not just in commercial but even in the features it’s a sort of like the lighting cameraman is very much in charge of his crew and they … the sort of air … aura of subservience down the chain was very strict I thought. And the same in the cutting rooms, it wasn’t anything lie as free and easy as it seemed to be in television. So I tried to introduce some of that. But the commercials that … I mean, I couldn’t unders … I mean I’ve done I don’t know maybe twenty over the years … I can’t remember how many, not many, actually won a couple of awards for them … how they can award commercials is … anyway, what I found was in fact they don’t really want - in my experience, and it’s very, very limited - is that the gap between you and what goes on the screen is so enormous, that I’m not sure often why they need directors. So much money is poured into them, it’s … I knew that the first commercial I made cost as much - a thirty second Esso commercial - was going to cost as much as an hour’s documentary in the BBC. And it drove me crazy, I thought, you know … and then you get the people, ‘can I look through the camera?’ and you say, ‘well, who is it?’, and it’s the sponsor, or the client, and you think, ‘what for?’, you know, ‘what am I here for?’, and then you learn to say, ‘yes, of course look through the camera,’ because it’s quicker to let them look through and murmur something than to create a sort of status thing, and then when the editing happens, it’s cut every which way, because they want more of the product or less of the product, and it’s … and you audition actors and actresses and I find it rather shaming. You get … sort of … because it’s very good money for actors and actresses in commercials, and they’d come in, and you’d ask … you’d sort of audition and you’d think how can you audition them about a - you know - ‘Fill her up, please.’ I found it a very embarrassing … actually meeting actors and actresses for commercials, and in a way almost embarrassing to direct them, because apart from sort of public service ones - of which I did a few - I had no feeling about selling petrol, or electricity, or anything, and I always knew - I used to get into terrible problem from the people who hired me, like the film companies, because after maybe take two or three I’d say, ‘next’, and they didn’t understand it. Certainly if there were climets around they didn’t understand it cause they were so used to fifty, sixty, eighty, a hundred and twenty takes being done on things. And I’d say, ‘well what was wrong with take?’ and the y couldn’t answer me. All they knew was that other directors didn’t do it in three takes, or four takes.
AL Well, isn’t this really, I mean, I think the …
JG It’s part of the economics of it, that …
Al Oh, sure.
JG … the more expensive the commercial, the more everybody gets out of it.
AL That’s right, yes. I mean, well this is …
AL … really why they go for, you know, a director, a feature director with a name.
AL it costs a lot of money you know, we got - him.
JG I mean the bullshit factor in commercials is … you know, why they don’t have the monkeys to operate the typewriters is beyond me, I mean if you do a hundred and twenty takes, what do you need a director for?
AL Yes, Blooper soap.
JG Yeah, absolutely, ‘Blooper Soap is real good’.
NS I know …
JG But I mean, I really, the money was very good, and, extraordinary, and I thought at the time, well at least it gives me breathing space between the … but I’m sure my attitude showed, because I didn’t really get invited back, and I had … every sort of approach I’d made is … like thinking, well maybe I ought to try and do something because it will help financially, is that I … so half-hearted that I … I just really didn’t enjoy them, I couldn’t believe how much bullshit … I mean I remember finishing one commercial, we started at eight in the morning and I was finished at half-past ten, and they said, ‘for … you’ve got to keep going, the clients are coming for lunch’.
NS Oh god.
JG And I said, but you know it’s over, it’s done, it’s one man to camera, it’s … it’s it, it’s done, finished, what are we supposed to do? I mean it’s … and yet you look at them, and you know, and they’re beautifully made and everything else, but the amount of money that goes into them, so they should be. [Laughter]
AL Yes, yes, yes - professional, very professional.
JG Oh, unbelievable, and some of them are very imaginative, and some are very funny, and I admire all that, but I think, ‘well so they should be,’ why should … you know…
NS For that price.
JG For that price, you know, of course you can keep going until the eyelash is in perfect focus, and flicks and … you know, I sort of think, ‘well, yes’ [laughter].
AL Let’s leave commercials - they’ve had their day. Now, what about writing, yourself?
JG Oh, very little, I don’t consider myself a writer, I mean, apart from that little BFI film a hundred years ago, whatever it was. I can work with a writer on a script, I don’t consider …
AL Do you like doing that?
JG I quite enjoy that, yes. And I can talk about structure and things and … better at editing a script, at shortening a script, but I don’t consider myself a writer. And even if I work with a writer on a script, I would never think of taking the credit for it, or anything like that, or a part credit for it - I think writers are very underrated in film and drama, very underrated. I mean this last thing, the camping film, …
NS A very good script
JG It was a terrific script, but you don’t see the scriptwriter mentioned very often in reviews and things.
JG And it was … without the script, I had no film, I mean, I embroidered it, but basically it’s what he’d written is on the screen. It was there, I mean, I was certainly involved in the casting … you know, I’d do the director’s job, but he had done the major job on it, the writer - we’d all be floundering around, the actors, myself, everybody, if he hadn’t …
NS Of course.
JG … said, ‘Scene 1. Exterior. Day,’ you know, or something. And I think writers are very underrated.
NS To go back to television in general Jack, early on you rightly said, in the old days, how marvellous it was the freedom you got, you remember, early on, also later on you correctly and kindly gave credit to Hugh Greene, Hugh Carleton Greene; it seems to me maybe, but I must pass this to you, that, have these days gone by, if so, why and what is the future?
NS Especially I suppose, to be fair, for the documentary, which may, the way things are going commercially, might die.
JG Yeah, I mean the point is that when I started … stop, stop … started to stop [laughter] documentaries, was about the time that Carleton Greene was going, I think, so I wasn’t aware of …
AL Changes …
JG … that, and I actually stopped looking at documentaries a bit too, I tended to look at, more at, drama. But documentaries always tended to me to start looking the same … you know … you just pick any subject and it would have exactly the same look about it, there didn’t seem to be any real new look at the new way documentaries were being made, there were a few here and there
NS Is this the fault of the makers or the fault of those who commission the makers? You see what I mean?
JG I don’t necessarily … I think there’s probably …
AL Or is it a surfeit?
NS A bit of each.
JG I think there is a great danger in a surfeit, I mean, how many original ideas are there around, kicking around anyway?
JG I mean I was … I’d come to the end after three or four years, couldn’t think of another way of making a documentary
NS Or another subject either
JG Or certainly another subject that hadn’t been done to death, and by the time you’d got to the Man Alive series, everything was being done, there wasn’t a disease of the week that hadn’t been covered, so one was aching now for the structured documentary if you like, you were aching for the real auteur, or whatever you want to call them - of which there were a few, I mean Robert Vas was one, who’s sadly died, who … and Peter Watkins I suppose
NS Peter Watkins is still around.
JG But there are very few documentary makers who started looking at things from the non-vérité … I mean vérité was almost the killer of documentaries in many ways. It was a great breath of fresh air when it first arrived but its real value died very quickly I think.
AL Well it was used as an excuse often.
JG Yes, it became a substitute for thought, for creative thought , it just … record everything.
AL ‘As long as it wobbles, it’s good.’
JG Yes, any subject, you know, there is always a sort of attractiveness about real life going on, it’s a voyeur thing.
NS Who was it who said ‘the fly on the wall should be swatted’?
JG [Laughter] Don’t know, it wasn’t me, it was a good idea though.
NS Somebody, one of our contemporaries.
JG It’s also almost a fake theory anyway, I mean, whatever a fly on the wall …
NS Yes, you can, yes … the fly cannot see everything, or if he does it goes on for thirty hours …
NS … and who’s in charge of cutting it down?
AL That’s right.
NS Is it the truth?
NS It’s a thirtieth of the truth, whatever you do with it.
JG Whatever you do. But there is that vague theory that a lot of documentary makers have, that they are in fact giving you objective truth and of course it’s nonsense. Just as a newsreel is nonsense.
AL Highly selective.
JG So … where were we? … oh, yes, I don’t of how that affected documentary, I mean I susopect that if the thing is sort of successful, or easy to make in logistical terms, it’s going to be used. If you want to actually make the more thoughtful documentary like Robert used to make, it may well take more time - which is always expensive; time for people to think and reconstruct … it’s difficult to know, because some people work quickly and some people work slowly.
AL But the … coming back to Norman’s point, I think the thing was that when Carleton Greene went, you got Curran coming in, wasn’t it …
AL … and that was a much tighter control, he wasn’t, he wasn’t … he hadn’t got the same attitude
JG Well I’m trying to think, I mean I was doing I suppose drama at that point … I don’t … see there were some really powerful heads of department around then, I mean Sydney Newman was very, very tough, and Hugh I think was pretty tough, wasn’t he?
NS Yes, he was
JG … in documentaries and things like that, and Baverstock was tough in his current affairs, and Grace was pretty tough, so whatever DGs were saying, there was a lot of pretty tough people they had to come up against. I don’t remember it happening in drama particularly, I mean Tony Garnett I suppose was the most radical of the drama producers, with Loach, and they went battling on for year after year. I mean they may have had problems but the things got made.
NS I found when I was doing Omnibus, and then Head of Arts after that, that … remarkably, these are the days of Curran, beyond Greene of course …
NS … remarkably little control …
NS … and a lot of freedom.
JG Yeah. I wasn’t really aware of any … I think if anything they may be sort of … I think money got tighter, and I think as drama didn’t … then more and more dramas being done, then more professionalism if you like came in so people would actually say you haven’t got quite as much money as you thought you had, but I don’t ever remember really being restrcited by that. I never felt there was something I wanted to do that I couldn’t do - I suppose the only one from the censorship point of view was Naked Civil Servant, which had a real battle. I mean Alasdair Milne turned it down and he was an old mate.
NS Might have less of a battle now.
JG I don’t know.
AL Did he say why?
JG Just, I mean he did, he … after it went out and it was a success, he said if … ‘why didn’t you tell me you were going to do it like that boy,’ cause it was done with great taste and discretion. I said, ‘well you didn’t ask me!’ No-one ever got to the stage of saying how are you going to do it, they just shied away from the subject, except Jeremy who pushed it through, who’s a great guy in television, I think, I mean it’s … I mean really formidable character in television generally.
AL Now you’re talking about, you know, characters in television, which are the ones that have impressed you? Obviously Jeremy Isaacs, you’ve said.
JG Well, I mean, I think, Tony Essex was one, certainly, merely on sort of breaking barriers of what you could and couldn’t do in a cutting room. Baverstock certainly, for constant questioning and examining of everything. I remember when I was cutting things, I remember you used to have a two o’clock showing every day of what you’d cut, and, you know, you’d cut a story and I might have left a thirty second piece in it for like a musical accompaniment, just a sort of visual thing, he’d say, ‘what’s that for?’. And I’d explain, and he’d say, ‘are you sure you need it, cause I can ask a question in the studio in one of the other items in that thirty seconds.’ So what he did was actually make you evaluate all the time everything you wanted to put on the screen. Is it worth it, is it paying its way, is it doing its job? So he was very important. Dennis Mitchell I think, certainly on the radio and on the films that he did with Norman, cause that was a wbhole new way of looking of putting sound in relation to film and everything else. I particularly remember the Chicago film he made. I think Huw …
NS Huw Wheldon
JG … and David Attenborough, cause I … merely for a sort of benign influence, a sort of really cultured, friendly, experimental, open attitude of allowing ideas to come up.
AL Who is this, Huw?
JG Huw and David.
AL And David.
JG I thought. I mean there were lots of people I was never in contact with, so I don’t know - certainly Huw and David I always got the feeling, I mean in the way they just moved round the BBC, physically, were there, these were people that cared, and would defend you to the last bastion, and would nurture you, and who you could talk to, chat to, and I thought that was, in an organisation that size, was vital.
NS Yes, can I? … I think when Hugh Greene left, those of us who were then in television, and I was BBC at that time, round about then, we were lucky, because the three people we worked to were - BBC One was Paul Fox, Two was David Attenborough, and above them was Huw Wheldon, I mean you couldn’t have a better …
JG Better triumivate.
NS Better triumivate, at all. I mean the Director General wasn’t even bothered about me, why him?
JG No, no, you don’t have to.
JG Tony Garnett, certainly, cause he was radically pushing against establishment barriers, I mean in his political attitudes to things. And again, wonderful producer about letting you … direct, and never saying no, he said, ‘why hire a dog if you’re going to wag the tail?’ [Laughter] Which was terrific, and defend you right the way through. I’m trying to think who else. Cert … I mean, Jeremy we’ve talked about. I very … I hardly knew anybody at Granada, Dennis I only met … knew briefly, Jeremy, Verity was always very, very good. She was a very … great driving force I thought, and would try things, and full of ideas and very easy to talk to and very productive. I’m trying to think. There are other people that one admired but wouldn’t emulate, like Ken Russell and people - not always admire …
AL It would be very difficult.
JG Yeah, I mean it’s not my sort of filmmaking, but I mean I admired him doing it [laughter] and … cause again, everyone … willing … that tried something, you know, was pushing a barrier somewhere along the line, so that was very good. I don’t know … I can’t think of … Tony Jay was someone I admired very much, because of his extraordinary clarity of thinking, and writing ability, I mean he used to write a lot of the commentaries on Tonight, and the sort of the … I mean they were wonderful pieces of conciseness, wit, intelligence and information that have never been bettered I don’t think. I mean I sort of admire in their way people like Whicker and Robbie and Jimmy Cameron and people like that but not really influenced by I don’t think. Worked with but not influenced by them. Except I mean … the sort of … the way in which you could look at a piece of actuality, of documentary, and say there is a way of looking at this which can be witty or sad, or informed, or turned on its head, or whatever but that was mainly out of the Tonight atmosphere, where you could try anything, do anything, really. And I think … I actually think there was an atmosphere of the right to fail, that seems to have gone. I think that, if anything, if there’s a generalisation it … you feel that the … that there were people you’d work directly to that would give you much more freedom, I suspect that they do now.
NS The reluctance to take risks.
JG There’s a reluctance … although, you know, extraordinary things are still made, but you do feel they are exceptional when at one time they seemed to be normal.
NS That’s really what I meant I suppose when I asked that question.
JG I, you know, the point about the BBC, or television, it is an industry, whereas the film business over here isn’t an industry. It thinks it is, but an industry means mass output, and there’s not a mass output in the film industry, there is in television, and if there’s a mass output, you should have the right to fail, because the one failure, or the two or three failures ain’t going to affect anything, whereas they do if there’s a small output, if you’re a cottage industry. And that was the feeling I got in whatever we used to call the golden years, or whatever, but you felt people really trying things and it wouldn’t be the end of the world if they failed, they’d go on to something else.
AL Looking … looking, you know, looking back, I mean you’ve got still a long time to go [Laughter] but looking back, which is the outstanding thing for you?
JG That I’ve made?
JG I suppose, it’s difficult because they’ve been … all had little building blocks; I suppose Civil Servant in a way because it brought together a lot of great contributors. I mean from the writing, the acting to the camera and everything else, music, everything, on something that seemed to work almost completely. And so it’s also nice when it’s successful. I mean, if … I don’t know whether I’d say the same about something that hadn’t been successful. But it … what turned out was something we all intended, that was what was nice, I mean, from the very first, from the beginning of it, we’d say we have an image of what this should be about - and it ended up on the screen. So I suppose that, if anything would be it.
AL If you could start again, would you want to change?
JG I don’t think so, would I take …
AL You wouldn’t rather go back to the law?
JG Oh no, no, no, wouldn’t do that. No I mean absolutely the luckiest career to be in, really, I’m … I’ve made choices along the line which have maybe not done me as professionally, career-wise, best choices, but I couldn’t have made other choices.
AL For instance?
JG Well I mean I think I could have been more say, a more financially successful …
AL Well, yes.
JG … director. I mean I could have been possibly more commercial, which I’m not.
AL In what way do you mean that?
JG Well I could have gone … I … there are a lot of subjects I turned down which were good commercial films for instance, which I didn’t want to do but could have done. So in that sense I’ve … I mean I’m not by any means commercially a failure in the sense of earning a very pleasant living thank you very much, I’m talking comparatively. But I … there were … you know, couldn’t have done them, I mean the idea of doing them, spending four, five, six months doing them would have driven me crazy, it’s like a long … like doing long commercials in a way, you’d just go insane. So in that sense I wouldn’t have done it differently, you can’t … you know … you can’t … it’s difficult, say your temperament is such, and you make certain choices along … along the line that you’re … you have to do … you have to make, and other choices that you can’t make.
AL Would it break a confidence if I was to ask you, perhaps one of these films which was a commercial success which you turned down?
JG Yes, oh, I, well I, well … Alien - I remember being sent the script of Alien, which I suppose when you’re sent a script by a company it’s like an offer, and I read it I thught it was another version of Star Trek - which it I suppose is, and I thought, ‘what on earth will I do with this?’, and having seen it, and know this, I would never have been able to make it the way Ridley Scott made it, and I think it’s a good, thrilling entertainment, but I have no regrets about it, cause I could never have done it. I mean, one it didn’t attract me, but even if it had attracted me I could never have made it the way he made it, I … my mind doesn’t work like that.
AL Well, it’s science fiction, isn’t it, really.
JG Yeah, I mean I just … it’s about … you know … I just could never have made it. So I have no regrets about it, but it’s just a sort of example of something …
AL Well, yes.
JG Because if I’d have made it, it wouldn’t have been a success you see.
JG No, you see that’s absolutely true.
NS In a different way it might have been.
JG I doubt, I doubt it, cause I tried to make a film like that once and it was awful, because I didn’t quite believe in it enough, I thought - it was one of those times when, you know, doing it for muscle stretch, you think, ‘well I haven’t made that sort of film, let me make one,’ and it was awful.
NS I think the phrase, ‘believe in it’ is important, isn’t it?
NS You have to belive in what you’re doing.
JG Yeah, I found that one of the big problems with commercials, I couldn’t actually believe in them, I mean in the value of some of the public service ones, like safety, you know, that’s alright, but the others, I … they were like exercises, and I … you know, it’s … why am I doing this? And so I was never very good at them I don’t think. It seemed … it just seemed to me … odd thing to want to do, but that’s temperament really, you can’t - you can’t change the scorpion stabbing himself in the back, or whatever it is. Was it? Or ride on the tortoise, I can’t remember, is it?
NS I think it’s the tortoise but I’m not sure.
JG The scorpion getting the ride across the river, isn’t it?
NS No comment.
JG And the tortoise says, ‘I won’t give you a ride cause you’ll sting me, and we’ll drown.’ Of course I won’t, I’ve got to get to the other side and of course half way across the scorpion has to do it and they both drown, ‘cause it is my nature,’ he says - whatever it is, ‘why did you do that? It’s in my nature.’ It’s not my nature, I couldn’t have made different choices. They may have been silly some of them but I couldn’t have done otherwise.
AL Ok, thank you Jack.