Mike Fentiman

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Interview Date(s): 
22 Jun 2000
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Mike Fentiman Side 1

Stephen Peet  0:00  

Yeah, this is reel number. Sorry, recording number 480,  480. It's Mike Fentiman


Mike Fentiman  0:14  


Stephen Peet  0:17  

Thank you. Fentiman - correct spelling. See, I've written it down wrong. Okay, recording date 22nd of June 2000. Is it going? Okay now? Right, and  reel one, side one. And it's Mike Fentiman interviewed by Stephen Peet, with the able assistance on the machinery, which is rapidly falling to pieces is Ian Duff. All right now. Oh, yes, there's one official announcement, the copyright of this recording rests with the BECTU History Project. Alright, done all that. Now, Mike. You're in charge to a certain extent, if you say things, if you say things you wish you want to repeat or stop. Yeah, conversation. And just as a bit of background information as we get going. If you're willing to tell me when and where were you born?

Mike Fentiman  1:21  

I was born in East Ham. East Ham Memorial Hospital 27th of September 1938.

Stephen Peet  1:30  

That's East Ham, London,

Mike Fentiman  1:32  

East Ham, London. Is there another?

Stephen Peet  1:36  

Yes, to get what in that case? What What kind of family were you born into? Were you an only child?

Mike Fentiman  1:43  

No, I had an older sister. Respectable working class.Neither parents had further education. They left school, my mother left school at 14. My father of 15. And my father became eventually having been a Betterware  brush salesman during the 1920s. He ended up in as a semi skilled engineer in Nolan's working inside the London docks. My mother did housework. And she skivvied for various Jewish families mostly from before the War after the War, and so on. And my father was on reserved occupation during the war, so he didn't actually go away to war. Though, I didn't see him very much because he stayed obviously around Woolwich in the London docks, the Royal Albert dock, and so on, doing the heavy engineering work. And we hadn't been bombed out of East Ham. We lived in what was relative country in those days, which was Ashford in Middlesex. And in fact, my very first memory, my first sorry, my first dateable memory was 1940, September 1940. I was one year, 11 months old. And I can remember the Battle of Britain going on, I remember seeing the planes in the sky and parachutes and puffs of smoke and so on, you know, I was out in the garden watching the dogfights and so on in thought it was wonderful. As a child, I thought it was, that's what life was. I mean, there's nothing to compare it with. I couldn't remember what it was like when there weren't planes in the sky. So it's just just interesting that I can actually date my first my first sort of recognisable memory and then went on with a touch of that. I mean, I was too young to actually regard Hope and Glory as a as a an autobiographical film, but I was seven at the end of the war. So it was very enjoyable, very enjoyable.

Stephen Peet  4:06  

So by the time the war had finished you were at school yeah,

Mike Fentiman  4:10  

yeah, I was I was two or three different schools because we moved around a bit and of course, during the war, there was no age segregation as it were, you know, kids were put in classes with old ladies in charge and so on, you know, and I was at five I was at a an infant school in a Church of England School in Ashford, which peculiar I went back to a few years ago and stood in the classroom. It's a very weird feeling of a room that I've never been in for 50 odd years. And then they moved me around them and I went out to live in Gidea Park, where we were threatened a little because the doodle bug period, I moved to another school in Gidea Park and there the, the memory there was a big A school where all the kids in my class were older than me because I was coming up for six. And I was in a class of nine year olds. So I was probably among the first kids at the age of the age of six, I was doing geometry and learning about triangles and set square. And it was really strange because then I then when we finally settled back into normality, as it were 1945 Having done geometry and basic math, and so on, I was I was back with playing with plasticine, and so on you know and sticky, sticky bits of curly of coloured paper and so on, you know, by then, I mean, I was a very bright child. I mean, I could read and write when I was four years old, you know. And that's not a boast, because by the time I reached 11, everybody else had caught up anyway, you know, so I just became part of the rest, you know, but I was because of an uneducated mother's dedication and enthusiasm. She taught me to read and write before I went to school. So, you know, it was it was an interesting childhood, and I never think of it as anything else, but happy.

Stephen Peet  6:16  

When did your education or school education end did you

Mike Fentiman  6:20  

School education 1957. I was the only child, anybody only child to pass the  11 Plus, in the school in the year that I was in in 1950. And I went to East Ham Grammar School, which had pretensions through the headmaster, who was a classics scholar himself. And he put  great store on us, East London kids doing Latin and Greek and so on you know and all the teachers had to wear gowns, and we had to wear school uniforms and you got caned if you didn't wear your school cap and so on on your way to school, and so on. And he was a wicked sob because here if you were to be k if you if you if you transgressed on a Monday, you weren't caned till Friday afternoon. He didn't do any caning until Friday afternoon. So the best bet was to  misbehave on Friday morning. You did it on Monday, you had a really mean week thinking about it. And he'd give you  four cuts across the arse. Unbelievable nowadays, of course but but anyway, I went to went to grammar school and didn't even think to go to any of the Oxbridge colleges or anything like that just wasn't my game. So I went to wasn't even a red brick, I went to a yellow brick University of Leicester which had only just become a university because it had been a University College, doing degrees out of London. And then they set up their own. And its claim to fame was that the Attenborough's they were Leicester, and their father was the Chancellor or the Vice Chancellor of Leicester University College. And then Leicester university  changed and it became its own sort of first yellow brick University. And I graduated from there.

Stephen Peet  8:32  

In what?

Mike Fentiman  8:34  

English with  Subsidiary, French three year course?

Stephen Peet  8:40  

Did you do it just for its own sake? Or did you have ideas by now or

Mike Fentiman  8:44  

what? No, no, no, it was just for its own sake. Because there were no no, not just for its own sake. Because my third year I applied to do an education year,  not in order to become a teacher. But in order to avoid the draft, because there was still national service. And then all of us would apply for the education year. And then suddenly the government said, okay, the cutoff is at this point. Now, we're not going to recruit any not to take any more. So I had a totally depleted education year because we all dropped out during the education year because we knew we didn't have to go to into the into the forces for a couple of years. In a sense, I regret not having done so of course now. Because it would have been an experience. At the time, it seemed like a waste of time. And I still had no thought about what I was gonna do. And to tell you the way, I mean, it's really a totally different world that it was then 1959 I hadn't even taken my finals. They came around the universities. They,  the BBC came around  the universities recruiting people, and I happened to be walking through one of the halls of the university. And there was a sign on the door into the office and it said, BBC interviews. And I looked in there, and there was a man sitting in there behind a desk, no one else there. And I can remember now he was playing with a pencil, he was just sort of picking up a pencil and turning it end to end and just sitting there bored out of his mind, no one had gone in there. And I popped and said "What's this then?, BBC interviews?" "We"re interviewing  people who are interested, we're recruiting around the country, around the universities and so on. We're looking for people, you know, the BBC is an , expansive, and expanding mode, etc, etc. "Tell me about it". "So we're looking at initially, so we're looking for, I mean, we do look for general trainees, and so on the added cream intake as it were. But we're also looking for studio managers" What's a  studio manager? . Might give it a go"  "Come down to London", he said, "I'll fix an interview with you." He said, then come down to London. He said, we'll talk more"  I got a, I can't remember. He probably gave me a form to fill in. And I then got an interview with the BBC. Four people, usual standard BBC board interviewing. First thing I had to do was go into a room without seeing anybody just shown into a room. And then instead of my first sort of sense of broadcasting was was hearing a voice coming out of a loudspeaker saying, "In front of you, you'll see a microphone, would you please sit in front of the microphone? And in front of the microphone, you'll find the script And would you like to read the top half of the script? And of course, it was " On the Third Programme tonight is an opera by Gounod. Bla bla bla bla bla bla bla. And Cosi Fan Tutte you until you , get try and get all the accents. Right. And I had to having I've still got an East London accent, but I can throw my voice to the front of my mouth and talk proper if I want to, still do. So having proved that I could, I mean, within within a week or two, they told me that I got a job. And I said, Well, what about my degree? That doesn't count. I mean, if you've got the job anyway, right. Sounds great. So it sort of took the pressure off as it were getting a degree in order to get a job anyway, I still wanted to get a degree. All right. So I still sweated over my exams and but I knew that I still had the job. And then the BBC said, Well, we've actually over recruited so we can't take you this September. Can you come next June? Oh  shit what am I going to do   now?  So I went into sort of supply teaching for a year for nearly a year, got married and, and then joined the BBC. And I thought -

Stephen Peet  8:44  

What year would this be? 

Mike Fentiman  12:50  

 This was 1960 Right. I graduated in 1960. So I joined the BBC in June 1961. And I did the induction there was to do 10 weeks so you, six weeks of learning how to use a microphone and and how to how to set up a studio all that kind of stuff. basics how to play in discs.

Stephen Peet  13:38  

Can i , Yes, that keeps banging on the desk. I'm sorry,

Mike Fentiman  13:42  

That's all right. You understand overheard the, The induction period, the training period was when we had to. We did we did we did all the bits ourselves, you know, just we'll draw on those and so on but doing the spotty effects the sound effects and playing the discs in playing first tapes and so on. Anyway, we did that for six weeks, and then it was 10 weeks in Broadcasting House and 10 weeks in Bush House. Then you chose or sometimes you were chosen. So I spent 10 weeks doing stupid things like doing the sound effects on "Mrs. Dale's Diary", breaking Mrs. Freeman's breakfast egg with  two halves of a ping pong ball. Someone  saying "Oh that's a lovely fire you've got there Jim" and I'm standing at the microphone with a bit of tape. Just just a little handful of tape which is screw it the microphone. It sounds just like a crackling fire and all that kind of silly thing. And I thought now did I do higher education for this? And then I went to Bush House and that was somewhere else. I mean, it was weird and wonderful he felt you're in a private club because we still had stuff at the warzone because it was still Bum Bum Bum bum. Was the was the the integral segment, Bum Bum Bum bum and then Lily Bolero and all that stuff, you know. But I liked it there for two languages and an amazing crowd of the saints and sinners. They're unbelievable. Oh, you know, I mean, there were everything there was. I mean, because there are a lot of other people that were part timers. So there really weren't there really was. And Malaysia and abortionist, who also also broadcast at the same time, you know, not at the same time as the abortion but pretty close to because I know you have to turn to about to leave early to go and sort something out. But it was an amazing place. It was a terrific place to and so I decided I decided to stay there. Because I just couldn't think of the idea. The only thing that that I really liked about being at Broadcasting House was going into an empty studio once and hearing this amazing sound. And just rehearsing quietly in the studio all by himself on a 12 string guitar was Pete Seeger made magic absolute magic. I just sat there and listened to him came adequate, quick word. And he asked me what I was doing said no, no, I'm just coming to listen to you know, that was the only thing that came out forecasting out.

Stephen Peet  16:32  

Just Just a word. This is in the 60s. What about what are your thoughts in radio? And Leo? Did you think of television,

Mike Fentiman  16:40  

I hadn't thought of television in 1961. What was also amazing was that when I joined in 61, as long as I didn't misbehave, as long as I fulfilled my provisional contract of 18 months. In 19 6318 months in I signed a contract which told me what my retirement pension was going to be. In other words, I had a contract for the rest of my life with the BBC.

Stephen Peet  17:14  

What What kind of wages did you get in those days and it's relevant

Mike Fentiman  17:17  

notice relevant because when I doing I tell you when, when I was a teacher, I did supply teaching, or short term contract teaching. And I was paid. It worked out about 850 pounds a year. And of course, you don't get overtime or anything like that. When I joined the BBC on the first training period, the first 10 weeks, I got 15 pounds a week 750 pounds. And then it went up to when I became a studio manager to 950. And I think I was on a just around 1000 pounds 1000 pounds a year. Yeah 1000 yen a year. 1000 pounds a year. Oh my God. John Bercow 800,000 pounds pay off. Sorry. I got 1000 pounds a year. And then when I finally switched to television in 65, having had an attachment to television in 16, beginning of 65. My salary leaped from about 1000 Just under 1000 to remember exactly 15 170 pounds a year. And I just bought a house that I couldn't afford to pay for unless I got the job in television. And I got the job in television segment I could afford the house that we just bought unbelievable. Three and a half 1000 pounds for a house in a four bedroom house in 1965. But so I spent three, nearly four years in radio. I loved it was very seductive, very seductive. And an in between time when I wanted to get some money to to get the downpayment for this house I was buying. I also moonlighted I moonlighted from the BBC, and worked with a guy called Dennis Durden, who used to run thing called the Africa Foundation. And it was quite interesting double agent work in a way from his point of view because they used to do tapes for Africa. And they were funded in large by the US is natural fact we were actually doing revolutionary types were put in sending tapes into South Africa and southern Africa where we Word for instance, record or dub across a yeller by Opera. And then every 30 or 40 seconds, put in a piece of a speech from a from from an ANC exile. And many could even been Tabo and Becky, or somebody like that, who would have speech of resolution for them, and revolution for the for the people back in South Africa, and there will only be a 5050 chance of them spoiling through a tape. And hearing that all is here, maybe it's a Euro opera. So I used to do that in between times without the BBC knowing at that time, of course. Because it was not. It was really you're going to contract I mean, I guess I didn't ask to find out, you know. But so then I came across the television in in 65, full time, I'd had a wonderful attachment in what was so primitive now, I came across the television and worked in presentation department.

Stephen Peet  21:09  

And it was cool as those in Television Centre. Yeah.

Mike Fentiman  21:14  

And I worked in what's called the trailer units, when not promotions and trailer unit. And the great thing about being a trainee in television working in the trailer unit is that you not only did you have to learn several sort of television skills as it were, but it meant that you had to liaise and get to know people from every department in the BBC. So I was when I first met Tony gone it was when I was I got him to make a trailer for me because I just liked his flat Birmingham voice drive me mad now. It's flat Birmingham voice was was a perfect voice for an um, very, um, BBC like trailer

Stephen Peet  21:57  

where they trailers for his films, or did he make it?

Mike Fentiman  22:01  

This particular one, he did a couple for me just to just just to use his voice. I mean, I didn't I didn't know that he had been an actor, which he had been, of course in Zed cars. But he had been working with Ken Loach and so on. And, and he was in as a story editor. And there was there was a very good play, written by John Hopkins, which was about a very rich time, good play. And it was about South Africa again. But it was South Africa, set in Britain, where all the police force was black, and the white population with a subjugated peoples. And so he'd taken the South African situation, turned it on its head and set apartheid in Britain, which was a very neat way of bringing it home to us. And, and Tony did the trial for me. I mean, he's just this wonderful voice, this flat voice to make use of the people rather than for the people you know. And I learned a great deal. Not only say not just technically but getting to know a lot of people in the BBC. And then I got the job and came across to television. Now I found myself doing presentation because it was a presentation job actually doing present I'm actually sitting there in the gallery during doing doing the bits between the programmes the link there were done live whether the links Yes, yes with that. If you remember a woman called Meryl O'Keefe, Meryl She was a lovely lady. I liked her very much. And she was one of the staff in envision presenters who would come up between some programmes and then do voice over links as well and this will trail is not interrupted.

Stephen Peet  23:50  

We're a little trailer some were filmed when they're some of the trailers. Oh, yeah. Oh, yes.

Mike Fentiman  23:54  

Oh, yes. Absolutely. And yes, I went on film. Film little trailers out on, on on Wormwood scrubs and so on, you know.

Stephen Peet  24:07  

Well, that's right. Bang next to television said Wellman scrubs. You mean the Greenland

Mike Fentiman  24:13  

Greenland around? Yes, that's right. Yes, yes. Yes. It was. It was it was good fun. All right. It was a really neat way of learning.

Stephen Peet  24:23  

I was just going to say it was a marvellous way of training because you had to, in effect direct. Which film?

Mike Fentiman  24:31  

Absolutely. Absolutely. For little 32nd 42nd films and so on. Yeah.

Stephen Peet  24:37  

They were the only films if I remember because that was a bit later. Where film units were had perfectly free time filming within Television Centre was banned normally as a place to do any filming

Mike Fentiman  24:55  

and I started haven't come across a set there. No locate lovely lady that I thought this is a ridiculous job on doing. I can't do this for much longer doing bits between programmes. I wasn't very good at it either. You know, I thought this this is not my NETIO. So, and it was anonymous, you say? Yeah, absolutely, I was to that as well. And of course, it was an incredibly boring job. So what would happen is that when you were trailing, to do your job to be following somebody to do it for the first three or four weeks, you know, the person that was supposedly your mentor would go off to the bar and leave you to get on with it. And you'd sit there and sweat, you know, live live links and so on. Yeah. So I mean, I disliked that enormously. And then and then Rowan Ayers came to my rescue. Who was the then editor of late night lineup? And he said to me, would you like to work on late night lineup?

Stephen Peet  26:00  

I think for future people, you need to explain what late night lineup was?

Mike Fentiman  26:05  

Oh, no, I don't I just thought you're about to say it because he said, Would you like to come work on late night lineup? I said, What's that? Because the reason why I didn't have BBC Two, I didn't have BBC Two at home at all. And in fact, I hadn't had a television for years and years and years to be interested in. And so it was very late getting a television set and didn't a BBC turn. And he said, Well, it's a very late night show. He said, we discussed programmes and so on. So it used to be on early in the evenings, we just called line up when BBC Two started. He said then we've moved from being a promotional programme, so that we do do promotions. We do promote games have the stars on and so on, you know, but we also do critiques now. I said, he said watch it. So I said well, I actually haven't got BBC Two so it will stay late and watch it here. So I stayed late night watching the first one I saw I can't remember the third person in the discussion but two of them what I mean classics for for for lineup are those days for late night lineup was Joan Littlewood and Jonathan Miller, having an argument about something. And then I said to Ron as the editor, I said, Yeah, interested. And within a week, I was working on the show, producing seven programmes in a week. I mean, that was it. You just get in there and do it. And there'll be two or three of you and say, Okay, what we're doing on Monday or what programmes are on Well, that's a good documentary or shall we get some people in to watch it I don't know when i What about the drama was a good start Yeah, well yes we if you haven't ended up let's try and get the star into interview interview the star on the show or the producer or whatever and it was, it was all done on the whole thing was very little initially real planning at all. It was an extension of presentation initially. And I remember Rocking the Boat enormously when I was the first producer to say look, this is crazy right and why we just keep talking about the BBC. I mean, people watch ITV you know, why can't really talk about ITV. They said all right. So it was very funny because the head of presentation guy called Rex Morford was so nervous that we were going to discuss ITV and we did it in a block coming in. We had Peter Black, Peter Black, the critic, the one armed band, who we called him might create a black, Peter Black, and Richard Holger. I think Miller, I can't remember the fourth one was Jonathan. And we discussed three ITV programmes. I mean, like Coronation Street World in Action and something else. As it's kind of special. We're discussing ITV programmes, and I can remember Rex Morford saying, I was in the loop having a leak, and Rex came through in the next door to me and said, Now this thing tonight Mike is just remember, yes, you are discussing independent television programmes, but we are discussing them because not because they are independent television programmes, per se, but because they are part of the greater experience of our viewers, which I thought was a one to four pieces of gobbledygook that gave him some kind of rationale for discussing ITV.

Stephen Peet  30:05  

Can I just ask something learning switch? Okay. We were talking about the first programme that critiqued TV. What was the press reaction?

Mike Fentiman  30:18  

No great press reaction to it. Of course, you know, I mean, there'd be the I think as far as I know, there was some general reaction to it. But no more than BBC criticises ITV programmes, that's all nothing special. And the then became absolute absolute norm, you know, that we would discuss the most interesting programmes that we thought warranted some kind of critique, whether they were BBC or ITV

Stephen Peet  30:50  

Monju. Any press reaction would only be in the weeklies, wouldn't it because the late night thing,

Mike Fentiman  30:55  

although we never got the next day, we jumped down to get through it. Oddly enough, it sometimes get the two days later, people would say night before last sort of thing. And the weeklies, yes, of course. But no, we wouldn't get the the anytime you get to the next base reaction, of course, was when much later on being a bit more sophisticated. We gave previews of staff special programmes.

Stephen Peet  31:15  

So had you slipped to kind of, without realising it and to being a producer in BBC terms.

Mike Fentiman  31:22  

Oh, no, we exploited into being a producer. I mean, the fact was, we all came in as assistant producers for the employment record record and pas we record then we record production systems. Yeah. I mean, the actual term changed when when pas became producers, assistants, you have producer, you had protests, which were produced assistants and PAs, which were production assistants, which were actually assistant producers. So then then they regraded us all we all became APs. And we're all actually we're all producers. I mean, there was no one beyond me. I mean, when I was there would I tell a lie? Nominally late night lineup had one. The first and only producer when there was only one producer and assistant producers or BAS, as we called them then was Mike Appleton of the Old Grey Whistle Test, and Live Aid and so on, you know. And, and Mike was the producer, but he was a general producer, he would go off doing specials and so on, you know, he would not be our kind of our line producer, he wouldn't know. Only Rohan would know what was on the programme each night. And then sometimes he wouldn't know what was on the programme on a Friday or a Monday because he'd be off on his boat doing a long weekend

Stephen Peet  32:45  

was it always live or some of it recorded, very little was recorded mostly

Mike Fentiman  32:49  

live, but our little films on it, which and we had very, very little tiny budgets, so a lot of it will be in the rolls from news and so on. So lots of begging and borrowing a bit like when community programme started much later on the same sort of thing. But no, we did. We did have little films and then we have long films as well. I mean, some really interesting long documentary made on late night lineup. And serial films as well. Serial dramas are serial documentaries about families in the Midlands, just portraits of portraits of families in the Midlands people going from north Wales to a Holiday Inn in Cologne, Spain and so on. Portraits of Jean Vinson on tour in Britain, which is an amazing piece of of local and let me Media Access following this this sad, sad pastor pastor Jean Vinson pastors sell by date in

Stephen Peet  34:11  

what year was this in the middle 60s? But yeah,

Mike Fentiman  34:14  

yeah, we're talking late night lineup ran from 65 to 72. And then,

Stephen Peet  34:21  

and if I remember, it was the last programme on the air. Yes, it had a kind of rather loose end.

Mike Fentiman  34:28  

Yes, it did. It was open ended. I mean, open ended, depending on what the current arrangement there were with crews and the unions and so on, you know, so, I mean, I guess there were times when we ran for an hour and a half. Member Milosz. Foreman, I think, I think but anyway, then I'm in the film directors sitting in the studio talking. And we've been on the air 11 o'clock and we came off the air at half past 12 Other times, but go on at 10 to 12, and come up with five paths because we couldn't think of anything else to do. Really, it was as simple as that tonight, you know, we've got an interview with a gentleman's gentleman, which was once ridiculous when needed.

Stephen Peet  35:12  

So you kind of slid into being a producer, it was the golden years of being able to do that. Wasn't that?

Mike Fentiman  35:17  

Unbelievable? Yes, absolutely. And a lot of people do. I mean, Jim, that wasn't the only one obviously. He's just slid into it. And you were allowed to learn on air as well. I mean, obviously, you have to learn fairly quick, because if you didn't learn, then, of course, you wouldn't end up you wouldn't get up getting the sack. But what used to happen was that the BBC used to have this terrible sentence they gave people which was special projects, each tower that if they weren't appropriate in the job that we thought they were appropriate for, they'd be put on special projects to go and think up things in a room up in the east tower of the Television Centre. And, and in the end, they'd either go mad or throw themselves out the window, or resign and go back to Australia, you know, correct several Australians who were shipped up to the tower and then disappear. And of course, those days was much, much more difficult to just resign and go because there were not hundreds of independent television companies out there. Or go out there and get at least one commissioning day you know, if you if you lost your job if you didn't get a job in either in any of the other mainstream broadcasters and that was it, you moved out broadcasting. And at my gym, you have to be pretty bad not together to get the sack you have to be pretty bad to be forced into resigning as PVC coated carry a lot of passengers then as well, as the as the fact that you know, those of us who were allowed to flower were allowed to do so and chances were taken. I mean, the phrase that I use about all of that period, was that back in the in the 60s and 70s, the BBC worked on post transmission response rather than pre transmission anxiety. By the time we get to 1980s, pre transmission anxiety all the time, even here, who they say here, we're talking now inside my old department, the Community Programme unit, and it works far, far more on pre transmission anxiety than post transmission response.

Stephen Peet  37:32  

How was the timing? 3758 It was 45. If you're happy, I'm Yeah. Okay. So this is the middle 60s and beyond. Yeah. Late night lineup, did you go on and working on late night lineup? Or did you do your slide off and

Mike Fentiman  37:55  

I stayed. I mean, I got promoted within I mean, my responsibilities became greater within late night lineup. So in the end, I became as it were, the overall producer. Not wasn't reflected financially, I have to say, just, I just did it, you know, and my boss run out, there's no thought, given me more money for doing it. But I did take over responsibility for the, for the overall transmissions. I mean, I must have produced at least 2000 programmes during that period. During that seven years.

Stephen Peet  38:33  

Did some of them get into trouble there? Yeah. Because of the subject matter was, so what happened there? Did the that exchange weekly meeting of senior senior

Mike Fentiman  38:46  

Department chimps Tea Party, what was it really called programme review? Yeah, that was a weekly meeting. That's right. Every Wednesday morning.

Stephen Peet  38:54  

Did you get hold up there to answer

Mike Fentiman  38:56  

well, no, I mean, yes, there would be rounds there. But partly because I mean, people like Humphrey Burton, for instance, hate I mean, I've gotten robbed him. I met him at the Prix Italia and sit down over dinner with him. But when he was in charge of BBC Music and Arts, he hated late night lineup, because he hated the fact that the BBC could spend a lot of money making programmes and then get critics on, on the BBC, paid for by the BBC, to say that it was a pile of crap. And you can sort of understand that point of view. You can't go along with it. You understand why? I mean, like, for instance, I mean, not that I will I relish the fact that that Paul Daniels at one point, apparently she was going on about he didn't know whether he wanted to sign another contract because he People have come on late night lineup saying that this appalling conjurer magician was still being employed by the BBC, you know, now that when those kinds of things happen, then there does create institutional tensions, you know. But on the other hand, when Kenneth Adam was the he was called director of programmes, when there were lots of pressures to get rid of late night lineup. He, he told them, told them or to piss off, basically. And he said you I mean, one of the phrases, you leave my late night gorillas alone, I mean, gorillas, not gorillas. So we were protected. And David Attenborough was a terrific boss for us as well. Like, for instance, I remember getting a tape of an American piece that had been refused for broadcast. And it was a man doing a critique of the American involvement in Vietnam. And it had been refused for broadcast in the United States. So we said, we're broadcasting. And I went to Seattle, Burr. And he said, Well, let me say it. I said, not a lot. The point is, I said, that anchor these lovely initials that the BBC, editor News and Current Affairs says we mustn't transmit it. Now actually, David Attenborough's control of BBC Two was sort of senior in terms of picking up and he said, Well, let me say, I can't say it's still on five to five line, and it's being not being converted until half past 910 o'clock tonight. So it will only be ready just before transmission.

Stephen Peet  41:44  

Was this a truth or

Mike Fentiman  41:47  

not? It was an old come to occasions later on, where, where I've been parsimonious with the truth. But, but in this no, absolutely true. And he said, Okay, he said, but put it out to you better be right. Leave Broadcasting House to me. Right. Now, that kind of level of trust in those days, just incredible, you know. And Attenborough was a terrific boss. He really was. It didn't. It didn't make him happy. However, you know, that wonderful review when he went back to being back to his game forms, back to his nine nature programmes and all of that, you know, the next time he was seen on television, he was in, in Indonesia, somewhere in Java, in a cave that have been people who have been filled with bats for 2 million years. And it was knee deep. He wrote he was walking knee deep in his boyscout shorts through batshit. That was moving with maggots.

Stephen Peet  43:10  

I'm sure the BBC called it guano.

Mike Fentiman  43:12  

Oh, you're absolutely right, of course. But he was walking through it. And it was moving because it has maggots all over the top of it. And I can remember Clive James writing in the observer saying, What the hell went on on the sixth floor of BBC Television Centre that makes David Attenborough refer to knee deep through batshit. Excellent.

Stephen Peet  43:37  

Yeah. If we have to do a short pause Yeah.

End of Side 1

Mike Fentiman Side 2

Stephen Peet  0:00  

It's rolling. Okay, here we are in the sorry, this is side two side two Mike Fentiman. Right. You were talking a moment ago about the extraordinary freedom of running Late Night Lineup and that period of time, Was that your only job then and they we're talking about sort of late 60s.

Mike Fentiman  0:29  

Lineup ran from 64,65 where it was the end of 64 because I say at the beginning it was just called the Lineup and it was there as an early evening promotion with Dennis Tuohy and Michael Dean. Then it moved to ate night in the autumn of 64. And it ran through to the end of 72 And apparently there there is still a story now that that Rohan found out oddly enough through James Cameron he was one of the he was one of our regulars. Yeah, we had we had we had like an army of people. I mean it would be a lot of the be James Cameron Clive James and a lot of the old TW3 crowd Willie Rushton John, John Wells, someone all that lot. There were regulars of one kind or another on the show. But no but James Cameron apparently his stepson Moni, Moni Cameron's child had been working at the BBC and had come across he was to do with a ,what do youcall it when you get rid of ah, get rid of secret memos and so much but when you when you shred shred yeah and he was collecting up all the all the mail and apparently he came across a note  from Broadcasting House,  someone in Broadcasting House didn't know to hear,  talking about getting rid of Late Night Lineup. Now he's got to go and he told James and James that we'll get it can't find it. And he actually went down to the tip where the BBCs security rubbish was being shredded and so on to try and find this memo that come from the Broadcasting House about getting rid of Late Night Lineup these these these nasty subversives who are getting beyond their station and so on, you know that we were becoming more than the kind of the token lefties or the token radicals you know, that we were actually getting a bit too dangerous and the BBC was going through one of its anxiety attacks, you know, and But we never found it never found it though the lad absolutely swore that he'd read this and didn't think to keep it . I mean, we ran through from , it wasn't all The essence of the feel of it was radical. But I mean, you can't call it radical when you get music from Errol Garner to finish the show or Paco Pena, or Alfred Brendel doing, doing Schubert Schubert's Inpromptu to finish the show sort of thing, you know, So we were pretty Catholic, but within it, we'd always have this every night but have this grit. And, you know, you could do a terrifically good programme and ,, but you just get one comment in there about a BBC programme. And of course, the producer then starts screaming to the controller, you know, "what are you doing to us?' and, you know, letting these people on and so on. And we made a lot of enemies in the BBC. I mean, I can remember Aubrey Singer, almost said dear old Aubrey Singer but I don't think I will. Aubrey Singer Saying after we had had a critic in who I thought unfairly but that's not the point who unfairly had criticised Bronowski's "Ascent Of Man" And he described, I remember him saying on the show on Late Night Lineup, that the the show was more about Bronowski's hands than it was about , than it was about the Ascent Of Man. And he did this parody of Bronowski doing,  waving his hands around. I thought it was very unfair, but that's not the point. Aubrey Singer sent us a note saying I've instructed all people in my department, which then was called General Features think it was General Features. I've instructed all producers in my department to refuse all clips of all our programmes to all of your programmes to remind you of the American phrase, something like that American phrase, "we do not fatten frogs to feed snakes" which is a nice line. And that lasted for a while where we didn't get any clips from. We used to be apt to get clips from Granada Television from all the other couldn't get them from from BBC features department. So yes, of course we made enemies and we'd have to, we'd have to do the job until 1972. And although you know Yes, we were killed off in a sense, Rowan Ayers with a group of us ,it wasn't run by himself obviously but through Rowan we'd thrown ourselves a lifeline to another shore, you know, in that or to another boat anyway. Because out of Late Night Lineup came one or two programmes like some which didn't last very long like Real Time, which was about media issues and Film Night, which grew out of the Film Moments that we used to do each week in on Late Night Lineup and so on. And a show with Ken Allsop that we did, which was about the press. In fact, he was working on that show when he died. And and Will Wyatt  was producing it that night. I remember. And but the real lifeline was to go from Late Night Lineup to Community Programmes.

Stephen Peet  6:37  

Yeah, because this is something that you were very much involved

Mike Fentiman  6:41  

in, that was involved in the in the conspiracy, which started in May, it was a conspiracy. Actually no doubt that it was a genuine conspiracy to do public access on the BBC.

Stephen Peet  6:55  

Was this the first time public access was talked about much and did the idea come from elsewhere? Well,

Mike Fentiman  7:02  

the original idea of public access came out of the United States. The first British version of it, oddly enough, transmitted version of it came from HTV. From Harley television, with Tony Benn, I did a little programme, which guy editorial control to remember the tgwu, it was talking about the welfare side of trade unions. The fact that you know, the widows get helped by trade unions, that kids in bed schools get help, and so on all that kind of thing. And it was funny, because at that time is all about the unions and strikes and so on. And this was one saying, hey, just look. Yeah, we're actually a welfare organisation that was in out of HTV. Was, but in the meantime, was in the early 70s. Right? Yes, yes, that would have been 7273. What we had been doing a we did a programme towards 1970. I've got here, up there or in there. It's the Guinness workers. And this would be interviewed a bunch of Guinness workers on late night lineup. And we just asked them, Tony Bilbo asked them, what they thought of television, the autumn schedules and so on. And what was more important wasn't merely their opinion of what they thought about. The British and BBC autumn sheduled. There was their accusations that television manipulated them, whether it was David Frost, because that was extremely popular at the time to Tony Bilbo, who was getting them to answer the questions that he was asking, he was he was setting the agenda. And one of the workers actually said on it, remember his line now he says, travellers, he says, You're with words, and we're with our hands. strange phrase to wear their hands.

Stephen Peet  9:11  

If I remember, right, I'm going to say this. The special thing about that programme was that it was filmed with the idea of editing it to the best bits, and that was decided to send put it out uncut as winter anchor.

Mike Fentiman  9:29  

So that was something new. That was and that was, in a sense, absolutely seminal because at one point in it, the workers, one worker said to Tony, what are you gonna take this film back and you're chopping it and change it and make us say, you know what we want? Yeah, and we won't get old. And Tony says, Well, I don't know. I mean, Tom, are you there? Tom? Oh, you know what we're doing? We had to be cut down and then we can't have 40 minutes, I mean, and anyway, Ryanair saw it and said like we put out the lock and and even with the insulate and so on, you know, inboard and And it was only cut between two cameras because we had a second camera there and the mute Bolex or anything just just cut in between for continuity, but absolutely not a single word was cut. And that actually was a genuine case of, of an editor being educated by his own output, because it really did teach him and he became obsessed with doing public access. And we ran a couple of George stoners bases that his as an American pundit or a George Stoney Joe Stoney is, was an American independent producer. And he'd been working with challenge for change up in Canada. And we ran a couple of channels for change films of his one of which I remember was called you are on Indian land which were access was shared in a way I mean, it was George was doing the shooting and so on, but it was it was their editorial control of Canadian Indians, or native Canadians. Trying to prevent a freeway going across the reservation, and so on. And we ran two or three pieces, VTR son Jack from Montreal, we run another one. We also ran one from catch 44 which was a show that came out of WGBH in Boston, with a young producer there called Henry Becton, who I think ended up of managing director of WGBH, my chief executive. And they were they were sort of inspirational films that let us see that you could give public access and still make good programmes, interesting programmes and actually give it a totally different perspective. Just

Stephen Peet  11:49  

To get this straight. Did you run those programmes from the States from whilst Late Night Lineup was still on the air?

Mike Fentiman  11:58  

 We ran them in Late Night Lineup 

Stephen Peet  11:59  

 That's what I meant. Yes,

Mike Fentiman  12:00  

I went, they went out as part of Late Night Lineup. Then we took we decided to do one of our own experimentally. And we had a very, very soft story in a way. It was with a man called the Reverend Derek Jones. He called himself then, as he was a reverend, without a church. And we'd read this story about this man down in Croydon, who had was a community or Community Church of England, vicar, with no church, if people wanted Holy Communion, they had it in his front room. And he was much more let's get out in the community and so on. And so we thought, though, there's a good story here, so and it was a fairly sort of slightly radical soft option stuff. So this would be a good one to do a public access show with and he was given editorial control. And then the BBC had a big Rao with us in the name of Robin Scott, who tore his credit later on became a champion for us. But at the beginning of it, he had said to Rowan is when Rowan said that he was going to put the show out, fine, right? What are you going to say? Ron said, Well, we've got to say this, the BBC hands over editorial control to the round Shore community, which was what it was to make their own programme. And Robin Scott said to run out, but you can't say that. And I  said that, that's what we're going to do. We're going to hand over it. You can't say that on the BBC. And Ron said, but it's the truth. And Robin Scott said, Oh, yes. But the truth has implications, which is one last phrase I've never forgotten. Robin also said, and God rest his memory because he died a few months ago, didn't he, Robin? When we were going to then go ahead with public access. When we were building this conspiracy. It was probably in Ronnie's diary, Robin Scott said to Ron, there'll be public access on my channel over my fucking dead body. And then three, four months after the unit that she started transmitting. He was in Brussels receiving the plaudits of the EBU for being the first public service network in the world to offer national access to people I mean, they've been little obviously it's a catch 44 in Boston has done a local one and so on. You know, there have been little experiments around the world. And George doing stuff in New York and George Stanley doing stuff in New York with the With his Manhattan carry on the Manhattan cable, but, but this was nationwide. The actual conspiracy started with with Ron inspiring himself and some of us with showing some local programming from around the world. And then talking with Attenborough knew it was going to happen. But I'm officially the BBC Board of Governors didn't know about it until elkon. Allen leaked it on the front page of The Sunday Times, that there was going to be public access that the BBC was going to hand over editorial control for this experiment. And of course, once once the cats out the bag, you can't put it back in again, you know, the genies out the bottle because if the BBC had turned around said, Oh, no, no, no, no, no, I mean, the BBC that the the the board had said, no, no, no, you can't do this. Then it will be seen to be an anti democratic move. Not simply non democratic, but anti democratic because it will be going against the plan that was already there. And I can remember going around with Rowan to Tony Ben's with Brian Winston and writer Neville Smith. Do you don't ever Smith, Neville Smith was terrific. I loved his writing loved his writing. Liverpool, Liverpool writer, playwright, Canberra to film called gumshoe and a beautiful Granada play called after a lifetime of Liverpool funeral. Wonderful writer. Anyway, he was they were all part of it. And we all sat around talking about what we wanted to do and all that. And it'd be interesting to look and maybe we'll turn up on one of his Ben's diaries. No, because we were we were certainly taped. And so the, the genie was out the bottle and we were given an experimental run a 13 programmes. But again, once we're there, you couldn't stop it. So we just kept going, you know, we did 13 programmes. I wasn't I was I was, I was still working in Community Programmes, Presentation Programmes I was at the end of Late Night Lineup we're own is peeled off to do the Community Programme Unit. And I was left in charge of Presentation Programmes. And then I was shafted by the BBC, of course, six months later, and had to apply for my own job and didn't get it. And actually will work got half my job. And someone else got the other half, but I was shafted. So I spent six months in light entertainment, and doing what? Oh, humbly. I mean, I spent six months working on a dreadful show in which I earned quite a lot of money because I also wrote some of the script. So I was paid separately as a script writer, for the most dreadful show, and then another guy who is now pushing up daisies is Derek Nima show called Justin Mo, dreadful shots. And I used to write some of his script. But the script that got through, I mean, because Nemo was for social Christi and

Stephen Peet  18:38  

former, whereas there's about middle 70s

Mike Fentiman  18:41  

talking about we're talking 1973 7319 73. And I worked on an MO for a few months, just thinking about what I was going to do. And I couldn't write in them. I believe there were loads of things that I wrote the just would not, he will just not you wouldn't say it because he thought he was not a pro member. One thing I wrote for him. He was doing he was doing a silly programme about this week Ascot doing about rural Alaska. And I just wrote a line that saying that I said that rural Alaska was so blue blooded ly exclusive, that even the Duke of Norfolk can't get in without a letter from his probation officer. And he wouldn't say it. He thought it was an absolute insult to the royal family. And anyway, but I owe money on it. And so I didn't mind that. In the meantime, I also wrote a a documentary, short documentary for education called the black man in Britain, with Derek Griffiths doing and it was a populist history of the black man in Britain from the first Elizabeth through to the last bus conductor, you know, as it was then. And that was that was a very decent piece. Have to go typing. But anyway, the. And then Ryan airs went off to Australia, his job became available. I applied for it a secondary buff. I didn't get it. Paul Bonner got the job as editor Community Programme Unit, as a training period for him before he then became head of science features. But it was it wasn't a pointed job in the sense that we're getting a small department, see how he gets on with that. And B sounds terribly arrogant, but in order to give himself credibility, immediately, Bonner asked me to be his deputy, because I had all the credibility to work the department, you know, so in fact, he was the boss. And I actually ran the rest of it. But he wanted credit to Paul. He did all right. He did. All right. I mean, he kept the faith even though he wasn't it wasn't a believer, you know what I mean? So we got on where I needed the job for just about a year. And then I took over and Community Programmes in 74. And so it had been running for in 75, had been running for nearly two years when I took over, as runners had done it for one year. And Bonner for another year,

Stephen Peet  21:16  

what was the weekly programme or were they erratic,

Mike Fentiman  21:21  

no buts varied between 30 and 40 shows a year. In its first two or three years, and then in then in 7576, we decided to split it. So we started doing teenage access and so on 79, we did teenage access. But we also did another show called grapevine which was self help community series and so on. So we were very much public access and community. right the way through now,

Stephen Peet  21:56  

at what point or maybe you're coming on to this right now, at what point and whose idea was it that the headquarters, the organisation or centre of the Community Programme unit, left Television Centre deliberately?

Mike Fentiman  22:13  


Stephen Peet  22:14  

Could you tell us about this?

Mike Fentiman  22:15  

I can't give you the detail of it. I mean, I do know I thought it was your idea. No, no, no, it was not my spoof No, because when it started on in April 1973, that the team had got together the previous 564456 months of December 20, November, December around the Christmas period, for the for the for the April, transmission of the first programme. The BBC had this house in Hammersmith Grove, which is held it had been part of Hammersmith Council, it had been it'd been used for a one time for the repatriation or anglicisation, of Italian prisoners of war after the so it became very, very much sort of Department of Social Security, all that kind of area. So it had this sort of community thing about the house even. And then it was used. The BBC had had the house and it was being had several houses in shepherds, Bush, especially in nine grove. But they'd been used for the production team for the Great War. And they'd been there for several months. And then Rowan knew this place was there. And Attenborough said, Why not go down there. So that looked at it and thought, absolutely perfect, because symbolically rather than than anything else, it was in the community. And again, nominally, the door was always open and people would walk in from the street. But there was more a symbol than the reality not many people did walk in from the street. But we did have an open door that we will listen to anyone and everyone and we go and visit anyone and everyone. But and the fact that we were in a somewhat shabby, which got shabbier and shabbier and shabbier over the next seven years. Seven years might have been even longer. It it really was. Away from the BBC. And psychologically that was quite important for the producers who were coming to work there as well. I didn't have to go through the security didn't have to go through the portals of the BBC, you know, that we really were a little guerrilla unit out on the age unit. Now,

Stephen Peet  24:47  

what kinds of programmes were being made or were being made were being offered, and how did the community or how did the public know about the fact that it was possible Learn to apply and make programmes

Mike Fentiman  25:02  

that apart from sort of general publicity, and you know, radio time and the press and so on initially, what we did was the first day we I mean, I'll associate myself with it from the very beginning, because even though I wasn't working there, I was part of the thinking that helped create it. The the first few programmes were handpicked to be exemplary. So they'd be the black teachers. Women with cystitis. John Hopkins Hoppy, radical St. Video in 13, programmes, they were fairly sort of, as you call it, really sort of mainstream radical, I suppose was

Stephen Peet  26:01  

it was it was the general idea that people or groups with an axe to grind?

Mike Fentiman  26:06  

Yeah, of course, it could come in. Absolutely, absolutely. But what we did in those first 13, was to say, look, the we've chosen these programmes, yes, they've got access, but we chose these these people. Now you've got some idea of the range of anything and everything. Now, you want to do it, right to vary BBC this right to us, I'm gonna send you an application form. And people filled in an application form. And they had to say, who they were, what they did, why they wanted our time, and so on, you know, and what do you what do you expect your programme to be like? Now, you know, some would write it very clearly, others would simply write down what we want to say we don't know how to say. And the whole purpose of our partnership was that they would know what they wanted to say. And we would help them say it in the most appropriate and best way for for their advantage, and having certain television skills.

Stephen Peet  27:06  

So you were supplied a producer, and they were given to him,

Mike Fentiman  27:09  

initially, initially, that the original team was, Ron is a senior producer, and for assistant producers, and a couple of producers assistants, and a little organ and an organiser, so there'll be about 11 people,

Stephen Peet  27:32  

and they'd be made on film or there was Dettman motion

Mike Fentiman  27:36  

and mostly studio, lots of studio studio live in the studio, without autocue. So the scripts and mostly mostly mostly live and little bits of film, little bits of film. Again, big borrowed and stolen. The budgets for those first shows in 1973 was something like I think about 250 pounds. Which meant going to get new, getting news getting ends of roles. And we had one one producer working for us, it was a film editor, Eddie Montague, going using the news bath at night, that kind of thing, to process, the film process, that kind of thing. So a lot of thing was done with with with no cost at all, to anybody actually. Because it was just didn't go through the system. So that even when we were allowed to make the programmes, and we finally got it through, we still had to use some kind of sort of minor guerrilla tactics to get things going, you know, and tune in to actually improving. I mean, it was very interesting. The very first show that we did was done with a studio was stripped bare. Metal was the Psych was cyclorama around the studio was pulled back. So you've got the walls, the bare walls, and you can see lights and so on, you know. And within a very short and this was this was Rowan enters his idea of saying no, we strip it back, we let people see real television. And of course, it's not real television at all, because the people who make the shows they wanted their show to look as much like real television, ordinary television as possible. Because that was the language I didn't want to speak another language. They wanted to say other things, but they wanted to use the same language. So in fact, the pressure from the participants was in general in production style to be conventional. And we'll understand why they wanted to do that. wasn't as exciting for us. But it was What it meant that they got a great deal more out of it in terms of public response and so on, you know. And the group itself was always given a film recording of their show afterwards, a 60 mil for black and white film recording, which they could then use in the community for further interaction, social action, so on,

Stephen Peet  30:25  

because this is way before

Mike Fentiman  30:27  

I was no video No, that's Oh, absolutely no, I couldn't do any of that, that this was the very beginning. And they weren't paid. Just their expenses were paid. That's all. And they weren't allowed to pay either. So that when, for instance, we did a programme about the right to return which was made by Palestinian exiles, which was an anti anti Zionist programme wasn't wasn't anti semitic. And neither was it anti Israeli, as such, it was anti Zionist. Both sides, because a few weeks later, the BBC forced Community Programme unit to offer a reply to the Anglo Israel friendship League, which is a dreadful programme produced by our initial public drama producer. Both sides offered to fly us out to the Middle East, and they they put all their money in. And we wouldn't do that. We never allowed the people taking part in our programmes to find it themselves. Would we act as as a kind of a levelling device? Whereas if you if otherwise, you'd get I mean, as you when you look at what happens in America and varying in politics, you know, the first someone's got more money, they can make a flashy a show, you know, so we made sure that we believe that everyone betted on a level playing field, you know,

Stephen Peet  32:13  

am I right in remembering that? Producers and other people were anonymous on these programmes that in other words, if you were an up and coming and producer who was put to work for the community programmes unit, it was interesting, and you learned a lot, but you didn't necessarily further your profession?

Mike Fentiman  32:33  

Well, I wasn't done a couple of things. The first the first thing about not anonymity was on late night lineup. We didn't have credits on late No, no, not not production credits. Not until the unions forced it. Right. And I can sort of understand why the unions would force it, you know, at the beginning of sort of not casualisation, exactly. But you know, less. Job security isn't like I'm thinking about how young people are moving around with independent television, the new companies operating in London Weekend Television starting and all of that. All these names were going up and they're saying, oh, man, what about us? So So with that, first of all, we had to put up technical credits. That was the first break, and then it became production credits. And that was on late night lineup. So I never had in seven years on late night lineup, I didn't have a single credit. And I'm 10 years in Community Programme Unit. I had one credit, where the group of people making the programme insisted that they just thanked me and just said thanks to Mike Fenton, right but didn't say who I was. In so that's I did 17 years anonymously and effectively never bothered me at all. I mean, I got my rocks off, otherwise, my ego didn't need it. Something was screaming, but I might think about it differently. Now. Certainly, the moment I stopped being editor Community Programme Unit, they went to full credits, including that the editor or Community Programme Unit, my name never went up. I remained the longest serving editor of Community programme unit, the 10 years nearly. And my name was never up there. All the other editors of Community Programming since had their names up on the screen. But as the longest serving one, I never had the name up on the screen. It was a just different, different world then that's all different attitude and different attitude is well of course, of course. And as I say when I when I joined in 1973 when I became a full time member of staff, I was told what my pension was going to be so why do I need a credit card

Stephen Peet  34:59  

but the Community  Programme Unit. Are there any I'm sure in your memory all that long period of time, outstanding programmes are anywhere. They caused a change in the law or change in public opinion. Notably, people get things off their chest or is

Mike Fentiman  35:19  

there another as partly partly that as well? I mean, yes, I mean, no, I mean, there are programmes that stick in my mind, of course, like the one that attacks the baby still, two or three programmes attacking the BBC, where the BBC puts up the funding to put out a programme on its own channel, and at that time, even repeating it at the weekend, when we go into video titles, I'm repeating it the weekend. So that this programme would go out twice. And we did a programme on "Campaign Against Racism In The Media" where the BBC was attacked and ITV prototyped. Robin Day in particular, for being broadcasting racism and for being racist, both active and if you can have passive racism, both active and passive assumptive racism, rather than active racism, and there was an attempt was the most peculiar, peculiar attempt at the BBC to demand a right of reply. And my answer that was, look, we have half an hour a week for about 33 On average, 30 weeks a year. And I'd worked out that this was for the paternity party programme review. I said, You've got somewhere between our can't work out exactly I said, but somewhere between eight and 10,000 hours of factual broadcasting a year I said, use half an hour that if you want to write a reply, don't take 1/30 of mind. But I've got I've got into a lot of rounds over there, as a male most likely to kill the messenger. To touch of that and at the BBC then also when we did a programme called " Rockin' The Botha" or we got a big row over that.  " Rockin' The Botha" -BOTHA was three young South white South African draft dodgers who were attacking the South African government, obviously. And David Dimbleby at that time, was in South Africa, making three decent documentaries called 'The White Tribe". And a South Africa stopped him filming because of the programme that we had made. So I got into a big row. And I had two hours along with along what was his name? Not Brigadier. 

Stephen Peet  38:02  

Not Stoneham. 

Mike Fentiman  38:04  

Not Stoneham. Not Brigadier Stoneham. No. It was no, he was a colonel. He was at a colonel in the in the in the TAs. He was in he was in current affairs anyway. And I had two hours meeting the current affairs people trying to try and to get me for daring to transmit such a programme. They want to know why we were allowed to do it. And it was, it was, it was tedious and interesting, but it was a bit wearing, because but you just have to go through, you know,

Stephen Peet  38:36  

was it what was the outcome? No,

Mike Fentiman  38:39  

no, no, nothing. I could They couldn't do anything about it. I couldn't think about it, and

Stephen Peet  38:43  

it was already out.

Mike Fentiman  38:45  

Yeah, exactly. And so would there be a few programmes that we got it again, with, it was really one of the last programmes that I was effectively in charge of before  Brazil. And that was when we did "Taking Liberties", which was the miners' strike 84. And we were the only transmitted programme at that time that showed the miners strike from the miners point of view. Where I mean, I don't mean simply broadcasting the miners point of view, which of course we did. But we had film, video from behind the miners, looking at the police coming in, whereas everybody else had it behind the police looking at the miners looking threatening. And it really was a huge change of perspective. And that was one where I sold my immortal soul. I lied to get the programme on the air. And now it can be told. We wanted to do this programme about the miners.We'd heard that these people wanted to do it ,  up in Nottingham. So what I did was to get them to fill in an application form and predate it by a couple of weeks. So instead of it, you know, I got it. And let's say it was the, I don't know what date it was , well, just say  it was the first of April or something. I've got them to date it. first week of March, I then receive it. And then I put it in a pile of papers, which I send to the controller to let him know what programmes we were going to be doing over the next few weeks. That was the  routine. But I put it in lots of other papers and knowing that Brian Wenham doesn't look at papers very often. I put them in a pile of papers and put it all halfway down. And I waited two weeks and heard nothing. And then told the miners, they'd  got their programme. So we're going to start. And then Wenham heard about it, and fucked, and blinded, and so on, and said, "You can't do this" I said they've been told they've got it." So why didn't I know about this?  I said, " Brian, I said  just look for your papers and so on. You'll see it's  just dated whatever it was in March until it's well over a month ago. So you've had plenty of time to come back to me if there was a problem. And he couldn't stop it. He then demanded that I did the right to reply. In other words, they wanted didn't they. They knew they couldn't stop it. So So there's got to be a discussion afterwards. A balancing discussion, the old trick, and I refused to produce it. He demanded that I produce it. I said, No, I'm not going to produce it. It's not my job. I said, if there's a problem , it's the BBCs problem, not Community Programme Unit. So in the end, they got David Jessel . Current Affairs got David Jessel to chair a discussion with the Nottinghamshire police chief and a right wing journalist. Anthony, can't remember his name ,  the Telegraph, Telegraph writer and someone else and and did a balancing discussion and nobody remembers that balancing discussion at all, of course. But  the programme went out and Arthur Scargill was very, very happy.

End of Side 2


Born in East Ham, east London, Mike was the son of James, an engineer, and his wife, Dorothy (nee Morris). He was educated at a number of primary schools, the only pupil in his year to pass the 11-plus. He attended East Ham grammar school for boys and Leicester University, graduating in 1960 with a degree in English literature. After a brief stint as a teacher he took up a traineeship as a studio manager in the overseas service of the BBC. By 1965 he had joined Late Night Line-Up, and was to stay at the BBC until ill-health forced his retirement in the 1990s.

1984, his Taking Liberties film reported the miners’ strike from their point of view. His efforts brought frequent conflicts with the higher echelons of the BBC.

The move towards access television went back to an incident in 1972 when the Line-Up presenter Tony Bilbow visited the Guinness factory to record workers’ views of television. He was met with hostility: “You types will just take what we say and cut out what you don’t like,” they told him. Bilbow guaranteed there and then this would not be so.

Mike grabbed the idea and the opportunity. He and Line-Up editor Rowan Ayers persuaded the BBC to approve the idea of “community programming” – an editorial attitude that, as he put it, “did not derive from the assumptions of the university educated elite who are commonly believed to dominate television production.” launch of the Community Programme Unit, Mike went on to become its champion. As editor he gave community and special interest groups freedom to make their own programmes. The idea was a success and evolved in many directions, with programmes such as Something Else, Comic Roots and Open Space. Further on came the Disability Production Unit, and programmes for deaf and hearing-impaired people such as See Hear.When he left the unit in the mid-80s he remained for 13 years a moving spirit and sometime chairman of International Public Service Television (Input) conferences.

From 1970 until just before his death he sustained a writing partnership with Bilbow. They wrote three comedy series for Radio 4 and contributed to the award-winning radio series Lines from My Grandfather’s Forehead, which starred Ronnie Barker. After his retirement from the BBC he and Bilbow wrote six plays for the Incognito theatre in north London. Until the last year of his life Mike attended regular reunions of Line-Up colleagues.In 1961 Mike married Dorothy Filby and they had three children, Jonathan, Kate and Daniel. They divorced in 1988, and in 1989 he married Patrice Abrams. They had two daughters, Jessica and Eleanor, and divorced in 2013. Michael James Fentiman, television producer and writer, born 27 September 1938; died 22 February 2017