Peter Montagnon

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Interview Date(s): 
31 Oct 1995
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Born 25th April 1925 Croydon/Redhill. Father an engineer. Whitgift School, at 14 years got a four-year apprenticeship with an engineering firm. He talks about his war years there. After the war his National Service was with the Royal Air Force and then transferred into the Army with Signals, commissioned. After demobilisation he had ideas of being a stockbroker or a broadcaster; after various interviews and failures he went to Bush House, BBC Overseas Service.


He then went on to be a general trainee. He worked at Bush House and then moved into administration, which he hated; then moved into Schools TV which he greatly enjoyed. There he met Michael Gill who had moved into Art Features; he followed in persuading Huw Wheldon and David Attenborough to take on Civilisation, having poached Kenneth Clarke from Lew Grade. He talks a great deal about the making of Civilisation. He then moved to become the first Head of Open University TV in 1969, where he remained for three years. Then he asked to go back ‘on the road’ as had David Attenborough.


He backtracks to talk about Anne James, who had looked after all the ‘benchwork’ for Civilisation, and the sound recordist Basil Harris (Peter couldn’t remember his surname) and Basil’s relationship with Clarke. Then in 1973-74 together with Oliver Hunkin (who had been Head of Religious TV) they put forward the suggestion for a series on world faiths,[ The Long Search DS]. They started with David Attenborough as the anchor-man, but it didn’t work, and then settled for Ronald Eyre. This was a three-and-a half year project. After that he made a programme about Tibet. Then he started to make a drama-documentary, The Tunnel, from a script by Elwyn Jones, but this had to be abandoned because of War Department requirements. He resigned from the BBC and started up his own company, Antelope Films, making a series of programmes on the Impressionists. He talks about the setting up of a series on China and the various probables [?problems DS] in making a 14-part series for Channel Four.


He talks about a deal his company was entering with Robert Maxwell, who had bought 49% of Antelope shares. He then talks in detail about working for the BBC.



Please Note the transcript of side 4 to follow 

Norman Swallow  0:04  
the copyright of this recording is vested in the BECTU history project. Peter Montagnon  television producer and director of television films, interviewer, Norman Swallow, recorded on the 31st of October 1995. Side one

Peter Montagnon  0:35  
engineers also bridge builders.

Norman Swallow  0:40  
Sorry, yes.

Peter Montagnon  0:43  
Forget it and start again. Okay. I was born, I think, in Redhill, or in between Redhill and South Croydon somewhere or rather. And my father did date on the 25th of April 1925. And I was one of two twin brothers. And I had two elder sisters who, at the time, and for most of my early years, I detested Absolutely, because they were so fantastically unfair. But my father was he come a long line of engineers, and the family came from France. The man who came over first was in about 18, between 1870 and 1880. He was he had been in the army in the, in the army of the defeated of the Emperor. And he came over because he'd killed someone in a duel. And he was the fencing Master at Woolwich, that the unit at the Woolich Academy, which was for gunners, and so that's how he earned his living when he came over to this country. And the, the family was then sort of either army or engineering very weirdly. And all my uncle's were really quite eminent engineers. One was a very, very good mathematician. My father was a sort of semi black sheep of the family in the sense that he was academically quite awful. Like his, like me. And so he went into a shipyard, his father, who was a bridge builder, put him into a shipyard, he became the foreman at a very early age and then went through, and then he became the managing director of an munition family, a factory during the First World War, was fired in the Depression, got her a very strange job on the Daily Mail, working out the making the first facsimile machines and, and went through times of great hardship, as did the family. And then we had been relatively affluent, you know, before that, with a very large car, one of the very large early cars, and enjoyed being very much conservative, and he was a lifelong conservative. So and then we went into a little private school called St. John's, where I was terribly, terribly happy. And then we totally ran out of money. And I was taken out of that, and put into the local elementary school, which I hated. It was a sort of complete concrete jungle. And I hated it. In, in, again, in South Croydon, and I was very, I sort of was pretty bad there. And I was showing distinct signs of being the appalling academic failure that I was to turn out to be later. The the, so I went from there, and he scraped all his money together and put both of us into a minor public school Whitgift where we stayed until the start of the Second World War. And we were actually the school closed down just before the start of the war, and was evacuated to somewhere or other and I was then evacuated to Wales where I was happy for the first time because I was the bottom boy in the class of the worst form. And although my my twin brother did rather better but not actually desperately well, but I was a you could say it was a total failure. And I didn't do any of the work that was supposed to. They thought it was a complete write off. And I spent all my time in the in the local lending library, taking out books But I wasn't supposed to read which my father promptly may like the the sex life of the Eskimos sex life of the Eskimos, I remember that having a sort of vey severe talking to my father, my father who made me take it back immediately. Whereabouts in Wales on the Gowet peninsula Llangennith. And that was absolutely wonderful. We lit stayed in a farmhouse, we didn't do anything, and had an absolutely wonderful time. And then when I was, so I lived didn't have any formal education after the age of 13 and a half. And

then, when we just before we were 14, my father used such pull as he'd got to get us both apprenticed into a local South Croydon munitions factory, called Creed's who made the actual typewriters. He because he knew the manager terribly well, who used to work for him had been one of his foreman, when he was the manager of a much bigger setup, at the monotype actually, printing presses and all that sort of thing. And so I was apprenticed in and I was sneaked into the factory when I was actually 13, and three quarters. And at the start of a five year apprenticeship, his ides idea being that this would probably keep both of us out of the war and alive. Would laudable from the farhe's point of view, but of course poisonous from a child's point of view. Tell me when you want some coffee, by the way. And so in the factory, I was a total flop. And I had the highest scrap rate of ever, and they were all terrified of having been posted into their section because I would drop the productivity in that section down by about 50%. And I was incapable of producing anything that wasn't or two items that were alike, because I detest it. Excuse me. That's right, I think I was saying I was incapable of producing two items that were actually literally alike, because this is very important. In engineering, we are working to more than a 1,000th of an inch, and sometimes a 10 thousandths of an inch. And so I was persona non grata. And I was handed from section to section, I went into the, they put me into the casting foundry and I was hauling around these castings. And, and then it was like being in some Inferno. And then I came out of that I was put, it was like going to heaven, I was put into a section that was run by a one legged inspector, who'd had a leg shot off in the very early stages of the war, and had come back to some sort of Valhalla, because the girls in the local Russell had also been called up the war service. And they kept together as a bunch and some wit in the factory of putting them all into the grinding section. And and this, this one legged inspector was in charge. And I was posted into there, this grinding section is the place where I could do least damage as it was all with automatic grinders. And the and the girls were absolutely wonderful and looked after me tremendously well. And I used to go around to the bordello sometimes, in the in the early evening before trade struck up briskly. It was largely American servicemen, and or servicemen of some sort or other. And I really had a wonderful time. And there was I always remember this one young, a tart, whose name I hesitate to call her a tart because she wasn't really she was just a victim of circumstances was i Her name was Piggy and Piggy, who was rather plump she used to take me to the pictures on Saturday afternoons, and insisted on holding my hand and I can never work out at this. I was extremely naive. I couldn't work out why she had a very moist hand. I remember you sit there and the pictures holding my hand. Remember, what films you saw? Yes, I saw a very a lot of very early French films, including some thrillers how they ever got on there. I don't know but it made a tremendous tremendous is one of the only things I can remember from the cinema is there's a there was a villain, a real villain a murderer, and he was hiding in someone's room. And he was about to come out and attack them. And he put it you saw as a wonderful shot, and the point of a knife coming through a curtain and slicing its way down very silently, you could hear it just a little bit. And then this face, the slit came right down. And then this face came through. And it was really quite terrifying. And, and then I saw some with Jean early Jean Gabin.

And really, I liked the French, the French films a hell of a lot. But at that time, I didn't know why it was just that I knew I didn't like the English ones. And I like the French ones, even though I couldn't understand. So then I, I carried on in this factory, and went through and they took the art through largely through my father's influence, and put me into the development laboratory, where I supposed to be developing a bits of electronic equipment, which, again, spectacularly spectacular failure in a way I was capable of producing great Heath Robinson like apparatus says, Nobody could quite work out what they were supposed to do. But I, I sort of liked it. And I probably might have had some sort of inkling towards it. And then I went into, I had to go to the local Polytechnic for a day day release for half a day. And I then met there, the one man who made a tremendous impression on me. And he was a very ancient Jewish professor from Vienna, who'd been the professor of vibrations in the physics department at the one of the universities there. And this man was absolutely brilliant. And he went absolutely to first principles, and was able to talk, teach physics and mechanics in a way that I could understand. And so I was fine. And I couldn't, you know, you were supposed to use things like log tables, logarithms, which I hated, because I, I can't add up. And I can only I can do things tremendously well, approximately. So I used to get the answers in my head, approximately, I got on tremendously well with the old man. And I never used any log tables, because we were, you know, in fundamental terms, I was really switched on hugely by this and suddenly thought that there was might be a light at the end of the tunnel that only if you've got away from these, the the bean counter technical end. So I, then I, I went into the I wanted to get into the Air Force desperately badly, because I thought one way out of this hell would be by so I went into the Air Cadets, and I started to learn everything I could about flying. And I joined the, the RAF reserve when I was 17. And a bit and was put on deferred service and I so I learned to fly gliders I could. I was taught by the people at the Polish pilots at the local who were flying Spits at the local airfield at Biggin Hill. And they also we had gliders then. So they use in their spare time, they used to teach us to fly the gliders and take us up for spins, spins in the tiger moth. And it was I loved that, and I was having a wonderful time, and I liked the war. I mean, the war I thought was absolutely wonderful. The theatrics of it, you know, the spectacular fireworks and, and the excitement of it. I thought it was absolutely great. And I'd never felt I'd be killed or anything like that. And I was we were the areas south Croydon was bombed quite heavily. And I really also got my mind first insight into the British working man who I decided was wrongly called a working man because the last thing he would do was to work. And it was incredible than the sort of friction there was in this in this factory. During the war, they were either always on strike or they were away. And whenever the air raid, sirens went, they all shot off down into the air raid shelter, where I learned to play all all the time. card games you can think of taught by the people in my section. And.

And they were also amazingly sort of lazy. And in an engaging sort of way, if they could take time off and go fishing, they would do. But the war was really quite remote from them. And the idea of actually doing anything for anything other than material gain, didn't really cross their minds. And so I got a spectacular insight into the working man and what motivated the working man, which is seem to be quite properly self interest. And certainly nothing to do with a war of which he didn't can conceive Him to sell to be part that will never constructed humans, because they were doing something they were in. Yes, everyone. Yes, they were in a reserved occupation. And then there are quite a lot of women there. And the women work much harder than the men. And and then, of course, there were people like my, my wonderful Hors?, who did work wonderfully well in their own sweet way. But anyway, I and I met all sorts of strange people, including lots of hick philosophers who I was company I greatly enjoyed, and people who had carved out a quiet niche inside the factory and would earn themselves as much bonus as they could, and carried on and had encapsulated themselves away from the war on a fight of any sort, and just lead their own peaceful lives and they carried on. So I get it gave me a lot to think about. And the only other part that was my refuge really was the public library where I was now my father couldn't stop me going in there and taking out anything I wanted to. And, and so I then ran away with some, a woman went off lived with a woman left home when I was I think, 18. And no, I was in the I was, I was on the in the reserve, because I was in a deferred occupation. So I couldn't get into the Air Force. And that was my huge thing, trying to get out of the factory and into the Air Force. And so I was all there and ready and waiting. And that the thing that I found outrageous was that the the war came to an end before I could get in there and fly, because the one thing I wanted to do was to fly. And I think I would have been not particularly good as a pilot because I'd managed to crash, a couple of gliders. But they said I was brilliant, but erratic was the thing. They had done that. Are you talking about a girl? Oh, oh, yes, I went off with a girl, my first great romance. But her and her husband was in the Navy. And she was about four or five years older than me. And so I went, I had fell passionately in love with this girl who was in the secretary to the director of the development laboratory, and went off with her and. But my father managed to get me back again. And, and so I was then replugged into this factory. And then I did manage to as soon as the war came to an end, of course, they couldn't stop me any longer. And I went into the Air Force, but that was then by then they didn't want to have any train anymore pilots. So I thought I would transfer to the army, which I did. Just like that. Yeah. And so because I was a volunteer, and I could do what I wanted to. And so I didn't I certainly didn't want to be in the airforce if I couldn't fly. So I had I went into the Army, and they stuck me into in signals. Regiment because they were quite mistakingly thought that I knew an awful lot about electronics as I'd worked at the development of laboratory. I knew a bit yeah, I knew a bit not much. But no, I knew more more than most people I suppose, of an eccentric sort. And and then I I quite liked the army. And and then I was offered her a regular commission when you know before the Select selection board was made and got a A temporary commission first and then a regular one very shortly after that, and I spent most of my time on weird location I went up to a Berlin during the very first airlift

as a second lieutenant and set up radio communications back from Berlin with computers and the some of the very first of the elementary computers and the teleprinters. And so I was running that out of Berlin down to Helstadt. And then I came back and I had this strange unit that ran radio sets that were all had to be on the top of the hill, because it was a line of sight stuff that I adored doing, because it meant you could get away from the the headquarters. And then I, I tried to get to, to Indochina, I volunteered to go to Indochhina, and was just about to go there when fortunately, it fell. And that was when General Jupp managed to knock off General de latense?at Dien Bien Phu, and I was was actually sheduled go out there to as the liaison officer, to to them, but that fell through so I went to Malaya instead. And I'm sort of shot through there, I was then made a company commander quite fast, I

had two companies. One was Stop, stop. Oh, right. It could be that computer. Should I switch it off? To mean that is otherwise not on.

Right. So in the Malaya, I was, I had a thing called an air support signals unit. And I was then by then a captain in charge of two companies. And which is really a major was a major command actually, or both of them were one was that they had what they call tentacles with liaison officers and a signaller and radios and they used to go forward with the advanced troops and then call in airstrikes. So I had the ran the radio set up for the air to ground communication, calling in the airstrikes, and all the rest of it all over Malaya for some time. And I also then got into the, the SAS who there. And because I was terribly interested in Hi Fi and had been for a very long time and so passionately interested in I knew, of course, I knew all of the elementary stuff got amplifiers and mics, that sort of thing. And I set up stereo, I was very interested in stereo microphoning because of the fact that binaural sound allows you to locate the sound source much, much more accurately. And so I got this idea, which was really to use it on on patrol to tell where someone was you could pinpoint them tremendously accurately with a headset, in know where sounds are actually coming from. And it could discriminate. They're much better with that extra binaural information. So I'd set up you know, dummy heads and binaural things like that. And then as we took it a stage further and with the SAS patrols and we found safe houses along the routes where the the partisans, the guerillas were coming through and installed binaural microphones there, and an explosive charge under the floorboards and ran the wires  back and sat out in the jungle. listening to the conversations. You could take them on the most elementary of the things but you know things like wired tape record And they're also incredibly heavy disk recorders which I tried. But trying to hump battery operated disk recorders out there into the middle of the jungle turned out to be a rather useless operation. But anyway, we used to listen to these guys. And then of course, the idea was that if, if they spotted there was someone out there on their doorstep, we just blow them up. Which seemed the most easy way out of a rather difficult situation. If you did. I didn't know I didn't press the button. A lot. Yeah. So what year are we? Oh, well, I suppose I was coming up to about 50 1950 or something like that. And I'd been I was in Germany and Berlin, roughly speaking between about 46 and 50. And then I went or 49 Maybe something like that. And then I went to Malaya 48 49 and I almost went to Indo-hina about them. And I missed Korea, and which I was not happy about. And because I quite liked the army. I like the exciting bits of being having a never having forgotten all those wonderful fireworks when I was young. And they were

with all the anti aircraft and things. And so I came, I was then sick in, in Malaya, I got some bug, fever. And I came back. And I had

appendicitis to acute appendicitis as sort of sort of whistled back out of some or other and brought back into the base hospital. And while I was there, I, I read the army Council instructions, which I was not in the habit of doing, and, and saw that, that they ran courses, language courses, in all sorts of languages, including Chinese and Russian, and, and that you got sent home to do this. So I thought, well, I've had enough of the doubt here have been out there for about three years, two and a half, three years. So I put in for one of these things. And I think I'd, because I was working with the special operations people, they obviously, someone put in a good word for me. And the next thing I knew I was sent back to the UK and plugged into a Russian language course, to learn Russian in a year. Which I did. And at the end of that year, and this would be something like is 4950 something of that order? I went when when the cause came to an end, and I was a captain, then still. And I was asked to go to room 070, in the War Office, which was a sort of safe room that the security services used for recruiting their people. And amazingly young man was sitting there incredibly young man who is younger than you, yes, he was be about 23 or 24.

He'd have looked even younger than that he'd say looked about 21. Very much an undergraduate, or just just just finished. And he, his name was Alan Erwick?. He's now Sir Alan Erwick? or more than that retired, having been the ambassador in the Middle East, etc, etc, etc. For an quite high up, but at that, he then said to me, would you like to do something very exciting, and very difficult. And I can't tell you what it is. And so I said, Yes, do it. Done, what is it? And I thought, well, I'll get out of this. And he then said that I was was going to be posted to MI6 and I'm would be on special operations in in it then in Vienna. And so that I said was fine. And what happened was that we then we, we went through to Vienna and I found myself on an operation which was actually tapping the the telephone wires between the Russian headquarters in Vienna and the outlying units and also the the Air Force to and some an enterprising fan who turned out to be a great friend of mine until he died and I knew for the rest of my life was a man then called mate, John White Major white, and this guy had been in Special Forces right through the war, he's about four or five years older than me, and had ended up there in Vienna. And he'd dug this tunnel through and tap these things, these cables with the help of the British Post Office, and some joiners from the from the post office who were sent out to do the necessary work on the cables. And so we had a hell of a good time with these things. And I was then couriering stuff back from this safe house, and we had an amazing time because we there was a man in charge of it. who'd been picked by the security services, he he spoke terribly good Viennese. And because he was a sort of minor businessman, and this man heard then worked in the safe house. And we all decided that the thing to do was to import Harris Tweed that this seemed innocuous, but this man actually couldn't stop you. He was an archetypal Jewish businessman. And he couldn't actually stop turning this into a tremendous success. So the next thing was a half of Vienna was queuing up outside this shop, trying to buy tweed, and you couldn't actually get it, get anything out of the basement or the reels or anything like that. Which are these early tape recorders. And we spent all our time trying to get import licences for more Harris Tweed, through the terribly bureaucratic, bureaucratic written export departments of the in Whitehall. And we got outraged calls from the, the, the the guys in the Secret Service Accounts department because the Secret Service isn't can't by definition, make a profit, all it can do is to spend money, we were actually making making money out of this safe house and the tweed business. So we were told to stop because there was no they hadn't got a set of books that could, was constructed so that they could do this. And it was really quite fun. And after that, we then went on into Berlin, and I was put in charge of business of collecting information on

where to attack cables in Berlin, between the Russian headquarters at Casselss just outside, they had eight armies and to an Air Army. And it says intercommunication between the air armies and the eight armies and the headquarters and, and Moscow. And so we found we still we had to steal all the cable plans for virtually the whole of the network. And in Germany, we couldn't steal it for quite specific part because that would have with a double agent there that would have blown the gap. So we had to steal the whole bloody lot and in eastern sector. So we did that. And then we find these cables down, did an analysis of of from the I learned to speak a sort of weird kitchen, a technical German out of that. And we then worked out where the Russian cables were running that of course being Germans that you had absolutely wonderful records and you could work out pretty accurately where the where the circuits ran, and all the rest of it. So we then dug a tunnel for mile and a half together with the Americans from the American sector because it was the nearest to the thing that was my first actual my first CO production with the Americans. And we, it was a huge operation, I was only really in charge of the, of the, of the analysis of of what the traffic was likely to be, and everything else. And then we tapped the cables, it was fine. And I went out and I was I stayed in GI it as a GI out there for about six months down this cover installation, which was meant to be radio listening site, and we'll start with jazz era we are now be about 52 I should think. And and then so that that got the most immense amount of traffic out of it. And I was a major but who am I nominally but in MI6 and so we process that traffic successfully it was given away. I was working with George Blake, who gave away the thing I was working in the next office this George was a great friend of mine. And and and then that so they asked me to transfer into MI6 full time and I didn't actually I thought about it terribly seriously. And but then it would have meant going all around the world. And I'd got married a year a couple of years before that. And and I'd been away for a very long time got married and we took took half a half of the morning off. My wife's psychoanalyst, okay. Yes, in the in the UK just a morning. Kent yes Kent I was in, I was working in in a regent in a block in Regent's Park, one of the right one wonderful Nash houses. There, we taken over commandeered. And we got married and then had about three or four days, honeymoon. And then I went straight off to Berlin and had to sort of disappear for six months and then go off to America. After that for a year to Washington to process stuff in the CIA headquarters where I was the one of the liaison officers between the MI6 and the CIA. And then asked me to be a a when I'd like a permanent career there, and I thought hard about it, but would have meant Rosemary giving up her. She was in training as a psychoanalyst, and we'd have then trailed around the world, three years in each embassy, and I thought I'd throw it all out and do something new. So I thought I'd either be a stockbroker because I was tremendously interested in stocks. And she has been in a rather academic sort of way or a broadcaster. So I wrote to a lot of stockbrokers and I wrote to a lot of broadcasters and, and asked them the stock brokers I didn't like when I met them, I thought a very weird and dull bunch, and

the broadcaster's thought that was you know, I got a brush off from virtually all of the companies. And my cover was that I was I was by then a major in a top what was called a, an a topographical map unit, which I was meant to have been in for the last four or five years drawing up special maps off of Europe and around for the for the War Office, defence department, which is rather dull sort of thing is stupid cover thought up by Oh General Montgomery's brother, the ridiculous, ridiculously stupid Colonel Montgomery, who was in MI6 as as a person meant to dream up cover. It was one of the most stupid man I ever met in my life. The broadcast is well I prefer the broadcasters that's here. But I had a great problem trying to get in at that time. And all the ITV companies turned me down. But the BBC read through my thing and said Would I like to I then applied to the BBC to go in as the as the the man in charge of the Russian service in Bush house there was a an I went along there and had a series of interviews my Russian was pretty good but not a by any means faultless. In a sense I was very good on idiomatic stuff and I knew soldiers jargon absolutely backward Nice. All knew all the filthy patois and I could and I knew absolutely everything was going on. And I but I didn't get that job, but the unit ganged up on me and quite rightly, they didn't want anybody in from the there'd been a palace revolution inside the BBC. And and the man who was in charge had got chucked out for being too pro Russian. The fools didn't in the foreign office didn't understand you say the BBC mean Bush House? Yeah. external services.

Peter Montagnon  0:12  
Side 2. So, I was asked by the BBC to go along, and I've got obviously made some sort of impression on them coming out of this failed attempt to get into the Russian section. And so they asked me to go along, and we'll talk to them further. And then they said, Would you be interested in being a general trainee? And? Well, I was really quite old by then. And I was just just left us just left the Army as a major. And as a regular officer. Doesn't matter. It's fine, no carry on. And so I said, Well, tell me more about it. And they said, we take in, sometimes we take in people who seem to be slightly off beam, and put them through the general trainee course, even though you have absolutely no qualifications whatsoever in the academic sense. And so I said, What Yes, I was. And I then came in for a two year traineeship, along with people like John Drummond, Colin Mears, etc, who were all trainees at the time. And as they've done the logistics, or whatever you call it, yes, they had. And Colin had actually done very, very near to me, he'd done it as Russian too, and I think so had John Drummond, when I can't think of it, hmm. And they said, they'd gone in as a as on national service and being caught up, commissioned, done six months or so and then come out. So, um, I then was sent to Bush, they said, Would you, would you, we want you to go back to Bush House. And we were going to stick you into the administration. And I was then linked to I was, I was asked to be an administrative assistant. And I thought, it's really quite ridiculous, because the BBC is bureaucracy was unbelievable. And I was asked to read through a file, which is about a foot thick, from a Babu in All India Radio, who had was having a tremendously protracted exchange, with the accounts department in Bush House, over some expenses that he had filed two or three years earlier, when he was on attachment. And this this thing had gone on endless. I can't tell you how thick it was. And, and the, the, the man in charge then asked me how I was getting on with this file. And when I've managed to tidy it up. And so I said, I thrown it all away. As I did saw them, I said, Oh, this is absolutely no good. I'm either going to be in broadcasting as a broadcaster, I'm not going to do anything. They said about as much. You haven't got a chance in hell of ending up as a broadcaster. We all are infinitely better qualified than you and we know that we can't be broadcasting we're light years away from it and so you better give up. Hope now. So I wrote a long piece attacking the BBC administrative system, which I said was one of the worst I had ever seen an internal memo, an internal memo, which I said to the to the head of staff training. The man called Penthorne Hughes, who'd been in the who had been actually the DG of All India radio in his time, and had now come back and was quietly drinking away his his his waning years and in staff training, and, and writing books on witchcraft and so on They, they then said, Okay, well, you can. We didn't, we didn't, we just wanted you to be, we thought you'd be good at it. And so I said, I'm not going to be an SU made me the head of it, and I shall then deconstruct it as best I'm able.

Unknown Speaker  5:21  
And I was called in at the time, but you know, Ian, Jacob was, I think, the, the DG, and he had a, he got his eye on all the ex service people. And there was a, we had they had a meeting of people who were ex ex officers. And when when I was sent from Bush House to a television, or when I went it did a year on today with Jack De Manio first, but then I got onto this regular lot that met up. And with Ian Jacob was supposed to tell him what was going on. And we were meant to be reliable people that has a bunch of either ex army officers or ex district commissioners. And when I went to he said, we're sending you to, to Shepherds Bush, as if I was being sent off to Africa or somewhere. And we we rely on you to tell us what the drums are saying. Did you do do you have a title but a job? I didn't know I was a trainee now as a general trainee and but no, I was I was absolutely nothing. But but but the he knew I had been something he didn't quite know what because all I was allowed to say was that I was a been a major in the Army's topographical map unit. No comment. And which must be in the middle 50's 56 or be 56. Yeah, yeah. No, 58 58 I think I left MI6, and finally in about 58 came into the BBC about 59. Something of that order, maybe a 58. And so on. I went to see Paul Fox I went into schools television, which I was passionately interested in. And it was was absolutely wonderful. And I was then with, indeed with Collin Mears and John Drummond and a lot of other characters like

Unknown Speaker  7:53  
Oh, I think it's a quite an amazing selection. And, and the work was terribly good. And it was very adventurous. And everything was starting up. And I made the first language series called Padley, Armour Italiano, although I couldn't speak a word of Italian, and which went down terribly well. And I got to know Paul Fox, who quite liked it. And I went over to see him about whether to have get have a job on Panorama. I said, What about doing this? And he said, Well, you know, you're not . You've led a very quiet life and didn't think you're quite the sort Yeah, he was a panel Editor of Current Affairs, I think, or Head of Current Affairs was he No anorama to begin with. Yes, he was. Yeah, well, he was either Panorama or then head something larger than slightly larger than Panorama. And And kind of he maybe had gone into was something bigger was after Panorama Yeah. And I he said you'll never survive in. In current affairs. It's a very rough and tough world and I didn't tell him that I'd done done things that would leave the Panorama I thought that they were a bunch of hicks. And and I actually talked to them quite a lot. And I was, I mean, one of my reasons for for leaving. MI6 was I thought that I was actually one when I left. I was one of the liaisons through to the Cabinet Office. And my job was to actually tell them what was going on. Coming through on it, you know in the world. I found that they couldn't actually understand what we were telling them. And so I got a profound feeling of disrespect for politicians who either chose chose not to understand or couldn't understand. So there's one of the reasons why I left I thought, you know, you're, you're getting all this information together. And it's going nowhere. Wouldn't it be wonderful to get information together and actually broadcast it and let it go somewhere? In you know, into the our properley to people. So it's actually one of the reasons why I chose on broadcasting and well anyway I had a tremendously good exchange of Paul Fox who I liked, immensely, and, but obviously, who did didn't think I would, would be any good at this. And I was far too quiey, a creature and introverted creature ever to make a success in current affairs. You had a BBC office? Just wandering around, I was wandering around and I'd been for a year and a half. And I was in No, I was then when I saw Paul, I would be in schools television, as prime I just got a job as the very first of whatever you were at the time, PA. And, and then I worked with Michael Gill, of course, who I got on tremendously well with, we worked on the first series of Animals in Art with John Berger, which has great, great stuff and got to know lots of people there like the work like working with Michael, quite a bit. And so when it n then Michael went into into arts features with Steven and Humphrey. And I followed on and largely on Michaels recommendations. I should to Stephen that I should meet up and worked there for about a week on the and the very first of the omnibuses. I remember with John Berger, on Picasa. The middle 60s. Yeah. And that was black and white studio with black and white, tele recording, which was subsequently junked to my fury, but it's quite quite quite good. Actually. It

Peter Montagnon  12:47  
was big, big good thing with John amazing, you know, sort of like, straight live thing and recorded off air John in the studio for it was great. And then I started up a an arts magazine called the Look of the Week I was working with Melvin and around and that woman whose name I can't remember now is now dead. Who was running an art magazine? Yeah, yeah. Australia. And. But I thought I would do something that art was current affairs. It's capable of being current affairs. I then found out that my costume wasn't I got Robert Robinson in then it sometimes it worked terribly well. My thesis was that it shouldn't be special or anything like that. But it's something which is in the news and is newsworthy in its own right. But you just don't call it news. You just do something about it. And report on whatever's happening. You can still be officially PA can you know, I was? I think I was a producer. Yeah, I was a producer. Yeah. And yes, I was a producer. Yeah. And so I ran this, this arts magazine for some time and then then Civilization came out. And Michael knew me very well of course. And we we then got the call both of us from David Attenborough and Huw, who had tempted  Kenneth Clark away Huw Weldon yes from from ITV and a we'd found out thathis contracts are gone. You know, how Lew grade sewed him up. And when he was after he'd been, I think boss of ITV.

Unknown Speaker  15:00  
Chairman and the farewell dinner Lou had said, Kenneth, we're not going to you're too good for your to wonderful thing. And television can't lose you. Sign here, my boy and he thrust the paper in front of the Kenneth Clark sign on the spot. And it this was the thing which bound him to ATV for the rest of his natural life pretty well. But in a very benign move, because he then did get him to do things. And a but he was not allowed to do anything for anybody else until this thing runs. Someone we all found out on the oldboy network that this was happening. And it was David and Huw who put who asked Clark to lunch and offered him the chance to do anything he wanted in television. And he said he was immensely interested. And then we talked to him, the two of us and we will got on quite well, although tremendously guarded. At first. We said to him that we thought we thought we would quite rightly so he was a tremendously arrogant man, but hugely worthwhile, that he wanted to call do something about civilization in the West, etc between the ages of plunk, plunk, plunk, plunk. And we said we don't think you you really mean that. We think you're talking about civilization, because you think that whatever you're talking about is a civilization. And so we should call it that. And people it's going to get up everybody's nose. Which of course it did. The so called Art speeches department existed. Yeah. Yes. And that was Steven Hirsch and an Humphrey and we working for Steven Hisch and. Humphrey and I'd just prior to that I'd done a series with that with novela the old guy the Warburg you know, the this fantastical professor who did art and illusion Gonbridge. I did a series with Gon`bridge on art and illusion just before that. So I was then well and truly in arts features and had just started at this. And I come from the hip hop from the mag magazine where I was working with Michael McIntyre, and company and had just recovered from having the awful Tony Palmer there as as, as my as a PA he was a general trainee or something at the time. He also worked on Monitor. Yes, he did. He just worked for he'd worked for who was the the great guy who he imitated them for the rest of his life? Yes, Ken Russell had been working with Ken Russell, who had given him a terribly bad time. And it really had a huge effect on Tony. And it turned him around. And Tony was been a he became a sort of Ken Russell's shadow. Because Ken had given him such a rough time when anyway, it didn't do badly out of being Ken Russell's shadow.

Unknown Speaker  18:53  
But anyway, we we then got on and had this wonderful time and made Civilization for two or three very happy years and had a fantastic time doing it. And you, you don't want me to talk about Yes, yes. Well, it was some I suppose. Yeah. The the great, I think a great contribution if we made one. But we it was a fantastic time in the sense that we literally could have anything we wanted. Because but both because of the Divine patronage of Huw and David. And because of Clark and the BBC being extremely snobbish, establishment. Clark, cut In this amount of ice, and, and we had tremendous support in a way from Steven Hurst and from and from Humphrey, although we managed to keep them out very effectively, because Stephen had a tremendously negative effect on on Kenneth Clark, because Stephen being a very anxious creature, I mean, Stephen is wracked by anxiety. And most of the time, when we were in arts features, we used to spend our time consoling Steven and telling him that actually this terrible thing that he so feared wasn't actually going to happen. And really, it was all going to turn out all right, and he'll be there in the corridor, white with panic and fear and wringing his hands, because he cared so passionately about what was going on. He was, in a sense, the soul of the soul of the arts features department literally and the soul of the BBC. He was a he cared passionately, and still does. But the effect could very often be counterproductive on on particularly on nervy contributors, because he inspired panic in the people that he met. And so we knew that we had to keep a big distance between him and Ken Clark. So he came once into a viewing theatre, and we were viewing a rough cut, and it started to wring his hands or something like that. And K asked him to leave. And so he said, Who was that man? He said, we said, He's the assistant head of the department is, well, would you mind telling him that he we, he is not to come into any of these meetings ever again. And so that was that. And we were able then to distance ourselves both from Humphrey. And from and from, from Stephen. By way of footnote, Huw Weldon was am I right managing director. Yeah, in control of BBC Two, he was controlling BBC Two. And, and they were tremendously supportive. I mean, I liked Huw, who was a wonderful, wonderful, charismatic creature. And I was, I loved him dearly. And I thought he was our General Patton. And he could inspire anybody to do anything rarely, and had displayed most wonderful leadership. And so did David in an entirely different way. And they, I admired them immensely, both of them, and would have done anything for them. Really. I thought they were a couple of great characters. And I loved them dearly. And I also love Stephen very dearly, who, as I say, is, I thought that Stephens concerns were absolutely my concerns. He was able to argue passionately and well, for the department and for television, and against the BBC establishment. And he was absolutely on the side of the angels. But we knew that we had to protect Stephen.

Peter Montagnon  23:47  
Yes, series was a big success. It was a success. And it was it we did. The thing I think that we did that was hadn't been done was we reinvented the anchorman. And we said something which should have been obvious to anybody who had, you know, thought about film at all. And certainly, if you if you read, say Eisenstein, who was my God, and the only things that I ever read about production, really was Eisenstein and Carol Rice. And there's those two and I thought you could take all the rest of that and throw it away. And and coming out of Eisenstein and Rice, and editing, you did know that film conferred on you the power to be anywhere that you want it to be, and to ship change from one location to another in a split fraction. So you could change in the middle of a sentence if you wanted to. So if the sentence took you to another place, you could be in there place. And so actually, we didn't have to go through all the business of actually saying, uh, now I know as the sun goes down in, in Sorr ento we know you go to black and you cannot there's a man leading over the rail of a boat and saying as we approach the island of so and so it cetera that you could actually do it on an idea that the idea could carry you through from one location to another civilization was 35 millimetres or 35 mil and colour is our first it was the only way we could do it at the time was to shoot because the only real stock we could do once we decided to do it. It was 35 Eastman and so we had that we had Tabi and we had Ken McMillan Englander Tubby Englander Ken McMillan and we had an hour Alan Tara, of course. And you couldn't ask for a better set of guys than we that we had. And they were had these wonderful people. And and Tubby and K struck up an immediate relationship because K saw that, that he Kenneth Clark saw that he was an absolute total professional, and there was carpet Tabby, who was wearing gloves and had an assistant and wouldn't do anything and is treating the assistant very very rough. That was fat Colin I can't remember his other name now. You probably know there's no quite eminent camera man. I'll think of him soon. But he was the only one who was totally impervious to Tubby's cutting edge didn't get all there and Ken can he cut Tubby was the lighting cameraman and Ken. Ken was the operator and operating cameraman Tubby and, and Kenneth Clark understood each other Tubby thought he Kenneth Clark was absolutely wonderful. And Kenneth Clark thought Tubby was wonderful and came from a very old sect, Jewish sect who he knew an awful lot about. And so he understood Tubby and what Tubby wasn't he also thought Tubby was a gent. And so they used to walk off and they used to have long conversations and liked each other a great deal. So we never had a moments. And Tubbyy was terribly respectful. And would would wait and wait for Clark to be ready. And we had everything there including, you know, the auto cue which was right on the front of the thing. And we had never went anywhere without a generator. And we all have always had a two sparks and a grip. And a full set of tracks. So we just never travelled anywhere but in in great style. And it paid off because we could do anything we wanted to. We could like chat when we felt like it. And did you a producer? Yeah. Producer and Director. Yes. Yeah. And so Michael and I split the direction and production between us. And together with Ann Turner, who was the our assistant producer and

an Anne's huge forte was in her knowledge of where things were in the in the museum's and of benchwork which she handled without Turner with with with the other Anne there's there's Anne Turner and there's the other Anne whose name I remember in a minute now respected producer, now retired. But anyway, we had a great setup there and Anne Turner used to handle most of the museum's but together with Kenneth Clark, who also knew where everything was. And so we had a great time. And in a sense, it was easy. Why I don't know and we we had endless script discussions. So it was really quite difficult to put it together but in a way it was easy. And I don't know if the force was with us and the gods were with us and it just went right. It was a great successful and wonderful thing to work on. We all remained great friends up to his death and his wife's death. And Michael and I are now he is what remains will remain one of my very oldest friends. After that, as it drew to a close, I saw that the Open University was about to start now I'd had this long standing war, with education getting absolutely totally failed. That's why I had gone into schools because I wanted to reform the educational system. And to some extent, I suppose I did, at least start on it in schools, television, and it was a huge interest of mine, when I saw that there was a whole new university starting starting up this way, I thought, this is marvellous, and I want to be in on it. And at the time, we were down the bottom of the league with, with Italy in terms of the number of people between the ages of 18 and 21, who and full time education, and we had somewhere between six and 8% of the population. Doing it, when we there were, for example, 30%, in the United States, and 30%. In Russia, and 20%. In, in, in France. So I thought this is it. And it's the way to, to redefine it. And to say that it isn't, it's it's never the pupil who is wrong its the teacher who is wrong. Because the teacher's job is to teach the pupil and if he can't teach the pupil satisfactorily, then he's failed. So it's all about the aims of an object is what you're trying to do, you must specify first what you're trying to teach. And you will then specify how you're going to teach that. And you must test it out. If it doesn't, if it doesn't work, you must remake it until you have taught successfully. So it's all about that. And so I wrote of to Wedhewood-Benn were together with Michael because he was passionately interested, too. But very early on, when we were both in schools television, we'd written to Wedgie. Benn, who at the time was in charge of the early schemes we need. We never heard anything much from Wedgie. But by this time, it was in different hands. And so I applied for this, and I had an interview with Huw and, and with David, and he said to me, why don't you do this? And say to David, you know, you can do anything you want to in television, the world is your oyster, what would you like to do next? And I said, I want to go and start at the Open University, they said, You're mad, you're going into a backwater. And it won't be a success. We know what should be done with, which is to hand over the whole of the university, to television. And we'll just get professors after, from classrooms all over the place, the very best of the professors, and will point cameras at them. And I said, Yes, you've got it absolutely wrong. This is not what it's about. And you'll never teach anybody. And this is the wrong way to do it. And I disagree totally with the way that you propose to do it. And we're going to do it a different way. And also said this to Aubrey.

Aubery Singer, he was ahead of feature group. Yeah. And I said, you just don't know anything about education. And although I love you dearly, your ideas are all wrong in your ideas and mistaken and it mustn't be in your hands. I was made, then the head of the head, head designate of the Open University productions, and started and we then had one year to plan it to plan the whole of the Open University from scratch, including the broadcasting part. And I was to take over Alexander Palace, and to start it up with two studios. All the people Film Unit, and I was to train up 14 new producers, a recruit and train 14 new producers had one year to do it. So that was wonderful. And so I did that. And I said that by definition. I wasn't going to have anybody. It's easier to make an academic into a broadcaster than a broadcaster into an academic, I could say that knowing both sides of it. So I'd rather get people who were tremendously good academically, but showed a bit, but who could see round corners. So I then went on a tremendous recruitment and testing binge and saw more than 1000 people in order to appoint 30. And I said that they must all have not not just have good degrees, but degrees that were good enough to have gotten them into a university and as a as a lecturer. But then I wanted them to be better than that, because they must now be able to see round corners, because a broadcaster must be able to see around corners, has to have two things has to be able to see around the corner. And the second thing that they must do is they must have the most incredible perseverance, they must never take no for an answer, because what makes a good producer is not some special talent, but the ability not to be put off. Both? Yes, well, it must be both. But without the doubt, without the ability to not to take no for an answer. You're not even in your starting blocks, no matter how talented. You just nobody will listen to you. And so I recruited my lot and I then set up a training course with Rodney Marsh. And who was then the head of Star training, and a trained all my people at Alexandra Palace, got them into action. And we we made started making 300 radio and 300 television programmes a year, building up to or building up to 1000 a year over the first three years, and we tested those programmes, and we rewrote and remade those programmes. And we all my people worked as an integral part of the course team that made the everything that's the course units, the television and the radio on the whole lot. And so my people had an equal say, I knew that the only way I could get the broadcaster's an equal say, in the academic world, was by having people who could tell the, the the academics, the lecturers and the professors to Sod off when when necessary, because they understood it just as well as they did. They got it wrong. So that was my principle by which I ran it that my my people would always be better than good enough to disagree with the academics. And I think it worked. It certainly made a new breed of broadcaster and not just someone who turned up and said, What do you want me to point the camera at golf? You're a pioneer. Yeah. So I did that. And then when I had the, I said, I do it for three years, three years. Yeah. And that when I got my first graduate through, I would then start handover. So I did and says, As soon as we had the first graduate through I, I went and saw David and said to him, I know what to go back on the road. I could have stayed on, but I talked to Clark, because I could have been the assistant controller. I think the governor quite well as Don Don Gratton, who was incredible bureaucratic guy, but very good, really. Very dull, but marvellously talented in administrative ways. And so I could have been the assistant controller and gone up that way, but I thought that it was taking a good joke as a stage too far. As I hadn't even got, I'd had to forge my eh, or my whatever school certificate

it was that I thought I couldn't actually turn up to the broadcasting this woman, you know, who I was, had to be seen, with absolutely nothing. So I sort of forged a school certificate. So any time I've ever lied about my qualifications, I thought I can't embarrass this woman passed this point by saying I have absolutely no who was who was she? I can't it was an administrative assistant in in staff training. Which she is very sweet. And I sort of back to I didn't really claim that I'd got anything other than this very low qualification or something or other in English. And, and I backed off from that later, I then, as soon as I saw I needn't lie even about that. And because I met someone called Victor Menzies, who was running the staff training was quite brilliant. And I then told him the truth. And he, by that time I was inside the BBC. And but anyway, I then saw David and said, I want to go back on the road. And he said, I put him into documentaries department. And by the way, I'm going back on the road. What are you going to do? And I said, Well, I want to I'm passionately interested in religion. And I want to make a series about religion. And I, but it must be away from the Department of Religion because that's a dead hand, as is the Department of Education really. And even though they're both very good in their own way. If you want to make stuff that's really right, you have to get away so it can only be made out of documentaries department.

Alan Lawson  0:02  
side two side three sorry

Peter Montagnon  0:07  
The the name I was struggling to remember of course was Anne Anne James the lovely Anne James Civilization and Anne had come in to to to our` unit and we all love to very dearly because she's such a wonderful creature and she was really terribly terribly terribly professional and showed every sign of being the very good producer director that she was to come shortly after the finish of the series I'm just trying to remember the other people on one person on that crew by the way. It was about now what's Basil other name? Do you remember Basil? Who who was the sound recordist? I think of him, but he went he went he went together with Tubby. And the Basil was one of the Kenneth Clark always listened to what Basil had to say. In the first person he would talk to after a take would be Basil. And he would he would say, Basil Basil, what was that like? And a Basil would say absolutely fearlessly. Basil had a little toothbrush moustache, a moustache. They're very smart. Was had some Anglo Indian in him somewhere or rather, was terribly well turned out. Always impeccable, a very nice character. slender. You I'll remember it sometimes. Anyway, he Basil, you say Well, okay. Is it something funny there? You're a bit fluffy, there is something a bit uncertain. You sure you really meant that have thought hard about it? They didn't sound very good to me, I must say. And okay, K would say thank you very much, Basil. I'll go talk to the director about this. And he was was terribly good. And Basil could would always put put his finger on it. And very often, he did it from the point of view of the film editor who, because he would know that Alan Tyrer is going to have a bit of a problem stringing the tapes together. Or when it came to a mix, then there'll be problems. So he was he was great.

Alan Lawson  2:57  
There was no going back on the subject of Ken Clark was there ever a big row  with some ATV. Lew Grade.

Unknown Speaker  3:05  
No, no, that would they've remained on very good terms with Lew. And who remained again, a great friend all his life. Lew didn't hold any hard feelings there. Because the contract had in fact run out. And he knew that what had been offered to Clark was more than could be provided by ITV at the time, because he'd been working with Michael Reddington. And he'd done a tremendous amount in terms of OB's round art to art exhibitions. But he hadn't done anything really very structured.

Alan Lawson  3:45  
Anyway, sorry. To go back to chronology you will know in documentary department,

Unknown Speaker  3:50  
yeah, in back in documentaries, because the the Open University started in at the end of 69. And Civilization went on the air in 1970. And the I then stayed with them, the Open University until about 73, I think when the first undergraduate went through 73, or four, something like that. And then I left having been the head of that setup and went back to documentary department as a producer. And I was talking to David and he said, funny thing is I'm just leaving my job as boss of programmes on BBC Two or whatever, because I want to go back on the road to and as somebody else who's going wants to go on the road, and that's Oliver Hunkin. And, and so Oliver Hunkin and I went were both put into documentary department. And we then put in an vigorously and pursued through the idea of doing a series on World faiths on religion. And I am, it was very tough going and it was Aubery Singer who was in really in charge as head of features because

Alan Lawson  5:34  
Dick Cawston head of  documentaries.

Unknown Speaker  5:37  
He was head of documentaries, but he'd got in, suddenly found in his department, Oliver Hunkin, who had been the head of religious broadcasting brackets, television end brackets, and Peter Montagnon had been the head of Open University productions, and had just come away from running this mini empire of about 500 people, including all the engineers and things. And so we were left very much to our own devices. And we then got together with David. And David said, we said, well, here we are, we're about to start this up, and we're going to do a series on religion. And this, David, he's just going back on the road, why don't we ask him to be the amchor man Seems a very good idea. So we did, we asked David, and David was a bit reluctant. And he said, All right, well, think about it now or do this, and we'll do the, but he agreed, in the end, we sort of conned him into it. Because he hadn't got anything, he obviously could have had anything lined up at the drop of the hat, but he wasn't that sort of guy. And

Unknown Speaker  7:04  
so we conned him into it. And I largely conned him into it. Well, together with Oliver, who was a great friend of his and who, who, again, you know, had been dealing with David over the years, very, very much because of, you know, where his job brought him into day to day contact with, with David, which is more than mine h`ad, because I was very much off to one side where I got, I had as little to do with the the television services I could possibly have, and didn't accept any jurisdiction on their part. Not not wishing to not spoil, I knew that they were on the wrong track that they were, well, they, they meant well, but they didn't know what it was all about. And, anyway, but I got on very well with David and, and so I, we started out, we said, what will we do? First, let's let's crack the easiest one, we'll do the Jews, because at least it's all written down on tablets of stone, and you know, where you stand.

Unknown Speaker  8:26  
So, David, and, and, and David David and Oliver Hunkin. Went off to Israel, to do the first one on the Jews. And that works out. And then when it came back, and there was David, you know, doing his thing, he was sort of in the Red Sea, sort of up to his thighs And saying, Here I am in the Red Sea, you know, so it's just a new expected and just to be about to pick up, fish out some incredible sort of plankton out of that. And it was really, whatever it was, it wasn't about Judaism. And you could see that whatever the programmes could be about, they couldn't be in bloody well like this, because, actually, and then I saw I had a long conversation with David. I said, David, what do you honestly think about religion? And I shoot this as a sort of conversation I should have had right at the start, I think actually terribly interesting from the anthropological point of view. But it's, it's more or less it's a sort of a load of balderdash. It's a very, very interesting and sensitive and wonderful balderdash. And he didn't quite say that but he is really thought that he said the more more I do it, the more I am worried about going on, and doing it. So I said to I said to Oliver, it's not going to work, you know, there's this approach to it isn't going to work. So books absolutely out. And we can't approach it this way as if we are studying a bit of natural history. It's it's got to be the experiences that come out of the people who are having an experience, etc. And we've got to fire David. And so I, I then walked off and I'll always remember I walked up and down the green there, the the outside, the old studios at down by the boathouse on the Thames, river side here, and we walked along, up and down outside those studios, and we talked and we talked to him, he told, and in the in the end, and I said, it's not going to work, and it isn't right for you. And it, it wouldn't be right to actually take you through, it's not even right for you. And it's not right for us all the usual things. And it's agonising. And then we said, Okay, we'll draw, draw a line through it, and not go on with this. And he then went off, and, of course, got himself Life on Earth, and all the rest of them were so I incidentally, did him a tremendously good turn. And but it wasn't going to work. And so I knew, as you know what you were doing Christians, of course, same time, I think,

Alan Lawson  11:40  
no Life on Earth. I was head of Art Features. Because life on Earth was

Unknown Speaker  11:48  
put, it was it was, as was before I left? Oh, yeah. No, it was. It was obviously his thing. And was it really, but it was, it was wonderful. And if this was coming out wrong, but anyway, so I had, and then we had Oliver and I had a terrible, agonising time because Oliver was absolutely certain of the sort of series that he wanted to make, which came out of his experiences as head of Religious broadcasting. And I thought that this wasn't the sort of series that was going to be any good. And so I had a I read we both wrote down what we thought the series should be about and and we got in Reiner, Moritz, by the way, as the as the co production partner, and our productions music. Yes. And the and so we both wrote down what we thought the series should be about, and and gave a copy of it to to Aubrey, and I said, I thought it should be about experience and that the only thing to do was to get in a person who didn't know because nobody knows about religion. It must be an  an agonised ignoramus but a bit of an agonising, agonising, literate ignoramus in the sense of I'm not claiming to know in terms of religions, what what gives them what doesn't give, but someone who's capable of having an inexperienced wants to have the experience. And so and I think the person should probably be Ronald Aire. And so I said this, having talked to Ron who was was actually on the point of committing suicide because he was sort of some sort of crossroads and didn't know which way to go and was literally tremendously worried and and I thought that it was quite fruitful. Starting off point, you have to get someone who's just about to commit suicide because they're tremendously wired from an existential point of view. Good, good guy to have around us, possibly as a thing, thinking about it, and particularly if they've got dramatic training and decent producers in their own right. So Aubrey, then rightly or wrongly decided, or Oliver's was, was to be a conventional one and all of us kind of go through and do it more or less himself, you know, as anchoring it and as as the as, as the expert and call in experts. And I said we didn't want any experts the only we wanted no experts. No, nobody who claims to know anything about religion, who would have should have really much of a place on the screen there as of right. And but anyway, Aubrey liked my my thing better. And so I started off from scratch. And we didn't, we junked the first programme on the Jews there was sudden, subsequently did Jews more and I had to break the news to Reiner Moritz that I had, we managed to blow the best part of quite a lot of money doing that. So we just wrote that programme off and started again. But that was the very good thing about the BBC that you could actually do that. And you could talk to people and you could talk to someone like David, who was absolutely wonderful. And it could have been, you know, you can imagine other people who have been absolutely vicious and would have ruined you or ruin the series. And David was actually fantastically supportive and helped. And nobody, everybody thought, actually even Oliver that we were doing it the right way. And just a wonderful time, when you felt that you were working with a tenenous?? within the, within the broadcasting organisation as it was set up, then that could take the most astonishing, rebuffs or turns around, and actually not blink an eye and get on with it and, and do it again and not think that that was there was anything wrong with that? That was the way it was that if you wanted to do anything, you had to actually make mistakes.

Alan Lawson  16:50  
Because Christian, Bamber Gascoigne

Peter Montagnon  16:53  
Yes, you, you were shooting, we were both shooting together. When I was doing it with Ron,

Alan Lawson  16:59  
I think we we had a secret meeting in a pub in Soho. Yes, we did. I did, which was was going to do whatever the Greek monastery was,

Peter Montagnon  17:07  
yes. Absolutely. Yes, we did. We did. Mm hmm.

Alan Lawson  17:11  
I think Bamber. And Reiner also? Yes.

Unknown Speaker  17:14  
Yeah. Hmm. And it was alright. Because there was needed to be No, no, there was no, there's no real clash actually, because you were concentrating on the Christians. And, and, and we were concentrating on the five major faiths, and, and on the, and on the personal experience within each one. And so that that went off pretty well. And I, that's when I met Mehta. I was working with Johnson Seddel? and Misha Skora. Who are both great guys. And we had a good, very, very difficult time doing that. But we, we enjoyed it hugely. And And again, we remain friends and all of us. So we, it was one of the again, one of those television friendships that you don't break. That took us three and a half years, I think to do finish that.

Unknown Speaker  18:16  
And then, and then I I thought well, the one thing I would like to do now is to and I went to a cocktail party. And I've always been tremendously interested in Tibetan Buddhism, and have made programmes on the side connected with it and various other things because I was making a lot of other programmes on the side. I was quite industrious time in my career when I was doing lots of things at once. And I done a programme on the Dalai Lama, when he came over to I managed to interview him at Petworth

Alan Lawson  19:11  
Ludovic Kennedy and I interviewed him in India.

Unknown Speaker  19:14  
Yeah, years before must have been. Yes. And I got him he was just doing a flying visit over and he was supposed to have a lunch with Harold Macmillan. It's all laid on at Petworth and I managed to nip in between the helicopters and and do make, you know, a thing for a 20 minute programme. But anyway, I've always known the Tibetans terribly well and have and had been able to indulge my taste for going looking at various religious establishments. Because I ended up by by nature, I'm not a believer. in any sense, I could call myself I suppose a failed Buddhist, which is, is a perfectly honourable thing to be because hardly any of the Buddhists apart from Gautama actually managed to carry it off. They're all failed in a sense, having good company. But so I thought I met this man at a cocktail party with some great friends of mine who I said, Have you ever been to Mustang, which is up on the north western corner of Nepal. And this little independent kingdom there is very difficult to get into. And he said, I've been to Mustang Yeah, but I know somewhere that's he was he was an anthropologist and spoke Tibetan, French, and, but I know somehow, it's very much better. It's a place called Zanskar. And it's in Ladakh, and it's on the other side of the Himalayas. And you have to walk through there through a place called Cargill. And I think Cargill was the, the one of the controllers or certainly at the time, I taught thought this to be an auspicious omen that the name and and and you walk, you have to walk for 300 miles to get into the valley, and you've got to hire horses and things to do that. So I thought, Boy, that sounds very lovely. I'll suggest that we do that and I managed to get the wonderful television service to do this together with Reiner Moritz again. And so I disappeared off there for four months and we walked through to this valley which actually took us we did 1000 miles to get in there and come out again on largely on foot with these with these horses and David South come out doing sound and and I had an absolutely wonderful time there he's still in the BBC. And I'm just searching for his name I'll remember it from the moment is again I know terribly terribly well Dave South South David South yeah and no, we had a great time. I think we all enjoyed it hugely. The assistant cameraman went mad. Literally obvious off his rocker. But we had a bit we had quite a few it was wonderful time and almost got killed. That is fantastic.

Alan Lawson  23:08  
Just one

Peter Montagnon  23:10  
series four I made four you. Yeah, I

Alan Lawson  23:13  
just got a mini series.

Peter Montagnon  23:14  
Yeah. And sent off a monk with the rushes. To do a cap you know, do a camera test when we got it first got into the valley and so and it got this man David Vincom who was a lunatic. Hi Fi man. We got stereophonic Mahler in the in the mess tent which we had, which we shared. We had carried up this tent because we're all under canvas. And I remember seeing this monk riding off into something that was part of the Kubla Khan's army riding off into the distance with Mahler playing and his ear flaps flapping on his funny hat and clutching this can of film. That was the last we saw of it or the monk he never came back. We never got a writers report. Apart from as we were just coming out of the valley because a policeman came up to us and said we have this report here is just come through from a place called Ealing the you telling you that the I can't remember there's a hair in the gate or something like that

all the way through I hope no it wasn't but we we had one roll. It was I inherited the camera from Jonathan Stedaall or who'd been doing John Benjamin's wife Penelope in India. Her Indian travels with John McGlashan and and city. Penelope had knocked John Regression's camera off a stone wall and it had put it right at the end it was okay as far as they were concerned. But I inherited this camera and when we started it up David South took it over, we found that, um, you could either have it in in focus on the left hand side of the frame or on the right hand side, you could take your pick. And so we went through the whole thing not know, we took Dave Vinniker and I took it to pieces, and I put it together again, being an instrument mechanic by training, but I didn't tell him I was an instrument mechanic failed. That wasn't part of my apprenticeship. But, but it was a wonderful experience. And we got four good films out when I got back. I had to sell them to Bill Cotton. And I always remember he said, what do you what are you done? You've come back. I saw him the other day. We were laughing about it. He you come back with these. You went off to make a film. And now you've come back with four films for BBC One. You must be absolutely out of your bloody mind about Tibetan, Tibetan Buddhism and the life up there. said show me some of them and I said, right. It's not BBC One, BBC Two I'm going to ring up I can't remember who it was. No, it was it was Brian Wenham and tell him that he's just inherited four wonderful programmes from me he shuffled them off on the Brian Wenham who then put them on the air. Successfully. Quite good. And after that, I then did a drama on on the BBC based on called The Tunnel and it was for a very big high budget, big budget drama which is drama doc based on our tunnel in Berlin. What actually happened was George Blake and the whole rest of it and I got the okay to do this from MI6. Two who said that they wouldn't mind just a look at the script, but they would would be alright. As long as I was doing it, and so I did this and it was really quite, quite good if you write it, no, it was done by the man who came from Z cars. What the hell was his name is cadaverous Welshman, Elwyn Jones.

And it was was quite wasn't bad, it was really quite good. It was quite near to actually what went on. And, but and we had it on it was all happening on an abandoned airfield, which we'd got through the old boy net, I'd got it through a guy who was an Air Vice Marshal, who was in MI6 at same time as me. And so I got this airfield off him. And we were all set up to dig this tunnel and everything. And going ahead and the Afghan war started, the bloody Russians went into Afghanistan, and their whole of the country was on red alert. And we were summarily flung off this airfield where we'd started digging all the the chipies had the chippies in and the whole lot, you know, everything. And so and I had, by that time, put it in motion to leave the BBC, because Channel Four had started. And I wanted to start up my own thing. And I knew I was no hope of doing anything outside. Because I wanted to be an independent until Channel Four started. So I had put in my resignation. And BBC resignation. Yeah. And I said that I wanted to leave because I was also just sorry to keep interrupting, but I was 55 years old then. And I was born in 1925. So I would, yeah. Is it is your arithmetic, is that right? Yeah. Good.

And so I thought I'd that's the earliest stage that the stage at which I can get anything out of my pension with is the BBC. So I take a lump sum from them. And with that, I'll set up a production company which I did and but I never managed to get then get the tunnel back into the air because it was I agreed with Brian, Wenham that, who was very understanding about it. There's I couldn't get it back without him putting another quarter of a quarter of a million. And so now as it was already about 500,000 going on on film, we agreed to draw a line through it. Unfortunately, it never has never happened. The tunnel never happened. Now I've got the scripts around, but there it is. Try again. Yeah, I might try.

Alan Lawson  30:13  
Anyway, you have started a company or

Peter Montagnon  30:16  
Yes, I started a company. And now I thought I'd do it with one a man who had impressed me greatly was Alistair Claire, who I got into the Open University. And he was a fellow of All Souls, and got a double first in was extraordinarily bright, wonderful character really, and had gone left the Open University production unit where he'd been as a producer, and I've gone back into academic life and writing. And I thought I'll, I'll say he is the sort of man who be quite fun to work with Alistair, set up this company called Antelope. And we thought we would go for the not the cause of the personality and call it Antelope because it was a nice name. And they smelled good and they ran fast. That's what I always said when people asked me. And so we started Antelope. And we were doing, trying to get a series on the Impressionists going when

I was tipped off that there was a man called Nigel and I think of his other name in a second, who was working has also been in the BBC was was making a series on or was hoping to make a series on China. And I was tipped off by Stephen Canes, who was a merchant banker, and had come to hear of this. And he said, but he said, You Nigel can't get the money together. Because then need someone's got a track record doing it. And you've done a couple of series so you can probably get the money together. And I'll get help you to get the money if you if you are the executive producer and do it. So I then met Nigel Hulton, who had in fact got a contact through into China. And we went off Stephen Canes, Nigel Helton, and I went off to Beijing, chucked our money, and I was that then using my money I got out of the BBC, to fund funders to go through to Beijing and to chat up the Chinese government. And we found that, yes, they would do a series. But they were talking to the Japanese. And the Japanese had offered them 2 million bucks to do a thing, like the Silk Route. And it was to be absolutely innocuous. There'd be you know, did you go anywhere they'd liked. And I said, Well, we want to do a series which is is is about being Chinese. And our, our approach will be to take 13 or so characteristics of Chineseness like loving hating, earning, creating anything, and I'll use a load of gerrams?, because my Western audience will understand what they mean by this challenge. And hopefully you can then see what what the equivalent is in Chinese, who will use the Chinese thing. And again, this will be about experiences, the experience of being Chinese rather than about chronology of China or the geography of China or anything like that. And they quite liked this approach, although it had its problems because it was going right into the political areas. And and in the end, we managed to knock out the Japanese and they said, We'll do yours, but you'll have to give us a million dollars. And I then went and they said we're also talking to the BBC and we've got a man called Aubrey Singer coming out who has very great contacts with us and and he's He is a great China buff and a we. He's coming out with the chairman of the BBC. I can't remember which one that was at the time. But anyway, they they came out and they asked Aubrey how much money they were going to put in. And of course, Aubery said, None. Because we're not allowed to it's, we were dealing with a public service broadcast and we can't give you money to do this. They said, well, there's there's this, this man is this Japanese gentleman. They've come up with a couple of million bucks or so. And there's this other one. This Mr. Montag something around among Tang young translated over into Chinese. And he's saying he'll give up a Montan yong saying that he's with the banker that he will give over a million dollars. And so word went there. But then back to Alistair Milne, who summons me up that he said it was it was supposed to be a farewell party for me, which was abruptly cancelled. He said, I hear that you have been betraying your trust and pretending to be part of the BBC and dealing with the Chinese. And

what are you doing? And so I told him that if he were to say this again, to me with a tape recorder and set in writing, and I then sued, sue him with an inch of his life for defamation. And if I hadn't on that I was going to I was offering him a million bucks to get in there and make a series. And if he didn't, he hadn't got a chance in hell, that would go to the Japanese. So he we had a vase, what you might call a race spirited exchange. I told him I thought he was an absolute cunt, and which I thought he was. I didn't like him at all. And Alistair, I thought you were repulsive creatures on television. Yes. He is a managing director of Broadcasting House yet. No, he hadn't gone up there. But he I thought he was a twit of the worst description as a Winchester head prefect remained well. I just I detested him. I thought it was a nasty bit of work. And I knew he from his previous thing in Scotland, you know, this behaviour was absolutely unacceptable. In my eyes, as it wasn't fit to run an outfit, which I still think

Alan Lawson  37:36  
he didn't run it didn't run it for very long. ,

Peter Montagnon  37:39  
No one anyway we had words as you might say. And, and I said if he repeated what it what he'd been saying I'd sue him. And so I was then by then I went outside the BBC. And I paid the`m over there a million bucks. And we got in and I'd raised four and a half million pounds, I think it was all so of money from the city.

Alan Lawson  38:07  
And finance,

Peter Montagnon  38:09  
your well, it was largely Stephen C`anes, but I, I believed I was going to get them on their money back. I could only do it once because I really thought I was going to make their fortune. You see, and I now know that you don't make your fortune by making television. And anybody who thinks they're ever going to get their money back in that way is needs their head examined if it had been America, it would have been okay, because you'd have written it off because you'd have your name on the credits. That's what the Japanese are doing. And so they got wonderful publicity all around the world, but they weren't going to get their money back. But anyway, got four and a half million, and they never got their money back. And I learnt quite a lot about the financing and mechanics of making and selling television in the process of it was made. It was made and it went out. And it's then got its International Emmy programmes was the 14 In the end, and I made it for Jeremy Isaacs, because I had I sold it to Justin Dukes. I think I had the first successful lunch with Justin took him out to lunch and sold him the thing but I'd already done it. Sold him the series for 125. I think it was each but that was starting to get the money back. But now that by no means what it costs. And but more than they could ever have. They couldn't have done it and they couldn't have got it together and they couldn't have made it and I had a pretty good time taking out I mean it was very tough with the Chinese. But I knew the end was we were put in charge of the A man who was in charge of all of the minister in charge of all the external Chinese. And in charge of the Chinese news bureau, which infact, in fact, was the Chinese equivalent of MI6. And I knew that they doing this, what why, why was that they were that this guy was in charge of their whole outfit. And the, the the minders that we have that are not we're just a load of spooks. And we had to go all around China with these spooks, who were tremendously worried at first and about what we were filming, we weren't but who, in the end, who became part of the crew. And I started all with Independents. As as, of course, I would have done and started to learn that you can actually get most wonderful crews and people in the independent sector. And that in many ways, this was the way to do it, I thought. Because there was the great, I left the the Open University with the great problem with its production department of age. And as a thing of how to get people with rid of people with honour. And this is the thing that the BBC never really solved, although they did it pretty decently. And they always carried their walking wounded. But if you assume that in the production area, many, many people haven't got more than 10 or 15 years. productive life within them before they're burnt out for one reason or another, and then what to do, and you have to actually find a system which gets rid of them without it which employs them properly and gets rid of them with honour and with with the money and that they've not still solved and is necessary. And when I went into the BBC, I knew this was going to happen, because I started off in broadcasting and my first job was to get the drunks out of the George and back into the broadcasting studio at about three o'clock for the next sessions of today with Jack De Manio and co on the following day. And I saw this lot who'd got rid of their brains, got rid of their remaining brains against a porcelain wall. Having drunk themselves to into a sort of early stupor. And you could see that didn't happen with television. I could see that because people in television largely hadn't got time. You had at least you had time in, in in radio to do that. And it was the ethos of the day with a Louis MacNeice isn't care for?

but you could see how the system couldn't work if you couldn't get rid of these people early with honour and it had to be with honour fold layout problem still remains I'm sure this problem still remains the World


Born 25th April 1925 Croydon/Redhill. Father an engineer. Whitgift School, at 14 years got a four-year apprenticeship with an engineering firm. After the war his National Service was with the Royal Air Force and then transferred into the Army with Signals, commissioned. After demobilisation he had ideas of being a stockbroker or a broadcaster; after various interviews and failures he went to Bush House, BBC Overseas Service.He then went on to be a general trainee. He worked at Bush House and then moved into administration, which he hated; then moved into Schools TV which he greatly enjoyed. There he met Michael Gill who had moved into Art Features; he followed in persuading Huw Wheldon and David Attenborough to take on Civilisation, having poached Kenneth Clarke from Lew Grade. He then moved to become the first Head of Open University TV in 1969, where he remained for three years. Then he asked to go back ‘on the road’ as had David Attenborough. Then in 1973-74 together with Oliver Hunkin (who had been Head of Religious TV) they put forward the suggestion for a series on world faiths,[ The Long Search DS].. After that he made a programme about Tibet. Then he started to make a drama-documentary, The Tunnel, from a script by Elwyn Jones, but this had to be abandoned because of War Department requirements. He resigned from the BBC and started up his own company, Antelope Films, making a series of programmes on the Impressionists. He talks about the setting up of a series on China for Channel Four.He talks about a deal his company was entering with Robert Maxwell, who had bought 49% of Antelope shares.