Philip Donnellan

Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
28 Jun 1991
29 Jun 1991
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

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A substantial and detailed account by retired BBC Producer Philip Donnellan of his long career 1948 – 1984 with the Corporation as, successively, radio features producer, and television documentary producer – much more a ‘spoken autobiography’ than an interview. Includes spoken extracts from relevant letters, memoranda and press reviews. Recording begins with a description of his family background, upbringing, education, early work as journalist and military service in the UK and abroad during World War Two.

Considerable emphasis during interview on achievements of the now defunct BBC Radio Features Department under Laurence Gilliam; on the work of PD’s colleague Charles Parker, producer of the so-called Radio Ballads (1958-64), and on the influential Broadcasting in the Seventies debate and its effect on policy. Much of the information and comment given relates to networked documentary programmes produced by PD in the BBC Midland Region, Birmingham, including: Joe the Chainsmith (1958), The White Country (1959), Men of Corby (1961), The Long Journey (1963), Landmarks (series, 1964), Homes for Heroes (1964), The Colony (1964), Six Men (series, 1965), The Staffordshire Rebels (1965), Strangers in a Town (1969), Where do I stand? (series, 1970), Before the Mast (1971), The Shoals of Herring (Radio Ballad adaptation, 1972), The Fight Game (Radio Ballad adaptation, 1973) The Big Hewer (Radio Ballad adaptation, 1973), Passage West (1974), Fight for Shelton Bar (1974), Pure Radio (Omnibus, 1977), Gone for a Soldier (1980), Too Much Reality (1981), A Moment to Talk (series, 1982-84).

Other PD programmes referred to: The Steel Goddess (1959), Sunderland Oak (1961), The Abbey of the English (1966), The Pilgrimage of Ti-Jean (1977), The Other Music (1981). There are also references to PD’s association with Tonight (London- made weekday magazine programme, 1950s era) and to a series of films made by PD in collaboration with Producer Malcolm Brown: portraits of Brandt, and Adenauer, Nkrumah, De Gaulle, T.E Lawrence, Nehru. Lords of India (1963).

BBC people mentioned during recording include David Attenborough, Donald Baverstock, D.G. Bridson, John Bird, Malcolm Brown, Patrick Beech, Richard Cawston, Bill Cotton jnr., Rene Cutforth, Roy Fogwell, Grace Wyndham Goldie, Laurence Gilliam, David Gretton, Barrie Gavin, Anthony Jay, Edward Le Lorraine, Bill Morton, Richard Marquand, Denis Morris, Alasdair Milne, Denis Mitchell, Greg Miller, Charles Parker, Steve Saunderson, Norman Swallow, Richard Somerset Ward,  Huw Wheldon.   


BECTU History Project Interview with Philip Donnellan – documentary, writer, producer

Interview Date(s): 28 & 29 June 1991

Interview number: 206

Interviewer: Colin Moffat

Side 1

Colin Moffat: The copyright of this recording is vested in the ACTT History Project.  Philip Donnellan: television documentary producer, director.  Recording starting on the 28 June1991.

Colin Moffat: Right, Philip your name is quite clearly Irish but I suspect in fact if I didn't already know that you are a product socially and geographically of southern England, could you could you begin with that thought and talk about your upbringing and whence you came?

Philip Donnellan: Yes the Irish dimension was completely unknown to us, us I mean my sister I until pretty late on.   In 1962 I think it was when we were living in, not my sister and I, when I was married and living in London for a couple of years and one night there was a knock on the front door and when I opened the door there was an oldish man there who turned out to be an uncle from Vancouver and he had tracked us down to this house in London. We course pulled him in and he was stone deaf but we managed to shout a lot of questions because by that time 1962 I was very interested in the Irish dimension that I'd been excluded from throughout my life and I wanted to know more and there was no means of finding out anymore and suddenly this old man appears out of the dark and um and he is a product of the same family. So we roared questions at him and he was only able to answer very few of them but it transpired that my father Thomas Donnellan was born in Ahascragh, East Galway in 1847 the second year of the famine and in 1849 as a baby he was brought over to England, wrapped in a sack I suppose something like that like most Irish immigrants at that time, and Uncle James thought that he had been taken to Sheffield and he'd grown up in Sheffield.   But we have no means of knowing and I haven't been through the census forms of that time, to do it in Sheffield would be a big job and I've never done it.  In the, in the 1870s he appears to have moved down into Staffordshire.

Staffordshire had always been a significantly Catholic County the remnants of the old religion were, were still there and Thomas may have moved down in order to join a harvesting gang of some sort.  And the 1871 census finds him in in Whittington, Staffordshire where he settled, married a local woman, had six children of whom the youngest was my father, another Thomas, and Thomas in turn married a woman from North Devon during the war. In fact this woman who was my mother was a was obsessively middle class, the eighth daughter of a high falutin timber merchant and she lived in Holsworthy, North Devon and my father I think was stationed in Tavistock in the 10th Battalion the South Staffordshire Regiment in 1915 before going out to Gallipoli.  And they met and they had an understanding and he came back and was on leave from from the Somme in 1916, I ought to say that he was by that time a Second Lieutenant in the South Staffs, and they married.

Now soon after they got married she discovered two things: one was that he was an Irishman and two that he came from a working class family in Staffordshire neither of which facts had evidently obtruded themselves before in their brief courtship. 1916 wasn't a good year to marry Irishmen unexpectedly and it produced a profound alienation in my mother which was never really very manifest to us except that we were never allowed to know about the Irish dimension and it's become overwhelmingly important to me since, possibly partly because of that embargo which demonstrates how very important it is to not to make your biases too clear in all forms of life.  But basically when I was in the army from 1942 to 1947 lots of people said, “Oh but that's an Irish name” and I didn't know it was an Irish name but they did.

Colin Moffat: Are you saying that all of what you've said so far you didn't find out until the early 1960s? All this?

Philip Donnellan: Well I had a standard southern English accent.  Indeed that's why I joined the BBC I was brought into the BBC as an announcer because I had an impeccable standard southern English accent and that was the accent I remember in my father who by becoming an officer in the First World War had adopted the conventional Officer's Mess accent. Now if I look back on it and think how that it would have been advisable given my political and social inclinations since then it would have been advisable for me to retain a Staffordshire or Irish accent I've often realised how misguided that thought was because a standard southern English or managerial class or ruling class accent has been of immense importance to me in surviving in the BBC and in working in the areas that I've worked in, which is mostly with industrial working class people. Because it's very valuable to be able to, to talk to managements in a voice that they recognise as having the stamp of authority and to working people who resist that they are perfectly capable I've always found of coming to their own conclusions about whether your worth talking to or whether they want to establish a relationship with you or not. And I've usually managed to convince them that it was OK talking to me because my terms of reference, my personal terms of reference, have always or generally appealed to them. I've had hellish arguments in the fronts of shop fronts while doing industrial films in one city or another but it is generally resolved with an amicable understanding that I'm on their side, which I think I am.  I hope so.

Colin Moffat: What is the, what in fact is the origin of this voice?

Philip Donnellan: Well as I say my father would have been brought up in a conventional Catholic Irish family in a small village in Staffordshire would have of talked a sort of northern Birmingham I imagine, Staffordshire rural accent at the time. But, well that takes one into all sorts of social complexities because in 1910 Staffordshire was in the absolute sloughs in terms of educational opportunity for working people: only 5 out of 100 children at state schools in Staffordshire went on to secondary education in 1910. But in that year a new Director of Education was appointed in Staffordshire, who was a Scotsman and he very quickly latched the County onto the opportunities offered by new thinking in terms of County Scholarships and my father got a County Scholarship in 1911 by which time he was a Protestant. For various reasons, which are, which I have hypothesized about I've got no information but I can assume were reasonably cogent reasons he was by that time a Protestant.  He got a County Scholarship to Saltley College, which was the Church of England Teachers Training College in Birmingham. Now that was a sort of, well it was an institution in which, in which people moved out of their own class and became part of that clerkly class who became if you like parsons, teachers and other slightly authority figures of that sort. I don't suppose for a moment that made any difference to his accent at that point but it certainly made a difference to his understanding of himself and where he was going, he wanted to be a teacher he’d always wanted to be a teacher.  But at the same time at Saltley every student, unless he was a Jew and that was very unlikely of course in a Church of England Teachers Training College, had to belong to a Corps, the teacher the, the military, the Officer's Training Corps. I don't know whether it was called Officers Training Corps but it certainly was called the Corps, and they all therefore enlisted in the in B Company of the 8th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. And when I remember one of the few things that my father ever told me about that period, apart from his devotion to Saltley, was that he wore a red coat in the Army and I couldn't think how before the First World War he would have worn a red coat, the army was in khaki from 1900 or thereabouts onwards. But the red coat was clearly because the teachers training college corps wore red because there wasn't enough khaki for them.  Anyway when the war started and he was called up into the 8th Battalion of the Royal Warwicks on the 28th of July 1914 and sent to Clacton it was obvious that he was officer material because he had gone through that teachers, that training college military course and the whole sense at the time, the ambience of the time I get from reading the Saltley College Chronicle now is of a period of fairly ardent militarism.

So after he was called up in July 1914 by early 1915 he was a Second Lieutenant and the accent came with the job. I've talked to young officers in the north of Ireland in the last ten years and every time I've asked them they all have accents like me which is a very old-fashioned, curiously out of date sort of accent for most people. And I've said to them, “Why do you speak like this you can't have come from that background did you?”  And they've said, “No we didn't but if you're an officer this is the way you talk and so we've adopted the accent” and that's what my father did, and I inherited my accent from him. I always remember he used to talk differently on the phone to people and once when I was about six he came out of a telephone box and I said, “Daddy why do you why do you talk in a different voice when you are on the telephone?” And he said, “Oh do I?” And you know it's that sort of thing that you notice in your parents early on I think.

Colin Moffat: How did he talk at home?

Philip Donnellan: Oh as far as I know just like I talk now [LAUGHTER].

Colin Moffat: Oh, you're suggesting that in fact your own manner of speech is really traceable to this?  What about your own education? What you got from that wasn’t that part of it?

Philip Donnellan: Well this is a period, this is a matter of some resentment to me I suppose, although in a way I enjoyed it greatly and my, my education, such as it was. My mother having decided that the Irish part of the family had to be ruled out of our young experience as children, the natural concomitant of that was that we should be educated in line with her pretensions and I suppose his because in order to keep some sort of peace in the family I imagine he went along. He was a very un-Irishman in the sense that he was devoted to books. He loved books and he was, there was nothing better that he would have liked than to be left alone to read. But my mother was a woman of enormous energy and, as well as aspiration and so my, this poor man was harried from pillar to post if he wasn't washing up he was digging the garden or making furniture or something because he mustn't be left idle over these books. She never opened a book in her life, she was an uneducated peasant but one of great artistic character and tremendous toughness. I've forgotten what the question was now, what didn’t I answer?

Colin Moffat: Your I was, I was wondering …

Philip Donnellan: Oh, education. Yes.

Colin Moffat: Well first of all when you arrived where were your parents living?

Philip Donnellan: They were living in a in a house in Reigate, in Surrey. My father was teaching in Reigate after the First World War and in 1919 he landed up in the 5th Brigade in Galway. He was education officer to 5 Brigade in Galway at the start of the War of Independence and he was stationed in all the parts of Ireland that I now know very well indeed and in some cases no particular people, long dead now, whom he knew in towns that we have since become very familiar with. It's a strange rather Barbara Cartland like story because my sister married an Irishman in the early ‘50s who was the latest, the last, no not the last because his son inherited the title. They were planted in East Galway in 1689 to hold a huge estate in East Galway for God and a Protestant king and the, my sister when accidentally she met this man and they got married she went back as the Lady of the big house to the same village where my grandfather, a penniless peasant child, had been born in 1847. So when I refer to Barbara Cartland I mean what would be almost believable in a Barbara Cartland novel is very strange when it actually happens. And it dramatises to an extent that’s impossible to overestimate the sense of history that I have about the relations between England and Ireland because it's so astonishingly dramatised in my own life.

Colin Moffat: Now all this information about Ireland didn't come to you until after your, was your father dead by the time this man called, you mentioned earlier, in 1962?  So none of this came through direct, your father didn't tell you all this did he?

Philip Donnellan: No.

Colin Moffat: He told you virtually nothing, is that what you are saying?

Philip Donnellan: He told me nothing. I went once with him when I was four, tied on behind him on a motorbike, to go and visit Whittington where his mother still lived. And I remember the little shop that she had, my grandfather Thomas died in 1900 and in 1924, 1928/29 when I went to Whittington with him she had a little shop there and I remember the smells of it and I remember this, this old lady, well she seemed old I suppose she was old, in a long black dress and so on, but that was the only contact we ever had with them and my sister never met her. Both my grandparents are buried in the churchyard at Whittington although he was a Catholic and she was a Protestant. No, none of that information came to me through him.

Colin Moffat: Did you never ask him about that side of the family?

Philip Donnellan: No but we didn't know there was another side of the family it was excluded. He died in 1948, three weeks after I had gone into the BBC and in a way that too was rather mystical because after I'd been in the BBC, invited to become a staff member of that remarkable institution as an announcer, three weeks after I'd been there I was put in by the person in charge of announcers or nominally in charge of them, a woman called MacLeod, Fanny McLeod a formidable woman one of the first of the BBCs formidable women that I met but not the last. I was put in for a job in Birmingham and there was a vacancy for an announcer in Birmingham. I wasn't asked if I wanted to go to Birmingham or if they'd asked me I would have gone anywhere I mean I'd just been round the world since I was 18 and was enormously excited by the prospect of seeing new places even if they were in England and in Birmingham in particular.

So I was put into this job and I had a board early in February 1948 and an hour before the board I was told that my father had died of a heart attack in a train going to his school in Surrey.  And, and I, the board was very sympathetic as BBC boards often are, and that was that. But I got the job in Birmingham as you might say the day he died which is strange because the whole of his early life had been lived in that ambience, that Midland ambience the very day he died I went back to it. And that's always seemed to me one of those curious twists that seem to characterise the life of this particular family.

Colin Moffat: And you knew nothing about this? Nothing about your Staffordshire background did you?

Philip Donnellan: Nothing at all. I knew from his notebooks, I knew from his notebooks one or two people he'd known and I called on them and he had a dear friend who, who lived in a remote Staffordshire village and I bicycled up to see him from Birmingham and that sort of thing. No I knew nothing about that and because I was such an impeccable young middle class bloke nobody ever mentioned it you see. I mean his friend of pre-first war still living there never mentioned it to me. They didn't say at Saltley for example he was known as Paddy for obvious reasons. So none of this emerged at all. And of course it gave particular emphasis when one did know it to the latter years of my work in broadcasting because of that acute sense of tension generated by the events in the north of Ireland and the acute tension which resulted between England and Ireland and it was suddenly brought up to one over the years, suddenly at first I mean but then over the years the sense of questioning about where one's loyalties and identity lay. My father had had fought for England through two wars because he was in the second war as well and in France in 1940. And I had fought for five years or I hadn't fought very much I mean no soldier in the second war fought very much but I'd served for five and a half years and then suddenly one had to ask oneself ‘Where do I belong?’ Now obviously in a certain sense I belonged absolutely to England but at the same time many of the things I felt important I saw in the history of the relationship between the two countries and that was both stimulating but also deeply frustrating.

Colin Moffat: Before we get too far into your BBC career can we go back? Your parents moved from the Midlands to Surrey yes?

Philip Donnellan: No. What happened was that I diverged to mention the, his service in Ireland at the end of the war. He taught, when he was discharged he was de-mobbed in Belfast in 1920 in April or May 1920.  And he taught in Belfast for some weeks and in a very bad novel that I've written about his life, which is all hypothetical I have postulated that he applied or could have applied for a job in Belfast. In which case I might have been born in Belfast in 1924 instead of Reigate and whether I would have preferred that I'm not quite sure.

Colin Moffat: The reason you were born in Reigate was that your father simply got a job there, in the ordinary course of looking for a job it happened to be in Surrey?

Philip Donnellan: Exactly. And he worked for the Surrey Education Committee from 1921 or ‘22 right through until his death in 1948.

Colin Moffat: I take it you were educated in what is called the Independent Sector nowadays?

Philip Donnellan: [LAUGHTER] Yes that's right.

Colin Moffat: Can you say a bit about that?

Philip Donnellan: Yes.  My father was a head teacher, he got a head teachership in a little village school at a village, at a place called Merrow just outside Guildford where we lived from 1929 to 1932. And because I had a very bad squint early on in life I had an operation and I could, no I didn't have an operation till later, I had drops in my eyes at certain points of this and the only way I could carry on with my education was to live at home and to go to the school, the village school.

Colin Moffat: Your father's school?

Philip Donnellan: My father’s school which was a two room, two class school and actually despite this impaired vision I learned to read there whereas I completely failed to learn to read before then and this may be an indication because I think he ran that school with a bit of a rod of iron. He was quite um, well as an ex-officer he expected a degree of discipline which is understandable after a, after a really ghastly war. And in 1928/29 the First World War, although I was totally unconscious of it in one sense it, had a tremendous effect on all of us, and people with no legs and no arms were a constant sight even I remember in those days and the war hung over us in the form suddenly culturally in terms of books.   They were escape books and one of my earliest memories is my father reading these books aloud to my mother and I would lie, presumably wrapped in a blanket, in the corner of a sofa or something and I would hear this comforting voice droning on reading books that I didn't understand but something came through to me so that I got an extremely romantic image of what war meant. Of course I couldn't understand it so I think I'm probably making that up. But I remember the image and right up until the Second World War, which after all was a very short distance which when you are getting old you realise what a very short span of time it was between the first and second wars. And, and this had a tremendous effect on me I was passionately interested in soldiering or in a sort of hazy and romantic notion of soldiering which stayed with me for a very long time and certainly survived the Second World War. Since I wrote radio programs and eventually made films about soldiers and war and so on.  But the education thing came from my parents aspirations for us, he obviously didn't trust the school where, or the type of schooling that he represented although I think he was probably a remarkable teacher. He was particularly keen on mathematics which was disastrous because both my sister and I were hopeless at mathematics as so often alas middle class people are, they can never take it seriously they think the arts are the only thing that's worthwhile, which is why you find so many arts people, so many middle class arts people in broadcasting. They ought to be in industrial management not in broadcasting at all, should be working people who are in broadcasting.  [LAUGHTER] Sorry.

Colin Moffat: Was it perhaps your mother mainly who was keen that you shouldn’t be educated by the State?

Philip Donnellan: I don't think she would have had much difficulty in persuading my father, he had after all moved from the working class into the notional middle class. And although we were in a paradoxical position in this little village of Merrow where there was still the Lord of the Manor and people who, who knew each other and didn't know the working people who went to my father's school.  Some of whom of course in those days had no boots, I remember problems at home of providing kids with boots to come to school. Nonetheless we were placed in a curious position because all the people that my mother and perhaps then my father wanted us to know who were the nice people in the village didn't want to know us, we were just the schoolmasters family whereas the people with whom we were normally associated we didn't want to have anything to do with.  So we were in effect very isolated in that village and I think that probably may have had quite an effect on the question of education.

And I wasn't bright enough really to, to do other than go to a nearby Preparatory School which was on the edge of Guildford about four miles from Merrow and I went there in 1932 to 1937. It was a very tough school, tough I mean in terms of its scholastic standards not in terms of the, the other pupils who were a pretty wet lot, I imagine just like I was. But I did learn a lot there I did Latin and Greek from the age of seven and I can still remember all that crap about Ares and stuff but Latin of course enormously valuable. Except I can't speak any European languages [LAUGHTER] as a result it’s all rather dotty isn’t it?

The one brute I remember was an Irishman. He, I should think had been to a Christian Brothers school in Ireland, his name was Malin and he had charming methods of torture which consisted of if you were naughty he either hit you on the knuckles with an ebony ruler or he lifted you by the hair at the side of, just above your ears, your sideboards, if you had sideboards in those days, he had a charming habit of grabbing you by the those and lifting you, it was agonising pain, so there was a fair amount of the usual sort of Dickensian rubbish. And now and again there were other perhaps worse moral peccadilloes, which I won't go into. I was a boarder there a weekly boarder went backwards and forwards on the Green Line bus to where we were living by that time which was Cobham, Street Cobham in Surrey.

Colin Moffat: Where do you where did you, which school did you go to from there?

Philip Donnellan: Then I tried to take a scholarship to … I don’t know why given my memory of them which suggests to me that perhaps my memory of their social inclinations is not absolutely accurate, they they went to a school not, they tried to get me into a school which was not characterised by being particularly cheap, although everywhere was cheap by present day standards then, but was characterised by a very free and easy relationship to the broad perspectives of education in those days public school education and this was Bryanston in Dorset which a lot of ‘30s parents would have thrown up their hands in horror. It was akin to Gordonstoun in a sense but they're not quite so upper crust.

Colin Moffat: Rather open air?

Philip Donnellan: Yes very open air.

Colin Moffat: Mildly progressive.

Philip Donnellan: Yeah exactly.  That's a very reasonable description mildly progressive. Well I took a scholarship to go to Bryanston in 1936 and didn't get it. So I didn't go to Bryanston, I went to the cheaper school which was ten miles away Clayesmore and the Bryanston people called us Clayesmorons and they were dead right because we were a pretty moronic lot. It had been established by a guy who became quite famous after the war, a man called Evelyn Mansfield King.  It had a checkered establishment history, a man who had once been Minister Plenipotentiary to Montenegro, which has long since disappeared founded the school.  He was an eccentric called Devine, Alex Devine.  And Evelyn King had taken it over and he was a brisk businessman who took anybody it didn't matter what their intellectual or scholastic standards were if they wanted to come to Clayesmore they came if they could find the money, which was only about £25 a term boarder. So I went to I went to Clayesmore in 1937, September 1937.

Colin Moffat: Was this well within the, the means of your parents? Was it a bit of a struggle?

Philip Donnellan: No it was a struggle. Oh absolutely. My father was earning his maximum salary when he died in 1948 £660 a year, which is not a bad salary in 1948 perhaps for a working man but for a teacher it wasn't exactly opulent. So yes they had grave problems and they deprived themselves of all sorts of things which, this is why I now resent it because all the things that could have added so much to their happiness and the expansion of their modest cultural desires could have been achieved if they hadn't sent my sister and me to private schools and I think we would all have benefited from that and I don't believe in all this nonsense about seeking that sort of status and privilege and all our children have gone through the mill of the state system and they all failed the 11+ and they all went to secondary moderns except the last one who for whom a comprehensive had fortuitously arrived a few miles down the road and so on.

Colin Moffat: What were you like at this stage Philip, were you, were you a fairly conventional middle class boy? I mean were you well integrated. I mean there wasn't any sort of…

Philip Donnellan: The only thing I could do was write.  Now the scholastic standards that I'd come from this prep school with were fairly high compared to quite a lot of other boys at the school who were a lovely lot. I mean we got on very well indeed and we had a marvelously happy time, we this was an open-air school par excellence. In fact there's a saying, which I think must have been made up by Evelyn king but it was that Ashburton, Bedales and Clayesmore were the ABC of education. Now I take that with a very large pinch of salt.

But we all wore shirts, open neck shirts and shorts and sandals in the summer all year round and we did all the work on the estate. There was no money for building swimming pools, we built we dug them. So it was, it was a Do It Yourself school.

Colin Moffat: I take it it was an Anglican foundation was it?

Philip Donnellan: I don't think we'd ever heard of God there. I mean there was a chapel because you had to have a chapel to be recognized by the Board of Education.

Colin Moffat: I mean it was Church of England?

Philip Donnellan: Oh yes, yes, yes.  I mean we're actually, before that my parents had discovered Mary Baker Eddy and Christian Science. So by 1937 I was what is known or was known in the Army as an O.D., Other Denomination. I was a Christian Scientist I mean that was a bore …

Colin Moffat: Was that a token thing?  I mean were you literally sincerely or you were just …

Philip Donnellan: Well I was dragged to the Sunday school, the Christian Science Sunday school, Kingston-on-Thames every Sunday and it was murder because it was all a lot of bollocks to me.  I mean I could understand the concept of God because that had been dinned into to me for years by then and we used to trottle down to some local church and sing hymns and I knew the Anglican ritual by heart from my prep school. But Mary Baker Eddy, which was a lot of intellectually pretentious nonsense, was completely unintelligible to me. I mean the scientific statement of being which I remember to this day but I wont bore you with.  I mean but of course the thing about Christian Science is that it's marvellous if a) you’re rich and b) you're very fit.  Now Christian Science served me very well because though I was never rich I was always very fit. So Christian Science’s main interest to cure you of appendix or rheumatism or coughs or whatever mainly because they don't exist in reality served me very well indeed because I never had these things, never have had.  And so Christian Science lingered on until after the war I had a Catholic girlfriend and I didn't know then that we'd once been a Catholic family, you see through my father, didn't know that but she got me reading comparative religion and I realized it all took its place in that shifting and dubious intellectual perspective which regards religion as a crucial area of religion.

Colin Moffat: Did you ever argue with your parents about Christian Scientists?

Philip Donnellan: No, no.  There was there was no analysis or argument in our household, none at all. There was scarcely any noticeable thought although there must have been just to conduct a life. But I do think my parents were modestly estranged, when I say modestly I mean they would never have separated, but I do think that that there was a real separation; my mother felt strongly and probably from the beginning that she had married beneath her.

Colin Moffat: You really said that this is what what was called inter-class marriage originally and did this impinge continually in time and went on, this was a factor was it?

Philip Donnellan: No.

Colin Moffat: In how they behaved?

Philip Donnellan: It may have been but I couldn't see the signs and it was never mentioned because it was the, it was the classic or sort of what I would now call lower-middle class cultural image of not-in-front-of-the-children. So at all costs any of the real vivid bitter facts of life were kept from us. In consequence I remained both naive and immature for a very long time because the protected situation, protected in the quite distinct ways that the BBC offered for example, kept me insulated from areas of reality for a very long time after I would nominally have been a perfectly mature and intelligent person. In an artistic sense I am not sorry about that because clearly I've outgrown that now [LAUGHTER] but in an artistic sense I do believe that slow maturing is very important if you're going to do important artistic work because to retain, as so many painters demonstrate, quite apart from many other art forms, the childlike view of the simplicities and complexities of the world is enormously important I think in trying to establish um a certain sort of truth – generally a subjective truth and therefore not necessarily a truth at all – about the world that you are seeing. It's part of the equipment of a primitive artist and while I recognize that a filmmaker or radio writer or producer is not a primitive artist nonetheless I've never really regretted that slow maturing process which I sense, only sense as I've got no external evidence to suggest that, but there was never any argument, there was never any way of thinking, there was never any discussion.

I remember the political events of my youth quite clearly from external imagery. For instance I remember the day that Mussolini marched into Abyssinia. It was I believe Easter 1935, although I maybe have got the date wrong, I was sitting on the beach, on the pebble ridge at Dymchurch with my aunt and there was a newspaper on the beach and I read the headline of it and whatever it said I don't remember. But I said, “What does that mean?” and she told me what it meant. And of course all the events of the Spanish Civil War were very vivid to me because it was my first faltering recognition towards a Republican instinct, which must have been just frivolous and infantile. But in 1937, by that time I was at this public school, we almost destroyed a number of classrooms with tremendous battles, which consisted of smashing desks and throwing ink at each other and writing large paper posters which became very popular during the Cultural Revolution in China.  Writing large paper posters which we liberally decorated our classrooms with which said, ‘not putsch, purge or pogrom but peace’ and we had a sort of embryonic peace movement and I was carried along by that both then and in 1937, although I didn't really comprehend any of the issues seriously. I was enormously moved by the Spanish situation and that when six years later I found myself stationed in Gibraltar during the war.  That was the start of a passionate interest in the political and military strategies of Spain, which has continued right up to today. Now of course I've got a son who is married to a Spanish girl and living in Spain. So these things crept into one's consciousness not because of debate or argument in the home but because the sheer power of the events surrounding us mediated nearly always by not by broadcasting but by newspapers had such a powerful effect on young imaginations which couldn't discern really what was what. But it was fun and it was and it was part of an element of tension in our lives, which was missing from this country club school I was at, which was all sunshine days. Wonderful.

Colin Moffat: This presumably made you notice what one would have to call the deficiencies at home, the lack of discussion, the flow of ideas and so on school sounds a rather better place to be from your point of view.  Did you …

Philip Donnellan: Well yes that's it, it sounds an awful thing to say but of course that's quite true because one of the terrible things and I really use that word advisedly, advisedly, is that in sending their children to private schools people/parents resign their chance of bending the twig.  I only saw my parents at holiday time and while they obviously weren't strangers to me in a sense they were almost less real than the world that I had just come from. And that was the tragedy because from 1932 until 1937 I'd been a boarder at my prep school and from 1937 until 1940 I was a boarder at this other school, my public school and in 1939 my father left home to rejoin the army and he's he was … He stayed in the army until 1942 in May when he was discharged for being too old, by 1942 he was 53 which now seems positively young to me. I could fight a war any time but I had gone into the Army in April 1942 and I came back from the Army in July 1947 and he died in February 1948. So I never knew my father and to me that's a tragedy because all the things that I would now want to say: you know when you were in Belfast why didn't you stay? What about your Irish identity? All these myriads of questions that in a small and neurotic way do bedevil me a bit nowadays, at least make me questioning. None of them became even possible because we didn't know each other and I suspect that maybe in his later years my mother never had any doubt if she'd decided to do something she was absolutely sure that that was right. So she couldn't have any second thoughts about it that would be admitting that somehow she was wrong. So she was never wrong I’m a bit like her unfortunately.

Colin Moffat: Which side do you think your writing came from?

Philip Donnellan: Well certainly not from her although she was a wonderful letter writer. No, I'm being unjust I’m very biased about my mother who was a remarkable person but really a pain in the arse and a pain in the arse to my wife too. I mean like so many people of that generation, but not progressive middle class people I think at that time, she was terribly concerned about sex.  Now she never knew what the answers, I mean she was very interested poor thing in what men do to each other you see in certain circumstances and homosexual conditions about which she'd heard. It was only when I got married that she could talk to another woman about this and the other woman was my poor wife who had to answer my 60 year old mother's questions about sex. And ‘what do they do to each other dear?’  You know and so on. Which was, which was rather curious in a way the profound inhibition of the family were and you know when Edmund Leach in his Reith Lectures spoke about the cramping isolation of the family or the petty secrets of the family I always think of my own family like that. It was, it was tragically inadequate and it set an absolute standard for what we should never descend to in our own family and we have tried always to play fair with our kids and if our, if we had experience we expected them to share the experience which is why we've always refused to give them the status and privilege of a separate education. If we were, if we were impoverished which luckily we never were really impoverished or even half-impoverished really they would share that and, and if there were experiences to be had they shared that. But that didn't happen in my family.  So we were grossly under-uncultured to coin a phrase and this of course had enormous effects later on when the only options offered to me at school were journalism or the army.

End Side 1

Start Side 2

Colin Moffat: This is Philip Donnellan Side 2. You’ve got a letter there that you want to read out.

Philip Donnellan: Yes I'm reading this because whatever I may say about the country club air of the public school I went to there were certain people there who were extraordinarily individual, perceptive and valuable. I didn't notice them all that much or what they said at the time but I now realize that they had quite an effect on me. This is a letter to my father from my housemaster dated March the 20th 1938: he says, ‘Dear Mr. Donnellan, I'll try to the best of my ability to put down my ideas about Philip and to answer your other questions. My own relations with him have always been most satisfactory. In school I find him attentive and industrious and out of school he's always friendly without being unduly familiar.  That he possesses ability is very evident so far as I'm concerned he shows no reluctance to exercise it. He possesses also no small amount of savoir-faire and can make himself charming and companionable without ever going too far presuming too much etc.’ and there's a bit about football.

‘So far I seem to have been singing his praises unreservedly’ this is the bit the BBC would like to hear, ‘but please remember I've only been describing my own personal reactions to him. I'm afraid that his relations with other masters have not always been so happy. Occasionally I’m informed that he's been idle and inattentive, that he's inclined to misbehave and that if he’s bored he doesn't hesitate to show so.  He takes such a subject in his stride and doesn't exert himself so that he fidgets and so on.’ I think there's probably some truth in these things. ‘I recollect how a little while ago I drew his attention to the fact that he'd come 19th and 21st in maths for two consecutive fortnights. I expressed my pain and surprise with the gratifying result that the next fortnight order showed him in 11th.  Probably the interpretation is that although he'll work hard if he's interested or coerced or if he feels it worthwhile he'll not hesitate to take advantage of a master whose presentation is uninspired and who may perhaps be reluctant to impose the full rigour of the law upon offenders. It may be also that a certain intellectual arrogance possesses him at times so that if he thinks the work beneath him he lets it be seen. I feel at times that there's something rather Irish about his temperament that he is perfectly docile and reasonable when properly handled. I'm convinced from my own experience of him only at times is he too self-assured …’ and so on.

Now then the fact that we never for an instant called ourselves an Irish family it is a very interesting evaluation of that because the qualities that I find most Irish in myself come from my mother not from my father.  At least I presume they do because I never knew my father very well. But there it is.

Colin Moffat: What about the your parents political views such as they were or rather such as they revealed to you? Can you see now where they stood politically?

Philip Donnellan: Oh yeah, they were staunch Tories.  My father took the Daily Express every day and the Sunday Express on Sundays and apart from his professional magazines, perhaps a professional association of teachers or whatever, nothing else came into the house apart from that and the radio and …

Colin Moffat: Do you draw any conclusions that it was the Express rather than the Telegraph?

Philip Donnellan: Only that his, his interests may have been … I haven't thought about it really but I suppose the rather more lurid imperialist aspects of the Daily Express may have appealed to him I honestly don't know.  I didn't find it surprising at the time but then is one surprised about the things one's parents do?  It seems to be part of the given situation in which you exist, you don't, you're not surprised if your parents have arguments or go to the theatre or drink gin regularly at six-thirty. I mean it's just one of those things parents do this. So no, I wasn't surprised by the Daily Express I was appalled later and now, although I've got over it now, and I know that such narrow mindedness is not necessarily emblematic of any real truth. But I I just think if they had had the opportunities that I have had, even more modest I mean obviously working in broadcasting has given one an enormous access to the opportunity to pursue access to areas of knowledge, understanding, research which very few other people have. But even if they'd had a microcosm of that they would have lived different lives, as it was they just had to struggle to make money. My father, my father hawked encyclopedias, no the Children's Encyclopedia around in the evenings in the early ‘30s in a small attaché case. He would go round soliciting subscriptions for the Children's Encyclopedia and we had sets of them in the house and they were infinitely boring. I never read one, never, well I consulted it I suppose – they were books of solid blocks of matter, which I couldn’t conceivably read. And my mother ran a tea shop she was a wonderful cook amongst her other artistic attributes she was a marvelous cook we were always terribly well fed she was a wonderful cake maker and she opened a café and she ran that through the middle part of the ‘30s and then when the war started she took guests in our house in Pirbright.

By this time we lived in Pirbright a very pleasant old house and officers from the guards depot, which was very flattering of course, used to come and stay and she put up people and all that, very hospitable family we were and but with very narrow social parameters. I remember curiously enough the firstcommunist we unknowingly welcomed into our house, we wouldn’t of course welcome a communist if we’d known, it was a knock on the door one Christmas Eve 1940 it must have been and standing on the doorstep was a young man, in fact I think I probably opened the door, 1940 I was sixteen. I probably opened the door and there was this young man it was dark and raining outside and of course I said “Come in” and he said, “I understand you put people up” and we said, “Well we do but not really at Christmas.” And he said, “Oh it's just that I've been sent down from the camp and I've been posted here and just arrived now I've got nowhere to stay.” So by this time my mother had arrived and she said, “Well of course you must come and stay.” And his name was Ormond Uren and an unusual name so it stuck very firmly in my mind but he stayed with us over Christmas and shared our Christmas and we got on very well. He was a Captain and I think could have been the Royal Fusiliers I'm not sure. And within two years after that he was he was sent down for nine years for selling technical secrets to the Communist Party and there was a big thing in the papers at the time and to our horror we realised we'd been harbouring this this bloke.

We used to get circulars from the police because we were a place where people stayed. We used to get circulars from the police about sinister German agents and stuff like that who was supposed to be lurking around, sniffing out the secrets of the guards brigade ha-ha!  The secret was of course a straight back and no nothing between the ears, as we now know but still there it is.

Colin Moffat: Did this man cause any political discussion when it was discovered?

Philip Donnellan: Not that I remember but I tell you who did and that was when the war started 1939 and I came home for Christmas from school in December I suppose it would have been December and to find to my delight that my cousin, my Canadian cousin, Reg Bromeley had arrived with a number of his mates. Now Reg was a PhD in America, he'd he'd worked on human behaviour at John Hopkins University in I think it's in Massachusetts and he had a very distinguished impending career as a psychologist. And the moment the war started he rushed back to Canada and signed up in the only regiment that he could get into which was the Royal Montreal Regiment. His family came from Ottawa but and he came over to England in the autumn of 1939 and here in the house were the first ordinary soldiers, well they were pretty extra-ordinary actually, ordinary soldiers that we'd seen and Canadian soldiers. And he brought all his mates from the barrack room and they filled the house endlessly for probably only six months that the RMRs were stationed in in Aldershot, along with the the famous and feared Van Doos, the 22nd Princess Pat's Canadian Light Infantry who were all French Canadians from Montreal in Quebec.  And there were tremendous fights between the Anglophone and the Francophone groups up in the camp there was always trouble.

Anyway Reg with this acute educational background that he had been that he'd been through came into our little family like a whirlwind. I mean he was he would lie in a big chair smoking like a chimney with his mates all with their boots off and so on it was lovely for me at 15 absolutely great. And he would, in a very quiet way he would challenge very subtly my parents preconceptions about the sort of life they were living and what England was and all these things. And he used to roar with laughter and they would never really understand what he was laughing about and he would slap his thigh and roar with laughter and he was a great man. He eventually became, he was captured in Italy put in the bag by the Germans for being hopelessly lost about a mile ahead of the troops and he'd been sent out to find prisoners of war and so on.  He was put in the bag for the last few weeks of the Italian war and then he became a civilian. He was a senior adviser on defence to the Canadian government for years after the war and he remained a robust and powerful, um, well what would I say: cultural and political interlocutor after the war on the few times the last that I met him and he died about four or five years ago. a stunning bloke and such a strange man to find in the rough battle dress of a Royal Montreal Regiment Lance Corporal.

He subsequently because he knew all the leaders in the British world of psychology British and Scottish of course world of psychology he dropped in on one of them in Cambridge as a Lance Corporal and was met with astonishment that this was the Reg Bromeley that they'd been corresponding with in Canada. And here he was disguised as a Canadian Lance Corporal and they quickly whipped him out of that turned him into a Major and put him into army psychology.  But that that torpedo into the passivity and intellectual nullity of our family home at that time was quite extraordinary.  But Reg did the analysis not me [LAUGHTER].

Colin Moffat: Presumably the contact with all these soldiers who arrived and so on was rather to your liking I suppose?  You were still interested in the military side of things?

Philip Donnellan: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah.

Colin Moffat: Were you, were you in an officer's training corps at school?

Philip Donnellan: Well there was only one, one only started in, at the end of 1938 during the crisis of 1938 to our horror the corps was started I mean the idea of Clayesmore …

Colin Moffat: Why to your horror?

Philip Donnellan: Well because Clayesmore was not given to getting into uniforms and, um I mean the peace move of 1937 did represent a genuine strand in the broad and unspoken culture of the school. We didn't stand for that sort of thing …

Colin Moffat: Are you talking about the boys or the staff?

Philip Donnellan: I'm talking about the boys and the staff.   The staff, well my housemaster David Spinney who wrote that letter I just read to you, was actually in the Royal Naval Reserve. He was a tremendously keen naval man and 90% of our history lessons were taken up with describing the tactics of Rodney or Nelson. We learnt very little else, I mean I knew exactly what order that Nelson's ships went into the Battle of Trafalgar and why they took the lee of the Spanish and you know know all the rest of it and so on. So apart from individuals there was a strong element of pacifism in the school as a whole. And now the boys: well we were just boys but um but there was it was not a school for getting into uniforms and so on and we didn't mind guns and that sort of thing but to wear a uniform while handling them was it seemed ridiculous that we did so. There was an ATC for the last probably six or eight months that I was there and it was all rather a knock-about business we were Dad's Army if ever there was one.  Well …

Colin Moffat: Were you looking forward by now to going into the army yourself?

Philip Donnellan: Oh you bet …

Colin Moffat: The war was about to start and you had your eye on it by now presumably?

Philip Donnellan: My two best friends were both killed within six months of the start of the war, quite extraordinary. I was very young I was sort of fairly in advance of my age and so I had friends who were rather older and they left and and, and, and, and that was that.  But um I forget what I was what I was saying; you asked me whether there was a corps at school, well I joined the Home Guard, when I when I came home. When I left school in the summer term the end of the summer term of 1940 when I was 16 I came home and my father had talked to the Chief Editor or whatever he was called Managing Editor of the Surrey Times Group, the Surrey Advertiser Group in Guildford and they had agreed to take me on as a trainee reporter. But they couldn't accommodate me in any of the Guilford papers but they sent me to the Woking News and Mail in Woking.

Colin Moffat: What age were you then roughly?

Philip Donnellan: I was sixteen, sixteen, sixteen-and-a-half and I joined the Home Guard and so I spent the weekends fixing endless, helping to fix endless miles of barbed wire around this village which would all have been flattened by any Panzer that came within range [LAUGHTER].  But we had a great time and I had a gun and I you know the the commanding officer of, the commanding officer of the Home Guard was the local solicitor whom we knew and it was all pretty dotty but great fun and I would was all set to join the army as soon as I could.  But instead I went to the Woking News and Mail from 16 to 18 and the Woking News & Mail had lost both its reporters to the war and all that was left was a man who seemed as though he was 70 to me but was probably only about 45, anyway he was too old to go into the army.  He was the editor Mr Gibbons and Mr Gibbons was extremely nice to me. He can't have had anything but a sinking feeling when this terribly well-spoken nice young man, nice young boy in effect came, was sent by Guildford to be his assistant.  He had to produce 24 columns of copy a week for the newspaper and within three months I was writing at least six or seven of those columns.  I had to, I learnt two things at the Woking News & Mail and the most important, the more important of those two things was to cut out cuttings from the Times with a pin. Most valuable skill in any newspaper is to be able to cut out cuttings with a pin, so you must always have a pin in your lapel. I never managed to learn shorthand, which was a great disability I wish I had but I was hopeless at learning anything that I could write.  And he gave me the deaths to do, which was a marvellous potted social education. I would ring up the, I nearly said the auctioneers, I mean the morticians, what do you call them? Undertakers. Monday morning ring all round the three undertakers in Woking, ‘Who's died?’ Get your names and addresses went round and I saw stiffs all over Woking and was invited in to take part in the funeral tea or to see the deceased or to comfort people.

I found it grisly and I didn't know how to cope with it but you had to cope with it and also I did all the bombing and all the shot down aircraft.  I would head off on my bicycle via the police to to where there'd been incidents in the night.  And I did all cinema criticism only only really, not based on looking at the film, just based on the handouts. But I would write skeptical bits about whether the handouts were right and I did because I was supposed to be cultured and I did all the music criticisms, all the arts criticisms which was ludicrous because I hadn’t got a clue. But I would go to somebody there and say “Look what ought I to say in this article?” and they would say, “Well you say, you know this and this” and I would write it all down in my notebook and write it up. So I kept my end up.

And and by 1942 I was there, I started on ten shillings a week and by 1942 I was earning twenty-five shillings a week and because I lived at home, we, we lived six miles from from Woking and I bicycled there and back and unfortunately I didn't have any girlfriends.  Life so far hadn't taught me how to chat-up females which was a terrible disability and so I wasn't, I was used to the discipline of writing to order and loving it. And I never spent any money so by the time I went into the army I had something like seven or eight quid in my Post Office savings bank.

Colin Moffat: Were you actually thinking of journalism as a career?  Was this just a bit of an experiment to try yourself out?

Philip Donnellan: No, no, no I was definitely, it was it was a career. The only thing that I really excelled in at school, well there was nothing I never wrote for the school mag or anything like that was that I could I could always write, I could always write things and I I loved letter writing I wrote I read letters but during particularly at the end of the war in China I wrote enormous letters home every other day merely because I wanted to put down what was happening or some of what was happening, not all of it.

But on my about March 3rd, I was 18 on February the 9th 1942 and I thought until I looked at my attestation paper that I had gone in on my birthday on my 18th birthday and joined the Seaforth Highlanders but I find now it was it was two or three weeks after that.

Colin Moffat: Did you consult your father about what regiment to go into?

Philip Donnellan: No, they knew I was going to the army and I I wanted to go into a hair raising regiment and the fact that it was the furthest infantry training centre away from home was an important factor to me.

Colin Moffat: Why?

Philip Donnellan: Because I wanted to get as far away as possible merely for the excitement and adventure and because I'd I'd read nothing but John Buchan. Colin Moffat: Where was this?

Philip Donnellan: This was Fort George in Invernesshire, the depot for the Seaforth Highlanders, a fort built in 1748 after the failure of the ‘45 by General Wade a magnificent place.  So I joined the Seaforth Highlanders with joy and I went to the army on April 16th 1942 and, and had the whale of a time, I mean I really loved it. I'm talking about the initial training because it was just like school to me except the food was much better – the food was wonderful in the army, absolutely marvelous.

Colin Moffat: Were you a private soldier?

Philip Donnellan: Yes and I wore a Glengarry and a kilt and and I thought myself a hell of a figure. And, and in the barrack made 90% of the, of the soldiers with me in that barrack room, I suppose there were 25 of us in the barrack room, were from from the Gorbals or from Maryhill and the slums of Glasgow. And they'd never been away from home before not for a night and they were terribly homesick.  The lad in the, the lad in the bunk above me, I had the best bunk in the room right by the window looking out onto this wonderful panorama of the ramparts and the sea beyond and down, down the the Firth, Inverness in the far distant 16 miles away. And I just loved it and I loved the discipline I was used to it it's what it's what public school is designed to do produce a disciplined person.  But they didn't think of their disciplines as being used in that particular context as I'm sure you know.

Colin Moffat: Had you um um, of course this was perhaps the first serious contact with working class people was it?

Philip Donnellan: I felt I'd had quite a lot of contact through the newspaper but that was really pretty vestigial.

Colin Moffat: Any surprise on you side on what you, what you were confronted with?

Philip Donnellan: Yes their inability to survive emotionally on their own. Of course they got over it quite quickly as one does but for me the idea of being alone in a strange place was quite routine and it was a strength and I was the first of our intake to get the stick on the Commanding Officers guard. We were the first, it was the first guard mounting that our intake was allowed to do and I was the smartest soldier on parade and the smartest soldier on parade gets the is excused guard duties.  He is the Commanding Officer’s orderly so he gets a stick to put under his arm with a silver knob on it and you run errands there are very few. The the RSM was a formidable Seaforth Highlander I mean you know a man, you never saw a Commanding Officer before but the RSM was the man who you did see and it was God come down to earth and you you you went to see if you got the stick you went in to see the RSM and the RSM wrote your name down in a big book and he said to me, “Donnellan” ‘Yes Sir” He said, “I understand you are a journalist in civil life.” I said, “Yes Sir” he said “I'd be grateful if perhaps you could write your impressions on the fort from the point of view of a recruit.” And it was as though God had handed me one of the tablets and asked me to write my own particular commandments on it. It was something that stuck in my mind every detail of that moment I couldn't believe it.  Here was the RSM asking me to write my, my impressions of the fort and …

Colin Moffat: For what purpose?

Philip Donnellan: Well nominally in the interest I suppose of welfare so that he could understand better what it was that young recruits coming into the fort felt about the ambiance.  And he was duly grateful when I did that. And but I got into bad books because I led a little mutiny, it wasn't really a mutiny but it in the wonderful spring and summer of that year, and during the during the summer the barrack rooms got very hot and one evening I said “Why don't we” in my effected Scots accent which was noticeable by that time, I said “Why don't we pick up our blankets and get out the front gate and go and sleep on the carse”,

you see, “Go and sleep amongst the gorse and the heather out on the common outside the front gate across, the moat and all this.” You see so two or three said “Oh aye why don't we do that”. And so we picked up our biscuits and our mattresses and blankets and we filed out across cross gate path through the guard.  The guard said “Hiya lads” and off and off we went and nobody asked us what we were doing. We went and found a convenient place in the heather and we lay down and dozed off, there was scarcely any darkness. Well half an hour, within half an hour shouts and screams and people doubling through the heather saying “WHAT’S THIS, GET UP, GET UP, GET UP. WHAT ARE YOU DOING?  INTO THE GUARDROOM, PUT THEM INTO THE GUARDROOM, IT’S A MUTINTY” You know all this sort of thing well I couldn't believe it! All we’d done was to go there – we had deserted!! Anyway it was all, so I I thought Oh Christ this is the end of me as a PO, potential officer, but no it didn't make any difference.

Colin Moffat: Was the your rather combative personality which emerged later at the BBC at all evident at this stage?

Philip Donnellan: No not really.

Colin Moffat: You took to army discipline quite well it sounds, which is rather odd in a way.

Philip Donnellan: But I wasn't I was never …

Colin Moffat: But you weren’t the same person then, you were rather a different person then?

Philip Donnellan: I don't know I couldn't really analyse that.  And besides the Army had a different quality in a sense there was a meaning about the army, which I never found about the BBC management. I mean broadcasting was something that one knew how to do.  The army needed discipline in order to do anything. The BBC didn't need discipline for its staff what they needed was was a reasonable degree of skill and acceptance and a process of scheduling. But within the BBC there was a constant nit-picking by people like the bloke you mentioned him of the Scots accent, McQueen – I mean nit-picking idiots. The Army may have been precise and pernickety but what they were doing was quite important, at least I thought it was so and I was years younger and less experienced.

Colin Moffat: Were you and the soldiers there did you talk much about the war and what it was all about and what you were fighting for or preparing to fight for? Did people talk about that sort of thing?

Philip Donnellan: No, not not in my recollection. There was a big Lance Corporal who was who was in charge of the room and his name was Bellington and he was a cinema manager from Croydon and he wasn't a Scot at all. Most of the NCOs were Scots and they were terribly terribly keen about personal cleanliness and I got, I mean our squad Corporal, Corporal Carney every day at dinner time he would strip off and wash thoroughly, body and everything above the waist nothing elaborate.  And I couldn't believe this – washing was not a sacred act to me but if you live if you've been brought up in restricted circumstances washing is terribly important.

So no I didn't realise that at the time I started to say minutes ago that the lad in the bunk above me was a young man who was a joiner’s apprentice from Lockerbie so his much gentler border accent I understood well.  We got on very well indeed, we were bosom friends his name was Johnston um Andrew. We used to talk but we never talked about serious things it was just that Bren gun class that was difficult or corporal so-and-so or what you're going to do at the weekend or you write a lot of letters home don't you and this sort of thing. I can't recollect that we ever talked about that it was only when it was 1943 by which time I was a platoon officer when I had to take my class in army bureau current affairs discussions every week that I started having to confront those sorts of techniques.

Philip Donnellan: Your earlier interest for a while in pacifism and peace and so on at school had that all passed out of your mind by then? I mean you weren't you weren't in any difficulties morally with being ready to shoot people and so on?

Philip Donnellan: Absolutely not. No absolutely not.

Colin Moffat: Why not?

Philip Donnellan: Well I don't know partly because the business of fighting Germans seemed to be very important and I never questioned that not for a moment. I mean even with the, after all the Canadian cousin who had much more reason to be analytical about his presence here in Britain had never I think mentioned such a thing at least not that I remember.  But maybe I would have excluded it from my mind if he had said why are we fighting the Germans? He wouldn't have said that he'd rushed from America to Canada to enlist just as his son years later rushed from Canada to America to enlist to go out to Vietnam. I couldn't believe it by that time.  So no there was no sense of incongruity about attitudes to the Spanish Civil War compared with Hitler's war and, none at all. But I have never been an intellectual being and I suspect that many of my attitudes if I'm honest about them might appear deeply inconsistent and I think actually in the past you may have pointed out some inconsistencies in my thinking. I'm not particularly proud of that but I do recognize it as a factor in my mental makeup that I'm not particularly coherent in my in my range of attitudes about crucial things – war, peace, love, nationalism and so on you know.

Colin Moffat: Of course I heard you mention it but because of your very much later large film about the army, the thesis of which might suggest a certain intense dislike at that stage for violence to achieve an end and the killing of innocent people and so on. That's that then you were that you were a different person then all those years later, we shall come to that later.

Philip Donnellan: Yes it's not I think it would only be fair to say since you refer to it that that film no doubt through my own fault has been widely misinterpreted. It was never it was always meant to be a tract against imperialism rather than a tract against war. I am not a pacifist, never have been. And my letter in subsequently in the radio times which spoke about the fact that my family, my father and myself, had both taken part in wars in support of of Britain and I hope that my son would never have to do the same were merely expressions of a quite conventional sense of protection for for our children rather than any widespread sense of pacifism, I was never a pacifist. The one murder threat I got from a loyalist, a signed loyalist after Gun for a Soldier referred to me as a pacifist, which was quite wrong.  I'm not a pacifist. I wasn't then of course quite the opposite but not a thinker either.  I was carried along just as the young men who joined in 1914 who felt that for some reason or other they had to go, in those days perhaps it was fear of a white feather at home but not in our day. I went I couldn't wait for the day when I would go but I never thought of fighting as realistic it was always a profoundly romantic sense that drove me. I found the actual process exciting very exciting and quite unfearful.  I mean I never had an image of myself being wounded or killed.

Colin Moffat: What happened then? Where did you go and what were you involved in?

Philip Donnellan: Like everybody else I spent three years of training and ten minutes of fighting.

Colin Moffat: You went abroad?

Philip Donnellan: Yeah, yeah.  I had a I had an extraordinarily fascinatingly various career in the army mainly by doing the same sort of things that I have that I did in broadcasting subsequently. In other words within a tight institutional framework to find ways of maneuvering so you did what you wanted to do. I've only just realized that this moment that there is an absolute coherence between what I did in the army and what I did in the BBC.

But in 1942 in the summer of 1942 after doing my basic training and having a leave I was sent to the War Office Selection board the first War Office Selection Board, which was the new method of choosing officers which was at Edinburgh. I was sent there as a potential officer but I was still 18 and we went through all these extraordinary experiences of initiative and fitness survival and all these sort of new tests which made tremendous demands on you physically and mentally. And I was, the verdict was that I was I wasn't yet, partly through my age partly no doubt for other reasons, I wasn't yet suitable to be an officer and I was a doubtful case and I was I was in consequence sent off to an absolutely unique experience which was called a Leadership Course and it took place at Dunbar. And I've never met anybody else who took part in it. The Commanding Officer was actually I later found out the Headmaster of Rugby who was a muscular Christian called Martin Lloyd. I think he was probably Deputy Headmaster at that time I met him afterwards when I went to announce an organ recital from Rugby school chapel and walking down the aisle came this man and I recognised him as the Commanding Officer of my of this extraordinary leadership course in 1942.  Martin Lloyd had got an extraordinary range of of doubtful commissions um at his course ranging from a battle hardened Company Sergeant Major of probably 35 to me who was 18 and wet behind the ears in all the useful skills and craft and we had the most extraordinary months of marching incredible distances, staying awake for incredible lengths of time, swimming across impossible, all the things that I enjoyed doing.

Colin Moffat: Are you actually in the Commandos then?

Philip Donnellan: No no I wasn't then I was in the Seaforth Highlanders. And I passed with flying colours and and and um in November 1942, November, yes November 1942 I was sent to the Isle of Man to the Officer Cadet Training unit at Douglas, Isle of Man.  And for four months I was in the Isle of Man and being trained as an officer and grappling with Wrens and WAAFs wherever possible

Colin Moffat: What do you mean grappling?

Philip Donnellan: Grappling on the cliffs at Douglas, fumbling with them, trying to get through those impassive pale blue WAAF knickers and the more elegant black stockings of the Wrens.

End Side 2

Start Side 3

Colin Moffat: Philip Donnellan Side 3. Would you just carry on from where we were Philip?

Philip Donnellan: That was the winter of 1942 and I was commissioned in February 1943 when I was 19 and 10 days. Posted to an infantry battalion sent, to Norfolk. In the summer of 1943 July I was posted to as I thought to North Africa but instead landed in Gibraltar which was a terrible cause for anyone who wanted to see some sort of action and see a result of the training was a terrible disappointment I landed in Gibraltar. But because the Gibraltar Garrison had been very stable over several years and I was posted to a really awful Territorial Army Battalion of the 1st Hertfordshire Regiment and as soon as I'd been there ten days they decided they wanted to get rid of me and I was sent to the Independent Company in Gibraltar which was a quasi commando which was had been set up as the personal bodyguard of the Governor of Gibraltar and we led a highly independent life in a little camp on the north front overlooking the aerodrome. And we I got my first experience at that time about intelligence operations which we were the linked people with within the fortress all that's a fascinating story but hasn't got an awful lot to do with subsequent professional experience except that all these events started to illuminate unexpected areas of life and in consequence the feeling grew that behind the facade of everyday life there was another world altogether not just in wartime but in terms of the people I met. For instance my platoon sergeant in the Independent Company was a gypsy, a man called Stocks from Essex and he was he was a brilliant bloke he was not only extremely bright intelligent but formidable as a soldier and I learnt an awful lot from him.

And in May 1944 when you know the war was slipping away as far as I was concerned I managed to get away from Gibraltar and was posted to England for a battle course in North Wales. Even then though I remember how limited one was in the perception of the everyday world of the United Kingdom. For example I knew Spain by that time I knew a lot about Spain and Spanish people and I knew a fair amount about making war I knew very little about the minority peoples of the United Kingdom. For instance when we I arrived in Llanberis which was the headquarters of our of this course and I was walking down the main street that evening and going to a pub somewhere I think with a couple of blokes and some women were standing at the door of a house and they were talking a strange language and we went past and I said to the chaps who are with me “What were those women talking?” And they said, “Well it was Welsh” I said “Welsh, do people speak Welsh is their a language?” And I felt grossly inadequate that I didn't know but even more since then having thought of this incident which stuck in my mind I realise how incredibly limited one's view was of a world that was quite common property to an awful lot of people. Anyway after that um I did I did quite well on this course which was just guts and blood as far as I was concerned, you know it was really I was very fit I was 20 years old and like a lot of other people could run up mountains carrying a couple of light machine guns or whatever. That was it I loved it but it wasn't getting one any nearer to doing what we were professionally supposed to do.

Colin Moffat: Had you been promoted by now?

Philip Donnellan: No I was a Lieutenant, automatic from Second Lieutenant to Lieutenant under normal circumstances after six months I'd been briefly a Captain a month after I was commissioned because I was I did so well at the local battle school which was this battle simulation course that they asked me to come back as an instructor so for a month or two I was an instructor at this battle of school but otherwise I was still a subaltern. The course finished on June the 4th 1944 and I went home on leave and the next day was June the 6th D-Day, of course I knew nothing about it and I was terribly galled that what seemed to be the final phases of the war were coming into and I'd never even seen a German much less done anything about it. So I went straight up to London put on my best uniform bought bought a green beret at a shop in Jermyn Street and presented myself at Combined Operations Headquarters and said “I am in I'm stationed in Gibraltar. I'm due to go back there I don't want to go back there. I want to get into commandos as quickly as possible and go and fight the war.” And so they were all really rather surprised at this and I didn't see General Laycock as I'd hoped but I saw the Lieutenant Commander who was his ADC. Three weeks later I was I was posted to the holding commando which was the place where … I didn't know that every other commando had been through the AACC battle course before they got a Green Beret, the green beret was the accolade that they received when they passed out satisfactorily I'd just been to Jermyn Street and bought a bloody Green Beret [LAUGHTER]. So I didn’t … everybody thought that I was fully trained. Anyway the upshot of it was that I spent three weeks at the Royal Welsh Fusiliers depot at Wrexham stamping up and down and getting very bloody minded and then I was posted to 3 Commando Brigade which was in Burma.  And I set off for Burma with 100 men and 3 other officers and they decided the fleshpots of Calcutta were better than than the frontline. Very understandably and sensibly but I was so bloody immature that I wanted to get to the battle so I hitched a ride down the coast of Burma in an American landing craft and arrived to find the commando had gone off into the jungle and I followed them. And we had I had that was that must have been November/December 1944 and we had a brisk time in the next two months cutting off the Japanese retreat. We were landing from the sea cutting the Japanese retreat line because by that time they were removing themselves in North Burma and heading for Rangoon as fast as they could go and we were deputed to go in and cut their escape line which was which was resisted quite strongly. But the interesting thing to me was that having trained for three and a half years to recognise precisely what a German soldier wearing white patches on his collar and with particular sort of buttons was I had never been told a single thing about the Japanese army not a single hour, not a minute had been spent on training me to meet the very wily Japan Japanee soldiers, Japanee was what we called them and the first slip trench I ever dug was in the jungle and and it was it was a ludicrous example of misdirected endeavour. I'd spent three years training to fight the Germans never saw a German in my life and went in terrified to encounter Japanese.

Well we went back to India then we went we were training in in India during the monsoon of 1945 to land in Malaya at Fort Dix in Malaya on September the 15th 1945 to stop the re-conquest of Malaya. We were spearheading the the the landings and I would probably have given up my life for the British Empire at that point had the bomb not dropped.  The bomb dropped we were in Pune at the time and we were instantly rushed to Bombay. We were the strategic reserve, 3 Commando Brigade, 4 commandos 1 commando and 5 commando from the army and 42 and 44 commandos Royal Marines to whom of course we felt incredibly superior. And we were rushed onto a boat and sent off to go and land in Penang. Well the the Japanese had not surrendered in Penang and as the as the generals didn't want any bloodshed at that point and questions asked in Parliament we stopped in Trincomalee in Ceylon for three weeks and then we finally landed in Hong Kong in September at the end towards the end of September 1945 and I stayed.

I had an extraordinary time in Hong Kong I got involved with a member of the intelligence staff who had been in the colony when it had been overrun. We were witnesses to American politics working themselves out in terms of Chiang Kai Shek and Mao Tse Tong and the beginnings of the revolution. And there are various stories which I wont put on to tape here about some of the support that by that time speaking for myself I was very inclined to offer to the Chinese as compared to Chiang Kai Shek’s army to the communist army and that was all very interesting.  I also got involved with got substantially involved with collaborators and non-collaborators through my intelligence contacts in Hong Kong and started to understand something of the realities of the sort of politics that had accompanied that particular bloody point in the history of British Imperialism.

At the same time one has to remember what was happening worldwide was the British, the Churchillian attempt to reinstate the Greek king which led to the revolt of ELAS and the confrontation between the communist resistance in Greece and the British Army. The similar thing that took place in Indonesia when the British and Americans occupied reoccupied Indonesia and then tried to reintroduce the Dutch colonial government which Shareef Stevens had dealt with in an extraordinary film – the title of which I instantly forget. And in Vietnam of course the British reoccupied Vietnam and handed it back or Indochina as it's called then handed it back to the French.  So everywhere what we were seeing was the old forces of imperialism in whatever country reoccupying those segments of the world and we were being enforcibly a party to that.

Now I wasn't sufficiently sophisticated or politically aware to understand these things I only realized afterwards what extraordinary things were unfolding. The intelligence groups who particularly interested me were coming in from the north of China, way off in the north of China where they had been planted since 1938 and this was 1946 and they were sleepers in a situation of reporting too on the various changes that were taking place in China as a whole. They were nearly all pre-war commercial people who had been among the braver managers in the great British industries in China, British American Tobacco, Jardine Matheson the great steamship company who had sold opium to the Chinese or flogged opium to the Chinese masses during the nineteenth century and so on. All this one was becoming aware of and I saw it in the context of the Spanish Civil War because in Bombay during the time when briefly I was in Bombay in 1945 and and at the beginning of 1946, I probably got the times wrong, in the Congress bookshops in Bombay all the radical literature was appearing in English, very cheap underground publications which you could buy in bookshops in Bombay.  So I started to buy the speeches of La Pasionaria and the Congress party's analysis of the Spanish Civil War, books about Indian resistance which had always been represented to us in similar terms that long, long afterwards I heard British officers in the north of Ireland representing to their troops exactly the things that had been said to me in 1945/46 when the struggle for independence in India was proceeding.

Colin Moffat: You are talking very clearly about this were you actually briefed? Your understanding of this, are you talking in retrospect really?

Philip Donnellan: Yes I am talking in retrospect but I did I bought books in Bombay and started to hear from people in Hong Kong and in South China about why they were why they were trying to turn over the Chiang Kai Shek regime in China. So half of it, nearly half of these impressions were directly from people. For instance I had an outpost on the coast of China that was filling in Colonial Office reports on the economic basis of life in the northern part of the colony adjacent to China.  I was told at one point by Commando headquarters to go and oust from the colony, a few miles north of where I was in tents on the edge of the shore, a colony of communists, communists wounded who had been brought over to take refuge from possible contraction by the Chiang Kai Shek forces. And I went to meet them and I talked through my interpreter with with the doctor a woman doctor in charge of this party of wounded and I was enormously impressed by what she said. I had in the process of some slightly clandestine dealings with the with the communist South China and East River Group army I spent some time with with the communist commissars eating in restaurants on the extreme flank of the British possessions. And while we toasted Churchill and Mao Tse Tung at the same time he told me about some of the realities through my interpreter who probably hadn't really got the full language to take it in but he was an astute little man.  And so partly I was beginning to understand some of the political realities of the world which still form a dense historical perception about what actually happened, the more books appear the more one understands in with some degree of perspective the nature of the world that one was participating in after the war.

Colin Moffat: Were you untypical in this what you were doing here?  Informing yourself rather well about the situation there?  Do you think do you think you were rather on your own in that?

Philip Donnellan: It's awfully difficult to know some of the lads some of the other ranks took to holding up opium dens with their I mean everybody had guns we were all used to handling guns and it's the most natural thing in the world is for you to if you think that there's going to be some loot around the corner you impose the strength of armed force on it that was quite natural as part of as a sort of offshoot of commando training. So that the the quite a significant number I mean say 5 in the commando of 400/500 had taken to armed robbery. Now that was their response to their situation of having no freedom within the situation in which I had a relatively high degree of freedom. Now I use that not to stick up opium dens though I took part in raids on them in a formal sense with the police. Indeed I’ve got an opium pipe upstairs that I whipped hot from the smoker's mouth on one occasion I remember, souvenirs you know what soldiers are like. And and I use my freedom in cocktail parties, dinners, the way we were feted as as conquerors although we'd done fuck all to justify that in my view I used it to ask naive questions, they were genuinely naive not faux naive of the people that I met “Was it really like this? What happened?  What did you do?”  And the answers I got “Well well come and meet so-and-so” and so that yes I think because I was the youngest officer in the commando, I think I was perhaps there were another more or less my age, I think I took a considerable interest whereas others who were much more successful with women than I was spent their time in bed. I wanted to spend my time in bed but found myself instead spending my time with collaborators and non-collaborators under the aegis of this fascinating bloke who later became professor of Japanese at London University. His name was Boxer he’d been wounded, he is dead now. There was a notorious affair in 1938 with him and Melanie, not Melanie Klein that's the great child guidance person. Anyway I'm diverging so yes the answer is that I'm not conscious of anybody else in our particular commando who had those sort of opportunities. Also I could see that the great commando adventure was coming to an end and my I wasn't being demobbed because I'd got in fairly late I wasn't being demobbed as early as some of the rest of the commando and so I went in to field security.

And and and I started making overtures on the intelligence front and to cut a very long story short via MI5 in Hong Kong, Singapore and London I was posted in July 1946 I was posted to MI4 which was order of battle intelligence and because I said I spoke Spanish, I did speak a rudimentary amount of Spanish but fortunately they never tested me they never found out the truth, I was eventually posted as General Staff Office Grade 3 (intelligence) in brackets (I) in brackets to Gibraltar again on condition I deferred my release for a year. And I arrived in Gibraltar in June or July 1946 and left in July 1947 for demob  in England. During that time I was responsible for order of battle intelligence that's the order of battle of the Spanish army; what units were stationed where and why and when they were moving and what guns were being put in position and so on in Spanish and French Morocco and in Andalusia.  And my main contact in that field were the MI6 representative at the Consulate General in Tangier and I had access to all the fortress intelligence documentation.  Now there was no breach of security here because if I was an emotional leftie I certainly had no position that would have been any sort of a threat to the official governmental status quo. And the reports that I wrote for the G1, the General Staff Officer Grade 1, Archie Douglas of the Scots Guard a lovely old man with a wooden leg, were well if journalistically excessive in an expression were were quite well written and quite informative and I had a ball, I mean I had a wonderful time.  Because the sense of being involved in things that are secret is really of course, I was still only in 1946 I was 22, and it was ridiculous really to put the stability of Great Britain in the hands of idiots like that. I got from the Head Office in Whitehall in 17 envelopes you know security insisted in putting things in lots of lots of other envelopes so people get bored with opening them. I got an instruction that if the Russians moved through Europe Gibraltar is a crucial strategic stronghold. It's perfectly possible the Russians will move through Europe occupy the whole of Europe and once again Gibraltar will be our only foothold on the continent of Europe this puts your role in a context of enormous significance etcetera. So I was instructed to plant agents here there and everywhere they were all it was all dotty.  I found myself negotiating with Republican survivors who had been at loose in the Sierra Nevada just to the south, to the north of Gibraltar since 1939 and asking them what military hardware they had and so on.

Colin Moffat: Were you still a Lieutenant?

Philip Donnellan: I was a Captain at that time I'd been promoted to a Troop Commander in the commando I ran, the heavy weapons troop, which was three medium machineguns and three 3” mortars.  Consequently this over inflated role or this role which over inflated my sense of my own importance and the importance of these things that I was marginally involved with especially in a romantic situation where I'd been if you remember passionately interested in the Spanish civil war there, and and had read a great deal about it since those days in 1937 when we'd wrecked our classrooms, prepared me for everything I suppose to feel that I was pursuing a significant role from then on. Which of course was totally ridiculous because within six months after my demob I was I was an announcer in the BBC in Birmingham than which you cannot imagine a more fusty boring well I don't quite know how to describe it charitably. It was it was a dry as dust mixture of very interesting people and in some of the people in the BBC in Birmingham in 1948 were really interesting people. The rest were the standard BBC mixture.

Colin Moffat: Since you, it all sounds so very successful and that you enjoyed all this a great deal. Were you not tempted to stay in the army as a soldier?  Couldn’t you have gone on?  Didn’t you think about that?

Philip Donnellan: Not for one moment was I tempted to stay in the army. No. Successful I don't think it was successful in any real sense, I enjoyed it because it was, I can't help but use that awful phrase it was great fun, it WAS great fun. You know in Fortress Gibraltar in peacetime dinners, all salons, teas, parties were the order of the day. If I was in Andalusia I was living in a different world, if I was in Spanish Morocco there were also, I mean remind me to tell you off the record not because it's significant but just because it’s long the story about the itching powder and the Consulate General in Tangier which was a strategic weapon in the fight against the axis.

Colin Moffat: Now well the only reason I said why not stay on is because it sounds so much more exciting than working on a Surrey Newspaper, right?

Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: I mean if you were going back to that which presumably at that moment you would probably going to think about doing, picking up the career you had in journalism didn't you compare the two and think well this is more dramatic?

Philip Donnellan: I think I've always been a, I don't want to make this sound ridiculous, I've always been a creature of convention and my first instinct is to do what everybody else is doing and everybody else is getting demobbed and people talked about the army in derisive terms and the idea of signing on was ridiculous I'd already signed on for a year and and I didn't really want to pursue that, it was very exciting while you were doing it but it was obvious from the whole prevailing tone of the little society in which I'd been circulating for the last five, four or five years was that there would cut me into this and we’d have to get down to ordinary life.  And so quite naturally I accepted that view and became part of ordinary life, so no there was never any temptation to stay on.

My predecessor as General Staff Officer Grade 3 brackets (I) for intelligence was a remarkable man who was infinitely more valuable and intelligent than me. His name was Donald Maitland, he was a very small man, he spoke absolutely fluent Spanish and from Gibraltar he went to the to a place called MECAS, which was the Middle East Central Arabic Studies where Philby was an occasional visitor in after years.  Donald Maitland went to MECAS, which was actually the British spy school in the Middle East not literally but more or less. Donald went then into the Foreign Office and his last the last appointment that I noticed after he'd been knighted was as political adviser to Mrs Thatcher. Now Donald Maitland you'd find him in in Who's Who, now the man who was therefore cast for that sort of job that I accidentally occupied by sheer glibness for a year in 1947 was a career man who could have remained in the army but went into the Foreign Office. Now there was no such prospect for me I didn't see it like that because below all the bullshit and the pretty uniforms and the Green Beret and all the rest of it, which persisted of course I wore it in Gibraltar as well which always caused a flutter and so on, there was a quite realistic understanding of what might be in prospect. So it was no I mean I was alarmed once I got home.

Colin Moffat: How were your parents think about all this?   Were they rather pleased with what had happened in your wartime career? Your father in particular?

Philip Donnellan: I don't know.

Colin Moffat: Were you in touch?

Philip Donnellan: Oh yes rather. Yes yes yes.  Constantly. I suppose as a small measure of my appreciation when I came into funds in China I sent them what by the standards of those days was a large cheque but they fortunately never asked me where it came from.  Because I just felt guilty about the, the deprivations that they had experienced and that I manifestly was not experiencing. And and it was in as far as I was concerned I really knew at heart it was a ludicrous life that I was living but not it didn't harm anybody but perhaps my own by the standards of those days was a large cheque perhaps my own amour-propre and of course I got my comeuppance when I arrived in the BBC because not only was I a bumptious bugger in a very small provincial situation, and you will know even years later how provincial that was, but I also had lots of clothes. And the first thing that struck me was that people in England had no clothes they had all worn out during the war and clothes rationing and …

Colin Moffat: You mean civilian clothes? Why did you have lots of clothes?

Philip Donnellan: Well because I'd bought them in Gibraltar and Gibraltar was part of the sterling area and and I had to be appropriately dressed for my diplomatic role [LAUGHTER]  So I arrived in Gibraltar …

Colin Moffat: You mean suits?

Philip Donnellan: So I arrived in Gibraltar, not in Gibraltar in in Birmingham. And so it was rather painfully obvious about this um self-assured man who arrived in the BBC in Birmingham.

Colin Moffat: Well hang on you've jumped a bit haven’t you?  Your BBC career didn't start in Birmingham?

Philip Donnellan: Well more or less.

Colin Moffat: Did it?

Philip Donnellan: No it started in London.

Colin Moffat: Well tell me what happened when you were demobbed how did you get into the BBC initially?

Philip Donnellan: Well yeah. Here I am 1947 July arriving home plaudits of all friends all pretty girls arrive and so on in July 1947 and …

Colin Moffat: Did you go back and live at home?

Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: With your parents?

Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: Where was that?

Philip Donnellan: In Pirbright in Surrey where they lived throughout the war

And and of course I had to get a job.  Now because of that and I deliberately mentioned earlier that sort of sense of a manifest destiny which overcame me when I thought I was being important in in Spanish circles, was that I couldn't possibly go back to the small town newspaper. I felt I was far above that and the question was what what could I do? And the answer really was nothing like thousands …

Colin Moffat: What you mean above it?

Philip Donnellan: I felt I felt that this was far beneath my attention to go back to …

Colin Moffat: You mean socially?

Philip Donnellan: Oh yeah, socially I mean that’s the only way. Yes. Yes.

That it wasn't an important enough job for me to get.

Colin Moffat: Journalism in general as a career?

Philip Donnellan: No no.

Colin Moffat: That particular type?

Philip Donnellan: That particular newspaper, provincial newspaper which was the immediate prospect and I didn't see myself going to the Daily Mirror at that point and asking for a job. I think I did actually write to the Daily Mirror.

Colin Moffat: What about the more respectable side of Fleet Street?

Philip Donnellan: It never occurred to me to be frank. I wrote to all the all the big business groups ICI and BP and all the others who were inundated with letters from ex-officers who thought that they were being quite important in winning the war and who’s only experience was man management which was about all the experience I had.

Colin Moffat: You thought of getting a managerial job?

Philip Donnellan: Yes, yep and of course nothing came up.  We had we had some childhood friend who who lived not far away and he was he was a drama producer at the BBC, in radio of course there was nothing else at that time. He had been a studio manager who worked his way up he'd been a number of years at the BBC and he was now a drama producer, David Godfrey. And so one day we dropped in to see them and we were talking about this and he said, “Well have you thought of applying for BBC?”  And I said “Well I had vaguely” because I had some idea of emulating Richard Dimbleby you see that was my first target to be a reporter, a roving reporter.

Colin Moffat: How do you know about him at that point?

Philip Donnellan: Oh …

Colin Moffat: Where would you have seen him or heard him?

Philip Donnellan: Oh I'd have heard him on the radio I'm sure in all sorts of circumstances.  Radio Gibraltar would no doubt have used …

Colin Moffat: Reporting the Spanish Civil War?

Philip Donnellan: No no no no.

Colin Moffat: In the late ‘30s you weren't listening to the radio much?

Philip Donnellan: Oh no nothing like that.

Colin Moffat: Did you have a view of the BBC then, I mean did you were you particularly aware of it at that point in your life?

Philip Donnellan: Yes I did that it was important, what it was doing was important and that is that it seems to have seemed to have done so with great success during the war although I wasn't sure what that success actually contained. What I did know was that the voices of the BBC, the Alvar Lidell, Stuart Hibbard um forgotten their names now, were the voices of some sort of social power.  And so when David Godfrey made some sort of tentative suggestion I said eagerly “Oh that's a nice idea” or something like that. And he said “Well I'll talk to somebody there” and of course I heard long afterwards that's it the norm was considered to be that you had to know somebody in the BBC before you could ever get in and I'd never heard that we didn't know anything about BBC.  And so a few weeks later, oh no maybe fairly quickly after that he he said “I suggest you write to the Appointments Officer”.  And I wrote to the Appointments Officer giving all the details of my non-existent CV and ten days later I got a letter from the BBC enclosing an enormous form and asking for all the information that I had given in in my letter. And I thought oh with what is now what now seems to me characteristic obtuseness I thought this was just a ploy to put me off. So I wrote a snorter to the Appointments Officer saying quite obvious that you were not interested in offering jobs to ex-soldiers.

And anyway it was in a tactical move that I've often heard expressed later that you've got to draw yourself to the attention of the management of any organization if there are a thousand applicants for a job you somehow got to make sure that you are characterised in this as a potential person of interest. And I'd done that quite accidentally.  And the Appointments Officer replied in due course, I’ve still got the letter somewhere upstairs, in which he said “I think in conclusion I would say that you I would suggest you would get more favourable attention from potential employers if you were to write them less hectoring letters than the one you have sent us.  Yours sincerely D.H. Clarke” and of course by that time I'd been offered a job as an announcer. David Godfrey had said to various people I think this chap would be very good “He can read and he's got a standard southern English voice, why don’t you give him a whirl as an announcer”.  So I was asked to come and give an audition and so on, that's how it happened. And of course my parents were delighted they thought this was the absolute climax of any possible status and I was sort of quite pleased but disappointed because I really wanted to do something I mean I didn't honestly want to be an announcer and to be famous only for having this artificial voice. So I was rather disappointed but at least it was a job.

Colin Moffat: You were looking more to radio journalism? A reporter’s job?

Philip Donnellan: Yes, absolutely, absolutely.  It's awfully difficult to represent accurately what one's attitudes and ideas and even memories were 44 years ago. Um I mean I think you have a myth in your mind about what you did and what you thought but I wouldn't like to swear that I don't know how intelligent I was I assume that I wasn't very intelligent about all this and I think that's probably true.  But exactly what my motives were at the time apart from writing a rude letter to getting fed up with letters of rejection and finally thinking that I ought to get into the BBC and then getting a rejection apparently, what I thought was a rejection.

Colin Moffat: Had you sort of over the years since childhood had you you and your parents listened, were you a family that listened a lot to the BBC and basically approved of it and enjoyed it and were pro?

Philip Donnellan: Oh yeah.  Well I think a great deal of feeling

about the BBC at that time had to be neutral, there's no alternative it's something coming out of the radio set. What alternatives did we ever have to think about? We didn't know what an alternative wireless program might be like so there was no question that it was it was funny although we didn't listen to comedy very much but then we didn't listen to anything serious very much – music, Leonardo and his orchestra, Harry Engelman and his players.

Colin Moffat: Did you listen by chance or were you fairly selective, I mean to be more specific did you ever listen to some of the well relatively few some of those radio features programmes that were broadcast in the ‘30s. I mean you could have heard them by chance but in view of what you later did that might be I imagine not?

Philip Donnellan: I do remember, I do remember hearing, although not consciously registering, at least one episode of Laurence Gilliam’s Shadow of the Swastika in 1939. I must have heard that and I suspect that, ah no I wasn't at school in 1939 or was I, yes I was, I suspect that at school people would have talked about this and I might easily have heard about it heard of it on the House radio set, wireless set sorry. But I can’t and I don't think there was any positive image of the BBC. My mother, my father loved ITMA and my mother disapproved of anything so clearly designed for common people to listen to as ITMA. On the other hand if my sister put on classical music especially sopranos she would instantly reject that and say “Oh that screeching woman” and so on. Colin Moffat: What did she like?

Philip Donnellan: I don't remember, light music I would think.  Talks I have no doubt that my father must have enjoyed these but whether he was allowed to listen to them I honestly don't know.

Colin Moffat: Had you listened to Children’s Hour?

Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: In the ‘20s?

Philip Donnellan: Absolute passionate Radio Circle and I remember my my birthday being chanted and it was the excitement of all time but today's birthdays until they got to be 12,000 or something you know and Uncle Mac would say “Hello Philip” or whatever the hell it was. And we wore Radio Circle badges and so on you know that was really important. Toy town and all those mildly improving funny things which remain to me in my mind in my memory to this day I can still hear.

Colin Moffat: Do you think it had much …

Philip Donnellan: Larry the Lamb.

Colin Moffat: Did it have much impact on your life, socially or culturally?

Philip Donnellan: No I don’t think so. Can't recall that it did. Stephen King-Hall always used to finish in the same way “Now children I'm going to say goodbye I’m going to say good night but don't forget” how did it go it's not important anyway it was a standard finish.  We did listen to Stephen King-Hall talking about current affairs that may well have been that's an interesting point that may have been one of the factors as well as newspaper headlines that that reminded me of events that were happening around.

Colin Moffat: Are you talking about Stephen King-Hall on Children’s Hour?

Philip Donnellan: On Children’s Hour.

Colin Moffat: Yes, yes.

Philip Donnellan: That's right I mean probably …

Colin Moffat: You think this set something off in your mind or in your identity?

Philip Donnellan: No. No I don't think so. I think we were I think we were the most conventional ordinary unthinking middle class audience. I do think that life was infinitely less analytical then than it is now.

Colin Moffat: I'm surprised you think it all didn't influence you if that’s what your are saying?

Philip Donnellan: Well it's not that I don't think it didn't influence me but I can't remember possible points of influence. I probably did.

Colin Moffat: I mean the general tone of procedure the general tone of BBC Radio.

Philip Donnellan: But what sort of influence are you suggesting …

Colin Moffat: Well class, class.  I mean of course you weren’t aware of it at the time [LAUGH] but I mean looking looking back on it now I mean you didn't think it formed you in any way, it wasn’t one of the factors?

Philip Donnellan: But what did it form?

Colin Moffat: I mean into the sort of person you were up to about the end of the Second World War.

Philip Donnellan: No no no no I think, I think the the the general style of the home surroundings that the the tone the reflection in our home surroundings of our relationship with people of other classes upper or lower had a much more powerful effect than any of these external influences. In school in school I suspect that the basic trend was artistic influences. For instance at school I spent a lot of time in the theatre, I spent a lot of time in the print shop I did printing and and theatre as an essential part of my school life.

End Side 3

BECTU History Project Interview with Philip Donnellan – documentary, writer, producer

Interview Date(s): 28 & 29 June 1991

Interview number: 206

Interviewer: Colin Moffat

Side 4

Philip Donnellan: Yes I don’t know whether that is true ...
Colin Moffat: Hang on.  Philip Donnellan side 4.

Philip Donnellan: Now then where were we?

Colin Moffat: School, listening to the radio.
Philip Donnellan: I haven't got very much to add to that because I think reaction, my reaction to the BBC and to the environment of the Midlands in the widest sense scribbled the annotations on that blank page which was which was my political and social consciousness not my memory which is a different thing altogether. I started to realise um I suppose I you see I had a a what’s it called a troop or platoon or section, the terminology was different in every ground unit of the Army, in the commandos in in Five Commando we had sections, a lieutenant commanded a section which consisted of three subsections each of whom was commanded by a sergeant which was a higher rank than you would find in an ordinary infantry battalion. And one of my section sergeants was an Irish an Anglo, English Irish building worker from Birmingham, one of them was a Kidderminster weaver and one of them was a fresh-faced young man from East Molesey in Surrey.  And they, they treated me with friendly and relaxed informality though as an officer and I issued orders to them as required by the normal everyday protocol of relationships that I and I saw them as very real people but not ones whose social background I could for a moment inhabit because we weren’t in a framework in which I could ask them about it.
But and we didn't relate out of hours by which I mean sitting around a campfire or anything when one was with officers and I didn't question that for a moment.
When we when we came out of the line in Burma we were plonked in beginning of February into uh mangrove swamps, it's quite pleasant place to live there are patches of firm ground. We had to build bashers out of bamboo – bashers is a little hut – each individual and I lived with my Batman who was a bloke called Duddy from Liverpool and he was I suppose he must have been a year or two younger than me which was difficult but nonetheless and we built beds for each other in this confined space and we slept on opposite sides of the room and I never talked to him about, first of all I didn't find him terribly interesting which is the main reason. If he had been a real person who said ‘Sir don't you think sir it's bloody ridiculous that you and I …’ you know if someone had challenged me I would have loved it, I would have been very open to it but nobody ever did and I wouldn't have initiated any sort of conversation, I wouldn't have asked him what it was like living in Liverpool or anything like that. So we never had any conversation. I do remember one very amusing moment when I had my 21st birthday in this mangrove swamp and to my astonishment the Post Corporal came carrying a battered parcel to my basha.  And he said, ‘Parcel for you sir’ and I said ‘What not really?’ and he said, ‘Yes Sir just arrived new lot of mail up today.  No letters I'm afraid Sir’ he said ‘Just a parcel.’  It was a battered looking brown paper parcel and I turned it over and on the back was written from the Officers’ Birthdays Association, Grosvenor Square correctly addressed so on and so on so I opened it and I didn't notice that there were various people watching from points of advantage. And I finally pulled aside the brown paper and in there was an empty seven-pound bully beef tin, an old picture post and a roll of newspaper.  And so for a moment I thought oh that’s funny and within a second of course I realised it was a joke [LAUGHTER] and I fell about laughing and then the other NCOs came in ‘Thought you’d like it Sir’ and so on you know. And of course as being used to that sort of of a joke, my mother was horrified of course how cruel could they be. You know I wrote an ecstatic account of this event.  But now you know that sort of thing I've got a photograph upstairs of the troop, our troop in the jungle after some raid or other and half the blokes in it I can I can recognise now and recall their particular their particular styles habits, feelings about each other and so on although because there's, it's like a strike in a way war and enclosure within a situation of danger with especially with other men and I'm I'm always accused of being very sexist about this but if you've got women in a unit it would be so curious not only on traditional terms but in terms of of upsetting a very enclosed monastic situation between men. It was an extraordinary, in a sense humanly politicising, experience just like anybody who had been on strike for one day suddenly changes they suddenly realise what it is to act collectively in a situation in which you have ostensibly no bargaining power but you make bargaining power by being together and that's what an army is like. And that's why I found it so interesting I think even though I didn't understand, didn't have any context against which to put this the sense and and congealed by a class consciousness which had told me that I was bound to be an officer because I had that sort of background and it would have been so much better if I had been mature enough to stick out against that and just been a Lance Corporal or Private or whatever but it was unthinkable.

Colin Moffat: Um that um that background presumably was not unhelpful when you put in for this BBC job. Your war record would probably look quite good didn’t it on paper?  Did you submit it?
Philip Donnellan: No I don’t think they took any ...
Colin Moffat: Oh you don’t think so?

Philip Donnellan: No, I wouldn’t have thought so.

Colin Moffat: I thought the BBC were quite interested in people’s military and naval experience.

Philip Donnellan: Maybe. Nobody said anything about it to me.
Colin Moffat: You didn't have to describe it in your application form, what what ranks you held and where you’d been?
Philip Donnellan: Maybe I did but that would have been quite conventional I mean any firm might have asked that and I did it because I …

Colin Moffat: I thought the BBC were particularly interested in, and it always had been right from you know 1922 Savoy Hill and so on.  In fact one almost got preference if you had held ranks …

Philip Donnellan: Very likely.

Colin Moffat: … one of those commission ranks. I mean it was just thought that it would be more helpful make you make more qualified to hold down some sort of middle job …
Philip Donnellan: Well it is true, it's true obviously from the outside from outside of oneself to feel that: I was 23 when I left the army and I'd been for a year General Staff Officer Intelligence in a fortress headquarters at 23. That does suggest that this guy must have some level of competence, which is a little bit exceptional.  From inside I knew that this was all bullshit that I'd got that job by sweet talking that that I didn't speak Spanish, I knew nothing about the job, I was no more responsible than any other officer but I could just bullshit and so I didn't feel that myself that my service career was of any real significance.  I suspect but again I have to enter that that warning about the myths that you think you remember I don't know what I felt and I don't remember those questions that you mentioned as being an important part of any interview. After all they were looking for an announcer …

Colin Moffat: Yes I was just going to say …

Philip Donnellan: They weren’t looking for for anybody …
Colin Moffat: It really had very little bearing on announcing.

Philip Donnellan: No none at all.

Colin Moffat: What was it like that job? Can you describe the job?

Philip Donnellan: Yes I can. First of all I had to wear a suit and a tie which I did of course because that was quite conventional it was unthinkable not to in a sense in those days.

Colin Moffat: Did it seem odd at the time? Did it seem odd …

Philip Donnellan: No, not a bit.

Colin Moffat: … to any of you?

Philip Donnellan: No, not a bit.

Colin Moffat: Why not?

Philip Donnellan: Because everybody wore suits and ties.

Colin Moffat: But I mean you're invisible there in Broadcasting House. Philip Donnellan: Well I don't see the point you are making.

Colin Moffat: Why should it matter what you wear?

Philip Donnellan: Oh yes it was, everybody wore ties for example.

Colin Moffat: You mean the entire staff, literally, almost?

Philip Donnellan: Oh yeah, yeah, oh yeah. And I felt the need even before I left for Birmingham with my other five suits to have a grey, not pinstripe but a smart sort of bookish suit made which I had made by a tailor and it cost me nineteen pounds.  And I bought a bowler hat, I bought a hairy bowler hat known as a Coke hat, beautiful things they were …

Colin Moffat: Did you go to Jermyn Street for that or nearby probably?

Philip Donnellan: Yes somewhere nearby.
Colin Moffat: Yes. St James Street.

Philip Donnellan: It was Lockes it was a Locke hat.

Colin Moffat: St James Street?

Philip Donnellan: Yes St James Street and I had this hairy bowler hat and I wore it.

Colin Moffat: Did other announcers wear bowler hats?

Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: Nothing unusual.
Philip Donnellan: They all wore cut away Windsor collars and Windsor tie,  not Windsor collars, Windsor tie you know this great broad knot that the Duke of Windsor had pioneered and all this rubbish. And I always carried a walking stick once I'd been, because in the army always carried a walking stick and had always done instead of a swagger stick. And when I went into civilian life I continued and I I collected walking sticks and some of them are outside there now and I collected walking sticks until I find something else to lean on which was a wife. And I'm sure that this is …

Colin Moffat: It is very difficult to understand now why a man sitting with a microphone announcing should have to wear a suit or indeed why it should matter what on earth he's wearing.
Philip Donnellan: But they wore bow ties …

Colin Moffat: I simply can't understand.

Philip Donnellan: They wore bow ties and dinner jackets and Stuart Hibbert wore spats but that was just a foible.

Colin Moffat: There is …

Philip Donnellan: You asked me about the job. Well I remember the first news I had to read, which was I think a sort of codicil to the main news and therefore I had another announcer with me, probably somebody called MacIntyre, I forget his first name.  And we, we went in and of course I was nervous I mean it is nervous making a first broadcast and, and of course it was like falling off a log I just read it.  And after that after that moment of fear it was a thoroughly boring job. But I did realise that you met all sorts of interesting people and if I was … Now this took some time but if you were sent to announce Reggie Smith’s, a Reggie Smith feature in a studio just across the road, then Reggie would put his arm round you and say “Now dear boy what I want you to do is this, this and this”. And it was all rather nice and you met other people as you would have done but of course as a non-participant I always felt marginalised by being an announcer because I wanted to be in there doing this not merely providing ‘This is this is the BBC Home Service’ or whatever it was.  I didn't want to be doing that I wanted to be directing, producing it or acting in it or doing some dotty thing, a participant …

Colin Moffat: But not immediately you didn’t feel this surely?

Philip Donnellan: Sorry
Colin Moffat: You didn't feel this right from the beginning?

Philip Donnellan: No, no, no, no certainly not. It was a growing feeling that announcing was a complete fraud a waste of time, the status was, was high and the creative rewards the creative rewards were zero. Certainly within six months I felt that fairly acutely but again I may overestimate I may have short circuited this thing but once I went to Birmingham there was a little more involvement but really negligible.
Colin Moffat: What was the point of your move to Birmingham?
Philip Donnellan: The point was to fill a job vacancy.
Colin Moffat: But you had a job at Broadcasting House Langham Place.
Philip Donnellan: I think I was probably on the announcers’ reserve and that therefore the role as it's quite conventional in various areas of the BBC, certainly at that time, was to establish a reserve like a secretarial reserve you establish a, depending on your budgets, a dozen spare secretaries highly competent shorthand and typing speeds up to things that you could slot them in wherever there was a need and in the same way there was, was an announcing reserve which probably consisted of two or three announcers who could be put in for jobs as soon as they became vacant.

Colin Moffat: Was the job in Birmingham a better job in grade terms and money and so on?

Philip Donnellan: No. No.

Colin Moffat: No.

Philip Donnellan: In fact the first point on which I seriously fell out with the BBC was that I was told when I went to until I went to Birmingham … no sorry I'll rephrase that … I was paid at a certain level say seven or eight pounds a week when I was in London I was then posted to Birmingham and I was told you will stay on your present grade until you've done six months after which you will automatically go on to a higher grade. And when six months had passed which was then by which time I was in Birmingham I was told that I would not be put on to a higher grade because I'd been a naughty boy. Now I forget what that piece of naughtiness was it was probably stepping outside the norms of announcing like making a comment when I was announcing the middle of the night orchestra or something like that. And and I honestly forget but I was reminded at once that of something that in after years I found deeply irksome that you were expected to obey to the letter what the BBC told you but they could change their mind at any point. If they had made an undertaking to me that after six months I would go up in salary they didn't say provided you are a good boy. And I didn't deliberately set out to be a bad boy but they instantly broke their undertakings.  So I protested about this to them to the Programme Head, Dennis Morris and this has continued throughout my expense of the BBC that they can change they can move the goalposts whenever they like but if you start to move the goalposts or cut them down then by Christ you are subversive if not worse.  And I find that very irksome, I believed in a certain level of honesty in between Master and Man or whatever the thing you’d like to say the thing was although I wasn't prepared to be particularly honest with them and so I don’t suppose they wanted to be honest with me, I don’t know.
Colin Moffat: Had you behaved well in London?

Philip Donnellan: Oh impeccably I’m sure.

Colin Moffat: Yes.  So the move to Birmingham was nothing, it was not a case of this …

Philip Donnellan: Oh no.

Colin Moffat: I think we’ll move this man out of …?
Philip Donnellan: Certainly not. Not like the Archie Harding occasion when Harding was moved to Manchester you remember and Reith is supposed to have said, “I think you'd better go to Manchester Harding. You can do less harm up there.” Well no there was nothing like that.
Colin Moffat: Well perhaps at this point you should say something about those who don't know the structure of the BBC about this Birmingham place you were going to was the Midland Region of the BBC.

Philip Donnellan: The Midland Region of the BBC.

Colin Moffat: You had better say something about regional, regional broadcasting how it fits in.

Philip Donnellan: Based at 282 Broad Street, Birmingham.

Colin Moffat: Why, why did the BBC need stations out of, a country as small as England, why did they need these provincial centres?
Philip Donnellan: I think you'll have to read Asa Briggs to find out that, a history of broadcasting.

Colin Moffat: Can you give us a note on it?

Philip Donnellan: I can tell you what I perceived which was that without any question I was posted to Birmingham and there were three important members of the hierarchy: one was the controller a man called Percy Edgar and Percy Edgar had been in broadcasting since 1922 when the first BBC wireless station started in Birmingham it had a call sign which was 5IT and it was based in part of the BSA, Birmingham Small Arms Factory in Witton to the north of Birmingham a working class area of Aston.  And he was the controller and Percy Edgar retired three weeks after I arrived in Birmingham, I arrived in Birmingham on April 3rd 1948, snowed the next day, which wasn't a good impression at all. His son Barry Edgar became the first television OB producer in Birmingham in 1949 or ‘50. And their son …

Colin Moffat: David Edgar.

Philip Donnellan: ... is the radical playwright who now convulses now and again the English theatre with materials of one sort or another. I'm going to take my mic off and I’ll come back in a mo, I must go and have a pee.

The regional system existed of course because of the transmitter pattern.
There were two programmes broadly speaking available to most people in the country: one was a national programme transmitted from London and the other was a regional programme which provided a degree of difference from the national programme and was designed specifically to interest those listeners in the various regions. There were three national regions the north based in Manchester, the Midlands based in Birmingham and the West based in Bristol and then there were, I'm sorry those weren't the national regions those were the English regions.  The national regions were of course Scotland based in Glasgow, Northern Ireland based in Belfast and Wales based in Cardiff.  Now there was no apparent distinction except I believe that the national regions got slightly larger programme allowances.

Now I'll go back to the to the people whom one with whom one was involved in the Birmingham region and I remember one of the things that caught my attention particularly when I arrived in Birmingham in this very discreet little building on Broad Street and then only three or four hundred yards from the centre of the city was that there were still steel shutters on the windows which had presumably been put there during the war and they were still there and there was a sense of the place being a sort of fortress. Now in after years, though not at the time, I felt very strongly that we were rather like a sort of imperial outpost in in a British city. I referred to to us a long time afterwards as being sorts of ‘clerks of cultural dominion’ who broadcast to the natives yet were never part of their lives and I still think that's true. We were strangely isolated by reason of the work we did and the status that that work appeared to offer us in the world at large. Now when I arrived in Birmingham, I found out afterwards, there were about 154 of a total staff in Birmingham and the producers who were at the head of the sort of apex the hierarchical system there were producers in the fields of talks, there were two talks producers, there was one drama producer, there was an agricultural producer, there was a children's hour producer and there were two features producers Robin Whitworth, who had come after the war from North region where he'd been involved in that extraordinary Marxist outpost in Manchester under a man called Archie Harding, although he had spent the war organising the Friend's Ambulance Unit the pacifist group who only served as ambulance men or women during the war. Robin was an old Etonian, a very cool customer indeed and particularly interested in the field of industry. The other features producer and I mentioned them because I eventually became a features producer was Edward Livesey. Livesey was a young man who I think had been attacked by polio in his youth he had a limp and he died not long afterwards at the age of 39.  He was a highly talented person who like all of us all, of us in features um was really involved in drama production because the work that we did although it was nominally geared to contemporary reality or even historical reality was actually performed with actors in the studio and the programmes went out live of course since there was no effective or cheap means of recording.
Now nearly all my critical feelings about the BBC are were framed afterwards. At the time as one of three announcers I just saw it all with a vague sense of wonderment I thought it was extraordinarily worthy and I thought also that the people concerned in it, the people who were producers were very nice people and I was impressed by their sense of ordinariness and I don’t mean their dullness I mean their ordinary sense of humanity, they weren’t went sort of gods and goddesses which in a sense I'd been led to believe about the people who were producers in the BBC they were very ordinary down to earth rational people although I believe they were caught up just as I was in a sort of large-scale factory system. Now the bosses of the factory were, in Birmingham, the programme head known as the Head of Midland Region Programmes, HMRP, the passion for initials also struck me straight away in the BBC everybody seemed to be identifiable by a set of initials. So the programme head as he was called for short was the Head of Midland Regional Programmes and his assistant David Gretton was the assistant head AHMRP and then the controller known as the CMR, the Controller Midland Region was formerly Percy Edgar, though as I've said he left three weeks later and his place was taken by a man called John Dunkerley and he surfaced for a number of years there during a lot of my time as a radio producer.  But of course at first I wasn't a radio producer I was just a bloody announcer and announcers who were in a way the the slaves of all the producers in other words they had to come along and announce to the waiting public what was going to happen in this programme. I'm not doing this very well at all in fact I feel rather off-key about this.
Colin Moffat: Well there is some useful information there. What you haven't actually said where these programmes went to, a proportion of them went on the network and others were local programmes were they?
Philip Donnellan: Yes the, the first, the primary, the primary function of the region was of course to broadcast to its own audience the eight million people who were in the, within the transmitter area. But it also had a secondary but while being secondary paradoxically a much more important role for those people who produce programmes and that was to contribute material to the network.  It was important to producers because if you've got your programmes on the network the costs of that transmission where repaid from central funds to the region so the programme was free as it were to the region.  But much more important than that because we weren’t at least, I wasn't the slightest bit concerned about money at that time, was that it was a feather in your cap if you created programmes which got on the national air there was a much higher degree of status in getting them on the national air, partly because at the centre the regions were always regarded as second rate and the overwhelming thing about working in a region was that you were not thought good enough to work at the Centre. Now to a great extent that's still true forty or fifty years later if you're in a region it's because you’re in some way not good enough. 
Now those of us who are really committed to the regional idea and I gradually grew up and was indoctrinated into the regional idea with a quite ferocious degree of passion as time went on to defend the regional idea at all costs and to insist that we were just as good as those people who were in London.  It was a perfectly natural response obviously for people who were incarcerated in a strange industrial city but it also had all sorts of effect on your career.

So the fact was that throughout my service with the exception of two years in the ‘60s I always insisted on working in a region and I did so for a variety of reasons which didn't occur to me at first but as time went on and I found that the work, especially later when I when I went into television, I found that the work I wanted to do was not absolutely in line with what people in London wanted me to do. I found that being in a region was quite a useful way of evading the controls of the Centre so that while at first I wanted to stay in the region because I much preferred the scenery if you like eventually I realised that it was a singularly important area of manoeuvre to keep out of sight of the of those people who were ultimately the controllers of our destinies and therefore the controllers of our programmes was a major way of trying to do what you wanted to do.

And just as I had you know in a curious rather bleak way had managed to manoeuvre my way into various situations in the army and had managed to do, to a certain extent, what I wanted to do or felt that my destiny as you might say lay in doing in the same way that I found that the institution of the BBC, although nothing like the army in organisation or in morale, was rather a similar organisation in which if you were tenacious, determined, with a modest degree of talent and at the same time mildly devious you could actually do the things that you felt were important rather than those things that the institution itself felt were important.

Colin Moffat: What was the characteristic of the regional programme as opposed to London? Are you suggesting there was something rather special about the Birmingham programmes or is it or is it this freedom you’re really concerned about?

Philip Donnellan: Yeah.  To a great extent I thought that and I still believe that people in the region now whether that would still be true all I say is that I still believe it was true then, whether it's still true today is another matter altogether I do think the BBC has produced has transformed its managerial patterns so as to allow far less room for individual producers or even individual collection of producers such as you find in a region far less room for them to affect BBC policy in any significant way than was than was possible at one time. So yes the, the crucial thing to me at the time once I became a producer in radio or in television was that I did feel we had a much greater degree of freedom to decide what we should do and this was because the programme head, the man at the top in the region or near the top, not of course right at the top the controller, first of all he had individual capacity to rely on the judgment and skills of his producers and he had independent funding because the regions each region got a weekly allowance, in Birmingham’s case I believe in the ‘40s it was about £2,500 a week to produce a significant number of programmes which were taken on the regional networks and not on the national network.  So they could actually create an audience loyalty by deploying familiar names, familiar productions different to those that were obtainable on the national service. Now that was quite an exciting challenge and to me anyway who was always interested, deeply interested as time went on in this new experience, the experience of becoming familiar with the people of the region and the full scope and extent of this extraordinary region that I'd been dropped into the middle of. As I became more and more familiar with and if you like excited by that the more in a way one wanted to serve that definable or you felt it was a definable group of people even if there were 8 million of them. I haven't described that very well but it's the sense of growing regional loyalty but it's a regional loyalty that also wanted to push out the boundaries of what you were doing not just because it was a test of your own skill or understanding and increasing mastery of the forms of radio or eventually television but because also you felt it did serve the interests of a definable audience.

Colin Moffat: What about subject matter? I mean I presume that the idea was the material, which was turned into dramas and features and so on was actually to be drawn from the area was it? I mean where possible.

Philip Donnellan: There was no clear or written brief about this and the whole process was in a curious way very vague. You were expected to within a comparatively short time to understand the way the BBC went about things and the sort of ideas and standards that you were expected to pursue in terms of programmes.  Innovation was not something that you were expected to pursue very strongly whereas conforming to a standard norm both of the sort of programmes you produced and the quality of, of material you produced and of your own personal behaviour were absolutely definable and were frequently defined in terms of approval or disapproval for the things that one did.
I shan't, shan’t quickly forget the, the way in which I started to be defined as rather a naughty boy because of things that either happened or or I did. For instance I remember I'd been an announcer in Birmingham about six months before I was asked to go and talk to the Derby Rotary Club, a collection of gentlemen in Derby.  Well I'd been to Derby several times and I knew roughly what the Rotary Club was like and so I went to Derby Rotary Club and we had a pleasant evening and I told them what the BBC was like to work in and they seemed to enjoy it enormously because I just told them what I felt about the place and what a strange experience it was after being in the army and the sort of transformation of one's lifestyle between being in the army and being in the BBC.

Colin Moffat: I mean were you discreet or did you include criticism?

Philip Donnellan: Well, I didn't know whether I'd been discreet. I didn't try to be discreet it didn't occur to me I mean they'd asked me to come and tell them what life was like in the BBC and I told them.

Colin Moffat: Mmmmm …

Philip Donnellan: But afterwards I mean many years later or several years later I was told that my talk had been described to the Controller Midland Region who is the fountainhead of the diplomatic skills we were supposed to exercise that it was exciting but indiscreet and, and I wasn't asked again. And I remember when I was on the verge of moving out of announcing and becoming a sort of assistant producer, not assistant to anybody but just an assistant producer, a sort of cut rate producer I'd been on holiday and I'd grown a beard and it was it wasn't a sort of scraggly hippy type beard it was rather a well drilled, well groomed fine golden red beard I thought, I thought it was rather nice. Well the programme had called me in and said “Oh incidentally Philip I think you ought to shave your beard off. Announcers have to appear in public and I don't think that's consonant with the image of the BBC.” I was absolutely amazed at this I couldn't imagine my telling anybody, I didn't think of myself as a manager, but I couldn't imagine anybody telling somebody whether they'd got to shave or not unless they were just unshaven which of course none of us would have dreamt of being in those days. So I reacted very strongly against this and I didn't shave, I didn't shave my beard off and I was boarded for this for a job that had been created especially for me in order to get me out of announcing and I appeared bearded in front of the board and I didn't get the job and nobody else was appointed to the job and I shaved my beard off the day after the board and I was appointed to the job three months later. It was a finger wagging exercise ‘now then you have to do or you'll be punished if you do these sort of things.’ And I um …

Colin Moffat: Did most people toe the line in these different ways? Or did did your view of the BBC at that stage was it shared by others, your colleagues? Philip Donnellan: There was one, there was one chap who'd been a a bomber pilot in the air force during the war and he'd been shot down in 1940 and he’d spent five years in in a prison camp. And he came back from the war and the two characteristic things about him was that he had an enormous amount of money all his back pay for five years and so he had far more money than any of the rest of us and so he bought a car which none of us could even think of doing in those days. And secondly he, he had lots of spare energy to get rid of so he spent it in all the usual young man's pursuits and he and I were the sort of tearaways of the place the fact that we were probably the only two ex-servicemen on the staff at that time although most people had been involved in the war but not necessarily actually involved in the fighting part of the war. So I think the two of us were, were fairly on our own. But he quickly got married to a rather upstaged lady who was the daughter of a solicitor in Birmingham, quite a distinguished solicitor and she quickly tamed him so he knuckled under very quickly and I was never sure why I continued to be so difficult about authority. I'd never been persistently anti-authority after all I had represented authority by being an officer in the Army and I hadn't expected people not to do what I asked or told them to do. But I found myself reacting to the BBC in that increasingly as the years went on I disliked the way the BBC behaved towards its staff. First of all I was very, very conscious as time went on, not at once because I didn't have the leisure or even the intellect to start considering the formation of this institution in any detail, I became aware of a profound class difference between what I was and what for example the engineers were who were a crucial part of the whole process of transmission.  Probably 50% or even more of the people on the staff of the BBC in Birmingham were engineers but they were they were regarded broadly speaking, and I'm only using it as an indication of a class relationship, they would have been normally regarded as working class people whereas we the producers were regarded as middle-class or even upper-class.  And this was really part of the distinctive nature of the BBC as I began to understand it.  Now I didn't particularly object to that I didn't say you know this is ridiculous these chaps are all in the business together. But as soon as we became politicised which was some years later I started to try and take a more active interest and about that time I had a particular colleague, whom I'll mention in a minute or so, who saw this even more powerfully than I did. Now I would say that the results of that tradition in the BBC, that is that engineers were completely separated from production, and this wasn't any from the production side the engineers themselves thought they had a deeply important role in controlling equipment and forms of development and forms of transmission which were no business of the production people at all so they kept us at arm's length in the same way that we kept them at arm's length. After all even if they were working class people they had two things going for them: they had absolutely definable skills, their capacity to understand the forms of equipment however simple they were in those days which they controlled in order to broadcast the material we created. Secondly they were almost invariably either in or on the verge of being in the union and those were experiences which most producers knew nothing about at all most of our skills were literary skills or quasi literary or journalistic skills which were very ill defined. You could find yourself, I mean as an announcer what skills did I have other than reading words off a page in a particular accent a class accent.  So that all these things started over a long period of time because I was a I was a long service producer at the BBC these things started to irritate me mildly or rather to shape the ways in which I reacted politically more in the world outside of anything than inside the institution because I couldn't find any particular ways in which that view of the institution as a political organism could be made to stick. Nobody else felt like this as far as I could tell even there was a very sophisticated talks producer, David Bryson, who had worked in America with Bertrand Russell during the war and he very probably, I've got no means of actually knowing, had I think been a Communist Party member in the during the war and he was a man of great sophistication and wide contacts.  But I never gathered from talking or casual conversations in the club or the canteen I never gathered that that David Bryson's …

End Side 4

Start Side 5

Colin Moffat: This is Philip Donnellan side 5.  OK.
Philip Donnellan: Even David Bryson didn't seem to me to have in the conversations we had in the office or the club or the canteen or the sort of knockabout arguments we had he never gave me an impression that he had any more critical or analytical view of the institution than anyone else. I would have expected him to be the first person to say why are we doing this broadcasting in this way with these curiously ill-defined attitudes and feelings and directions because that ultimately is the way I felt about it but not yet I don't want to represent that, that at this stage I am talking now about say 1949/1950 I had the faintest inkling of such an analysis. I was perfectly happy with the BBC, as it was all I was concerned about was what it was going to do for and with me.
Colin Moffat: These what you call the class divisions between the producers and the engineers and so on did it … what of course ultimately matters is what effect this possibly had on the programme. You know from the point of view of the outsiders does it, does it, did it matter? I mean did it, did it … OK you became aware of this to some extent and maybe others but so what?
Philip Donnellan: Yes. Well I think that's a justifiable question and I do think that it had a significant effect. First of all if you, if you consider the two sides of what I call the class split the engineers and the production: production was supposed to supply if you like literary, creative talents to the equation and the engineers were in control of the technology even if it wasn't very advanced technology at that time. They controlled the processes of recording, the processes of the transmission the processes of, of assisting the creation of studio programmes such as studio engineers they were called in those days or programme engineers.
Now it seemed to me subsequently that the only way in which you could achieve real progress, creative progress in the interests of an audience in broadcasting, whether in radio or in television, was a combination of these talents. That technology was just as vital in the interests of creating new forms innovation and progress as the creative talents of the producers there was no use having one without the other. And what we were apparently doing was to exclude the engineering side from any involvement, any significant involvement except as a sort of wage slave with the processes of broadcasting.
Colin Moffat: Wasn't there a time fully occupied in maintaining the equipment and operating it?  What’s, what’s wrong with that.

Philip Donnellan: Well in, in all working situations especially one in which you, people were closely knit and worked such long and sporadic hours as broadcasting there was, there could have been a lot of interaction between those two sides if you like. It was perfectly possible for engineers, of any grades because they were all in broadcasting in some form or other, to be involved in discussion with producers about the nature of the product and the way in which new ideas and new forms in radio could have been developed. Because when new forms were developed later particularly I'm thinking of the radio ballads in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s these were purely a combination of new technology, developed by engineering skill and creative ideas from people who were writers or composers or musicians of one sort or another. So I take the view looking back on it that the BBC’s role in trying to push forward, to roll forward the capacity of radio to talk in realistic terms, in terms that were useful as well as entertaining to the audience that technology could enormously have advanced that cause if it, if there had been full integration between the two sides in broadcasting. Now …
Colin Moffat: Do you think they wanted this, wouldn't have wanted this had it been proposed?

Philip Donnellan: No I don't think so, I don't think at first they would have been, would have wanted that and in fact there was very often resistance to this. For instance engineering were terribly hostile to the idea of producers handling technical equipment and there was an absolute refusal to allow people to handle recording gear and stuff like this. Yet when the tape recorder came in 1954 and became increasingly common property among producers it was always the producers who were able to go out with that new technology and use it.

Now these barriers were artificial, they may have had traditional roots in the way the BBC had behaved since 1922 but given the situation we were faced with after the war I believe the BBC’s limited view of the way in which technology and creativity could be integrated was responsible for a very, very halting progress towards effective innovation in broadcasting. One of the most important areas of this and one in which the BBC lagged completely behind most of European broadcasting systems was that, it was in the move towards tape recording.  At the end of the war the BBC was the possessor of an enormous system of broadcasting, the biggest in Europe probably the biggest in the world because for five years and more it had been the host, the communications host to a whole range of exiled broadcasters whose countries had been overrun and who had arrived in Britain in the hope of continuing to transmit their message to the occupied countries. And this the BBC arranged for them to do.

Now as a result of that and as a result of the BBC having been equipped since the middle ‘30s or even a little bit earlier than that with disc recording they had to develop those technical resources that they had full command of which was disc recording. So there were enormous number of disc recording channels created during the war in order to service those exiled broadcasters. At the end of the war the BBC found itself lagging far behind in that area of technology just in the general industrial scene they found themselves with outdated equipment when all the countries that had had their industrial base destroyed had to start ab initio in creating a new industrial form and in broadcasting all the European countries turned over to tape. Germany had had tape since the, perhaps since the middle ‘30s I'm not sure of the exact date but certainly their frontline reporting units all used tape recorders in the field.  At the end of the war the BBC acquired, as war loot, a number of German frontline tape recorders. They were very heavy, very ponderous but they worked extremely efficiently. Even with those as models the BBC research and development department which was of course part of engineering division failed to produce any sort of workable tape recorder until 1950 and then what they produced was not the equipment that we needed that an awful lot of broadcasters who were aware of the possibilities of new technology although they'd never seen any. They didn't produce the gear that we needed in the field what they did was to produce huge machines for recording off-transmission in fixed studio situations. They produced static recording channels and not the sort of mobile tape that was desperately needed to invigorate and advance the cause of programme making. So that area of technology was enormously limited first of all by the huge investment in, in contemporary but outdated technology during wartime. So it's legitimate to understand that, I'm not blaming the BBC it was in a, in a profound technical bind. First of all like the rest of Britain at the end of the war the BBC was pretty broke and I've heard the estimate offered of it needing £225,000 an enormous sum in those days to turn over from disc to tape. Well the money wasn't available and so for years after the war we were left with disc recording technology as the fundamental basis of the sort of reporting that at all costs needed something quicker, more responsive to modern needs and the advancing needs of younger people who were coming into broadcasting and freer people who were coming into broadcasting.

Colin Moffat: You're talking of course about the, the tradition of programmes being uh studio base, which had been the BBC’s arrangement right from the beginning.  Right?
Philip Donnellan: Yes, yes that’s broadly true I think.

Colin Moffat: The point before the tape recorder came in I mean were you, were you looking you were becoming interested in production and probably thinking of getting a job as producer or something. Did you before, before you realized there were, it was possible to have portable tape recorders presumably you, you, you would still have thought of becoming a studio based producer that I mean until you know a thing has arrived you don't really see its potential do you? Right?

Philip Donnellan: No of course you don't. You work with, with the tools that you've got and I think I referred a bit earlier to a sort of literary based culture, which dominated most of our responses that time we weren't a technology based outfit at all. Most of the producers in one way or another thought of the pen or the typewriter as the most crucial instrument so that scripts were created written, typed, put into people's hands and people broadcast from scripts.

Now again this was a tradition that had started in the ‘30s in one way or another and had been heavily endorsed by wartime censorship. For instance, during the war there wasn't one single broadcast that wasn't committed to paper and could be pre-censored and people sat in the studio with a sensor key under their hand and if people departed from the script the broadcast was cut-off. They were deeply aware of the potential dangers of broadcasting, as it all was, being picked up abroad and providing information for the enemy. So that the practical process of censorship, which has caused such ripples in the sense of the vital need for a freedom of information instrument in this country and was particularly dramatised in the Falklands War and in the Gulf War, those, those techniques and skills of censorship were developed a very long time ago, just as of course they were sharpened in all sorts of technological ways by the British presence, the British oppressive presence I would say, in the north of Ireland over the past 20 years.

Colin Moffat: The you’re, you're really talking aren’t you about the, the tradition of the BBC Radio tradition of, of words, scripted words being the medium that radio was not in fact a distinctive medium separate from the theatre.  I mean it merely reflected, it was almost a version of theatre on the dramatic side and the rest was journalism I mean the news and discussion programmes were perfectly possible as studio programmes it can't have been obvious really what, what this tape recorder was going to do. I mean in a county like ours you know where words are the stuff of life, I mean we all communicate with words and government works by written documents and so on and so forth. Not surprising is it that the BBC simply fitted into this and reflected it all.
Philip Donnellan: Yes. But one of the fascinating things is if you, if you look at a BBC file from well anytime between 1932 right through to 1965 what you find in there is the exchange of memoranda between producers and management, between department and department couched in extremely well phrased and sometimes profoundly elegant and eloquent memoranda. It’s the, the level and standards of judgment written down on paper are really deeply impressive while at the same time appearing extraordinarily ponderous way of conducting business. On the other hand I mean if I am anything and I'm not really anything, I like to think I'm a historian I'm very addicted to the study of history and to contributing in some way to history. Now if you look at one of those, if you take one of those BBC files between 1930 and 1960 what you've got is an extraordinarily detailed statement of the way in which a particular cultural institution operates and whether you like it or not it's all down there in writing. If you look at a file of the 1980s you'll find to your horror that there are no statements of position, or intention, or hope, or expression, or creativity in the file at all almost everything is conducted on the telephone.  And I have talked to the BBC’s written archive centre at Caversham and they are even now lamenting the quality of the written material, which is the only stuff with which they can deal. Nowadays producers don't write elegant memoranda or analytical statements about the qualities or defects of their programmes or critical analysis of other people's it's all done on the telephone.  So people ring up and say ‘Liked your programme the other night old boy.’ ‘Oh thanks a lot, did you think the so-and-so worked?’ And the conversation goes on for 3 or 4 minutes or 20 minutes or an hour and there's nothing left on the file at all to indicate what the formal processes of internal criticism are doing either to the illumination of other people, the expansion of programme possibilities within as it were a closed circuit system. I think that's a great pity and I've always tried both in terms of responding to the public uh after a programme, I've always tried to be as honest and open as possible about what my hopes and intentions are and to put them down so that they're there as a record of the way in which a particular mind created a particular programme. And I don't know what the answer is I suppose there isn't an answer except if all telephone calls were recorded which is a ridiculous idea.

Colin Moffat: Well in a sense then you are defending the true tradition as far as useful communication within the BBC.

Philip Donnellan: Yeah. Yeah.

Colin Moffat: As far as that's concerned you're not, you don't object to that. In fact it’s rather better …

Philip Donnellan: Not a bit.

Colin Moffat: … than these informal conversations over the phone.

Philip Donnellan: So many, so many of the, of the institutional practices which with one breath one is profoundly critical with another breath can be seen as important and humane statements about a particular culture working in a particular way. You can be critical of that culture, you can dismiss it, you can reject it, you can operate in different ways but the fact is that it existed during a significant period of time and it had an enormous effect on the country.

But I want to say something more about that because it would be a mistake to think that all our efforts and strivings were literary and that the voice of the people, which is now regarded as a crucial area of history, notably oral history, were non-existent.  Even with disc recording there are things that you could do and I had a striking example of this very early on in what I suppose some people would call my career, I often think of it as a sort of Dante's Inferno. There was a man who was a frequent correspondent with the BBC Midland region. Now I have to explain that because of the location of transmitters, which were all owned by the Post Office the, the BBC regions whose outlines and frontiers were governed by the position of the transmitters sometimes had extremely irregular or curious shapes. For instance, the BBC Midland region based in Birmingham had a perfectly logical pattern around its main transmitter at Sutton Coldfield, it was the service area of that transmitter for probably 40, 50 miles on each side of it but because it had, that transmitter had a subsidiary transmitter right over on the east coast near Norwich the Midland region also included a curiously shaped segment of East Anglia. Well this was, and if you look at it on a map, the word that I'm going to use can become quite vivid it was almost a lung for us because every year we would have an East Anglia week where the cohorts of producers and production staff and engineers would all traipse over to East Anglia and we'd set up shop in East Anglia and we'd broadcast about East Anglian events and with East Anglian people and it was great fun. Now I'd been stationed in East Anglia during my wartime service and I loved the place. And um, to find myself back in East Anglia at that time was a great pleasure.

But now I come back to my story this correspondent, this regular correspondent who at least once a fortnight would write in a bold rather crabbed, rather shaky hand to the BBC commenting on some programme that we'd done which he received over in Lowestoft, right over on the East Coast. And he would occasionally in one of these letters he would say ‘Well I'm a, I'm a very old man I've been listening for many years the BBC and I thought this programme etc., etc.’ whatever he wrote and he'd sign it ‘Yours sincerely, Charlie Andrews’.  And one day soon after I became a sort of fledgling, embryonic type assistant producer one of these letters for some reason or another fell onto my desk and I read this letter and this letter said ‘I'm 93 years old and I was, I was a seaman all my life and I know what I'm talking about.’ It wasn't a vainglorious letter but bloody interesting so I wrote a cordial note back and said ‘Dear Mr Andrews, delighted to have your letter the next time ever I'm ever in Lowestoft I'll come and see you.’

Colin Moffat: Were you a producer at this point?

Philip Donnellan: I was a sort of assistant producer at that point. I had a reasonable degree of self-determination.  And so the next time the opportunity occurred I went and found 295 London Road, Lowestoft and I found it was a sweet shop and I knocked on the, oh I didn't knock on the door I went in and I said ‘I'm looking for Mr Charlie Andrews’ and they said, they looked a bit astonished and they said ‘Why are you from income tax or something?’ And I said ‘I wasn't I from the income tax I was from the BBC in Birmingham’ Oh that impressed them. And so they said ‘Well Mr Andrews is upstairs.’ I said ‘He's pretty old isn’t he?’ And they said ‘Oh yes he's over 90.’ So they took me upstairs and I met this lovely bloke. He was a little old man with a little white beard and rosy cheeks quite unwrinkled, he had a lot of white hair and he was a bit corpulent, rather a short man and he was sitting in a chair and in his bedroom and I was introduced to him and we became friends immediately.  Because the simple reason Charlie Andrews, who was the only son of a man who was head waiter of the Imperial Hotel Dover in 1842 had gone to sea in 1873 and he'd gone deep water the following year and he'd sailed in all the big ships all over the world under the British flag, although he'd been once in an American ship, and he had seen everywhere in the world.  He'd sailed in the Cutty Sark to Shanghai he had, he had a discharge to show that; he'd been to Sydney in the Wool Race; he'd taken pilgrims to Mecca; he'd sailed to San Francisco and been up and down the Barbary Coast as it was called before the earthquake. He had been everywhere he had been dis-mastered in the South Atlantic and every one of these was a well-shaped marvelously organized story that over the years he had told again and again and again to his son Mr Andrews who ran the sweet shop.

Colin Moffat: Did he tell you all this on your first meeting?

Philip Donnellan: No, no.

Colin Moffat: Or he started to?

Philip Donnellan: No I'm gathering all this from a series of meetings. But what I gathered at the first meeting was that the family were bored to death of the old man's stories they had heard them all a dozen times and when this guy from the BBC, this young man, full of enthusiasm full of interest they were absolutely delighted. And of course Charlie was delighted because he could start all over again with a new audience. And I brought something else with me on the next occasion, I brought a recording car and we started to record the story of his life on disc, four minutes per disc, with Peter Castleberg and the recording car in the street below.  And, and I suppose I probably recorded 100, 120, 150 discs of Charlie Andrews talking and telling his stories. And then I took them back to Birmingham and, and we started to edit them and I made, I did three programmes of Charlie's reminiscences which were broadcast time and again on the Light Programme.
Now after a time uh Charlie, I went to see Charlie and he was getting on of course by that time all these things had gone out several times and so on it was two years later he was 95 coming on 96 and one day he said to me when I came in he said ‘I've been discussing with my son’ he said ‘you brought me all this money and I probably got a guinea, couple of guineas for a broadcast maybe even a bit more.’  He said ‘You've got me all this money, I haven't earned any money for 30 or 40 years.’ He said ‘you brought me all this money. I made an agreement with my son that you're going to get half of everything that I get from the BBC.’ So I said ‘No come on Charlie I'm paid by the BBC. It's my job to come out here and find people like you. I'm not going to, I can't take any money it would be quite wrong.’ Well he said ‘No it's all wrong. As far as I'm concerned you're the man that put it in my way and you're the man who should benefit from it the same as I'm doing.’ Well it took me quite a bit of explaining but finally he agreed to keep it all. But he was that sort of man after 40 years at sea he was a man of heart and imagination and so on and he, he was a 19th century seaman and so here for the first time after this gradual build-up, opening up the sort of world that I perceived from within the BBC Birmingham and the potential of it, here was this man who was an extraordinary climax to the process. Of course he wasn't the end of the process at all because constantly if you started looking for them you find people like this about in that world of 1950s.

Colin Moffat: Had this sort of material been recorded from that region before you did?  I mean is this actually almost the first time such a thing had been done?
Philip Donnellan: I don't know that I could, I would, I certainly wouldn't claim that because I don't know it's not a question I've ever been asked before.
Colin Moffat: I mean field recording on mobile disc cutting equipment was happening was it for various reasons?
Philip Donnellan: Yes but it was normally happening for straight journalistic purposes. There were programmes …

Colin Moffat: What sort of programmes?

Philip Donnellan: ... called Round and About for example which was produced by David Martin and Peter Cairns.

Colin Moffat: What Midlands’ magazine?

Philip Donnellan: Yes sort of Midlands’ magazine. You would go out and do a 3 minute interview or a 5 minute interview and that was generally the accepted use of the, of the disc recording machine car.  Or it was for recording effects for drama productions or I suppose, there must have been actual recordings done in the Midland region. There is no question that people like Olive Shapley and the other producers under Archie Harding in, in Manchester certainly did actuality recording before the war.

Colin Moffat: As early as when?

Philip Donnellan: It would be difficult to say precisely, Briggs has probably got some information on that. But I believe that North Region in Manchester had a disc van which had continuous recording facility, in other words two sets of gear, so you could start recording on the second one before you'd finished the first one so you had overlaps because of course normally you would have to stop every 4 minutes while the recording engineer put a new disc on and gave you, told you he was ready, you gave him a 10 second cue he'd start cutting and then you'd, you'd be able to record again three and a half to four minutes.
Colin Moffat: What recording speed was it?
Philip Donnellan: 78.

Colin Moffat: 78 and it gave you about 4 minutes?
Philip Donnellan: Yes it gave you about 4 on soft acetate. Now the problem of soft acetate is the overall problem of editing.  It's great if you can just use those discs once for an interview situation. Even then you had to, you'd have to mark them up for transmission and you'd have to rehearse them so they'd have been played three times by the time they were on transmission. But the very heavy stylus and, and gram heads that we had, probably ten times as heavy as a, as a modern one, still produced appreciable wear.  Now to edit you had to transfer the selected portions of the recording onto another desk; you had to cut another discs with the bands all in the right order and then you would you play them onto a third disc so that you've got a complete statement rather than a series of disjointed bands. And by that time you were liable to have reduced the, increased the surface noise I should say very substantially. So that the, although some of the Charlie Andrews recordings were archived in and are in the permanent library at the BBC now the surface on them is really quite appalling by any modern standards.
Colin Moffat: Do you mean that you could edit a whole series of pieces of speech together onto a second disc recorder …

Philip Donnellan: Yeah.

Colin Moffat: … almost as well as in terms of timing, placing one against the other as you could later with tape, something approaching?

Philip Donnellan: Oh yes, yes. Yes.

Colin Moffat: In other words you wouldn't notice it over the air?

Philip Donnellan: You wouldn't notice it except for slight changes in level, which you sometimes notice in tape. But, but what you would notice was a very high level of surface noise. Now that would be consistent right across the disc of course because all of them finally would probably be on a third or even fourth generation disc. Whereas on a fourth generation tape of course there's absolutely no difference in quality at all you can go to ten or twelve generations without any effect on the quality can’t you?
Colin Moffat: The ones you did of Charlie Andrews you didn't have a double disc recorder?

Philip Donnellan: No, no, no.
Colin Moffat: You only had one?
Philip Donnellan: So Charlie had to get used to, to the interruption because he used a very heavy bronze mic and when the recording engineer in the car down below or across a field or something pressed his switch in order to speak to you or to stop you talking because he'd come to the end of the disc he pressed the switch and that, and that reversed the, the system so that the microphone became a loudspeaker and the voice came out of the microphone. So you had the microphone up against the speaker and suddenly out of this microphone, there he is in the middle of his story and suddenly the voice of the recording engineer went ‘That's it Phil.  Do you want another disc on?’
Colin Moffat: How quickly could he put on another disc? How long did you have to wait?

Philip Donnellan: Half a minute.
Colin Moffat: Yes.

Philip Donnellan: Take the other one off, clean the swarf, move the recording head back, put on a new disc, put the clamp on the top, move the cutting and then he'd say ‘Okay ready for 10 second cue’ And you would say ‘I'll go ahead in 10 seconds from now’ and he would start cutting so you would have a scroll at the beginning of the disc and then ‘Okay. Okay. Charlie what were you saying?’
Colin Moffat: Since this …

Philip Donnellan: ‘I got my gloves, on as I walked up to the wheel and the captain said to me …’ and so on.

Colin Moffat: It worked quite well I mean it’s all you knew at this point so it didn't strike you at the time as all that irritating these breaks, these recording breaks?  I mean it sounds pretty grim actually …
Philip Donnellan: Well you couldn't conceive of a situation in which you could have continuous perfect quality recording because none of us had experience tape recording. So that's true. But it did seem irksome it seemed inefficient.
Colin Moffat: Yes.

Philip Donnellan: But in an indefinable way.

Colin Moffat: Can you now say um what you did with the, this particular group of recordings of Mr. Andrews?  The result, what was it like I mean compared with the journalistic programmes who were using field recordings something rather longer or what?
Philip Donnellan: Well I mean it could, they were 30 minute programmes in which there would be 4 broadly 6 minute stories Charles, Charlie would tell and they'd be linked by some explanatory material spoken by an old friend of mine who was very keen on 19th century maritime subjects, a man called F R Buckley.

ColinMoffat: Couldn't you have done it?

Philip Donnellan: Yes, yes I could have done it but …

Colin Moffat: He had a more suitable voice did he?

Philip Donnellan: I, I didn't see myself as a broadcaster once I'd stop being an announcer I saw myself as a producer I think. I don't know I couldn’t define it very clearly.
Colin Moffat: So it wasn't a job in particular for an announcer?

Philip Donnellan: Oh no, no, no.
Colin Moffat: It ought to be somebody rather different?

Philip Donnellan: I wanted a slightly rougher more characterful voice to introduce this very characterful voice of this 93 year-old ex-sailor you know.

Colin Moffat: Mm hmm. So were you, you were allowed to use non, non-standard English voices for this sort of job?
Philip Donnellan: Oh yes absolutely.

Colin Moffat: I mean you really were saying the importance of that sort of voice for announcers but presumably a narrator of a documentary programme could, could be anybody you thought was suitable – an actor or a local man who was just able to talk, right?
Philip Donnellan: That's certainly true. We didn't actually call them documentary programmes in those days.

Colin Moffat: What did you call them?

Philip Donnellan: They were called feature programmes.  Now this was a meaningless word because a feature programme could be anything and most of the time the features that one produced were done with actors and they had voice 1, 2 and 3 and all this sort of nonsense and then the narrator voice. But one of the first programmes I did which would be about 1950 or ‘51 was a thing called Power Cut because power cuts, electricity cuts in supply were very common in those days it was nothing to have, in the winter especially, for the power to go off for 10 minutes or 20 minutes or 30 minutes. I mean it was almost a sort of Moscow situation [LAUGHTER] And, and so I said to the assistant programme head who was the, the editor, the programme editor who was the supervisor of all our material, I said ‘I'd like to do, I think I'd like to do a programme about power cuts, explain what happens. I don’t know what happens and why there were power cuts.’

So it so happened that I was a bachelor of course then and I lived in, in digs in a little street and in Birmingham and one of the other people, one of the other families in this house was a nice young couple who were motorbike people they went to and fro in leathers on one motorbike. And we became great friends although only passing in the corridor and so on but and I would go in and have a cup of tea in their little pad and so on and I said to them one day ‘Would you like to be on the radio? I'd like you to come and do a programme with me.’ And they said ‘It would be a bit of a lark wouldn't it’ and so I got them to ask all the questions of all the officials in power stations in the, in the Midlands Electricity Board, in the chaps that threw the switches all these things. And this young couple I would brief them and say ‘Well look I suggest that in this you, Jack you barge in and say ‘look what is this all about?’ Something like that you know something like that and this was it, they were wonderful.

Colin Moffat: This was the idea of the consumer of electricity a logical person to …
Philip Donnellan: Yes, yes. And, and they were they were really very good.

Colin Moffat: Any trouble …

Philip Donnellan: And I never really pursued this in other ways. It was all rather sporadic and it was sporadic because there was no effective criticism of programmes at all. There was a Programme Board once a week in which producers sat around with the contracts lady, the overseas programme lady, the head of programmes, the assistant head of programmes and, and the Midland Region executive who was responsible for broadly overseeing all the administrative roles.  And the Programme Head would give us information or invocations from Head Office as it was called, in other words London and that's was its role. I mean it was a significant phrase that used to irritate me enormously: the idea that they were Head Office and we were just a sort of junior office somewhere down the road in Birmingham. In a quite perhaps unnecessary way that used to irritate me these old lags who called it Head Office.  Anyway …

Colin Moffat: These are, these early field recorded programmes …
Philip Donnellan: No hold on a minute. I'm just talking about Programme Board and, and we would go through the Radio Times and the Programme Head would make a sort of comment and then ‘Anybody any other ideas’ and somebody would say ‘Oh I enjoyed it’ and so on. That was what passed for criticism of I mean quite a major production that I'd spent days writing, 3 or 4 days rehearsing with a cast of probably a dozen actors and more and that would be it, you’d get no feedback from the audience very rarely would people write and the internal comment or criticism was virtually non-existent, totally casual and sporadic and that's the way I've always found the BBC system. It was completely inadequate in terms of responding to what a group of professional people or stimulating a group of professional people daily involved in broadcasting to an audience who were just there outside the door and never where we said ‘All right let's think again about what we're doing in this field.
Why do we do it like this? Aren't there different ways in which ideas …?’ Now perhaps casually once in every 4 or 5 Programme Boards there would be fumbling attempts at analysis, I don't mean to say that people weren't perfectly capable of putting ideas together but there was no stimulus really to ask why are we doing it like this?  What is the world expecting of us and why don't we have effective links with the people who are the audience?
Colin Moffat: Um the missing comment you're talking about producer level or the people who are heading up the sort of group you were part of?
Philip Donnellan: Yes.
Colin Moffat: Is that because they weren't actually ex-producers and so therefore were slightly out of their depth or would have been if they'd attempted any analysis?

Philip Donnellan: Yes that might be an excuse …
Colin Moffat: That’s part of the reason?
Philip Donnellan: … but it's not really the reason they were all perfectly intelligent people whose work was around broadcasting and even if they were engaged merely in, in overseeing the contractual side of the business nonetheless they would have had, they would too have sat down by their radios in the evening and listened.  So there was no excuse why we couldn't all very coherently hammer out some sort of coherent policy for programme making. Colin Moffat: These, these meetings were they attended by your fellow producers.

Philip Donnellan: Oh yeah, oh yeah.

Colin Moffat: But they didn't say anything either much?
Philip Donnellan: Well they made the sort of sporadic comments that I've already described and I no doubt said exactly the same things I said ‘Well I did enjoy it. You know it really had a breath of fresh air.’ I don't think I'd ever use a cliché quite like that but more or less.

Colin Moffat: That was the level of it?

Philip Donnellan: Yes and if you read the minutes of the Television Programme Board right through the 1970s and ‘80s the level of debate and analysis is horrifying. This is one of the characteristic modes at the BBC.
Colin Moffat: Is this um, is this just a comment about regional people? Philip Donnellan: No, no I'm talking about the Television Programme Board at Television Centre.

Colin Moffat: It happened in London as well. I'm talking about radio at the time we're talking about.

Philip Donnellan: Oh yeah.

Colin Moffat: I mean what about what about the Features Department in London. I mean you're not telling me that …
Philip Donnellan: The Features Department in London always existed entirely as individuals they wouldn't dream of discussing other people's programmes. They would scarcely even attend …

Colin Moffat: Except privately?

Philip Donnellan: … Features Meetings they were usually attended by their secretaries.
Colin Moffat: Is this because it wasn't encouraged officially? I thought, I thought all radio and television producers were constantly checking about um last night’s programme and so on.   It’s hard to believe this.

Philip Donnellan: Yes of course that is that is the, that is the case on which the BBC rests its perennial myth about the debate on broadcasting ideas and broadcasting standards. My experience is rather different. Of course in the canteen of the club there are, there are comments about programmes but they're not at any sort of a structured or disciplined level or form in …

Colin Moffat: Which could have come from the chair the chairman, that’s what you really wanted …
Philip Donnellan: Yes and coupled with playbacks.  Now it was years before there was any sort of playback system so that producers could catch up on programmes they haven't had or indeed a playback taking place within a meeting so that people would say ‘Yes stop there a moment. I'm interested in that.  Now why did Charlie, why did you do it like that? What's the significance of that piece injected in there because that threw me completely when I heard it the first time?’  Now then those are only comments you don't need playbacks in order to formulate the basic patterns of thinking about the nature of broadcasting in a region.  That's valuable as a way of stimulating or disciplining or advancing the ideas and attitudes of particular programme producers and they need that sort of thing. Of course I do accept absolutely that there is casual chat about programmes and sometimes this is useful. But the idea that any serious debate can take place or develop in that very casual unformed way is I think an illusion. And I've only found very rare occasions when I've been able to get real analysis of particular programmes. But I've never, I've never felt really that I ever did any radio programmes that were worth analysis but in terms of television I have. Nobody likes criticism particularly one doesn't like to be nailed to the wall and the weaknesses of structure which I suffered from for years, I found it very difficult to structure programmes, television programmes or inadequacies of presentation or narrative line or style. One doesn't like to be reminded of one's inadequacies in these areas but by God if it was a discipline of being a broadcaster then it ought to happen whether you like it or not and …
Colin Moffat: Do you believe this to be true what you're saying about the whole of the BBC throughout its history right from the beginning?  That this was …
Philip Donnellan: I couldn’t possibly say that.

Colin Moffat: Well I mean I know you can’t know but do you do suspect that this is …

Philip Donnellan: Yes, yes I do.

Colin Moffat: Yeah.

End Side 5

Start Side 6

Colin Moffat: Philip Donnellan side 6.  Intellectuals and the BBC?
Philip Donnellan: Yes of course there were a great many intellectuals in the BBC and it must therefore sound to some extent ridiculous to say that there was an anti-intellectualism.  But it's one thing being an intellectual and engaging in casual intellectual analysis with a friend in a pub and it's another creating a framework of understanding about the nature of what you're doing with people who maybe aren't intellectuals but who would benefit enormously from this sort of infusion.
Colin Moffat: Hmmm ...

Philip Donnellan: And I, I found it absolutely impossible to find except in the company of my colleague Charles Parker who became a features producer in Birmingham in 1954.  With Charles and I, with David Litten who was first a contributor and then a drama producer in Birmingham for some time, did develop a common understanding coupled with a capacity to argue and discuss which was enormously valuable to me.  Everybody that I knew in the BBC was first and foremost encouraged to be an individual creator. They were encouraged to be seen as such and anybody who couldn't stand up to the challenge of being entirely on their own um was not thought fit to be a producer. Now that may appear overdramatic but I think of one particular occasion and this was after I had joined television and spent some time in London when there was a group of producers around an epoch making programme called Tonight which started in 1957 and which I was on the fringes of. And I found that team involvement extremely exciting for a time but I found the total inadequacy of their approach to broadcasting so frivolous and so irritating that I couldn't stay very long.
Now in that department, the Talks Department there was a persistent bloodletting, which took place every Friday at the Departmental Meeting in which you were expected to stand up to the most swingeing and cruel cross-examination of your programmes. And this was not in any sense an attempt to establish a common understanding it was a bloodletting process in which people were exposed to the sort of treatment, which was common in 19th century public schools I understand. In other words it was part of a process of hardening, a process of becoming a member of a master race who could exert their influence not just over their television programmes but could stand up to anything the world could throw at them.  And it was the creation of that sort of group, which I found particularly offensive in talks and which led to my leaving very quickly and going back to Birmingham.
Colin Moffat: Did the bloodletting come mainly from those running Tonight I mean the, the editor of Tonight?

Philip Donnellan: Well yes.

Colin Moffat: It wasn't so much between the individual directors and so on was it?

Philip Donnellan: It was encouraged.

Colin Moffat: Was it, was it in all directions, was it going in all directions?
Philip Donnellan: It was more, more the, the people in the Tonight team laying down in the most vigorous and assertive terms the way in which programmes should be made and the standard which should be achieved in those programmes and the content and material and editing time and logistics and everything should be governed by their say so.  Now that was certainly the dominating factor but there was a considerable amount of bloodletting between individuals as well.  Um a few people stood outside that.

Colin Moffat: And you didn't feel it was useful any of this? This was the wrong sort of exchange?
Philip Donnellan: No it infuriated me absolutely.

Colin Moffat: No, it was not a creative sort of approach to it?

Philip Donnellan: It never seemed like that to me. It was deeply destructive …
Colin Moffat: Yeah.

Philip Donnellan: ... I thought and especially for people who had retained some modest degree of sensitivity it was an appalling experience. But of course that department with its extraordinary head, Grace Wyndham Goldie, was not given to condescensions to the sensitive. I mean you were expected to, to where appropriate to mete out punishment to others and turn your bare bottom or back to the flogging that you got from your mates if you done anything.  Oh you know it was terrible.
Colin Moffat: It sounds like a sort of testing process – can he stand it if we say these sort of things?

Philip Donnellan: Yes exactly.

Colin Moffat: Is he good enough to continue and so on?
Philip Donnellan: I remember on one, since we are talking about that time though we are leaping on by years but in a sense this was the climax of the sort of process which certain people in the BBC regarded as ‘framing an ideology of television.’ When I made a film called Sunderland Oak in 1961which was I thought and still think a quite remarkable visual film that accompanied by a rather fumbling soundtrack made up of music and voices.  Humphrey Burton and Huw Wheldon who ran Monitor and Humphrey particularly who was had a degree in music of some elevation both attacked Sunderland Oak in the most extreme terms.  Now it had already been attacked by the Head of the Department before transmission uh and I had been instructed to remove the music and I refused and referred it to the Controller of Programmes and he supported me and said the programme must go out as it was made. So Humphrey and Huw pitched into this programme at the Talks Meeting and Huw Wheldon absolutely denied my taste, discrimination or even my right to make a programme which used such trivial music, which as everybody knows it was a gross solicism to suppose that contemporary workers sang songs like this what were we supposed to believe it was nonsense. The music was bad and so on and so on. So I uh I counter-attacked, the only thing of that that I remember about my counter-attack was of I, I referred to the Monitor pop intellectuals as thinking that they could lay down the law on all matters concerning their own professional expertise. But what did Humphrey Burton with his professional expertise know about folk music that couldn't be written on a postage stamp and so on. I mean it was a thorough brawl the sort of thing that Grace would sit back and apparently enjoy and Huw Wheldon appealed to the Chair ‘Must Mr. Donnellan really be so rude?’ Well compared to the average rudeness which was meted out by those in intellectual authority in the Talks Meeting it was nothing, it was just that I'd lost my temper and I was bloody right to do so and you know. But that's it. It was, I've compared it, I've written a piece about this and I've compared it to a gathering of Chicago gangsters sitting around with their tommy guns in Chicago with their Chicago pianos and pineapple hand grenades under the table in their briefcases.  And all the different sectarian interests who were prepared to, ranging from Paul Fox the editor of Panorama, the Tonight team, Michael Peacock all these people who in later years left the BBC and dominated British television and those are the standards that they took with them.
Colin Moffat: Mmm, mmm.  This missing ...
Philip Donnellan: Sorry I’ve lept ahead of the story.

Colin Moffat: Well I was going to ask you this: do you think this is um common in other media?  I mean if one was in a publishing house or in a large newspaper or amongst writers and so on? Did they expect? Do they need? Do they want this sort of …?

Philip Donnellan: Evisceration.
Colin Moffat: Yes.

Philip Donnellan: [LAUGHTER]

Colin Moffat: Is there anything special about the BBC’s failure to provide this follow up?
Philip Donnellan: Oh I see you're not talking about the bloody bloodletting of the Talks Meeting you're talking about framing some sort of professional ongoing critique.
Colin Moffat: Well I mean is, is it, is it reasonable to expect the BBC to have provided what was missing when you don't find it elsewhere in society um in the arts and communications business?
Philip Donnellan: Well it probably isn’t reasonable but you know um one's aspirations for broadcasting and for the organisation structure and the democracy of broadcasting were much higher than we could ever have achieved within the particular society that we had or have. So nearly all our hopes and expectations about those things went by the board as time went on. But I don't think it's unreasonable to expect such a new and powerful form of culture to provide or to create for itself a critical framework in which they ask themselves regularly ‘How am I serving the public interest? How am I meeting my own creative needs and putting them to the test and yet at the same time trying to recognise that these things are all done at the expense literally of the public and that there should be some link between my creative imagination and the way in which we create broadcasting?’  Now I don't think it's unreasonable to expect that.
Colin Moffat: The only explanation that I can think of is that the BBC thought, though may never have actually laid this down, is what matters is the reaction we can get from the listeners that's what actually matters most. If our audience research tells us that this programme was successful and they make comments about it, people write letters in that's the best evidence we can get hold of.  I don't think we need to discuss it ourselves so much. If that happened, if the listeners were unable to comment that really would have been disastrous wouldn’t it?  We would have been missing on all fronts then. Is that fair?
Philip Donnellan: Yes I think, I think there is an element of fairness about about that and I think I, I don't know enough about what I think is called sophrology to know whether the listener research techniques that were used were fully effective to fill the entire need of the institution to create an informed production system. I do think that the processes of self-selection which went towards creating the BBC’s viewing and listening panels is a fairly narrowing effect on the sort of people who get recruited to comment on the programmes. People are not chosen at random or never were when I knew anything about viewer research or listener research they, they were, the Listener Panels are made up of people who volunteered for them. Now while there are plenty of working-class people who are quite eager to take a share for political or social or intellectual reasons to take a share in such an activity …

Colin Moffat: Why do you specify working-class?

Philip Donnellan: Well because inevitably I think in that self-selection process educated stroke or middle class people would be the most likely people to come forward and and volunteer for that sort of work and if you are …

Colin Moffat: Well perhaps that's because it is that category socially were the people who listened to the BBC Home Service if that was your channel.

Philip Donnellan: Yes well that certainly …

Colin Moffat: So it is to be expected.
Philip Donnellan: Yes but that's not a justifiable … surely that's not a justifiable base for creating a viewer or listener research panel which after all must be, should be directed toward evaluating the entire potential audience.  Even if …

Colin Moffat: Yes but you can only collect your evidence from people …

Philip Donnellan: Sorry.

Colin Moffat: You can only collect this reaction from the people who actually do the listening and if most of the people who do the listening are middle-class you are bound to get this result.
Philip Donnellan: Yes but is that so? Can you establish that? I mean I would have thought there is, after all viewer and listener research panels don't only concentrate on one, on one area of the radio or television transmissions of the BBC. They are not BBC 1 audience panels and BBC 2 audience panels …
Colin Moffat: Yes but we're not talking about television Philip …

Philip Donnellan: Hold on a minute just let me finish the sentence.

Colin Moffat: … we are talking about the early ‘50s and radio aren't we?

Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: So there's no point in mentioning that …

Philip Donnellan: But the BBC …

Colin Moffat: Of course we've got a mass television audience what I've suggesting just now is to stuff that doesn't apply I’m talking about radio then. Philip Donnellan: Yes there was a mass audience for radio.

Colin Moffat: Yes but it was it was a different composition wasn’t it?

Philip Donnellan: In what sense?

Colin Moffat: Socially wasn’t it?

Philip Donnellan: In terms of class constitution?

Colin Moffat: Yes yes.

Philip Donnellan: I wouldn't have thought so.

Colin Moffat: I’ve always got that impression that at that stage the BBC …

Philip Donnellan: The Midland region was broadcast, I mean all opt out regional programmes were broadcasted on the home service. Now there's no evidence to suppose that a substantial proportion of an audience of whatever percentage it was that listened to a Midland Home Service programme was loaded numerically in favour of the middle-class because that was the regional Home Service so that it was supposed to be catering for all classes of, of the listener.
Colin Moffat: I thought that this was the hidden point behind Haley's Pyramid you know you gravitate gradually upwards from the Light Programme to the Home Service.

Philip Donnellan: Yes if you accept …

Clive Moffat: If you become an intellectual you would listen to the Third Programme, we hope you will move through this process and I always assumed that the Home Service, what we call Radio 4 now was the middle-class – the ordinary middle-class.
Philip Donnellan: Really?

Colin Moffat: Mmm.

Philip Donnellan: Oh I've never thought of it like that. I mean even if one accepts Hayley’s extraordinarily schematic and in my view rather spurious pyramid the idea that that, that the effectiveness I mean this is, this is determinism of a very particular sort to assume that that your audiences are acculturated by the process of listening to what was it at the bottom the Light Programme and that that then become upwardly mobile so they now listen to Home Service, this is a bizarre analogy about …
Colin Moffat: Of course he was careful, he didn't mention, he was clever enough not to mention middle-class, working-class.

Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: I would read that into that, what it amounted to.

Philip Donnellan: Yes. Well there was never, there was never any any sense in my mind and certainly there was no information passed out to us that we should assume that that the audience was anything but a highly differentiated audience within the purview of the Midland Home Service. And of course once you, once you put a broadcast on the on the whole national programme on what was called Basic Programme, Basic Home Service then quite clearly it was radiated in any part of the United Kingdom and would therefore have an even more differentiated audience, undifferentiated.
Colin Moffat: The quote is “so that over the years the listener should gradually be induced to in favour of the things that are more worthwhile” that's hmmm part of the process …

Philip Donnellan: Hmmm.

Colin Moffat: The gravitational process.

Philip Donnellan: I'm sure that Hayley as the ex-editor of The Times may have thought about his audience in those terms because clearly this, this was the case in the newspaper world. But I would have thought that um that in the radio world the amount of evidence about that is quite inadequate to make any assumption about the accuracy of that isn't it? Are you aware of any statistical evidence, which suggests …

Colin Moffat: I thought I had read all this somewhere, I thought I read all this.

Philip Donnellan: that had an approach to reality?

Colin Moffat: Well look the original point was that was the one about perhaps we don’t really have time within the BBC to do a lot of reviewing of programmes.  What matters is that we must find out what THEY the listeners think about it …

Philip Donnellan: Think of it.

Colin Moffat: …  that’s the most important thing.  If we we get it right for them as a public service radio service well that's fine.
Philip Donnellan: But don't you think …

Colin Moffat: Why waste time sitting around talking about it all, let's get on with the next programme, there isn’t really time anyway we are very busy men.

Philip Donnellan: That certainly was the, was the tenacious view they held in Features Department I'm quite sure of it. But on the other hand I would rate the, I would assess the decline in British industry as being due to the fact that they said ‘Well as long as the bloody things are sold why do we have to worry about research and development? Why do we have to worry about learning the skills of salesmanship? We don't. We can just go on making the things and they'll go on buying them.’ And that was proved incredibly fallible and has brought us to the position we're now in.

Colin Moffat: Not quite an analogy is it? I mean this is culture …

Philip Donnellan: I mean well it is an analogy in the sense that we are creating things that that are available for public consumption and the public go on …

Colin Moffat: A very different …

Philip Donnellan … unquestioned consuming them, paying their licence fee which they are supposed to pay. And my argument for, in later years anyway, for a much more fundamental democratisation of our processes was quite simply that I didn't think we were we were giving anything in return for the licence fee that was subject to the sort of scrutiny that I believe an intelligent audience was capable of giving to the work we did and being capable of enhancing the work we did. I mean I think critical debate both within the institution and with between the institution and the audience if there is any effective way of creating that was a crucial way of making, of improving the democratisation of the system. Now other European broadcasting institutions have behaved in different ways not to achieve those ends. BBC has done almost nothing about it. I mean the most radical thing they have done is to have some sort of answer-back panels, each of them with a member of the Board of Governors located in in cities where people can come and ask questions and that passes for consulting the audience and I think that's so ludicrous to be intolerable. We saw this with Esther Rantzen introducing the …

Colin Moffat: From the Birmingham Art Gallery?

Philip Donnellan: … I'm mean can anything be more embarrassing, inadequate, loaded, intolerable?

Colin Moffat: I totally agree.

Philip Donnellan: I mean it was just laughable.

Colin Moffat: I know what you mean.

Philip Donnellan: Now that seems to me the apex of the attitudes that I felt, as I started to understand more about what the hell I was doing, and to become and this was much later on I do keep on emphasizing that all these are post hoc and very much later feelings about the way in which the system operated. But it's made me remember, made an effort to remember, the curious ways in which the system worked that I walked into in 1948.
Colin Moffat: Just to recap it again: you were critical of these programmes being produced in Birmingham at this time. What what in fact did the audience think of them, as far as you know in terms of letters coming in and so on?  Was there feedback, which told you what you wanted to know?  Would you have liked to know?
Philip Donnellan: I'm not aware of any significant amount, I mean Charlie Andrews wrote letters every fortnight.  Until I started making television programmes I got no feedback I might get a dozen letters a year out of 15 programmes. The, one of the most central aspects of um that I thought and I thought almost at the time that this was misguided was the enormous emphasis that our programmes gave to the countryside. Now considering that we lived in and ostensibly served the Midlands which is a very densely populated industrial area with very large areas of countryside interspersed in it but fundamentally the 8,000,000 people nearly I would have thought that more than 70% of those lived in major conurbations in the region and after all since 1865, it was 1865 when more than half the people of Britain lived in towns and cities over 10,000, so that by 1948 I would have expected 70% of those 8,000,000 to live in cities. Now there was very little personal mobility in the years that I'm talking about, comparatively few people had cars.  They were tied very largely to the cities where they lived and the places where they lived and the countryside was the focus of a very high proportion of our programmes. Of course well in a way the combination of this was the establishment of the Archers in Birmingham which was really quite bizarre, almost as bizarre as when in 1972 I made a programme called Before the Mast which was about 19th century sailing ships and one of the critics said ‘|It is really quite bizarre that a programme about the sea should come from so completely landlocked a city as Birmingham.’ I mean it was a passing flippant comment from, from a newspaper critic.  Now nobody ever said that about our years and years of broadcasting from Birmingham about the charms of fishing in the Severn or you know rural, agreeable rural pursuits and all this sort of stuff.  We never really seriously until Charles arrived, Charles Parker, arrived as a features producer in 1954 that I mentioned, he took a much more fundamental view about the desirability of exploring the urban scene of which so many of us were apart.

Colin Moffat: Of course, one of the objections might be that it is rather nice and neutral in the countryside, there’s not a great deal of politics there that it’s sort of a safe subject. But of course it is very popular isn’t it the country and country pursuits, a lot of people do go fishing um …
Philip Donnellan: Oh yes they do now …

Colin Moffat: But you merely think the disproportion, there is a ridiculous disproportion …

Philip Donnellan: Now it's grown enormously in the past 25 or 30 years.

Colin Moffat: Were there not even …

Philip Donnellan: I am sure that that's not the case.  I mean I do think that there has been a significant shift to more, much more urban-based considerations. But then of course the whole country has become suburban and there is no there's no real city and there's no real country anymore. I mean people live you know in a sense we live in deep country but actually morally speaking it's a profoundly suburban condition that we all live in I think.

Colin Moffat: Mmmm.

Philip Donnellan: But um I found that very strange that that there was very little reference, if any, because the obvious thing to do would have been to establish in 1951 or whenever it was a family who were not based in a farming situation - as the Controller at that time was himself – that were based in an inner city situation subject to all the toils and travails that have been made so enormously popular by Coronation Street and Eastenders since.
Colin Moffat: Mmmm.

Philip Donnellan: And that would have been very interesting and exciting and could really, I mean a spin off if you like from heightening public interest in THE city and THE town is a much more intimate concern and understanding of the problems of urban and suburban planning and architecture within this society where we are grossly deficient in so many of these perceptions. Robin Whitworth actually did do a major programme in I think 1952, about which was called Conurbation.  There was an enormous report prepared in 1951 about that huge sprawl, that huge relic of the nineteenth century the Black Country and Birmingham and how it was going to be treated in planning terms in the next 50 years but that was about the only really major consideration of urban planning or urban life that I recall in those years.

Colin Moffat: How do you explain this? This strange and this emphasis what do you think is behind it?  There must be a reason …
Philip Donnellan: Well all I can do in reply to that is to quote, not directly alas, uh but to talk about a book by a young American academic called Martin well I suppose he would call himself Wiener, I would call him Veena meaning a resident of Vienna I suppose. Um Martin Weiner’s book um um forgotten the title The Decline of the Industrial Spirit, um British culture, English Culture and the Decline of the Industrial Spirit. And he charts in that book the responsibility of an entrenched though declining aristocracy, the rise of the public school, the rise of the middle-class towards an abandonment of the, of the importance in our lives of um of innovation and um progress in industrial terms and the consideration of the city and the opportunities, particularly industrial opportunities offered by the city, to the middle-class. It’s a very bad description of …

Colin Moffat: Which period was he discussing?

Philip Donnellan: He was discussing oh more or less from um um I forget whether there’s a date on it I think the book's up there …

Colin Moffat: Does it covers the parts of post-war Britain …

Philip Donnellan: 1865, 1865 to 1960.  I mean it it's a century of the steady decline in the attention of the, of the managerial classes to the importance of maintaining industrial progress in Britain. The, the more or less accepted fact, I say more or less because I'm getting tired and I find the precise articulation of ideas not as easy as it was a little bit earlier, but um, the, the way in which a very high proportion of middle-class children are turned by parental advice and school advice directly away from industrial management as a possible career towards the arts, particularly media particularly and other artistic fields because gradually industrial management and the skills of management have been socially um have been in decline in a social sense, in terms of social appraisal of their virtues and capacities and possibilities, for a great many years and now intelligent and, and – I’m running down – I think that intelligent sharp young people do not make industrial management any of their targets in terms of career expectations and so on.
Colin Moffat: But what, what is this in relation to the BBC and how is the BBC?

Philip Donnellan: You know you asked me why there is this interest in the countryside? Why is the countryside not a perfect valid area of …
Colin Moffat: Yes but on the part of the media. I mean you know …

Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: … books and radio and television they put the emphasis on it because it meets some need right?
Philip Donnellan: No it meets the interests of the, of the producing classes.

Colin Moffat: I see.
Philip Donnellan: That would be my basic argument.

Colin Moffat: Mmmm.

Philip Donnellan: And and that the appraisal, I mean I have tried uh first of all in in films and then in specific exhortations to controllers of programmes and heads of department of relevant departments to develop industrial films in the BBC because I believe just as Mortimer Wheeler did in archaeology in the ‘50s developed a passionate nationwide interest which has still not disappeared in archaeology because he was an extraordinary communicator on the early box. Secondly the development of music through broadcasting in this country, which I suspect and I think there's some evidence for believing that broadcasting in the very widest sense had an enormous, has had an enormous effect on turning Britain – always regarded on the continent as an unmusical country - into a musical country over the past 50 years.
So I believe that if the BBC had created a really wide spreading and interestingly presented pattern of industrial programmes across the whole field, not not heavily imposed on people but a pattern, an unfolding pattern of appraisal and analysis of industrial need and so on this could have transformed the pattern of behaviour in in Britain.

Colin Moffat: Yes.

Philip Donnellan: I don't know because while both the examples I've given archaeology has a mystery about it which is, which is fascinating and music of course has not only an entertaining but also a profundity about it which is very, very compelling. So it may be that industry would take much longer and might even be less effective. But they've never tried, you could, you could have watch programmes, you could have watched programmes in the ‘60s at perhaps a high point in television production at that time, watched for a month and never seen a programme that indicated that Britain was an industrial country.
Colin Moffat: Anyway you started to notice this defect [LAUGHTER] in the Midland region in the early 1950s that's what you started we moved away from.

Philip Donnellan: I I started …

Colin Moffat: You began to mention it in relation to that that becoming a radio producer …
Philip Donnellan: I started I started asking myself why there were so many programmes about the countryside.

Colin Moffat: Yes yes was the Archers going at the time?  When did it start I don’t know?
Philip Donnellan: I think it started in 1950 or ‘51.

Colin Moffat: Yes.

Philip Donnellan: It's been going 40 years something like that.

Colin Moffat: But you you were, you were involved in some countryside programmes weren’t you?

Philip Donnellan: Oh yes.

Colin Moffat: Wasn’t Country Magazine part of this wasn’t it?
Philip Donnellan: Yes, yeah.

Colin Moffat: Yeah.

Philip Donnellan: Yes I suppose I've done my share of countryside programmes but I mostly turn towards the sea. Merely because nobody ever suggested that there was anything that perhaps I might do. I was left entirely to myself to make the decisions about what I wanted to do. I mean of course I put up ideas but nobody ever said ‘Why don’t you do … what about a, what about this? You have done far too many programmes in the past year and a half about X, the sea or history or something?’ which was a common blight of my programmes. They didn't do that. Once you had shown you were modestly competent they left you on your own.

Colin Moffat: Do you think now the, what I'm trying to think of the right phrase for your programmes like the Charlie Andrews programmes, regional character studies that's a separate category, I mean do you think they were valuable they, they were neither industrial portraits nor countryside programmes they were, they were about an individual. Was that that a strand in your thinking do you go along with that?
Philip Donnellan: Uh no.

Colin Moffat: You didn’t?

Philip Donnellan: I didn't have a very coherent strand of thinking. Um I did what impulse or chance threw in my way or through in the way of my momentary interest or affection.

Colin Moffat: Incidentally how did how did they go down with the BBC? Philip Donnellan: What?

Colin Moffat: Those Charlie Andrews’ programmes.
Philip Donnellan: Oh very well.

Colin Moffat: They liked them?

Philip Donnellan: Oh yes. The first, the first time the name Donnellan registered with controllers in London was Charlie Andrews. And by the mid ‘50s Dennis Morris could write to Kenneth Adam who had been Controller of the Light Programme and say you remember that Philip Donnellan has written a number of very interesting or presented or devised a number of very interesting radio programmes unhindered etc. etc. etc.
Colin Moffat: Yes you didn’t say incidentally whether these programmes, you mentioned that programme Power Cut a little while ago, were those in fact network …

Philip Donnellan: No, no, no.

Colin Moffat: No they weren’t.

Philip Donnellan: They were regional programmes.

Colin Moffat: Your early work was regional was it?  Only transmitted in the region?

Philip Donnellan: Yes except for Country Magazine, which I started doing in 1952. And in that same year I wrote a blockbuster programme based, not literally based, but certainly an inspiration based on the Charlie Andrews series, which was about the Cutty Sark.  It was a dramatized portrait of of the Cutty Sark called ‘A Cloud of Sail’ um and, and that got the front cover of the Radio Times and a special award and all sorts of acclamation. It was, it was a complicated piece of production but but I'm, I'm totally dismissive of my work in radio. I worked very hard and I showed a reasonable, a reasonable level of skill in in writing complex dramatised programs but they were sub sub sub Lewis McNeice. They were derived from listening to other people and copying them more or less. I had no original ideas or thoughts to contribute to the radio scene and and if we hadn't been very effectively, during the ‘50s, reminded that in the end we would have to be considering our futures in terms of television. If that hadn't been made very clear to us by a Programme Head, Dennis Morris, who was very progressive about his, his view of our individual work skills, talents and future and so on.  A very humane and interesting bloke, we fell out innumerable times I very rarely went into his office except for a bollocking but nonetheless he was, he was a man that one appreciated and his his deputy the Assistant Head, David Gretton was a man of extreme quality and humanity very slow moving, pedantic but very concerned about, concerned about the sort of work you were doing. I mean he never really gave me the sort of direction that I feel I would have expected if I'd been in his shoes in relation to a young producer. I think I would have been much firmer about saying alright I know you can write good programmes, I know you can string words and ideas and write dialogue and more or less structure things very well. I just think that you are using those skills and talents in a completely unfruitful way and what I would like you to do is to go off for a week, go and do some exploration in this field or that field, come back and let's discuss the possibility of you doing a programme on this subject or that subject. Nobody ever said such a thing to me. There was no guidance at all. It was a gentle form of control.  We were each other's individual people who stood or fell by our own inherent talent. I describe it in one place I think as a pleasant process of divide and rule. Now there was nothing unpleasant about it I thought it was marvellous, free libertarian and so on. It wasn't to the advantage of either the audience or me.

Colin Moffat: Can we stop there we’ve just come to the end of it.

End Side 6

BECTU History Project Interview with Philip Donnellan – documentary, writer, producer

Interview Date(s): 28 & 29 June 1991

Interview number: 206

Interviewer: Colin Moffat

Side 7

Colin Moffat: Philip Donnellan side 7. Right about this point a producer called Charles Parker arrived at the BBC in Birmingham and almost at the same time a new piece of equipment called the EMI midget tape recorder arrived. Those two facts are closely related and this affected your career from that moment on didn’t it?
Philip Donnellan: Yes inevitably and the careers of lots of other people and in broadcasting because for the first time. Well as I've dwelt already on the on the confinement of the BBC to disc recording the coming of the tape recorder was a profound revolution and most revolutionary of all was the fact that producers themselves were able to handle it. They were the people who took it out, took this midget recorder out and used it in the field. And it's almost impossible to estimate the significance of that whether it was against the opposition of the engineering department I have not been able to find out. But the day when we took the heavy little midget recorder powered by ten U2 batteries on our shoulder for the first time, went out with a mike and a stack of tapes, although tapes themselves were pretty were pretty precious too, individual 5” tapes were pretty precious in first and indeed the BBC safeguarded that material for a very long time.
I'm trying to filibuster until the car's gone I don’t know if you can hear it.

Colin Moffat: Was that machine commissioned as a design by the BBC to to EMI?

Philip Donnellan: Yes it was.

Colin Moffat: Who, who was responsible for it and what did they think it was going to be used for? I know what it was used for later but what what what was the thinking?
Philip Donnellan: Oh well it could only be used for one thing which was the collection of material in the field clearly but it was an enormous step forward from the the ponderous machines that had been designed and built by research and development inside the BBC for the recording of programmes of transmission.
Colin Moffat: One could guess that on the whole they probably thought it would be news that it would be the most useful for news, reporters I suppose, journalistic work anyway.
Philip Donnellan: I'm not sure about that and I I've accumulated very little evidence about that in my own experience. Now at exactly the same time in February in 1954 as the the midget recorder, two midget recorders where as it were posted to Birmingham and were available for our use and almost with it, and it really is a dramatic coincidence, it came this bloke as you mentioned Charles Parker. He was appointed following the move of Robin Whitworth who decided that radio was finished and he wanted to get into television and he went off as drama organiser television drama organiser in London leaving a vacancy which was filled by Charles who had until then had been briefly in the general overseas service for the BBC and then in the North American service producing more or less features and feature type programmes difficult to define but covering a very wide variety of interests and and possible programmes.

Now as so much has been said about Charles within and without the BBC over the past 37 years that it's very difficult now to be objective even to those people who knew him well and worked for him as I did for twenty years and more.  First of all Charles appeared on the surface to be a characteristic middle-class BBC producer; he was tall and well dressed and wore a tie and checked jacket and grey flannel trousers, he had he had a small ginger beard and quite a lot of gingerish hair.  And he'd he'd had what was often called a good war and that meant that he had joined the Royal Naval Patrol Service as a blue jacket, an ordinary seaman and he'd been commissioned and gone into the submarine service and he'd been a highly efficient first lieutenant of um um a ship called Sceptre and he had then eventually made his way up and been promoted, got the DSC, Distinguished Service Cross, the almost top available naval decoration for reasons that are still obscure to me and I'm not making light of them I merely don't know about their circumstances. And eventually he became as a lieutenant still he became commander of a of a submarine himself which was very unusual in the wartime Navy since he was an HO, Hostilities Only officer, temporary gentleman in the army and a submarine was a big ship in naval parlance and for it for an HO officer to become a commander of a big ship in the Navy was a really rare situation. So somehow or other Charles must have impressed himself profoundly on the Navy. Now it’s said and I've spoken to a number of his very good friends time it’s said that this was largely due to his very substantial efficiency as First Lieutenant.  The ship was very well run, there was a high level of discipline everything was clean bright and slightly oiled. Now that may be a perfectly adequate reason but there may be other reasons of which we know nothing. Suffice it to say that when Charles almost accidentally broke into the BBC after going to Queens College Cambridge after his naval service there came into broadcasting an almost demonic personality who over a comparatively short time developed very powerful ideas, very often misguided ideas, about what he was going to do in broadcasting. Now my theory about Charles is quite simply that due to a a rather deprived lower-middle-class background and he was born in Bournemouth which he was always terribly sensitive about, Bournemouth didn't seem to him nearly as romantic as having been born in the back streets of Bradford or Birmingham or East Lancs or something, so he was always rather ashamed of having been born in bourgeois Bournemouth. Well that may sound frivolous but it's a very substantial key to Charles's own response to the world, which he then stamped on broadcasting. It’s difficult to go further than that in this sort of amateur psychology that I am capable of but the fact remains that he developed a powerful sense of various profoundly significant things, significant to him which he intended to do and and construct and make in broadcasting.

Now at first inevitably when he arrived in Birmingham he did what all the rest of us were doing which was to commission, develop, produce in the studio and broadcast standard acted feature programmes. Now what was a feature programme? I've been a bit coy about attempting a definition. But the fact is that a feature programme could be in any form that you chose Laurence Gilliam, the famous Head of Features Department from 1945 onwards and who created an extraordinary atelier of poets and journalists, he defined the feature programme as the programme ‘that bears the imprint of the individual mind’ that it is not in a sense mass radio it is pure radio it's it is as it were the creation of the artist although the use of that word was always regarded as highly pretentious in the BBC. But Charles nevertheless saw himself increasingly as an artist who responded to material as an artist would and that is in a sense the dominating factor of his life and his work.
Colin Moffat: Was he in fact influenced, are you implying he was influenced a little bit by Gilliam himself? Was he in touch with him?
Philip Donnellan: Oh yes. Because even though we were in the regions and therefore regarded as rather lower grade people we were still features producers and members even if remote er country members of Gilliam's features empire. Colin Moffat: Were they overseeing your work from London?

Philip Donnellan: No they weren't. The work was while being developed along lines which we knew that Gilliam and and his empire would approve broadly speaking we were still members of the Midland region and subject to the programme controls of the Programme Head. But he too recognized the existence of features and David Gretton, the Assistant Head, would always recognise and support our involvement with features in the sense of getting programme ideas from them or picking up ideas that they wanted to … We were regarded in a sense as corresponding members of the of the London Features Department.

Colin Moffat: How far back did the Features Department go historically? Philip Donnellan: Well Laurence who came into the BBC in the middle ‘30s or the early ‘30s and he worked in public relations or whatever it was called in those days, publicity perhaps. And he then got involved in the journalistic end of programme making towards the end of the ‘30s just before the war.  And then the first real impact he made on the broadcasting scene was a remarkable series which charted the rise of Hitler in 1938/39 which was called The Shadow of the Swastika which was written by one very remarkable man and one man who is who is to me totally a cipher. I've never come across any cross-references to him this was an Ivan Vinogradov. I've never heard of him in any other context but A L Lloyd or Bert Lloyd as he was known to generations of us was the other writer and the prime writer of the series. Now Bert Lloyd was a Communist Party member …

Colin Moffat: Is this Bert Lloyd the folk singer?

Philip Donnellan: This is Bert Lloyd the folk singer. Bert was fundamentally a journalist and he wrote Shadow of the Swastika.  It was produced by Laurence Gilliam and the impact of that in 1939 was tremendous, great numbers, it was the first I think the first really huge audience that the BBC developed 11 or 12 million people listened to the episodes I think there were probably 8 or 10 episodes of the Shadow of the Swastika which charted the way Hitler had risen to the domination of the German people. Now a lot of Tory MPs and those fellow travellers that existed at the time thought that Bert Lloyd was much too harsh on Hitler. After all we had to live with him in Europe, we had to accept him in a way that was actually government policy at the time. What we now call appeasement was called at the time appeasement I suppose.  So whatever the political context in which those programmes were heard the fact remains that it put Gilliam on the map. He worked throughout the war in almost in cahoots with the Talks Department, which was the most important area of the BBC in political and organisational. Talks and news were very important pre-war factors in the BBC.
Colin Moffat: Had there been regional outposts features department in several places in the ‘30s, Manchester for example?

Philip Donnellan: Well no not an offshoot because there was no Features Department. What there was was the powerful presence of Archie Harding the Marxist in Manchester who had developed his own atelier of experimental work and a combination of drama and journalism which later became was called features but wasn't called features at that time. There was no particular department.

Colin Moffat: This predated Gilliam.
Philip Donnellan: No it didn't. It didn't precisely, it predated Gilliam as a powerful force in the BBC but Gilliam was in the BBC at the time but he was in London working in publicity. Now Gilliam's emergence onto the scene came with War Report which started in 1944 and reported on the war in Europe for the last year of the war and was a tremendous organisational achievement given the real technical difficulties of coping with the additional load of the war which had been placed on the BBC by exiled governments, exiled broadcasters and so on which I've talked about already.

Gilliam's emergence onto the broadcasting scene with real public significance came in 1945 when the Features Department was formed with Gilliam and another remarkable man Geoffrey Bridson who had emerged in the Manchester coterie as Assistant Head of Features.

Colin Moffat: Commonly known as DG Bridson.

Philip Donnellan: Yes DG Bridson that's the chap.  Now Bridson was was a writing machine, he was a prodigious worker and he he developed a whole series of different ways of handling well I'm I'm I'll say reality. What I mean is the spoken word actuality, reconstructed actuality, different ways of handling the stuff of radio as it started to develop in both innovative and traditional ways.
After the war Features was at the forefront of all creative broadcasting from 1945 certainly until the middle ‘50s it then started to go in decline partly because of the the imperial nature of Gilliam's empire became more obtrusive. The freedoms that this bunch of poets and journalists accorded themselves gradually started to affront the increasingly powerful managerial system within the BBC. I'm I'm not terribly happy at going on theorising off-the-cuff. This has been very well charted in terms of the evidence without coming to these somewhat glib conclusions that I'm being forced to do by talking off-the-cuff about them I'd much rather talk about my own direct experience and if you like Charles's.  But more or less we're talking about us being proud to be, as it were, representatives, however mildly distant and rather impoverished cousins, in the regions of this powerful empire, which to us was a crucial area of technical and professional focus for our efforts.

Colin Moffat: Where else were units like yours?

Philip Donnellan: Oh in all the regions. Desmond Hawkins in Bristol; Elwyn Evans in Cardiff; in Manchester Norman Swallow at first and then Dennis Mitchell; Stanley Williamson and Olive Shapley in Birmingham; Robin Whitworth and Ted Livesey; um Cecil McGivern who by the middle ‘50s was the Director of Television had been a features writer in Newcastle during the war, Junction X and a number of other quite remarkable programmes he produced for the radio. So there were representatives everywhere and we tended to meet once a year in London at Features Conferences, which were largely excuses for a series of extremely boozy parties. But the general ethos the fraternity of the Features Department was reinforced in all of us by those annual meetings where we ostensibly listened to lectures about the craft of radio. We listened about administrative problems of coping with an increasing emphasis on money within the BBC even as early as the middle ‘50s and given the competition certainly in television of of um independent television.

So so Charles and I in 1954 assumed the mantle of features producers in Birmingham and it was a matter of considerable pride as I've already said to us. However I although I could write and and did write endless programmes nearly I would have thought that by 1955 I was writing about 80% of the 16 to 20 programmes a year that I produced. Charles lesser because Charles was not an easy writer right up until his death he found great difficulty in coping with words on the page and there are notebooks in the Charles Barker archive in Birmingham now there are notebooks in which he agonised over the real difficulty of commanding written language.  But his real strength and it was only made possible by the coming of the tape recorder was spoken language and on that framework he over the next 5 to 10 years he created a dominating ideology for his own personal life and work which was the importance a) of the oral tradition in the man's mouths of mainly working class people because he believed as many of us did that they spoke with much greater freedom, far fewer social barriers between the voice, the will, the intention and the expression and the second thing that Charles made the basis of his his work of course the midget tape recorder liberated the oral tradition and the second thing was the folk music tradition which from the middle ‘50s became the second folk revival the first folk revival being Cecil Sharp in the 1900s the discovery of an extraordinary tradition of music and dance within the rural working-class of Britain.  The second folk revival which started with people like McColl and Bert Lloyd, Ewan McColl known by all old hands, particularly around Manchester where he was born as Jimmy Miller his name changed, he changed his name during the war. Partly it's said …

Colin Moffat: Do you know why?

Philip Donnellan: I don't know why. It's partly the stories, he told many story different stories about it and that one of them certainly was that he wanted to attach himself more firmly to the to the Scottish tradition and to re rename himself Ewan McColl was a perfectly legitimate showbiz ploy because basically he was an actor, a playwright and a performer.

Colin Moffat: The parents were Scots were they?

Philip Donnellan: His parents were Scots and they had emigrated south to Salford in, well I didn't know when but certainly long before Ewan was born. Ewan was born in 1915. His father was an iron moulder unemployed most of the time in Salford as one can imagine. And Ewan was brought up in that holy proletarian, Scots proletarian background with an inherited body of songs that he got from his mother Betsy Miller. Now another story about the change of name was quite simply that the Ewan was called up into into the Army early in the war and he deserted and that he changed his name in order to avoid any embarrassing repercussions from the authorities.  A jolly good thing he did so, the idea of Ewan McColl soldiering on in in Europe instead of becoming a member of Theatre Workshop and developing the skills and artistic possibilities of Theatre Workshop seems quite ridiculous to me. I don't believe in soldiering at all costs but anyway …

Colin Moffat: Was he a pacifist?

Philip Donnellan: Not that I know of. He was a lifelong Communist although um absolutely staunch in his proletarian loyalties but somewhat vague in his social responses to Marxism.  I mean he enjoyed the good life when it became available just as we all did. And he saw nothing inconsistent with the, with his convictions in that and I think he was quite right. He was a great man he was a very very remarkable man indeed.  He had a great effect on my work because I I increasingly came to recognize with Charles the importance of folk music in terms of representing the sort of areas of experience and tradition and so on particularly in the industrial field that I was particularly interested in.
Colin Moffat: The contact between Charles Parker, Ewan McColl etc. that's actually a little bit later isn't it from where we are just at this moment when Charles Parker arrived in Birmingham …

Philip Donnellan: Yes in 1954.
Colin Moffat: ... he was already in touch was he not with folk music in some in some way even before he arrived in Birmingham in the North American service?
Philip Donnellan: Yes to a certain limited extent. He was in touch as many people were with American folk music I mean he knew a number of classical American ballads Moses and the Mail, things about railway disasters and things like that which are not uncommon in the American, in the common popular tradition of America.

Colin Moffat: Could Charles Parker sing?

Philip Donnellan: Oh yes yes. Oh yes. I mean I wouldn't say he was a natural singer and I'm not really qualified to judge. But certainly he trained himself as resolutely as a singer as he trained himself resolutely as a tape editor and a producer of radio material. Anything that he did he did with enormous conviction and passion if he decided something was worth doing he did it to the absolute final degree and it was one of the characteristics that made him most offensive to the BBC. BBC does not believe in passion it believes in objectivity and Charles and I must say I myself perhaps partly from my Irish background I always romantically think  so anyway were inclined to do things with absolute conviction and energy and that conflicted very severely with the attitudes of the BBC as expressed through their programme doctrines.  However,
Colin Moffat: Did you get on with Charles right from the beginning quite quite nicely?

Philip Donnellan: I always found him a kind of strange person partly because he was a profoundly Christian believer and despite the early Christian Science and, in my life I had long since left the Christian conviction behind me I was characteristic of an unthinking person who who for whom Christianity was a rather burdensome piece of luggage which you forget in the waiting room of the past, you know and …

Colin Moffat: Were you interested in religion in general, that side of life in a broad sense?
Philip Donnellan: Moderately but I don't think it's something on which I would waste time committing myself now. It didn't figure in my life or in the lives of the family that Jill and I have have created …

Colin Moffat: Did you discuss?

Philip Donnellan: … we wouldn't have objected if they had, I always said that first child, Thomas eldest child, would either be a croupier or a Church of England clergyman. He had an absolutely glib bonhommus quality, which might have marked him out for anything like that. In actual fact he is still a bit like that but much much more technically minded than either a croupier or a Church of England clergyman.
Colin Moffat: This difference between you and Charles was not a, it sounds as if it didn't get in the way of your working relationship anyway?

Philip Donnellan: He disapproved entirely of my irreligion.
Colin Moffat: Oh he did.

Philip Donnellan: He did but not in a way that stood in the way of our friendship. I mean he didn't ram it down my throat anymore than he rammed it down everybody's throat.
Colin Moffat: You weren't constantly arguing about Christianity?
Philip Donnellan: Oh no I wouldn't dream of arguing about religion. Charles saw it in everything. He wasn't a Sundays only Christian he profoundly believed in the structural importance of God in his work, a personal God.  And his notebooks again are full of these references and in his programmes if he were recording people the one thing that was absolutely sure to go into the finished programme was if there was a meaningful account of a person's relationship, however superficial in a sense, I still think it would be superficial but meaningful, in other words if they talked about God however marginally it always went into the programme because Charles saw that as a crucial element in his perception of the world. He was a, he lived in Harborne a suburb of Birmingham, in a biggish old house and he was, it was right opposite St Peter's Church and he became a a a member of the choir and sang in the Harborne Choir for many years and he did some of his earliest and and I believe most important and meaningful multi-media shows in relation to the church and they were always shot through both with visual and aural Christian significances. So the whole struggle he had to create and develop a new way of feeling and thinking about features radio was shot through with, first of all with his religious convictions and then increasingly in the ‘50s and the ‘60s as he became more and more musically dependent on Ewan McColl and his associates, who were Marxists, became shot through with a perception that Christianity wasn't quite enough and that somewhere along the line he had to take into account the Communist view of the world – the view of men as brothers not in Christ but in terms in Marx and in terms of social reality and exploitation and these other aspects of Marxist doctrine. He never made complete sense of that and there was always a profound tension in Charles because he was wracked by problems of conscience. Now one mustn't, one mustn't obscure the actual work that he did by referring too much to these moral problems they were part of his everyday life but his real work was broadcasting but he brought a whole complex of ideas attitudes to his work which were totally absent from mine. In other words I was much, much more glib and superficial in my perception about the needs of radio and until until a much, or rather later period in my life characterised I suppose by my contacts with with television which immediately foregrounded a different sort of significance in broadcasting to me and …

Colin Moffat: Did you allow him to influence you from the beginning? I mean …

Philip Donnellan: Well it wasn't a question of allowing it I mean if you have a close friend and a fellow worker whose office is just along the passage from yours and you’re constantly in and out of people's, the other people's office, the other person's office and you are sent always as a routine we send each other copies of our scripts in advance. We talked in the canteen or in in social occasions because I went fairly frequently to his house and he to ours. In fact our visitor's book at home has got H Charles Parker and Phil his wife in I think the second week that he was in Birmingham. I wanted to make it very clear because obviously I'd been there already 6 years, 8 years by the time Charles came, no um 6 years I'd been in Birmingham by the time Charles came I didn't want him to feel that I was in any way resentful of his coming in at a higher level in the programme production hierarchy. He um I was extremely glad and genuinely so that that he had been appointed to the senior Features Producer’s job rather than me. He was much, in my view he was a much more significant broadcasting figure in radio than I ever was.
Colin Moffat: Can you can you describe a typical feature programme of that time when you were first with Charles Parker either produced by you or him or that really would represent both of you in a general sort of way?
Philip Donnellan: Yes well the first thing is that they were they were, the most characteristic one would be a contact between a producer Charles or me; let's assume that it's my programme I have a particular idea, which I'm anxious to pursue.  If I have the idea I would almost invariably sit down and write the programme eventually after some degree of research usually in those days it would be research in books or through talking to people but less of the latter.
Now that contact between me and a subject might come through contact with a regional writer.  I comparatively rarely compared with Charles who launched himself much more onto the national plain of of outside writers, I would if I thought it was appropriate, I would get hold of a particular writer and encourage him to write a 30, 45 or 60 minute film on a particular subject.
Now that contact might take its place with at least half-a-dozen other contacts of a similar sort that one was running at any particular time. In other words you would engage in developing scripts and ideas throughout the, the throughout the year. The year itself was broken down into quarters: you made submissions of programme ideas and proposals to the Programme Head for every quarter, you made it in the previous quarter and so this is what I proposed to do in the third or fourth quarter of this year.  Now so the continuum of the office work of a producer would be the development with say half-a-dozen contributors of ideas for work ahead while at the same time you might be writing or compiling or editing the immediate work of the quarter that you were actually living through.
Okay let's assume that either I have written a script or somebody else has written a script. The next thing would be to cast it, you might need anything up to 12, 15 sometimes 20 actors in a production. There was there was absolutely no concern with budget, now other people's experience at exactly the same time as I'm talking about was completely different. For example if I talk to David Litton about this he will say I was given so much to make a programme, I was never conscious of that money was not a factor in the process of making programmes in my experience. So I would cast with a high proportion of London actors but there would inevitably be probably 25% of the smaller parts would be taken by regional actors, people who were living in or around Birmingham. If there were special vernacular accent needs from Norfolk say, it was always difficult to get actors who could do Norfolk accent, then you would cast the very few people who could or if you want if if a particular sequence of a play was set in Derbyshire in rural Derbyshire you would you would get in probably an actor and there would be an actor in Derby.

Colin Moffat: You are talking about players at this point?

Philip Donnellan: I am talking about acted pieces.  Yes but not play …

Colin Moffat: What form of programme are you talking about?

Philip Donnellan: Well a feature programme this is the problem in defining a feature programme.  A feature programme juggled with the techniques, which had been developed over the years mostly by well people like David Thompson,
Rayner Heppenstall, Louis McNiece, W R Rogers in the Features Department in London.

Colin Moffat: Yes, yes.

Philip Donnellan: You would listen to their work as I had done for years as an announcer covering programme junctions in the continuity studio, I listened to programmes and so I knew what people were doing. I have a sort of command of the language of radio, which is available to features producers and writers. Colin Moffat: Yes I'm still not clear what what, what form these programmes took beyond what sound like acted sequences.

Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: What were the other components?
Philip Donnellan: The other components were um um narrative voices. Now you might have one, two or three different narrative voices from different stances within a programme. For instance if you were if you were say talking about the history of the Birmingham Post for example which was a programme that I did at some point in the ‘50s to celebrate the centenary of the Birmingham Post, it was written by Kenneth Byrd who had actually worked on the Birmingham Post.  He was a freelance writer, he later came into the BBC as publicity officer, he was a journalist. He was a very skilled and fluent writer with quite a useful sort of sense of the politics of the occasion although at that time I wasn't the slightest bit interested in politics and I was a quite apolitical, typical BBC type producer.
Now Byrd would write a script which consisted of various narrators it might, I don't recall the actual programme but I was, the sort of things he would be juggling with would be the Birmingham man who would be the common man who was a newspaper reader who might have a particular perspective from which to speak. ‘Why is it like that?’ the the common man might say, the journalist might might be another character a generalized image of a journalist might be another character in describing how the Birmingham Post had changed during the Victorian period through into the present day. The interaction between the local paper and local politicians that might be handled by a journalist figure and there would be the magisterial voice of a series of famous editors who had characterised the Victorian, Edwardian and contemporary period. Now these people would be characterised at the same time there might be an objective narrator voice which said that ‘In 1893 the paper changed hands it fell into the hands of a group of local landowners who articulated a different editorial line’ and then you would you would start again.
Colin Moffat: These were documentary based programmes I mean they dealt with the with the record, the public record on all these matters?

Philip Donnellan: They dealt with what was ostensibly called reality but it was the reality of the imagination using historical fact as far as you could discern it as a basis for for rewriting history. Now at the same time of course if you had acted scenes for example you might reconstruct the pressroom of the Birmingham Post with two or three characters in it. You'd want people with with Birmingham working-class accents, you would want effects, you would want acoustics in the studio that provided you with an an acoustic framework on the air which was akin to what you had heard and seen in the pressroom of the Birmingham Post. So all these components, which really it's it's quite difficult to to describe with confidence because it could range across the entire imaginative spectrum. You could have, you could try and reconstruct one of Henry VIII’s commissioners exploring Pershore Abbey in the 14th century and you would have monks droning on and playing the song and the the the abbot meeting the commissioner and you'd have to provide an acoustic and an oral framework for that.
And the Birmingham Post, I mean the range of programmes could be entirely at your imagination. I mean I did in the, very early in my experience 1951 same time that I was doing more or less at the time I was doing a programme on a power cut with a couple of, as I described, a couple of actuality narrators who were just real people I was doing a programme on the Warwickshire Cricket Club.  And of course what you did then was to reconstruct the sound of the County Ground and you would you would find out about the the struggles between gentlemen and players in the Victorian period and how a club became professional and hyped and so on. So these things were only limited by the scope of your contact with the generalised historical and contemporary experience of people in the region and what you could do with the material on this, what another writer could do with the materials on this in the framework of a 30 or 45 minute programme.
Colin Moffat: Yes.  This imaginary programme you've just been describing is obviously one set mainly in the past, which is why you used actors, the only way to do it but presumably there were programmes that brought the story of something or other up to date. How did you deal with the present day? Were you then able to get into actuality recording?

Philip Donnellan: Well of course the rule of thumb that was enjoined on me from the beginning was that you didn't mix dramatic construction with actuality material because in some way or others was liable to be confusing to the audience if you had an actor who was a skilled vernacular, Birmingham vernacular speaker and you had him speaking words which you had written for him in a particular part and you then cut to a piece of actuality in a rather similar vernacular which said other things there was a danger of confusion between the actor and the actuality speaker and the real person.
Colin Moffat: Did you yourself believe this would mean mixing the conventions in the wrong way?
Philip Donnellan: No. I mean I'm more or less towed the line. If there were convention, programme conventions I would easily accept what I was told. And David Gretton who was the as it were the editor of all these scripts and works that that we produced he would he would say or write, very often written but we might he said “Philip I don't think that er what you've done in that script about the Warwickshire Cricket County Cricket Club is going to work. You know there's a real danger there that that that er wicket keeper chap you talked to he sounds he is liable to sound certainly looks like on the page exactly like the bloke you've got up in front of him. I mean is that going to work?” And I would say “Well I think it's going to work but I don't know. What do you think? You think it's inadvisable?” and he would say “Well I wouldn't do it if I was you my own experience would be …” and so on.  So that was how the wisdom of the, of professional techniques was passed on. It was all rather hit and miss but there was a debate if you like but a small scale one.
Colin Moffat: Nevertheless you were making also programmes about present day life in the Midlands were you?  And then of course …
Philip Donnellan: My inclination alas I'm afraid that a vast amount of the work I produced was historical.

Colin Moffat: You mean that actually was your interest?

Philip Donnellan: I had always been profoundly interested and excited and moved by the events and facts of history as they were said to be. I didn't exercise a searching scrutiny of what historical truth actually meant I tended to accept it and I would write things that in retrospect that are embarrassing thin and inadequate as expressions of a particular subject however cogently framed within the techniques and styles of radio presentation.  I mean they might be very cleverly done but they but their examination and scrutiny and imaginative penetration of the likely perspectives of history as it had been experienced in the past was almost completely lacking. I mean I remember one of the earliest dramatisations that I did was in my view more interesting, I had I developed partly from a radio series that had been produced by Ted Livesey which I had announced way back in ‘48 or ‘49 called The Silver Bowl which was about a historical fact called the Campden Wonder which paralysed the informed classes of Elizabethan England about something that had happened in Chipping Campden which was part of our region in I think 1616 or thereabouts. Now Ted Livesey did a brilliant series of programmes in serialising Hugh Ross Williamson's book The The silver Bowl. It was about witchcraft his analysis and I became very interested in this and it so happened that the head of staff training at the BBC at that time Michael Penerthorn Hughes was also himself an expert on witchcraft.  And I started to explore this in amongst the all the other things that I found fascinating about the environment the landscape, the countryside and the, and the past in the Midlands. I found myself very interested in witchcraft, historical witchcraft I wasn't interested in contemporary witchcraft because I didn't, I assumed it didn't exist and I didn't ask whether it existed. And I found out that the last trial for witch murder, for murdering a woman because she was alleged to be a witch, took place in the Warwick assizes in 1875.  And this case came, revolved around the the the personality of a farm labourer in a village called Long Compton out on the Warwickshire/Oxfordshire border. And I went out to Long Compton explored this and then I went to the original records of the trial and I wrote a 30 minute, 45 minute programme which dramatised the trial and the various issues about the existence of witchcraft in the village and the things that the accused had said. And and then followed it with a discussion about witchcraft which included the head of staff training and Hugh Ross Williamson. Now this was called A Brief Inquiry Into Witches.

End Side 7

Start Side 8

Colin Moffat: Philip Donnellan side 8.

Philip Donnellan: That program was called A Brief Inquiry into Witches and it in a funny way it led quite directly into an initial contact with television.  And if I may go on in that direction now briefly I mean we can come back to radio if we want to but but I think I think perhaps it's premature to do that because I haven't completely answered your programme about the nature of the activity in the studio and perhaps I ought just to say something about that. Now we can take A Brief Inquiry into Witches and now the cast was smaller in that case: I would have a judge, I would have two lawyers, I would have the accused who would have to be a really rural Warwickshire voice.
Now I mentioned Ted Livesey’s series on The Silver Bowl and a number of others and Ted had developed among villagers in Chipping Campden a sort of repertory company of people who were extraordinarily good radio actors. And indeed it was one of the reasons why The Archers was so successful right from the beginning was that the people in it were real people although they later joined Equity the actors union and became professional radio actors they were initially merely villagers from the Warwickshire/Gloucestershire border and the villages around a whole number of them so that there was a ready corpus of actors available to take part in this which had a sort of affect, a certain leverage on the sort of programmes that we did. I mean the, you know the Campden Wonders as they came to be called were were so good and so real that there was a tendency to look for programmes which would use their talents.

However, okay well you you have a cast of half-a-dozen actors you would then the script would be typed in the appropriate format, you would have two studio managers perhaps plus a panel operator. The studio managers one would do the gram.. the gramophone the disc effects which would be in the control room in the gallery that you produced from, the other would would probably be involved with effects in the studio. The cliché image is coconut shells, half coconut shells for horses’ hooves whereas in fact you've gotten plenty of horses galloping or whatever on disc though.  The spot effects man would open doors and close doors and make feet going upstairs or whatever.

Colin Moffat: You talking about live broadcast here?

Philip Donnellan: I'm talking about live broadcast. Everything went out live. It wasn't recorded.

Colin Moffat: Why not?

Philip Donnellan: Well just facilities were not available there was no point.

Colin Moffat: No disc recording?

Philip Donnellan: There was disc recording for effect use but on the whole unless something had a possible value in terms of a later repeat on the basic Home Service things would would not be recorded.

Colin Moffat: The reason it was impractical was because the recording time was so short on the disc wasn’t it?

Philip Donnellan: Er …

Colin Moffat: You had a whole series of discs to put a programme on?

Philip Donnellan: Yes but if you were going to record a 45 minute programme off transmission you would use 33⅓ disc equipment in a in a special technical area in the recording area so that there was no particular problem about that but they were regarded as expensive commodities. So you didn't record off transmission without there being some valid reason for thinking that the programme had a future. Most of the stuff didn't have a future it went out once it was part of the Midland Home Service on a particular night and and and it disappeared into limbo. That was the overwhelming thing in moving from from sound radio into film making in the ‘50s because by definition at the end of making a programme on film, even though it was called a programme rather than a film, you had a can of film which you could send anywhere in the world if you could get hold of it and didn't matter what the language was, you would you could proclaim whether you were a good or a bad film maker with radio you never had anything except a script.  And so there was a powerful sense of a creative product at the end of filmmaking, which was totally absent from radio.
Colin Moffat: But just before we go into films if that's what we're going to do can you just say a little bit more about whether feature programmes were able now to cover contemporary material and did you start then?  We have mentioned the arrival of the portable tape recorder presumably is that what allowed features to deal with the present day scene? Or could you was there some means of doing a feature program by lugging these disc recorders around?
Philip Donnellan: Oh yes of course there was. There were various ways and I mean the a great many radio producers, features producers we're dealing with nothing else.  You mustn't imagine, and I'm sure you don't, that that the entire output of the Midland Home Service focused on Charles and me it certainly didn't and 99, no not 99 but say 90% of the rest of the Midland Home Service would be non-historical material. So it took its place in a in a sort of palimpsest of of of general material about the present day.  But in terms of feature programmes dealing with the present day yes we did start from 1955 onwards when there was an editing channel. You see the coming of the tape recorder opened up the possibilities of editing tape, now that had not really been fully understood or imaginatively predicted by the people who had ordered, the BBC or the people who designed, the tape recorder. It wasn't designed for editing of course it was much too small scale and that the the tape deck was not designed for editing couldn't be used for editing.
Colin Moffat: So the midget didn't pre-suppose editing it was going to be used to make just sort of longish recordings which might stay in that form or just fed into other programmes …

Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: … or they might indeed be the complete thing it might just be a 20 minute interview with somebody which you could then …

Philip Donnellan: It might but that was very unlikely. And within a very very short time of of getting the midget recorders the question of editing had obtruded quite practically and sharply.  For the simple example that even with discs we had been editing material to make programmes as I described about Charlie Andrews, although it was difficult and the quality was bad.  But there was no question within a very short time of getting the the tape recorder the the question of editing became paramount. Now at that time and I certainly edited edited material for programmes in 1954 and it was done in a completely different way than the way it's done now. For instance you you cut you cut the tape with a pair of brass scissors to avoid clicks on it and you then dissolved off the the acetate coating or whatever it was the brown coating on the tape dissolved it with a solvent and you then put glue on the other side and you stuck it together. Now that process meant that every cut took about err 25 seconds. Colin Moffat: Did you yourself do that?

Philip Donnellan: No no I didn't. An ed a tape editor did that who the particular instance I have in my imagination as I describe it is a man who would have been a an ordinary engineer not necessarily a recording engineer probably a control room engineer.  But certainly in Birmingham and I'm not aware of the experience in other places but certainly in Birmingham that quickly fell into the hands of two highly talented women who had been control room engineers but when there were volunteers called for they volunteered to become tape editors knowing nothing about it at first. This was Mary Baker and a woman called Jimmy Bailey, she was known as Jimmy because her initials were GIM. And and the the reasonably glib but not inaccurate assumption was that women were more nimble fingered than men and therefore could could handle the fine detail of tape editing more competently than men.  Mark you …

Colin Moffat: Because they did needlework and that sort of thing?

Philip Donnellan: In actual fact of course they were marvellous suited to tape editing because they had very quick minds. They understood exactly what was happening in the producer's mind whereas a great many people who had been control room engineers who were male would never have got within miles of understanding what you were trying to get out in a particular program. However, there it is.
Colin Moffat: Who was most interested in the potential of tape editing you Charles or somebody else or what?
Philip Donnellan: Oh at that time I probably did more tape editing than Charles did. When I say I did a tape editor did it for me. It was years it was when I went into television and found there was no ¼” tape editing that I started editing tape myself and Charles had started before that.  But just erm just to go back, I forget actually where where I was I was I was too oh yes, my first experience of tape the first time I became conscious of tape editing was when in in 1955 early in 1955 one of the programmes, I'd started a series of programmes in East Anglia called Down to the Sea which looked at the whole perspective of life at sea in a series of talks. It was a magazine programme done once a month and gave me a marvellous outlet to go to East Anglia and collect expenses for doing so and staying away and having a great time and then coming back and drinking too much all the rest of it – great fun. However, in 1955 the man who had proposed that programme with whom I worked regularly a man called Roy Clark who lived at Kessingland south of Great Yarmouth um he said “Why don't we do A Down to the Sea about the relationship between East Anglia and Denmark? Let's go to Denmark.” So this is quite adventurous, nobody went abroad things in those days. However we did and we spent a week in Denmark and we got some marvellous stuff on tape. And I edited that programme with the Danish State Radio in Copenhagen and to my astonishment what did I see when I arrived at the Radiohuset in Copenhagen I was taken up to their tape editing channel. Now their tape editing channel was a control room, circular control room with eight tape editing channels around it where engineers worked with tapes in a vertical mode, vertical position not horizontal which was the way subsequently the BBC adopted it in which we now conventionally think of as a way to edit tapes, they worked vertically with the tape spools vertical.  And in no time at all there was a highly competent young man who spoke completely fluent English editing my programme for me – it was an absolute knockout. At that time when the they well a poor relation the Danish Radio had 8 tape editing channels in its major studio the BBC had one tape editing channel in Broadcasting House in London that was the only one in the country – this vast panoply of radio experience and the BBC had one tape-editing channel. So I came back to Birmingham of course absolutely convinced of the power of tape editing and it was it was later in that year before we actually had a tape-editing channel in Birmingham, one tape-editing channel.
Colin Moffat: What did the management I mean think of this development? Was there a school of thought that was a little bit suspicious of all this? It seems to me that it could have created problems that if we're going to make more programmes on location with tape recorders that we're not going to give so much work to actors?
Philip Donnellan: No.

Colin Moffat: You don't think so?

Philip Donnellan: I'm not aware of that. I think Denis Morris in particular, the Programme Head, was was a fairly innovative and expanding thinker about these things. He wasn't he wasn't creative in a real sense but his his view of his personnel was his responsibility for allowing their innovative instincts if they had any to develop and he never stood in the way of that sort of thing. David Gratton was a little more cautious he would think of the financial constraints the possibilities of of and I have no doubt that perhaps he may have mentioned it but it never it never became part of any dogmatic concern that I was aware of.
Colin Moffat: It's just that it has been said even in the television period that one of the reasons studio programmes continue to play a big part in the whole schedule is the fact that the studios exist and must be used …

Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: … and if we start phasing them out and shooting on location we've got certain personnel problems.

Philip Donnellan: Absolutely, absolutely. But I think that was too small scale to be fully envisaged at the time.

Colin Moffat: Yes.

Philip Donnellan: Although I suspect given the complexity of the BBC I'm quite sure this was taken into account somewhere. But I never felt any inhibitions on that front. Nobody ever said look at least a proportion of your programmes must take place in the studio with actors now. No not at all.
Colin Moffat: What about the decision to allow this new EMI midget to be handled by producers, was that a bit of an issue when that idea came up?  Where did that idea come from?
Philip Donnellan: Well I did speak about that yesterday I think and I said we couldn't I have tried in vain to find at the written archive centre at Caversham any technical or managerial decision about that but I've not been able to find anything, I've talked to quite a number of people. “When did this decision take? How was it pushed through? Isn't it completely against the grain of engineering department jealous enclosure of their own technical resources?” They didn't trust producers and so on and so on. But nobody's ever been able to put a finger on it.
Colin Moffat: You didn't meet any objection in Birmingham to it you didn't hear sort of people mumbling I mean you know, “What's going on here? They've got these new recorders and the producers are going to take them out and use them without any engineers present.” Wasn't there anything like that?
Philip Donnellan: Now in a more strongly unionized situation that would undoubtedly have taken place on that political, with a small p, front. But and while there were undoubtedly, I can't recall particular instances but I'm quite sure given the nature of the of the region and some of the personalities in engineering I'm quite sure those those doubts were expressed.  “Can you imagine X or Y going out with one of these bloody things? He wouldn't know what to do with it” and that sort of thing.  I’m sure it was said.

Colin Moffat: Not entirely unreasonable if the fear was that technical standards might start to drop because the producers might in some cases just not be competent enough.
Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: Yes.

Philip Donnellan: Well there was, there was training there was producer training with the new machines and I've got an entry in my diary for February 1954, which says producer training on one afternoon.  But after all we're talking about a very simple operation uh though Charles himself was conscious of that of the real difficulties of getting close-up actuality speech because the doctrine was that you put your speaker about 2½ foot to 3 foot away from the microphone in studio situations and certainly when even when he worked with a recording car the normal standard was at least 18 inches or 2 foot away from the mouth for the microphones we had at that time.
Colin Moffat: Did this stem from the the methods used in studios is that it?
Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: Yes. That's why they thought it was …

Philip Donnellan: Yes. For instance in a in a studio situation with a non, with an inexperienced broadcaster or even somebody inexperienced who was acting in in a in a radio situation you I I picked up what it was called the 3 foot rule which was that the speaker was 3 foot from the microphone and the listener at the other end was 3 foot from their large speaker. So you had the 6-foot divide. It was a 6 foot rule: 3 foot, 3 feet from the speaker to the microphone 3 feet from their loud speaker to the listener and it was called the 6-foot rule. And broadly speaking that was quite a useful thing with studio microphones and studio acoustics. Charles agonized over this. He at first thought the strength of the tape recorder was overheard material so he went out on one programme and all the material that he collected was overheard. He pinned a microphone on his lapel and and tried to capture people's musings to each other and it was a total disaster. But it was the product as all of Charles's experimentation was not of casual encounter with something that he didn't understand but extremely thought out. He thought that that overheard recording was more likely to reveal some sort of truth and he wrote an article about it in The Radio Times and there was an article in a Birmingham paper before the programme was broadcast ‘Charles Parker had cracked the problem of the tape recorder.’ Well of course it was a total disaster I mean the stuff was inaudible, the quality was appalling and Charles is on record in a lecture he gave to students at the Polytechnic of Central London some years before he died, quite a short time before he died, in which he in which he agonised over how to record people with sufficient presence with the quality of their voices right there in your ear.  And in pursuit of that he went to talk to Dennis Mitchell in Manchester who had pioneered from the early ‘50s a series of programmes called People Talking, once the tape recorder came into the hands of Dennis Mitchell Dennis knew what to do with it he planted it on a table in a cafe somewhere or in a bar. And speaking as little as possible himself he stuck the microphone into people's gobs and said tell me about your life in effect and they did. And Charles went to Dennis and gathered the fruits of Dennis's technical experience with these programmes. And Dennis said “Get them, forget what the engineers say get the microphone as close as you can to a person's mouth. You will quickly be able to tell whether you are over modding get it close to them.” And so Charles concluded his lecture by saying the strength of the actuality recording is identical to the strength of the close-up in film you've got to get close in and you've got to have presence on the material that you record. So now I mean this microphone on me is I suppose is 6 or 7 inches away from my mouth which is the ideal distance if you're going to get real quality from a speaker and record even the intakes of breath, the asthmatic quality of some people the sense of their reality comes through on the mic. And as we went on getting more experienced with the tape recorder you realised a whole range of complex emotional relationships which developed around that extraordinary focus the point of the microphone and the way it set up a confessional relationship in the space between you and a speaker and and all sorts of techniques we developed from that.

Colin Moffat: You are talking about a handheld mic?

Philip Donnellan: I'm talking about a handheld mike. Yes. The clip mic, which leaves you free to behave rather differently, was unknown in those days. And indeed the early mics that we had were very limited for use in external filming but they were marvellous for handling in relation to a particular person.

Colin Moffat: To get back to your particular work, your programmes and presumably you got your hands on the recorder as quickly as you could, were you encouraged to keep going on the stuff you described you did with Charlie Andrews on disc?  I mean did did Gretton & Co say you know Philip you ought to continue with these these studies of individuals. Take out the recorder and now you're going to be rather better better provided for.

Philip Donnellan: No.

Colin Moffat: Did you want to do it and did you do it?
Philip Donnellan: No I I didn't strangely enough no I no I I tended to confine myself within the framework of what interested me which was writing. I mean I was really if I was anything I was a writer. I mean of course until I came into the BBC I'd never written any sort of dramatic material but I had ground out a vast amount of semi-personal material on account of an interview with a famous actor a feature story for the Surrey & Hants News in Farnham on some local happening did call into play one's own sense of structure and dramatic handling of words. And when therefore I moved away from announcing I found myself having a field day with what I really enjoyed doing which was sitting down and driving a pen across a piece of paper.  And so while I was excited by the prospect of the use of the tape recorder it certainly didn't dominate my considerations. I did mention earlier that we were yeah you know an almost literary group of people for whom the word was terribly important and the word meant the word written down. And that in a sense is what I rather resent about the about the traditional nature of the, of the framework of BBC programmes in that that was enjoined on me at the time almost unconsciously.  I mean I got that I got that feeling.

Now Dennis Mitchell in Manchester who was much more experienced a, much more sophisticated than I was as well as being at least 15 years old with a wide variety of radio experience he took a much more independent line. So he did his people talking using the midget recorder very early while at the same time producing major programmes at the studio.

Colin Moffat: So you were a slow convert?

Philip Donnellan: Oh I I've always been very slow to pick up ideas. Well quick to pick up ideas but slow to develop them.
Colin Moffat: One wouldn't guess this from your later television work which seems to me you know you used it a lot later didn’t you the portable?
Philip Donnellan: Yes well …

Colin Moffat: I mean there must be a separate reason for that?

Philip Donnellan: Well whether there is a reason or not the fact is that that I found the representation of the picture and the sound an absolutely compelling area of artistic work. And I I in a way that I took to it like oh well you know cliché a duck to water in a way that hadn't been the case in radio.  I was reasonably competent in radio as I've explained but I never found the intense compulsion that came when one understood something about the nature of montage and the possibilities that flowed from it. But that in looking towards television now I talked earlier about witchcraft and I've not talked about tape recording and these two things in a sense can be seen to come together in a particular manifestation.
Colin Moffat: Yes of course we can come back to your work with Charles a little later when we when we talk about your adaptations of some of his musical documentaries.?

Philip Donnellan: Oh absolutely.

Colin Moffat: Maybe we should now now go into your first contact with film, which took place presumably in Birmingham did it?
Philip Donnellan: No it didn't.  Now how should we actually go about this …  first of all I think I must momentarily relate it to ¼ inch tape editing because what very quickly tended to obtrude itself once you started cutting tape and you got sudden sharp juxtapositions of material because instead of the fades and the transformations of scene which had been very slow in normal studio production elegant fades, new voices coming in, people exchanging and a form of dialogue, observations and so on with tape you put a of scissors in or you cut it with a razor blade and you could put people's voices one after the other bang, bang, bang, bang as fast as you like to cut it.

Colin Moffat: Why would you want to do that?

Philip Donnellan: Well because there was an element of surprise within it. You could go from the seclusion of a church … this this comes up as a particular example I made a film about the area known as the Bullring in Birmingham, which was a fairly sleazy rundown area but characterized …

Colin Moffat: A film?

Philip Donnellan: No on tape in the middle ‘50s. I made a I spent a lot of time in the Bullring talking to tramps and drop-outs and so on and and you then cut from the quiet of a church to the roaring nature of the Bullring hawkers and so on. Now this may have been some residual impression of film that accustomed us to that technique and there we find it reborn in terms of the tape recorder. I don’t know it's very difficult to attribute precise deterministic motivations for these things that happen in your imagination or in your daily experience.

Colin Moffat: Well it does sound different from what other people might have done which is to just go out and make a sort of radio report on the Bullring
which wouldn't necessarily have involved heavily editing the thing at all but it is some interviews with some people involved in the Bullring.

Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: That's the more journalistic kind of middle of the road kind of programme?

Philip Donnellan: Yes certainly but I think perhaps I I mustn't over-emphasise but at the same time I mustn't ignore the the sense of surprise I got from editing in Denmark in the way that I described.  One really did see the potential of exciting juxtapositions of material which didn't come, as far as I can recall, didn't come primarily from any residual film memory. They came merely from the excitement of being able to put scenes tightly together and provide sudden a shift of perspective and so on. And that was quite an exciting innovation.

Colin Moffat: Since you …

Philip Donnellan: But I wouldn't say I was pioneering in any real sense in that I mean it was just one of the attributes of tape that we rediscovered if you like.

Colin Moffat: The, you mentioned that there may have been subconsciously an influence from film, the montage idea in itself of fast juxtaposition of images, pictures and then why not the in sound. What was your knowledge of the cinema or the film at this point just as you were coming up to to start dealing with it?  And how much did you know about it?  Were you a person who was interested in films?
Philip Donnellan: I'm afraid the short answer to that is no. My perception of film was purely of a story told in a particular mode on a screen. I didn't know what a close up was or a long shot I didn't distinguish between it it seemed to be a perfectly acceptable grammar in the same way that a book would would, there would be all sorts of techniques embedded in the way in which somebody wrote a novel but I wouldn't understand these I would just read the book for as as an experience and the same with film.
I mean from the earliest days I think my first recollection of film is Harold Lloyd in Welcome Danger which was probably about 1928 or ‘29 when I was 4 or 5, how I was taken to the cinema at that age I'm not quite sure!  But I certainly remember the first documentary I saw with which I can remember scenes this day that was in 1929 it was called With Byrd to the South Pole it was the Admiral Byrd Expedition to the South Pole I remember them shooting the huskies. It would inevitably for an English child be malfeasance to the animals you know [LAUGHTER] How ridiculous but I suppose my parents used to take us or take me I don't remember my sister being there to the movies in in Guildford not irregularly and not regularly I mean but fairly frequently I saw all sorts of strange things. I remember seeing a film about Ireland called Ourselves Alone but that must have been which is after all what Sinn Fein means in Irish. I remember seeing that it might have been ’34, ‘35 may not have been as early as that it's very difficult to distinguish years in one's memories.

Colin Moffat: I was really thinking of …
Philip Donnellan: A science fiction movie called FP1 about a floating platform in the middle of the Atlantic with all sorts of model shots of planes painful model shots I recognized them as models but it didn't actually detract from the sense of reality I got from the idea. And Charles Laughton in films in the later ‘30s and so on.
Colin Moffat: Yes. What about at the time you were at the BBC, what was going on in the cinema around the time of the middle ‘50s anything that interested you?
Philip Donnellan: I can't remember even seeing a film in Birmingham in the ‘50s. I had abs, I would say that I had no film culture at all and that film culture on the whole wasn't in the air in the BBC there wasn't I never got the faintest flicker of of a parallelism between broadcasting and film for example they were both modes of communication such an idea never crossed the surface of my mind as far as I know. There were regular film reviews broadcast by the middle home service but there were regular theatre reviews as well you know 10 or 15 minute talks on what's on in the film world in Birmingham at this moment and so on.  I wouldn't listen to these with any attention. But the thing that changed that was one absolutely symbolic event, which I remember with great clarity and after all that was in that was in 1956 when I was after all 32, which is pretty late and that was the Observer Film Exhibition in Trafalgar Square. And quite by chance I'd known that bombsite on the corner of Trafalgar Square for years and I think I'd been to other exhibitions that had been put up temporarily there. But in 1956 the Observer Film Exhibition was on that corner by the National Gallery and I went to it and on the steps I met a young man or going in I met a young man and and I got involved in some sort of discussion I may have said “What's the point of my coming into this exhibition?” I would have said something mildly abrasive and challenging to this bloke and it was David Robinson the film critic. And and so he argued strongly that I that I should come in and we had a we had an exchange and I went in and I I saw Battleship Potemkin and I I think I saw, I might have even seen A Diary for Timothy I don't know but suddenly film became real for me I suddenly saw it with different eyes. Perhaps I'd be exaggerating if I said I had any conscious memory of the way I saw it it just impressed me enormously and very soon after that Free Cinema started and I went to all the Free Cinema events in London.

Colin Moffat: What was Free Cinema?

Philip Donnellan: Free Cinema were, capital F capital C, was a series of programmes developed by the newly established National Film Theatre, which I think probably opened in ‘56 or ‘57. And Free Cinema was independent cinema outside the assumed limitations of either commercial cinema, which made a great many commercial films, advertising films and so on which one would see in in routine cinema programmes as a filler or short in between the main films. Or or the documentaries of the GPO Film Unit and so on which I wasn't particularly conscious of at the time.
ColinMofatt: So Free Cinema was a series of programmes by people who were handling new aspects of the England of 1956? Now we're talking about I'm not sure whether you will know better than I did Free Cinema start in 1956 or 1957?

Philip Donnellan: But these were views of the sort of England that had been represented by John Osborne's play Look Back in Anger.

Colin Moffat: You are talking about documentaries not story films aren’t you?

Philip Donnellan: I'm talking about documentary yes.

Colin Moffat: They were by definition documentaries?

Philip Donnellan: Yes yes they were but they were they were documentaries that had storylines that very often were much closer to the idea of a story film. There were people in them who moved through them and became definable as real people. And I think that it was that that caught my attention after all I was dealing in roughly the same coin in radio and all this is mixed up together in my mind between the tape recorder, the powers of the tape recorder to capture sort of reality from people's voices and a sudden recognition that other people were doing this in a slightly different way but parallel way in film. And I became immediately hooked on these things and at the same time in ‘56 and ‘57 I became formally involved in in television, now on the fringes of television I have to say.

Now we've got got to remember I think I've said this as an aside earlier on in this conversation: I've referred to the general policy in the BBC certainly in the regions where it became more possible for ambidexterity among the production classes.  The idea was that producers should see that the future tended to be more in the direction of television and they ought to consider how they were going to work in television as well as in sound radio. And of course those of us who who worked in a free area of broadcasting features rather than in specifically agricultural programmes or Children's Hour or Talks we were the people who might have had the freedom to work more generally towards television then and perhaps increasingly in a less way exclusively in radio and I found that extremely attractive.
In fact my first formal contract with television was much earlier than this I've just remembered that when I was an announcer and still seeing myself, although rather hopelessly now, in the Richard Dimbleby mode of being a commentator on great events or a reporter with a roving commission there was an advertisement either on Arial or on BBC notice noticeboards which said people who fancy themselves as commentators may attend a an audition at Alexandra Palace, you should apply through your personnel officer etc. etc. So I immediately applied for an audition and I had an audition in perhaps it was 1949. I went down to Alexandra Palace and there were a number of hopefuls I should think and I went into a small booth and was given a lip mic and they ran a piece of film in front of me and I had to do a commentary on it without having seen it before. And I was pretty hopeless but I had this you know this valuable standard southern English voice which was the dominating voice in television at the same time as it was in radio at that time and I then met the man who was conducting the auditions and he was an outside broadcast producer called Aubrey Singer and his name became much more familiar to me in later years when Aubrey rose through into the hierarchy of the BBC. I was accepted as a as a possible commentator and in 1952 when I was on holiday I got a telegram from Aubrey Singer saying would I commentate would I commentate on the first televised church service at Warlingham Parish Church in Surrey. Well I thought my moment of fame had arrived I thought I was made I could see a great glowing future for myself. So I came back off holiday and arrived in Warlingham without the faintest idea what I was going to have to do and it was pouring with rain and it was September and everybody in the world seemed to be there and a full OB crew if not two, the place was rigged with cables and wires I was completely astonished by this sight. I was invited to sit on a wet tombstone outside with a very very dim blue monitor and commentate on the opening minute of the, of the church service. In effect I was doing I was doing merely an announcement about it but it was couched in a more free and easy and relaxed form so that I was allowed to improvise to a certain extent which I'd continually done to the displeasure of the Programme Head in lots of announcements that I had done in Birmingham in the previous two or three years. So that was my first acquaintance of television and it was horrifying and I hated it.
And then as ambidexterity and the possibilities of it increased with the arrival of an outside broadcast unit to Birmingham in 1951 or ‘52 I'm not sure of the exact date, complete with producer Barry Edgar whom I've referred to before, they started to do nine again opt-out regional magazine programmes and one or two people who had done interviews in the region were invited to take part in these and they were absolutely ghastly programmes. I can’t I mean I was eager enough to take part because I thought this would lead to opportunities of course I was quite wrong.  But they would be done in the Bingley Hall which was opposite er the studios in Broad Street or they'd be done in Saltley Baths and I remember one particularly awful experience where they had thought Saltley Baths could be used on a drive-in basis for the outside broadcast unit. The cameras would be brought in the the the swimming bath would be covered with a floor and all of us would roll into this and and I had to interview the owner of a shire horse that had won a prize in the Derby Horse Show that afternoon. They had transported this gigantic beast into the Saltley Baths for this programme, which went out live at half past seven or eight or something like that, not eight I'm sure it's much too near the crucial hours of broadcasting. Well this was a gigantic horse which weighed about two tons and had feet the size of a small coffee table and and I remember Barry Edgar bustling along at some point in the thing and saying to the owner “We need to keep its feet still.” And the owner said, “Oh yes oh yes it'll keep its feet still sir”, of course all television producers are addressed as Sir by the ordinary populace quite naturally. And of course we were number three on the menu and this horse was wonderfully docile except now and again as horses will it picked up one of its feet and put it carefully down again.  But the noise on this covered swimming bath was absolute phenomenal it sounded as though an atom bomb had gone off not far away. And the last time the animal picked up its foot it put it down on my toe and this was about 10 seconds before I was cued to start the interview.  And when the camera cut to me I was standing there trying to get this brute to lift its leg and the owner was very solicitous and the the the animal eventually picked up its leg and released me and then the interview went on with a painful bruise which bothers me still 30 years later.

End Side 8

Start Side 9

Colin Moffat: Philip Donnellan Side 9.
Philip Donnellan: So this ambidexterity went on alongside alongside our everyday radio work some of it wasn't actually everyday at all.  I remember in 1952 this would be just just after I'd met the woman whom I'd asked to be my wife and who I'm glad that still is my wife who lived in London and we were talking in Programme Board about an outside broadcast on radio which was due to take place from the May Fair in Hereford in the city of Hereford, which was part of our region and on the spur of the moment I said to the Programme Board with characteristic braggadocio and I said “Oh I'll go in a boxing booth, what about that?” And somebody the producer said, “Well will you?” And I said, “Yes of course I will.” I'd done a bit of boxing in the army and so on but I wasn't exactly a boxer. However the day came as usual it was pouring of rain, May in Herefordshire ghastly and there were a number of points in this outside broadcast on the camera and the the thing was passed around but one of the highlights of it was me volunteering to go into the ring with this chap. I'd seen him in the afternoon he was a young Welsh bruiser very stocky experienced young boxer with a flattened nose and I'd said to him beforehand “Look take it easy mate you know I'm not I'm not a professional boxer so take it easy” and we agreed that it was a nod and a wink and I volunteered, cams held up the mic, I went up to the ring and did a brief interview with me as I went in. You know “What were the chances? Was I going to win the thirty bob? Would I stand the three rounds?’ “Oh yes of course” I said.   So we went in and put on the gloves ‘DING’ the first round, went out. This bloke came out and he hit me a really solid one, so I thought Jesus this isn't what we agreed and so I hit him back and after that I was half on the floor and half lying across around the ring I hit him once or twice. The bell went they were only one-minute rounds and I staggered over to the corner where cams was holding up the mic expecting me to do the inter-round summaries as well, which I did [LAUGHTER] although
I was a bit short of breath and I stood the three rounds.  Well and I won thirty bob and I bought a chair with it in a junk shop!  Now these sort of things well enriched the sort of everyday life of of one's ‘career’ in the region and I suppose if there was any subtext in all this it was that I was prepared to do anything that would be enjoyable and that would give an edge to the sort of things that we were doing however trivial they ultimately were.

Well in the in a sense a sort of sub-climax came in 1957 when at the Annual Features Meeting I met a woman who really transformed my life.  This was a woman called Grace Wyndham Goldie who was Assistant Head of Television Talks. Now it's a curious title for a department and it's a hangover from the traditional formation of BBC departments. Talks had always been that area of broadcasting which dealt with the formal talk which in which a very wide range of subjects from the densely political or social to quite frivolous or more frivolous areas of experience would be retailed from a script by by speakers who would be carefully coached and produced whether they were experienced speakers or not and would be put on the air by Talks producers.
Now when television started that title of Talks was carried over into into television as though there were still formal talks in that style though there weren’t. So Talks Department included documentary programmes what would have been called in radio feature programmes of all sorts; it included discussion programmes, interview programmes and also films.

Colin Moffat: What was Mrs Wyndham Goldie’s background? Had she come from radio incidentally?
Philip Donnellan: She had been briefly in radio during the war she had been a journalist. She was married to a well-known actor called Frank Wyndham Goldie and she was a radio critic for The Listener and a very influential radio critic because not only did she write very succinctly and with a great sense of style but she also believed in pursuing the byways of BBC Broadcasting and she went out into Manchester and into Birmingham for articles in The Listener during the latter years of the ‘30s.

Colin Moffat: Background material to programmes going out?

Philip Donnellan: Background material but also foreground material. She would attend a production and write about it. She would talk to producers about it. They all had articles in The Listener that I'm aware of were really quite penetrating about the way in which broadcasting was done and the motivations and feelings and ideas of the people who did it; it was a fairly rich and fairly unexplored field so Grace put her mark very early on on the BBC from the outside. During the war she came into the BBC as a as a producer and she worked throughout the war in the BBC as far as I know in current affairs broadcasting.  And there she took up, now she took her place in quite a significant number of outstanding women who were in the BBC in those years.
Mary Adams was one who was very much on the left and there were one or two others now Grace Wyndham Goldie was not on the left – she would have argued that she was right where she belonged politically in the BBC, which was objectively in the middle. However she was in our view a blue stocking of a very conservative cast of mind although I wouldn't use the word conservative with a small c in relation to her programme ideas. She was a very challenging critic of the work of the young men whom increasingly she recruited into Talks Department. Grace saw in the very early ‘50s when television was developing again in the BBC that the old ways of handling the world was not good enough and when television, when commercial television started in 1955 the main weapon that the BBC had to drag it into the present day was Grace Wyndham Goldie. She built a reputation for the fiercest and sharpest of internal criticism of programme styles, of individuals, of producers.  Nobody got by with sloppy thinking sloppy handling of ideas, failure to handle interviews with conviction and penetration and a sense of an audience beyond who wanted to know certain things [TELEPHONE RINGS]

It's not easy to describe Grace's power erm she was a small woman probably about 5 feet 4 or 5. She had absolutely glittering steely bluish gray eyes I should have said and she fixed you with them and almost at the same time gritted her teeth. She was a very determined and direct woman of a sort that is not often encountered in any form of life. I would have said that intellectually she was streets ahead of Margaret Thatcher but of a similar similar Napoleonic tendency. She certainly destroyed the to a very large extent the will and capacity of a significant number of men around her. She wasn't in my view the slightest bit interested in women, she recruited young men young men who were tough and aggressive themselves but who accepted her skill and professionalism completely as an indicator of the way in which they should do their job. So in consequence you've got her surrounded by some very talented and ambitious journalists and executives of one sort and another, that's when I joined her department.

Now how that actually happened might be worth just putting on the record: in June or July 1957 there was the usual Annual Features Meeting and most of the little sort of seminars or informal small scale lectures that were on the on the programme took place in the dusty lecture rooms of the BBC staff training establishment in Marylebone High Street or just off Marylebone High Street. Now I've said already that really the Features Meeting was a sort of general excuse for a series of parties, which went on at lunchtime and in the evening in the houses of various people, features producers who lived in London, or in local pubs.  And we we'd all been to the to the pub on this occasion and got back for a lecture in the afternoon which was the role of the writer in television by Mrs Grace Wyndham Goldie, Assistant Head of Television Talks.  Now in the room at the time I think my memory tells me that there were perhaps a dozen people I can remember Louis MacNiece, John Bridges, Dorothy Smith, David Thompson perhaps Rayner Heppenstall, me, I don't know a variety of people. They were all doing something else, they'd all had three or four pints of beer over lunch, they were all very disinclined to sit with any considerable attention to a woman coming from television to talk to the elite members of the Features Department.  So they would be reading a manuscript, reading a literary magazine, reading a newspaper, talking together and in walks Lawrence Gilliam who was a large very large bear man ushering in this small woman neat, in a dark suit wearing a vivid scarlet hat with a gold cord around it and he got up onto the rostrum and in Lawrence's very laid back burbling way he said “A great many of you know Mrs Wyndham Goldie, a dynamic leader of Television Talks and she’s no doubt got plenty to say to people like ourselves about the future of our trade. And I’m very happy to … Mrs Wyndham Goldie”.

And she stood up and I saw it at once one of her characteristic gestures she whipped off her glasses, she'd whipped them off and she my recollection is that she denounced us. Now I had been getting increasingly pissed off with the the pace and tempo of Features Department and more and more interested in television which I saw as dynamic, exciting, the future. And so what Grace said about us, these rather faded middle-aged people wrapped up in a literary tradition, which was totally irrelevant in television, we recognize that there’s got to be writers but they've got to write in a different way for different objectives and different ideas. And she talked about film making which was an area that I was increasingly interested in so I gulped it all down.  I thought it was absolutely wonderful stuff if this was the sort of leadership that was that was taking place in television I wanted to be right there.  And especially I was attracted by because I never worked for a woman and I was and I loved women and and I was very keen to work for a woman like this.  [LAUGHTER]  Little did I know [LAUGHTER] I had no idea of the consequences of that I mean I was, I've written about it and I’ve said I referred to myself as a faded commander thinking going for the smell of the gunpowder and the sounds of the guns venom you know.

Immediately the lecture was over and Grace had answered one or two questions and I rushed up to the rostrum and said to Lawrence “I'd like to meet Mrs Goldie” and he said “Philip Donnellan, Birmingham er one of our producers.” Grace said “How do you do” and I said, “I thought you'd be interested to know as you referred to the real difficulty of getting film crews and the scarcity of film as a resource” I said “that there's been a film crew in Birmingham for a year and it hasn't made a single film and I'm very anxious to use it and I can't get it.”  She looked across at me and her eyes glittered and she said, “Meet me at Ealing on Thursday for lunch” so I said “Right you are” and that was that.
And I met her at Ealing the Ealing Studios, which the BBC had bought comparatively recently and was the heart of the filmmaking operation in the BBC, notably in Talks.

I met her there for lunch and I by that time I had not only written a number of treatments all of which were related to the regional people and the regional ideas which I had which I had become attracted to during my time in radio and I absolutely nailed her to the ground with enthusiastic analysis of these ideas and where they would take place and how we would do them because I'd thought a considerable amount about, as I thought I'd thought about, the realities of filmmaking in fact I hadn’t got the vaguest idea about the realities of filmmaking but I thought I had.  And so she said at the end of lunch and this relentless disquisition by me she said, “Let's go back to my office.” So a car miraculously appeared and we went back in the car three miles down the road to her office at Lime Grove a little tiny office there were no elegances in BBC television in those days the television centre hadn't been opened yet and everything was it was crammed into Lime Grove, little street little suburban street not very far from the White City athletic stadium at the end of Shepherd's Bush Green. Everyday life of London all around it and here was this little row of houses which had been which were a rabbit warren communicating with the tower. There was a small tower block there which had been used and occupied by Gaumont British in the ‘30s in fact a cousin of mine had been a sound recordist at Gaumont British there in the ‘30s so I'd heard of the place and my wife to whom I'd been married by then for five years she had worked in television in children's television and been an announcer there and also a Programme Secretary doubled as an Announcer and a Programme Secretary in Lime Grove several years before so I knew in a sense the place.

We went back to her office she she called in Donald Baverstock, now Baverstock three months before had started an epoch making programme, epoch breaking programme called Tonight which was a nightly 45 or 50 minute programme of in a sense well it's difficult to describe Tonight. It's, the early ones started with a calypso about current events, which was written every evening or every afternoon. It was done in the day but it contained a core of film material, which was shot by a travelling film crew and director by the name of Antony Jay who were on the go around the country.
Now Donald Baverstock who was an absolutely classic BBC man, a Welshman disguised as a free-booting Napoleonic character himself but actually profoundly socially conformist but like one of the nastier sorts of newspaper editors and I believe he modelled himself on that free-booting and aggressive style.

Colin Moffat: Was he the editor of Tonight?

Philip Donnellan: He was the editor of Tonight and the founder of a number of founders and working with him were people like Alistair Milne who had who later became Director General of the BBC and Antony Jay whose father was an actor whom I'd employed.  In Radio Features he had come from the Library Theatre in Manchester erm he was, they were all young considerably younger than me in their late 20s or early 30s and a whole host of other people a lot of people worked on it, there were a number of women involved with the programme although they got a very rough deal and had a very hard time.
She called in Donald Baverstock and the programme had been going for three months and it was a really striking piece of technical innovation at that time. Terribly hard to do, terribly difficult to to get the engineering division to adapt themselves to a daily programme done live and and filled with all sorts of elements of extravaganza late they tried to cut a dash but with a solid sort of current affairs base.  But they chiefly relied on a profoundly different posture towards everything, towards ordinary people, towards politicians, towards the whole of the power, completely different style of approach to say the political interview that anybody and had before there was always a direct and manifest journalistic or ideological line in any questioning the programme did. And Baverstock held it all together by a process of editorial arrogance and aggressiveness.

Donald came in sat in the corner. He was he looked absolutely whacked he reminded he made me think of Napoleon at Waterloo I don't know whether Donald Baverstock had piles but Napoleon certainly did. He looked grey and worn out and Grace said “Donald this is Philip Donnellan from Birmingham” She said “I told him that he can do some work for you. He is a radio producer at the moment and he works in Birmingham. But he can do some work for you – legwork  - and I've told Phillip that if he can do some good stories for you I'll let him make a film by himself. Is that understood?” Donald grunted and I I had hoped for more than that I had hoped for a commitment to allowing me to go off in the Midlands the film unit and make a film straight away but that was not Grace's style. She wanted control. She thought there were possibilities in this animated and enthusiastic young bugger and I was exactly the sort of person that she liked to recruit into the department although I didn't know that at the time.

Donald went off back to some Tonight editorial rehearsals I think and I slunk out feeling rather rather disappointed and and but that was the start of my relationship with Tonight and from my secure eerie in Birmingham I bombarded the Tonight people with with um proposals and suggestions for stories as they were called seven minute stories which Tony Jay and the film unit, 35 mil film unit, were going around the country and shooting at least one if not two a day in a series of places that had been researched and reccied beforehand not researched the word was reccied. The whole terminology of Tonight prefigured the sort of interest and sort of work that they did you did not research programs you reccied them. They were there, you walked round them, met the people concerned and shot them. There was no research involved in effect.

Colin Moffat: Speed was of the essence?

Philip Donnellan: Speed was of the essence. The programmes were not cut by the the director they were sent back and handled at base by Tony Essex so the stories had to be extremely simple and there was a formula which was applied both in terms of the positioning of the camera and in terms of the way in which stories were handled. They had to be intelligible when they got to the cutting room it would be labelled ‘This is Derek Hart on Black Country football teams’, ‘This is Fyfe Robertson on the Stratford-upon-Avon Canal.’ Once it was labelled and they knew what it was they could cut it because it was all formula shot. It was extremely economical and very very limited and superficial filmmaking and I found it profoundly dissatis… dissatisfying after a time but not at first.

Colin Moffat: Was it not good enough as a start? I mean …

Philip Donnellan: Yes of course it was. However whether whatever I felt about the about the sort of work that Tonight did later I I supported them enormously strongly at the time and did everything that I could to get as many Midland stories into the into the nightly programmes.

There’s um I've got a bit of paper here which is addressed to Tony Jay 21st of August 1957, ‘We're still trying to see whether we can fix up the old time boxes for August 31st.  One or two other suggestions Lorry Driver of the Year there's a competition for this in Nuneaten, Warwickshire on Sunday September the 28th. Apparently it takes place every year. The interesting thing is that this year one of the chief contestants and probable winners a woman like driver of Coventry who drives a van for Humbers.

Two: I mentioned to you on the phone the possibility of tilting at the souvenir trade, which largely originated in Birmingham, ie the people who make appalling crinoline skirted bells, frying pans that turned out to be clocks and the massive brass and copper horrors which bestrew the shops of Stratford-upon-Avon and Southend-on-Sea etc.

Three: there’s a pub in the Forest of Dean the name escapes me at the moment which is half I think in Gloucestershire and half in Herefordshire closing times are different in the two counties and when one’s public bar closes at 10 the customers obediently drink up and troop into the next bar where they drink for another half an hour.

Four: another Forest of Dean thought you may know that they have what are known as Free Miners that by which having worked for a year and a day at a coal seam the man becomes the owner of it. In consequence you find dozens of small mines operated by two men with the most primitive machinery. This seems to evoke all sorts of penetrating and unusual questions.

Five: the Birmingham Post celebrates its centenary on September the 4th. This in itself is purely a news event but it might well be the fulcrum for levering out of the mouths of a group of embittered newspaper salesmen something of the story of their occupation Winter and Summer or indeed kerbside sellers in general, flowers, comics, toys etc.

Here follow random thoughts: did you know the most expensive school in England is Millfield, Street, Somerset which fees are £435 per annum for boys and £540 per annum for girls?

Did you know that the largest pub in England is the Downham Tavern near Bromley Kent and that the smallest is the Smiths’ Arms at Godmanstone, Dorset?

By the way my spare time reading is the Guinness Book of Records. Did you know that the highest birth rate is Helston in Cornwall must be something to do with that fertility dance they still do near there? The lowest death rate is Aldridge in Staffordshire.

More random thoughts: there's a Malayan Teacher's College near Wolverhampton. I wonder when I wonder whether they learn to use hand grenades or chalk?’

The Malayan emergency was on at that time.

‘New term will start near the end of September at the Welbeck Army College, which you may know is a sort of public school for the technical arms of the service. I wonder whether the axe with which the Army is currently threatened will have made any difference to the aspirations of the 16 year olds who go there and whether their reflections on guided missiles and so on.’

(Even in 1957 we were talking about guided missiles).

‘Eleventh and last The British Town Criers Championship takes place at Redditch, Worcestershire on Saturday September 14th.

Well there you are. You can't say I don't try.’

Tony Jay ‘Many thanks for your suggestions I can't tell you how valuable they are even the suggestions we don't use very often spark us off on a train of thought that leads to a story on similar lines to the ones you suggest. I wonder if you realise how much this sort of co-operation encourages us. One Donald in each region and we'd all sleep better.’
Well so the relationship with what eventually became the dominating programme factor in the Talks Department was at first anyway of great importance to me because gradually not only did one start to um with an editorial vision start to sift the the dross from the gold but it also taught you on the street on location the mechanics of handling that appalling secret weapon the double camera which the BBC used, all BBC film crews used at that time. Now the double camera was designed by the BBC’s Engineering Department, which already I have said a number of unkind things about and this could probably be the unkindest of all, it was a dreadful machine …

Colin Moffat: This is the 35 millimetre camera?

Philip Donnellan: Yes it was a 35 Cameflex, French camera, co-axially mounted with a 35 mil sound recorder which you loaded with 35 mil magnetic stock at the same time as you loaded the Cameflex and they worked in sync controls to the outside of an enormous blimp. The whole thing weighed 108 pounds. Controls were horrible but ridiculous of course there were no zoom lenses in those days so to change the shot size without moving the camera you had to unfasten the blimp open it up change the lenses in the way that Hollywood had been doing for 30 years but seemed conspicuously irrelevant in a television operation in which speed was of crucial importance. When you set up the camera on a very on a heavily reinforced tripod I suppose the same sort of tripod that would be taken that would take a standard Mitchell for example you find a location in which you could turn the camera in one direction and you'd get a particular background to the interview the whole thing was based on interviews and then you turn to another direction and you’d get a different background so you looked as though you moved and the third direction if you get more than that well and good. So you have a street with traffic behind one interview, a garden wall with plants disappearing in the distance on the other, a distant meadow seeing on the third if you were lucky. Otherwise you had to move the bloody thing and that was a disaster. It would take half an hour to move from one location to another. So those were the conditions under which I started my filmmaking career and of course they were very realistic conditions because it did teach one about the horrors of the equipment.

In 1957, in the summer of 1957 I was asked to write a television programme about Warwick the town we lived in, it was a series of broadly speaking outside broadcasts which didn't take place in the town it took place in a studio. So they weren’t outside by any definition except the technology involved and that was the first experience I actually had of shooting a sequence by myself. Now so primitive was my perception about this that I thought that you had to shoot cutaways with the specific sound speech over it and this was of course a nightmare, highly complex. I'm sure I spent the whole of the previous night working out how it could be done and writing it all down which was my inevitable response since I didn't like to think on the wing since I didn't understand the technology well enough at that time. This was of course before I had the full experience of setting up Tonight's story as it was the very first thing that happened to me in effect.  Well I shot, I shot this sequence and took the film back to the cutting room in Birmingham err and put it in the hands of the Midland film editor who was a most remarkable man, his name was Edward Le Lorrain and he was of Dutch parentage and he'd been in a civilian internment camp in Indonesia during the war. He'd gone back to Holland after the war
and grown up in Holland and he'd eventually become apprenticed to Bert Haanstra, the famous Dutch documentary director, and then for reasons which I have never found out he came to England and joined the BBC and was posted to Birmingham as a film editor. Eddie was a superb filmmaker a superb editor. He brought to the filmmaking that we were to create in Birmingham in the next 10 or 15 years a sense of quality of care, of sympathy of imaginative penetration which I have rarely if ever found paralleled by another editor. He was very slow and punctilious and this produced tensions both in him and with the management in the BBC as the timescale, the time schedules of television became more apparent in the next few years. But he spent hours of his own time, not the BBC’s time, mulling over rushes before he would cut them and many a time I found Eddie running and re-running and running again sequences that I thought were absolutely straightforward but he found new and well subtly new and profoundly human based and movement based ways of cutting them. He was an inspiration to me and he his sense of film while I often got very very impatient and intolerant of even the standards that he was imposing on the films that I made which was fully justified in my view now, I often got very impatient with him and I should think he found me pretty intolerable because I too readily accepted the the the need for urgency in the work that we were doing. Although very very often I over-shot my own schedule as well so it wasn't a determining factor in me.

But Eddie and I did remain good if somewhat strained friends and in latter years it would be difficult for me now to say exactly when this was I think the last film he cut for me was 1968 – two big films about the blind.  I would I had said to him for years and we knew him socially our families were friends and we used to see each other occasionally not often outside the work place and I would say Eddie “You know you’re you’re you’re really I should hate to lose you but you really ought to get out of this place. You'll be dragged under by it and you will be you'll be here when you're an old man if you don't go and do something.”  Well eventually probably under the direct impress of my uneasy and too urgent personality because I worked with him very largely he did leave he resigned from the BBC I suppose 1968 ’69 and went to Canada. And his quality was recognised slowly, as in everything Canadian, eventually recognised and he has had the most distinguished career with the National Film Board of Canada. And although I guess I often feel that he will never actually really achieve his own aspirations nonetheless he's had every chance in Canada to do this and I think he's done some great work. And as we mentioned last night he he I think won an Oscar for one of his productions, when he became an editor/producer in one of the studios at the National Film Board, Bonnie Klein's film Not a Love Story. He was a great man and I remember him, he’s still very much alive of course. He's a great man and and I can't speak too highly of him the qualities that he told me about he taught me about about film nothing short of that. Almost everything that I understand about the nature of film as a technical medium I've got from Eddie and other filmmakers other mostly editors Colin Moffat: You're talking of course mainly here about the later programmes, I mean did he cut the little pieces you did for Tonight?

Philip Donnellan: No no no no.

Colin Moffat: Oh he didn’t.

Philip Donnellan: No I only directed about three or four films, short films for Tonight with Fyfe Robertson, with Polly Elwes, with Derek Hart.  I did one famous one which particularly drew a certain amount of attention to me which while it was never my overt aim there was always a subtext you know could I do something that would would remind people that I wanted to make films on my own and not in this context Tonight.

I mentioned earlier my interest in witchcraft and and I can see the idea of doing a film about contemporary witchcraft, witchcraft in a place today and I discussed it with one or two people and notably the Campden Wonders the the amateur actors from Chipping Campden who came very close to the center of my thoughts when I was thinking about a thing like this and odd friends I had around the place. And finally I mentioned it to Donald and in fact I'm not sure that I didn't write it in a note to Donald at the end of the day I said ‘Cotswold witches’ and Donald rang me up and he said “I don't like all your other bloody stories boy” he said “but I like the witches, get me some witches.”
And so I thought oh God how am I gonna get some witches I don’t know any bloody witches well we'll make some up. So I I I devised an entire story which was totally unreal and I got all the the odd friends and the Campden Wonders to play the parts of people who are either sociologists or a parson of a village church or actually people involved in witchcraft in a Cotswold village and we created, by moving the camera from village to village, we created a village that never existed, we took a church in one place, a street in another and so on. So we created a real place, which was called Wickes Green I made up the name.
And we I devised all this in advance so I had a friend who was a printer in a Warwickshire village and he posed as a European expert on because he spoke German and I posed as a European expert on witchcraft and was guaranteed to tell a really proficient lie or two about the about the whole panoply.

And this Parson friend of ours was to be the vicar of the church and in fact I did in my researches I did visit a church near the Rollright Stones very close to the village where I'd written about which I'd written a brief enquiry in which into witches ten years before. And I knocked on the door of the vicarage to ask if I might have permission to film the church which is slightly curious thing I mean to ask for permission to do that but that was the way I did it anyway at that time. The vicar came to the door I said “I wondered if I might have permission to take a shot of your church?” “Inside?” he said “No” I said “just outside. I'm doing um a little story for television.” “Oh” he said “Really. That's interesting. What about?” I said “Well um it's it's about witches” “Oh no” he said “Oh dear me. That again?” he said “I had to write about it in the Parish magazine last month.” So it was an actual reality that I was talking about and this was an area that had been known since the 18th century as an area of profound belief in the old religion and so on. So these strange things happened as they happened in all films that one made in the next few years; you would constantly come across both historical and contemporary references which made total sense of certain preconceptions that you had about the way in which people believed or behaved.

Well Derek Hart came to do this story: Donald sent Derek down to do the story about witches and I met him off the London train at Leamington and as soon as he got into the car and we started driving down towards Stratford and the Cotswolds I said “Donald, Derek look this story isn't real. It's a complete fake.” And he was horrified. “Oh well I don't know about that” because all the reporters carried the can for the stories, not the directors the directors are virtually irrelevant it was it was the people who appeared on the screen. So he said “I shall have to ring Donald.” So we stopped at a telephone box and he rang Donald Baverstock in London and they argued the toss for ten minutes or so and Donald agreed that we should do it and we went ahead and did it. And it was it was a marvellous story.  I didn't cut it, I sent it off in the usual way and it was cut by Tony Essex in London.

End Side 9

Interview Date(s): 28 & 29 June 1991

Interview number: 206

Interviewer: Colin Moffat

Side 10

Colin Moffat: Philip Donnellan Side 10.
Philip Donnellan: This involvement with Tonight went on through 1957 and into 1958 and got closer and closer. Donald wanted me to be a reporter on Tonight and I made myself extremely unpopular to him by saying that I wouldn't. I did one story with Jack Gold as director I've even forgotten what the story was about but I never saw it. I was very ashamed of having done it because I didn't see myself in that role and I thought I should I must be persistent if I was going to insist on on an eventual responsibility for filmmaking.  Donald thought this was an outrage, anything that appeared to cast any doubt on Tonight being the final thing in television that anybody would want to work for for the rest of his life he treated with total contempt.  So I fell out with Donald Baverstock irretrievably and when later he became Assistant Controller of Programmes he tried to get me posted back into Tonight over the heads of everybody. He failed of course I refused to go but … so it was a it was a difficult period.
Now I had, as Grace had said in that very first conversation, I had done some good stories for Tonight and I tried to insist on her undertaking, on her pursuing the undertaking she'd given me that I would be able to make a film on on my own – a full-length film which in those days was 30 minutes and er but it was very very difficult to raise. However the opportunity did occur. Frank Wyndham Goldie, Grace's husband, was on the point of death in 19 beginning of 1958 I think and Grace was on compassionate leave looking after him. At the same time Dick Cawston who was one of the filmmakers and a senior member of the BBC staff, an old hand in film and television although very limited, was organising a series of documentary films called Eye to Eye. And one day I was down seeing Tonight and I saw Dick Cawston somewhere, I knew him slightly and he told me about this series and he said that Dennis Mitchell was doing one of the films in Manchester and I said “But why shouldn't we do one in Birmingham?” He said “But who would do it?” And I said, “I would.” And he said, “Would the Programme Head agree?” And I said “Oh yes I'm sure he would.” I said, “Will you ring him and say that you want a contribution from Birmingham don't necessarily mention my name just say that it would be nice if we had a contribution from Birmingham.” He did that and I was called in the following week by the Programme Head who said, “I've had a telephone call from Dick Cawston and he wants a contribution to the documentary series he's setting up but the question is who’d do it? I mean your you've got all your radio work to do” and I had three programmes in the pipeline during the next couple of months “And erm and the problem is would the film unit be up to it?” and I said “Oh yes they'd be able to do it alright no problem about that” “But who would do it?” And I said, “I would.” “Could you do it? I mean can you still do your radio work?” I said, “Of course I can.”
So Grace nowhere to be seen, no veto from her, by the time she came back from her compassionate leave the matter was in the schedules. Midland we're going to do we'll make a contribution to this series and I was going to be the director. Grace was furious! She was furious. Instead of fitting cosily into the niche offered in Tonight I had completely upset the arrangements that she had more or less accepted as solid. However there it was she, however during the next few months whenever I happened to see her she would make extremely barbed comments about the treatment my film was going to get when it came in front of her.
Well the question was what film should we make and this decision was absolutely crucial. I didn't know what to do.  I mean I knew so many subjects which had which had already appeared in writing I mean I'd written them all down I'd written treatments for films and I looked at them and none of them seemed quite right partly because Jill was having our third child at this time and I didn't want to be far away from home I wanted to be somewhere close at hand when the baby was due.  And so I thought why not the Black Country now that's a completely unknown area. Now the Black Country as I've mentioned before is a great and very very primitive industrial area immediately adjacent to Birmingham. The old trades: locks and keys, forging of chains the handling of metal in all its variety and the making of other more delicate things like glass. But it was extraordinary characteristic and still 19th century in terms of its appearance and the people who occupied it.  Now I really had quite profound experience of the Black Country because in 1953 in company with Phil Drabble, who was an accomplished broadcaster and has remained so right up to the present day, he and I had done a series of radio programmes called Men, Women and Memories of the Black Country in which with the magic green box, the tape recorder, we'd gone haring round the the the Black Country throughout the winter of 1953/54 recording the people that Phil Drabble knew.  He'd already written a book about the Black Country he was deeply embedded in that in that strange culture and we put it on tape.  And I remembered a couple who had tremendously impressed me from those days I mean whom I've seen quite a lot of and grown very fond of and this was Joan and Lil Mallon. Joe was a heavy, er was the foreman of a heavy chain forging gang in Cradley Heath which was the heartland of the chain making industry where women and men working in small forges behind their houses still made small chain and bigger chain was made in incredibly grotty factories where gangs of men worked hand forging.  Tonight had done a story about it at my suggestion but very superficial and very brief and they hadn't really touched on any of the major characteristics that I saw in Joe and Lil.
So I decided that I was going to make a film about Cradley Heath so I went along to see Cradley Heath and it was profoundly depressing. I couldn't think how I could make a film about this grotty area until I realised that the real key to it was to make a film only about Joe and Lil not about the place but about these two people in that place and it, that set a sort of image which I maintained in nearly all my films after that. Always I I sought to find individuals or groups of people who formed the centrepiece for the studies of one sort and another usually industrial that for the next well 20 years on and off though more often off than on unfortunately I managed to do and that was the first time.  So I decided to do it rang Phil Drabble and said, “What do you think of this?” And he said, “Oh Joe’ll love that. Great. Go and see him.”

And so I went off one autumn evening to see Joe and Lil. I knew where they lived and they had a house little old house on a high bank of hill overlooking the Black Country but right in the middle of it all the same and at the back there was a big pen in which Joe kept his game fowl. He fought gamecocks in cockfighting bouts all that was kept very quiet and I I didn't intend to blow the gaff on that and he was also a noted trainer and fighter of er bull terriers. He'd kept a pub for 30 years in Cradley Heath itself called The Old Cross Guns and he'd trained and fought dogs down in the cellar there.  He'd lived a life of modest villainy throughout his life and Lil who was a lovely woman had kept him out of prison that and sweeteners to the police and pints left at available corners for coppers on the beat and all the rest of the small time corruption that attends Medieval and Victorian life right up to the present day [LAUGHTER] Joe was a marvellous symbol of all this and not just a symbol.

Anyway I knock at the door and Lil comes to the door “‘ello Phil, come in.”
So I came in and I said I said to Joe, it was the afternoon wasn't evening, I came in and I said to Joe and Lil “Look I want you to take part in a film.” “Oh that's a great idea” thought Joe. He was I think about fifty-six then, a huge man but with a great face, fine looking chap. Lil didn't mind one way or the other if Joe said we're gonna make a film well we made a film.  So Lil went out shopping and Joe and I had a had a nip or two of whisky he always had large supplies of whisky and then he said “’Ere Phil got a little job for you” and he took me outside and we went to the end of the game fowl across the backyard and he took a big big cock out of the out of the shed and he said “Y’ere hold him.” So he put this fowl in my arms and I held the bird's legs and put my arms round it and he got a big pair of scissors and he cut off the comb of the on the bird’s head and it's wattles on it’s side. In other words he trimmed it up ready for fighting and the bird was spouting blood all the time I was covered in blood. “OK throw him down” he said. So I put him on the ground and he chopped up the the comb and wattles and the bird went around on the floor pecking them up. [LAUGHTER] Well I've written about this and I have to say that it was it was a blooding ritual I mean Joe wanted to see whether he knew me but he thought come on we’ll have a bit of fun. And so he it was a test a little ritual and I didn't throw up and and passed the test with flying colors. Blood was not unfamiliar to me and I had a strong stomach and as you have to make if you make documentaries films [LAUGHTER]
And so we made the film.  The only problem was that really the cameraman and that was a nightmare. It was a nightmare making that film I have never had such a dreadful sustained experience in my life.  The cameraman, the the only cameraman in Birmingham, was an old bloke who long ago ought to have been pensioned off. He'd been he'd been making commercials up and down Wardour Street for 30 years I should think and he was well over fifty and he was absolutely bloody minded and in addition to that virtually alcoholic. He had a remarkable assistant a man who stayed after Roy Fogwell eventually disappeared – oh hell I didn’t mean to mention his name – after he eventually disappeared Mike Williams his assistant stayed on and became a brilliant cameraman although just as difficult as Fogwell had been and he remained in the BBC until a few years ago and he's now living in Portugal. But shooting that film was a nightmare first of all because with my absolute conviction about documentary values I was going to shoot things as they happened and work in the Black Country starts at 5 o'clock in the morning.  So I got the crew out in wintertime 5 o'clock morning after morning after morning.
Roy Fogwell was a person who lit every scene with two pups, two small what are they fifty, fifty watt lights, one K, one kilowatt that is one-kilowatt lights and that black dark winter background absorbed light like nothing else and there are there were moments when two pups were not enough to light a material scene and the material was appalling.  When it was good it was wonderful – all shot on 35mil on the double camera – all had to be adapted to the demands of documentary style filming. It was a nightmare we had to shoot and then reshoot complicated scenes and and it was a miracle that we finally got what we did out of the out of the whole shooting period.
Colin Moffat: Presumably it was much more difficult to direct than any of those Tonight stories?
Philip Donnellan: [LAUGHTER] Oh yes absolutely. But you see from my radio experience I, and from a sort of mistaken impression that films were things that were always written, I wrote this film from beginning to end every single scene was shot and numbered in the terminology of of filmmaking.  So that every scene even if it was liable to be shot in actuality conditions, which it was, said Joe comes in left with with heavy shears, moves across to chain centre, operates on chain, goes out right. And when we got to that point that was how we shot it I said to Joe “Okay Joe wait there for action” and and he came in and I was “No you haven’t got it in the right place we’ll shoot that again.” So every scene was directed and …
Colin Moffat: And did you have a lot of help from Roy Fogwell?

Philip Donnellan: No, no.

Colin Moffat: Would he would he have noted any any serious mistakes? Philip Donnellan: No. No. No. I'd read Karel Reisz on the theory of film editing and so I knew more or less about eye lines and and … there aren't any mistakes because I'd got used to seeing badly shot badly directed Tonight stories in which people face the same direction so looking at each other [LAUGHTER] so that little problem didn't occur.  And also I was so used to researching human situations and then sitting at home and writing them down that I had the sort of imagination that could cope with that so all the directing decisions were actually made in my head and written down on paper. So I knew what I'd got to to make happen and I made it happen but it was a complete nightmare not least because of my naïve perceptions about the way in which you could make films. But of course one has to say that even though I recognize those as naïve the fact was that shooting with a 35mil immovable camera was a tremendous impediment and if if a young director today had been put into that situation even if he was quite an accomplished filmmaker he would find it enormously difficult to cope with the problems of producing a storyline when you couldn't pan or zoom or move the camera by hand from one place to another quickly. So I think it was a response to the working conditions but I didn't realise that at the time.

Colin Moffat: Was it the sort of camera that had a lens turret not a zoom lens on it?

Philip Donnellan: No it had a single lens, the Cameflex had a single lens didn’t have a turret so to to get a new sized shot you had to re you had to unscrew the lens and screw in a new one.
Colin Moffat: Had you had a zoom lens you would have used a rather different technique and it wouldn't have been quite so difficult would it?
Philip Donnellan: No, it wouldn't have been nearly as difficult but erm the zoom lens didn't come in for four years after that.  Wasn't available in Birmingham now it may have been, it was certainly available to independent television, independent television film makers were making very accomplished films with 16mil and zoom lenses by 1956/57. Elkin Allen and Dan erm forgotten his name …
Colin Moffat: Farson.

Philip Donnellan: ... Dan Farson and so on.  I suspect that that certainly in Canada there was vérité there were vérité techniques and 16mil specially designed shoulder-mounted cameras I've been told by people working in ‘57.
Colin Moffat: Had you noticed the productions of Associated Rediffusion’s film units?

Philip Donnellan: Yes, I'd seen them at the National Film Theatre.

Colin Moffat: Captive cinema.

Philip Donnellan: Captive cinema yes. I thought they were astonishing and they gave a very powerful lead, psychological lead for one to say why aren't we looking at the world around us like this. But for example there was no sense of film culture within the BBC that I was conscious of. And even when I associated with the Tonight people and Grace and co Tonight treated those things with absolute contempt they weren't interested in in those sort of techniques at all or those sort of convictions about the nature of film culture for example.

In 1959 or even ‘60 there was a programme of Polish documentaries at the National Film Theatre and I went to see this and it was stunning, there were 10 minute ones, 15 minute ones, perhaps a half an hour one, five minute ones – I thought it was stunning.  And the next day I saw Grace or went to her office and I said “Grace have you seen the Polish documentaries at the National Film Theatre?”  And she said “National Film Theatre” as though you know it was a place she had never heard of and there was no sense of a world out there that could teach us anything about filmmaking. Now I've already said that Grace had an extremely progressive and aggressive approach to the handling of television material but she was completely unskilled in terms of filmmaking.  And um she reckoned that culture was what they created within the Talks Department and was not something that was assimilable from outside. And I think actually the story of Rotha and the BBC may tell us something about that I don't know.

Colin Moffat: Would she have known about what we call the British Documentary Film Movement? One would have thought that was slightly relevant to her project.
Philip Donnellan: There's no question in my mind that as part of her general culture she would have known about this and in all probability she would read it as “Oh yes I had a long conversation with John Grierson only a month ago when we talked …”  In all probability she had met people and what they had to tell her slid straight off her. I think she she worked from within a set of principles and broadly speaking a culture, which was as I just said created within that department within BBC Television. Now I don't know if that is accurate either socially or psychologically but that's my impression sitting here talking now.
Colin Moffat: Would you have thought there was some common ground there?  There was a sort of public service element in some of those of ‘30s documentaries wasn't there?

Philip Donnellan: Of course, absolutely, fundamental.

Colin Moffat: They were paid for by industry and commerce but they were not so much outside the BBC’s brief or different to that were they?
Philip Donnellan: Absolutely. Yeah but you probably know more about the about the ill fated attempt to start a documentary department in the BBC in 1953 or was it ‘52 or ‘53 with Rotha and how he fell out, I understand, with Cecil McGivern and the other people involved in the managing of the BBC Television and left and there was no film movement of any sort. There were film resources were very scarce at that time and I don't know if you remember any of the documentaries or what was said to be documentaries were done at that time were all done with actors in studios in carefully built studio replicas of the settings.
Colin Moffat: That’s right.
Philip Donnellan: I think it's possible I don't advance this as a serious claim for my own priority or anything like that but I do think that Joe the Chainsmith was probably the first close-up portrait of a British working man that the film industry had ever made, I don't know if that's true but it was uniquely close-up in terms of its concentration on a person throughout a 30-minute film. It would be interesting to know because …

Anyway let me continue with the story of that because despite all these appalling difficulties we did eventually manage to to complete the shooting and there are so many lovely and horrifying anecdotes about that time which I will spare your tape but are on record in terms of writing or they're not publicly available.
Colin Moffat: What what did Edward Le Lorrain think of the rushes can you remember that?

Philip Donnellan: Er I think he thought they were absolutely stunning. Erm I mean he was appalled by the contextual information that I was able to give him and no doubt I poured out in the cutting room my anger about Fogwell and the tensions that existed between us. I mean it to him I was just a fucking radio producer. You know “What’s this bloody man coming here trying to tell me how to make films I've been 30 years in films I know it all” and he did know it all if he cared to put it at my disposal but I knew nothing about filmmaking and I think he found that they irksome. I mean for instance when I insisted on getting the crew out and shooting dawn sequences and there's two at least two wonderful dawn sequences in the film he um he said “You don’t shoot fucking dawn sequences at dawn.” I said, “When do you shoot them?” He said “You shoot them in the evening.” He said, “There's too much actinic orange in the atmosphere at …” you know. I said, “What’s actinic orange got to do with it we are on black and white film”

But otherwise I mean he was it was it was weird and he could he couldn't shoot the stuff I mean he he was virtually too paralytic very often to handle an exposure meter so our dawn sequences were at first were dreadful. Well I had a friend who whom I'd met many years before, Derek Knight, and he was an independent filmmaker in London and I got on to him when I realized how awful some of this material was and I said Derek we've got to reshoot it. So he said, “Well I've got a mate who is a cameraman I’ll get him to come up.” So they came up to Warwick for the weekend and I nicked some stock from the BBC and we went out and Bill Smeaton-Russell this cameraman shot these dawn sequences and they were absolutely wonderful merely because he knew when to expose and how to expose and all the rest of it. And those are these scenes that are in the film, credited of course to Roy Fogwell. And things like that, Derek directed a sequence, short sequence of the film in an open erm and erm in a closed market in Cradley Heath because I really unscripted I was knackered I couldn't, I couldn't even begin to understand what you did unless I'd already handled the experience in my mind and worked it out.  Though so Derek day it was a tremendous help to me as always.

So the agony was finally over and Eddie brought to bear his own expertise on the on the film and produced the film that we now see which is full of minor technical infelicities but it stands up quite extraordinarily I think as a as a portrait of a Victorian working man because it looks like, the background in black and white looks as though it was shot in 1890. I mean it's quite bizarre people in 100 years time who see that film won't believe that it was shot in the 20th century. [LAUGHTER]

Colin Moffat: How did it go down when it was shown?

Philip Donnellan: Well what happened long before it was shown was Grace's operation. Now you’ll remember that Grace was not inclined to be feel kindly about my having got a film to make behind her back. So I remember one day we had a meeting at Lime Grove, the Eye to Eye contributors were called down to come to a meeting in London and Tony Lotbinière, Stephen Hirst, Dick Cawston and probably Pamela Wilcox-Bower, Dennis Mitchell and me were there and grace and Edward Caffrey the talked about organizer and the whole meeting Grace would keep on making snide comments at me “And tomorrow we shall see Mr Donnellan’s film and see whether it is the masterpiece that we think is appropriate for this series, won’t we Dick?” and Dick Cawston went, “Yes, yes er I suppose we will.” And there was a sort of sympathy around the room but she was surprisingly immature and nasty about this.

Colin Moffat: She was severely put out by what had happened …

Philip Donnellan: Yes quite unnecessarily.

Colin Moffat: … that this had gone ahead without her?

Philip Donnellan: Yes. And anyway so the next morning we met in the viewing theatre at Lime Grove and she rubbed her hands and she said “And now we shall see Mr Donnellan’s film.” I remember I sat two rows behind her and it was in two reels and they ran the first reel which had the major climax, it was a badly structured film it still is, because the climax the visual climax of the whole thing the closing of the big ring in Joe's workplace took place in the first half. So it was really quite difficult to sustain the excitement right through to the end and I don't think it sustains the excitement but anyway I was terribly bad at structures.  At the end of the first 12, 15 minutes the lights went up cameramen the projectionist reloaded Grace turned round with shining eyes she looked, she said, “Philip this is magnificent”. Well I was you can imagine I mean with all the threats and the power of that woman which I knew only too well though I'd never worked closely with her before this. She said, “When this is finished we shall go and talk about it.”  She was a different woman. I have to say conflating the experience that from that moment on I could do no wrong in Talks Department for at least two-and-a-half years.
Colin Moffat: Why do you think she liked it so much?

Philip Donnellan: It was a totally different experience.  I think she liked it for a number of reasons: first of all it was startlingly different to the material that was normally on the screen. Secondly it was a portrait of something she recognized as totally authentic and it was on the whole a convincing portrait which, which worked in physical terms – the whole style and manner of the thing as cut by Eddie made complete physical sense within a quite everyday convention of filmmaking.  So she couldn't possibly have expected me to know that or to be able to do that and in one sense she was right if I'd had to call the shots and tell someone how to cut it would wouldn't have been nearly as good, no question. Thirdly I believe she liked it and instantly her political mind found the image of a working man completely acceptable. If it had been a Dave Douglas, the Marxist Leninist coal miner who was rejected by Paul Fox and Dick Cawston ten years later she would have been horrified and it would have been dismissed as instantly as the Jack Elliot film was four years afterwards. But she saw it as an acceptable image of the industrial working class in an unknown area of 20th century Britain so it had all sorts of things going for it in terms of its image on the screen.

Now it was 33 minutes long at that stage 32 something like that and we had a long session we spent almost the rest of the day sitting and talking with an interval for lunch and she said, “Cut it for the violence Philip, cut it for the violence” because violence was exactly a component of that working class style which she thought of as a very adequate reflection of the way in which working people were at least.  I'm of course I'm I'm accentuating that she may not have thought like that at all but my impression reflecting on Grace's behavior afterwards made me feel that she was very frightened by images of the activist working class, the contemporary English working class who are not people that she could possibly accept in close-up in the way that she accepted Joe.

Colin Moffat: The reference to violence was presumably er when he was at work with his with his chain making?
Philip Donnellan: Well there were there were all sorts of things.

Colin Moffat: Or were there other sorts of violence?

Philip Donnellan: I mean there was implied violence in the dog show where the dogs, the bull terrier show where the bull terriers snarl at each other. And there were implications all through the thing for anybody of modest sophistication even that that this man wasn't exactly the sort of ordinary citizen that he that he was represented as being.  So cutting it for the violence meant cutting it for the excitement of the of the whippet race, cutting it for the cutting it for the violence of the dog show and making sure that the cocks were kept in all those things and other things, one or two other things which would be in my production but I can't remember offhand now were were tactfully elided from the things “I don't think that works Philip” she would say and “I think you should go direct from this to this and that’ll make the point.  Cut it for the violence Philip” and this sort of thing you see.

Just afterwards I remember I was making a film not very far away about a pub the life of a pub in the Black Country and Huw, it was about pigeon men the pub was a pigeon pub pigeon flyers and Hew said when he saw it “Often an excuse for cutting for …” Oh I must remember the phrase before I start telling it God dammit forgotten the word oh yes, “Often an excuse for cutting for obscurity I think Philip” [CHUCKLE] and er er and he thought it was a lovely film though he didn't understand for a moment what was going on, all of the mystic, these pigeon flyers were going on clocks and capturing pigeons and cans things they were doing with the legs and the wings and stamping all this sort of stuff you know.
Colin Moffat: This reaction of Mrs Wyndham Goldie’s to Joe the Chainsmith were you actually aware at the time why she liked it or what you're saying about her the reason she liked it this you when you later knew …?

Philip Donnellan: I'm hypothesizing about it I actually don't know but there's no question in my mind that she had absolute justification for liking it in that it was it was really quite startling in the conventional London-centered production which except with very few exceptions is what constituted the the production of the single channel that the BBC had at that time, single television channel. So yes I am making it up I'm deducing analysing whatever you'd like to say from a much more political viewpoint which I developed over the next few years in direct response to her political viewpoint which was very well expressed when at the time when we were rapidly falling out with each other in a process of profound disillusionment certainly on her part she said to me, “Television is about power.  Television, the role of television is to explore the nature of power and to question those who are the holders of power. It is not about the sort of people you’re interested in Philip”. Now that seemed to me to exclude a whole area of British life and the British public from consideration serious consideration by television and I reacted very very strongly against that. But it was statements like that and areas of illumination about the nature of the world that she was talking about, the world of television, that she was talking about that effectively politicised me.
Colin Moffat: She said this of course having seen a fair number more of your programmes about people not quite like Joe Mallon? 
Philip Donnellan: Oh …

Colin Moffat: She couldn’t have said it at this point could she just after Joe …

Philip Donnellan: Oh no no no no. She couldn't have said it at that point.

Colin Moffat: She would reveal your hand a little more …

Philip Donnellan: Yes but when you say revealed your hand you say you make it sound as though there is some sort of subtext to to my work. At that point er I was encouraged by the success of Joe Mallon and one or two subsequent films I went out and made films about the things that I found extremely interesting and exciting in visual terms and I was always concerned to a very large extent about the visual impact of the things that we were doing. I can't imagine for example making even then if the industry had existed a film about the people working in a microchip factory. Whereas to make films about the creation of an aero engine in Bristol Sidley in Coventry or the making of steel in Corby or the building of ships in Sunderland or the making of glass in in Brierley Hill all these things had fundamentally a visual appeal which coincided with a real sense of what I hoped was respect for the skills that people had and the way in which they deployed them and the things that they said about their skills and the work that they did. There was nothing overtly political about that except that I made films about working people and not about the people that Grace was talking about. So yes she had substantial justification for knowing what it was that interested me and the sort of people but she had no justification for considering at that point that they were loaded films in any way because I don't think they were. Only loaded in terms of the selection of the sort of people I was going to look at and when I went to a shipyard well the shipyard the management is reflected but in the Corby film for example there isn't a manager within sight the work goes to those people who were at, the film and the camera go to the those people who work with their hands.
Philip Donnellan: You really listed the series of industrial subjects just now. Would you like to speak a little note about Men of Corby the steel making film and Mrs Wyndham Goldie, she made a smallish decision about that but a significant one I think?
Philip Donnellan: Yes. Corby is was in the middle ‘30s a very small village delightful ironstone reddish-gold cottages in a small Northamptonshire village but it turned out to be lying on enormous beds of quite productive ironstone and in 1936 a firm called Stuarts and Lloyds who were a very large iron and steel makers in the south of Scotland decided to move their works into Northamptonshire and instead of moving quarrying and moving the ironstone to the works they decided to set up a completely new works in the middle of Northamptonshire on the actual ironstone deposits. That happened in 1936 and they transplanted with it a vast number of unemployed Scottish iron and steel makers and they set up this little colony in the middle of Northamptonshire. And after the war it, under the New Towns Act it became it was proclaimed a new town and the development corporation was formed Corby started to become a small city in a most rural and lovely part of Northamptonshire you can imagine there were certain tensions about that. In 1950, mmm ’50, ’54, ‘55 ‘56 sometime around then I made it I wrote a radio programme about Corby I became very fascinated by the processes and and I wrote a 60 minute radio programme about it and it was a modest success no more than than any other but it was noticed.  And so when I when I found my work had turned fairly completely towards television I naturally with my interest in industrial work and industrial skills and the dramatic nature of many of those I went back to Corby to make a film that was in 1961. I did a series of four, four films about men at work: shipbuilding in Sunderland, glass making in Brierley Hill, Staffordshire just down the road from where Joe Mallon had been, steel making at Corby and car making in Coventry and it was a marvellous opportunity to do what in effect was a group or series of programmes although they were all completely different in treatment.  Corby by its very nature was a very Scots community, the central religion there was the Scottish Church, Church of Scotland.  It appeared that 90 per percent of the people in the street spoke in Scots dialect one sort or another and many of the social relationships were articulated very strongly within a Scottish framework and I find that most attractive and I had a number of friends as a result of my radio work there.

So I went there to make a film and one of the extremely pleasant social phenomena of Corby given that Scots background was the existence of several Burns Clubs.  The Burns Fellowship is very important in particularly in working class Scottish communities and here in Corby in the middle of this green and pleasant Northamptonshire landscape there where Burns’ Night celebrations. So I focused the film in a very conventional form on a meeting of the Rockingham Burns club and all the characters who play a significant part in the film were present at that Burns Club and I singled them out and identified them first of all in the in their Burns’ Night roles and then subsequently in their roles in the town.

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Philip Donnellan: Having established the characters of the film in Corby I find myself happily committed to a very Scots’ film and I was very pleased indeed about that and I took the eventual title of the of the programme from two quotations from Burns which were read by the by one of the participants and this was Burns' famous poem ‘A Man's A Man for A’ That’ and I called the programme For A’ That and it began and ended with with one of these verses:

“For a' that, an' a' that
It's comin' yet for a' that
That man to man the world o'er
Shall brithers be for a' that”

and the the as it were the subtext of the whole film was the brotherhood of the steelworks and the city and the extraordinary experiment of creating a new community in the heart of Northamptonshire. Well anyway I finished the film and Eddy Le Lorraine cut it beautifully as usual there was spectacular industrial shooting in it of the process of making steel and I was always very interested indeed and it's represented constantly in all these films about the nature of skill, a detailed presentation about the way in which people did industrial jobs and that was very important to me.

Colin Moffat: Which cameraman were you now using?

Philip Donnellan: This was a young cameraman called John Bird who had been had had a job as second camera in some of the scenes in Joe the Chainsmith.  The big industrial scenes I'd had somebody, John Bird, up with a silent camera up in the roof of this smoky place doing some shots from above so we'd get a different dimensional on the thing. John Bird was a great cameraman and eventually became a very important documentary director and producer himself in the BBC and he's still going strong I think.

Now the film was completed then For A’ That, the titles were done, the film was ready to to be transmitted and and Grace as the head of department wanted to see it of course. So we sat we sat through it and at the end she said, “What does that title mean?” Well I said it “It's a quotation from Burns, you've heard the the the verse. It's that …” “Meaningless” she said, “You can't call it that. You can call it Men of Corby.” So I said “I don't want to call it Men of Corby. I want to use a quotation from Burns. What's wrong with that?” She said, “I don't like it.” So I said, “But surely I'm responsible for the film.” “I'm responsible for your making the film.” she said. And she said, “You will change it. You will change the opening titles and you will call it Men of Corby.” Well I hastily reviewed in my mind at that moment whether it was worth making a great scene about it and decided that perhaps it wasn't.  And that was the first and I hope the last piece of self-censorship that I was that I was prepared to make and I changed the title, we cut off the opening sequence and it was called Men of Corby, which is a really hideous cliché-type title but nonetheless. Now it may be that she is she was right and that a curious title like For A’ That, which reads on the screen ‘For A apostrophe That’ maybe so obscure as to be a switch-offable, I don't know and who does.
I must say I resented it deeply. It was the beginning of a slight rift in our in our relationship. Not really serious but it was the, it was the sharp authoritarian dogmatic side of her which was I was to see in the next few years ensuing. And of course Men of Corby was one of a group of films that I had done when I was already in her department and under her control.

It didn't quite start like that because after I had made my first film Joe the Chainsmith I made another film, which instead of being about the Black Country of Joe Malin was about the White Country or as I called it the White Country which was the pottery making area around Stoke-on-Trent.  And that was I made that in 1959 and it reflected quite an acute tension between the old and the new in Stoke-on-Trent and it was focused on a sort of neo-realist device which I inevitably in these early programmes always thought in order to try and give a dramatic form to a film I never ever wanted or intended purely to take what was happening there, I invariably transformed the actuality of the material by handling it in a rather different way or I was prepared to intervene positively in order to create material which provided a context or a framework for the everyday activity of the sort of industrial work and industrial skills that I was interested in. And in the in the White Country I eventually arrived by a lot of cogitation and thinking about how one could cope with the problem of setting the framework of this city with its very important industrial background how I could handle that within the context of a 30 minute film. Well I failed because it eventually turned out to be 35 minutes and I never worried too much about a schedule length and a number of my films are quite the wrong length for normal television scheduling no-one worried too much about that and there were very liberal.

But the form was like this: I met an old boy who had been Assistant General Secretary of The Pottery Workers Society, Albert Goodwin. He was well over 60 and he had a wide experience from a left position of the problems of the industry which included dust diseases of all sorts, industrial diseases relating to lead in lead glaze and so on and the other everyday events in a curiously old-fashioned and ramshackled industry. Now that wasn't my concentration I wasn't all that interested in questions of health and safety I was interested in the nature of the relationship between the people at Stoke-on-Trent and this curious delicate, sensitive industry where if you handle a piece of ware with the wrong degree of strength it crumbles in your hand before it's fired. And I was interested in the way in which Stoke people tended to be very accepting. There had been an absolute minimum since 1842 when there was the Chartist Rising in Stoke-on-Trent the amount of industrial dissidents there had been minute and I tried to find out why this was so.  Anyway Albert Goodwin and I got together and I said, “Albert what I want you to do is to we will devise a narration which says that you've received a letter from an old friend who emigrated from Stoke-on-Trent to America thirty or forty years ago and he's written to you saying that his son wants to come to Stoke-on-Trent and see the place and asking you to tell him whether it's changed or not. And what I want you to do …” At first it was going to be Albert writing a a letter answering these questions and we were going to use the letter as a narrative device. Then it was either suggested to me almost certainly it was suggested to me, I'm not sure that it wasn't suggested by Grace herself who thought this was a bit too pat, why didn't I show him trying to answer the letter but being unable to because of the contradictions within the situation that it has changed, yes but it hasn't changed in a funny sort of way and trying to relate this to the way in which people see their environment, their work, their skills, their futures and so on. And that was what finally what I adopted it may have been Grace but on the other hand it very well might have been Charles Parker who suggested that because all the time in every film that I made we talked at length about the subject and very often he echoed the films I was making in radio programmes of his own which were done from a completely different perspective but did eventually foreshadow a much closer collaboration in terms of films which we made much later on in the in the ‘60s and ‘70s.
Well there we were. So the the actual basis of the film is Albert Goodwin in his little terraced house having received this letter and reading it trying to write an answer to America to tell him, to tell his friend what it was like in Stoke-on-Trent today. And this goes in a circular way with intimations of emigration, trains, smoke, pigeons, all the images that I found myself increasingly using to indicate both absence and presence the idea of of a person rooted in a place yet being forced away from it. The idea of pigeons going out and coming back to your loft a symbol of reassurance but at the same time a symbol of imaginative flight away from the nest looking and then coming back again. It was all mixed up in my mind really in in ways that were never precisely clear to me and in a way I think probably the strength of some of the films is that it wasn't particularly clear to me so they weren’t dogmatic about it they were just nicely handled devices and nicely handled because I had good cameramen and fine editors who knew how to control the material and that was the way these films developed.

So the White Country became an essay which ended again with Albert at the end screwing up his latest attempt of a letter, screwing it up and throwing it in the fire and saying I can't really answer him because only by living here can you begin to understand what it is I can't tell anybody what it's like. And that was the end of the film. Now Grace thought the White Country was quite effective, she wasn't excessive in her praise ever but she did. I was invited to attach myself, to have an attachment from Birmingham to the Television Talks Department in London and I spent just over two years in Lime Grove and Ealing working there with that department.

Now just before I was due to attach myself to the department I was casting about in my mind for for some I I hoped it would be fairly outrageous demand that I could make on the department because I thought if they really want me to come now's my opportunity to to to do something that's really quite startling. And I didn't think the opportunity would occur and I probably with my fairly limited rather parochial and regional imagery and imagination would probably not be able to find it. But I was I was saved from that situation because about a week before I was due to go to London and we were still living in Warwick and poor old Jill was going to be of course left behind with the kids and it was all going to be that sort of life again, I read or I saw on the front page of The Guardian a photograph of a steelworks from the air or what looked like the beginning of a steelworks and when I read the caption I found that it was the British component of a consortium called ISCON which was one of three national groups West Germany, Russia and Britain, who were building three integrated steelworks in India and this one was Durgapur in Bengal just north of Calcutta, 30 miles north of Calcutta in an old industrial area. So with a wild flight of fancy I wrote at once to Grace and said I know what I want to do when I come to you next week I want to go to India to make a film about the building of a steelworks.  And to my astonishment within three weeks I was on a plane heading for India with an EMI midget recorder and 30 tapes and the promise of the BBC’s best cameraman a man called Ken Higgins, whom I worked for worked with briefly on Tonight's story a very difficult tough Cockney guy but a great cameraman, the promise of Ken Higgins to follow me out in three weeks time.  So I had to do all the negotiation with the Iron & Steel Corporation in India, the government of India, get all the passes, the permits, satisfy them about the nature of the film that I was making, would it be good propaganda for them, where would it be entirely based on British commercial instincts and so on.  And I got a fair amount of help from the Indian High Commission who were persuaded by the very rough outline I could give them which all I knew was that I wanted to make the film I didn't know what it was going to be like because I hadn't done any research. All I did was to go to to one of the engineers who I heard from ISCON headquarters in London was due to be heading out to Bengal fairly soon who turned out to be a Black Countryman.  And he and his family lived in an area that was very familiar to me so I went up there and I talked to them on on the recorder about their hopes and ideas about this development in India and that was very useful to give me a sort of instinct about the thing.

And I arrived in Calcutta. By a miracle found a super Bengali bloke whose father had been an engineer in Indian Railways, under the British, and I hired him at once to come and interpret and guide me into the poetic mysteries of of Indian life and especially village life and we headed for Durgapur and I spent three weeks there it was the wrong time of year the temperature was about 100/110 in the shade.  And I had a most extraordinary time trying to make sense of the, of what I increasingly saw as a powerful counterpoint between England and India and I was sure that the film in India had to intercut with the with the one of the areas in Britain that was supplying the elements that were being established in India in the steelworks and I chose Stockton-on-Tees next door to Middlesbrough where Head Wrightson were building the blast furnaces. And Stockton-on-Tees, which of course deeply symbolically was one of the heartlands of the first industrial revolution, was the place where the Stockton and Darlington Railway the first public wheeled railway started in I think it was 1825 and the streets scarcely seemed to have changed since those days. So I found a powerful symbolism in Stockton which in a sense wagged a warning finger towards India when they said, ‘Now watch out if you're going to if you're going to create an industrial revolution in your country you've got to watch out that it doesn't take the same form as it took in this country.’ And that was the manifest theme of the whole film because in India, in Durgapur I found that one of the villages that was going to be obliterated, literally bulldozed and disappeared by the by the expansion of the steelworks, was a little village called Benachitti where some of the workers in the in the phase that we had arrived at in Durgapur lived. So again in India the story is of a man from Benachitti who who goes to work in the steelworks and it reflected strongly on the nature of the community experience within the framework of that little village. And we followed the headman around on his daily rounds or his weekly rounds around the village. We saw him trying a malefactor, adjudicating on a dispute between neighbours, supervising the digging of a well, all these things which were a crucial part of the of the elements of the old agrarian system which was now being destroyed by the Industrial Revolution that was impending.

So the excitement the sheer enormous scale of the the great buildings that were being put up at Durgapur which were so marvelously caught by Ken Higgins’ camera when he came out. He was a man who for the first time resisted my sort of direction because he moved with the camera, he covered whatever you said to him “Ken look we're going to do the raising of the main pipe on the blast furnace” which alternated between the ground and two hundred and fifty feet in the air and we shot in both of those places and Ken was absolutely amazing. I mean he made the film, I tried to direct but I didn't have much luck Ken knew what he was doing. But I put him in the situations where he could get the best out of the material and these ranged from a Kali temple in the village, to the tours of Benachitti, the movements to and from the site and the marvellous roving and ranging and colourful nature of the of the immigrant populations who were building there, women carrying cement on their heads filling a huge foundation, elegant tribal women carrying 18 pounds of cement on their heads and tipping it into it onto the side. I mean endless extraordinary sequences, which emerged like that.

Now I did all the recording because I was the only person there with a recorder we didn't do anything sync sound, I recorded everybody on site I did a vast amount of of recording. And and even did a sync sequence of a christening of a child in a bungalow, one of the European bungalows in the village, which we filmed I then got them to go through it again I recorded it and when I got home the editor synced it all up and it worked as a piece of sync.  So there were all sorts of tremendously exciting and terribly frustrating and the heat the whole, I found that not only did I have to create a script and the ideas and record people and so on but I also had to organize and and a bungalow for us to live in and hire a cook and and a bearer who would look after us. They had tremendous fights they threw bowls of dhal at each other and I mean it was hair raising, Ken Higgins lost a stone in weight and but we had a hell of a time and we made this extraordinary film.

Then we went back to England shot the Stockton-on-Tees end having seen the full range of material in India.  And then Joe Stirling, who was a features editor basically, was working at Ealing at that time cut it. And I did the commentary. It was a great mistake my doing my commentary my my voice was completely wrong but nobody said I shouldn't so I did and it was a mistake. Grace afterwards wanted to cut it to cut the film to 45 minutes from 60 Minutes and replace my commentary with another one with somebody else speaking it and enter it for the Italia prize.  I don't know what happened to that proposal but it wasn't entered for the Italia Prize.

Colin Moffat: Was it afterwards noticeable that you hadn’t had a proper sound crew with you? Did you regret that at all? I mean it was a matter of cost was it that they wouldn't let you take one?
Philip Donnellan: No, No. It was the first I think it was the first documentary the BBC probably ever made abroad on a on a complete, they'd sent lots of Panorama crew abroad but they'd never sent a documentary filmmaker abroad to make a film by himself. So it was it was fairly routine to do it mute I gathered, anyway I was only a radio producer I didn't know what the routine was. I grabbed my recorder and buggered off into the as far away as I could get.

Colin Moffat: But you'd had sync sound researchers on Joe the Chainsmith hadn’t you?

Philip Donnellan: Yes and on the White Country, yes I had.

Colin Moffat: It seems a bit illogical I can’t think why you weren’t …

Philip Donnellan: Yes it did. Ken used a Newman Sinclair, he used a handheld silent Newman Sinclair and that was the only camera we had.  And so it was all … I didn't mind I didn't know what this sort of stress that I was experiencing whether it was the routine in terms of making and making films because the the although the White Country had been relatively easy Joe the Chainsmith had been profoundly stressful.  So I did whatever came most easily and it looked to me as though Grace didn't expect me to want a sync sound crew and so we made it without it.
Colin Moffat: There were other people working like this, were there?

Philip Donnellan: No I didn't think so, I don't think so I think it was very idiosyncratic. I, I do think well I got a sudden illumination curiously after the making and transmission of The Steel Goddess: I was asked to come down for a meeting of documentary makers in the in the Talks Department and we looked at The Steel Goddess and afterwards we were walking back along Lime Grove towards where towards the main block and I was I was talking to John Reed and Dick Cawston who were very experienced filmmakers and they said “Why did you write the commentary in that sort of way?” And I said, “Well I don't know I've never written a commentary before” and “Oh haven't you?” they said “we'd been told that you’d done everything before.”  And I then found to my astonishment that Grace had been threatening these mature and experienced producers with this man from Birmingham in terms such as if they were diffident about accepting some of her ideas she would say “Huh I shall ask Philip Donnellan in Birmingham and he'll come down and show you how to do that” and before they'd met me I had been raised into a sort of bogie figure omni-competent, omni-experienced and they were they were genuinely staggered when I said I'd never written a commentary before I didn't know how to write commentary I'd be grateful if you'll give me some tips because and so on. That was a deeply unsettling situation to find I mean I didn't mind being turned into the blue-eyed boy of the department although I was skeptical whether it would persist very long but I did find it extremely unfortunate in establishing relations with people who had been given a completely misappropriate and mischievous view of my of my particular skills and talents.

Colin Moffat: Among the sound you shot in India was there any music? Philip Donnellan: Yes oh yeah there's a lot of music.  I recorded material especially and and we used this in the editing and I, because I was good friends with All India Radio I got some copyright free material from Ali Akbar Khan the sitar player and brought it back with me.  And and the only problem about that happened was when I discovered in India that I could actually fly back via Moscow at the same cost to the BBC as flying back direct. So I flew from Delhi to Tashkent in Moscow for May Day 1959 and the the Russian customs were a little bit sticky about my 30 tapes and the recorder but only a little and I had three fascinating days in Moscow. And then Jill met me in Schiphol, Amsterdam and and we had a little holiday in France and then came back home.

ColinMoffat: What was the point of going to Moscow?

Philip Donnellan: Oh the opportunity to go I'd never been to Russia before and didn't see much prospect of going there in the future. So the fact that I could do it without additional cost on my airfare was a marvellous opportunity. I got a Russian visa in Delhi and and it made an extraordinarily exciting extra piece to the thing.
I was very lucky with the press response to The Steel Goddess in as much as there didn't seem to be a lot of internal BBC comment but the Times the following day, and the Times didn't automatically review television programmes a bit below them in those days, the Times came out with an absolutely staggering piece which which demonstrated that they had taken every point that I'd tried to make in the film about the nature of industrial revolution and the warning about about the problems that this brought in its wake.
And it made it all very worthwhile. And then I went back to Birmingham and continued my my radio work after that after that attachment until fairly soon after that I became I became a producer in the Talks Department and went back to London again.
Colin Moffat: Did you ever show any of these early films of yours like Joe the Chainsmith to anybody outside television? Did you get any any feedback from what you might call the documentary people, non-television people?
Philip Donnellan: Yes
Colin Moffat: Had they, did they show any interest?

Philip Donnellan: Yes, well what happened was this Charles and I, Charles Parker and I both had rather simultaneous breakthroughs on this front because Joe the Chainsmith was transmitted at almost the same time in 1958 as Charles' first Radio Ballad, The Ballad of John Axon …

Colin Moffat: What do you mean Radio Ballad?

Philip Donnellan: Well this was a new genre of radio programs developed by Charles with Ewan MacColl, which took the two areas that were increasingly dominating Charles' thinking: that is the oral tradition, the spoken word revealed revealed by the techniques of actuality recording and the midget recording and the and the folk tradition, the musical traditions of which at that time MacColl and Bert Lloyd were the outstanding exemplars. And he worked together with MacColl, MacColl wrote them, Peggy Seeger, MacColl's partner, developed the musical form and Parker did the tape editing and production. When I say did the tape editing I don’t necessarily mean he did it all by himself, it was done by a remarkable tape editor woman Mary Baker whom I mentioned earlier. Now the Radio Ballads were a series of programmes, which really in an extraordinary way transformed the map of radio feature production in 1958 and caused an instant critical furore. Now this happened at about the same time that Joe the Chainsmith was being transmitted and the the people in British Transport Films Edgar Anstey and Stewart McAllister had of course heard The Ballad of John Axon since it was about the railways but they had also seen Joe the Chainsmith. So they invited Charles and me to come down to Saville Row and consider whether our joint talents could not be deployed in a way that was if not offered by British Transport films at least was in parallel with their own interests and concerns. And those discussions went on for some time and I was then faced by certain problems from the Copyright Department. Now the Copyright Department in the BBC has for a very long time been a powerful obstacle to either the screening or the expansion of the knowledge of BBC programme work outside the confines of the BBC. And it started as far I was concerned with Joe the Chainsmith. Within a matter of months of the transmission of Joe the Chainsmith there were requests to show it at the Edinburgh Festival and at the National Film Theatre. Neither of these came to me I would have instantly said yes. Naturally I wanted recognition and I would have done everything possible to make sure that they were they were screened in those locations. They went to some element of the management if not direct to Copyright, Copyright immediately said no it was quite impossible. And Joe the Chainsmith was never shown in any, or any of the subsequent films, were never shown within oh 10, 15, 20 years of their making. So that any connection between this Birmingham documentary explosion in sound and television really appears to have been aborted long before, well not aborted before birth before things had been born and made. So they were strangled after birth and …

Colin Moffat: Any idea why they didn't want Joe the Chainsmith?
Philip Donnellan: No wasn't it, it wasn't a question ...

Colin Moffat: Was it a pure technicality, the impossibility of clearing certain material for non-broadcast use?
Philip Donnellan: Yes, exactly, exactly. There was a conspicuous example because some of the music had, there was only a harmonica player and and and a percussionist involved in the music for Joe the Chainsmith and the percussionist played music on an anvil and he wasn't a recognized soloist, he was an orchestral player and there was a section of the BBC’s agreement with the Musicians Union that they could not clear rights on the work of orchestral players but only that of soloists. I forget the precise details but I was told beyond any doubt that it was completely impossible for this film to be shown and it was in fact impossible, it wasn't done. Of course there was no possible way in which one either had the knowledge or skills of evasion in order to to provide alternative means of people seeing the thing it was out of the question.

Colin Moffat: What was the upshot of British Transport their interest in The Ballad of John Axon?

Philip Donnellan: This went on for a long time.

Colin Moffat: Anything become of that?
Philip Donnellan: Um, in effect no. Stewart McAllister who had been of course Humphrey Jennings’ editor did put together a sequence of film material of rails, shots from an engine looking at at the rail lines and he put this against a sequence of the material from The Ballad John Axon and it worked marvelously. However there were, I wouldn't like to I wouldn't like to commit myself on this there is a file that details all this in the Charles Parker archive in Birmingham and and all that information should be available if it's not now I've certainly seen it and I know that in due course it will be available when it's catalogued and all that is is in there but I can't tell you off-the-cuff.

Colin Moffat: Might there have been copyright problems on that project viz a viz music and so on?

Philip Donnellan: I think it's less likely but on the other hand there's no question of the fact that nothing happened so it's quite possible that it was stopped in that sort of way. It's impossible to over-emphasize the restrictive and obstinate nature of elements of the BBC administration at that time in their attempts to allow these sort of public screenings of material to take place. I've encountered it at every point during 30 years in production.

Colin Moffat: Is it still the case?

Philip Donnellan: I don't know but of course the quite simple answer is that difficult and intransigent undisciplined buggers like me now have the aid of video technology it's impossible to stop copies of material getting out. And I would like to think that that anybody who was who was concerned about the fact that the public in the end through the licence fee pays for the making of all this work that they should have a direct right to see it and if necessary to hold it in their own homes. Now that of course is right outside the confines of the law at the moment I suppose but I do know that many programmes many, many programmes are held whether rightly or wrongly by people outside and as far as I decently can I'm prepared to contribute to that process. And I think it's deeply, deeply wrong for a public service organisation to be so restrictive of the conditions under which the public can gain access to this material.  And I felt that from the start I mean I was only told about the absolute vetoes on Joe being shown at the Edinburgh Festival for example when I got to know Paddy Scanol, er Paddy Whannel at the British Film Institute he was Education Officer and Paddy was a tremendous support in trying to get this sort of new work shown but he had very little luck.  And most of our interventions were based on taking part in summer schools and screening the material there perhaps and in restricted surroundings and talking about it. And that's been the case a great deal in the past.

Now there was no, Grace was extremely helpful if I may just go back to that theme now over The Steel Goddess and and spoke and wrote very highly about the programme. When I see it now I'm profoundly embarrassed by the slow nature of the thing, the the the ponderous way in which ideas are signaled and there's there's very little recognition I'm afraid of the of the capacity of the audience to absorb ideas quickly, which even then 30 years ago was undoubtedly the case. So I'm not I find The Steel Goddess very embarrassing the only thing that isn't embarrassing is if you switch off the sound and watch Ken Higgins shooting which is absolutely stunning. And it was a great honour to work with so early in my working career with a with a cameraman of such a tremendous skill and capacity. He became a feature cameraman afterwards, I think he always sat most happily within a documentary framework.
Colin Moffat: I take it that most of these industrial films were in fact shot on 35mm you hadn't had the 60mm thing in yet?
Philip Donnellan: It was 35mm, Newman Sinclair we shot 10,000 feet or something like that. The first 16-millimeter film I made was with Dick Bush in Sunderland. It was the fourth, I think it was the fourth of the industrial portraits that I did in 1961, ’60, ’61, ‘62 I never quite sure when the schedules began and ended. One of the large-scale industrial areas that I wanted to look at was shipbuilding. I'd recently seen a film and I'm afraid I can't attribute it by name I think it was somebody like Max Harris, made a film called Seawards the Great Ships and it was a documentary about shipbuilding in Glasgow and a great many over the years a great many of my films have been made in direct reaction to the works of other people. There was one notable case in which I made a film a couple of years later in reaction to one of John Bormann’s films in Bristol. My reaction to Seawards the Great Ships was that it said absolutely nothing about the either the skills or the process of building ships. It was a large-scale magnificently shot portrait of ships going down slipways and. But I sent a great friend of mine John Seymour and I asked him to go round all the shipbuilding areas of Britain and and come back and recommend to me which he thought was the most exciting place to do a film about shipbuilding.  And he came back and he said, he'd plumped for Sunderland, he said the the whole river there is absolutely aglow with shipbuilding activity and more than that it is the only shipyard in the British Isles that launches directly into the sea instead of into a river. And so I went up to Sunderland, which I'd never been to before.

Colin Moffat: Incidentally is that John Seymour the writer …

Philip Donnellan: Yes.

Colin Moffat: and broadcaster?

Philip Donnellan: Yes, yes.  Self-sufficiency Seymour! Yes he’s an old friend of mine.  And and I went up Sunderland and went to Bartrams on the south dock in Sunderland and it was an absolutely superb place. So I had to persuade the management and the shop stewards to let me in, let me come and make a film there. Well the management of course were delighted, they thought it would be an extremely valuable film to have made about them.  As always even in 1961, especially in 1961, there was an impending slump in the shipbuilding industry other countries were beginning to build ships much cheaper and much quicker than the British could do it so a supporting movie that focused on Bartrams would be they thought extremely valuable and I hope it was. And the shop stewards were less sure about this and I had to go in front of two shops stewards committees and argue my case. And by then my sympathies were fairly well formed and fairly articulate and despite my managerial style manner they agreed to let me in. Although individual workers did choke over it a bit during the ensuing weeks when I was researching there and I remember having lots of arguments. One in particular with a plater who one pouring night when we'd been out for a beer or two we were huddled in a shop doorway and and he he said, “I reckon you're a stool pigeon, I reckon you're a plant, management plant.” And I said, “Well you know it's absolutely ridiculous. If I was a plant would I would they send as a plant a bloke who sounded and behaved like me and represented himself as coming from the BBC?” I mean it is the most suspicious situations you can possibly find and the very fact and so on. So finally we we got on very well indeed and I've been back many times since.
Colin Moffat: On that point Philip much earlier on you were talking about the way you used to dress when you first joined the BBC [LAUGHTER] you had long since discarded suits had you by the time you were making documentaries in Sunderland and so on?

Philip Donnellan: Yes, yes, yes.  I don't I don't think I don't think I've worn a tie since 1954 [LAUGHTER] because they really are ridiculous things but I didn't try and dress like a worker.

Colin Moffat: I mean you dress casually in your work?

Philip Donnellan: Yes, yeah. People have of course often asked me do I change my accent if I go into a steelworks or a shipyard or something. And of course that betrays a total misunderstanding of the process that we're going through. I mean if you are not honest you can't, it's very difficult to persuade people that you are - there are a few financiers who manage to do it.  But on the whole working class people with whom I invariably associated on films like this they know very well whether you are straight by the conversations you have, the styles you you talk about other people in and the jokes you make and the way you talk to each other. And I've never had any any problem like that but certainly I have been accepted in a wide range of situations which has been a matter of profound satisfaction and and and honour to me. And of course it's it has made a great difference to my life because everywhere, I'm glad to say that nearly all the places that I have been and have established relations in order to make films I invariably have been welcomed back and my aim is not to go and make a fast buck metaphorically by creaming off the experience of people's lives and never being answerable to them again.  I've always felt and argued strongly with those people with whom I worked that we have to have not merely a public service relationship you have a human relationship with people, which suggests that you treat them exactly as you would your own family or your friends in any other situation in life. And the test for me is whether a documentary person can go back to the places where he's worked and made films and I found that particularly unpleasant about Tonight. Almost inevitably Tonight could never go back to the places they had worked and I found that this too was something that separated me profoundly from them their ideological positions.

End Side 11

Start Side 12

Philip Donnellan: So I started work in uh Bartrams Shipyard and in the subsequent four weeks I wrote a script. Now of course the scripts that at first I had carefully and and precisely shot uh as individual scenes was no longer the same script by 1961. What I wanted now to compile was a script that reminded me of what I was doing and why I was doing it that provided a framework and a clarification for my feelings about what I discovered during the process of research. And and in the case of Sunderland Oak I was much affected by involvement almost alongside, although now we were living in London we weren’t literally alongside Charles Parker and his work in Birmingham because in by 1961 Charles had made four of the Radio Ballads and I had found, like I think millions of others, I had found the mix of reconstructed folk music and actuality recording strongly edited that that mix was extraordinarily powerful as a way of expressing ideas about the way in which men and women did things, obtain skills, created things and so on. Now when I use that rather speculative phrase ‘reconstructed folk music’ what I'm talking about is the sort of work that McCall did with with Charles Parker in all the Radio Ballads and in a number of subsequent programmes and indeed in his songs his amazing oeuvre right up to the time of his death. What Ewan did was to was to write songs deriving from, in the case of the Radio Ballads deriving from actuality recordings, he would use those as the guiding text and background to the creation of poetry which became the text of a song so that they expressed as far as they possibly could some of the same techniques that had established the oral music tradition originally. In other words the common experience of people expressed to each other and understood in common and then used as a basis for song. And Ewan did this with enormous skill, he had after all been writing for many years but the song phase of his work really tended to start in the early ‘50s but by the by the ‘60s it had developed enormously and particularly within the framework of Charles's Radio Ballads.  Now there's, when I say Charles’ Radio Ballads I realize I'm committing a bit of a solipsism here because there really, and there is argument about this, but friendly argument, in as much as whose is the credit for the Radio Ballads. Ewan has argued and has written quite a lot about this that he created the Radio Ballads with Peggy Seeger and it's perfectly true. He suggested and wrote the framework, he put the materials together, he wrote the songs and in most cases he performed nearly all the songs in the final work. On the other hand the contribution of Parker in editorial terms, in terms of editing the tape superbly so that these contributions fitted precisely to the rhythm and form of the songs and his overall production of the performers and the singers and his handling of the tape the original tape recording are contributions that in my view exactly and fully match the contribution made by McColl. But it's often difficult when one's talking about them not to say Charles Parker's Radio Ballads and it's something that is found very objectionable sometimes by those people who say they're not Parker they are MacColl's. I accept that they belong to both of them and if I said Ewan MacColl's Radio Ballads I wouldn't be excluding Charles anymore the other way round. So there we are.
Colin Moffat: Incidentally Ewan MacColl’s work in radio of course it went back many many years did it not?

Philip Donnellan: Yes …

Colin Moffat: On rather different sorts of programmes.

Philip Donnellan: Yes …

Colin Moffat: Right back to the ‘30s didn’t it?

Philip Donnellan: Right back he started writing songs and taking part in programmes on the radio in 1936 in Manchester and was one of the mainstays of performance with Joan Littlewood in those days with Geoffrey Bridson right up until the time of Dennis Mitchell and and Norman Swallow.

But now having been effected and having in effect being a part of the the work which Charles did in Birmingham and right up to the time when I left to become a television producer I wanted to use that powerful montage of song and recording in the context of a film.  And Sunderland Oak was the first time that I that I set out to do that.
So the script that I referred to just now was a script in which the words of these reconstructed songs in this case written not by McColl but by a young Geordie guy who'd worked down the pits he hadn't worked in the shipyards but he was a well-known musician in in Newcastle-on-Tyne, Johnny Handle. Johnny wrote the, did the music and songs for Sunderland Oak I did the recordings and edited the recordings and and together we put the whole thing together. Now what I set out to do with Sunderland Oak was to relate the rhythms of that actuality music montage to the way in which the camera was handled so that if you were shooting say the laying of a keel or work in the double bottom of of a ship that was building you tried to relate the shots, the length of shots, the way in which the camera moved, panned across from one subject to another, you tried to relate this to the rhythms and times the tempi of the actual musical content. ColinMoffat: Which you had pre-recorded?

Philip Donnellan: Which I had which I had certainly pre-recorded before before the shooting.  Now and now I don't say this this was absolutely fully satisfactory there have there has been there's been very little criticism of of um I’ve forgotten what his first name is, Dick Bush's work on camera he was a lovely cameraman and it was his first job as a cameraman we were still shooting in black and white but this time we were on 16mil so it was relatively mobile and a profound relief. Dick Bush's camera work is lovely in Sunderland Oak. It really is a film that looks like a film not like an assemblage of casually handled imagery and and while Dick's work has been recognised and praised many people feel that, and Charles was amongst them, that Johnny Handle’s music was not up to the standard that MacColl would have expected or that MacColl would have produced. Now I wasn't particularly conscious of that we took quite predictable melodies and some of the poetry, which constituted the text, was fairly naïve. I didn't worry about that I thought that they were stimulating and exciting especially in the context in which we were putting them.

However we completed the film, took it back to London and cut it Keith Latham cut it. Completely unlike anything Keith had handled before he was a very very fast, very experienced film editor who'd worked within the normal very quick time schedules of editing journalistic films, Panoramas and other material of that sort, but he adapted quite extraordinarily to the much more lyrical tone and the rhythms and movements of the camera within the material that we'd shot. We completed the film and I was I was really rather happy about it it had a beginning, a middle and an end had beautiful shooting and I thought the soundtrack was interesting. And it dealt above all it did deal in that lyrical way with the problems that confronted the industry, both in the actuality material that we'd shot the launching of the ship for example where the manager, Colonel Bartram the owner of Bartrams Shipyard spoke very briefly at after the launch where people were guzzling sweet cakes and drinking champagne he spoke about the crisis facing the industry and then this was echoed by the expressions of other anonymous voices out of the darkness of Sunderland, the the Sunderland evening and so on.
Colin Moffat: Do you tell the people granting facilities, Bartrams in this case, what sort of film you are making in advance? I mean in outline I mean. You don't actually have scripts first, so do they know what ... of course it’s not for them so it’s not …
Philip Donnellan: Not they don’t and and if it's if it appears to you undesirable to let them know the details of a film it does sometimes happen for a variety of reasons it's so easy to tell them a story that is quite true yet doesn't give them any image of the film.  So it’s terribly difficult even if you want to play as fair as possible with people it's terribly difficult to describe a film to people in terms that really can make sense to them. So in actual fact Bartrams were delighted with the film they really thought that it was the sort of thing they ought to have allowed to happen. The people who didn't like it were the Sunderland Town Council because it hadn't shown the new recreation ground and Roker flats it had dealt with with hard work, harsh work, work in the shipyards and the potential future of deprivation and unemployment. And they said that was deeply derogatory to the interests of Sunderland, they said this in the newspapers it was an immense debate in the newspapers afterwards, after the transmission. And I wrote to the Town Clerk and volunteered to bring the film up to Sunderland and show the General Purposes Committee of whom I was quite sure 50% hadn't seen the film anyway and to discuss it with them if they had criticisms I was fully prepared to to argue the whole thing with them and I did that they accepted that and I went up and showed it to them.  And I believe that that should be a perfectly routine activity for producers they should be responsible to the people with whom and for whom and through whom because of whom and to whom they make the films.
However it was a bit of a miracle the film actually got on the screen at all for the simple reason that when Grace saw it she disliked it intensely. She thought it was a marvellous film quite a film. She said it would be fine if you take the music out.  I couldn't believe my ears.  This was something that really had to be opposed it wasn't just a question of changing the title it was striking at the absolutely fundamental way and reason for making the film in the first place. So we had a long argument and I'm glad to say because as I've said to you before I like these things to be on record. I had a secretary whose shorthand speed was pretty good and I said to Sheila thinking there might be trouble, I don't know why I’m not usually prescient, she would you know she would usually be present there and I said “Everything that Mrs. Goldie says, anything that anybody who is there says get it down as much as you possibly can.” So we've got nine pages of transcript of Grace Wyndham Goldie's attacks on this film. She merely stuck on the unreality and poverty of the musical content of the songs. And I denied her right to do that and I denied her judgment in terms of the actual songs themselves. I said by what right do you do you pronounce on these things, to me as a person who has experienced this place who knows a great deal about the music I believe it to be as authentic as you can get using a technique of reconstruction for the music. We went on nose to nose arguing for I suppose perhaps 35 minutes something like that and I knew with absolute desperation that if she torpedoed this film that would be the end of any sort of possible sponsorship by this very important department so I didn't want to fall out irretrievably with her although I was absolutely determined that somehow the film had got to survive. This is a difficult human situation it's not just a question of being brave or backward or self-censoring it's a question of whether the way you see your work and if your bosses don't see your work in that light how you can persuade them to. And I'm not good at persuading people verbally about the rights of my cases because I always feel deeply uncertain about the nature of the work that I've done I don't know whether it's really good most of the time.  So I find it very difficult to be glib about it being a major work of art or any crap like that. Okay so we get to the point where Grace says, “I'm instructing you Philip to remove the music from this film. You can leave in a couple of songs but otherwise the music must come out.”  I said “I'm sorry Grace I can't accept that I shall have to refer it to the Controller of Programmes”.  The Controller of Programmes was Stuart Hood. Now I knew nothing about Stuart’s politics I had no idea that he was a Marxist and I don't suppose Grace did either. All I knew was that he was a man who on the whole had shown a certain degree of sympathy, I'd met him a couple of times at departmental meetings I'd heard him speak and anyway it was a court of last resort it was the only form of appeal.
She said, “Stuart will agree with me.” I said, “I don’t think he will, I think he’ll agree with me.” “Why?” she said. “Well I just think it's a good film and it stands up as it is.” “He'll agree with me” she said, “because I am the head of a department and you are, he is the Controller of Programmes, I am the head of a department and you're only a producer. That's why he'll agree with me.” So I said, “I don't follow the logic of that statement Grace.” “Well” she said “very well we shall show it to Stuart Hood.  I won't say anything to Stuart before then.”

Well we had a screening with Stuart Hood and she knew she'd lost before Stuart said a word. We followed Stuart down from the viewing theatres, which were on the fourth floor or something, this was in the evening, downstairs, down to the hospitality room, passages and lifts and corridors and all the time Grace was trying to stall off the moment when Stuart was going to say that he liked it. I knew that, the way he walked, the way she walked. We went into the hospitality room “Philip would you pour us some drinks” she said.  So I opened the hospitality cupboard. “What would you like Stuart?” “Well I’ll have a wee whisky I think.”

“Well Philip I like the film very much indeed.” “You don't dislike the music Stuart?” “Oh no Grace it's very much in keeping with the subject.  I think it works very well.  I like it.” “Oh very well” she said.
That was the last I heard of it until The Talks Meeting where it was absolutely decimated by Humphrey Burton and Huw Weldon as I've described to you already. But it went on the screen exactly as it was made.
Colin Moffat: Were they rather more intelligent in their comments?

Philip Donnellan: No not really not really. It was prejudice about the nature of the activity and this strange historical quirk that actually they say industrial workers don't sing material like that and therefore it's wrong to put there.  But if you put Beethoven over a shipbuilding film they'd feel that was entirely appropriate if it was big and clanging and sonorous it would be okay to put Beethoven over it. But it's not okay to put some sort of reconstructed song over it. I always find that very difficult.
Colin Moffat: They wanted no music of course presumably merely natural sounds and possibly commentary?
Philip Donnellan: Who did?

Colin Moffat: The objectors.

Philip Donnellan: No. No they didn’t, they didn't they didn't suggest an alternative way that the film should have been made they were merely being critical, quite rightly and perfectly legitimate, they were criticizing it afterwards. They said that film was made wrongly, it's not right to use material like that and con, I mean in effect they were saying they didn't literally say con the public because they didn’t care a bugger about the public. They cared about their own sensibilities just as I cared about mind and. And so it wasn't they weren't suggesting alternative ways of making it they just thought they didn't like it. But Grace on the other hand was quite clearly insisting in her right as an editor responsible in the department for the making of those films that it should be done differently in the same way that she had said this about For A’ That.
Now that wasn't the last time I had interference from Grace. That was 1961 in 1962 after strenuous efforts I managed to persuade her to let me make a pilot programme about a Durham miner.  Now I wont go into, you’ll be relieved to hear, great lengths on it about this. It was a film shot with great economy, took three days to shoot and I think a week or ten days to, a week to edit wasn't it? And and Jack Elliott was an atheist and a socialist but a man of enormous and gigantic humanity. His atheism and his socialism came not from any arbitrary or theoretical basis but from having lived for 58 years through situations of danger and hard work, comradeship or lack of it. He'd seen the world, he was a very intelligent man and he'd come to certain conclusions.  And and so what I found enormously stimulating and I didn't know that when I asked him if I could make a pilot film with him. Er, what I found enormously stimulating was his absolute realism about the situation in which he was placed. One thing he didn't predict which my old friend Albert Goodwin from Stoke-on-Trent constantly did predict was that such and such a subject won't go down well with the management Philip.  Jack never said a word about that.

Well we took it back to Birmingham and we started editing and we cut it to thirty minutes, thirty-two minutes or whatever thing and we took it down to show it to Grace who had under a considerable amount of pressure off me had agreed this three months or whatever it was before and and I had managed to find time and a cutting room in Birmingham to direct and edit.  And she she sat through this film and at the end she said, “Certainly not! Certainly not! The idea is rejected. The series is rejected.  You will go back to Birmingham and remove the material you will do no more work on it. You will not dub it. You will do whatever is appropriate with the material and you will then come back here and I'll find you work to do. The series is rejected.”  I think it was as dogmatic as that and as brief and as brutal as that.  Now of course this was a masterly piece of decision but totally disagreeable in the ears of those of us who heard it.

Colin Moffat: Did you argue your case?

Philip Donnellan: As far as I can remember I said little or nothing I don't know, I think I said nothing. I was, I think I was probably pretty shattered. I mean I crept out like a beaten dog out of that viewing theatre and with the editor who probably also felt like a beaten dog we went back to Birmingham and we finished cutting the film we cut it to length, we doubled it and neg cut it and took two prints off it and we sent one print to the family and I kept another print myself.  And alas we junked, as is the habit, we junked the original material which was a great tragedy in which I never ought to have done because that was 1962 in 1966 Jack who had retired from the pit by that time went to Canada on holiday was attacked by a virulent form of cancer resulting I imagine from having smoked all his life and he was rushed back to England and was put into Newcastle City Hospital. I got away as soon as I possibly could to go up to Newcastle to see him when I heard that he died and so I went up to the funeral and I arrived at Newcastle station and I got a taxi to go out to Berkeley 11 miles out where the family lived and out of respect and emotion I asked the taxi driver to go via the pit where Jack had worked and where I'd been down with him.  And we drove to Harrington which had been open since the ‘60s and ‘50s and to my astonishment the big main gate was closed and the wind was blowing piles of pay dockets up against the gates like snow drifting across the ground and the sun was going down and it was evening and I suddenly thought by Christ the man is dead, the pit is closed and by definition when people like this die the community is destroyed.  The coal mining community in particular of course I thought of.  I though I have got to make a record of this.  So I went down to the house and saw Jack and saw Em and the family and I said to Em “Would you mind if I film the funeral tomorrow?” And she said, “No you do what you think is right.”
So I got onto a stringer in Durham ten miles away and got him to come up with a Bolex next morning and and he filmed the people attending the funeral and he did one shot looking through the door of the crematorium Chapel showing the preacher standing up in the pulpit and the congregation in the foreground and the coffin on the usual rolling table – and um I was inside.
And so we had that film of the occasion because I was absolutely determined from that moment to make a film called Death of a Miner, which would incorporate the film that Grace had rejected four years before in which we still had copies of. And the other marvelous thing about that funeral was that because Jack was an atheist it was a humanist service and it was the first one I'd been to and the preacher whom I called the preacher was a Newcastle City Councillor and secretary of the local Humanist Society and he spoke wonderfully about Jack. And afterwards I buttonholed him and I got hold of his script and he gave it to me and I said, “I want I'm, I hope to turn this into a film so I may be getting in touch with you a bit later on.” And I went back and I went back to Birmingham and set about trying to get the money for this film.

Colin Moffat: Were you still in touch with Mrs Wyndham Goldie at this stage or had she disappeared by then?
Philip Donnellan: ’60, this was ’66, oh no by then, I I've omitted a great chunk of my life in in terms of of pursuing the story of what happened to Jack Elliott in the film.  No I had left London and gone back to Birmingham and if I may I'd like to say something about that a bit later but for the moment Grace was not in evidence. The Head of Documentaries the the Talks Department or the Talks Group as it was by then had splintered and expanded enormously because in the interim the second BBC channel had started – BBC Two started in 1964.
Colin Moffat: Presumably if Mrs Goldie had been around still and your boss you would never have attempted this this second project would you on Elliott?
Philip Donnellan: Oh yes of course I would have attempted it.

Colin Moffat: And tried to sell it to her?

Philip Donnellan: No I wouldn't I wouldn't have tried to sell it to her I would have I would have sought some alternative.  I mean there are many alternatives in the BBC it's often difficult to predict what they might be as in this instance because erm … I spoke to Dick Cawston who by that time in the very large and developing Talks Group was Head of Documentaries. And Dick said, “Well we don't have 30 minute documentaries you know we only do 50 minutes in on BBC One on BBC Two they don't have any documentaries at all. And I don't think we can help Philip”.  And I worked out the costs of this and what I needed was £475 to complete the film because I had the original film, I had the material of the funeral and what I needed was the was the pit, the empty pit and a few conversations with the family.

Well time erm I tried to sell it to the Midland region and a man called David Porter who'd succeeded Dennis Morris said he didn't think that it was their kettle of fish he didn't see the relevance of it to Midland Region. And I tried North Region and they wouldn't play and then Dick Cawston very helpfully said “Why didn't you try the Religious Department?” And in my naivety I said, “The Religious Department?” “Well” said Jack “didn't you …” said Dick “Didn't you say he was an atheist? Well maybe the Religious Department would be interested.” Well he was quite right and I went to the Head of the Religious Broadcasting Department and I told him what I had in mind and I forget whether I had written the treatment by that time, I think not, told him what I got in mind and told him the laughable amount of money that was involved and he said, “We'd be very interested in taking a film by an atheist because it provides a debating point around which other ideas can circulate.” And I thought this was a progressive thing to do but I must say I did find it a bit comic that Jack should end up on a religious programme slot. However they did stump up and sometime later quite a lot later I was able to go up to Durham again and I found that the pit had gone, all pit buildings had gone but fortunately we' d arrived just in time for a key function er the winding shed was still there and an enormous block made of brick and stone which had been the base of the winding engine outside the winding shed there and they were going to blow it up that day. So I whistled up another camera and I set up two cameras so we got two angles on the same event and and they duly pushed the plunger and the thing blew up and I did some other shots of the great steel ball knocking things down, what was left and so on and we did the we we filmed conversations with the family and friends and a meeting of the local folk song club of which Jack was an illuminating member. He had a great a great repertoire of coalmining songs alot of obscene ditties, he was a great performer and one of the founders of one of the Berkeley club which is still going now for grand for I’ve forgotten the word, [LAUGHTER] spearheaded by members of his own family - he had three sons and a daughter.

And and then I went back to Birmingham and Henry Fowler cut the program. And the next problem was transmission. We showed it to the Religious Programmes Department, they thought it was great, and then the Chief Assistant to the Director General a man called Oliver Whitley whose father had been Director General for a time at some time in the past. Um Oliver Whitley …

Colin Moffat: I think he was, was he not the Chairman?

Philip Donnellan: Chairman? Yes Chairman of the Board of Governors. Oliver Whitley said to the Religious Programmes Department “You can't transmit a programme about an atheist in a religious slot. It's outrageous. This is meant for the for the transmission of the Christian message. It's not meant for for precisely the opposite. If you're going to do this you will have to make a balancing programme.”  So they told me this and I said, “Well I hope you don't think that I'm gonna make it.”  And they said, “Oh no no no no don't worry.” So a young producer was put on making a balancing program which used 8 minutes of the original film and and erm had a discussion a Church of England clergyman, Sid Chaplain a great journalist supporter of the miners but they refused to have any member of the family on the discussion which I thought was quite unfair because they were the carriers of Jack's atheism. And anyway the programme, was made and I think I watched it, disapproved of it inevitably and wholly …

Colin Moffat: Was it a studio discussion something like that?

Philip Donnellan: Studio discussion yes. And above all wholly disapproved of this really appalling attempt at creating balance within a quite, in my view, a situation which didn't needed balancing didn’t need balancing, the balance was within the rest of the programmes that were being transmitted on that from that department. Those were the Christian message if you wanted an anti-Christian message that was Jack's film you didn't need to do another balancing act. However it didn't matter and all of this was scheduled on October 28th 1968.  Jack had died two years before.

Now October 28 1968 is a profoundly significant date as it happened and by a marvellous coincidence: it's the date of the last really big demonstration against the war in Vietnam in Grosvenor Square, London. And right from the announcement of the intention of CND to promote an anti-Vietnam demo all the areas of the media said that it was quite clear that this would be a very violent demonstration. Now there's a very interesting book which was written about this because it's almost a a a what do I mean a test case, it’s almost a perfect example of the way in which the media register the nature of a particular event long before and indeed long after the event has taken place even though they turn out to be totally inaccurate. This book is published by James Halloran not published by, written by James Halloran of the Leicester University Centre for Mass Communications Research I think is the proper title and it's called Demonstrations and Communication and it explores in great detail the imagery which was used to make the media television on both sides, commercial and BBC, and the newspaper media absolutely convinced that there was going to be a violent demonstration and to perpetuate this beforehand and make arrangements for it.
So the arrangements that were made in television were that the franchise holders in London whether it was London Weekend I forget the exact date when the changeover took place or whether it was Associated Rediffusion I don't remember had allocated time to go over live to their cameras in Grosvenor Square and they'd scheduled an extended news to cope with the expected events. The BBC had extended its six o'clock news from six fifteen to six thirty. Now normally there was some sort of filler I think I remember the story correctly, there was, normally the BBC schedule on Sunday evening went from six o'clock news to six fifteen then there was a filler for fifteen minutes and then the religious programme started at six thirty. So Death of a Miner was scheduled at six thirty and followed immediately on the Grosvenor Square demos. Now it so happened that there was no violence or insignificant amount of violence at the Grosvenor Square demos and the whole of the half hour was spot was spent analyzing the nature of the demonstration and the reasons for it. And at six thirty Death of a Miner came up with an enormously extended and differentiated audience from that which would normally have been switched on on a Sunday evening at that time who would only been on the whole those who wanted to see a religious programme. So it couldn't have been more in keeping with Jack's life and his convictions than that the programme should have been placed on that very night.
And as far as I was concerned it's another example of of the God or the Devil being on the side of the small battalions. And it was a matter of enormous satisfaction to all of us who'd been involved in the thing not least of the Religious Programmes Department who got a huge audience, unexpectedly. That we were lucky enough after four years, no not four years six six years since the original programme and two years since Jack had died to get the programme on the screen that night.  It was a memorable moment, a memorable moment for me and I'm sure for others.

Colin Moffat: How did the, what you would call the follow up conversation between these various people having seen the film presumably at full length what opinions were expressed, can you remember?
Philip Donnellan: No I don't. I think there was a tendency to for some of the people in the discussion to suggest that well Jack wasn't really an atheist, he was he was a man who hadn't fully understood. Things like that which to me were mildly insulting considering the the intelligence of the man himself.  Others took a much more mechanistic view there were comments slightly misleading I thought about the the nature of the mining community and its adherence to religion or non-adherence to its sense of itself. No I couldn't advise you systematically about what took place. I do remember though that there was an extraordinary review of the programme in The Listener by Raymond Williams who was writing for the television review page of The Listener at that time who understood the political significance of this only too clearly. He spoke about the fact that it was very rare for workers ever to have the freedom and the opportunity to express their sense of the world around them but it was it was significant that this worker who had that opportunity was already dead. So it was in a sense the possibility of there being a living threat from the expression of the ideas that Jack and Em had put forward was nullified to a certain extent by the fact that it was a posthumous tribute. And he expanded this in some very eloquent sentences which pleased me of course enormously since Raymond Williams is of that generation of Marxist historians who made such a major contribution to the understanding of working class history in the years from the end of the war until the 1970s and ‘80s. I think I'm going to stop there for a few minutes.

End Side 12

Side 13

Colin Moffat  00:02

Philip Donnellan Side 13  That Jack Elliot film, the final film in 1968,  called Death of a Miner, where we're rather forward from where we should be. A lot happened between Sunderland Oak and that film didn't it?

Philip Donnellan  00:23

Yes, yes it did. Yes.Yeah, the first thing that happened was that after Sunderland Oak after seven programmes which were broadly speaking about industrial matters, industrial production, industrial skill, industrial working class people I suddenly find myself whipped away from that, and told that I mustn't get a bee in my bonnet about industrial affairs, I must be more of a generalist and a specialist. No I didn't think of myself particularly as either I was just a documentary producer but anyway, I was told that it would be much better for my value for the BBC and the department if I joined another producer in working with him to produce a series of profiles of world leaders of the past few years. Now, this accorded absolutely with the ideology that prevailed in the talks department, that really television was there in order to scrutinise the historical and contemporary attitudes and powers of the leader class. Now it wasn't, in my view, a vital thing at all. However, there it was, this was an instruction and, and after arguing a bit about it, I accepted it. And I joined a fellow producer called Malcolm Brown in doing a series of four or five, or maybe a few more, programmes for the next couple of years, which, after my initial disgust at being pulled away from the subjects that seemed to me very important, and important in the context of the BBC, looking as it's has very rarely done at the problems and possibilities and people of industry in this country. After I got over that disgust,er, I found that the period I spent with Malcolm brand notably extended the sort of skills that I had, I'd never done the sort of work, for example, that included stills in the compilation of programmes. And I found that Malcolm was very good indeed at this, at handling stills. And I learned a great deal from him. On the other hand I was very interested in the effectiveness of soundtracks, I had become used to the experience of radio giving me opportunities of diversifying and complexifying the sort of soundtracks that we could put on films. And to that end I think we made a series of quite valuable programmes. There was one about Adenauer and Brandt in the context of the German elections of 1961. There was one about de Gaulle, one about Nehru, one about Nkrumah, one about T E Lawrence. And, and all of them got very high responses from the audience. They were marked almost as high as the Queen and woolly animals, for example, you know, they were up in the 79s, and so on, which caused a frisson of pleasure to those who were concerned about such things in the department, which was, of course, was notably Grace. But if I sound cynical about that that's not the case at all because I would emphasise that the extension of one's vision from the quite narrow and parochial views that I had developed through working in that industrial field for a few years, made an enormous difference to my sense of a context of the historical, recent historical events that interested me. But I didn't feel that our programmes really exploited those to the full.

Colin Moffat  00:24

What did happen? Were these essentially archives based programmes?

Philip Donnellan  03:59

No, no, they no, they weren't archive based, they were based on the evidence of living witnesses. And we made quite a speciality of, for example in the de Gaulle programme we interviewed a whole range of French politicians and generals, who had noted and been part of de Gaulle's rise to power both before the, before the war as an army officer, and then during the war, and after the war. There were a significant number of figures who were very little known in England at that time so they were in the programmes.  But our political analysis of the context in which, for example people like T E Lawrence that were the conventional figure, almost a cliche figure about a particular area of the First World War, these things I didn't feel we explored nearly enough. Now I didn't feel capable of articulating those ideas from the beginning, but our research didn't take us into those areas. We tended to produce a an impressive and glossy external image of the subject, which in many ways perhaps was fairly new to people. But, in terms of the subtext of our arguments, I think there was very rarely anything that was deeply surprising. And certainly in retrospect, looking back now, I think we could have made a much more profound use of our of our research. But of course one's got to remember that these were the very early days for people to start making swingeing analyses of famous political figures. The BBC was deeply concerned then about its about its image in the world, they didn't want Nehru getting disturbed by us exposing too many aspects of, of Indian politics which might have thrown certain shadows over the, over the world in which he rose to power. Now, I don't want to make too much of that I'm, I'm trying to evaluate these in terms of what I learned from them and in terms of these the, the value for money if you like that they provided for the department.

Colin Moffat  06:12

Did you and Malcolm Brown select subject matter? Or were were the certain ideas worked out in advance on this group of programmes?

Philip Donnellan  06:21

No, I'm not aware that there were certain ideas worked out in advance I think more that Malcolm and I in discussion together and with, very often with the film editors we worked with, we said, well let's have a go at so and so next. And Nkrumah, for example, came up in that way. He was a deeply significant figure in in Ghana and I think the British public knew very little about him, indeed I think they know very little about him today. So that was a very stimulating area. But as I mentioned before, I was tenaciously interested in the processes of history and in due course, and actually, the last of these programmes that I did with Malcolm, I decided to, to do a programme about the British in India from 1603 to 1947. I'd been in India during the war, I made a film in Bengal in 1959, I was passionately interested in India, and I was tremendously interested in my completely different reaction to India in 1959, compared to that in 1944 when I was totally young, inexperienced, naive, and in a military framework saw all Indian people who surrounded us as mere wogs, they were just a bloody nuisance. And fortunately by 1959 I took a wholly different view being placed in a completely different relationship to them. And I found that change in my attitudes enormously exciting and I wanted to find out why it was like that, what had the truth about the British in India been? I could see two sides of myself -  my own pink self, there, first of all, the absolute class and race, erm derision and contempt of the wartime years, which duly got it's comeuppance shortly afterwards and then a much more involved and complex relationship with the people in the villages who surrounded us in the steelworks and so on in 1959. So in, late in 1962 I started on a programme about the British in India. Most of the research was done in The India Office Library in Whitehall and was assisted enormously by the relics which had been left behind in the form of reminiscences and books, and also scrapbooks which had been left by old British hands in various places, museums and collections of one sort and another. Unfortunately there wasn't any money to go out to India to make a film. And so, in order to get over this, and as I say knowing what I thought the significance about the imagery of India, I sought material in the archives first of all, but I also found a camera man in Delhi, an Indian camera man, to whom I sent an enormous list of material that I wanted shots of. I sent him  detailed shot lists of exactly what he should get me: boy in a tree playing a bamboo flute, medium shot long shot close up; a wooden plough breaking up dry ground; buffaloes; the faces of Indians; formal indications of caste; things that related to particular skills in particular castes in India, which I knew well, and, and all this material I wrote in detail and sent off to him and he did a marvellous job. Now then, you know the name of the of the camera man that I'm talking about, what was it, I've forgotten it?

Colin Moffat  10:19

Oh yes, Prem Prakash.

Philip Donnellan  10:21

Prem Prakash the most valuable ally whom I've never met, he's still very much involved in the film industry in India, but he did me absolutely proud on this, it was all still of course, we were all in black and white still. And so pouring into into London came this material from Prem. Together with my own researches now very quickly I came to what turned out to be a significant conclusion about the way in which I should handle the film. First of all, I wanted the voices of the people of the British in India to constitute the soundtrack: I wanted to depart firmly from the idea of having a narrated programme, I wanted the narrative to be carried by direct quotations from the records, memories, diaries and letters of the British in India. And at first I was very tentative about this, but at this time I was working to Huw Wheldon, who had recently been appointed Head of Documentaries. And and when I talked about this to Huw, and showed him some of the materials I'd found already transcribed, he at once said, "Don't mix it up as narration, do the whole thing as you want to do it with the voices of those people. I'm sure it's a great idea. I'll support you all the way." Well, this was terrific, I mean it was the first time that I'd had that particular sort of support for an innovative proposal and it was tremendously welcome. So I made the film. It was tremendously exciting, I enjoyed doing it. And I think we liberated all sorts of feelings, which were often concealed in more formal accounts of the Raj: the poetry of Anglo Indian officials, the, the music that arose from it, and at the same time we counter-pointed Indian music with the with military music, I used some of the techniques that I'd been developing over the previous few years. I had two trumpeters from the Kneller Hall, the Royal Military School of Music, and an accordion player, Alf Edwards, who was a superb folk accordion player. And we developed certain themes which he reiterated on base concertina or English concertina or German concertina, which gave a totally different draft to familiar tunes. And we used this with trumpets against an account that took us from 1603 right through to the final, the last British troops leaving India in 1947, or '48, whichever it was.

Colin Moffat  13:17

You listed those shots you wanted the Indian cameraman to take that rather suggests that it was really a rather an impressionistic film, a montage was, was very much to the front of this one.

Philip Donnellan  13:27

Yes and I, there are so many superb photographs of India, in The India Office Library that, that I found the skills that I developed, with the assistance of Malcolm Brown, in terms of using skills, using stills in an emotive sort of way, movement on stills very careful and delicate, not sharp zoom-ins, but but the creation of atmosphere. It's almost easier to do that with stills than it is than it is with moving film. And when the programme had been transmitted, the Controller of Programmes, Stuart Hood wrote me a very, very commendatory letter, in which he noted particularly the the use of stills and how this had provided moments of repose and opportunities of feeling the sense of heat and so on that is characteristic of India. Well, it so it was an exciting job and the moment, the moment came when it was due to be transmitted and of course Grace, by this time The Talks Department had expanded into The Talks Group and in fact, Huw Wheldon was the Head of the Documentary Department within The Talks Group, so Grace was still the erm the Head of the Talks Group. And of course, she wanted to see this, this programme, and we met in a viewing studio with Huw, and myself sitting appropriately two rows further back as I invariably did and Grace sitting at the front with Huw. And we watch this. It was a powerful piece. And we watched it through to the end and at the end, Grace exploded, and she said, "It's an outrage. I shall go to the Board of Governors to have it stopped." So Huw, whether he was playing a part I don't know, but he expressed exactly the sort of surprise that I felt, so perhaps it wasn't entirely new to him he may have had some warning, but otherwise I think not. And he said, "But Grace, it's, it's in the Radio Times, it goes out next Tuesday." And she repeated, "I shall go to the Board of Governors to have it stopped." And she turned round with those characteristics flashing eyes to me sitting the two rows back and she said, "How dare you? How dare you do a thing like this?" And I was totally astonished. I was genuinely only aware of the fact that I had charted, with sympathy, but a degree of political realism, the work of men and women who lived and slaved and died in India, and that my feelings were entirely supportive of what they had done, but that didn't make me uncritical about it. So when she said it's outrageous she then added, "You're too young to make a film about India. How dare you?" I was 39 or something. Well, how old did you have to be before you could make a film about India, she stormed out the viewing theatre and Huw and I looked at each other, and the film went out. And it was actually the last time that I ever saw Grace Wyndham Goldie.

Colin Moffat  17:11

What do you think she was getting at when she said these things?

Philip Donnellan  17:15

Well I had always heard that Grace was born in Egypt at the time of the Sirdar. I know, there are other accounts of her background, which suggests that that's not the case, but I always thought of her as a child of the Empire. And I think she felt in that role she, she felt and her feelings were echoed when the programme went out - ex-members of the Indian Civil Service wrote in outrage to the Director General, complaining about the programme and demanding some sort of, I don't know, my head on a trencher or something. But this was compensated for by other people who had clearly been nettled and touched by the programme, but recognised its force and its importance, even though it was done with very, very simple materials. And even before the programme went out there were protests because I'd written an article in Radio Times, which clearly didn't show my hand on the programme. I didn't want only those people who took a mildly radical view of the Indian Empire, I wanted everybody to watch it. But there was a big, Radio Times had chosen a big picture of white officers in uniform surrounded by magnificently attired Indians and it was clearly an image of Imperial domination and the title of the programme Lords of India, which I thought had an ironic twist, and that's why I, I would have put a question mark at the end of it, but I thought that was a little indiscreet. Well, anyway, when this Radio Times appeared, within a couple of days of that I got an absolutely like vituperative letter, anonymous letter, from a man who signed himself a consultant physician, Ealing and he was an Indian. And he wrote bitterly complaining about what he knew would be another British assertion of, of priority and pomp and so on in in this programme, which he saw in the Radio Times.  And and of course I couldn't write back and try and explain to him that it wasn't quite like that, and so I just hoped that he saw the programme and realised that it wasn't quite as straightforward. I got another, it's amazing how one is constantly reminded of the sheer width and breadth and depth of the audience. Apart from certain abusive comments, I got a letter from a family who wrote to say that in the programme they had seen for the first time the grave of their son, who was a captain of the Royal Engineers, who had been drowned rescuing Muslim refugees from the floods in 1947. I asked Prem, amongst other things, to get me the oldest grave he could find of an English man or woman in India and the very latest and he he sent me 20 feet of the of the gravestone of Captain Hindson of the Royal Engineers, who was drowned in 1947. And Mrs. Hindson, his mother, wrote to me to say that it was the first time they'd ever seen his grave. And also that I couldn't have known when I used the gravestone that he was the great, great, great grandson of Henry Lawrence, who had been of course, intimately concerned in the suppression of the mutiny in 1857. So, all these extraordinary echoes that come out of the past of a country. I became very much involved with the the Indian Civil Service and ways of representing it in the programme and so on, and met, went to houses in remote parts of Bedfordshire where the the indentures of young cadets in the Indian Civil Service were held by families and so on. It was an extraordinary moving experience for me, and I believe quite effective. Now perhaps the last comment on Lords of India was made by Lord Reith in his diaries, in which in which he said something like I watched a piece on India the other night, it was a wretched piece. The only thing the producer wanted was to emphasise the tragedy of Amritsar. A beastly left wing collation of loaded material or words to that effect. I find it very difficult to understand a mind that could say that about what I thought was manifestly an attempt to represent both the good and the bad of the Indian Empire within the, within the materials and the imagery that we had in Sound and Vision within the programme. You don't mean you were surprised that Reith said that do you? Yes, I was. Yes, I was. 

Colin Moffat  21:55

You were, you were? Given what we know of him?

Philip Donnellan  21:59

Yes, i know, I didn't, I didn't know very much about Lord Reith. But you never know who you're dealing with at the BBC do you? It's one of those interesting things. However,  that was the that was the last programme that I did with with Malcolm Brown, and once again I appeared to have landed in the doghouse but I did have the support of Huw Wheldon. And I have to say that that through the the remaining years of my work in the BBC that often he was an enormous comfort, Huw was a great man er a man I admired enormously. He has been bitterly criticised by people, especially from radio, who found their way blocked by to getting into television, and they often blamed Huw Wheldon for this. I don't know whether that's justifiable or not. All I know is that I found him a very steadfast friend, he was occasionally mildly devious in a Welsh or Irish way. And I accept that that's sometimes necessary when you're in high positions in the BBC, I don't criticise people for that, they're under all sorts of pressures, which are difficult to imagine. But to me, he was a masterful figure, who always saw his relationship with the people in his department, certainly in my time, as a regimental officer did, it was quite a familiar feeling. Huw had been a Company Commander in the Royal Ulster Rifles in the Sixth Airborne Division, and occasionally now and again we used to talk about soldiering, not very often.  But I got the impression that he behaved towards the the producers in his department erm very much as he would towards the soldiers, whether officers or others in a company, he knew their strengths and weaknesses, he understood perfectly whether he that X was the one to send out on night patrol, whether y could be trusted with this programme or not, and so on. He judged people like that. And I used to write him immense strats suggesting the ways in which you're going to handle the future strategies of the department and he never resented that in the slightest. I'm sure he used to shove most of them unread into his desk desk drawer, because he hated memoranda and when he finally moved on, too early in my view, to become Director of Television, in perhaps 1964, '65, I believe his secretary had a hard time digging out the embedded memoranda that were locked into some of his drawers and the desk at least that's one of the jokes that I tell about Huw. I think he's a great man, I remember him with the deepest affection. 

Colin Moffat  24:39

Do you think his Welshness was a reason why he was able to relate to your work? Possibly?

Philip Donnellan  24:43

I don't know. No, I think he had the very broadest human understanding of people under pressure, whether it was military pressure, whether it was the pressures of production in the BBC, he knew the work on broadcasting from, from experience on the other side of the camera, and I think he was imaginatively sympathetic to the ideas, experiences, backgrounds and potential, of people like his producers. After all, it was he who, who allowed Peter Watkins to make the War Game and then when Peter, I'm sorry, made Culloden for Huw's department and then when he made the War Game, of course, he had apparently to sell him down the river and allow the programme to be stopped. But I don't suppose it was in Huw's power at that moment to stop it being stopped. So I think it's very difficult to come to conclusions about television people, so much of their life is screened from one, so much of my life and the life of the other producers in the department. I never knew them except as one sided people. And when we finally decided to leave London and disappear into the fastnesses of the regions again, we had a couple of parties in which we invited all our colleagues, plus their wives, mistresses, lady friends, children or whatever, to come to it, by buy good fortune, we had a huge house in Ealing and we invited them all to come along and sadly, it was the only time when I really saw my colleagues in the round. It was one of the great deprivations of of television working in a busy department that you only saw people from one side, the television perspective, which very often didn't produce the nicest side of people's character at all. I would love to have been a friend of Grace Wyndham Goldie's rather than what she clearly thought, and I in time very quickly thought, which was virtually a class enemy. 

Colin Moffat  26:52

Were, would you suppose the the background of Wheldon was rather different from Mrs. Wyndham Goldie's background? And this was also part of it? They were rather different people?

Philip Donnellan  27:02

Well, yeah, they're different people. They all had, I would have thought they're all had substantial, upper-middle class, responsible backgrounds in terms of, of parentage, family, responsibilities. It seemed to me increasingly, that the time was coming, and I got that impression from the management side as well, that it was time we we got out of London, and disappeared, wherever that might be. And following the range of friends and contacts we'd made over Lords of India, we decided, Gill and me, to take the children, four children all really young, to India. To leave the BBC, and to sell-up the house and everything and take off for India for maybe a few years. And we conceived this, this notion, this new strategy in 1962, sometime under the influence of one of the appalling fogs in London of that year, and perhaps the terrible winter of 1962-63. But certainly by autumn '63 after the transmission of Lords of India, I find myself in in Huw Weldon's office and Huw was saying, "Philip, I think we've got to discuss what you're going to be doing next year," perfectly routine conversation between the head of department and one of his producers. So I said, "Huw I have to tell you that I shan't be here next year. We've decided to leave the BBC and and go." "What do you mean go?" he said. I said, "Well, go. We're going to India, actually." "You can't." He said, "What about Gill and the children?" That was a very rare thing for, for a head of a department in the BBC to concern himself with the family of any of his producers, he wouldn't even know they existed in most cases, but it was typical of Huw that he would say that. And I said, "Well, we're all agreed. I'm afraid we're leaving. So you don't need to worry about what I'm going to be doing next year, because I'll be controlling that." And he said, "Nonsense. It's completely out of the question. Look, BBC Two starts next year. And we need you. The BBC needs you. It needs everybody." But it was the first time in my recollection that anybody in the managerial levels of the BBC had ever said they wanted me to stay. The inference was always exactly the opposite and it got worse as the years went on. Well, anyway, Huw really pitched into this, he was determined that I should stay and he was prepared to offer me all sorts of opportunities in order to ensure that I did stay. So to cut a longish story short this argument went on racketing about in canteen and corridors and offices for several days. And finally Huw said, "Now look here Philip. I'll tell you what I'll do, you can go anywhere you like in the BBC and I'll give you a documentary unit to start making films for BBC Two.  Whether you have a relationship also to BBC One at that time, that's we can discuss later, but basically, you're gonna have two directors, and you set yourself up wherever you like in the BBC and we'll fix that.  Now then, given those circumstances, are you going to stay." And I said, "Oh bugger it, I suppose I'd better."  "Where are you going to go?" "Well, I think you'd better give me some time." But I knew that only one possible answer, the only place that I was familiar with and that I was very fond of and had a great many friends in and around was Birmingham. So in 1963, in the autumn/winter 1963, we went back to Birmingham. We actually didn't, we went to live in Shropshire, which is a remote, remoteish, rural county, to the west of Birmingham. But I was to continue working in the BBC in Birmingham. Now ...

Colin Moffat  31:09

Were you welcomed back to BBC Birmingham, in general? I mean officially?

Philip Donnellan  31:12

It's very difficult to say.  Officially, absolutely not. I think. But it was, it was ... That didn't matter to us because I had two outstanding directors sent with me, a man called Charles Denton, who later moved up astronomically high into the programme direction of Central Television, independent company responsible for independent broadcasting from Birmingham, and Richard Marquand, who had been a production assistant with me on the last film I made from London, which was, which was, oh, hell, I've forgotten the name of it, that's the trouble with age, it's called The Long Journey, of course, yeah. And this was the fruits of the discussion with Huw, curiously enough about au pair girls, but it was also the response to a programme that John Boorman had made in his series, Citizens '63, which he'd made from Bristol. Now, the Boorman programmes were essentially deeply superficial, very glib but visually quite exciting and caught the spirit of the time very much indeed I thought. But one of them was about a young woman, a 16 year old perhaps, who, who was characterised in her film, as a rebel, and the presentation of her personality and her actions with her mates and so on seemed to me as a middle-aged television producer, anything but bearing the stamp of a rebel. It didn't sound to me, like a description of the sort of person I saw as a rebel. And so when talking to Huw in his office one day, about my next film, I said, mentioned something about making a film about adolescence because I was dissatisfied with Boorman's representation. I wrote to John Boorman about it and never got a reply, of course, but and, and we talked and talked and decided in the end with Huw to, that I should go off and make a film about adolescent dropouts. Now I didn't know any adolescent dropouts, but I knew there were plenty of them out there. And so I set off for Sheffield, a city that I'd always been interested in and never been near before. And we made the long journey there and it brought me back into contact with the work of Parker's and McCall's Radio Ballads, because I used considerable sections of their song actuality montage in the soundtrack of the film. It was a further and slightly more refined attempt to do what I'd tried in Sunderland Oak two years before. And the long journey was a profoundly traumatic film in in ways that were fairly crucial to me as a person whose children are just beginning to to get a little bit older. I mean, the kids were all 4, 5, 10. And what I saw in Sheffield was the curious world of children who were conceived and brought up and then rejected by their parents. So it had a powerful effect on me. However, I mustn't go on about about The Long Journey, interesting an experience though it was. Was the Radio Ballad you just mentioned one called On the Edge? Yes, it was On the Edge, A portrait of Adolescence. Now, in November '63, Richard Marquand and I finished making On the Edge and we brought it to Birmingham for editing and it was edited once again by a Eddie Le Laurrain and he made as usual, a magnificent job of it. And it brought me back into the Midland region. Now you asked me just now whether whether we were welcomed, I think there was a distinct chill in the atmosphere at Birmingham and I think it was apprehension, because the, the two assistants Denton and Marquand were not used to taking shit from, from anybody really, and the three of us [LAUGHTER] zoom back into Birmingham with absolute intent, we knew what we had to do, we had to set up a documentary unit in a in a region where the film resources were almost non-existent, except for the presence of Eddie Le Laurrain and one or two good camera people. The management of the Film Unit was appalling. There was deep hostility from the the Film Unit manager to me personally and to our project. There were no film resources that were permanently available to us. So we bought them. We went outside we used BBC programme monies to buy a projector, which we set up in our office. We bought, nobody in Birmingham for example, knew about the new Italian splicer, which used tape instead of glue to stick film together and was three times/five times as fast as the old method, that was in use in London, but nobody in Birmingham had heard of it. So we bought two Italian splices they cost 30 quid each which was a lot of money then. And but we were absolutely intent on setting up a unit that was going to compete with the resources that that were available in London. And we were going to push come what may the Birmingham system, both in film and administratively if we could, we were going to push it into the into the 1960s. Now that sounds appallingly arrogant, perhaps within the closed walls of a monastic institution in Carpenter Road, Birmingham, but given the opportunity to make the sort of films and Huw had given me that brief, to make the sort of films that I'd had in mind for 10 years or more, without the obstruction of Grace Wyndham Goldie, I reckoned we were really going to try and create a documentary revolution. And Boorman had started it down in Bristol, he had already got a number of films under his belt which were deeply significant in terms of the '60s, and I reckoned we were going to do the same in Birmingham. Now, we were also assisted at that time by the fact that the former News Editor in Manchester, in in Bristol had been appointed to be the new Controller in Birmingham, Patrick Beech. And Pat Beech was, I was convinced, going to be a tremendous ally in the rolling forward process that we envisaged. Well, we set ourselves up with at first a quite modest target of making two series a year of 30 minute documentaries for BBC Two. And I had to make two-and-a-half 50 minute documentaries for BBC One myself. Now two-and-a-half sounds ridiculous, of course, what it means is, you made two programmes, two 50 minute programmes in a year and almost inevitably started a third or got some way through a third. But two-and-a-half was the sort of ration and it was difficult at first to see how the film resources in Birmingham were going to cope with this. In terms of people, I mean, because there were already continuing odd film programmes going out from Birmingham, that is agriculture and small scale programmes for which editors had been formally recruited, so that there was quite a restriction on the number of people who were available to cut our network films.  There was a sort of, I won't call it particularly a class difference but there certainly was regarded at that time a difference between certain editors who were not regarded as network editors, but who were regarded as sort of opt-out type editors that they weren't fully competent, which as time proved was quite ridiculous. However, we steamed ahead, and we produced our first series of 30 minute films, called Landmarks in in early 1964, and that was the life of people in in and around the Midlands from more or less from birth to death.

Colin Moffat  39:41

Were you now operating as an executive producer more or less, supervising productions? Directors were actually making them?

Philip Donnellan  39:48

Yes, I was supposed to, in effect to encourage and train the two individuals who had been posted to me and others came later, and supervise their production, and frame the production schedules, and at the same time do my own independent work, not independent in filming sense, had to do my own work for BBC One on 50 minute documentaries. So at the same time that we started to do this series Landmarks about men and women's life from birth to death, I was also beginning a another programme called The Colony, which was about West Indians in Birmingham. And that continued during the early part of 1964. Now Landmarks was an interesting series because although Shakespeare, I think made it seven ages of men television shedulers had reduced it to six for their purposes. And we did birth, which was shot at the Queen Elizabeth maternity unit in in Birmingham; School, which was shot in a secondary modern school in North Staffordshire, up in the Moors on the edge of Derbyshire; Work which was the Raleigh factory in Nottingham; Home which was made at Parkhill, Sheffield, the new immense block of Corbusier-like flats that overshadowed the city centre in Sheffield; Leisure, which was a film I made about a pub in Riley Hill. And I think I think that's five and the sixth one was Death or The End which was shot in an old workhouse that had turned into a geriatric hospital in Daventry, Northamptonshire. And in each of these films, the place, not people in this instance, but the place was the focus of the of the, of the film. So the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, the factory, the pub, the old people's home, these were the places where people lived out their lives. The outstanding programmes of the series wer Richard Marquand's too, he did Birth and Death and they were quite extraordinary moving programmes. They were the first films Richard made and they seem to me to be token a real mastehand in the documentary genre. It was terribly pleasing that Richard had joined us and and Charles Denton too had an absolutely sure there more journalistic touch in his in his handling of the Raleigh factory and the school. And I did I did, I suppose the other two I did the Home and, and Leisure, the pub.

Colin Moffat  42:44

I seem to remember the the you involved the Radio Ballads team in this series in some way didn't you?

Philip Donnellan  42:51

Yes, Yes, we did. It was part of our intention when when we got to Birmingham, to make sure that Charles' quality as a radio producer was as high as we could make it, it wasn't part of our brief. Indeed, sadly, Huw Weldon was very hostile to Charles Parker, quite unjustifiably, and I tackled him about it. He said, "Don't trust the man, don't trust the man." And I was infuriated by that. And so we set out to try and, and help and encourage and draw Charles into our schedules as well. So Charles did a series of Landmarks on radio, with exactly the same subjects, but handled by his own particular teams, and based on on song, and the mix of actuality and music that had been characteristic of The Radio Ballads, which had them which had been stopped by that time, The Radio Ballad series had come to an end. And that was very valuable. And we, quite illegitimately, of course, in BBC terms, we we financed the radio programmes from our own resources, just as we were buying equipment out of our own resources for, for the continuance of the unit.

Colin Moffat  44:03

What form did they take these films? Were they were they in the sort of impressionistic mode with some little bit of music, perhaps? I don't know.

Philip Donnellan  44:08

Yes, we, we had a complex opening sequence to the whole series, which developed as the series went on, and for which Ewan wrote a song called The Ballad of Accounting, which took in, in in a stylised, textual way, the various themes that we were tackling. The song went I seem to remember: in the morning we build the city, in the afternoon walk through it's streets, evening finds us leaving, we wander through our lives, etc, etc. And this was the characteristic opening music of the whole series, coupled with photographs, which were handled by a graphics man I'd met called Ken Garland.

End of Side 13

Side 14

Philip Donnellan Side 14

Colin Moffat  00:05

Philip Donnellan Side 14

Philip Donnellan  00:11

Otherwise the style of landmarks was the underrated slice of life techniques that were beginning to develop very strongly in documentary. We certainly amongst ourselves had abandoned the narrative voice, the godlike voices of the commentator, and using the tape recorder we, we made sure that people got the opportunity as it were to speak for themselves. And The Landmark series provided a test bed particularly for those newcomers Denton and Marquand because I insisted that all research was done with the with the tape recorder in hand, that the materials that you could obtain on quarter inch tape, as you went round meeting people and talking to them in that relaxed mode, which we were all by them capable of became an important resource available for the creation of the soundtrack. In the same way that I'd already done in previous programmes, but this time, it was systematised and became a discipline for all of us in the unit to work in that way, and thus, our interlock with Charles' teams working on his radio Landmarks became more intimate and more important.

Colin Moffat  01:34

Was there a method in use in general at that time?

Philip Donnellan  01:37

You mean the method of the tape recorder?

Colin Moffat  01:39

In the BBC?

Philip Donnellan  01:40

No, I don't think it was, of course, radio in the BBC, which had started its long decline, nonetheless, that in that sort of work I think there were a number of people who were testing out and developing the importance of the tape recorder. But in television it was absolutely unheard of. I had been, if I may just get back for a moment, I had been a appalled by the handling of sound in film when I came within the the scope of the resources of Ealing. For instance, at the where there were probably 50 cutting rooms in the film studios at Ealing, now owned by the BBC but there wasn't a single place of any sort where you could cut quarter inch tape and nobody had even heard of it. And it was made very light of indeed, when I said, well, you only got to look at Dennis Mitchell's films to realise the immense potential of this new resource and what quickly became called think tape. But it was it was called think tape not by people in the BBC, who didn't do any tape and certainly not much thinking but this was the title given it by critics outside in contrast, magazine Contrast or Sight and Sound. So once again, one came up against a sort of intellectual blockage towards the development of innovative resources both technical and, and, and personal. In the development of ideas in documentary it was very dense at that time. Well, when I cut the steel goddess material that I brought back from India on quarter inch tape, I find myself a ferrograph and an empty room on a landing at Ealing and I sat there for week after week, just cutting the tape. And I was able to produce complete sections of track, of wild tracks for Joe Sterling, the editor. And I wasn't a bit surprised when he transferred them to mag and put them against film. And he found they were fitted, they fitted his astonishment, I knew they would fit because I'd made them in connection with the particular material we'd shot. So, yes, the discipline that we started to work to, all of us collectively and explore together when the documentary unit in Birmingham started, was not very was not progressing anywhere else. The there was no rock and roll dubbing for example at that time, you had to dub a complete 8 or 10 minute block of sound, which was an enormous step back from the techniques that we developed in tape cutting in Birmingham and elsewhere off course, in the previous 10 years, suddenly, it seems as though we'd gone back 50 years. And the mics weren't available, either the mics, the film mics that were available, or there they were very good mics that got tested by time and experience over many years, they didn't have the precision or the closeness of perspective that it was possible to get with film with them with radio and the particular styles and techniques that we had developed in radio. So I found it a very depressing experience at first while the excitement of film was terrific the excitement of the soundtrack, the development of exciting soundtracks was very difficult indeed.

Colin Moffat  05:01

Did you get an objection from that enormous department at the BBC, the BBC film department about people like yourself editing the sound and so on? I suppose this was fairly unorthodox, they would have seen it that.

Philip Donnellan  05:15

I suppose it was not orthodox, but I don't think they knew really. And if they did, I was in that roller ferny situation of being a blue-eyed boy of Talks Department in those early years and so nobody objected. And, of course, by the time I'd fallen out of favour the the actual modes that I used had established themselves as being perfectly legitimate and satisfactory, and, and so no I was never conscious of any serious criticisms by by the Film Department.

Colin Moffat  05:48

What about the local BBC people in Birmingham? Where you were operating this unit, perhaps, again, they didn't ...

Philip Donnellan  05:55

I think we were sufficiently bold and bloody minded not to have any crap from that source. And I regret to say that I'm not a person that that suffers opposition from technical or managerial sources very easily and I'm sure that I am very largely responsible for the appalling battles that I had in the next 15/20 years. But at the same time I do tend to blame the leaden footed capacity or incapacity of areas of BBC management of one sort or another. But I won't go on about that now, there are other excuses, which perhaps I can talk about a bit later,

Colin Moffat  06:44

I was only going to ask whether some of the people you knew in the '50s when you first got going in radio and Birmingham was still around at this point, the beginning of BBC Two or whether whether the they've moved away and there was a more sympathetic ...?

Philip Donnellan  06:58

Well, notably, the programme head in Birmingham, Dennis Morris had retired by then and there was a new programme head who, who was very nice, but rather a weak man and he didn't, he didn't affect things either way, except he'd get a bit petulant now and again. Now, I'd rather if I may get back to the to the programmes because I do think that's the important thing at this moment although inevitably I got severely tangled up in the whole management skein in due course. After Landmarks two trainees, well trainees they weren't trainees really they were fellow directors, made quite significant programmes, individual programmes during the next few months. One was Richard Marquand's portrait of Birmingham, which was for the opening of the BBC transmitter, BBC Two transmitter that served Birmingham in I think about March 1964, a few months after the London transmitter had been available. This was called Home for Heroes and I'm told, and if so, it's a scandal that there's no print of this film available in the BBC - I don't know whether that's true. At the same time Christopher Martin, who was who was the next person who came-up to join us, and he did a beautiful little film about the Victoria Theatre at Stoke. Now, the Vic Theatre in the round at Stoke started in the year of 1963-64 to play an enormously important part in the whole documentary movement, not just for us as an exciting way of opening up the possibilities within one of the cities of the region, Stoke on Trent, but also in developing theatre documentary in the country as a whole. And Peter Cheeseman started, more or less started, under the aegis of Stephen Joseph, the theatre in the round at Stoke in 1962. And in 1963, probably under the influence of Joan Littlewood's Stratford East Theatre and Oh What a Lovely War!, which came out in 1963, Cheeseman started a new form of theatre documentary. And somebody wrote to me and said, "Have you been to the Vic in Stoke? You must go and see this extraordinary theatre documentary, which is about the Chartist rebellion in Stoke in 1842." Well, no further prompting was needed. I shot up to Stoke and established a relationship with Peter Cheeseman and the Vic, which persists to this day. I've always been an enormous admire Peter Cheeseman his work and he in turn learnt an enormous amount, particularly from Charles Parker, in the handling of the tape recorder and research and recording material. And he has, he has maintained, he's still there at the Victoria Theatre in Stoke transcending all the normal rules of the British theatre that you've got to be effective and creative, you've got to move on to another theatre every two years or something. Peter's been there since 1962 and he's still there, I'm glad to say. And so we had all sorts of encouragement in the things that know doubt very brashley and very aggressively we were trying to do in Birmingham, and many of these impulses and encouragements came from outside the BBC. And the Vic is something that I will always recognise as a crucial element in my own development as a citizen, artist and worker in the Midlands. So when Christopher made the Staffordshire Rebels, which was the second theatre documentary in Stoke, he followed the company in the devising of their second documentary, which was about the English Civil War and a beautiful little film, which has not been seen nearly as much as it ought to have been but it was transmitted I think, only once on BBC Two in 1965. We did another series for BBC Two in 1965, which was about men of power in Birmingham. We took six distinguished local people and made a 30 minute film with an acerbic commentary by Rene Cutforth, which somewhat overstep the normal marks of looking at power within the BBC, after all I remembered Grace telling me that television ought to be examining people who held power, well we certainly did that with six men, sometimes not very flattering me, but it was quite interesting to do. And I felt met the the pressures that we felt, self-imposed pressures perhaps, to reflect the region with and the city in which we were placed with which I was very familiar. And The Colony had done the same thing in making a film, particularly about Handsworth and Afro Caribbean immigrants at that time called West Indians or coloured people. 

Colin Moffat  12:28

Why did you use Cutforth?

Philip Donnellan  12:31

I use Cutforth because I had a high regard for his gravelly voice, and for his gravelly mind, and his capacity to distil sharp comment in his own particular style, because I'd known him in features for years as a major contributor, and I just wanted to find an excuse to, to drag into our operations in Birmingham, journalists and artists of significance. So in a way it was like getting alongside Peter Cheeseman. I think The Colony was a fairly significant film and, except in Birmingham, where it was deplored by the Lord Mayor ...

Colin Moffat  13:16

You've gone, you've gone back to The Colony now?

Philip Donnellan  13:17

Yes., well I'm just just referring back briefly to. It was probably the first film The BBC made which allowed Caribbean people, West Indians, to speak about their own feelings absolutely untrammelled, and, and undirected by a commentary, just to speak about their own feelings on film about the world that they had come into in Britain.

Colin Moffat  13:46

This was one of your own films?

Philip Donnellan  13:48

That was a Tuesday documentary on BBC One. Yes, because the the next film in in an informal series, when I say an informal series what I mean is that we, I had decided in my BBC One offerings to look as far as I could at minorities, people whose lives were not often or ever expressed on BBC television. And so The Colony was the first one, The Irishman was the second one, the third one was a film about the blind minority in Britain, the fourth one was a film called Where Do We Go From Here? about gypsies. And these took place between 1964 and 1968 in amongst the material that we did for BBC Two,

Colin Moffat  14:38

You're not seeing a great deal about public reaction to this run of work. Would you like to ...

Philip Donnellan  14:43

What we tried to do, we were very conscious of that when we when we, as it were moved into an almost greenfield site in Birmingham. We wanted to try and get positive or provide channels for positive feedback from the, particularly the regional audience, of course we did have the standard mechanisms of the BBC audience research processes and all the programmes were subject to that, though because BBC Two never provided us, by it's very, very limping progress and extending BBC to viewing across the country, never provided us with a very substantial audience. I mean, we had pathetic audiences for the first 10 years of BBC Two, even in the 1970s the BBC Two audiences, especially in the remoter parts of the British Isles, was outrageous to my view. You would constantly find people who would say, "You can't get BBC Two here" and here you were making films for the very channel that they couldn't see. And this came to a very sharp political head later on in my experience, but we did try and develop feedback in the Midland region by setting up viewing groups in one or two colleges of further education and WEA groups around the region. Now it never worked very well, partly because we never had enough time, the people with whom I was working, and myself, we never had enough time to, to get to all these events in person, and to get their feedback in person so that they would feel there was an answerable BBC person who was concerned about their opinions about programmes. But we did make some, some fumbling attempts to begin with, to and through the life of the of the unit actually, until it started to disappear in 1966, we did set up a skein of listening post as it were around the region. And Charles, of course, was very valuable in this Charles Parker because he had always felt very strongly about the need for getting feedback from an audience. I can't pretend though that I was happy with the results, or the way in which they impinged on the programmes, it took me a long time after that to understand fully how you can democratise television production.

Colin Moffat  17:12

Did you pass your findings back to higher authority?

Philip Donnellan  17:17

I did refer to them in during documentary meetings. But unfortunately, in Richard Cawston, who by that time had succeeded Huw Wheldon as Head of Documentaries, I didn't find a very receptive ear for the things that we were trying to do. Dick was a significant filmmaker in his own right and I think he didn't, he didn't fit very happily as head of a documentary department, he didn't see himself in that role for a start. But also he was a quiet and receptive and engaged filmmaker, and quite understandably his ideas about what one should be doing in documentaries certainly didn't accord with mine. And we had a we had a, I certainly wouldn't say a stormy relationship, Dick was not given to storms, we had a fairly placid but unhappy relationship over the next four or five years. And I often felt I was a profound burden to him. I wish it hadn't been so but I've been a burden to a great many television administrators for one reason or another.

Colin Moffat  18:30

Your department you are attached to then is still the Documentary Department for all this work, although you're based on Birmingham?

Philip Donnellan  18:38

Yes, that's correct. Although by the formal processes of the BBC administration I was on the strength of the BBC Midland region. And years later I was actually reminded of that very forcibly. But at this particular moment I was entirely responsible for programmes to the Documentary Department, I was, in a sense, a member of the Documentary Department, while being organizationally and administratively a member of the BBC Midland region. Whereas the trainees or the directors, were all quite formally members of the London establishment,

Colin Moffat  19:12

Was there some strategic advantage in being away from London of course?

Philip Donnellan  19:16

Well, over the years I saw it in perhaps overdramatised ways. I did, I've always felt that the, a more remote environment from the complexities and assumptions of life at the centre was quite valuable for somebody who was much more interested in the world outside the BBC than I was ever in the world inside the BBC. So I tried, I certainly tried to keep at arm's length from the BBC by living and working out of London. Of course, they only had to flick the reins and I would be dragged back back into line for a few moments, but it was I always felt of some value in as it were not being directly under the gaze of the more powerful and more sophisticated managers in London, and the, the, the managers in Birmingham, and of course, we didn't call them managers in the early '60s, that industrial commercial title only came much later. And it's quite symbolic, actually as a change in the BBC, that the people in Birmingham who were actually in administrative charge, continually found me er very difficult, if I may mix a metaphor, bedfellow and I'm afraid the the friction of personalities that happened while not uncharacteristic at the BBC elsewhere, I'm not the only person who has suffered from this. But I think it was, it came to er it came to a pretty fair state of, I don't quite know what the word is disorder, alarm, unpleasantness over the years. I feel somehow that in my maturer old age, I ought somehow to apologise for that but I rationalised it in the time and to some extent still as being the club of the BBC resisting attempts by people to drag it into a more publicly accountable and more democratic form. That's twice I'd mentioned the word democracy. It did increasingly as I became more politicised, there was a small p, to the processes that were going on in the BBC, it became more and more important that word and I shall come onto it if I may, a bit later,

Colin Moffat  22:00

Can I ask you that the these these programmes particularly those series which you mentioned a little earlier were fairly innovative. Were they well received by the controller of BBC Two? And and how did Patrick Beech regard them? You you said earlier that you were rather pleased that he moved across from Bristol and there seem to be seem to be rather hopeful that, was it born out in practice?

Philip Donnellan  22:31

We didn't have much contact with the Controller of BBC Two. In the first year Michael Peacock was the initiator of the schedules and the pattern of transmissions by BBC Two. But I imagine he was pretty busy in 1964 and so we didn't get a lot of feedback. Our first series Landmarks was repeated on BBC One the next year, and the general response from from London was very positive indeed. Huw was absolutely delighted with the series and thought it was extraordinarily encouraging, particularly the work of Denton and Marquand after all he knew what I could do more or less. But in 1965, it was the documentary that I'd made the second one of the, of this informal series on minorities, about the Irish community in Britain, got a total thumbs down from from Peacock, who had by this time being shuffled out of BBC Two, which, by 1965 was seemed to be doing extremely badly, and he had been pushed sideways into BBC One. And as controller of BBC One he instantly rejected my film on the Irish community. And I, when I urged him to let us engage in some sort of discussion/debate for his feelings that the film was, as he called it pretentious, shapeless and dull, I didn't get any positive response from that. So I had no explanation at all why this film had been rejected. That was the second film I had had rejected Grace's rejection of Private Face, the film of the Durham miner three years before, and I thought there was no more justification in rejecting the Irish film than there had been in the previous one, but then of course, you know, I'm very subjective about these things. In 1966 I made a film that a lot of people regarded with enormous surprise, they thought I was a sort of oil behind the ears, radical, industrial working class type producer from Birmingham, and to find me making a film about Westminster Abbey was a was a complete shock to people. And, and I thought it was completely consistent with, with what I was trying to do, which was to explore the natures of, of the historical world around us. I mean, I didn't I wasn't making historical films except, for example in Christopher's film on the Staffordshire rebels but at the same time I was always very conscious of Westminster Abbey as being the apex of the British system. And in exploring everyday life in the Midlands, as indeed round the country, as we were doing then, Westminster Abbey seems an absolutely focal point of, first of all the myth of the monarchy, the whole story, unfolding story of British imperialism, of which we were the inheritors, although it was now in decline. All these things seem to be part of the extraordinary image of that church. So when I got the opportunity to slightly to fiddle my involvement with that project I seized it.  John Reed, an old friend from the original Talks Department who was a great maker of art films, his films on Henry Moore and other artist were probably the first really significant artistic subjects that the BBC ever made. And John Reed was supposed to be doing this film on Westminster Abbey, and he was totally disenchanted with the idea and when I approached him and said, "Would you mind if I took it over?" He couldn't have been more delighted. And so by a bit of manipulation between Steven Hurst who was also in the department and Dick Cawston, by 1966 I found myself in charge of this production, which was to celebrate the 900th anniversary of Westminster Abbey. 

Colin Moffat  27:00

Were you apprehensive about the subject? In the sense that ...

Philip Donnellan  27:03

No but other people were.

Colin Moffat  27:04

I was just thinking that it is, of course, a religious shrine, it's not simply an image of the the establishment and so on. 

Philip Donnellan  27:12

Yes, I wasn't, I wasn't religious, and I didn't view it as a religious building, I mean, of course it is, and we, it was impossible to evade the central significance of Westminster Abbey when we were filming for week after week inside the place. Oh know I mean there was a strong religious content in the significance of the Abbey but I thought that it's historical myth, and I use the word myth not as an untruth but as a powerful and pervasive national story, it's one of the myths of Britain is the story of what happened in Westminster Abbey. Perfectly legitimate myth, and I have absolutely no objection at all, to to children understanding the nature of this great church and its 1000 years of history, or 900 years it was in 1966. So while the eventual film was bitterly criticised by the religious establishment for being a secular film about a religious shrine that was a perfectly legitimate thing to do. I wasn't, I wasn't told by the BBC to make a film about Westminster Abbey in the terms of the Religious Programmes Department.

Colin Moffat  28:26

Well, I was going to say, I was wondering whether the Religious Programmes Department were wondering why you'd been put onto it. Was that a that would they did they ever raise a criticism there?

Philip Donnellan  28:37

No because there were a number of relays. I mean that year 1966 was a very important year for Westminster Abbey and celebrations continued throughout the year, so that BBC television didn't just make one film, which was a secular image of the Abbey, it would have had a whole series of relays. There was an immense and grandiose celebration at the beginning and at the end of the year, both of them broadcast by the BBC in full panoply so that ...

Colin Moffat  29:06

You're talking about outside broadcasts? 

Philip Donnellan  29:08

I'm talking about outside broadcast yes. 

Colin Moffat  29:10

It's all part of the long relationship between the BBC and the Abbey. I mean, they almost own it as as as a subject and they do it, they do all the Abbey stuff.

Philip Donnellan  29:19

Yes, they do. But. I think by any editorial judgement it was a perfectly legitimate film for the BBC to farm out to someone who was if not overtly  certainly a non-religious person. I don't think there's anything particularly surprising about that, individuals may have felt cor that roughneck from Birmingham making a film about Westminster Abbey who does he think he is sort of thing, but I didn't become conscious of that. After all, I had an authoritative type accent so the the style and manner in which one approach this was impeccably BBC.

Colin Moffat  29:57

Oh, you you found it quite easy when you were setting up your facilities there?  Talking, talking to the their clergyman?

Philip Donnellan  30:03

Oh, absolutely, yes, absolutely. Because I tell you why this was facilitated was that I had, I had collected a whole group of people around me from both Charles' side in radio and from my own friends. And I gave them tape recorders, and I got them to go very widely around both the religious establishment, critical and affirmative of what Westminster Abbey stood for, and produce an enormous corpus of recordings as the basis for our research. I not only did documentary research into Westminster Abbey but we actually went to most of the significant figures within the Church of England establishment and recorded them in depth by people who were outside researchers but closely involved with the techniques of interviewing on the tape recorder. So, so I think that the material that that was available to us to come to conclusions about the contemporary role of Westminster Abbey, was more than adequate, and is far more than most of my colleagues would have ever considered doing. I'm quite sure that John Reed would have made a beautiful film about the Abbey but it wouldn't have been based on the levels and depths of research, which we were able to achieve using the techniques of radio. 

Colin Moffat  31:26

Why did you call it the abbey of the English? 

Philip Donnellan  31:28

Well, because that's what it is. It's not the Abbey of the Scots or the Welsh or the Irish. It is the Abbey of the English.

Colin Moffat  31:34

Were you making a point there?

Philip Donnellan  31:36

Oh, yes, of course, about nationalism. And, and this was conveyed during the, during the film.  The interesting, I'd like to mention the central position of the of the technical resources that we used to make the film. Now I'm not, I would hate to pretend that the Abbey film was an immense and satisfactory work of documentary art and skill I don't regard it like that. I had every possible resource, I had a magnificent cameraman, Peter Bartlett, who had shot The Long Journey with me in Sheffield was the was in charge of photography, Alan Tyrer, the great film editor from Monitor, whom I knew slightly from encounters in cutting rooms and so on but we'd never worked together, he was the editor. I had the greatest possible resources. The budget was of no account, we had vast numbers of 10k lights up in the Abbey for months, which were used as part of the outside broadcast lighting but it was basically there for us to be able to film anywhere we wanted in the Abbey. So I had immense resources. I'm not asserting that the film that we made, I think it was a 90 minute film, 70, some interminable length anyway, that that film fully achieved the ambitions that we had for it, I don't think it does. I haven't looked at it for years. But I tell you what it did do, what it did was to put the English right there into the Abbey and allow them to speak. And that was the basis of all our documentary work, that people should have the opportunities through our films, of talking for themselves and expressing their own views not merely the views of the of the filmmaker. Now I'm not, of course, I'm conscious of the basic thing that we in the end edited what they had to say and we made the films and it was that problem that we tried to tackle much later on in the in the '80s. But basically, what we did was to handle technical resources, which were becoming available by 1966 to allow us to answer a very simple question that came to me while walking through the crowds of people who flooded into the Abbey during 1966. They talked to each other, you could see them talking to each other, at every point, the coronation chair, at the unknown warrior's grave, The Henry the Fifth chapel and the garter place where the garter ceremonials took place, their lips moved, but what were they saying? What thoughts were they having? It was impossible to tell. What was their response? Was it reverential? Was it quizzical? Critical?  You couldn't tell? So what we did was to synthesise that process. I collected a group of people, real people, actuality people of different sorts as I could possibly find. I got a Cotswold market gardener and his wife, I got Jack Elliot and his wife Em from Durham the man who had, who subsequently appeared when he was dead in Death of a Miner whose political perspective I knew very well, he was an atheist and a socialist. The market gardener I knew was a lifelong Tory. I had a ton-up kid in leathers who left his motorbike outside and walked round with his girlfriend, I had an American family who were there in a minor diplomatic post in London. And there were there were several others whose names just impromptu like this and identities I've forgotten. 

Colin Moffat  35:33

You filmed in these people or just sound recorders?

Philip Donnellan  35:35

|What we did was to put radio mics on them and we've filmed them as they walked around the around the Abbey. I, they were under strict instructions not to, not to say something because they knew they were being filmed. We wanted as far as we possibly could to get them to react with absolute naturalness to the, to a visit to the Abbey, and to see what they wanted to see, and to say what they wanted to say to each other. Now given  that theory and you weren't going to get great magnificent oratory statements from them. So the material we got from them was extremely simple but it was an attempt to express the feelings and ideas of the people who were inside the Abbey, the English themselves or the Americans in that instance. And although we got a certain amount of breakthrough from police wirelesses outside the Abbey on some of the radio mics, it was still an exciting and testing technique. And it's used as the narrative carrier wave during the film. It was this film was my first co-production we co -produced with National Educational Television in America and in consequence there was a lot of pressure from them to hype up the historic image of the Abbey. And, and we did three dramatised scenes which were cut into, I used one of them in the British version, three of them were used in the American version, and these were the crowning of William the Conqueror in the Abbey on Christmas Day 1066; The deposition of Richard the Second and the hanging of John Andre, who is buried in the Abbey as an act of major political propaganda against the revolting colonials of America in 1776. John Andre, who was born in the same who lived in the same town that my father came from Lichfield in Staffordshire, was a very smooth young man who became a major in the British Army and was, acted as an intelligence co-ordinator. And it was he who, who bought from the traitor Benedict Arnold, who was an American general, the plans of West Point which was the key to one of the British thrusts, I think, up for one of the major eastward valleys during the campaign in the east of America. So we re-enacted these in full costume with all the panoply of an eight minute feature film, and, and they were cut into the film. There were all sorts of innovative ideas within the film and it was exciting to do. The script, I have to say was written by David Lytton, who was an old associate of Charles' and mine and had been a drama producer and writer with us in Birmingham. And David's ...

Colin Moffat  38:48

Do you mean narration?

Philip Donnellan  38:50

There was a narrative. Yes, there was a narrative, which was, which was spoken, I've forgotten the actor's name.

Colin Moffat  39:00

Alan Badel.

Philip Donnellan  39:01

Was it Alan Badel, yes, it could have been yes. And, and David wrote that.

Colin Moffat  39:09

Why did you use commentary because for a pretty long time you hadn't?

Philip Donnellan  39:13

Yes, it wasn't, it wasn't the usual sort of commentary. It wasn't the commentary that said, this is what's happening here and this is what you've got to understand. It was a was a poetic, it was a it was a poetic monologue almost, to accompany the film, which as it were provided a continuing response like an unseen voice not to the events on the on the screen, but to the idea of the Abbey it was a developing poetic monologue. I had at first asked Benjamin Britten if he'd write the music, I'm very glad that he didn't, because in actual fact I butchered Elizabeth Lutyens, not Elizabeth Lutyens, Elizabeth Poston's music. Elizabeth Poston wrote the music and this was very largely formal, conventional choral accompaniments of all sorts ...

Colin Moffat  40:06


Philip Donnellan  40:07

...and incorporated, yes pastiche. Incorporating since that was Elizabeth Poston's style a great many mediaeval and later folk idioms and tunes. So that it it cohered with broadly speaking, the sort of music in which I was by this time predominantly interested.

Colin Moffat  40:26

Did you use any of the, what there must have been a mass of BBC archive recordings, tenor recordings of ceremonial events in the Abbey? Did you use them?

Philip Donnellan  40:35

No the only thing the only thing we used was the moment of the crowning in 1953, 13 years before. What we did was to film the dress rehearsal of the of the ceremonial, which was to open the whole year - I think it was to open it rather than close it. And that was delightfully comic, because the Garter King at Arms, or Norroy King at Arms, or Black Rod or purple rod or whatever rod, hey were, they were in their plain clothes, although smartly dressed and using their umbrellas instead of maces, and so on and it was absolutely delightful. We filmed this and used it I think, I think that was one of the criticisms that in a sense we pulled the Abby's leg a bit too much. On the other hand it was not the sort of film that the BBC would normally have made about, about one of the great images of the state. But the feedback from from the BBC management was by no means uncordial when it went out. I don't recollect clearly there was inevitably criticism, and a great deal of criticism from the church itself but I think the BBC establishment was pretty supportive, as they very often are for the more difficult films which they transmit.

Colin Moffat  42:08

And it wasn't the only programme on Sunday. 

Philip Donnellan  42:10


End of Side 14

Side 15 

Colin Moffat  00:01

This is Phillip Donnellan side 15.

Philip Donnellan  00:08

I've also just remembered that, that, as usual, in the work we were doing one programme always had echoes for other and later ones and generally the programmes that we made were derived from perhaps events or meetings or accidents or whatever that had happened years before. And I've just remembered that er the people whom I introduced into Westminster Abbey and armed with radio mics and films going around, had included a party of blind people with a friend, Frankie Armstrong, who was a home teacher for the blind and partially sighted herself, so that they explored the Abbey too, but they were a crucial factor in some subsequent programmes that both I and Charles were involved in. And this was about the blind, two big films, I say big because they were standard length, 50 minutes, but they were transmitted on successive nights on BBC One and in terms of scale, and scope and effect, they really were quite big. The, all this started partly from the effect of meeting this group of blind people in Westminster Abbey and talking to them. It also started from experiences elsewhere years before, and from the fact that quite by accident I met a blind, a blind man who worked at Chubbs in Wolverhampton and who lived in the small Shropshire town where we lived at that time. So all these things came together and we started to ask ourselves, Charles and I, whether we ought not to look at the blind in a more systematic way. And I put it up for my offers to Dick Cawston in, I suppose the end of 1967. At first we talked about a really very experimental treatment using, using sort of musee concrete and complex optical effects in in picture, in order to try and simulate the perception that we assumed romantically at that time that the blind had about the external world. Fortunately, because we then started to go out to the blind and talk to them, we realised what a load of crap that was, and that we shouldn't waste time, money or BBC effort in trying to do such er romanticised stuff about the BBC, about the blind, what was really needed was something that showed up the conditions in which blind people had to live. In other words, and I don't exaggerate very much, under the, under the oppressive control of sighted people. And I found later on for example, a dramatic example was when I became a County Councillor in 1973. Much later on, I joined the Shropshire Voluntary Association for the blind as a County Council representative. And on that committee of 24 people, there was one sighted, one blind member and he was marginalised by this committee of do-gooding men and women from from the county. When I discovered that early on, and we tried to incorporate the findings of blind experience, which had been revealed by, as usual, by tape recording by Charles and myself in 1967. Now, the programmes were called BD8, we wanted to find a completely non-sentimental title, and the BD8 is the form on which people are registered blind. And so the first programme was called BD8: The Enclosed World of the Blind, which was the, which was a 50 minute account of the oppressive regime in which the blind found themselves. And the second part was called BD8: The Independence of the Blind, because the proclaimed intention of the Ministry of Health was that the blind should have a complete opportunity of independence within the community. So we set that as a target and we were terribly lucky to find a remarkable man who was working on blind mobility at Nottingham University at that time, Alfred Leonard and, and Alfred was a crucial element in both politically and technically opening up for us the opportunities of independence, rooted in mobility, which we argued for in the second programme.  Now I'm afraid I could talk for hours, if not days, about BD8. There are two crucial political elements, which may have had a vitally important knock-on effect in my later work. The first was that I quite formally went to the Ministry of Health blind department to seek illumination about the formal situation in which the blind are placed. And I was met by such naked obstructiveness, and absolute refusal to give me any information about the general framework of political and organisational decisions that the blind, encompass the blind. I staggered away from the Elephant and Castle, which is where the Minister of Health was, and went back to Birmingham and I wrote to the Minister, the Minister of Health, a Labour government. I wrote a pretty direct letter, which set out how I had been frustrated in legitimate inquiries as an authorised representative of the BBC to find out about the condition of the blind. And I protested very strongly indeed about this. Now, within a week the BBC had shown very clearly which side they were on. I was called into the controller's office, a letter from the minister was thrown down on the table in front of me and I was instructed on pain of instant removal from the BBC to write to the Minister apologising for my letter and withdrawing everything that I had said. 

Colin Moffat  06:36

Who was the controller? 

Philip Donnellan  06:37

The controller was Pat Beech. Now, I was shocked and dismayed but of course, I instantly toed the line because I wanted more than ever to make the programme. And so I wrote to the minister withdrawing the letter, and I've got an acknowledgement of it on my private file. And, and that was that. But as far as the BBC was concerned this was a major gaffe by a senior producer to address the minister who was the responsible person, for the Minister of Health, Ministry of Health to address the minister in such irreverent terms was not something that was allowed to us.  Now alright I accepted that and I suppose I accept it still that if you if you confront politicians in such a direct way you are liable to get a thick ear, well, I got a thick ear. But that thick ear persisted, and certainly on my BBC record for many, many years. Okay, we made the programmes, they caused exactly what they were meant to cause, which was a profound upset among the sighted about their responsibility for the situation, and an astonished exhalation of collective breath by the blind. Many of them, well I say many you know how many letters one gets after a programme normally 1, 2, 3 but in this case, we got simply dozens of letters and a proportion of those from blind people said we thought that it would be the usual whitewash when we turned on BD8 and we were astonished as the programme went on to find that our real situation was for the first time exposed to the British public. Now naturally we were pleased by that, and we were pleased by the extraordinary eclat that the programme had had caused. Now it so happened that at this time the BBC was taking very seriously it's responsibility for testing public opinion about the work of its producers. And they'd asked Richard Francis, now Sir Richard Francis and in charge of the British Council, a distinguished television producer who worked on Panorama and rose to the Board of Management eventually, and a nice man. Richard Francis was the producer in charge of a new programme called Talkback and the idea was that Talkback, which was to be fronted by David Coleman, the sports commentator, had an audience of ordinary, no doubt selected people, and BBC producers were to be invited to nail themselves to a public cross and defend their programmes. And on Talkback, number 2, just after BD8 had been transmitted on BBC One I was asked to defend the the programmes from the attacks of the Director General of the Royal National Institute for the Blind, a person who had appeared in the films, but who had been severely handled by blind people as a result of his involvement in in the films.  So I was faced by Mr. Corrigan, the Director General, who made an attack on the programme and I had to answer it, and then the views of the audience, which included some blind people I'm glad to say that I'm sure it was Richard Frances' work was invoked, and the debate took place as very properly in, in public and on the air. So that was an exciting moment. We had never shunned the possibility of public confrontation, in fact we'd tried to set it up in small ways and so on, it was awfully difficult being on a sort of production line, even if an erratic one, to get this going. And here we we really did have the opportunity to defend ourselves from from public opinion, whether official or unofficial.  A very exciting moment.  Well after BD8 there perhaps a slightly different climate of opinion in the management, but I went on doing er Tuesday documentaries, one about the development of the new town at Telford. I'd always been very interested in in planning and the development of the new town right on the doorstep of where we lived was a marvellous opportunity to look at the processes in some detail. And I also did a film about gypsies, right across, right across the country, which got an enormous amount of management support, a number of, Pat Beech, the Controller, wrote the warmest congratulatory letter. And all the time one felt there was a profound oscillation between those programmes that they enjoyed and praised of mine, and the traumatic moments when I found myself in a profoundly defensive position against everything the management could throw at me.  It was a, it was a strange, it was a strange experience. And also in 1968 I made a film about ships at sea, which was going back to a very old interest of mine and, and in that year, which perhaps an awful lot of people in this country of the right age will remember as, as being characterised by the first formalisation of the racism that exists in this country. And that was through the words of a Member of Parliament, a very famous and distinguished member of parliament Enoch Powell, who was a member of parliament for Wolverhampton Southwest, which was right in the heart of the Midland region and just down the road from where we lived. And I saw it as part of one's responsibility as a documentary producer to inquire about the world that Enoch Powell was talking about, so I made a film about Wolverhampton in that year. And the broad thesis of that programme was that Wolverhampton people from from whose experience Enoch Powell was talking when he complained about the enormous impact of what were called then coloured people into the community which he represented. I looked at Wolverhampton what I found was that the whole of the whole population of Wolverhampton were immigrants. There were, there were people who had come there in the 19th century, who had developed the locks industry. French and German technicians who had arrived in Wolverhampton developed the locks and keys industry, which was the central plank of Wolverhampton industry. I found that Huguenots had been here before them, had settled in the town there were Huguenot names. Wolverhampton was a centre of the, of the Irish community. There were great numbers of Poles in Wolverhampton. There were pretty well every imaginable nationality were living in this industrial town for quite obvious reasons they'd all come there for work over centuries, and Wolverhampton had provided them with a continuing economic base, and to single out black people merely because they were identifiable as the the nasty new element in the mix seemed to me both deeply unsatisfactory, and deeply suspect. So I called the film Strangers in a Town, and we highlighted the experience of three families: an Indian grocer and his family with young youngish children, 12/13 year olds, who all spoke in perfect Wolverhampton vernacular, but were, whose parents were from the Punjab and who ran a grocery shop in a fairly rundown part of Wolverhampton. I took a family of Polish people whom I'd met accidentally years before and and Joe had noted down as a useful contact, I'd forgotten about them, but as soon as I started talking about Wolverhampton, she said, "Don't you remember? Remember that Polish family you met?" and I incorporated them in the film. And of course, inevitably, there were Irish, the people for whom I felt a particular sympathy and understanding and a Scots immigrant who worked in the one of the steelworks in in in Wolverhampton. It was characterised by a profoundly provocative sequence, in which I found that amongst the strangest of all the strangers in the town were a gang of Hells Angels, whom I met quite by accident during research, and whom I found extremely perceptive about the their relationship to the town as a whole. So there's a fairly naughty sequence in the middle of Strangers in a Town in which the conversation of the Hells Angels, in that quite extraordinary garb, in a city centre pub was intercut with the views of very elegant women and men from the upper reaches of Wolverhampton society at a country club where they were playing roulette and Baccarat and similar spare time activities. It was a very loaded sequence, it was meant to be.

Colin Moffat  15:55

What were the Hells Angels talking about?

Philip Donnellan  15:58

The Hells Angels were were talking about their role as below the working class. The centre of that, of their feeling was that there's the upper class - the members of parliament, they said, there's the middle class - the managers, and there's the working class, - the people who do the work and we're below the working class. We are the scum of the system. And they recognised very clearly and intelligently in this extraordinarily exciting little sequence, which we shot there and we also showed, showed completely illicitly of course, exceedingly dubious activities on motorbikes in the city centre, including swastika flags and shouts of Zeig Heile and in a rather predictable, when I look at the sequence today for example, I feel that my carrying over the soundtrack of Hells Angels Zeig Heiles over the people in the country club was perhaps a little suspect. Anyway, it aroused extreme dislike from the city fathers, but nobody mentioned the material throughout which demonstrated my continual and conventional respect for the skills that Wolverhampton embodied both in in its major and minor industries. However you expect that, I mean the city fathers are the first to complain. Huw Wheldon, as director of programmes at that time, rang me up and said, "Philip really did you have to import those Hells Angels?" And I said, "I didn't import them. They're just as much part of the Wolverhampton scene as any of the other people in the film." "There are rumours" he said "that you paid the Hells Angels to come there." I said, "Absolute nonsense. I bought them a few pints of beer and myself in the process." That there was not a penny changed hands in terms of fees, I was very careful about that, I'm not a fool, you know, after all this time. So Huw went into bat on our behalf and nothing more was heard of it. I think these these natural frissons from the city fathers which had continued from Sunderland, whenever you make a film about about a place, people, of course, and rightly have a lot of things to say about it. Usually they say who are these people who have come in from outside, media people who come in, they know nothing about the place and they come in here and make films about us and then they disappear again and we're left with the results. Now that's been said many times in the Midlands, I had lived for years, 14 miles down the road from Wolverhampton it was our local big town, we knew it very well. Similarly, in Coventry, when I made a film in Coventy, the Lord Mayor attacked the film savagely, and said exactly that about these media people coming up from London. I'd lived for eight years, within nine miles of Coventry, and was deeply fond of the place and had done an awful lot of work there in radio long before the television. You know they don't know about real people who who come in as producers and feel strongly about the places that we make films about. I'm not the only one there are lots of people in broadcasting who feel just as deeply as I do about their responsibilities, but they're different responsibilities to those that are limited by the peripheral views of Lord Mayors and chief executives. And I think our responsibility in public broadcasting is to make clear what we as citizens, and we are citizens as well as television producers, what our responsibilities are, to the people who view our material.  We're not there to console them with with consolatory, conventional images of the world they know is different and so one tries to get inside that picture.  Anyway.

Colin Moffat  19:42

Have you ever had doubts about the technique of inter-cutting scenes in documentary films? It also obviously does offer you enormous possibilities which live broadcast doesn't, that you can suggest certain things by relating things, of course a perfectly acceptable method of filmmaking in general.  But as a BBC film perhaps some might be a little worried about using this method too often.

Philip Donnellan  20:08

Yes well, I'm not, I wouldn't say that I was an attacking filmmaker, and certainly montage of apparent, deeply different things, the cutting together of that material in the way you've, you've suggested is part of the armoury of critical filmmaking, isn't it? And given that I don't see my role normally as critical but affirmative, because I make films about, normally speaking about people I like, I grow to like them in the process of making the film. So montage in that attacking sense is certainly not one of the weapons that I would normally use. But for example in the blind programme, or in that Wolverhampton film, I felt that it was, it was important to try and contextualise both of these elements in the film and I, and I cut them together. But in the blind film for example, which was more of a journalistic investigation, the cutting from say the director general of the RNIB asserting the value of particular materials that they produce for the use of the blind, and then cutting to a person, a blind person who had used these materials and found them deficient, I think that is a perfectly legitimate way of using montage. In other words it's not an attacking method is a comparative method. I don't know whether that's right, because there's so little debate about these things inside the BBC. Time and again I have really hoped for deeply a forum inside the inside the remarkable institution of the BBC in which we would continually try and develop and appraise ideas about our moral standing in using certain techniques which had become conventional in filmmaking. But I very rarely found that out of my, outside my relationship with Charles Parker. And, of course, the people who worked on a film themselves, on the other hand for people on a production line, cameraman, film editors, and so on, it's often very difficult for them both to master what this man, this producer is telling me to do and standing sufficiently objectively from it in order to inaugurate some sort of critical appraisal. I think that's probably asking quite a lot from a person. Perhaps you as a, as a film editor yourself would know more about that from the outside as a producer working with editors.

Colin Moffat  22:44

This also touches on a difficulty which arises out of the modern documentary film being largely an unscripted thing, that those who are participating in it or being filmed are not actually often aware of the context in which there scenes are going to cut. And of course, it does offer the producer a chance to manipulate afterwards in a way that the subjects can't possibly know about, and I would have thought this is a source of trouble later or could be, yeah?

Philip Donnellan  23:21

Yes, I don't think the question of a script or a non script makes any real difference. I mean ...

Colin Moffat  23:29

Well, it does to the, it could do to those being filmed in that they know what sort of a film you're making, what is the image of this ...

Philip Donnellan  23:36

No because they wouldn't normally see the script, if there was a script, it doesn't give them any more defined relationship to the film than if you're doing it on the back of an envelope.  I didn't ...

Colin Moffat  23:48

If you issued a script in the old ways, of course, it's going back a long way, but when documentaries were, were made originally they did tend to be scripted. And you could produce a document with pictures on one side and sound on another the predicted commentary and so on you had a pretty good idea of what the film is actually about. Whereas nowadays, shooting off the cuff as it were, or improvising, you, they don't have that knowledge. 

Philip Donnellan  24:11

Well I've never had exactly the sort of script that you described. I mean I have for my own information, as I've already said, depended a great deal on writing films and I still write and try to write a great deal about film ideas. But in actual fact that you are not allowed in the BBC to hand-out scripts of material, which is BBC copyright in effect, to outside people. Now I'm not using that as a defence because if I thought it was right to do so I wouldn't hesitate to break the rules, so it wouldn't worry me. But all I do say is that and I've given you a clue in a sense by saying that I generally make films with people I like. Now, I've often been accused of being much too much caught up in the subjects and people in my films. I remember Aubrey Singer saying this, at meetings, I've never been present when this has been said, but it's been passed on to me as having been said. Now that's because my most fundamental sense of my obligations to people and to the events in which they interact, is to establish relationships with them. I do that because the basic technical mode from which I started to work, that is the handling of the tape recorder, the presentation to them of a microphone and asking them to give me that confidence in talking to me, that is the beginning and the most fundamental point of establishing a relationship with somebody. Now, the process of research was for me almost invariably at least 50% the establishing of relationships with people who are going to be in the film.  So that they knew me, trusted me, didn't necessarily approve wholly of what I, what I talked to them about or didn't necessarily agree with me. But I knew that they knew far more than any script would tell them, there whether I was reliable and trustworthy and I tried to match that, I didn't always succeed and sometimes I played fast and loose with with material. But I've never, ever deliberately let down people with whom I had established a relationship of cordiality and friendliness and trust. And it was the absolute bedrock of my, I have a profoundly sentimental and emotional relationship with people and I couldn't work with people with whom I wasn't prepared to be open and as direct as possible, given, of course, the pressures of time and technique and all the rest of the things. And that is why I keep on mentioning this now as time went on I became more and more uneasy about the BBC's relationship, and my relationship as a servant of the BBC, with the involvement of the people I made films about. It wasn't enough in the end for them merely to be told about what the film is going to be, they had to be part of it. And I thought we were derogating our responsibilities by not drawing people more closely into the actual processes of doing the work and showing them quite clearly the way in which they were being represented in the film and giving them some degree of control. But as you'll hear, in due course, when I tried to do this in 1973 it came to an abrupt stop and the work was never transmitted.  Only by evading the system in the end did I manage to keep face with the people about whom I was making the films and I succeeded right at the end of my service at the BBC in doing that. Perhaps I'd like, I have, may have an opportunity to talk about that a bit later. Sorry, I'm off, I'm off the thread now. 

Colin Moffat  27:56

Well I mean, I was going to say this: in fact, do you find that people when, when you're preparing the films, and you're talking to them, and they agree to be in them do they often ask, what what are you going to do with these scenes I don't quite see how this fits into a film about whatever?

Philip Donnellan  28:12

Actually that's very, very rare. And one of the things that we tried to do when we did manage to democratise our practice was, was to alert people to the sort of questions they ought to ask media people. I always put first, of course, the demand to be paid for their involvement and to get a proper contract. That to me was very important. So I always recommend people, whenever I'm involved with people now, I say the first thing is that you've got to make demands on me and you've got to make demands on any other media people who come and try and exploit you because I am exploiting you. So ...

Colin Moffat  28:48

It's worrying how ignorant people are about filmmaking. I mean, this clearly reveals it.

Philip Donnellan  28:53


Colin Moffat  28:54

Very, very, very worrying, indeed.

Philip Donnellan  28:56

They don't put you on the spot as they ought to and even now when they're sophisticatedly aware of the techniques that are being practiced on the box, they still, you know, fall over backwards, wave their legs in the air when a television person says can I come along and take your picture or will you talk to me and so on.  Everybody, I've known admirals do this with the greatest of pleasure without asking a second question. It's rarer now of course, among the upper crust, but I've known that happen just as much as steel workers or ... But I think there is a gradually evolving sense that the media is not on our side and I welcome that because we are not on their side, whether they are admirals or steel workers. We're not on their side we're out to exploit them in one way or another. Now I've tried to keep that to the minimum merely out of my regard for the people that I wanted to make films about, but that's not a very good base because you'll very quickly transcend that when you when you get into the cutting room. And that emotional impact of of being close to people wont ultimately prevent you making decisions that may, that may ignore or flout their basic human rights. I'm perhaps overstating that, but that's more or less my position.  Just considering the the rights of people, of course, producers themselves have have rights even if they are slaves of the BBC. And in a film series that I made a year later I had a really traumatic encounter with the power of management, backed by all sorts of unseen and unexplained forces, which are still a complete enigma to me even now, although the effects were quite crucial to, to the work that was done after that and to my position in the BBC. I'm sure that in talking like this I appear to be arrogating myself, all sorts of rights of doing what I want in the BBC, and I'm sure a great number of people have behind the scenes have commented on this arrogant behaviour on my part over the years. I have felt the absolute responsibility to respond always to the sort of, the sort of challenges of work and BBC management and so on, with a recognition that merely because I was placed in a certain position and paid by the BBC that I somehow had to adopt wholesale all the standards, attitudes, and conventions in the constitution of the BBC. I'm afraid I didn't either explicitly or implicitly accept that particular responsibility because I always argued that my salary, and the salaries of all those around me, had been paid by people shelling out their licence fee in order to pay for the BBC. I wasn't, of course, opposed to the formal financial institution of the licence fee it gave me a good life but I recognised where that good life came from. And it didn't come from the BBC, it came from the people out there, whether we were able to recognise them, or, or meet the unspoken demands that they made on us. I felt that the people out there were far more important than the system of the BBC. Now, I had no right to consider that and I therefore take the view that the BBC threats against me, which proliferated in the next 10 years, and became sharper and more urgent and more unpleasant were perfectly justifiable. I don't, while I chronicle and record, and keep on file, every attack made on me by the BBC and the attacks that I levelled at them in return, I don't resent them. I don't feel that they were wrong to do that, I just feel an ancient aggression rising in me, which says I am going to defend myself and I'm going to defend myself on behalf of millions of people that I don't know anything about who are out there. And that is why as the years went on, I, my work in the place where I lived, and my community involvement, and our community involvement and standing say, as for election as a county council member for Shropshire, which taught me an enormous amount about high level administration and what was happening in the BBC - if it was happening in Shropshire County Council I argued it was happening at the BBC.  All those things were, I sought to make a counterpoise between if I was falling down on my responsibilities to the BBC I was going to compensate for them by fully shouldering my responsibilities for what I deemed to be the world out there, and this was the only way I thought of actually being able to do it. I never thought of the alternative being to obey the rules of the BBC, however quixotic that may appear and I tilted at lots of windmills in my time. So as life went on it got more and more difficult and this point this next series of programmes I'd like to tell you about were actually the point of departure for probably a cumulative resentment that the BBC in its personal censor. After all there's no such thing as the BBC, in somebody's wonderful phrase institutions like the BBC they don't have a bottom to kick and they don't have a heart to affect. So it wasn't the non-existent bottoms of the BBC, or their fists that came out of the darkness, it was the views and opinions of individual people, managers of one sort or another, controllers, heads of programmes, heads of departments that came out of the darkness and tried to hit me and I dodged.

Colin Moffat  35:15

Just to get this clear, you think the difference what makes the BBC indifferent from any other industrial concern, employer in the country, is that it's a public service broadcasting institution and that changes situation that they don't have, they themselves perhaps shouldn't have absolutely ultimate rights over their employees, and have overriding in this case editorial control over the programmes that they should be able to direct their producers, their employees in the way that they want to direct them because ultimately there is, amongst other people, there is the Director General, who is the editor in chief of the BBC, that's part of his job, apart from administration, and they feel that there is, there are at any given time in broadcasting history, there are, there is a policy, there is a BBC editorial policy to that? It exists and it's set, and it's not set. You have, if you're going to have editors at all, editorial control, then they've got to, they've got to be allowed to do something, they've got they've got to be able to control somebody otherwise there's no point in having them. It can't just be an anarchy of producers just or can it just doing what they want? There's a serious point of principle here, isn't there that's constitutional?

Philip Donnellan  36:34

I think I'd say legitimate. But you talk about there can't be an anarchy of producers, it's a nice, it's a nice collective noun that isn't it an anarchy of producers? No I think producers should be formed in ateliers in which they are responsible, not primary to themselves, but to an audience but secondly to a collective view of responsibilities, which are argued out consistently against the background canvas of their work. There should certainly be leaders in those ateliers and they should be heeded. And that was why I always rather resented the early promotion as I deemed it to be of Huw Wheldon up into the stratosphere of BBC management, when it was quite clear to me and to lots of other people, I think, who worked with him, that here was a man who was at his most valuable, both to himself, his own creativity, to us who respected his judgement, or they were prepared to argue with it and to the BBC and its audience, that here was a man who was at his best in those roles as head of a department. As Director of Programmes or Managing Director or whatever the hell he was, he was a distant figure, and his sometimes curious views about say, union relationships and so on, were really not based on the sort of judgement he brought to bear intimately with each other, separately or together on programmes. So, of course there must be an editorial position, but I believe it ought to be organised and executed in a different way. And when by a marvellous chance, by the stress of going to India I got the opportunity to establish a documentary, that's what I hope in the end I would be given the capacity in myself because I didn't know what I could do. I didn't know whether I could carry out editorial policies like that, but that's what I hoped to do. Anyway, the next the next 10 years from 1970 was a period of grave problems, but the BBC had problems long before that, from the later 1960s onwards there was a profound need within the BBC to economise.  And erm and also to start reorganising. Now I, I can, unfortunately lecture for hours about the BBC administrative system and that inevitable tension between the controlling system of an institution like the BBC and those people who make the product, the programmes. They are not tins of beans, they are programmes which reflect the innate interests and instincts and skills and talents of a widely assorted range of people. But there has always been, in my experience, a profound tension between the management of an institution like the BBC and the people who do the work. I've expressed this publicly on many occasions, and and in one particular film incidentally, but. Erm, so, in the, in 1969, in pursuit of a more coherent management response to changing circumstances, and in a response also to the needs for economy, the BBC started to reorganise its management and it's whole pattern within radio in particular, and television. Now, what happened was that they hired a management, a famous firm of management consultants, McKinseys, to produce a report. I don't think, I'm pretty sure that McKinsey's report has never been made public. But some of the some of the findings have leaked out and the one that sticks most clearly in my mind is that McKinsey said to the people who had hired them, we have found in our long experience of exploring and analysing and recommending on institutions and commercial organisations of one sort or another across the world, we've always found that when we can put the finger on the five people, however big the institution, we can find the five people who are the prime movers within a situation then we we've got some beginning of an idea about how we can make it tick more effectively. When we confronted the BBC we found that there weren't five people who were prime movers there were 500. Now I would, I always thought, end of quote, I always thought, and other people with me thought that this was a marvellous recommendation for a devolved production organisation, it was almost democratic in appearance, since power and influence and ultimately the shaping of policy was made by 500 people, not five. But McKinsey therefore recommended that the BBC's organisational pattern should be much, brought much more nearly towards a situation in which five people made the policy. Now, at first this appeared in the form of a small, unobtrusive pamphlet called Broadcasting in the '70s. And it came out in 1969. And it caused an immense fuss, in particularly radio, but this was followed by television as well. Now, if that seems remote from my production it's not exactly so because in the regions, which were the most affected by the recommendations of Broadcasting in the 70s, and they weren't just recommendations, Broadcasting in the 70s was the BBC pamphlet, which having taken account of McKinsey's report, they had decided to reorganise and implement that reorganisation throughout radio and the regional places - Bristol, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Belfast, Cardiff - were to be among the first victims of that. And initially out of pure self-interest we resisted.

Colin Moffat  43:09

Was this done through a union called The Association of Broadcasting Staff by any chance?

Philip Donnellan  43:14

No, no, it wasn't it wasn't done through them. There was a house union in the BBC, which had grown from a staff association and the union was The Association of Broadcasting Staff, you rightly say erm.  There was a certain amount of of prior collusion with the with the association, but in the end, they made certain recommendations to their members. Now I'm not a historical critic of the BBC, I don't carry all this material in my head, I am broadly speaking trying to speak from the point of view of just one producer. So I can't vouch for the precise accuracy of all the, all the influences and so on that brought themselves to bear on me.  But more or less what I recall in 1969 is our bitter opposition, especially from the English regions, Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol, to the proposals in Broadcasting in the 70s.

Colin Moffat  44:12

Who are you talking about producers and other people?

Philip Donnellan  44:15

At every level, we for the first time got together genuinely collectively, from transmitter engineers who were completely remote from our operations stationed in distant hill sites, they came in together and we tried to represent their collective views. Well, this ultimately led to a unique event in the later months of that year - a strike in the BBC.

End of Side 15

Side 16



Colin Moffat  0:03  

Philip Donnellan side 16

Philip Donnellan  0:09  

Now that was  a one day strike which was almost as divisive as it was collective if i can use those two words in opposition. A great many old BBC hams were deeply resentful of being called out on strike and they resigned from the ABS, while others celebrated the opportunity for the first time of us acting collectively together. Charles and I had only joined the ABS a year before and we'd tried to institute a sort of, with profound political idiocy we had tried to establish a small collective organisation in the BBC in Birmingham called The Association of Senior Staff.  Can you imagine such a thing as ridiculous and naive?  But, and we quickly dropped it, but it was stamped on by the management anyway i'm glad to say.  So okay I'm not going to spend much time on the question of the strike, we we operated within the BBC in Birmingham to join the ABS union, committee and we operated through them in a perfectly proper

way.  We were, of course, criticised as the BBC did not expect anything but the industrial classes, engineers and so on, to be effective within the ABS, they expected producers and what's more senior producers to stand aloof from that sort of activity, and we were bitterly criticised for having lent our weight, the weight of our experience to to the union in that way.

Colin Moffat  1:50  

However, did you make your views known through newspapers at all?

Philip Donnellan  1:57  

Oh yes we did and I addressed a meeting of MPs at the House of Commons Committee Room in order to inform them about the position of the English regions - that was done on a delegated basis. I was involved in all sorts of organisations at that time: The Free Communications Group, which had started some years before; The 76 Group, which was an organisation of production staff from both ITV and the BBC, and that was amazingly the first occasion when I had ever met a counterpart of mine who worked in commercial television.  I had literally never met a producer who worked in Granada or AR or any of the other commercial organisations, it's a strange indication of the enclosed nature of the BBC system that even though we were working out there we never came across each other.  What I found of course was that the people who worked in commercial television were much more effectively unionised, of course they had a particular faced employer in front of them, they knew who they who the management were.  They were also in a curious way much, much freer both in the things that they could say on screen compared with the controls under which we worked.  Many of the things that I had been jerked up by the reins of the BBC management for over the preceding years wouldn't have even been noticed in in commercial television.  So it was a strange experience. But what I'm saying is that the representations that we made to the hierarchy of the BBC were through a whole series of organisations and The 76 Group, The Free Communications Group, the ACTT who didn't have negotiating rights within the BBC and the ABS who did.  So it was a very collective and genuinely radical approach for us to take these sort of initiatives.

Colin Moffat  4:02  

Can you just remind us who was running the BBC then, this is just after the fairly long period of office of Hugh Carlton Green?  Had he left, I think he had?

Philip Donnellan  4:14  

Yes I think he had.

Colin Moffat  4:15  

Who was Director General? 

Philip Donnellan  4:16  

The broadcasting in the '70s was put through by a Director General Charles Curran ...

Colin Moffat  4:22  

Oh yes.

Philip Donnellan  4:22  

... and by the chairman of the Board of Governors, Charles Hill, I think he was Lord Hill by then, who will have been known as the Radio Doctor during the war, famous broadcaster, and who had become a political figure of a general conservative tone, and it was alleged had been put in to draw the teeth of the BBC, although I think many of those were false teeth already.  So Charles Hill and Charles Curran were the two people who were at the forefront of the negotiating positions of the BBC vis-a-vis the staff organised in the way that I've described.

Colin Moffat  5:04  

Can one assume that other groups like the General Advisory Council of the BBC were aware of what was going on and would have been informed? And the governance of course.

Philip Donnellan  5:14  

There's no question about that. I mean, I'm sure that Briggs in his monumental works on the on the BBC will have written about that or will do so in the future in great detail. I would be hours if I tried to untangle those particular forces.  The people we met in face to face debate, apart from the MPs that I've already referred to who were deeply concerned about this split in the whole industry of communications in the country, were Curran and Hill. There was also an organisation that had arisen around the Royal Institute of British Architects, called the Campaign for Better Broadcasting, the title was satirical because it was CBB, which was the BBC backwards, and some of its tone at first was somewhat frivolous, we didn't take it too seriously. But on the other hand, quite quickly, there, they produced an authoritative analysis of communications, which was quite important in supporting the cases that we were developing against the reorganisations of one sort or another. I remember in fact, that the CBB produced a Searle, no was it Searle or was it, oh that other savage cartoonist produced a poster for the CBB, and this was an absolutely scurrilous portrait of Charles Hill manipulating a half-naked figure of the BBC, manipulating certain key parts of her anatomy, with one hand or the other, while screams of ecstasy came from the open mouth of the BBC, which was, of course, the grille of a loudspeaker. Er and it was a wonderful, scandalous poster and the idiots I mean, they distributed copies to us, I've got one upstairs and the idiots at the CBB sent a copy to Charles Hill, who immediately addressed them through his lawyers and said if he ever had reason to believe that this had been distributed he would, he would act against them for criminal libel. [LAUGHTER] I mean, there were all sorts of offshoots of this and, indeed if I was to start telling you about some of the frolics that we got up to which were deeply serious in intent, but trampled with heavy boots across the normal protocol of the BBC - incursions into Broadcasting House and, and taking the battle to the enemy was the way we looked at it. And, you know, a bunch of experienced and in some instances, devious buggers who'd been in production for years, quite a formidable guerrilla enemy when it came down to the nitty gritty.  I'm sorry for this appalling mixture of metaphors. [LAUGHTER] Yes, it wasn't a bit light hearted to us. Anyway, the struggle more or less ended towards the end of 1969, the BBC with its proposal somewhat, somewhat amended, proceeded to implement them, and we were in effect defeated. Now, to me it was noticeable that after this both Hill and Curran started to try to build bridges with a deeply alienated production staff. They, they made a number of public statements, some of which are very interesting, which reiterated the right of producers to seek out the best in the world outside and use their talents and skills reasonably unencumbered by editorial controls, to put these on the screen, and on the radio. Now these were published, and they're on record. And one of them I've got, I've got a note of here, which is significant. And let me say before I read this, that now we took these statements very seriously that they were proclamations of a new sort of BBC policy, which we had assumed before but no senior member of the BBC had really said this powerfully and explicitly before.  So I didn't think, and I don't think I was alone in thinking about it, I didn't think that it was accidental that these statements came out at this particular moment. I believe that they were trying to build bridges between a reinforced freedom for production people in the BBC and a management who understood their problems. Curran for instance, on one occasion, and I haven't got the date of this, though it's it's, it's well on record, said, "The programme maker in the BBC must be free to probe and explore. Dissent is part of the great panorama of life, which we are constantly painting and repainting, it would be dishonest to leave it out and it would be an abdication not to defend its place in what we do. The free exercise of the programme makers conscience and of his common sense, the one rebellious and the other conformist is the foundation of our policy. Indeed, this is the only way to produce lively, imaginative and genuinely creative programmes." Now, I thought that was a marvellous statement of production freedom, perfectly legitimate, reinforced by at the highest level of BBC. So when in, at the beginning of 1970 I had to put up some proposals for new programmes I deliberately took that as the text of what we intended to do. I had hired a comrade from the, when I use the word comrade it's because it's difficult to find the right word and that's not meant to have profound political associations with which it's often been credited. A comrade, whom I'd met in The 76 Group, who had been working for Granada, a woman of great intelligence and skill called Sarah Boston, she, I had hired her to come as director to initiate a new series of programmes. These would be 30-minute programmes instead of the 50-minute BBC One documentaries that I'd been making up to now. I noticed that a number of producer, colleagues or comrades from the documentary department had been invited to do 30-minute series, rather than the blockbusters 50-minutes and upwards. And so I advanced the cause, a case for, for us doing the same from Birmingham. Now, in order to try and invoke and involve the experiences and skills of the people with whom we made films, we had a meeting at the beginning of 1970 in which I got cameramen, editors, PAs, and so on, and we had an all-day meeting and we said to each other, what are we, what is our responsibility now to make in terms of 30-minute television documentaries at this particular moment in history? Well to cut a long story short, we came to the conclusion, not a very startling one, that we should, that we should go out and seek the experience of working people, as individuals, in relation to their life, and in relation to the world that surrounded them. Now that more or less was what I've been doing for several years but we put this on a more formal basis and we eventually came up with a proposal that we should do a series called Where do I Stand? 

Colin Moffat  13:31  

Working people?

Philip Donnellan  13:31  

Working people, yes, industrial workers of all sorts, whether they were rural workers or what they were. And, and Where do I Stand? was explicitly designed to go to individual people and ask him or her where they stood in relation to their responsibilities to their work, to their family, to the country, to the various institutional elements that surrounded them, the police, the army say, all the elements of the world around them we would explore, or those that were relevant to the person that we were at that moment dealing with.  And that we should seek to, to involve the person concerned, as well as the camera crew, in the working out of these ideas. Now the camera crew idea was an important one because it seemed to me that if you were going to democratise the process you had to start with your fellow workers. We relied on them as an artistic, a powerful artistic element in the films we were making, they provided the pictures quite literally, they provided the sound, they put the programmes together, they were a crucial element in the work we did.  Yet invariably, most of the, of the articulation of ideas, the steering of ideas, the directing of the films, it all came from a single person - the producer, or director as they were increasingly came to be called. So we tried to spread that responsibility, and involve them much more in the making of the programme. 

Colin Moffat  14:22  

Involve them in what way? 

Philip Donnellan  15:24  

Well, in the specific way that there would be exhaustive discussions with the camera crews about all the people that were selected, they clearly wouldn't be able to do the research with us since we would, Sara and I would go off on the hoof around the country and find the people that we wanted to put into a first series. And clearly the camera crews would all be doing their normal routine work with other people. But as soon as the people, the individual has been chosen, we would involve the camera crew fully in briefing and discussion about the way in which it should be tackled. And on location during the process of filming we would invite them to take part in the discussions with the, with the individuals in front of the camera. They would be behind the camera or the recorder, but they could ask questions, they could intervene in the thing and say, "Look, you're not making this quite clear. Can I add a question at this point? Why doesn't sound so and so happen?" or so on.

Colin Moffat  15:25  

You do mean during the recording?

Philip Donnellan  16:02  

During the filming, during the shooting. I found it increasingly unacceptable that I knew always the exact way we should approach a particular person, or the sort of questions we should ask them. And all of us, especially camera crews, are always mute during this process and unseen, invisible people and they must have squirmed endlessly while shooting with directors or producers or interviewers who hadn't the faintest idea what sort of questions to ask, or who asked the wrong questions, produce the wrong answers and so you'd have to reshoot the thing and so on. So I wanted to try and gather that intelligence and the frustration that I sensed the camera crews would have, and to involve them in the process of interrogation of a particular person. Now, all right, this was er, it may sound naive afterwards, though it was in fact really quite valuable and certainly valuable for them in that it gave them a new interest in the actual production of the programme.

Colin Moffat  17:27  

Did the BBC management know you were doing this?

Philip Donnellan  17:30  

No, they didn't, no they didn't. Now I didn't deem it necessary to tell the BBC how, how the programmes were made on location, they never, never wanted to know whether the camera crew were smartly dressed, whether they had shaved that day, or whether they were, how they were involved in the programme, they assumed that they had no involvement in the programme, there were no rules that I knew of about it.

Colin Moffat  17:56  

The normal role of of crew is of course to do their craft jobs, such as photographing and recording material. This is quite a new idea isn't it?

Philip Donnellan  18:06  

Yes, but it didn't seem to me particularly objectionable provided they did their job properly. So what I did was to extend the possibilities of their job to incorporating them into the whole structure and feeling of the film.

Colin Moffat  18:20  

You didn't fear that they might neglect their, the other part of their job?

Philip Donnellan  18:24  

No, not for a moment. I thought, I knew first and foremost, that they would be concerned with picture quality and sound quality and so on. Indeed, I have no doubt that they, in discussion, we raised this question and they met ... Sorry, I'm scratching meself.

Colin Moffat  18:42  

Did they enjoy it?

Philip Donnellan  18:44  

Well, I think you'll have to ask them about it. I think they found it very refreshing and it was of course only a step on the way really. I mean, what it was, if you like, was some way towards providing that, the involvement of the technical arm with the production. In, I've been extremely critical earlier on in this recording about the the enormous gap between the engineering division and the production people and I've said that that was structural, and it was a matter of class. Now what I was trying to do quite clearly was to step across that and use the imagination and intelligence of the camera crew as part of their responsibility to the production.  Anyway ...

Colin Moffat  19:36  

How did you manage to record their voices? Were there questions just just off -mic or what?

Philip Donnellan  19:41  

Their were questions were more or less off-mic and if they were excessively off-mic we could always record them later and put them on the track during the final mix. They would always be invisible at the time they asked the question but they weren't invisible in other ways, because each programme was to start with reflecting something that I'd always found grossly offensive about the way in which we filmed people: a camera crew and a producer, unless he was very careful, would come into a filming situation in somebody's house and they promptly start to remodel the entire interior of the house. And they would you don't mind if I cheat this chair over this way a bit, do you mind if we, well we must switch off this light, something making a hum could we switch off, will you switch off the 'fridge? do you mind if we move? Now I wanted it very briefly and not heavily over done to reflect that the movement of this technical invasion into a house and the person being pushed around by it. So we would shoot a sequence in each, in each film, which showed the technical arms of the individuals who might later ask questions as part of this invasion.

Philip Donnellan  19:42  

So that the audience were in on this?

Philip Donnellan  21:05  

Exactly, exactly. Well, with all this, this preliminary discussion, which didn't take as long as I've taken to describe it really, we, we were prepared to do the first series as we thought of it, of Where do I Stand? However, I received a somewhat chilling letter, a memorandum from Dick Cawston, who said he wasn't wholly convinced that the programme was a good idea and it conflicted, he said with something another department was doing. So at first he was only prepared to accept that we should do a pilot. So I wrote back and said, "Look, a pilot is to test whether an idea is a good one  and whether the person concerned can do it properly." I said, "If you don't know by now, what I'm capable of doing, or capable of evaluating the quality of the idea that I put forward, then really you shouldn't be doing that job. So I'm not prepared to do one pilot, I'm prepared to do three pilots, which will be a sensible start to the series. And if you want a pilot I'll give you the chance of seeing three of them. So I'm perfectly prepared to do three films as a first sight, but not fewer." And Dick accepted that and we went ahead with three people. Now comes the really devious element in my response to this, up to now this was an entirely open situation, which we discussed with colleagues, technical and production, and we'd come to certain conclusions. However the the piece of Charles Curran's, the Director General that I read to you just now, seemed to me to argue for a much more provocative response from me, than merely to go on doing the same job that I'd been doing for a long time. So in, I decided that we'd make at least one programme, which was really provocative, and we would see what the BBC's response would be to this challenge.

Colin Moffat  23:07  

You are talking about Curran's reference for the need for dissent?

Philip Donnellan  23:10  

Dissent, yes. Curran, if you remember, had said, "Dissent is part of the great panorama of life, which we're constantly painting, and repainting, it would be dishonest to leave it out and it would be an abdication not to defend its place in what we do." So I said, right we'll give you a bit of dissent. And I found a young man in a Yorkshire coal mine, he was a 22 year old, who had left his home in Durham and had come down to East Yorkshire, and become employed by the National Coal Board in a pit called Hatfield, not far from Doncaster. He was a Marxist-Leninist.  At 22 he was extraordinarily eloquent and perceptive about the political system that surrounded him in the pit. It was very right wing Tory controlled pit and he was in constant turbulence as a representative of a very far left organisation within the pit. Of course, within the pit, when I say Tory controlled I'm not talking literally, the the General Secretary of the Union, the Secretary of the Union branch, was a Conservative, and there was every imaginable shade from fairly extreme right, right through to Dave Douglas on the extreme left, out of sight via Communist Party members, liberals, standard labour, plenty of those, and so on. So I met this young man, he was 22, five feet five, a mass of fair curly hair, bright blue eyes, a girlish face, and he was actually a very hard nosed politician. Yet his image was completely different to any of the hectoring, soapbox lefties with whom the general population of the country was well aware of though they were very rarely seen on television. So I asked Dave Douglas if he would do a film and we shot that film with Dave as the first one of the series.  We asked him and his wife to sit down, he was married to a very beautiful girl and, Norma, Maureen I'm sorry, and they sat down in the living room of their council house in Hatfield Village and they explained to a very bemused camera crew and director (me) the meaning of their Marxist-Leninist convictions. I was pretty unsophisticated in political terms, I hadn't read Marx and so it was an ideal basis for for them to explain in, virtually in words of one syllable exactly what his political views meant to him, and how they worked out in this pit. At the end of the first afternoon shooting and, we had two and a half days to shoot, the half day at the beginning was travelling time, we started to shoot at probably two o'clock half past one and we then had two further days to complete the shooting and we had I think a week to cut the films back in Birmingham.  At the end of the first afternoon I think we were all pretty bemused and John Williams the cameraman came to me and he said, "Look Philip you're not getting anywhere with these questions" and I said, "Well you haven't intervened", he said, "No what I'd like to do is this: why don't you take Sarah off to the cinema or something and we'll continue the shooting with him and we'll ask the sort of primary questions that we think are needed?" So I said, "Fine, OK Sara and I will go and we'll leave it to you."  So that's what happened Sarah and I went to Doncaster and there were no films we wanted to see but, so we stayed out and and we saw the crew the next day at call time and I said, " How did it go last night?" and they said, "Oh we think we got some interesting stuff."  And indeed they had.  The film opens with several of the questions that they asked on that occasion. Well we went on and our cars were outside Dave's house and then we moved into the, into the pit and I quickly became aware that it was vital in this programme to provide some sort of sequence, which expressed a counter view of Dave's position. So I asked the secretary of the branch to set up a gathering of as many points of view as possible within the pit.  Now I didn't reveal to him that we were filming Dave Douglas as the centrepiece of the programme, although I'd had to go through the the Area Director in order to get permission to go to the pit at all and I'd explained to him that we were focusing on, on Dave Douglas but I hadn't told the secretary of the pit who was extremely suspicious and fairly hostile from the beginning.  I did ask him to collect as many elements as possible of the political views in the pit and I gave him a number of names of people that I'd met, I was hoping for a real spread of political opinion. Now again I sense a certain fumbling naivety in the way I handled it, I don't think merely telling the truth about our project would have done any good but I think I ought to have been a better negotiator and been able to be more honest.  It was not it was not my habit, and I think I've already said this, to tell lies to people that I that I approached in order to make a film, but I was pretty certain that if the branch knew that we were making a programme about Dave Douglas the ceiling would fall in.  Because in coal mines, as we've known from the strike since the '84/85 strike, and this was 11 years, 15 years before that, that feelings can run very high on political lines in the tightly enclosed situation of a pit or a pit village.  I didn't objectify that experience, indeed I hadn't had that experience at the time so I wasn't fully aware of exactly the basis on which my negotiation with the NUM branch should be conducted.  Okay I'll get to the point, the Branch Secretary got together a group of people and we we had lit a place for them to gather, and we came together at that point. And the Branch Secretary at the beginning, I said, "Okay, ready? Let's turn over." And the Branch Secretary said, "Hold on a minute Phil, just before you you film this I'd like to ask you a question. Have any of the people here being filmed independently of this session before this moment?" And I said, "Oh, yes." And he said, "Who?" I said, "Dave Douglas." And he said, "Well, I'm sorry, we can't let anybody have priority over anyone else in a film like this, if he's had independent access to the camera, then we're not going to take part in this session." He didn't say it in quite those words but more or less. "All out, lads." he said, and he headed off out of the lamp cabin, a big space and everybody else left. I was left with Dave and Dave said, "You know what he's going to do? He's going straight to the manager to get you thrown off the pit." So I sent off Sarah  with the crew to shoot everything they could, anything that moved, almost anything that didn't move, because we, although we had done a day's shooting in the pit we hadn't got nearly enough to make up a 30-minute film. Now I'm I'm talking about this in detail because the whole way in which one's experience develops in in making films, whether they're subversive political films, fumblingly handled by a beginner in these matters, or whether they are straightforward films, it is the detail of those experiences that can mark both your work and the way it's received and your experience thereafter. And this did indeed mark me for life. So off goes the camera crew with Sarah, I wait for the summons from the front office, which eventually came, and we were ordered off the pit. And we left. Now I was still, having been left without any counter-vailing opinions from other coal miners I was left with the urgent need to balance my programme in any sense at all, I was left with the need to provide this.  So I went to the club in the village and and said, "Can we come here tomorrow morning and shoot a sequence?" and the Secretary o the club said, "Yes fine" and I sent Sarah off to the pub just in case anything went wrong to say, "May we come around tomorrow morning, a Sunday, if circumstances turn out that way, may we come and film in the bar tomorrow morning we may have a few guys with us and just want to do a little bit of shooting?" Everybody in the village of course knew about the film by now. Everybody in the village knew and we hadn't thought to conceal it, that our cars were outside Dave Douglas' house. So it was a fumbling bit of deviousness from the start, and in a way, I didn't want to be devious, but I ought to have done it properly if I if I knew that it was going to be important.  Anyway, I rang round, spent the afternoon ringing round trying to re-affirm those people, the range of opinions that we were going to get and get them together in the pub the next morning. Nearly all of them said no, not having anything. I said come on, it is an opportunity and so on, so on. However, I did get one or two people, enough to provide some sort of opinion. Went round to the club the next morning, the Secretary's big hand up at the door, "Sorry, mate, been instructed by the branch can't come in here." So I said okay, go to the pub. Went to the pub, set up in the pub.  Sarah and I came into the pub, half an hour after Mike had got in there,  not Mike, John Winney  had gone in there to light and there was a man in a smart overcoat leaning on the bar with a camera in front of him. And I said to Sarah at the side of my mouth, "Special Branch have got here before us." We giggled, got on with the job. We're in the process of filming a couple of lapsed communists, and a communist shop steward from International Harvesters nearby both of whom had come in to argue with Dave, not a very widespread political opinion alas but the best I could do. The argument went on and we got some nice stuff about the contemporary orientation of Dave's internationalist convictions and about work in a pub, sorry in the pit. When Sarah came up to me and hissed in my ear, "That man's photographing us." So I turned round and there was the man in the smart overcoat at the bar with the camera to his eye taking photographs. So I went up to him and I said, "What's all this then?" And he said in what I tended to believe was an assumed Australian accent, "Oh, don't you want me to photograph then?" So I said, "Well, it's not that it's just that we're in the process of filming and if you want photographs of us, of course we're perfectly happy about that but we would like to be asked.  This is not a public activity we are taking part, even though this is a public place.  What is it you wanted? If, I'm a BBC producer, and I will let you have some publicity photographs of all the crew if you want them, but we'd rather you didn't take photographs at this moment. Anyway, who are you?" And he said, "Oh, I'm just back in the old country, from from Australia and is this the way things are in the old country now?" "I'm afraid they are" I said, "people sometimes don't like being photographed without you asking." "Well," he said, "I wanted to get a photograph of your beautiful assistant." So I said, "Who's that?" And he said, "The lady over there" indicating Sarah Boston. So I said, "Well, you had better ask her whether she wants to be photographed. Meanwhile, can I have any more idea of what you are doing" And he said, "Oh, I'm on a tour of old churches in this part" Well, this was February, bitterly cold, snow on the ground, not an old church within 20 miles. I mean, Doncaster was the nearest old church. And I thought the story didn't hang together, so I said, "Well, you know, would you mind just putting your camera away and leaving it and if you give me your name and address I'll make sure some photographs are sent to you." He didn't come up with his name and address. We took the number of his car when he left but didn't follow it up. And tacitly assumed that it was a Special Branch officer sent out by the Doncaster police to catch-up on what was happening in Hatfield, with this very suspicious young miner, who of course everybody knew was a Marxist-Leninist. I little thought what effect this was going to have, although I privately I was pretty surprised and rather alarmed. Okay, we did the other two films, the other two of the group of three. One was about a West Indian railway signalman, a remarkable man who had appeared in The Colony, deeply depressed about black people's involvement with the union in working situations. Quietly sad about the the response of his fellow workers to his presence and his work in in British Rail. And the other person was an old, very old friend of mine, who had acted for me in the original Corby programme, who was a Northamptonshire gamekeeper, a lifelong Tory who had been brought up in an estate villag and always voted Tory. And and erm so we made these three films, took them back, cut them, and took them downin due course to show Dick Cawston in the routine way he would normally look at rough cuts, and appraise them. Dick sat through these three films, and he may have said, "Thanks Philip, for showing them to me." But I don't think he even said that, I think he didn't make one single comment about any of them. Now I wasn't surprised because I had deliberately set out to be provocative in the choice of a miner and clearly once he'd seen the miner he probably didn't even look at the other two in any serious sense. Although he'd have been well advised to because they were very, very interesting films. Anyway there it was, Dick disappeared into the woodwork Head of Documentaries, with this information about the films.  Whether he asked me if I could leave the film's with him for later viewing I don't know I think that he did. Anyway, he went off and from that moment it was five months before I heard anything more. I told the management in Birmingham that Dick Cawston had seen the films and had said nothing to me and perhaps they could get something out of him about them, since they were as it were the buffer between me and the Head of Documentaries and had direct responsibility for the scheduling of the of the crews and of myself. They got nothing out of him and I heard nothing more. I was left not doing any work from May till October. And in October I was in a small boat sailing across the Bristol Channel the summons came, whether it was by carrier pigeon, or spectral body, or mind transmission I'm not quite sure, I got a message saying would I please go and see the Director of Programmes at the White City, at Television Centre as soon as possible. Now the Director of Programmes was an old friend, David Attenborough, whom I'd known and we'd been friends with for many years. I haven't seen him much recently, and his return from a freelance career in nature and the environment, wasn't called the environment then, he'd returned to the BBC and come in as Director of Programmes, first Controller of BBC Two succeeding Michael Peacock's unsuccessful tenure of that job he came in as controller of BBC Two and was then promoted to Director of Programmes. It was very nice to see him again but the message he conveyed was not so nice, although not unexpected.

End of Side 16

Side 17

Colin Moffat  0:03  

Philip Donnellan Side 17,

Philip Donnellan  0:09  

David asked me what I thought of the three programmes that we made in the series and I, I responded, of course, briefly with what I thought of them in retrospect. And then he said that the controller of BBC One, a man called Paul Fox, and Dick Cawston the Head of Documentaries, both thought that programmes should be buried. Now, the moment he used that word, and it was clearly a quote from something that Fox or Cawston said, I thought of a comparatively recent happening in which Khrushchev had hammered on the desk at the United Nations and said that he'd see the, he'd see the Western countries buried before the Soviet state would yield to this, that or the other thing. And I thought of Paul Fox and Dick Cawston in in the role of grave diggers for Donnellan work and Donnellan ideas. However, David went on to say that they had wanted the programmes buried and not transmitted. He, on the other hand, had seen them, he thought them very interesting, he proposed that they should be transmitted, and that I should make two more in order to complete a series. Well you can imagine what I felt about that it was the first time in my whole experience that a management edict had a) been revealed to me and b) had been overridden by somebody superior. It was an extraordinary experience, and must be in any television situation of authority versus the producer. But it was so characteristic of David and David's reputation of complete honesty and integrity, both as a producer, and later on as a more senior member of the management. It was amazing. So he went on to say, obviously there are certain difficulties about the choices you make to the programmes, and you've got to be a bit careful about that. Have you any ideas? And I said, well clearly one of them had to be a woman. And we had thought about the whole thing, but that I would send him a note of, of who they should be. And to cut that particular aspect short he then at the end of our conversation he asked me to, to let him have some proposals about my future work, and said that we'd meet again in a few weeks in order to discuss those. Now the overwhelming feeling that I got, and perhaps this was more as much activated by a fairly certain knowledge that the Marxist-Leninist coal miner was at the root of this, of this ban suggested by Cawston and Fox.  My feeling was that there was a quite indefinable political motivation by the whole thing and that in all probability a report from the from the Special Branch had gone through the normal channels to the BBC, saying that one of their producers was consulting with dangerous, subversive industrial elements, and what are they going to do about it? Don't know if that is the sort of way in which these sort of things reached the BBC, but reach it they undoubtedly do. And clearly Attenborough at the highest levels of programme judgement was confronted by something which he couldn't reveal to me. And of course I didn't ask I didn't want to put him in a difficult position, it was such a ludicrous situation we were in anyway. The programmes had been done, as I've explained with, with certainly with the, with the aim of provoking a response both from the audience and from the BBC. And that response had clearly been made, but that it should be framed in exactly this way was a bit of a surprise. However, we got along as we always had done over the previous years that I'd known him probably 10, 12, 15 years, we got along marvellously, we laughed about all sorts of things and that was that. 

Philip Donnellan  4:24  

So I went off and, and later we did two films, two further films. One about a woman conveno shop steward in a Coventry branch of GEC. And the fifth one was an Irish Gypsy man, the Irish travellers in England have a very, very rough time, and public opinion, largely because nobody ever bothers to represent them in any way either in newspapers or on television except as dirty carriers of vermin and thieves and all the rest of it the Irish travellers were unknown.  And so those two films were done and very exciting and interesting they were for us and and the programmes were completed, the series was completed. Next came the transmission and there were further problems with that since the Controller of BBC One, Paul Fox the man who originally wanted to stop them, had to find spaces for them in his schedule, which can't have been particularly pleasant for him. I expect he shifted it on to an underling and there was a tremendous argument I absolutely rejected the idea that the series should be broken up and insisted that they should be transmitted once a week at roughly the same time and that was what happened. The responses both inside and outside were well in one sense predictable, I was quite certain that the audience would be very interested to encounter on their screens a man of a completely different political persuasion and there's always the audience in my experiences always interested in things that provide them with different opportunities of seeing aspects of life which haven't hitherto been shown on television.  So I was fairly confident about the response. The the Programme Review Board, which is the annual not er sorry, weekly meeting at which the middle management and fairly junior management with a few programme makers, and certainly quite a lot of ex-programme makers, chaired usually by a senior controller or director of programmes did review them as part of the week under review.  And the minutes of that meeting read as follows: Where do I Stand? BBC One. John Kane AHFETel, which I imagine stands for Assistant Head of Further Education Television, had liked this programme giving the views of Dave Douglas, coal miner and revolutionary. It had been very biased which he supposed to be the point. Aubrey Singer, HFGTel - that's Head of Features Group Television - had found it interesting but Christopher Brasher, HGFTel - Head of General Features Television - felt that a caption technique had acted as an unnecessary barrier in a programme which had been a form of One Pair of Eyes. (One Pair of Eyes was another series, which had been done some years in which individual journalists, usually journalists, had been allowed to make a statement completely freely, but certainly normally within the everyday parameters of BBC programming and they hadn't been able to advocate the disappearance of the monarchy, or a an end to a private education system, anything outrageous like that.)  So the comparison wasn't a particularly convincing one. On the next page of the minutes rather disappointing audiences were noted for Panorama on Monday the 21st of June, only three and a half million. Where do I Stand? Wednesday, 10.35 only half a million.  Well if you consider the relative costs, the relative placing of Panorama and Where do I Stand? I reckon our half million was pretty good. However that's a subjective view, what it means is that it was considered and it didn't come out too badly out of the exchange.  The audience was, from the very meagre response we got particularly from the audience were interested and quite a bit more than that. As a letter from a lady in Cheltenham, and the handwriting suggests that she was very much a middle-class woman and her letter reads like this: 

Philip Donnellan  8:55  

Dear Sir, I was much struck by the young man in Where do I Stand? programme tonight. A very intelligent, beautiful face, a quick brain, a thinker lost to the community in mining, should be given a chance to do something better for himself, go to college etc.  I am a grandparent and his politics are not mine but I feel sad that he is doomed to a life in mining, although of course many of our Labour leaders had risen up through the party (she means I think the Communist Party) an interesting programme.  Thank you also for the Lion of Judah etc. etc. etc.  

Philip Donnellan  9:38  

The other, another letter we had was from somebody who had watched with interest the Irish tinker programme in which Jim Hanrahan had said that he was a modern traveller and he held up a water can made out of aluminium and he said, "People think that we make these sort of things, well I could no more make one of those than eat it." The letter from somebody asked Mr Jim Hanrahan if they would make him or her, the writer, an aluminium water can like the one shown in the film. But the the climax of the listener corresponds. In other words what I'm saying and making that slightly frivolous point is that, is that some people watch with great intensity and others don't, but they all see the programme and they all have different responses to it, and it is precisely that tremendous variety of responses that is so exciting when you address a completely undifferentiated and unknown audience. You never know where the seed is going to fall and the, or in what area or what flowers it's going to bring forth. For instance, this letter from three Triplex workers, now I suspect it's an anonymous letter but I suspect these three workers probably had been involved in the Pilkington strike recently up in St Helens, Lancashire. Anyway, it says:

Philip Donnellan  10:59  

 Mr Donnellan, we have watched your series on TV and they're great. Twelve months ago we came back to work after being on strike for seven weeks in the Pilkington dispute after a democratic ballot which was voted on for back to work. The man who led us back was the best shop steward this dep ever had, ex-minor and JIC member Jim Peers. Nevermind, your Jerry Cochy. Some workers say Jim Peers was involved in an argument with the GMWU officials, so within four weeks of him taking us back to work he ended up on the dole for about eight weeks. He is working now at Fibreglass Limited. Why he left Triplex we would like to know because there's all kinds of tales, his address 28, etc, etc, etc. at St Helens.  We will say this again, the best shop steward we've ever had this ex-miner Jimmy Peers, yours faithfully three Triplex workers. 

Philip Donnellan  11:59  

Well, perhaps it's a bit sentimental, but certainly the reward of making Where do I Stand? is adequately contained in those minute reflections of the sort of people who watched it. And a few weeks after that I went back, having written a long note to David Attenborough about future projects, I went back and he as it were read the judgement of the court. The judgement of the court was that I was no longer wanted in the Documentary Department, that the Controller of BBC One would no longer find room on his channel for my programmes. So I was exiled from the Documentary Department and from the mass audiences on BBC One. And I was sent to the, the prison camp of BBC Two - plush line prison camp - though virtually without an audience still. And I was told solemnly by David, who obviously realised both the impossibility and at the same time the seriousness of what he was asking me to do, he said, "Philip, you mustn't make any more socially aware programmes." Now, I assumed at the time that he would have said politically aware if he happened to have thought of it at the moment, but what he meant clearly was the I must diverse my future documentary programmes from direct political content. Now, of course I argued about that I said, "David, I'm not er I have never been a political person, person who thought profoundly and analytically enough about political action, political organisation, political beliefs, to want to put into them direct political statement. Yet the BBC has constantly dinned into me the need to in my television programmes to have something to say, it wasn't enough to merely reflect the world outside and make pretty programmes about people without having a hard core of observation, er and, and a message of some sort. Now, I know that the BBC doesn't like people to editorialise but at the same time the documentary programmes in which we are involved have always had an absolute reason for being made. Now what you're saying is that the politics that you identify in these three programmes we've just been discussing is unacceptable for the BBC."  And I referred him to the quotation from the lecture by Charles Curran, which I read to you a few minutes ago, and said, "There's a clear indication in there that dissent is part of a canvas that we ought to be painting and repainting and the efforts of so on."  I didn't want to labour the point was with David he knew perfectly well what i was talking about and he is far too intelligent a man to ignore the tensions within the intelligent people who constitute the labour force of BBC production. However it was extremely difficult that i had been removed from the responsibility of a documentary department because although they they had very little effect on my life I did attend their meetings, monthly meetings, and I did get quite a lot of support and interest from my fellow members - great many of whom were good friends of mine.  

Philip Donnellan  15:41  

So the question remaining for David Attenborough was what the hell do we do with him now? If you're not allowed in the Documentary Department who do you work to?  Now this occupied David's mind a great deal but it didn't take me long to consider the question and know that there was a man whose friendship I'd enjoyed for years and who was exactly the sort of person, short of Huw Wheldon no doubt but nonetheless in the same sort of area of sympathy and intelligence and directness, to whom I could work and he was I think at that time the Head of Music and Arts Department and his name was Norman Swallow. And so I immediately said to David, "Well what about Norman Swallow?" and David looked at me and said, "Do you think he'd do it?" and I said, "Yes of course he do it. He's got lots of producers under him I'm no more nuisance than any of them. I would be very happy to work with Norman Swallow." 

Philip Donnellan  16:36  

So I was then sort of more or less unofficially drafted under Norman Swallow's wing into the Music and Arts Department. Although for the next 11 years when I worked there I was never asked to make music and arts programmes if I didn't want to. I made the sort of programmes that were going to advance the general cause of programmes; if they were innovative well and good, if they were ideas of mine well and good, if there was somebody else's equally well and good. So the prospect of actually working with Norman Swallow rather than Dick Cawston was an immense bonus to this, to this ostensible dispute we had had, there had been no dispute with David we had acted like sensible mature people and the results were not altogether displeasing to me. So I went off and the next project I started to make was a really quite political, though not political in contemporary terms, historical programme about the, about life in sailing ships in the 19th century. A great deal of my experience in the past in radio going right back to Charlie Andrews reminded me of the fascinating life, and terrible life that those men had lived and researching that was tremendously stimulating.  And erm and the programme when it had been made, when it came was called For the Mast, it scored a considerable success the following year. And after that I found myself in yet a different situation, which came back once again to to the work of Charles Parker, still working in radio, still producing challenging and difficult programmes but now alas on the verge of being kicked out by the BBC. An absolutely appalling shock and a shock not just to me and to others who knew him and knew his qualities but to a vast number of people in the country as a whole who registered their protests with the BBC about this apparently gratuitous action and tried to stop Charles Curran, the Director General, and the BBC management from firing Parker.  But of course like a lot of things they succeeded in doing it and Charles was kicked out of the BBC at the end of 1972.

Colin Moffat  19:09  

What do you mean kicked out?  What actually happened?

Philip Donnellan  19:14  

Well it's a terribly long story.  It still hasn't been fully documented, we try to avoid unnecessarily reminding the BBC of the really disastrous decision it was to fire Charles Parker, so no substantial documentation has been made of the events leading up to Charles's dismissal and it would take quite a long time to explain them. But what I will say is this that the the new forward programme broadcasting in the '70s that I referred to extensively some time ago, envisaged a complete transformation of the, of the radio production resources in Birmingham and in other, in the other regions. Now it was quite clear that at this point in BBC history radio was in a steep decline in terms of listeners compared with the powerful and irresistible rise of television. So more and more radio was being starved of resources, and even worse it was being starved of hopes and an assurance of an audience, and an assurance of a level of support from the public, which, who were regarded as having deserted radio for television. One of these transformations was in the job of the Features Producer in Birmingham, his job disappeared, and he was invited to take a lower graded job as providing 10-minute featurettes for Woman's Hour and various minor talks jobs. Now without going into a lot of detail it's extremely difficult to rationalise such a decision, because we, the last time I referred to Charles in this conversation was erm was when he was at the high point of his celebrity in a way in creating with McColl and Seeger the enormously critically successful Radio Ballad series. And to arrive at this point, the low point of his entire career in broadcasting suddenly without explanation appears very difficult.  Now, Charles, had the Radio Ballads had been stopped - virtually I could say by decree - and Charles had been warned not to use folk music so extensively.  Now if if it was felt that he should not use Ewan McColl that was a rather oblique way of suggesting that, because McColl too was a Marxist and a well known member of the Communist Party, perhaps, perhaps I don't know why, perhaps, because I don't know whether he was member of the Communist Party, all I know is that he was a Communist. He was a writer and singer of great talent as we know, but he was always suspect and always subject to a form of surveillance in the BBC, just as all troublesome producers were, members of staff also had, we were told, symbols on their files, which indicated that they must not be put into positions in which sensitive material might pass across their desks that they had to be on. And I have no doubt that I was in that position. Charles' continuing loyalty to, and work with, Ewan McColl was set down with great disapprobation by the BBC management and by the management in Birmingham as well. There was alas no longer substantial support, all the ancient stories about Charles being a difficult and eccentric man who over used resources and extended the his his demands on the system to an enormous extent were brought out, repolished and produced again to demonstrate that really he wasn't the sort of bloke we wanted now. And all this came to a head when the mechanical arrangements of the BBC, the disappearance of his job, all the other arrangements that are normally a formal part of dealing with staff who find themselves in difficult positions or regarded as inefficient, you've got to have a mechanism obviously in any firm, where it's possible to get rid of people who are manifestly either unsuitable or incapable. Charles was neither. But the mechanism was manipulated to demonstrate or appear to demonstrate that he was. 

Philip Donnellan  23:44  

Well I won't put any further point upon it, everybody who has been a nuisance in the BBC has some experience of the way in which their reputations can be manipulated. The fact is that Charles went through all the appeals with the support of the Association of Broadcasting Staff, his union, and with tremendous support both from inside and outside and the final arbiter of his fate was Charles Curran, the Director General, perfectly reasonable on the face of it, and Curran decided that he had to go, so he went. He after, let's see he joined the BBC in 1949 and this was 1972, so however many years that is, and he'd been established most nearly all that time he was to receive a pension of £1,100 a year, and which is what £120 a week in 1972. Not a laughable sum of money but laughable in terms of what he had put into his BBC work and the devotion he demonstrated both to technique and people within and without the BBC.  And he was given a guarantee of some freelance work over the next three years in order to tide him over, an undertaking that never came to anything and he left.  With characteristic energy he immediately formed the Theatre of Actuality in Birmingham. He was still dominated by those two factors that I mentioned long ago: the oral tradition and the folk music tradition.  And he constituted a group of people in Birmingham, all sorts of people, activists from factories, men and women from all sorts of jobs and stations in Birmingham and he constituted this loosely-knit theatre.  And he at first wrote the material, created the songs, directed the shows, took part in them and so on.  Gradually as these skills were disseminated amongst his company they started to gain a high reputation for radical street theatre among a number of unions and if ever there was a point of industrial strife which, in which ideas needed to be mediated to one or both sides Charles and Banner would be there - Banner was the name of the theatre. This went on and they coped with tremendous artistic flair and energy, with innumerable subjects during the next eight years.  Charles worked himself to death and unfortunately in the end it was literally to death; he had a massive heart attack after rehearsing all day and most of the night, he was lecturing also in all the intervals.  A whole series of students at the Polytechnic Central London, the Media Department owe him an enormous amount and he died in 1980 at the age of what was it 62, 63, something like that.

Colin Moffat  27:00  

Did he get any freelance work from the BBC? 

Philip Donnellan  27:05  

As far as I know he did not.  It was discussed, he put forward ideas, they were not found acceptable.  So all the work he did after that was outside the field of broadcasting to which he had much more than I had dedicated his life and his intelligence. It's, well it's almost unnecessary for me to sum up, all I can say is that it left a nasty taste in the mouth of a great many of us who still had a residual admiration and respect for the BBC and it produced that sensation in a great many people who've never thought about the BBC until this moment

Colin Moffat  27:43  

You think it was a wrong decision do you of the BBC?

Philip Donnellan  27:46  

Yes I do.

Colin Moffat  27:48  


Philip Donnellan  27:49  

Without any question at all. If, if Charles had been properly handled, he was a difficult man but not in disciplinary terms unlike me, Charles had a very coherent and worked out set of theories about the nature of communications, the nature of cultural indoctrination, the nature of communication generally. He, my theory is that any any manager whom he had occasion to discuss or argue or confront was embarrassed by the seriousness with which Charles regarded his his role as a radio producer.  There is a vast mass of material which amply affirm the seriousness with which he regarded his work and the way in which he felt the BBC was falling down on its responsibilities to the mass audience.  It's there in the Charles Parker archive in Birmingham and all it requires to scrutinise this material are the ardent researchers of the next 25, 50, 100 years, they'll find out.  I won't answer the the question too glibly, what I will say is that throughout his career Charles demonstrated the level of loyalty to the BBC and its formal constitutional position that in my view was absolutely unequalled by any of the best producers that I associated with during my service. I think it would have been far more justifiable to question whether I was of continuing value to the BBC because I never lost an opportunity, partly out of bloody mindedness, partly out of resentment at the way people like Charles were treated and could be treated, I never lost an opportunity of firing back at the BBC anything they fired at me.  But I was, I was allowed to stay because I think I had a few highly placed strong supporters in the BBC. Whereas Charles was left naked and exposed and he was dispensed with as soon as it suited the BBC to do so. I regarded it as atrocious I'm afraid.

Colin Moffat  30:12  

Did you say that he was offered some sort of alternative by the BBC? In other words if he had agreed to produce the sort of programme which they  wanted at that moment following the broadcasting and '70s policy change he would, would have been able to stay? 

Philip Donnellan  30:29  

Yes but he, he and the Union, the advice of the Union was that it wasn't a genuine offer. Whether, whether it was and whether it could have worked out is entirely hypothetical, I'd rather not pursue that. What I do want to say in respect to my own work at this time, is having been warned not to make political programmes during the period in which Charles' apparent dismissal from the BBC was being argued out, which was a matter of months, if not, if not a year or more, I seized the opportunity to offer to the Controller of BBC Two under whose aegis I now worked, the idea of adapting as the soundtracks of films, the, some of the Radio Ballads which Ewan and Charles had created 10 years before. And all honour to Robin Scott, the Controller of BBC Two at that time, who was sufficiently astute politically to know perfectly well what I was doing, I was trying to assist and, and, and diversify the  rhetorical, the larger rhetorical actions of a great many people who were opposing Charles' dismissal by adding a cultural factor. Here was BBC Two prepared to transmit material that initiated, was initiated and created by the very man the BBC was now firing.

Philip Donnellan  31:58  

 So during 1972, '73 and early '74 I made three long films based on three of the Fishing, which won the Italia prize for McColl and Charles in 1963, I think; The Fight Game, which was an adaptation of the Radio Ballad of the same name which was about professional boxing and The Big Hewer, which was an adaptation of their Radio Ballad about coal mining. And what we did was to take the basic radio programme and create a, an often quite heavily revised form of that, but still using the original material in extenso. And we created the soundtrack of a film which was shot to accompany it. And this was a technical and artistic endeavour which I found enormously stimulating and exciting, and actually, sadly really gave me a glimpse of the potential of soundtracks, which we would never have been in a position to create for ourselves within the particular limitations of film editing within the sort of schedules that inevitably we worked. In other words, the sheer complexity that it was possible to get from recording one of the Radio Ballads and putting it against pictures, as Stuart McAllister in a sense had noted when he became interested in The Ballad of John Aksam in 1958. It produces extraordinary, contrapuntal effects of sound, music, information and visuals, which to me anyway has always been a model for the way in which documentary can move forward in exciting ways. So it was a wonderful opportunity, which, which alas it had, it was noted by the newspapers as a shot in the battle to stop Parker being fired. Well, it's its greatest effect I think was in giving us a marvellous workshop opportunity to explore the nature of a really creative soundtrack against visuals.

Colin Moffat  34:20  

 Did you start it in time to involve Charles Parker personally in this project?

Philip Donnellan  34:25  

Oh, well, yes indeed. I mean I paid him as consultant throughout a, while I did all three of them. 

Colin Moffat  34:32  

And after his dismissal?

Philip Donnellan  34:34  

After his dismissal?

Colin Moffat  34:35  


Philip Donnellan  34:35  

... and he was and he was he, of course he hadn't abandoned the tremendous skills that he had created in tape editing, extremely fine, er refined I mean tape editing, and some of the sequences in the three Radio Ballads that I mentioned he recapped specially for the, for the films.  And so I I had him as it were at my elbow, available at my elbow but he never breathed down my neck about that. And he accepted with his usual critical enthusiasm the analyses that I wrote before each of the programmes about the way I proposed to handle the thing, and exposed it to the comments of McColl and Seeger and Parker before doing anything. It was a very, very exciting job to do but, as I say sombre considering the circumstances in which it was done.

Philip Donnellan  34:40  

These were much fuller adaptations of the Radio Ballads than the one you did several years earlier, The Long Journey, yes?

Philip Donnellan  35:39  

Yes. Well The Long Journey, the the elements that I had lifted from On the Edge were really only very, very marginal and relatively unimportant. They did set a sort of tone to some areas of the film but overall out of a 60-minute film there was probably only three or four minutes, maybe five minutes of material lifted from On the Edge. Whereas in each of these Radio Ballads that I've just mentioned, out of a 60-minute soundtrack at least 35 minutes of that would have been from the original programme, although it would have been supplemented, and interleaved with material, shot sync, people talking, reconstructed moments, additional music we recorded, and Ewan wrote one additional song for The Big Hewer to bring it up to date, and so on. The thing that I would say is this, if we're talking as one inevitably must about the politics of the occasion, and I'm not talking now about the politics of Charles' dismissal, I'm talking now about the political content of the Radio Ballads, people often assume that these were politically daring, and that it was the, it was the BBC looking askance at Charles becoming politicised that eventually led to his dismissal. It's certainly true that Charles had moved very much to the left under the influence of, of McColl and he had ceased to be a Christian for example, which was overwhelmingly important to him in the earlier days.

Philip Donnellan  37:23  

 But if you listen to the Radio Ballads today, apart from the fact that they looked with enormous sympathy, and a discriminating view at the lives of working people, there was very little direct reference to any political attributes to the subject at all. For instance in The Big Hewer, a film about coal mining, there is not the word 'union', which is often thought of as quite an explosive and dangerous word in the BBC, was never used anywhere in the text of the programme. So that in essence they, I always thought of them as politically rather too neutral and I was astonished that anybody could regard them as politically dangerous. So when we set about adapting them I thought to do two things: one to, to honour the quality of the work that had gone into the original by using substantial portions of its highly complex arrangements, but also to bring them up-to-date and to provide the missing political issues, which I believe should have been present there. For instance the closure of pits, and the, and the strikes that had taken place in the coal mining industry in 1972 and 1974, long after The Big Hewer had originally been made, formed a very important part of the film version. Both those strikes '72 and '74 had led to enormously increased wage structures and job opportunities for coal miners and those figured in, very strongly in a film made for 1974. 

Philip Donnellan  39:15  

The closure of pits was also a very live issue by 1974 and the final sequence of the, of the film is focused on that fact, both by miners talking about it in 1973/74, and also by a new section of song that Ewan wrote.  In, with regard to The Shoals of Herring in the original there are three broad chapters of the original Radio Ballads singing in the fishing: the first is the world of Sam Larner, the old Norfolk fishermen and trawling under sail; the second chapter is the work of the steam drifter the coming of the steam drifter and the transformation of labour and fish catching that was possible as a result of the coming of that form of technology; the third thing is the, is the, the increasing disappearance of the herring from the north sea and the arrival of the Scots fishermen as the dominating human factor in fishing, which happened right up to the, to the 1960s.  Now I took that last chapter as the dominating structural element in the film because the extraordinary thing to me when I really began to understand contemporary herring fishing on the ground, was that the Scots fishermen from the Moray Firth, which I knew very well from my army service, the the Moray Firth and the Scottish Fishermen's Association was that nearly all the crews left their ships on the west coast of Scotland and fished in The Minch but they still lived on the east coast, where they had originally been planted years before when the herring was in the North Sea.  So every week they went across in minibuses from their homes, right across Scotland to pick up their trawlers, their diesel trawlers, and fish in the seas adjacent to the Atlantic. Now that cyclic journey of the fishermen from one side of Scotland to the other and then back again at the weekend was an exact analogy to me about the movement of herring around the British Isles, and of course it provided a ready made form for a new version of the, of the programme.  So I had no hesitation in actually shifting the elements of the original Radio Ballad around, and Charles and Ewan accepted that absolutely. It couldn't have been made if I hadn't had their assent to the things that I proposed to do.

End of Side 17

Side 18

Colin Moffat  0:01  
This is Philip Donnellan Side 18

Philip Donnellan  0:07  
The work that we were able to do in support of Charles' position of course didn't go unnoticed in Birmingham, quite naturally this is where the the these films were, were cut. And, and I think there were very serious attempts to try and put a stopper on such work by the people in Birmingham. The reorganisation of the regions had led to the appointment of a new so called English Regions Management system and this was headed by the controller of English Regions, who was a man called John Grist, whom I had known many years before when I joined Talks Department first, he was a junior producer of political programmes. And many times I've had to go and pat him on the back and say don't worry old boy, I know you're doing boring programmes and I know we're having great fun going off and doing documentaries but it won't last forever. Well, it didn't last forever, Grist was promoted, more I think because of his right wing political opinions. And I say that because often difficult to find people to promote who aren't lefties in production situations, most of the competent people are lefties, it so happened that John Grist was reasonably competent and right wing and he got promoted. 

Colin Moffat  1:36  
His views were evident in his programmes were they? 

Philip Donnellan  1:39  
I have no idea, it certainly was known to us. I have no idea whether they were, I expect he was much too sensible to allow that to happen. But he the next time I saw him years later was as Controller English Regions, and I ended up on the other side of his desk, while he he gave me the gist of his report on me for the year 1972. And I've got a copy of it here and I'd like to read you a bit, because I think it's a most extraordinary document. Though I'm not saying it's untrue, it's the tone in which it's phrased that makes it so interesting, and it's now yellowing in my files, and I hope will last for a very long time. 

Philip Donnellan  0:16  
The two films, The Shoals of Herring and Before the Masts, have added considerably to Donnellan's reputation. I'm informed that he has overcome his earlier carelessness about the control of resources, it would appear that Donnellan has sensibly reorganised himself and his work, and that he can look forward to a continuation of his career as a documentary film producer. I say this because it's clear from the records that his usefulness had about come to an end when  Controller of BBC One said he wouldn't take any more films from him. I have a suspicion that Donnellan used to belong to the Therapeutic School of Filmmakers who feel that filmmaking is for the filmmaker rather than the audience. My assessment of Donnellan is he is now very competent; he is good at putting pictures to other people's ideas, but he will always need collaboration of writers etc. in the future. I think he's probably accepted that he's not a genius. Like so many people in the English regions he suffers from professional isolation. The indulgence of management has allowed him to stay in Birmingham but he'd be better professionally if he lived and worked in a large creative department based in London, where he would have to cope with his equals and superiors in creative filmmaking. To paraphrase a friend of his (who wants enemies when you've got friends like this) quote, "The trouble with Philip is that he hides in Bridgnorth and forgets about the real world. And there's nobody in Birmingham who will knock ideas into him." Unquote. Certainly in Birmingham he's a big fish in a small sea, I'm not sure that he may not have chosen to avoid the big sea for too long, and he may have been indulged too long for his own good. I told him that when I became Controller English Regions, and Phil Sidey became Head of the Network Centre, that he must accept that Sidey was his boss and he was directly responsible to Sidey. I warned him that I would not accept any default in this area. If on the next annual reports Sidey writes in a failure to comply with this, I shall insist that Donnellan be found work away from Birmingham. It's clear from the Annual Report that Donnellan's career has been in doubt several times in the last 20 years. It is perhaps ironic that he always seems to have been saved by senior management, who have had some faith in his talent while many of his colleagues appear to wish him far away from the BBC. One can't compile a report on Donnellan without making a comment on his manner, which seems to mix a naive charm with an authoritarian arrogance. He will confess to error and stupidity with an open face and a contrite heart or speak like a district officer addressing recalcitrant native chiefs. He is a tiresome fellow who is unlikely to change in manner now as he's getting on for 50.  Of him truly may it be said that he is his own worst enemy. I doubt whether any organisation other than the BBC could have put up with him for all these years.  Signed 15th of November 1972, John Grist, Controller English Region.

Philip Donnellan  3:13  
Well, I agree that there's quite an element of truth in that and it's it's not badly expressed. And it was the same man who said that my personal file, which of course I've never read, since staff were not in those days allowed access to their personal files, and he said that my file might well have been made into a musical [LAUGHTER].  I think if if that degree of wit had sometimes been exposed instead of spleen I think it would have been much better for the personnel for the personnel department of the BBC. Anyway, there I was after the events of of those, of those programmes in which were rehashed in support of Charles faced with the prospect of working in Music and Arts in the future and a pleasant prospect it was.  And amongst the things that I was able to do because there was a sub-programme, a sub-department as it were of, of Music and Arts, which went under the name of Omnibus, I was able to do a film which I'd wanted to do, or thought of doing for a long time. Features Department, the Lawrence Gilliam department in radio had disappeared in 1964 and Gilliam had died in the same year. Now, there is a cultural phenomenon, which is not uncommon I think in as it were advanced television societies, that a great many aspects of the sort of quieter or unseen cultural life of the nation are scarcely recognised if somehow they haven't been celebrated on television. And I was absolutely sure that it was vital to somehow, and I wasn't sure how, to make a film about the Features Department. 

Philip Donnellan  7:15  
Now, Omnibus was edited by by Gavin, who was a film writer, a filmmaker in his own right, and an admirable editor; generous and open and very much in the mode of the Huw Wheldon example. And when I talked about this to Gavin, he said, "Well, fine, let's, let's have a go. You do it. Let's see how it works out." And so, in, I think it was 1977 I, I set about trying to pull together the materials which had made the sorry I mustn't call them materials, the evidence about the people, the programmes, and the attitudes that had made such an enormous difference to my early years in radio. The title Pure Radio was suggested by Barry Gavin it came from a quotation by, from an article by Lawrence Gilliam. And it obviously was quite an interesting technical problem as to how one could use radio programmes as the stuff of a television programme. Now, I'd already tried to do that in terms of the Radio Ballads but to commemorate purely sound programmes of some complexity, and enormous variety, within the framework of a single television programme without a central theme was really quite difficult. However, that it worked, was eventually reasonably manifest. One thing that pleased me enormously about it was that I was able to film the great people who had been producers in the Features Department, Gilliam was dead, but his assistant D G Bridson was still alive. He told me about the early years in Manchester, the development of actuality techniques, and so on. Reggie Smith, one of the great non-conformists of the of the Features Department; Douglas Cleverdon, one of the most formerly artistic and intellectual members of the department, and several others including a wonderful guy called Jack Dylan, who had been one of the almost mythical figures of the early days in broadcasting. 

Colin Moffat  9:58  
This is Francis Dylan is it?

Philip Donnellan  10:00  
This is Francis Dylan, yes, know as Jack to his friends.  Jack had been in the First World War and he got a dose of gas somewhere along the line which affected his vocal chords, and he had a sort of cross between a bleat and a croak as a voice, and he was full of erm a fiery and edge wit. And he also with the same voice managed to be an expert in folk song, which at the drop of a hat he would, he would command a bar, with a performance of The Foggy, Foggy Dew, or some other song, great guy.  And, of course I mustn't forget Louis MacNiece, that very cool cat from the north of Ireland, more English than Irish, actually.  Louis' programmes were a milestone in my own experience and caused me in those early radio programmes I wrote to produce a sort of quasi MacNiece style, which was quite disastrous I thought, or I think now. Now, the problem of how to be able to use as it were extracts from radio programmes were solved by my editor John Bland and myself in formulating a style in which we would select a picture, a still or a frozen frame of a piece of film, and put it into a television format on the screen, small and take it up into the corner and freeze it, and in the opposite corner, diagonally opposite, we would give the credits, writer and producer, date and title of the particular programme that we were listening to. Now, the formalisation of this style was important because otherwise we used quite a random set of techniques for matching the history of the times.  For instance, we we reconstructed a recording car, which was very important in indicating the, the original ways of recording interviews and material for features and we contrasted that then with Parker out in a factory recording with an EMI Midget. 

Philip Donnellan  12:10  
We also reconstructed a rehearsal for part of one of Louis MacNiece's programmes, and another piece about one of Henry Greene's programmes, The Stones of Pompei, in which we celebrated, for instance a wonderful radio actor Carlton Hobbs, who's playing of the lizard basking on the wall who acts as one of the narrators in the programme.  No, and all these things were derived not from my existing knowledge but from listening to surviving programmes in the archives of the BBC, and from talking to members of the Features Department. And last, but most important of all, from enlisting the support in research and scripting of David Litton, once again, who had worked with Laurence Gilliam in the Features Department for a number of years, and there was a great devotee of that period. So between us with John Bland and David Litton and myself, we, we created a celebration of radio features and in a sense, a warning, because it ended with a statement, which I have to say came from myself, because rather unusually I actually appeared in the film and narrated it to camera since I was, since I was after all a features producer. And I said that the audience, you out there have to be very conscious about what is happening in terms of the skills that radio features disposed compared with the way in which we create radio, erm television programmes today. So that was a sort of exhortatory quality about it, which critics and reviewers picked up in the papers afterwards, and labelled for some reason as a maverick performance again by this guy from Birmingham, criticising the BBC, which was certainly never my intention. I didn't mind and the management didn't mind but it was, it was a slight distortion of the purposes of the programme, which was a programme of record and a programme of celebration of the quality of work done in radio, which was then in the 1970s at a very, very low point of its, of its reputation nationally and, and in terms of its audience.

Colin Moffat  14:36  
Presumably you filmed fairly extensively inside Broadcasting House did you?

Philip Donnellan  14:41  
Yes, Yes, we did. We were allocated one of the technical areas upstairs in which we as it were set all the interviews. I hate television interviews, which have consistent backgrounds behind the speakers of their favourite books, their library, vases of flowers, gardens and all that nonsense - I find it very distracting. So we had a technical background - plugs and wires and cables - behind all of them and we were able to use in vision producers playing tape recorders, and thus giving us the opportunity to replay sections of programmes. We also celebrated the, the famous radio programme of 1944 called War Report, in which teams from Features and the News Department work together to present the whole story of the attack on north-west Europe in 1944. And we found survivors and brought them back to to the same room in the basement of Broadcasting House, which had been the bomb-proof production office, and the concert hall, of course, where they all slept.  They were great moments, it was an enormous delight to do and of course, like everything that has been worthwhile in in documentary, it was erm, it was bloody hard work. And I'm enormously grateful for the assistance of people like John Bland in making the thing, it couldn't have been a success without them, no question about that. 

Colin Moffat  16:18  
I've got a recollection that it was shot in black and white, is that right? 

Philip Donnellan  16:22  
Yeah that's right. It was as it's quite a simple decision I thought that in a sense it would give it a sort of period feel, and this was picked up by people and and I think much appreciated. We also had, we used as a narrative device the erm some of the really celebrated people in radio features Winford Vaughan Thomas was one, Alan Burgess, who was a writer, producer, and John Sharp, who was a very corpulent radio actor, much given to over expressive obscenity, but great fun if you took him into a pub. Well we went in and occupied the George, the back bar of the George, which was one of the favourite BBC pubs around Broadcasting House, and we got them to talk, seriously and stucturely, though with a great deal of frivolity in between, about about Lawrence Gilliam, and the department.  And we put all this together and threw it up in the air and down came Pure Radio, and very entertaining it was I believe. 

Philip Donnellan  17:17  
Now apart from as it were in my dotage beginning to celebrate the comrades of my past something else was obsessing me really deeply during, throughout the '70s and that was Ireland. My own family er my grandfather came from County Galway, and, and the revival of the sectarian struggle in the north, in, at the end of the '60s tended to remind one, or stimulate one to think about one's relationship as an English born Irishman. How does one cope with these problems of identity? Now, I would have liked to have taken the opportunity of going and over the years producing a series of inquiring programmes about Ireland: history, identity, about the English, the three and a half million Irish descended English people in this country and so on. I, I'm pretty sure I didn't test it because I was absolutely sure that such an activity, given the struggle in the north, would have been quite out of the question. So what I sought to do was to try and inject a concern for some areas of exploration about Ireland into other subjects. And in a crazy sort of way the first of these was when I did the adaptation of The Fight Game, the Radio Ballad of Parker's and McColl's.  The Fight, the very title of The Fight Game did suggest that somehow fighting was a game er and ...

Colin Moffat  19:36  
Was this the boxing programme? 

Philip Donnellan  19:39  
That was about boxing yes. Now in my written analysis before doing the, before setting out on the actual work of doing the, the adaptation I decided that boxing was really the acceptance by a very large number of people of institutional, or institutionalised violence, it was clearly violent, it was institutionalised in the sense that it was seen as a sport. And after all, it is still even today still a frequent element in sporting programmes on the box and yet people readily accepted that people in the 20th century, late 20th century should stand up in a ring for our entertainment and pummel each other to blood and bruises and sometimes death. And I thought why is this so different as to what the army is doing to elements of the civilian population in the north of Ireland. Now, of course, it wasn't as simple as that I knew damn well that it wasn't exactly analogous, what I sought to, to do was to provoke a thought in the minds of people who watched that film, that there were analogies of violence, which extended the mere boxing business into other areas, which accepted violence too as a mode of sport, or interest, or entertainment, or social control. Now, the argument that I've just presented is, is full of holes, and it doesn't constitute an argument, in a sense what I'm doing is explaining why I came to certain conclusions in an artistic product - in other words, the adaptation of The Fight Game. I carried this through with a certain amount of apprehension because there was at that time, and there probably still is in the BBC, an editorial rule that you couldn't use footage of the troubles as they were called in the north of Ireland, in a, in a documentary context that removed them from the news perspective. In other words they couldn't be used as comment outside that. So stupidly that was exactly what I wanted to do, so I tried to do it by a sort of conjuring trick - now you see it now you don't. So the references to that, to those forms of violence in the north were sometimes so fleeting that they scarcely existed. I mean we used machine guns firing, we used tanks crashing, we, we used soldiers advancing and the culmination of The Fight Game was a, an extraordinary adaptation by McColl of a song, The Hunting of the Wren, which is an Irish song, which, in which we, which we cut in picture to a very fast montage, which intercut boxing and matching images of conventional violence in the north as expressed in news programmes. And it was a very powerful final sequence, but it was quite inadequate to sustain the idea that I'd set off with from the beginning. And while I think the obvious dishonesty of the, of the adaptation caught the attention of the Controller of BBC Two, who had sponsored the production, and he wrote me a barbed but perfectly pleasant little note saying, Philip, I hope that the next adaptation you'll do will adhere more closely to the original text of the Radio Ballad. I thought the rap over the knuckles was totally justified, it was a an intervention, quite obvious and open and totally ineffective. Though I'm not ashamed of The Fight Game as a film due to the enormous skills of the guy who cut it, Oliver White in Birmingham, beautifully cut film, full of action, full of all the the exercises and situations in which boxers in training and in action do and somebody, somebody writing about it said that it, let's see whether I've got the reference here, no I don't think I can find it. He referred to it as having a culminating fight sequence, the big fight at the end of the film had, oh yes here were are.: Donnellan brings as nnn n, '... climaxed by a bout sequence that can stand comparison with anything Scorsese contrived for Raging Bull.' which I thought was a fair enough compliment, though it was probably the only good thing in the film apart from the editing.  However, there we are. 

Philip Donnellan  24:20  
Erm now I want to come back to this basic point that started me off on this exploration of The Fight Game and to say that I then continued to try to find ways of drawing lessons from materials which were not about the events in the north, but reflected on the relationship between England and Ireland in slightly oblique ways. Because I thought the the television audience had an absolute gut full of the events in the north of Ireland and I didn't merely want to contribute to that. I wanted to find a way of reminding people about the historical and contemporary ways in which England and Ireland either agreed or disagreed or absorbed parts of each other's culture and so on. And so over the next few years I did several programmes which took that as their sort of central theme or attempted to. And one of the most effective, I think, was that we did two programmes with the National Film Board of Canada, a co-production between the BBC and the National Film Board and, and those were about emigration. Now, emigration is, of course, one of the dominating political issues in the Republic of Ireland, most people feel deeply lacerated by the prospect of hordes of young, reasonably well educated Irish people coming over to England, leaving their own country and only contributing to the economies of England. So emigration in the 19th century was the theme, and we did two programmes: one which asked the question, Why did 10 million people leave England, Scotland and Ireland in the 19th century? And the second programme said, What happened to them when they got there? So the first one was made in Britain, in Ireland and Scotland, in England, and derived from the product of a series of advertisements that I'd put in papers all round the country, which asked families or individuals to let me know if they had any material about antecedents of theirs, family antecedents, who had left England in the 19th century and gone to America or Canada. 

Philip Donnellan  24:20  
I got an astonishing response of enormously wide variety, particularly from Scotland. And much of the material in the programme is based on family experiences, which were sent to me as a result of those advertisements. But there was another important element and that was the Irish experience today. Because the first film asking Why did 10 million people leave Britain in the, in the 19th century? was complemented by an entirely contemporary hook, which was related to the events in the north of Ireland in 1974. What I set out to do was to find a family who were leaving Belfast or Derry or the rural areas of the north today. And this was really extraordinarily difficult because most people who were leaving kept their departure very quiet indeed, because to many of the more active in the, in the events in the north it was seen as desertion from either side. So people were very cautious about saying they were leaving and going to America. But we did eventually find by, I spent some time hanging around the Canadian Information Centre where people first applied and got forms and so on, applied for transfer visas or whatever, whatever they're called, and by an absolute miracle I found a completely typical family within about 24 hours of camping on the doorstep. One of the couples who came was a taxi driver and his wife, a worker in Gallagher's the tobacco factory, one was a Catholic, one was a Protestant, and they were leaving for the same classical reasons that obtained in thousands of cases where people had left in the 19th century, because a mixed marriage, a mixture of marriage, between classes, between religions, between nationalities, invariably then and to a certain extent now leads to emigration. So we used this as the carrier wave of the whole programme. My old director colleague Sarah Boston followed the family in in the north, during the last month of their stay, the selling of the car, the children finishing at school, the farewell parties, the whole sad panoply of experiences that families who are leaving their country go through. And we intercut that with the experiences, both from those advertisements I referred to, and also from pictorial material - Illustrated London News about the Irish famine, and other material that became available.  

Philip Donnellan  24:20  
For England that historical material included stuff that came to me because of my enthusiasm for Stoke-on-Trent and the work of the Victoria Theatre.  Because they had drawn my attention in their earliest documentary about the Chartist riots in the potteries in the 1840s, they had drawn my attention to The Potters Emigration Society, which in the 1840s had, had sent people who won the lottery every week in Stoke-on-Trent had given them a free passage to the new world and more than that it had sent a representative of The Potters Union out to America to find the area, to establish title deed to it, to meet the newcomers when they arrived in the wilds on the frontier of Wisconsin, and and to to sign the title deeds to their land.  So when I went with a camera crew to the edge of Wisconsin and found what had in the 1840s and '50s been Pottersville, now renamed Moundville, I found a number of the families there had their title deeds to their present farm signed by Thomas Twigs, who was the representative sent out from Stoke-on-Trent to handle the affairs of the of the emigrants. It was a touching and very moving experience about the history of those families and there were all sorts of marvellous coincidences that happened in the making of the programme.  Well that, in the recording of the music for that programme I was working with John Faulkner and Dolores Keane and we recorded the music at the conclusion of editing in Birmingham, we went to Montreal to record the National Film Board's contribution, which was the recording of the music and the provision of the instrumentalists.  And one of the instrumentalists was a remarkable little man well-known in Canada who was a French-Canadian fiddle player called Jean Carignan.  And at the end of the recording session Johnny took us home, back to his home and we spent hours of the night listening to him talking about his life and explaining something which had dominated his music, which was that when he was a boy of 10 playing on the streets for pennies he had been called into a house and they had played him a disc of a man called Michael Coleman, who was, who was an Irish fiddle player, playing Pigeon on the Gate. And the boy had been so astonished by the sheer virtuosity of this performance that he had begged the disc and learnt from it how to play like Michael Coleman.  And from that moment at the age of 10 having learned that tune from the disc he conceived the notion, which he had maintained throughout his life in the French-Canadian community for the next 50 years, he said, "This music that we play isn't French music, it isn't French-Canadian music it's Irish music" and that made him very unpopular in, in among his community.  Well he told us this and I said, "My god we've got to make a film about this bloke it's a wonderful extension of a cultural theme about Ireland which I had no inkling of".  So I said, "You've been to Ireland of course?" and he said, "Oh no, no I've never had enough money to go to Ireland. I'd like to go to Ireland but I've never had the money I've had to work" and he'd worked as a taxi driver and various other things. So back to Barry Gavin in England, Barry immediately realising the power of the possibilities accepted the idea and a year later we got Johnny Carignan over to Ireland and we made a film with him, culminating in his appearance as guest of honour and fiddle player at The Coleman Commemoration celebration in in County Sligo.  This is what I mean I wasn't interested particularly in making straightforward ideologically loaded programmes about the the events and what I regard and regarded as imperialist domination in in the north of Ireland not at all. I was interested in trying to illuminate the complexity of the relationship stemming from music to politics to technology all sorts of things which was characteristic of that relationship and still is. So it was a further step on the way.  Then I did, I did the two programmes and Passage West, the programme on Ti-Jean. And then after a great deal of pondering about the central problems of the, of the issue between England and Ireland I thought well sooner or later i'm going to have to come to grips with the central issue which is about the army.  

Philip Donnellan  34:37  
Now I had been, I had been extremely interested in in the military from my experience in the army myself, and my father's life and and so on, and in the '50s I had written two major musical programmes about the, about a historical perspective on the Peninsular War, the British Army fighting Napoleon in Spain, and both those endorsed the role of the British soldier. Although it didn't go into any complex arguments about about the political issues surrounding him, what it, what it asked was how is it that soldiers can remain brave in action?  And the programme, the radio programme dramatised full of stirring music from marching boots and all the other sounds and noises and the rattler musketrey. It came to certain conclusions about that. It was, it got, it was the first radio programme, first major radio programme I wrote, which got a really thoughtful and commondatory reviews in the papers. And, however, between the early 1950s and the change circumstances, both in my own experience and also in Ireland of the 1970s, I felt that I should have to adopt a much more critical stance in relation to the British soldier and the British Army. The upshot of that were two films which were broadcast in 19, I never remember it was '80, or '81, but were broadcast on a Sunday evening, with a break for the news on BBC Two. They'd been reasonably well promoted, better promoted than most of my programmes, and they got a big audience. And they adopted a completely alternative view to the historical activities of the British Army to the one that is normally sponsored by the BBC, and indeed by most other television that seeks to make programmes about the British Army. 

Philip Donnellan  40:42  
Most of the working class people with whom I had had involvement, or relationships during the past 10, 15, 20 years, and I had discussed this, or around this subject with a great many of them, would have taken the view that the army was not something that they wanted to get involved in, whether in wartime they would have willingly accepted a responsibility to become a soldier or an airman or, or a sailor, and would have gone off and done their duty as bravely and as effectively as they knew how. But the idea of the army as being somehow a crucial token of a man's patriotism or a woman's regard for her family and her country, erm seemed to them quite well, I would have said quite idiotic. They knew the appalling travails that most ordinary soldiers went through in a war. So I, I adopted a perspective, which I thought would be shared, and indeed I believe is shared by a vast proportion of the people of this country, that war is a dangerous business and you don't want to get mixed up in it. Now, I know that's a perfectly straightforward view that anybody can support, but more than that, they knew that when they, their people, their like, their class compatriots got involved in war it was they who suffered numerically, by far the greater and usually the conditions under which soldiers had to fight were absolutely appalling. I'm not saying, of course as I'd been an officer myself I knew perfectly well that officers shared the dangers, the squalor, and the discomfort equally with the men, but there were more ordinary soldiers than there were officers. 

Philip Donnellan  40:42  
So, in making the programme I set out to try and reflect the experience of ordinary soldiers from the Battle of Waterloo right up to the present day. And the present day, of course, was the role of the army in the north of Ireland at the time the film was shot in 1979/1980. The representation of that history was not a profoundly difficult matter since there is a vast amount of material in all sorts of forms about the operations of soldiers in the development of the Empire, and right through to the present day. So, as had been my wont in other complex programmes I took a central theme, which was related to the experiences of three young men who join the army at the beginning of our research period. And we followed those soldiers through their training, it was much, much longer than we expected, through their training until they emerged and joined their regiment, the Welsh Regiment, on the streets of Armagh. Now, I knew from the beginning that my alternative perspective on on the British army would inevitably, especially in the context of Ireland, prove to be a matter of bitter contention, and I had no real expectation that the programme would be transmitted. But with the support of Barry Gavin and the other technical people who, who played their parts in shooting the material, but who had no, obviously, no organisational responsibility for the material, I set out to make the film to the very best of my ability. I don't really know, short of talking for four and a half hours about this, what I ought to say about it, and I think I'd value your observations about this. 

Colin Moffat  41:24  
The was the, you confined yourself to British soldiers did you, this was not about soldiers in general around the world? 

Philip Donnellan  41:33  
Well the the central motif was, of course, the experience of the British soldier. But in my first 25 page analysis of the subject, which was distributed confidentially within the, within the BBC to the heads of my department and to executive producer and so on, I made absolutely clear that I could not make the assumption that the British soldier alone suffered from the wars in which he was engaged. So I tried to create a, a motif, which emphasised the role of the enemies against whom the British soldier fought. And although I think that that was very coherent and sensible, I think, I don't think that in the shooting of it, it worked sufficiently well. And inevitably, the failure of that as it were balancing factor within the programme didn't have its proper effect, and certainly, it it opened the programme to criticism when it went out that we had denigrated the British soldier. Now, I am deeply conscious, and always was, of the quality of the British soldier, after all, I'd known them well and been one myself, and and the last thing I wanted to do was to was to somehow decry the quality, morality and the patriotism of British soldiers. That was absolute nonsense, and it certainly wasn't part of my theme, but it's very widely interpreted like that, by people who were critical of the programme.

End of Side 18

Philip Donnellan Side 19

Colin Moffat  0:00  

Philip Donnellan side 19.

Philip Donnellan  0:05  

Now, the other elements, structural elements in the programme er were deeply important obviously, and they came from the tradition, which Charles and I had created, or which I had to a certain extent adopted from Charles's pioneering work over the years, supplemented by certain embroidery of my own, which were in the field of oral testimony, and the musical tradition. Now er the film was, the music for the film was going to be, and, and was soda songs within the, within the folk tradition. The person who handled the music was Sandra Kerr, an old associate and long involved in the folk, in the folk revival, and a brilliant instrumentalist and performer herself. The second element, the, the oral testimony, which dominated the soundtrack, in fact, the soundtrack was virtually made up of two components, the voices of British soldiers, and the music and songs that they sang, music they made and the songs they sang.  Now, the oral testimony was derived from a vast range of books, diaries, manuscripts, which I had read during the preceding year, and from which I had selected passages to provide a an overall narrative about the soldier's life across that long period from 1850 to 1980. Now, who was going to record them? Who were these voices? How would one characterise them? Well, in, the last time I had used that direct form, although I'd used it marginally also in Passage West, the last time I have used that form direct was in Lords of India years before, and I'd used actors and actresses to read the material. I wasn't terribly happy about that and the opportunity for finding a new way of handling that sort of material came with Parker's work on a film with, on a radio programme which he called the la, sorry, I really am either too old or getting rather dry ...

Colin Moffat  2:53  

Oh do you mean The Long March of Everyman?

Philip Donnellan  2:55  

No I don't mean The Long March of Everyman. I mean a programme that Charles did before that called, I Must Just Tell the Queen Victoria, which was a programme about the Children's Employment Commission of 1842.  In which the report contained the verbatim accounts of children from various villages in the industrial areas, describing to the members of the Commission how they lived and worked in the situation in which they were set. Charles found this material, he edited it, and he went back to the villages from which these children had come, because they all described names and addresses. And he found children in those villages who read the material in exactly the same vernacular as the original, and the effect of this was absolutely so powerful and so moving. And without a second thought, I had I adopted that technique and used it in a number of programmes. And it was quite clear to me that in Gone for a Soldier or as it was, at first chord, The Common Soldier that we would, we would use that technique and that it, it meant an immense job of recording when we finally selected the the quotations, which would form the bulk of the soundtrack. 

Philip Donnellan  4:14  

Now, the the process of shooting ... No, I think perhaps I ought to start with the, the the process of research. In seeking out the oral testimony of soldiers, after all an awful lot of it was printed words, which are never very effective when rendered as spoken words, but there was quite a lot of material which I reckon would be available in terms of letters, and manuscript material and diaries. And I was quite right. Because after I had circulated about 25 of regimental museums, I chose them fairly arbitrarily at first because I thought I could always cast the net a second time, now this form of research continued the tradition of advertising material, which I'd used in two previous programmes not Just the Passage West but another one that I'd done earlier.  And from the regimental museums I asked for advice about the manuscripts that they had in relation to various campaigns that interested me for the programme.  And I subsequently went round all those museums and I found not only that sort of testimony, written testimony of diaries and manuscripts, but I also found a vast amount of material: uniforms, medals, souvenirs of various sorts, shot and shell rifle and musket and bayonet, which were in the hands of these museums and related quite specifically to the campaigns. So it was quite obvious that if I went back to many of these museums I could find examples of the sort of things soldiers wore, were decorated with or carried into battle.  There's a marvellous example of this in a visit to the Dorset Regiment Museum in Dorchester. 

Philip Donnellan  6:17  

I had been pondering over the problem of how to represent the way in which the army most brutally punished its soldiers right up till the 1870s, which was by flogging or branding in the event of certain misdemeanours.  If soldiers were deserted they were branded with the letter D for deserter under their left armpit, and for normal, more normal misdemeanours they were flogged - anything from 10 to 300 lashes, which weren't deferred or suspended they were bloody well given them and 1000s survive this this sort of torture.  How could I represent that treatment of the soldier? Clearly I wasn't going to do what Tony Richardson did in The Charge of the Light Brigade that memorable and remarkable film, which was to recreate a genuine flogging, I mean didn't flog the actor but it looked like it. I clearly wasn't in that sort of market, I had to handle this material in a documentary way, which meant by appealing to the imagination and by providing evidence without brutalization or without the titillation that might accompany such a naked demonstration of brutality.  

Philip Donnellan  8:14  

So what we did, I got a young friend from the town where we lived who was out of work and I said you want a day filming and he said great.  And he came to Pebble Mill and down in the cellars at Pebble Mill, the BBC headquarters in Birmingham, there was a long empty corridor, so we stuck him up in the cross position up against the end wall of the of the corridor.  And, now the cross position I ought to say is the position in which soldiers put suspects for searching, it's very noticeable in news handling of the events in the north of Ireland. If you've got a if you've got an Irish suspect you bang him up against the wall, fingertips against the wall, kick his legs out as far as they'll go so he's absolutely unable to do anything, and then you give them a going over, kick him in the goolies if necessary and tell him, and send him on his way if there's nothing suspicious on him.  I've seen that happening, fortunately it hasn't happened to me, perhaps the BBC would have liked to have done that to me once or twice.  So we put him in this position against the wall and we then painted on his back eight stripes for the eight lashes of the cat, oh nine it is, cat-o'-nine tails, so it's nine lashes.  I had a makeup assistant standing by with a box of colours and we, she just painted on his back nine stripes across his back every so often, and we did a separate shot of nine, and then nine more different colours cross the other way, and so on and so on until his back was a gleaming mass of different coloured stripes.  There was no intention to replicate the appearance of a mutilated back, but in actual fact by the time he'd had 25 stripes his back was a shining mass of scarlet, black, blue, green and yellow painted stripes and it looked absolutely horrifying.  

Philip Donnellan  10:02  

What we then did in the, in the final analysis, in the editing, was to cut these shots together and to use over them a personal account of a flogging from a man called Alexander Somerville in the Scots Grey's stationed in Birmingham in 1824. Alexander Somerville had written to one of the Birmingham newspapers in, on a political subject, and he was he was brought up and given 100 lashes. He gave an extraordinary description, which was written down in a book he subsequently wrote. And I recorded that with a Glasgow voice, I think it was, and it was, it was cut to fit the pictures. At the same time in this Dorset Regiment Museum, I'm sorry for that digression but I'm coming back to the point, in the Dorset Regiment Museum I found this extraordinary branding machine. So are, in our shooting shedule we arrived at the Dorset Regiment Museum, the the assistant cameraman was used as an actor, quite improperly I'm quite sure, took off his shirt, stood to attention, I played the hands and tunic of the sergeant major and er, which was needed because you paint a black D on the soldiers skin before you press this barbarous brass instrument against it, and released the prongs of the instrument, which tattoo the man instantaneously and with great pain. And we fudged that so that it looked as though it was happening, and we shot that in that way in that museum. And we did, we did the medals in the, in another museum in Nottingham, and so on. So as we went round we accumulated an enormously diverse selection of material. And we ended up I think, at the National Army Museum in Chelsea and, and we, we filmed a very large number of military prints and so on. 

Colin Moffat  12:10  

Did you ever again, have any difficulties getting army co-operation? In view of what the programme was, what sort of programme it was?

Philip Donnellan  12:22  

No we didn't, I didn't tell them what they are, what the programme was, was going to be. I have to say that I felt very apprehensive about this, and I didn't like, I didn't like doing it, but it would quite clearly have have invited an absolute rejection if I'd said this programme is going to explore the the army flogging system or the system of punishments, or it's going to do this or that. So I had written a perfectly open letter to them in the first instance, I discussed with a number of curators what I was looking for, and I was fairly specific about these requests later on, when I visited the place, and and that satisfied them.  Only in one place, which was the Shropshire Light Infantry Museum in Shrewsbury, did the curator, much to my alarm say, "You are not connected with a BBC programme called The Vanishing Army are you?" And so I said  quite truthfully, "No, I've never heard of it." He said, "We have had an instruction from the Ministry of Defence that we are not to allow any support or collaboration with a production of that title." So I said, "No, I've never heard of it. I'm doing a programme called The Common Soldier" and so there was no more discussion. I found later, I later saw that programme and it was a drama, which was about a sergeant major in in a contemporary regiment, it was connected with the north of Ireland, it seemed to me reasonably harmless. But no, in answer to your question, the the army was deceived by me, in most instances they gave us their full cooperation, and while I had a guilty conscience, I did think the means was justified by the end, whether I'm right or wrong is,  can be a matter of her argument, but that's what I did. Now ...

Colin Moffat  14:41  

In what terms did you describe the programme, you must have had to say something in what, what the main thrust of it was?

Philip Donnellan  14:46  

I can't, I can't recall the exact terms but almost certainly what I would have, after all wouldn't have written a long letter to each of the museums, but what I would have said is we are reviewing, we are creating a programme called The Common Soldier, which is charting the experience of the common soldier from 1815 to the present day.  This will be a collage of regimental material which will express the following campaigns, because I wanted to specify the campaigns in order to seek their assistance from their own materials, and whether any of that was relevant. I would have said, we should be exploring the following campaigns, I'm particularly interested in oral testimony from letters or diaries, but I'm also concerned to find materials that may er be in your possession from from these campaigns or similar, and I'd be most grateful if you can let me know whether etc, etc.  Then I would have discussed with the curator on the spot when I visited the place whether we might come and film, and there would have been undoubtedly some sort of verbal exchange about the the nature of the programme. And I would have pursued my basic theme and, and said well, what we're trying to explore in as many facets as possible, is the experiences good or bad, in action, in peacetime in camps and barracks, with wives or families, in relation to discipline, in relation to death, wounds, all the other factors of the ordinary soldier. Now, the first cavil that came my way at that was from the recruiting authorities, no it wasn't, it was from the army Public Relations Department through whom all our approaches have to be made.  They said, did we really have to call it The Common Soldier? After all, the soldier isn't common nowadays. Now, of course, I meant the common soldier in almost in the 19th century or 18th century sense that soldiers lived and were recruited, lived and fought in common. I certainly didn't mean that he was an ungentlemanly, or yobboyd type of soldier but that was the way the army read it and I understood that there was this difficulty. Now, I certainly didn't want to get into any hassles about the title of the programme.

Philip Donnellan  15:38  

So you mean of course, private soldiers don't you? Other ranks as they say? Primary?

Philip Donnellan  17:29  

Yes. The Common Soldier was the title for an ordinary what the Americans would call an enlisted man. But in England it was always the the ordinary soldier was always called the common soldier.

Colin Moffat  17:43  


Philip Donnellan  17:44  

The non-commissioned common soldier, but, including NCOs - non-commissioned officers, sergeants, corporals, and so on. Oh yes I mean, there was no, I might have ignored that temporarily but of course, it was quite clear to the people that I was talking to who were all used to military parlance. 

Philip Donnellan  18:06  

Now, the central problem of handling the, the, the experience of the recruits as they went through their training was, was money and time. The, the recruit shedule was something like 28 weeks training, plus intermittent odd leaves, which brought it up to about 36 weeks. The schedule for my film, although it had no precise transmission date, was I think about six, six or eight weeks research, perhaps four weeks shooting, because it was always seen as two 50-minute films, and six weeks each, 12 weeks editing for the two basic programmes with a couple of weeks for dubbing opticals and so on. Now, that extended the, the my schedule right outside the norms, and the length of the of the training period, and it was vital to cover it. At first, I was pressed by my executive producer to take different soldiers, merely to take whatever soldiers were at different stages of their training. But I insisted, not being absolutely sure, but I did insist at the time, and I was very glad afterwards that I did, that we should take the same soldiers right the way through, and I'm very glad that I did that. Now, they were Welsh soldiers for the simple reason that all the statistics of recruitment, which I went into with the army recruitment branch, did indicate that South Wales was the the most land, most liberal area for recruits. In other words it was the most decayed area in terms of other jobs. And there were all sorts of analogies, historical analogies that came to mind over this. 

Philip Donnellan  20:25  

But it did mean that when I looked for basic recruits, I went to the recruiting Centre in Cardiff, and the three soldiers, the three recruits that we got eventually and that we saw through the whole process, where soldiers from Merthyr Tydfil, or recruits from Merthyr Tydfil, they were trained at Brecon. I couldn't conceivably cover their, their training and it was extremely lucky that that moment, somebody else came into my life quite by chance, a recommendation from a colleague, Steven Peat, who had met a young man who was very anxious to get a foothold in, in making films. His name was Richard Watkins, and he lived at Cwmbran very near Brecon, and he was also a camera man, as well as a potential director. So I said, offering him terms which I couldn't conceivably have honoured myself in doing the same scale of job, I said, Richard, I'll give you 10 rolls of film, and you cover that 36 weeks or whatever it is, with that film. Now, he was absolutely delighted of the opportunity, he did a wonderful job on it. For instance, one of the, one of the elements that for some reason I can't remember the, my motive now, I had written into the earliest sketch scenario of the of the film was the nonsense song, the military nonsense song although it is also heard in the Royal Air Force in different versions, Sylvest: Oh, my brother Sylvest, etc, etc, etc. Songs are often, the words are often obscene, but not always. So Sandra Kerr had had duly researched Sylvest, the tune, there was an authorised version of the words that we put together and so on, and that was as it were part of the doctrine that was being written down into the programme, certainly into our minds. 

Philip Donnellan  22:22  

Richard Watkins starting to film the young recruits went to film the, the, the farewell party of this young man, whose name was Lyons, which is, of course, an Irish name, and his family were Irish immigrants. And he, he had a great party in a local pub, everybody was there.  And Richard rang me up afterwards. and I said, "How'd it go?" And he said, "Fantastic!" He said, what was his name Trevor? Let's call him Ken the, the recruit, "Ken sang a song." So I said, "Oh, well, so what? That's not surprising." He said, "No, but do you know what he sang? He sang Sylvest."  Well, of course, I was staggered, it reminded me of Jennings, Humphrey Jennings, the famous filmmaker, going to research a film and finding that the ship that he was looking at in Sunderland, or Newcastle or somewhere, was called Empire Glory, or something like that ...

Colin Moffat  23:31  

British Genius.

Philip Donnellan  23:31  

British Genius that was it and, and it's so entirely fitted in with the theme of the programme that Jennings was researching. In the moment Richard said that to me I suddenly thought this is, this is one of those sort of acts of God that happened to the well-intentioned programme maker. Anyway, I mustn't itemise these highly complex areas in advance I'll just mention I think one or two particular issues. One of the one of the elements that I had postulated my original treatment was that we should look at one battlefield, that one of the elements in the in the in the film should be a battlefield. And the one I chose was Gallipoli. And I chose it because my father fought at Gallipoli with the South Staffordshire Regiment and I had a profound emotional contact with the campaign about which I'd read quite a lot. And in a way I very much wanted to see it and it was it's such a remote battlefield. So untouched that when I took a film crew there, in the I suppose it must have been the autumn of 1979, it was the most extraordinary and in a way moving and horrifying experience that I think I've ever had in that sort of way.  In one of the great base areas of the British front line there is a very deep sandy ravine running for miles across the country.  It's known as Gully Ravine and there are innumerable photographs of Gallipoli in which Gully Ravine is revealed as being the place where stores were gathered, where soldiers played football, where they were able to rest and sleep for a time, it was a focal point in the British lines.  And we walked down Gully Ravine and the edges of the battlefields nearby and we found relics of the battle: bones and and shrapnel balls and cartridge cases and bits of equipment, broken and twisted rifles, a boy was driving a herd of goats waving something and when I went up to try to speak to him I found that it was the remains of an old British entrenching tool.  

Philip Donnellan  23:31  

All these sorts of things gave a ghostly quality to the whole experience, and speaking for myself since I'd always believed that for a very long time it gave a ghastly reality to the appalling waste that is characterised by war.  And when I thought of the world from which these kids messing about in Gully Ravine and being cut down by Turkish guns I thought of, I thought of the world they came from and I knew that Gone for a Soldier had a real meaning not just for me but for 1000s of other people who were unmoved by images of military glory and they knew what it was about.  So I think my intentions were reinforced by that by that battlefield. While we stood there in Gully Ravine, the camera man, sound recordist and me and perhaps a Turkish interpreter I forget, suddenly we heard guns, deep rolling thunder of guns. I couldn't, it was quite amazing it was almost like a replay, and we listened and we said oh it's thunder and we listen again it was quite unlike thunder which has a very characteristic pattern of sound, it sounded like guns and we stood there in Gully Ravine, and I mean the hair was rising on the back of my neck I just, I didn't know what to think or feel suddenly I was back in 1915.  And with, certainly in my case palpitating hearts we climbed up the side to try and find out what it was; there were huge black clouds approaching from the south and it was clearly a distant thunderstorm but it was an amazing moment.  I find a, I went out before very early one morning and walked across the landscape I knew it from the maps and the accounts very well indeed. I found an old Turkish farmer sowing seed broadcast across the, across a field of, a boney rough field, indeed it was boney as i walked across to go and say good morning to him I found a human thigh bone lying in a furrow, I found a jaw bone lying in a puddle at the entrance to Gully Ravine, the flashes off, the soldiers' regimental flashes, a half rusted tin, miraculously preserved Players cigarettes stuck up in, half sticking out of the ground. And we played around with the camera in that place and and then disappeared back to begin our tour in England of the regimental museums.

Philip Donnellan  23:39  

Can I ask you this, I only saw the programme once, did you include interviews with present day soldiers at all giving their views of of being a soldier or was that outside the scope?

Philip Donnellan  28:41  

I started to tell you and then digressed in my characteristic rambling way, I started to tell you half an hour ago about about how i was going to represent the enemy, I made a criticism of that and never actually got to the point of saying how this was integrated into the form of the film. I used actual witnesses, I got national witnesses. I used, I got a, because it was 187, because it was 1979 when I started it, I thought, of course about the Zulu War, which was 1879. And I thought also of the 800 Welsh soldiers who were killed at the Battle of Isandhlwana  by the Zulu in January or February of that year. And it so happened that there was a big book about the Zulu War, under the title of The Red Soldier, which came out that year, which I'd read, and there were letters from, from Welsh soldiers in it, reproduced in it. And so, the Zulu War was a very crucial area of, of our research, and two things relate to that, first, that the first of our enemy witnesses was a Zulu soldier. We actually shot that in the middle of the Black Country, not inappropriately [LAUGHTER] you might say, for no reason, except that I found a bit of greenery that looked exactly like a hill in, in South Africa. I found a Zulu soldier and a Zulu account by the Zulu, a company of black actors from South Africa had come over, I forget the title of the company, had come over to England several years before and I'd seen their performance in a number of South African or African plays. And when I found that I wanted a Zulu in the film I made contact with this company and asked if any of them were Zulus. And fortunately two of them were, and I got one of them to play the role of a Zulu warrior. Now, his role was actually to speak direct to camera a story written down by a missionary, a Zulu speaking English missionary, in 1880, who had gone to the site and talk to Zulus who had taken part in the massacre. And this was written down in one of the books that I read, I copied it out and found that there was a Professor of Zulu, no not a Professor of Zulu  but a Professor of African Languages at Oxford, who actually was a Zulu. And I probably got this fact a bit, a bit dented, but more or less, that was the and she translated this English account back into Zulu for me. And so, my Zulu actor had to perform this account of the massacre and his involvement in it, which was written down in that account, direct to camera.

Colin Moffat  33:10  

The massacre of ...

Philip Donnellan  33:11  

The massacre of Isandhlwana, of the of the South Wales borderers by the Zulu, an unexpected attack in enormous force on on a comparatively small body, one battalion and a bit, about 800 men. Suddenly, in the morning the rest of the force under Lord Chelmsford had moved off in a punitive expedition to a slightly remote area. Down the river gorge was Rorke's Drift, and in the mountain, under the mountain was the British camp, and the Zulus attacked in their characteristic horn formation, two horns encircling the camp, and they killed everybody in it. And then they stormed off chasing one or two who escaped capture, I mean cutting them down before they finally escaped, and then getting to Rorke's Drift, where all the drunkards and the dropouts and the delinquents from the battalions had been left behind as a punishment. And they resisted, I mean the story is well-known it has been told in the film Zulu, and these ne'er do wells all got the VC, drunken Irish soldiers and dotty Welsh delinquents, and they all resisted the Zulus until the breaches of their rifles were red hot and the British relieving force arrived and they all got awarded the VC.  Marvellous way of getting the VC!!

Philip Donnellan  34:40  

Anyway, now what my Zulu actor had to do was to speak this account as passionately as he could, but he had to do something else as well. He was wearing a an everyday and contemporary zip-fastened anorak and my idea in, for each of these people was for them to start as ordinary people, they were actors, you didn't know they were actors until they started to speak but you knew they were contemporary people because they were wearing either contemporary costume or the opposite. If that sounds a bit oblique I'll explain. Now the Zulu was wearing this red, red and green anorak, he started his story and it was translated with subtitles, and as he launched into the story it was obvious from the story that this man speaking was one of the warriors involved in the fight. He stripped off his anorak and out of frame left and right he brought in a Zulu spear and a characteristic black and white shield, so he suddenly transformed himself under your eyes into a Zulu warrior, and it was this technique that we tried to develop for each of the witnesses. 

Philip Donnellan  37:14  

First of all they had to speak an authentic, an authentic account of a particular battle in their own language, which revealed the fact that they too were victims of this appalling process of kill or be killed; secondly they either wore contemporary costume and stayed in, or they wore elements of of costume of the period and changed under your eyes.  For instance the German witness that I filmed, and that too was filmed in a ruined building out on the edge of the railway line near, in the middle of the Black Country, he wore a German helmet and, and a 1916 gas mask, a German respirator.  And he started to speak appearing through a great cloud of smoke, he comes into shot and you see this German helmet and the respirator and he takes them off and he's wearing a sports jacket and a polo neck sweater.  So that the transformation from one perception of the actor to another perception of the actor was completed under your eyes.  The French soldier, because the first witness was a sergeant of the Imperial Guard at Waterloo, for the final stage of the Battle of Waterloo the French Imperial Guard attack on the centre of the British line, which could have been the final Napoleonic stroke, which would have rolled-up the British army, was defeated by a British regiment moving out of line and attacking the Imperial Guard in the flank and sending them flying.  And I found an account of this from a sergeant of the Imperial Guard, and we shot this on the top of a remote Shropshire hill, Brown Clee, which provided exactly the sort of torn landscape that I thought that was perhaps characteristic of Waterloo. 

Philip Donnellan  38:20  

 I put my man in in ordinary clothes and he gradually assumed the uniform of the Imperial Guard as he spoke, as he gave his account he he he put on a gold earring, which all the Imperial Guard wore, he put on the tunic of the Imperial Guard and he ended with the cuirass, and by the end of his account he was wearing the uniform and the weapons of the, of an Imperial Guard sergeant.  And the final witness, oh no there was an American witness who'd fought for the Boers in the battle in at Elandslaagte in the Boer War, and he was in ordinary clothes but carrying a rifle, which I'd borrowed from the Shropshire Light Infantry Regiment in Shrewsbury, which was a Mauser carbine carried by a Boer soldier who was killed at Elandslaagte, and and he he carried that throughout his account, which was again straight to camera from a letter sent to an American newspaper in 1900.

Colin Moffat  39:15  

What sort of things were these so called enemies saying, can you sum that up?

Philip Donnellan  39:21  

The Imperial Guard sergeat was was describing with terrible dismay and poignancy how the English soldiers came down on them from the flank and destroyed them.  He starts by describing how they marched into position and how they saw the Emperor on their way up to their final positions, but it ends with the account of of how they were destroyed by the by the by this British regiment coming through the smoke at them.  The Zulu, of course, described the massacre of these, of the Redcoats at Isandhlwana; and and the American soldier described how the Fifth Lancers killed Boers who'd surrendered at the Battle of Elandslaagte; the the German described trying to shoot a British soldier in a sunken road - how he meets a German, a British soldier in a sunken road during an attack and he tries to shoot him and he couldn't, and and he leaves him and goes on and the British soldier goes off in the opposite direction. And the final witness was a young woman from the north of Ireland describing how as an IRA soldier she had been captured by a British patrol who didn't know that, that she was a woman. She had been shot, and she was thrown into the back of a Saracen armoured car, and suddenly her clothes were disturbed, they realise it's a woman and a fountain of blood shot out of her to the roof of the of the armoured car. And we shot that in the top room an ordinary terraced house in Birmingham looking out of the window. 

Philip Donnellan  41:18  

Now, now, all of these were designed to show soldiers in pursuit of their trade. But they were designed to show enemy soldiers in pursuit of that trade and their interaction with the enemy, whoever the enemy was, whether it was Zulus and British, whether it was British and French, whether it was British and Boers and so on. Now, I'm not sure, I think the actual device as a documentary device, trying to be honest not pretending that our actors were anything but what they were, but putting them in dramatic circumstances, and trying to maintain but without being able to say it, the integrity of the accounts they gave, one had to rely on the, on what I hoped would be the oral integrity of all the material in the programme, preceded by the titles which said these are from accounts and so on, so on, so on.

Colin Moffat  42:18  

Where you able to or would you have been allowed to film modern soldiers talking about war and so on? And their feelings about ...?

Philip Donnellan  42:28  

Yes, I'm quite sure that I would have been able to, of course, the opening of the programme is the is the General inspecting the Passing Out Parade at the Rifle Brigade Barracks in Winchester. And that triggers off the the Sylvest song and the whole start of the whole programme. Yes, it didn't occur to me to do that. I did not want to introduce direct actuality into the thing.  One of the problems in handling historical material in programmes has always seemed to me that so many history programmes are characterised by the progress of the history programme coming to a point where photography becomes available and then things are seen in photographs, and then film becomes available and everything starts to move, then sound recording becomes available and you get actuality accounts, and so on, which I think is a rather mechanistic way of handling history. So, in Lords of India what I tried to do was to give a common relationship to the whole period from 1603 to 1947. And in Soldier I tried to give a formal unity to all the material, there is film in 1815, just as there is in 1980, and there are stills in 1980 and actuality, just as there are in 1850 during the Crimean War. So I tried all the time to blur the distinctions between modes of representation.

Colin Moffat  44:00  

But the programme did deal in part with present day scenes, you were talking about recruiting scenes. And yet you didn't interview any of those people?  Is that right?

Philip Donnellan  44:07  

No,no I didn't, I didn't talk to them. What I did was to see them in relation to one event. Now I had to be circumspect about the demands I made on their training time, it would genuinely have put a considerable level of tension into the relationship, straight away into the relationship between the production team and the army if I'd made any serious demands on their time, which is exceedingly well-filled during their training period. Now, of course, I could have filmed them during their leave periods but I didn't want to. One thing I did ask the army was if this platoon of soldiers, amongst whom are our three recruits, could go to a visit, which had been until quite recently in their training schedule, had been quite normal for all training platoons were taken to the regimental museum at which Isandhlwana and the Zulu War were central to the materials with which they were faced. So I said I would like to, I would like to, the platoon to attend the museum there and we would like to film that encounter of the soldiers with the events of the Zulu War, which at the time when I ...

End of Side 19

Side 20

Colin Moffat  0:02  

Philip Donnellan Side 20

Philip Donnellan  0:06  

In general, I've made a few demands on the army as I possibly could, I realised the pressures they were under and I didn't want to get into a tangle with them. But what I did ask the army was that the platoon, which included our recruits, should pay a visit to the Regimental Museum at at Brecon, because in there was represented the regiments involvement in the Zulu War. And, as I think I've already explained, I hoped that this film was going to be transmitted in 1979, which was the anniversary, the centenary of the Zulu War. So, as far as possible, both in explaining the programme to the public relations people through whom we worked, in deferring to some of the demands that they made such as the title, in playing ball with the recruiting people in Cardiff, and in not interfering in any way with the way in which the training programme of the army was, was being included in the film, all I could do then was to hope that the recruits or recruit that we were focusing on, was sent at the end of his training to the battalion of the regiment that was in the north of Ireland.  There was another battalion in the regiment in Germany and it was perfectly possible that he might be sent to Germany, in which case my underlying, my hidden agenda, which was the film was about Ireland, would be very dangerously threatened. However, I was fortunate and the soldiers we were interested in were posted to the battalion in Armagh, in the north of Ireland, and we went there to film them at work as trained soldiers. 

Philip Donnellan  1:51  

Now, I think I ought to say something at this point about the completion of the programme, because bringing together all this highly complex mass of material demanded a particular sort of, sort of discipline from both of us - the film editing side and, and my involvement with the editing. Erm it was fairly clear the overall structure of the film, and day by day I would feed the editor with sequences, but I would also feed him with notes of sequences, but I would also feed him with something else. You'll remember that the composition of the soundtrack, which was absolutely crucial, was based on quotations, and somehow we had to get those quotations in a form in which both there in duration and tone, they would be put into a cutting copy, so the editor and I could assess the overall pace, rhythm, tone, feeling and intelligibility of the thing. So I recorded all the quotations that I thought were relevant. Day by day, I would record er record in a variety of dialects, sometimes extremely comically, but taking the quotations at the tempo with which I would want an actuality speaker to record them. And I would hand these tapes over to the editor, and he would use them, transferred to magnetic stock, he would use them as an element of the of the cutting copy for the compilation of the programme. And this worked very satisfactorily. The only problem was that as we were working on 16mm film, and the films when they were completed 100 and, 100 odd minutes, there were a great many opticals during the things since there were dynamic movements of frame in certain places in the film. And these took a most God awful amount of time to get satisfactorily through the labs, added to which we had silly little problems, which were related to the two basic colours which obtrude into the film, which is of course khaki, and red - scarlet. And we had enormous problems in getting the colours right, khaki is, seems to be quite a simple colour but in fact, it's highly variable and you've got to get the right colour. So endlessly, it took months, literally months to get er those cutting copies through the through the labs and through the optical departments. 

Philip Donnellan  4:30  

Now, while this was going on, there were two events in the north of Ireland, which made life pretty difficult for for the BBC, and in particular for this for this production because I think it's only fair to remind you that despite our intentions to complete the film as a routine production, I was absolutely sure that there would be attempts of official or BBC interference with it in due course, however late that happened. I just did not believe that a statement of this sort could get through the mill, the filter of formal and official controls without interference. So I was deeply wary and very concerned that, that our efforts should, should mete the success, because you must also remember that, that none of us involved with the production thought that this programme was deeply subversive. We we believed, and I still believe, that it did incorporate feelings and attitudes, which are very common in this country, in all classes, about the nature of the military experience. No parents in this country really want their sons to go into the army and serve in the north of Ireland. They know the appalling conditions that exist. They know the stress and strain and danger that that are the soldiers lot in the north of Ireland. And they have no desire to see their children in in that sort of danger in a situation that is not a war and has no relation to the might and importance of the, of Britain as the Falklands War and of course more recently the Gulf War, was legitimately a part of an army's role.  The question really is, and it's understood very well by soldiers and by parents that, that the role of the army in the north of Ireland is nothing but an attempt to hold down a country. Now, whether they're right or wrong I'm sure that most soldiers know perfectly well and realistically that that is the case, of course, not publicly acknowledged but nonetheless it's true. So, we wanted this programme to get through, but I have the gravest doubts about it. And these events that I've just referred to were the the death of Lord Mountbatten from a bomb explosion, destroyed his his yacht and killed him - an IRA bomb, and the killing of 18 British soldiers at Warren Point not all that long after. These made any approach to the British Army's presence in the north of Ireland, and indeed the whole Anglo-Irish debarcle, no, that's not quite the right word, the relationship between England and Ireland more tense than ever. However, we did complete the editing, although providing a viewing copy, given the problems that we had with the picture, were pretty difficult. But the film then went through the standard BBC processes: that is it was seen by the head of my department, who made a great many comments about it, which I received with I won't say pleasure, but with certainly they were all relevant and useful debating points and most of them were met. We amended the film in all sorts of ways ...

Colin Moffat  7:56  

Which department were you in at that point? 

Philip Donnellan  7:58  

I was in the Music and Arts Department and the head of that department was Richard Somerset-Ward and we we had a very friendly relationship.  And with Bill Morton, the executive producer, we made certain amendations to the programme which were entirely legitimate and entirely improved its value as a as a piece of filmmaking. The next stage was that it should be seen by Brian Wenham, who was the Controller of BBC Two an ex-current affairs man who had been Controller of BBC Two for about a year perhaps, and with whom er I was on very good terms. Brian saw it, he thought it was a powerful piece of work he, he queried certain background facts about the research and how had I established that certain statements that appeared to be made, or juxtapositions of comment and material and so on were valid, and I reassured him on those points. 

Philip Donnellan  8:08  

The next stage that the programme went through was to see the Director of Public Affairs, Richard Francis, who is concerned with overall overall policy considerations of BBC programmes. If there are questions of stress or political difficulty, then a programme would normally be referred up to Richard Francis and again, Richard Francis had formerly been the producer with whom I'd worked on Talkback, several, many, 1968 to 1979. So it went through all these filters and on the whole these individuals who by convention tended to regard me as a difficult bugger, and one who might upset the applecart, although we were all friends and acquaintances, a reasonable degree of understanding and intimacy. They thought that the programme was a very powerful piece and that I asked Dick Francis to ensure that it went out as soon as possible considering how long it had taken to make. And also considering that we had a number of captions through the programme, the last of which was the number of British soldiers killed in the north of Ireland and the cost of the operations up to now, and clearly we didn't want to be wrong footed on that. So we kept that final caption right up to the day before transmission in order to make sure that if somebody was, was killed, it's a macabre thought, but on the other hand, one has to get certain things right in a programme and if there were facts then they had to be correct. So Dick Francis agreed that the programme should be transmitted quickly, he made the necessary request. And after making one or two suggestions, one was that perhaps we might indicate as a matter of further information the number of wounded in the north of Ireland over the past 15 years, or whatever it was at that time, and I explored this and talked to the army PROs about it, and they were dead against it, since the actual number of injured/wounded soldiers was extremely high compared with the number of killed.  In other words soldiers might get half a brick in the face, but they're very unlikely to get a bullet in the back. So that, in consequence this looked a very loaded review of the casualty situation in the north of Ireland and I wrote that, I wrote back to Richard Francis explaining that and we agreed to drop the idea.

Colin Moffat  11:24  

You mean of course, military casualties on the British Army side? 

Philip Donnellan  11:27  

Yes, exactly. Secondly, we also considered labelling the programme a personal view. This is one of the devices that's used when a difficult programme was in prospect so that the responsibility in a sense is shifted from from, or notionally shifted not actually shifted from the BBC collectively to the individual, who has been allowed the freedom to express his his views. Er we we discussed this right along the line, and it was finally abandoned, we thought that was pointless. Now, the remaining obstacle we had been conscious of all the way through was the Controller Northern Ireland. And now, the Northern Ireland region in the BBC, based on Belfast has of course, the onus of living in the region with the tensions and troubles all around it. And the Controller Northern Ireland had what I would regard as an extremely arguable well, contestable relationship to other BBC programmes. He was given uniquely and objectionably in my view, and I'd expressed this view quite clearly and openly in the department to my executive producer and to the head of the department, the view that Controller Northern Ireland was responsible for political decisions about programmes, which I regarded as unjustified. Any programme made in the BBC, whether it was about poetry, or whether it was about soldiers in the north of Ireland had to be referred to the Controller Northern Ireland for policy clearance. Now, I regarded that as a nakedly political intervention, which I resented deeply. Now I had no formal or authoritative basis for resenting it deeply, but I did think that in the end, armed with those sort of powers the Controller Northern Ireland was going to be more sensitive than ever to some of the juxtapositions of historical and contemporary material that I'd made in these programmes. So I expected the worst. 

Philip Donnellan  13:28  

Now, in consequences of that. And remembering the delays that prevented us getting an acceptable final copy or print of the films until very late on, we were helped in sending these copies of the film to the Controller Northern Ireland for review, and I did deliberately send them to him very late so that he would have less opportunity of reviewing them and referring them to other people. We were helped by the fact that at the time, the basic technology of the video cassette was changing considerably. Of course, in general terms, the coming of the video cassette technology had enormously liberated producers from being under the heel of a possible censorship. It's easy enough in the old days for two men in brown coats sent by the managers to go into a cutting room and physically remove the cutting copy so that there was no way at all in which anybody outside could see the film. But once video tech, cassettes appeared it was almost impossible stopping people copying the work that had been done on a film, if it was a sensitive film, at any point in the production, and making sure they had a video cassette record in the event of the programme being stopped. Now, if this appears a curious guerilla war within an institution of production it is nonetheless a way in which producers became accustomed, a few producers, became accustomed to defending their right to say complex and difficult things not only in terms of Ireland but in terms of other things that have been stopped in the past.

Philip Donnellan  15:11  

So, the video cassette technology that prevailed until about 1979 was the very first one that was available, which was Phillips cassettes. Now, we sent the Controller Northern Ireland eventually, four Phillips cassettes of the complete programme, both halves, but by that time the BBC in the north of Ireland had had abandoned its video cassette players of the Phillips video cassette players and they had VHS. We hadn't got VHS, so we didn't send them VHS cassettes. So they they then teleprintered us and said, "Can we have VHS copies?" well, we didn't have the facility for making VHS copies. So the there was even further delay, and it was only on the Thursday before our scheduled production, transmission date of Sunday, that the Controller Northern Ireland finally got copies of the programmes. By that time, the editor, the film editor, Greg Miller, who had done an absolutely superb job in handling the material, and dealing with me and dealing with all the complexities of the production, and anyway is a damn good editor, he had had survived this process and we collectively heaved a deep sigh of relief at having got, as we thought, over the various obstructions, and legitimately too. I was at home, I was living in Bristol at the time, and on Friday morning, the telephone rang and this was to tell me in as many words that the shit had hit the fan. And I was requested urgently to come to London, that Controller Northern Ireland had seen the films and had registered a powerful objection and insisted, and such was his power, had insisted that the programmes be changed or else he would go to the Controller, the Director General to stop the programmes being transmitted. So, within a very short time, while Jill rang all the relevant people who should know: the union, Greg Miller, and others, I set-off for London.  I arrived in London was met by, at Kensington House not far from the Television Centre in Shepherds Bush, and was met by the my executive producer, who had from the beginning insisted that come what may he would support the programme. He knew what this sort of cultural oppression meant, he knew what censorship meant, and he would support me. He had on the video machine in his office a cassette recommended by the Controller Northern Ireland, which would replace certain sections of the film as we had completed it the week before. I was astonished and I said so. And I denied his right, indeed the his craven assumption that he had to obey automatically as soon as the Controller spoke. I was very angry of course, and I absolutely rejected the opportunity to make any changes in the film at all. So I was wheeled into the Head of the Department, not wheeeled in of course, I mean I was I wasn't exactly marched in like, like a sergeant major would. I went in to see Richard and, and we had a pretty sharp exchange of views about it, he wasn't sharp, I was being sharp. And I was accused of, not by him, but of wanting to be a hero of the working class, which I thought was a pretty extravagant statement. And, and "Considering", I said,"that, that you and everybody else in the network of controls between me and the top have accepted this film unreservedly, every comment that has been made has been fully accepted by me or we have agreed, discussed and accepted that such a change or whatever it is not necessary.  The whole thing is agreed and I am not going to change it any further and neither are you. And if any changes are made over my dead body, then I shall put you in every newspaper in the country. I am not going to have this situation and I don't intend to have it and you will have to decide what your position is." So having uttered these threats, and there were only threats because I didn't, I had no authority at all other than what I regarded as a moral authority despite some of the immoral proceedings that I had used in making the programme. I fully recognised the contradictory role I occupied in all this because fundamentally I knew that the BBC would not approve either of a few of the methods that I had used or certainly of the way in which I wanted to step outside the norms of editorial behaviour in the handling of the material.

Colin Moffat  19:58  

Was there any attempt to to defend the Controller of BBC Northern Ireland his, that he had a right to say what he was saying, by those you were talking to?

Philip Donnellan  20:08  

Er no we didn't we didn't get involved in in that sort of a discussion. I think that to a certain extent, however much I might protest about it, I was fully convinced that that the Controller Northern Ireland did have the responsibilities conferred on him that he was trying to exercise. So I didn't think there was any mileage in that. I think I ought to say at this point, that not only had my superiors in the BBC seen the programme, but also the Ministry of Defence had seen it, and all the newspapers. So it wasn't as though in the event of a bust-up, it wasn't as though the press or the Ministry would be ignorant of the content of the film, that would be very well-known. And the fact that already on that Friday the television critics were already ready writing their pieces about the, about the programme for Monday, made it clear that there would have been very substantial questioning in the press if the film had been stopped. I didn't think of that at the time, there were too many other things to think about. I was hoping to invoke, if attempts were made to change the programme over my dead body, I was intending and hoping to invoke the support of the Association of Broadcasting Staff to black the work that was to be done on it, which would have caused a further complication and I thought that was entirely legitimate. Throughout the production I had been in touch with the, with the General Secretary of the Association of Cinematograph and Television Technicians, which was my other union, and I'd kept them fully informed of the complications of the programme because their own position is much more militant, and always was than the ABS and I believe that it would be fully within their own competence, even though they did not represent members in the BBC it would be fully within their competence to cause a substantial questioning about any decision to change or to cancel the transmission.

Colin Moffat  22:11  

Let me just recap your objections to the BBC Controller Northern Ireland you just disagreed with what he said, you didn't challenge his right to suggest changes?

Philip Donnellan  22:23  

Well, of course, I didn't have a direct debate in any sense with the Controller Northern Ireland. Both the head of my department and the executive producer, both knew that they were acting completely outside the erm what had become a conventional morality, which encompassed resistance to this form of censorship. There had been a number of similar examples. One, only the year before, when a producer in West region, Colin Thomas, resigned over the censorship of a programme about the north of Ireland and there had been a great deal said about this. They knew that what they were advocating was by a moral and indeed journalistic/artistic standards was totally wrong. And they knew that if there had, for example, been any attempt to draw together the opinions and views of producers in the department they would have been overwhelmingly defeated on the issue.  It wasn't a case of me asserting my rightness vis a vis the Controller  Northern Ireland, the programme had, as I mentioned just now, had been through all the editorial filters up to the highest point in the BBC, any further intervention, however legitimate within the framework of the BBC, was at that point in my view illegitimate and I think that could be supported.  And indeed, in view of what happened subsequently I think it was accepted as being legitimate because what happened next was this: the head of the department faced by my absolutely adamant opposition, and I don't say that with any sense of self congratulation, I believe that anybody firmly committed to a programme that deals with very deep artistic and political instincts in a producer would have done the same. I believe any of my colleagues would at this point have rejected absolutely interference. I'm not posing as some great hero of labour, which was [LAUGHTER] what an executive producer suggested. He subsequently withdrew the comments said I'm sorry, I didn't mean that Philip.  However, the head of the department picked up the cans of film and said, I"'m going to the sixth floor."  Now on the sixth floor is the BBC Management in the Television Centre, and that meant he was going to see either the Director General, Alistair Milne or his deputy, Bill Cotton.

Colin Moffat  24:48  

Just remind us how near the transmission date you are now?

Philip Donnellan  24:51  

This is Friday morning at about half past one, 13:30 and the transmission date was the evening of Sunday. There's a fair amount of time you could cut almost an entire film between Friday and Sunday, but they weren't going to cut this film.  Anyway ...

Colin Moffat  25:10  

If it wasn't in your mind that there would be an appalling difficulty that the transmission would have had to be cancelled, because there wouldn't be time then to to make these changes. You're saying that if it had been if these, if these changes had been effected they could have been done? 

Philip Donnellan  25:26  

Oh, yes. No question about that.

Colin Moffat  25:28  

They weren't technically difficult things to do then, or what might have been done?

Philip Donnellan  25:31  

Well, it might have, there might have been a hiccup or two in dubbing in an extra section or something like that but I don't think there would have been any major difficulty. I mean, more fundamental things have been done at shorter notice.

Colin Moffat  25:44  

Do you want to specify what the cuts might have been?

Philip Donnellan  25:46  

No, I didn't ask. I said I don't want to know, they said  Controller Northern Ireland says that and I said, "Don't tell me there are not going to be any changes in this programme."

Colin Moffat  25:56  

What you stopped him telling you?

Philip Donnellan  25:58  

Yes. I wasn't interested in what changes the Controller Northern Ireland wanted to make. The programme had been agreed. There was no question about that and I didn't regard, and I don't think Dick Francis, Brian Wenham if they had been there and had been in nose to nose debate with the Controller Northern Ireland that there would have been any question the they would have been obliged to take my side because they had already agreed.  Now whether they would have taken my side is of course another matter. But anyway, I was I was satisfied that the head of the department then took, was then in the process of taking the films to apparently the Director Ceneral, that was a perfectly acceptable solution to me. Because if the Director General said, Controller Northern Ireland is right, then that would have to be done. I could resign in protest, and I think I would have done or I could have accepted it, and nothing would ever have been said except the story would ultimately have been leaked to the newspapers that there had been interferences in this programme or that programme, because it would have got out around the department inevitably. I would have made sure of that anyway,

Colin Moffat  27:09  

Where was the head of department going, if he was going to the sixth floor of Television Centre he wasn't going to the Director General's office was he?

Philip Donnellan  27:16  

Yes, yes. I think he was

Colin Moffat  27:18  

The Director General in Television Centre?

Philip Donnellan  27:20  

Yes. Alastair had an office in Television Centre. At least I'm of that impression. Now I think what actually happened was that either he knew or didn't know, he didn't say anything to me except I'm going to take it to the sixth floor. I said, "Where are you going?" He said," I'm taking it to the sixth floor." I knew what that meant, it was an upward reference. Now, it didn't matter whether Alister Milne was literally there, somebody would have been there who would have been capable of giving a judgement. Now, as it happened Alistair Milne was on holiday and, and he didn't see it.  However, I won't get ahead of the story because what happened then was that I, I cast around for various friends of mine who were members of the Music and Arts Department and not a single office in in the department was occupied. So I said, "Where are they?" and they were all downstairs at the meeting, which had started at two o'clock. So presumably, it was after two o'clock at that time. So, as I went downstairs to join the departmental meeting, I thought great opportunity: here, they all were together, instead of going round rabble rousing all the offices to stop this happening there they will all be together. I arrived at the conference room and Humphrey Burton who, I'm not absolutely sure of Humphrey's role at this time, his formal job, but he was presiding over a crowded meeting there must have been 60 or 70 people there. A Canadian visitor was speaking, talking about some at that moment to me anyway, irrelevant consideration about Canadian Broadcasting. I waited patiently.  Humphrey, who already knew what was happening before the meeting had started, lifted an eyebrow when I came in and the moment the visitor stopped, he said, "Philip Donnellan is here and will almost certainly want to say something." So I merely said to the assembled meeting, "Controller Northern Ireland has made demands that changes are made in my, in my programme on the British Army and I have refused" and I stopped, and Humphrey was astonished he had never heard me speak for so little time before. And he went on, and the meeting went on, there was a gasp around the room because they knew what that meant. And, and that was that.

Philip Donnellan  29:42  

However, I went back, I went back an hour later or something like that. I went and rang Greg Miller in Birmingham to tell him what was happening and went back upstairs and the head of department and the executive producer had come back from the sixth floor. And once again filling his pipe. Richard, the Head of Department, looked at me and said, "It's all right. No changes." So I gasped and said, "Ah, who? Alistair?" unbelievingly because I thought Alastair as an ex-officer in the Gordon Highlanders would probably have taken a standard and conventional view. But then I was an ex-officer in something else and I didn't take that view so why should he, so maybe I would have been wrong. But he said, "No, Bill Cotton." Bill Cotton was the Deputy Managing Director, was the Deputy Director General. A great showbiz cockney, a great man, well, he was great to me after that. And the programme was transmitted on the Sunday exactly as before with the addition of a brief announcement in front of it, which said, "This was a personal view by Philip Donnellan."

Philip Donnellan  30:30  

A voiceover announcement?

Philip Donnellan  31:04  

A voiceover announcement, yes.  Now ...

Colin Moffat  31:07  

Did Bill Cotton see it? Did Bill Cotton do you think see the film?

Philip Donnellan  31:11  

Yes. He said, "I can't see what all the fuss is about." He was dead, right. In fact, Bill is, was, of course he's retired now, Bill was probably as near a working class manager as you could find in the BBC and it may be that he assimilated just as easily as, as Wenham and Dick Francis, the fact that this was a legitimate statement about an alternative view of the British Army.

Colin Moffat  31:39  

Do you think he was shown what the Controller of BBC Northern Ireland said? Whatever his comments were, they were passed to Cotton before he, before he made his final ...?

Philip Donnellan  31:50  

I have no idea. I have never explored that. And I left well alone,

Colin Moffat  31:55  

You weren't present of course for that?

Philip Donnellan  31:57  

Oh, no. Now, I heaved an enormous sigh of relief, got on the train for Bristol, had a very large gin and went home. The programme went out. And on Monday the reviews started. If we recognise transmission day as D-Day the row about the film went on until D plus 36. On D plus 36 another film, Death of a Princess was transmitted, and the press and everybody else cut-off their protests about Soldier and started to protest about Death of a Princess. It was a fairly routine tribal dance of the sort that the British media and British television routinely go through in this troubled time and country. However, on on D plus one The Times and The Daily Telegraph, two, perhaps the two most influential middle class papers, came out with extraordinarily powerful and glowing reviews of the programme. And I think they were probably about the only papers that came out with reviews on that day. But the next day as the row started to erupt, all the others joined in. Erm The Scotsman ...

Colin Moffat  33:39  

Do you mean it became a news story? It wasn't just that they published later reviews but they actually commented on the com, comments?

Philip Donnellan  33:46  

Without the cuttings to my hand, and going through them one by one, which would be a delaying business, my impression is that they probably initially, or some of them, came out with their actual reviews. Television is not terribly important in the tabloids. Perhaps some of them did publish reviews, some of them perhaps commented on rumours that were already circulating, but I don't know but I need to correct to look at the actual material. What I will if I may do is just read a resume by The Scotsman a bit later in the week, I haven't got the exact date although I have got the cutting somewhere. And a comment from a soldier published in the Sunday Telegraph. 

Philip Donnellan  34:34  

This is the Scotsman: "Conservative MPs appealed to the BBC Chairman, Michael Swann, yesterday to ban the sale abroad of a controversial television documentary on the army. There were calls for the Defence Secretary, Mr Francis Pym, to step in after reports at the weekend that the recently shown BBC Two production might be sold to foreign television stations. "Gone for a Soldier" has been denounced already in the Commons for depicting the army as "a strike breaking civilian bashing mob commanded by incompetence." Mr Neville Trotter MP, Teignmouth, declared yesterday "I'm asking Sir Michael for a clear statement that this travesty, mischievous and inaccurate as it was, denigrating our soldiers and insulting them to boot will in no circumstances be sold abroad". The BBC  still retained a high reputation abroad and when one of their productions was shown overseas it was regarded as factually accurate.  "There are either fools or moles at work in the BBC, or both. With the moles making use of the fools". he added. Mr. John Stokes, MP, Halesowen and Stourbridge said, "This sort of thing makes one wish we had some censorship".

Philip Donnellan  35:46  

A letter from Brigadier J H Moore from Bagshot in Surrey, a notable resort for military residents wrote to the Sunday Telegraph, "So that distasteful production Gone for a Soldier is now or later to be offered for sale to foreign television stations. Our national pride must have sunk pretty low when Auntie BBC can be permitted to behave like a rabbled old harlot, who finds herself no longer attractive in her own land, and has to resort to hawking her disgusting wares around the souks of the world. Not only could this action "make a great deal of mischief" it is generally degrading to the service and the country." 

Philip Donnellan  36:35  

Now, at the same time, letters from viewers started to pour in when they saw the appalling things that were being said by high ranking generals, field marshals and admirals even, in the letter pages of the of The Telegraph and The Times particularly. There were one or two supportive letters in those papers., most of them came from people that I already knew, or who knew me, so what they were doing was expressing a decent solidarity. So I would tend to discount those, except in personal terms. I would like though, to read a couple of letters from, from among those that I got from people who took a rather different view. 

Philip Donnellan  37:27  

This is a letter to the head of BBC Television: "I'm a working man, aged 64, and I did my stint like millions of others in the army. I don't often write letters, but I feel I must tell you how moved I was by the documentary called "Gone for a Soldier". Those MPs who have criticised the programme in Parliament don't speak for the vast majority of us. I have not met a working man or woman who didn't think it was great. Believe me, sir, ordinary people find themselves in armies and wars, which are none of them are making, they didn't want to kill anyone at all. The BBC is to be congratulated on giving voice to the feelings of the rank and file soldiers of the world."

Philip Donnellan  38:04  

This is a letter from a woman in Kent "Dear Mr Donnellan, I'd like to congratulate you on your Sunday evening programme Gone for a Soldier. I liked your treatment of the subject and enjoyed it very much. You must continue the good work with a companion programme, Gone for a Soldier's Wife." 

Philip Donnellan  38:21  

And here's a letter, another letter from London: "Dear Mr Donnellan, there's been a bit of flak in the media about Gone for a Soldier. I've just read the Radio Times letter bag. I found the evening exhilarating. It's high time the skeletons, the many, many skeletons were exposed to view if we were to learn anything from the indignities of Empire. I don't suppose you'll get many awards, but if it were up to me you'd get them. It's among the finest pieces of television I've ever seen. Congratulations."

Philip Donnellan  38:48  

Of course, a mass of letters poured in an equal number, if not rather more, who really did wish to protest: "Dear Sir, I would like to protest most strongly over your programme Gone for a Soldier as being totally biassed and slanted. It showed only one very negative view of life in the British Army. No mention was made of the comradeship and the heroism shown by the men Philip Donnellan patronisingly calls the ordinary British soldier right through our history, British soldiers are not ordinary. Their actions during the recent events in Rhodesia speak louder than any words can do." 

Philip Donnellan  39:25  

"Dear Sir,  Sunday evening I watched Gone for a Soldier thinking it would be a good army documentary, but was horrified to find that it was just an Irish propaganda film belittling the British Army. I do not think you should show such films, nor that your interviewers should on so many occasions incite everyone they talk to.  Can't the BBC help to create harmony for a change?"

Philip Donnellan  39:48  

"Sir,"  this is from Dunbartonshire, "after watching part of your programme Gone for a Soldier on BBC Two I was utterly disgusted at the programme's insults, jibes and hatred towards the British soldiers and the IRA hymns of hate and the RC hate of Protestants. I was a Black Watch soldier in World War Two and was and still am very proud I was a soldier. Particularly a Black Watch soldier, and a very staunch and loyal Protestant. My father came from Belfast, and his brother, their father was in Monaghan, County Monaghan" and so on. 

Philip Donnellan  40:24  

It's difficult to explain one's feelings when you receive letters like this. I suppose I just ought to treat them quite coolly and objectively and set, and some of them produced feelings and ideas that utterly transformed my, my view about the nature of the material that we'd that we'd gathered. And the antis, of course, no more than my programme hadn't changed their minds, their letters didn't change mine. But I did, I did find an absolutely relevant sense of the sheer complexity of argument which a mass medium confronts without knowing anything of, of those complexities. It's difficult to evaluate any sort of way or, or perceive or imagine any sort of way in which this, this intelligence can be marshalled to the support, and to a certain extent, the control of the media. But long before Soldier I had, I had given as I've already indicated in this conversation, a great deal of thought to the problem of how we could play fair with the people who were in a sense the victims of our programmes. I don't mean of course, the the millions who tune into almost any programme, I mean the people with whom one actually works in making a programme, the people you approach, the people who you become friends with, the people who ultimately put themselves at the end of a camera and, and offer themselves and their lives, to the view of that audience. This is a difficult subject and I think an awful lot of people who do and have done a great deal more work than I in television have got used merely to ignoring it. But for anyone who thinks and cares, not just about television, but about the reality and significance of the world out there it's a matter that's bound to occupy your mind at certain times, and perhaps as you get older and more experienced, more disillusioned.

Philip Donnellan  42:39  

However, I was lucky enough to work within a system that as time went on gave me all sorts of opportunities, and even after Gone for a Soldier, and there was, I did have an exchange of letters with Alistair Milne, the Director General at that time in which he showed the most, at first the most straightforward concern as to whether I had the right as a producer to take a partial view of a subject. I replied very straightforwardly that I had always taken a partial view in all my television programmes, but that it appeared that when that suited the BBC's book, or they had not noticed it, then it was allowed to happen without comment. But when it caused a severe disruption of the norms then it became the object of censure. Although Alistair didn't in any sense censure me. He reiterated in a further letter that, that there was plenty of room for dissent and dispute amongst all the ranks of the BBC. I'd like to think that that was the sort of thing that was still believed now 11 or 12 years later. I'm not sure that it is. However ...

End of Side 20

Side 21

Colin Moffat  0:02  

Philip Donnellan side 21

Philip Donnellan  0:09  

After "Soldier" work continued although I had, I had temporarily moved, not in flight I hasten to add, I had temporarily moved to join Barrie Gavin's Arts Unit, which had set itself up in in Bristol, and enjoyed for some little time more the support of Gavin, who was a superb filmmaker.  A man of proliferating talent, who can handle an enormous orchestral concert with the same confidence that he displays in, in working with Bert Lloyd on an enormously significant programme in the Hebrides, which won the Golden Harp award, for example, and whole host of other things. I personally regard Barrie's most striking film as a programme called "The Poet's Duty", which was made in 1980 I think, about the work of Pablo Neruda in Chile. An undervalued film which I believe is only being transmitted once and which deserves a much wider showing. However, he is celebrated in all sorts of areas and continues superb work up till now. However, at the time a small group of colleagues gathered in Bristol, having not been expelled from the Music and Arts Department but having been encouraged by an exhortation from the Director General as, at a big meeting to consider moving out of London and as it were, spreading talent much more widely across the region.  There was loads of talent already in the regions but this, the idea was that people should, should, might consider moving out of London in this way, and Barrie and two other producers indicated that they were very willing to go and they went to Bristol and set up the Arts Unit. Alas, it got what I call the poisoned umbrella treatment from the BBC in due course: in 1983 I think it was, maybe it was 1982, they were by a curious set of administrative ploys sent packing, and the unit was dissolved. Despite having won two Golden Harp awards, and done a remarkable collection of anthropological and music programmes in the two and a half years that they were there. It was one of the more unfortunate misjudgments, in my view, of the BBC, though it was justified only if it was intended to torpedo the sort of talents that had been encouraged to move there in the first place. So it was all a complete enigma to those who were either displaced or disappointed in that particular rather nasty piece of politicking. Incidentally, the poisoned umbrella treatment is a reference to the Bulgarian expatriate who used to broadcast the BBC Overseas Service who was killed by an agent with a poisoned umbrella. It's an inconspicuous way of disposing of somebody, or a unit come to that. 

Philip Donnellan  3:31  

Anyway, there I was in Bristol. And what we set off to do there with the support at first of erm in the research process, which had taken place a couple of years before of my old mate Charles Parker and McColl, we did an exhaustive research into the origins of the folk revival.  And eventually produced in 1980 er a very long film called "The Other Music", which was once again an attempt to put on record the events that had provided an extraordinary cultural transformation, I wouldn't call it a revolution, in British life between 1956 and more or less 1980.  The folk revival hadn't disappeared by then, but it was certainly undergoing a sea change and probably as it were going underground again like the great underground river that it is. 

Philip Donnellan  3:31  

Erm then followed an extraordinarily interesting opportunity, of which I was the producer while Sarah Boston directed and this was a film with Joris Ivens, the great Dutch documentarist. Erm I'm rather against incestuous programmes in which filmmakers explore other filmmakers, but Sarah persuaded me that we could in fact get Ivens to come over to England. And the idea was that we would put him in front of an industrial audience to look at his films and discuss and argue them with the filmmaker himself, while he explored the community, the problems of the community with them, Joris rose to this, this bait at the age of 80 odd, magnificently. He'd never been to real England, he'd been to London but he'd never been to anywhere else in Britain. And so partly for convenience and partly for obvious reasons we went to our friends at Betteshanger in Kent only a mile or so from, from Dover, to the community of Betteshanger, the colliery in in the Kent coalfield, now alas closed. 

Philip Donnellan  4:43  

Joris came over for a week, and it was a magnificent opportunity for all of us to share some time with a man whose work bestrode, it seemed to us, every single flashpoint of the world of the last 60 years, from strikes in Belgium in 1923 to the Spanish Civil War, the Japanese attack on China, the the Vietnam War, Korea, events in the Soviet Union and so on. He was an outstanding man who, who had who without any name dropping purpose at all would talk about his friendship with Ho Chi Minh, with Stalin, with many of the great socialist leaders of the past half century. And apart from that, he was an absolute encyclopaedia of feeling and knowledge and understanding about the nature of the documentary experience itself. So we, speaking personally and I know Sarah Boston felt the same, as did Ivan Strasberg, the camera man, and Judy Freeman, the sound recordist, a tremendous sense of renewed enthusiasm. If a man of this age who had always been an independent, who had never known where his next film was coming from, if he could still retain his passionate commitment to life and to people then shame on us if we felt that we were flagging a bit and had the opportunity to relax. Anyway, that was a great experience, and I welcome it. 

Philip Donnellan  7:44  

Well, after the eclipse of the Arts Unit I went back to Birmingham and, and came face to face with what might have been an opportunity, but actually was a preconception of mine about how we were going to start to try and democratise not the internal practice, not our involvement with film crews, although that might be an inevitable film erm spin off, but with the people with whom we whom we invited to take part in our films. I've referred to this several times before and I've sort of hinted that sooner or later there was going to be an opportunity. I have to go back a few years in introducing this because in 1973 Peter Cheeseman at Stoke rang me up one day and he said, "Are you aware that there's a powerful Action Committee of the, of the collective unions at the steelworks in Stoke, who are opposing the closure of the Shelton Bar Steel Works by British Steel?" I said, I, of course, had heard of it. "Well" he said, "we're doing a theatre documentary about it. And if you want to meet the committee of of unions, I'll introduce you." 

Philip Donnellan  9:08  

So I went up to Stoke and I met them and they were extremely reluctant to admit anyone but Peter and his actors into a position of intimacy with the operations that they were conducting against the Steel Corporation. They had no trust for the media at all. They knew and could test Peter's goodwill by his long residence in Stoke-on-Trent, the work he had done, and the work that he was prepared to do in reflecting to the public the work of the Shelton Bar Action Committee. They had no such trust in me they didn't know me from from the Director General. So when I came and I found the extraordinarily complex assembly of different skills, different talents, different ideas from the workforce of the of the steelworks, I was forced to consider what I could offer them, which could somehow persuade them that their discussions and their interests were safe in the hands of a BBC documentary maker. And I didn't have to look very far, it had to be some element of editorial control.  I had to give them or offer them some opportunity of overseeing the material, and having a degree of say in what was to be said in a film about the nature of what they were going through, and how it was represented to the public. Now, with with one part of me I recognise very well that this was completely contrary to normal BBC practice, and might well be looked on with absolute disfavour by the people who stood above me. On the other hand I was still working at that time to Norman Swallow and I thought he might well be sympathetic, though I doubted if he could be formally involved in what I was proposing to offer to the Action Committee. On the other hand I had also to recognise that I was working in Birmingham where a new boss had arrived at the new building, Pebble Mill, in the previous year and this was a man called Phil Sidey, who was the Head of the Network Production Centre and under whose aegis I was now operating from Pebble Mill.

Philip Donnellan  11:54  

Pursuing my conviction that it was an important subject to handle, and one that that we ought to make the effort to understand and be, and have a share in, I said to the Action Committe that I proposed to give them access to the editing process, which would be carried out by me with an editor at Pebble Mill. And while I might not necessarily accept the views that they put forward to me, they would have an open channel of access to me, they would be invited to see the rushes, read a transcript of the material that we'd filmed, all of which was them - nobody else - it was their voices, their faces, their ideas and their planning. So I proposed to cut them in to the process of editorial control. They agreed and they gave me complete access to the deliberations and meetings of the Committee. And we filmed for a couple of weeks, highly complex arguments, very subtle arguments about the way in which opposition should be mounted. They weren't, they weren't barnstorming British Steel they were operating through the accepted capitalist procedures. They had merchant bankers as advisors, they were operating in an extremely civilised way in countering the arguments put forward by closure, for closure by British Steel. They had statistical advice, they had people from the works who had been responsible for handling the statistical material on input and output from the steelworks over years. They had a formidable case, and they were putting it forward with the greatest responsibility, responsibility to the steel industry in general, responsibility to their own community of Stoke, and to their own families and their own trades and talents and skills and unions. So it was an extraordinary experience to be a part of that scene. And Peter and I, Peter had two actors working there with recorders who were collecting material for their show and I was there with a film crew. And this provided of course, a tremendous sense of support and importance to the ongoing discussions in the Action Committee.

Philip Donnellan  14:16  

However, I have quickly to come to the revelation that my handling of it was not acceptable to the new boss at Pebble Mill and when he found out about it, both I and the film got very short shrift.  Norman Swallow had been obliged earlier to hand over control quite legitimately and formally to Sidey and, and he had no share in that decision. But I was told, without any mincing of words, that I had absolutely no right to infringe the BBC's journalistic rules and protocols by offering any such share in the control of the eventual programme. I accepted that reproof, we completed a 30, a 50 minute programme and it was then cut to 30 and it was never transmitted. However, we had a copy of the film and it was kept as a record. 

Philip Donnellan  15:21  

So, back to 1982 and my return to Birmingham from the Bristol Arts Unit. I had long had a persistent hope and intention, and wish to, not to continue with major blockbusters a 100 minutes long, 70 minutes long, 50 minutes long. One of the, one of the tendencies in people who continuously make long films is a real state of self-indulgence. It's terribly easy to make 70 minute films compared with 10 minute films and I was sure that it would be a valuable discipline for me, especially as I came to the end of my career in broadcasting inside the BBC, to set about making shorter films, which really required much more care and much more discipline within them. 

Philip Donnellan  16:19  

So I put forward an idea that I'd be nourishing for a little time and that was to make 15 minute films, which would be quite simply films of actualities speech and talk, filmed synchron er, sync filming with people talking. And who would the people be? Well, I felt it was one of the characteristics of the period we lived through that when television covered industrial disputes and industrial strikes was one of the very few opportunities when workers ever got a chance to express themselves.  Reporters would go up to them at the gate of the factory and they might get 10 or 12 seconds of conversation with a camera, and these were the sort of opportunities that television on the whole offered industrial workers. I thought we might offer them something a bit better than that and er I thought too that it was important to establish that industrial workers were just like anybody else. They had opinions, ideas and feelings, which they were very well capable of expressing and I wanted to express that on television. 

Philip Donnellan  17:31  

So I devised a very, very simple format: with a researcher I would go to selected industrial firms, those that would allow me, and I would go in and argue the case, them liberating me onto the production line, and finding a group of their workers who work together that was quite important, and putting them in a situation where they could talk to each other, where they're were in fact obliged to talk to each other. So this is what we did. Now, I was extremely lucky to get a valuable researcher in tow on this series, Sandra Rudkin, a very down to earth, tough minded Yorkshire woman with a wide experience in drama and in on the edges of documentary, and she joined me as a researcher, and we started to open up this process. 

Philip Donnellan  18:37  

Now, the first thing that I found was, of course, that the workers themselves said, "Well, first of all what are we going to talk about?" And I said to them, "Well, you've got to decide that. It's up to you what you talk about, it's your voices and faces on the box. So I'm not going to decide what you're gonna talk about, you're gonna decide that?" Well, they were pretty suspicious of that approach because they said, "Where's the catch?  Television doesn't come to us and ask us to talk to them on subjects we select. What's the catch?" I said, "There isn't a catch. The fact is that if you want people to talk well and freely, you've got to give them a chance to talk about what they want to not fire questions at them. I'm not a journalist coming here with a camera. What I want to find is whether you can respond to the conditions of the world around you, conditions, which are presented to us every day by television, by newspapers, by our own experience at work or in our leisure time. You've got plenty to talk about, you know that perfectly well." They said, "You bet we have.  We are perfectly prepared to talk. But what guarantee are we going to have ..." this first group of workers said and I encountered the same objections throughout the research, "What guarantee have we got that you're going to play fair with us? How do we know how this stuff is going to be cut? I don't think we're going to have anything to do with you unless we have some degree of control over the thing." Well, these sort of barriers, which accorded very much with the experience that I had found before, made me realise that we were really going to come, to have to come to a new sort of organisation if we were going to do any good with programmes like this. 

Philip Donnellan  20:31  

What I wanted to do in these programmes was to demonstrate beyond any doubt that skill in exposition, that the the sustaining of a conversation, that disagreement, agreement, the preparedness to allow someone to express a view and then to disagree with it, in other words a standard formula of any civilised discussion between a number of people.  That this was very well understood by our audience even though they may be at the bottom end of the of the industrial ladder, they're just maybe ordinary labourers, ordinary workers in a factory.

Philip Donnellan  21:07  

So I said, "Okay, we'll provide what is currently called a 'package of ideas' for you." I said, "You decide what you're going to talk about. And when we have filmed we will let you have copies of the transcript, which I would expect you to discuss with each other. And then you will send, at our expense, two representatives from the group who took part in the filming. And they will come into the cutting room, and they will for the next 24 hours, they will discuss with me and the editor and the researcher if he or she is available. And they will decide broadly the sections of their filming that they wish to include in the film, or perhaps easier, the pieces that you don't want in the film. I said, "After that we will complete the film, more or less, under, within the framework of your suggestions. You will then see the film. When all the group of films are completed we'll bring the groups all together and you will each see your film. And even at that late stage you can then say if there are things about it that disagree with what you have decided or ways in which you are being misrepresented, and we will accept those, we may argue about them, we may not completely accept them at once, but we will be prepared to discuss those with you and and in the end we will finalise the programme and there'll be transmitted." So I gave them, I offered them as much editorial control as I thought was consonant with their availability in terms of their labour, with our budget, which was pretty small, but I reckon that we could finance the 24 hours that the two people from each group would stay with us, their travelling costs and so on. 

Philip Donnellan  23:06  

As far as the logistics of the operation we're concerned, we shot one film a day, we shot for about 50 minutes, five rolls of film, it never went beyond 60 minutes, sometimes it was only 30 minutes but that was fairly rare. We, we spent the rest of the day filming the environment of their work, we wanted to represent each member of the group in their working situation and then the next morning we moved on to the next one. And we leap-frogged the shooting of the environment and then the people in that way, and we did all six programmes in 10 days. Now, we had three days shoot, it was three days editing per programme. The first 24 hours of which would be would be that engagement with the ideas and hopes and expressions of the of the representative. The synching-up and transcribing had to be done to a very strict schedule, because in order to get fit in the editing fairly quickly after the process of filming it was quite obvious that we had to have an efficient machine to do the transcribing. And the copying, sending off of the of the transcripts and all the other processes, which were needed to complete an efficient cycle for the for the making of the film.  My long term aim, I hope I haven't said this already, but it doesn't matter I'll repeat it, my long term aim was to proclaim beyond any doubt that industrial people who were generally marginalised by television had as much right to be seen as sensible, committed human beings capable of talking on a wide variety of subjects, as anybody else who appeared on the box. More than that I wanted to identify with every corner of the British Isles. So even though we couldn't achieve that over six programmes I hoped that if we went on and continued the series we might pretty well accomplish a fairly dense coverage of the whole country. The other thing that we decided from the beginning was that we would also film in some depth, in similar depth with groups of people in dispute. So although we only chose one dispute subject for the first series, I did hope that if we went on we might be quite valuable in explaining to people the nature of worker involvement in disputes, and to do something towards expanding the public understanding of the dynamics of group involvement with dispute, and some of the dynamics of worker management relationships. So there were long term didactic ends as well as purely democratic ends, and experimental ends to see how we could relate to groups of people in making admittedly short and simple television programmes. 

Philip Donnellan  26:18  

Now, that's great. That's the logistics, the personal relations with the people involved, which we were absolutely convinced that we could make work. But of course, it depended on the technicians, as these things invariably at the last analysis always do. First of all the permission of the editor, cutting rooms, as, as you'll know, are generally fairly small places and some editors react very badly indeed, to having visitors perpetually in their rooms while they're trying to work. Especially visitors who were, by definition going to interfere in the nature of the film, they were, the editor wasn't going to get instructions direct from me it was going to be as a process, part of a process of discussion and argument about what should go into the film. So I was extremely lucky again, to be working with Greg Miller, with whom I'd cut "Gone for a Soldier", and, and he agreed very readily to a variation of the of the norms of his everyday work. But then of course the problem of a camera: now how would I possibly handle this as a director? The answer very quickly came to me that I wasn't going to be able to handle it as a director and by the most remarkable good luck I found myself with a young camera man who was still an assistant, and therefore full of hope, full of gleam in the eye for the opportunity offered, Steve Saunderson and a sound recordist who was prepared to do miracles with his gun mic, John Parker. And, and what I said to Steve was, "Steve, look, this is the setup, got a group of workers in an actuality situation, I'm not going to make any concessions to where you get, you fit into that scene, you've got to get yourself into the scene. The only instructions I can give you is that I want every foot of this conversation, wherever we shoot it, to be usable. It's up to you how you handle it, you move the camera, you decide when you're going to handle it, you've got to keep your ears open." An awful lot of camera men appear to be deaf, because they don't listen to what's happening on the, in front of them. I told Steve that that was a crucial need. He had to hear and listen to what was saying so that he could follow the dynamic of the conversation with his camera. Well, I was absolutely staggered at the success he had in fulfilling that that requirement. It was the happiest of relationships I think, we we never fell out, which is often quite difficult to believe in the tense situation of doing these short, quick, hastily set up situations.  We did 24 films in the end, and Steve shot all of them and John Parker covered all of them on sound, and Greg Miller cut all of them in the editing studio, in the editing channel. Sandra Rudkin and I with a transcription team, and my devoted secretary Mary Namy were the, the small team behind the whole operation. Three of them women and highly efficient women, which is becoming an increasing characteristic of television in this country, I'm glad to say.  

Philip Donnellan  29:49  

And so we set off and did them. They were the most exciting experiences I'd had for years in television because it's always exciting when you break the rules for a good cause, and the fact that the management didn't know anything about any of the rules that we were breaking made it additionally pleasurable. We were acting in the interest of the people that we were filming and in, we believed the wider interests of the television audience. I was absolutely sure that the television audience would greet these programmes, however small scale they were and limited, that I think they would be fascinated by them. Now, there's comparative little evidence about that enjoyment that I expected to find.  The programmes all went out at about half past six on BBC Two, half past six in the evening, and I didn't protest about this, I had hoped for a much better placing -  a much later placing, I would have thought 10 o'clock would have been an ideal time. But half past six it was, and I was very happy to get them out. Partly because I tipped off many of my union contacts, because I thought these would be most valuable opportunities to record off transmission and use for lecture purposes, WEA purposes, workers involvement, and so on erm and the sheer variety that we offered in those 24 films I think was proof of that. And certainly they were received in this manner by lecturers in a number of schools and colleges and by union people themselves. 

Philip Donnellan  31:40  

However, what did disappoint me was that when I left the BBC and tried to pursue the same format outside I have not been able to pursue it at all and that is disappointing, because I do think it's got real mileage to it. For one thing they are within formidable financial constraints that exist, they are very cheap programmes to do. They do enormously depend on having quite brilliant camera work, and quite brilliant editing. I think the other thing that I would single out as being of great significance, certainly to me and I believe to some of the groups that we met, was that when they came to Birmingham to view the programmes, and we did three series - six in the first, eight in the second, 10 in the third - when these groups came together in Birmingham, met each other, saw their own films and the others and we discussed each of them in turn, extremely valuable ideas were exchanged. And I took the opportunity of reminding them what, how they should handle the media if they came across them in the future. Er I gave them certain ideas, which they readily latched on to they knew the media almost as well as I did, they'd watch the bloody stuff for years and years. 

Philip Donnellan  33:03  

Above all it demonstrated beyond any doubt the privileged status, which we enjoyed compared to the status that they enjoyed. I remember a group of women coming down from a an engineering factory in Leeds, Braze, right in right, not far from the city centre in Leeds. And when their two representatives came to join us in the cutting room at half past 10, quarter to 11 we looked at our watches and said, "What about a cup of coffee?" So we went upstairs continuing our discussion with the with the transcripts that they'd been sent. And we sat and had a cup of coffee, and we had another cup of coffee and another cup of coffee and they said, "Hey, don't you have to get back?" So we said, "Well, we are working here aren't we. I mean ...?"  "Jesus" they said, "but I mean, it's taken us 10 years to get an extra two minutes on our coffee breaks. Do you mean to say you can take whatever time you need or want?" And we said, "Well, not exactly but more or less." Now in this sort of simple way we were able to demonstrate the extraordinary privileged life we erm we enjoyed on the production line, compared to the immense restraints under which they laboured in ordinary industry. 

Philip Donnellan  34:32  

My service in the BBC came to an end in March 1984. I'd started in Birmingham in April the erm, on April 3rd 1948 and I finished in March 1984. It was a curious sensation and feeling free of the of the place except except for the happy fact of a pension cheque arriving every so often made me realised that those years as a member of unestablished staff were not as fruitful as they might have been but still. It's, it's er very difficult to sum up such a chequered career in such a unique and curious institution.  I'm highly critical of the BBC, still am have very dubious thoughts about it and I'm really fairly reluctant ever to work for it again, and I have the gravest doubts whether they actually want me to work [LAUGHTER] for them. 

Philip Donnellan  35:29  

But for all that, for all that it has provided an extraordinary and relatively secure base for people to learn trades and skills, and to relate to the world around us in a quite unique way. And that applies particularly to me, I've had the profound incentive of working in a, in an extraordinarily interesting and significant area of the country, in Birmingham and the Midland region. Full of contradictions, contradictions of historic and contemporary imagary which come to me all the time and recur in many of the films I've been involved with. I think if I single out anything, it's the, it's the things that I've learnt from the people about whom I've made films and that's an extraordinarily valuable legacy to carry away. Erm I've also, of course, been able to learn skills from my colleagues, the various people who have tolerated my difficult and eccentric personality over the years, and have done so with a high level of goodwill. And we've had an enjoyable time together, though they've been full of tensions and, and occasional eruptions. I don't want to sound as though it's all over. As I record this, I'm 67 years old, I would think about Gladstone with his last Irish Home Rule Bill at the age of 82. For God's sake, what am I talking about? Life isn't over. I do think the possibilities of developing skills in documentary are much, much more limited than they should be. I think the the present state of documentary on television is far more limited than it should be. And I find it extremely difficult to get any sort of degree of access. But that's perhaps because I'm so unused to being a beggar at the door and providing adequate reasons why people should buy programmes from me when they don't have any particular reason to, erm I think that's probably the reason. 

Philip Donnellan  37:46  

As far as the as the future goes, there is an enormous variety of work and experience, skill, opportunity in the country, which isn't touched by the television system.  I wouldn't have believed if anyone had told me 30 years ago that the range of programme matter, especially in terms of documentary, was going to be so limited as it is now in the 1990s. I wouldn't have believed it.  The style, the techniques, and the limitations of documentary are almost more cramping than they were when we started to break-out of them in the late '50s and early '60s. Many of the legacies offered by the superficial but exciting work of people on Tonight for example, have just been ignored, they've gone by the board. And many of the techniques which the brilliant minds of people like Charles Parker, and others, produced have just run into the sand. Now, of course, you who are listening to this you may feel that this is all the sad reflections of a disenchanted old man, I don't feel disenchanted and I'm certainly prepared to grapple with any of the problems just as, just as ready as I ever was, in fact, perhaps even more since I need the money [LAUGHTER] now. But, but there it is.

Philip Donnellan  39:17  

 I do think that in terms of the things that have interested me throughout my time in the BBC that is how to express the nature of some of the realities of the world, some of the extraordinary richness of human variety that exists, let alone in the whole world, in these islands alone. Erm those opportunities still exist and the techniques to meet them have not been developed. I, one of the reasons perhaps why I still feel eager to try and fill some of the gaps is because so many of the opportunities still remain un, unachieved by the talent that exists in this country, the sophistication of ideas and opportunities, the quality of the technical work that is available to us. And so much of it is used on very unimaginative, non-innovative material. I'd like to help a bit in the, in the next 30 years in doing something about that and let's hope the opportunity exists. 

Philip Donnellan  40:27  

Whether the life that is being deployed in this recording is a terrible warning to people who engage in any sort of contact with a great cultural institution. Whether that is a warning, I don't know or whether it is a challenge a stimulus. Well, let's hope it's something of the latter. I'm sure if I ever listened to it, it will be a reminder of the frailty of my own judgement, and the inadequacies, which are many, of my own work. The strength of the work has always been the reliance on the quality of people and a passionate concern to try and express it in documentary terms. And of course, there's always the association with those remarkable people among whom I would place Charles Parker for all his profound eccentricities, infuriating passions and habits, but nonetheless a benchmark in terms of the aspirations of great people and the great people who have found their way into broadcasting.

Transcribed by Emma Feather 2020- May 2021

Transcribed by Emma Feather



"Without the BBC I might never have made films; but without the working people of Britain I would certainly not have known what to make them about"

Philip Donnellan was an English documentary film-maker.

He was described in his Guardian obituary as "one of the greatest of all documentarists", Donnellan worked with the BBC for over four decades, producing more than 80 documentary films and programmes.

He  was born in  Reigate Surrey in 1924.  His  family came originally from Galway Ireland. In the early  part of this interview Donnellan talks of his Irish connections and his family. He was educated at a private school. He joined the army in 1942 and was stationed in  India, Burma, Malaya, China and North Africa There is a detailed account of army life.

In 1948 he joined the BBC in Birmingham. He started as a radio announcer and news reader then as a writer and producer of radio features. He began interviewing working people, using portable tape recorders along with Charles Parker, creator of the sound collage “Radio Ballads”. He moved into BBC television as a documentary producer in 1958. Much of his television work paralleled what Charles Parker was doing in radio - using the words and songs of ordinary working people, directly presented without the intervention of an intermediary commentator, to share their experiences and concerns. His first film was Joe The Chainsmith, and his 1962 Private Faces was a portrait of a Durham miner. He worked at BBC  Pebble Mill in Birmingham producing notable documentaries including Shoals Of Herring (1972), The Fight Game and The Big Hewer (1973) with Ewan  MacColl and Peggy Seeger. Gone For A Soldier (1980) was a 105-minute powerful and controversial BBC  film of the 150 year history  of the British Army which drew on ordinary soldiers' diaries and letters for its soundtrack.