Notes from Taylor Downing interview 21st April 2017.
b. London.Hammersmith Latimer Upper school, University: Cambridge (History) the Bristol to study Film. Jerry Kuehl World at War. TV historical documentaries. Researcher at Thames TV for 2yrs.
Talks about George Brandt (the first tape recorder); Union card, IWM film department (boss Anne Fleming) as a cataloguer. Mornings spent viewing, and afternoons research the context etc. Lasted eight or nine months. Then teaching history at University of Leeds. Mainly 20th century history teaching about use of film as evidence etc. Nicholas Pronay. Researcher on Palestine Richard B?? was director (now based in the west of Ireland). Talks about being cautious using other people’s rushes; Zionist movement/biased image of Palestinians. Won an Emmy. Brian Winston reviewed it in The Listener suggesting that this was “academy award winning film research”. It was made for the 1978 anniversary of the founding of Israel. The idea of balancing views was radical. Phone call from reception where someone wanted to thank him for actually using the name of their country on a poster. There were two separate preview screenings arranged to keep the Israeli and Palestinian representatives apart – but they actually met in the gents at the Thames Euston building.
Thames had the forsight on international programming. Book on the making of the series.
World at War still on the shelf. Extraordinary. Palestine is in a similar situation except rights clearances can’t easily be cleared [for repeat transmissions].
(Over) Theatrical delivery from Olivier on World at War. LO tried to quit, but was talked round, but never did narration again. High quality of the writing which Jerry Kuehl might have had something to do with the conscience of the production. Talks about programme looking at the History of Northern Ireland. This was when there was an industrial dispute, with the shop steward blocking Taylor’s contract renewal. Moved to Granada (based in Golden Square) researcher on Camera. Maxine baker and Martin Smith. At the same time a similar series was in production The Troubles with Robert Key which Jeremy Isaacs was involved with.
20mins Central TV, local documentary series, observational, about the Nottingham police. The Longest War (David Elstein). Vicky Wegg-Prosser. Early 1982 submitted an idea using films of record to look at different aspects of twentieth century history. C4 then in Charlotte Street. Formed own limited company, a new model. Hence Flashbacks was born in 1982. One of the first commissions was Vicky W-P from The Troubles series, Jeremy Isaacs. Palestine story, so feeling good. Peace Pledge union programme and Stephen Peet Yesterday’s Witness. Pre IPPA meeting. How inspiring Jeremy Isaacs was and a question of leadership. Editirial nous, and light touch management. Clear, crisp focus of the writing. 2 sets of ten half hour programmes Images of War and Pacifism. Discussion of faking footage. Final programme was on the Falklands War. Vicky W-P images of family and states; 1984 Olympics in LA. Channel 4 commissioned it. Production activities got separated. Thames TV for good pay. Flashbacks separated into Flashback Productions (Vicky) and Flashback TV (Taylor). Vicky did March of Time 60 programmes. It’s the story of a small company.
The 1990 Broadcasting Act was taken seriously by the government and meant that 25% of production had to be from independent producers. C4, bits of ITV-Thames.
35mins. Try pitching to BBC, which ushered in a second key period, not just history, but sports documentaries, drama=docs; poached Neil Cleminson from Granada. Cookery, Gardening. David Edgar partnet at Flashback. Different approach, practical skills. All the Nigella Lawson programmes. Working in Farringdon offices (40 to 60 staff). Reasonably successful. Contact from Charlie Mayday of the Arts & Entertainment New York. The History Channel. Met at Duxbury where he was allowed to sit at the controls of a flying fortress aircraft. Forty episode commission. This was fantastic in business terms, and pioneered this kind of international collaboration. They were written and edited in US style NOT reversioned as was often the case. Earning lots of dollars via National Geographic and Discovery channels. Anyone could pitch ideas. Timewatch, Laurence Rees, 16 a year with four from the independents, out of 1200 proposals. It gave people an opportunity even if it was not formal training, and built up a reputation for talents. Freelancers who moved on, with a sufficiently broad production base..
Discusses 1990s series on the Cold war, and Ted Turner. The Goodwill Games, following the various boycotts: USA v USSR; later USA v Russian Federation. Ted wanted Jeremy Issacs on board though he was now at the Royal Opera House. All the development was done at Flashbacks, Ted Turnet just said “get it done”, via a conference call. In contrast this would have taken the BBC a whole round of meetings before anything got decided. Jeremy Isaacs came on board as a key consultant and then wrote the book. The quality that money can bring. Anecdote about getting footage from Russia, either the official fully documented route or the less official route which might be cheaper. Sadly in the Putin era the doors have begun to close. The programmes were to avoid an air of triumphalism. Cleared for DVDs and now used in education projects. In the ‘90s, dollars got you into archives, and got you what you wanted (written archives were always a bit difference), but now soviet archives are almost unavailable. Archives are now struggling, and one-stop shop aggregation is what is happening,
This leads to repetition: researchers opt for the easy route, every year the IWM gets approached for D-Day material (6th June) and the same clips get used, which diminishes the power of the shots. Research time has been cut, the researchers are often the most junior staff with minimal knowledge.
65mins The Youtube issue. Issues about creativity and not owning the market. The 2003 Communications Act with producers and revenue opportunities transformed. RDF £10million in a year. Format rights. Small business’ suddenly merge with larger ones. Flashbacks were approached by a number of companies at a time when the tenancy agreement of the offices was raised by 125%. Options were become smaller, use the same space, work harder, or go virtual. 2010 closed the core down wound down the staff. Everybody got work. Writing was also becoming more important and Taylor wanted to write. It is a young person’s business and the company is still there, still operative.
Rights issues, reversion of rights, licence models; every negotiation can be individual. The Netflix model. (A “whinge” of independent producers being the collective noun.
Looking back: 1980s and 1990s independent sector creative best place to be a bit hungrier than the BBC. A very lucky time. Published author. Popular history books and history of film and tv. World at War, Riefenstahl Olympics books. Articles for history magazines. Awards: Grierson Cold War Story (dir Henry Chancellor) 1983. RTS. Teachers Television Ingrid Faulk, Palestine.
Finally: prediction – 2 trends, firstly all new platforms will transform things. Secondly the place for the TV in the corner with all the sport, drama, natural history will not end.
End at 3.50 total 85mins.