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Decade Of Destruction (1980/90)



Adrian Cowell’s obituary in The Guardian starts:


Of all the campaigning journalists and film-makers to work in television, Adrian Cowell, who has died of a heart attack aged 77, was one of the most successful in realising the power of the medium. His Decade of Destruction series of five films, shot over 10 years between 1980 and 1990 for ITV and Channel 4, alerted the world to the systematic ravaging of the Amazon rainforest and helped to make the environment a political issue.


Adrian wasn’t best pleased at our first meeting because when I got the Head of Documentaries job Charles Denton, who 'moved up' to Director of Programmes, had assured Adrian he wouldn’t be working to me.  But because of Denton's increasing workload he was.  


Adrian kicked off our meeting by explaining the way he worked would be impossible for me to understand in the short time he’d be in London. “Where are you going?” I asked.


“Didn’t Charles Denton tell you?  Back to Brazil,” which made sense, Adrian had first visit Brazil in 1959 when he’d been part of an Oxford-Cambridge expedition filming in the Brazilian rainforest.


“The working title is Decade Of Destruction, so I’ll be there for 10 years.


“But," I responded far too fast. "ATV is fighting for a new franchise so we may not be around in two years time”  The exasperated expression on Adrian’s face screamed this was just the sort of boring 'but' response he’d expect from an inexperienced and narrowminded executive. The long and short of the rest of our discussion was that the franchise was ‘my problem’ – he had an important series to make. 


And Decade of Destruction, apart from winning every award going, did indeed turn out to be important. Here’s another quote from Adrian’s obituary:


After discovering that the World Bank was lending nearly half a billion dollars to the colonisation project, Cowell screened his footage at congressional hearings in the US. This formed part of the campaign that resulted in the US cutting 20% off its annual donation to the World Bank, which then halted loan payments. Cowell documented the saga in his film Decade of Destruction film Banking On Disaster (1987).


I solved the franchise problem by setting up the Television Trust For The Environment (tve) with WWF and UNEP - Adrian and I were founder trustees. Decade was ‘put into’ tve. The IBA to agreed that if ATV lost the franchise it’s successor would be obligated to replace ATV’s position in tve and thus to complete and broadcast Decade. In the event that is what happened.  ATV lost the franchise, although Central Independent Television took on the executive directors, management and staff. And Central did replace ATV in tve, which survives, indeed thrives, to this day.


Adrian and I went onto work together ‘happily ever after’. And I learnt to be very careful before kicking off a sentence with 'but'.



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