Early on the morning of 5th June1968, uncomfortably jet lagged after my flight to New York, I switched on the black and white tv set in the corner of my (in those days) cheap and cheerful room at the Royalton Hotel on 44th Street.
The news was shattering. Robert Kennedy had been assassinated.
I flew to Memphis, hired a car and drove to Greenville, Mississippi to kick-start my first overseas job as a documentary researcher for Granada Television.
I’d got the jobThis, my first big documentary break, came about after I’d assured Mike Grigsby, an award winning documentary producer and Denis Forman, the MD of Granada, that I knew Mississippi like that back of my hand. In fact I did plantation owner who I was pretty sure would let us film on his land.
The best way to get a glimpse of my story of this shoot is to read the attached article I wrote for the TV Times to coincide with the broadcast of what was planned to be a ‘ground breaking’ film, grounding breaking because it was the first documentary to be filmed in colour for Granada TV. On the night it was broadcast in black and white for reasons I’ll explain.
First here are a few quotes from my TV Times article:
“We’ve had the experiences of the house being bombed, shot at, set on fire, and we’ve been through, I think, all of what the white man could throw at us. When you’ve gone through it and have had these kind of experiences, you just have the fear any more. I think it’s marvelous to have lost the fear.”
Another day we were filming at a black family’s house. The people we were filming were typical. The husband had left home two years earlier to look for work, leaving the mother to bring up eight children. During the morning a station wagon and a Deputy Sheriff’s car pulled up outside. The Deputy inspected our car and left once he had proof it wasn’t stolen.
That afternoon when we moved off, the station wagon followed. I slammed my foot on the break and forced him to overtake. A game of ‘follow that car’ started. Sometimes the station wagon was in front – sometimes we were. We drove down highways, side roads and dirt tracks. I was beginning to understand the reality of statements like: “I know that any white man in town could shoot me down any day he wanted to and nothing would happen to him. Every negro has to live with this every day.”
Deep South was broadcast in black and white because the mother of eight I mentioned earlier was perched on a wooden tomato crate, which took the place of a stool. Back in London, when we saw the rushes for the first time, all eyes were on the bright red tomatoes that shone out from the crate’s label. In black and white all ears were struck by what she had to say.