Hooded Men (1973)

 

My reward for the success of Dust At Acre Mill - see earlier story - was to be sent to Northern Ireland for a year as World In Action’s acting-producer-in-residence.

 

There are so many stories to tell about that year:

My meeting with Martin McGuinness, who at that time was second-in-command of the IRA in Derry.  A week later I met with Brigadier Kitson who in the aftermath of the 1972 ‘Bloody Sunday’ killings "brutally told Col Derek Wilford that having got so far, he should have pushed on to "sort the whole bloody mess out".

Bloody Sunday happened ‘on my watch’ although I’d flown home that weekend.

Three hotels I was either staying in, or about to stay in, were blown up.

I ‘attended’ dozen of bombings and was choked with tear gas at countless demonstrations.

My most traumatic ‘moment’ occurred during filming in Derry – with a rifle in my back I was forcibly separated from ‘my’ crew, hooded and cross-examined in a remote cottage for an afternoon.  All too recently the body of a UK journalist had been found in a ditch. They checked out my meeting with Martin McGuinness and I was let go.

But the story I want to tell is the one that changed my career. It was about the ‘hooded men’.

Towards the end my term in Northern Ireland World In Action editor, Gus Macdonald, who went onto the managing director of Scottish Television before being ‘elevated’ to Baron Macdonald of Tradeston, told me to find a story, film it and “if its broadcast with your name on it you’ll be promoted from 'acting' to 'staff' producer.”

I don’t usually like reconstruction, but I had been most impressed with the way John Sheppard directed the reconstruction sequences in “Dust At Acre Mill”. These showed billowing asbestos dust (flour) filling a room full of carding machines that I had located in an old mill. John had used workers from the Acre Mill to enact these conditions and vouch for their accuracy.

I decided to do the same with a story about the ‘hooded men’.   

A recent  article in the Times aptly describes what I reconstructed:  The “hooded men” … were flown to a purpose-built interrogation centre and subjected to the “five techniques”: wall standing in stress positions, white noise, hooding, sleep deprivation and withholding of food and water.

To ensure the enactment looked authentic my ‘cast’ was made up of former internees. And I saw no need to add 'balance' with 'establishment' interviews 

Gus Macdonald saw the rushes and was appalled. 

 

If word got out about what I had been up to then World In Action’s reputation in Northern Ireland would be shattered.

Needless to say I didn’t get my staff producer promotion and a year or so later left Granada TV. 

 

Four years on - as ATV’s Head of Documentaries I named our flagship series Viewpoint and introduced a publishing, rather than editorial, ethic to the programmes I commissioned.  

A decade later I bumped into Gus Macdonald.  We agreed that series titles like ‘One Pair Of Eyes’ or ‘Viewpoint’ allow a lot more flexibility, as far as balance was concerned, than‘World In Action’.

Recently, four decades later, I saw a headline in The Independent shout:

Amal Clooney to represent ‘hooded men’ who accuses Ted Heath of authorizing torture in Northern Ireland.

Top barrister and wife of George Clooney, Amal Clooney, is reportedly set to take on the case of the 'hooded men' and their grievances related to the Troubles in Northern Ireland.

The 'hooded men' allege that they were held without trial and were tortured, following the Government’s decision to introduce internment in 1971 after disorder broke out in Northern Ireland …

 

I still regret not making the Hooded Men although if I had I've little doubt I would have stayed at Granada Television and my next twenty years in television would have been a lot less inspiring.

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