South African Experience

(1977)

 

 

Two overriding memories flash through my mind whenever I recall Anthony Thomas's South African Experience.
 

The first is of scanning the morning papers and registering an advertisement, in every newspaper on my desk, of a Tate and Lyle sugar lump kicking in a television screen. The day before Tate and Lyle had been granted a week’s injunction to postpone the broadcast of to Anthony’s Thomas South African Experience series.

 

The second is welcoming Sir Michael Edwardes, CEO of Leyland Motors to Lew Grade’s private projection theater at ATV’s Cumberland Place headquarters for a preview Anthony’s series which also featured British Leyland.  Lord Windlesham, ATV’s managing director, and Charles Denton, ATV’s Director of Programmes, were in Birmingham so ‘three weeks into my new Head of Documentaries’ job, I was standing in for them. 

 

Michael Edwardes allowed me no handshake, and refused my offer of ‘tea or coffee?’ or a (very comfortable) chair. 

 

Instead Edwardes stood at ease (military style), his back straight and perfectly still throughout the fifty minute screening.  I know because I stood behind him.

“No reason for us to get involved - check it for facts,” was his comment, to his press team, as the lights went up. 

 

He reached the lift, waited impatiently (for just a moment), and left - with a handshake.

 

The South African Experience series was angrily anti apartheid produced in an elegantly subdued British way, which didn’t breach the IBA Guidelines. 

 

It rightly won BAFTA’s Television Factual Series award in 1978.

 

Not unexpectedly the end result of this powerful three part series (three hours of television) was that emigration to South Africa from the UK, spiked. 

 

I learned an early lesson about unintended consequences.

 

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