In a little over a week, I will be leaving HTV. After 10 years, I’m moving on. And there’s a mountain of things to sort before I go. I wake to hear Dr Patrick Dixon on Radio 4’s Today show, making dire predictions about the worsening SARS epidemic. I’m working with Dixon on a new series idea – and hope his increasing media profile will add weight to our proposal when we pitch to a network commissioner.
Arrive at the office for a breakfast meeting with Dale, a radio journalist on work placement with us. We talk about the West Eye View documentary we’re working on: it’s looking at the extent of racism in modern Britain and will focus on the Bristol Bus Boycott 40 years ago – a dispute involving white drivers who refused to work with black and Asian colleagues.
I begin e-mailing, calling and texting the dozens of HTV Workshop talent who’ve replied to my mailshot, advertising for extras to take part in a reconstruction of the Bus Boycott March. I’m staggered at the response. I only hope the weather turns for tomorrow’s filming. Right now, it’s chucking it down.
We need to confirm the location – the local university campus – and sort out props. Julia, our runner, finds an old Bakelite telephone and some horn-rimmed glasses in a secondhand shop. I call Howard and Tony, our camera crew, to discuss equipment needs and draw up a call-sheet and risk assessment form – we’ll need parental consent for the am-dram actors under 18. Still lots to do: I skip the monthly HTV producers’ meeting.
Heading out of the office at 7pm, I call Guy Bailey, a West Indian cricket fanatic, whose unhappy experience at a job interview with the Bristol Omnibus Company 40 years ago was the catalyst that led to the boycott. He’s happy for us to record an interview next Thursday.
It’s raining hard as we leave HTV’s Bristol studios just before nine, heading for the University of the West of England’s campus. Will our am-dram cast brave the wind and wet? Without them, we’re stuffed. We’ve barely left the car park and I take the first in a succession of mobile calls, from early arrivals. So they’re keen, then.
Filming goes well, despite the rain. Drinks and food in the bar – grateful thanks all round – and we’re done and heading for Easton, to see Wilfred, a 93-year-old former T&G union officer. He’s welcoming enough, but quite unable, or unwilling, to talk about the bus boycott that caused so much racial friction half a lifetime ago.
Later, my wife joins me at one of Bristol’s swish barbourside bars, where some close colleagues have arranged a farewell dinner.
The day starts badly: Raghbir Singh, Bristol’s first black bus conductor and due to be a major contributor in our film, has died in hospital. His son gives me funeral details. I text West Eye View presenter Sherrie Eugene. We feel very sad for Raghbir and his family.
James Garrett, head of current affairs, e-mails me to say he’s heard from Chris Shaw at Five about our Currie Night talkshow pitch. Chris likes Edwina’s “star quality”, but says the show that she presented so successfully for HTV isn’t quite right for his schedule. Apparently, another well-known former Cabinet minister is doing a Five pilot for a similar show. And they say politics is fickle.
First thing, I get a call from Patrick Dixon. He’s done another round of breakfast two-ways on SARS, this time with CNN and Sky. Discovery is calling round later. Very exciting. Dixon has seen, and likes, the outline I’ve drafted for our new series proposal, once I’ve left HTV. The trick will be to convince a network commissioner that it’s a brilliant idea.
Dee Payne, a long-standing colleague, takes me to lunch at another of Bristol’s trendy bars. We brainstorm ideas. Paul Stephenson, Bristol Racial Equality Council spokesman, rings to say that Raghbir Singh’s family are happy for our cameras to be at tomorrow’s funeral. I tell the newsdesk – they’re very keen to cover it. I blag a news camera crew for our interview with Bailey, which has been brought forward 24 hours to tomorrow.
Excellent news! We’ve tracked down one of the West Indian schoolkids in our bus boycott archive footage to an address in London. He knows several other children in the film and he’s happy to help put us in contact with them. Yes!
I also hear that a driver who started with the Bristol Omnibus Company in 1963 is still driving buses today. But will he talk to us? No reply when I call him, so a letter is sent off.
A freelance TV producer friend phones to say she’s fixing us a meeting with a friend of hers, who happens to be the boss of a well-known independent production company. I hear promising developments on another documentary project and Dixon e-mails to ask when we might hear about our commissioning pitch for a network series on the global future. My last day with HTV is 24 hours away. No room for faint hearts now.