Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tony Garnett: Angry old man shows why we must all still care

I’VE SPENT most of my life striving to uncover the truth – or whatever passes for it at the time – and working to relay that to as many people as possible.
So it was fascinating to spend the evening in the company of man who’s spent his career making up stories – and jolly good ones too.
“We make sense of the world and help society to connect by telling stories,” said Tony Garnett, screenwriter, producer and director extraordinaire whose pedigree goes back to Kes and Cathy Come Home through to This Life and Ballykissangel.
Trim, dapper and looking nothing like his 77 years, Garnett (right) told an audience of students and staff here at Southampton Solent University that documentaries pose difficult ethical problems, which is one reason why he’s stuck to fiction. “There is some seriously morally ambiguous behaviour from film-makers,” he said.
Garnett, himself, has previous in this area. A film he helped make with his collaborator Ken Loach never saw the light of day for 42 years after the charity that commissioned it, Save The Children, took exception to its content.
“We agreed to lock it away in the vault of the British Film Institute if they didn’t sue us,” Garnett told me last night. “But it did eventually get shown once to a small audience all those years later.”
The story behind that film, originally called ‘In Black and White’, but ultimately shown as the nameless ‘Save the Children Film’ is told here, but it would be interesting to see what the protagonists think about it now, especially the big cheeses at London Weekend Television who never did transmit the programme.
It was thrilling to be in the company of such an angry old man –  “You’ll be exploited, abused and pissed on,” he told students at one point – and it was comforting to have such a venerable witness for my prosecution that the creative industries need people who really care.
He had encouraging words for students looking to start a career in screenwriting, citing the number and variety of outlets now available for their work. He shared some of the secrets of his success and touched on his widely-leaked email attacking the BBC for, among other things, “totalitarian micro management”. 
But he left with a word of advice that he’s certainly taken heed of himself: “Your reputation is all you’ve got and all you’ll ever have.”


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