Points of View

Opinions gives one person a microphone. a camera and 30 minutes of free air-time. Philip ’arr talks to the show‘s producer. John Lawton. about the British version of public access broadcasting.

The old rule was ‘never work with children or animals‘. Perhaps a more apt proverb these days would he ‘never let the general public near a camera'. After about a decade of(‘hannel 4. the Video Box and (’ominenr have become national institutions but more for the inadequacy of the participants than the quality of the material. Similarly. Video [)iaries has shown that. for all the grass roots authenticity which it musters. great TV cannot be made on the cheap just by giving Joe Bloggs the loan of a Sony. As with everything. though. there is an exception which proves the rule.

Opinions will soon be starting its fourth series and has produced consistently entertaining programmes since day one. The reason could he that producer. John Lawton. has always kept a balance between unknowns and ‘names‘. In the first show of the new series one of the victims of the enterprise culture boom time of the 80s. Tess Lingwood. tells her story.

‘I‘ve always tried to give about 40 per cent of the programmes over to members of the public.‘ explains Lawton. ‘()ver the years there's always been that mixture of professional writers and non-writers. Tess is very articulate but the making of the show obviously required a very different method to the one we used with Gore Vidal for instance. I think when you see it you will say that Tess‘s performance is not that of an accomplished performer but I don't feel that it undercuts what she has to say in any way. It makes it a little difficult to watch perhaps and requires some patience but it smacks of integrity. She is what she ' is.~

Lingwood. in fact. is a little less than she was. After buying a small hotel in 1970 she made a

success of her business until. in the mid-80s. she decided that the expansion which was all the rage was right for her too. Now she is counting the cost. The buildin.0 societies which had been so keen to lend her money when the business was thriving

68 The List 12— 25 July 1991


Tess Lingwood. a victim at the enterprise-culture loom oi the 80:, is given a chance to tell her story in the iiret episode oi Opinion:

gathered round like vultures when it hit a rocky patch. She is now bankrupt. businessless and homeless. John Lawton feels that the programme hits exactly the right note.

‘\\'hat we've never tried to do.‘ he explains. ‘is pick up on issues that are obviously there. current and liable to be exhausted before we get to screen. For exatnple l have not. and never would. make a programme about the poll tax. I believe that the debate is out there in society and needs no contribution from television. Most of the time we try and pick programmes which will just tip something that is teetering on the edge of being an issue into really being one.

‘It was January when we decided to look for

We pick programmes which will justtip something that is teetering on the edge at being an issue into really being one.

someone who had lost their borne and business to the building societies and banks. I still don’t think we‘ve blown it. even though it‘s onlv going out now. .‘ylajor got up on his hind leg" in the (‘ommons and said what rotters he thought the banks were but I‘d like to think that we were three or four months ahead of him. And we‘re still amongst the first people not simply to touch on it as an issue but to actually put out a heart-felt cry from someone who's been on the shit end ofthe stick. We‘re out to let this woman state the issues and we will await public reaction. We certainly

don‘t want it to flop and would be happy to see it roll forward as a debate in the press.‘

Whilst Lawton is hoping that the Lingwood programme will fire the rest ofthe media into some sort of reaction. as with previous series. this will be balanced by untopical. general interest shows. This is where the names come in. the most famous (or infamous) of which being Quentin Crisp.

‘He‘s 82 but I knew he could hack it.‘ says Lawton. ‘What I wanted from him were simply the

; reflections of a man that had lived that long and 1 experienced that much. It turns out that he‘s very

keen to be up to date in that he's doing film reviews in New York and taking a most unpredictable stance. He‘s been very critical of a film on gay life in New York. Paris is Burning. Because that film maybe out here when the shows on air. Quentin may look very. very topical but that certainly wasn't the intention.‘

Major got up on his hind legs and said what rotters the banks were. I’d like to thinkthat we were three or tour months ahead at him.

In between the Lingwood and Crisp shows is one by Dame Shirley Porter. Westminster Council‘s notorious leader. and another by Tory peer. Lord McColl who will sing the praises of the government‘s health service reforms. A free platform for Tories to deliver party political speeches is not what we expect from (‘hannel 4. especially when there is no programme featuring Labour supporters scheduled for later on in the series. But Lawton is unrepentent.

‘When you offer someone what is a television soap box you expect a partial argument. impartiality is not a feature ofa single Opinions. Dame Shirley was a loop-hole for me as l have as a rule of thumb that I will never use a serving MP ifl can possibly avoid it. they would just turn the show into a campaign speech. They‘d never accept the conditions that Dame Shirley agreed to. She‘s implemented Thatcherism and the results that she has to display are quite tangible. This is someone who has had to make the grandness ofThatcher‘s ideology into something practical. And I think that is much more interesting than featuring somebody who has just witnessed or been affected by Thatcherism.‘

Such cynicism towards MPs undoubtedly helps Lawton to approach his series in as neutral away as possible. something he wishes that audiences would do also. He sees the programmes as entertaining. possibly provocative but never subliminally persuasive in the manner ofa party political broadcast. He sees one simple explanation of why he is so sceptical about politicians‘ motives. ‘My father was an MP. Take it as an Oedipal factor.‘

Opinions will be on Tuesday I 6 July at 8pm on Channel 4.