Alan Whicker travels the world on a journey reflecting his varied career. In this episode, he revisits Venice to retrace his steps from soldier to Fleet Street journalist.
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Morning. Alan Whicker.
How do you stop a train? Do you go on the line?
No, perhaps you don't.
'I'm starting a journey around some of the people and places I've explored in 50 years on television.'
Can you imagine doing that on the 8.53 into Victoria?
Once you've casually stopped a train as majestic as that,
the rest of your life tends to be... a bit of an anti-climax.
This is the thickest jungle...
If it's a place the police have refused to come into, why am I here?
Today an expedition into the remote territory of a doomed people.
What about the rich?
Is there sex after success?
-Here's some goodies I'm lucky to have.
-That's about a pound on each side you're carrying around.
What a horrible misshapen person!
-Isn't it better to be a helpless female?
This is Whicker Island...
-International superstar Alan Whicker.
You have had the worst international press of any president I have known.
I'm told you can get someone killed around here.
He has cured me!
We're getting to the exciting bit.
Whicker's World, 238, take one.
Living within Whicker's World has been a lot of fun - the excitement, the unexpected characters,
the occasional glass of champagne. I've had the luckiest of lives,
but as we raced around the world, there's seldom been time to pause and relish the way we were,
the wonder in the way we are today.
So for the next month, with your company, I hope,
I'm going to rediscover some of this international cavalcade on the journey of a lifetime.
'I've often looked at the remote and exotic across the world, but sometimes the most revealing stories
'and unusual people were closer to home. Tonight we start in Venice.'
There are many dazzling cities in the world, but few hang in the mind like an obsession.
Anyone who lives in Venice for a few weeks becomes bonded
to feel forever proprietorial.
Who are these people messing up my piazza?
When I first reached this sea city in 1945, the war was ending, the soldiers had gone,
the tourists had not yet returned.
Living in Venice was like joining an exclusive club.
This Piazza San Marco had reverted to its role as an elegant medieval museum
where one socialised over a Negroni at the Florian or the Quadri,
nodding to other members as all Venetian life drifted around the tables.
'Having fought my way up wartime Italy with the 8th and 5th Armies,
'I reached Venice, to my joy, just in time for the peace.'
I doubt whether Venice has ever been as lovely or as happy as during that first post-war summer
when it was an enchantment just to be alive.
I was seeing out my army service here, of all places,
and editing the 8th Army newspaper, Union Jack, in the elegant offices of the Gazzetino.
Even in those days,
as my requisitioned editorial launch swept some gorgeous contessa across the lagoon for lunch,
or into an opera box at La Fenice,
I was aware that life was as good as it was ever going to be, however long I lived.
'I then lived for several happy months in this small pensione
'in a piazzetta off St Mark's. It was humble, but well placed.'
It so happens that Venice has been one of the fulcrums of my life,
where things change and I set off in some new direction.
At the end of the war, it was here that I stopped being a soldier
and became a foreign correspondent.
Another 10 years and I left Fleet Street and went into television.
And so back, indirectly, to Venice.
'It was here that I filmed my first overseas report -
'a Tonight special with Cliff Michelmore in the chair.'
A lot of people have visited Venice.
Not all that number have lived there for months on end.
One member of the Tonight team has.
Alan Whicker did live here as a young man.
Hello. For centuries, Venice may have been casting a theatrical spell over visitors,
but even if it's part-museum, part-amusement park, part-theatre, there's a lot going on backstage
that the tourists have no eyes and no time for.
'Venice is where I was measured for my first peacetime suit and silk shirts.
'It's where I began to send flowers to deserving signorinas
'and opened my first account at Harry's, with the late Giuseppe Cipriani watchful behind his bar.
'It was little known then, until made famous by Ernest Hemingway.'
Now it's one of the most famous bars in the world.
And still anonymous.
Here you'll see anybody who's anybody...plus a few anybodies who are nobody.
'I devoted a programme to the bar and its owner in 1971.
'Giuseppe's son Arrigo now presides over the family empire,
'sometimes even mixes the Bellinis.'
-You want a Bellini?
I can remember when I started in television,
-I always interviewed people and they were sometimes not at all experienced.
So one had a bottle of wine and we'd have a wine and feel better.
At the end of it all, I was reeling about and they were perfect!
I was looking the other day at the Whicker's World with your father.
He was here in the bar doing exactly what you're doing now, looking very much like you.
But it's one of the most famous bars in the world and yet no one would ever accuse it of being elegant.
It all comes from the idea of freedom. We didn't impose the furniture. It's not an imposition.
If you come when it's empty, it tells you nothing.
The real furniture are the customers because they feel free.
In 2001, the Minister of Art declared Harry's Bar a national monument.
It has to stay the way it is now. Me included. I've got to be here for the next few years!
'Few cities around the world impose this yearning on those of us drawn back year after year
'not to do anything in particular when we get here, but just to lounge about
'and satisfy a longing to be absorbed for a while into a different and a beautiful world.'
Always lucky and happy,
yet always too poor and too busy to buy that Venetian apartment I've been looking for all my life.
I could have picked up a palace on the Grand Canal then
for the price of a few rooms today.
So now it's too late
and my regrets haunt those old grey stones
and these old grey bones.
Yet, when I'm in Venice and happy, springtime still sings in me,
though I'm well aware that, in truth, it's now really the song of autumn or winter.
Not even nostalgia is as good as it used to be.
'In 1946, I left the glory that was Venice and made my way back
'to drab, post-war London.
'Then, after 10 years in Fleet Street, I went into television.
'This is my oldest surviving Tonight footage from early 1957.
'I was snapping at the heels of the bunco boys selling plastic bags in Oxford Street
'and presenting a smooth front to watchful policemen.'
Mothproof, dustproof, waterproof. One shilling.
-How long have you been here?
-Approximately 10 years.
-Do you have trouble with the police?
On the whole, I find the police a very nice body of men.
-Why should the public buy this bag from you?
-They can't buy them from the stores for the same price.
-Why choose Oxford Street?
-There's a tremendous weight of people there that come every day.
-Do you pay any income tax?
You get chased by the police, diddled by the public they say,
but, of course, every penny you make in this mark is tax-free.
Get your polythene bags here! They're only a bob each.
Mothproof, waterproof, dustproof. I'm not here today, gone tomorrow. Only a bob each.
Tonight was television's first nightly magazine programme.
Its fast format of quirky human interest was new to our screens.
The BBC was still embedded in its Civil Service ethos
which took broadcasting off the air every night between 6 and 7
in case viewing parents had trouble getting their children to bed. Can you imagine?
We were writing the grammar of television so that quaint, hour-long toddlers' truce of 1957
did not long survive Tonight's arrival.
Soon viewers were being treated as grown-ups, where the next Tonight was always tomorrow night
and you could make your own house rules in your own home. Wow!
-Aren't your feet killing you?
-You're going faster now!
-You've speeded up a bit!
-I've got a pacemaker.
'Soon we had 7 million, then 10 million viewers. This changed the eating habits of the nation
'as sales of coffee tables soared.'
It seemed that arriving home from work in the evening, everyone wanted to settle down to a meal
'in front of that cheery gang on Tonight, where something was always happening.'
Well, it's all right for you sitting there, but my feet are killing me. Good night.
I found it a perfect billet.
I'd spent several years commanding the 8th Army Film and Photo Unit and knew a bit about photography.
Then Fleet Street taught me how to write fast. I wasn't good-looking, as you can plainly see,
but at least I was neat and not noticeably shy.
Most important of all for Tonight, I enjoyed people.
This is Meadowview Terrace, a terrace of 10 houses.
We're looking for number 5.
It's more difficult than you'd think. That's number one.
This is number two and this is number eight...
-How long have you been delivering letters here?
-Have you worked out these numbers?
-Well, it's a difficult job.
-I believe you.
-There's 12 houses, numbered 1 to 4 three times,
three 1s, three 2s, three 3s and three 4s.
-I'm looking for number 5.
-That's the one next to number 8, which is marked 8.
But that is... No, the one next door to 8 is marked 3.
Well, it's number 5 from yon end.
-And then from this end, it's number 2.
-It's seven from that end.
It can't be seven from that end.
I'm sorry about this confusion. It's obviously quite straightforward.
If number 8 is the third one from here,
and the sixth one is number 1,
5 must be the fourth down, er... or possibly the fifth down.
I'll find it by trial and error. Good night.
'After several happy years, I found myself growing restive within Tonight's magazine format.'
This required filmed reports up to 20 minutes long, usually 10,
so there was little time to develop theme or personality.
It seemed that I was drawing away from the stop press demands of a fast, topical programme,
while the producers were preoccupied with feeding the brute nightly.
In the end, we did a deal. I'd continue under the stick of Tonight
with the carrot of an occasional series of one-hour specials.
'The first two curtain raisers we rushed into were devoted to J Paul Getty
'and Baroness Fiona Thyssen.
'These were seen in 1963 as television milestones -
'Getty for content and a revealing profile in depth, and Fiona for style and treatment.
'In the early '60s, tycoons were not in the habit of inviting readers of glossy magazines into their homes.
'So our first hour-long programme with Getty at Sutton Place
'was a revelation.'
Money is secondary. Nobody makes money unless they run a mint.
'Paul Getty, then the richest man in the world, was little known.
'He lived alone in a splendid Tudor mansion in 700 acres of Surrey,
'which he'd bought for £65,000.
'I'd met him a few times socially and was invited to his Sunday lunches.
'It was on one such occasion I thought I detected a faint, but unspoken desire
'for some public acknowledgement of his remarkable career and achievements.
'He seemed the least likely prospect for the total exposure of television
'but when I suggested he might be the subject of my first in-depth programme, he agreed.'
I'm intelligent, I like to think.
I know others just as intelligent or more intelligent.
I'm imaginative, I like to think.
I have...many friends and acquaintances who are just as imaginative or more imaginative!
I always wish that I had a better personality,
I could entertain people better, was a better conversationalist.
Always worried I might be a little on the dull side as a companion.
There are a great many stories, Mr Getty, of your care with money.
For example, you've installed a pay telephone box here to prevent your guests abusing your hospitality
by making trunk and toll calls.
I think right-thinking guests would consider that was
..daunting if you're visiting somewhere and have to put in a long-distance call
and charge your host with it.
'For a reclusive man, Getty was surprisingly unconcerned and forthcoming.'
Millionaires seem to be handicapped in their search for domestic happiness.
Do you have much aptitude or instinct for family life?
I like to think I'm average.
You're not average in as much as you've been married five times, Mr Getty.
Well...maybe business had something to do with that.
Certainly your spectacular success as a businessman has only been equalled by your abysmal failure
-as a husband.
-That's right. I'm the world's worst.
One of your wives has said you're afraid of showing your feelings.
You've never been able to open up with men or have an intimate man friend.
Oh, I think I've had...
..a few good friends.
One of the closest friends I have, and one of the best friends I had,
..died this morning.
'I was stricken and wanted to stop the recording, but he continued as though nothing had happened.'
I think I had a long...
and close friendship with him.
She says, "Paul is the most lonely man I know. He wants to meet the other person, but he can't."
I wouldn't say that I've ever felt particularly lonely. I'm too busy.
'When the programme was transmitted, there was no doubt the reclusive Getty won the viewers' sympathy.
'His mournful and hesitant delivery ensured that he was not an easy interview,
'but viewers did not envy his lifestyle or his wealth. They just felt sorry for him.
'On one US network, the programme was shown twice in the first week.
'One reviewer described him as "an essay in gloom".
'That was something nobody could ever say about my second subject.'
Once upon a time, and this is a true fairy story,
there was a beautiful Scots girl who lived contentedly in the country surrounded by horses.
She might still be there, but one day most of Daddy's money was taken by the big, bad Inland Revenue
so the horses were sold and the weeping Scots girl went bravely out into the world to work.
She became a model and the fashionable face of 1952,
the unattainable creature on haughty magazine covers.
So beautiful was she that one day a rich baron,
'Heine Thyssen-Bornemisza no less, came down out of the mountains to claim her as his third bride.
'And together they set off to the place at the end of the rainbow where rich people go to be happy.
'I followed her to Switzerland and Italy with the camera running.
'It was going to be a new style of documentary, with the reporter sharing the action.'
Oh, non, ca va.
-What did you have to set about changing in the Baron?
As a person, I wouldn't... You mean marry the man today and change his ways tomorrow? No.
No, I didn't, but I had an awful row the first week we were married
because he had a telex machine in the room next to our bedroom.
You can dial a number and type a message to anywhere in the world.
The New York Stock Exchange prices used to come in at night.
He'd leap out of bed and rush across and look at it,
so I had to have it removed. "Either it's the telex or me."
As a newly-married wife, you're sensitive to those sort of things!
'Fiona and Baron Heine had been married almost seven years.
'They had one daughter and Fiona was now seven months pregnant with their second child.'
-What about the satisfactions of wealth?
-Well, here's some goodies that I'm very lucky to have.
You must have been pleased to see that, I'd have thought.
-Well, what woman wouldn't be?
-How many carats is it?
-I think 25.
These are a pair of yellow diamonds, which I'm very, very fond of.
-They must be about 25 carats, too.
-I think they're about 25, yes.
-And this is the necklace that goes with them.
-How many carats is that?
-Diamonds, it seems, are even a multi-millionairess's best friend.
-It must be a great comfort to have diamonds by the dozen.
-Comfort against what? For what?
-The cold, perhaps.
-Yes. They have to be useful for something.
-Don't tell me you've run out of questions.
-Never. I'm enjoying this so much.
-'After transmission of Model Millionairess,
'the BBC received no criticism about her unguarded, but endearing display of enviable wealth.
'Everyone, critics included, adored her. I believe the response might be different
'in these less generous, more resentful days.'
How about world events? Do you keep informed of what's happening?
Not very much, no. As a Swiss wife, we don't have the vote in Switzerland.
I don't have many opinions about it.
-Let's go a little fast again.
There's something about a speedboat that makes you want to laugh.
If you can!
Alan, how's your drink?
-He does flirt a little, your husband.
-And I like to keep an eye on what's going on!
-Why do you believe that the Baron loves you?
Well, first of all, he's stayed married to me for seven years nearly
and, secondly, he told me so
and he said that he loved me because I was very ordinary, which I interpreted as not neurotic,
so we agreed and it suits us both.
The best aspect of Whicker's World is that my interviewees often become friends
and so it was with our model millionairess, Fiona Thyssen. Today she's visiting my home in Jersey.
'She and the Baron didn't live happily ever after.
'Heine moved on to other brides, two or three, I believe,
'but at least I gained a friend for life.'
You once told me that when we made our film
-..that you went away afterwards and it was the first time you'd thought about your life.
How did it affect you?
Well, it was a terrible shock because with that one magic phrase of yours about the cushion of wealth,
I saw very clearly how it had kept me... I had always seen it as a golden cage,
but it had absolutely distanced me from reality.
I was very naive and that naivete stayed with me.
I didn't seem to grow in the marriage and I was very surprised at the end.
I remember a last scene where Heine goes off
and I felt a terrible sadness.
I didn't realise then what you had seen, that it was the end of my marriage.
You saw things I wasn't aware of. It helped me see those.
-Everybody liked you, of course.
-I was very pretty in those days. Irresistible, I was told!
-It was probably me telling you.
-Probably. I'm sure it was.
You gave me great confidence because Heine did not give me that.
-I'd say, "What would you like me to wear?" "Doesn't matter."
-Swapping you for some bouncy Brazilian...
Well, she was young...and bouncy and lovely long, blonde hair.
I've often wondered whether I ever did you a disservice
-in encouraging you to consider more profoundly your marriage.
-Absolutely not. It was clear to you
that it had built-in limitations and so on and it really did help me to acknowledge the fact
that I was not in the right marriage, I had not married the right man for me.
What was the right man for me?
I never remarried. Heine's a hard act to follow.
-How difficult was it to walk away from all that?
-I had no difficulty at all.
I didn't even have a lawyer. I said, "Heine, just give us what you think we need, the kids and I,
"to live on a comfortable scale as you think fit."
So what he did, actually, was call up his secretary and say, "What are your wages per month?"
"2,000 francs." And he turned to me and said, "I'll give you 2,000 francs a month." And that was it.
'From the elevated world of St Moritz, I returned to England and the fields of high Leicestershire
'to spend time with the Quorn, the most famous hunt in the world.'
This is Britain, where those who describe themselves as "fond of animals" hunt them to death
or spend their lives dominating a very small dog,
fire brigades are called to rescue kittens from trees, people refuse to eat eggs from battery hens,
get up petitions for horse troughs and any book about a gull or a duck, however stumbling and inane,
is an automatic best seller.
Old age pensioners go hungry, delinquents swing bicycle chains, drunken parents cripple children,
but we're not really outraged until someone throws stones at a cat,
then we're off lobbying our MPs.
And the field sports and blood sports lobbies, the pros and the antis, are powerful and vocal.
The pros are better organised, the antis get a better press.
They have emotion on their side. And to be against something is more interesting.
Everyone takes sides on fox hunting.
For centuries, the pursuit of animals for sport, not food,
has caused bitterness between classes and separated town and country.
'A local fox hunter had just been killed in a fall
'and his widow received letters expressing delight at his death.
'The BBC could cope honourably with any subject, apart from sex, drugs and blood sports.'
'During several busy weeks, we filmed everything there was to see in this whole scarlet carnival
'except a kill. For a responsible programme balance, this needed to be shown.
'On our last day, as we prepared to eave the Quorn,
'a fox on a run came straight towards our cameraman with the hounds behind in full cry.
'In filming so controversial a programme, we could not win,
'but, strangely enough, we did!'
The chairman of the League Against Cruel Sports and his antis enjoyed our film, they said,
and Death In The Morning was the BBC's 1964 entry for television's international Prix d'Italia.
Splendid. Thank you.
'Despite all this sweet talk, fox hunting was as divisive as it is today.
'I have the original Daily Mail cartoon foxes wondering,
'"Are you pro or anti Whicker?"'
Fortunately, there was an adequate supply of pros, for we had peak transmission on Saturday nights,
the first time documentary had been allotted an entertainment slot.
With the birth of BBC2 in 1964, its controller, David Attenborough, offered me my first series
of regular hour-long programmes under the banner of Whicker's World.
The convenient alliteration of the title allowed us to look at anyone, anywhere
or, indeed, any thing in a personal way
with someone to carry the can after the transmission for what had been said and done.
That's a signed documentary and it meant that I could cast my net wide.
It's show time!
They're here to be shaped and baked, steamed and creamed.
Why do you think that young woman felt the need to have her breasts increased?
Could you explain who you are?
I am the master power.
-Are people unpleasant?
-No, but you get some real head cases.
Stand with your legs apart. Go back. That's lovely.
Fashion, like love, is a personal and two-way affair.
-You can be quite rude, keeping things at a fever pitch...
-Get out or I'm gonna bust you!
'This was uncharted, though splendid territory.
'Our problems concerning fox hunting were as nothing compared to the outrage when, in 1967,
'it was reported that Whicker's World would now examine bullfighting.
'Hate mail started at once and alarm bells rang when we examined the rituals of the corrida,
'that sunlit ceremony, rich in the Spanish preoccupation with emotion, courage and death.
'Like a red rag to a bull, Matador became a time bomb for BBC Television.
'We'd planned to concentrate upon the most glamorous of the young matadors, El Cordobes,
'known as The Fifth Beatle. He had turned a classic minuet in the ring into a brawl.'
'It had been the policy of the BBC not to allow bullfighting to be seen in Britain,
'but we took a deep breath and a deep look.'
Since Cordobes is more reckless than other matadors, braver than most and less skilled than many,
he's often, in a short and violent career, suffered for his fame,
face down in the sand beneath the horns.
The anger that drives him back towards the animal brings the crowd to its feet.
While other toreadors play the bull, lead it through a ritual, Cordobes fights it all the way.
'When whispers reached Westminster, a group of MPs tabled a motion asking the Postmaster General
'to ban the programme. He refused, but newspapers published hostile editorials
'and I received a massive mail damning me in advance.
'Despite this, Matador won an enormous audience and many awards.
'A significant American magazine summed it up well, I thought.
'"Honest and pitiless truth."
'It was the first bullfight to be shown on British television.
'Filming Britain in the '60s, I was able to witness its social transformation.
'The post-war generation had few links with the past
'and at a moment when life seemed to change direction, I talked to three 19-year-old girls
'about their most intimate hopes for the future.
'Lady Caroline Percy was a duke's daughter with a castle in Northumberland,
'Norma Spray had a semi in Nottingham
'and Nina Lane, the happiest of the lot, worked on a Boots production line. They gave me a bird's eye view
'of their dreams and attitudes.'
The best thing is to get a job round the corner.
But she might expect you to work harder than you're prepared to work.
Well, I'd either work harder, if I could,
or...get another job.
I might go to library college, but that takes two years.
-I don't know if I'd like two years at college without any money.
Especially after being at work for some time.
All girls would rather have clothes at the moment.
It's the moment that counts. It's now that you meet your husband
and he'll care for you, so if you get enough clothes now, and pick a husband with enough money,
you don't need a good job.
I'd like to be a veterinarian.
-Come again? A veterinarian?
-Or an air hostess.
-You know, on an aeroplane.
-Oh, of course, yes, yes.
-Would you go out with a coloured boy?
-Yes. If I find him interesting and amusing.
No, I definitely wouldn't. I don't like mixing races together.
Really? Even if he was agreeable and kind and all these other things?
-No, because I wouldn't be agreeable.
How do you set about competing? What do you do?
You just have to buy as many clothes as possible,
keep changing your hairstyle, changing your makeup.
And try generally to look prettier than the other girls.
If you look absolutely marvellous, who needs a gorgeous character? You need that if you're ugly.
Do you think that today virginity has much value?
It depends, I mean... In certain sections of society less than others.
-In your section?
-I wouldn't say it had much value.
Most chaps would prefer to sleep around, but when it comes to marriage, they prefer a virgin.
Or a near virgin. They don't want to marry a girl who's slept with all their friends.
-What's a near virgin?
-Well, somebody who...
..has just been to bed with people she thought she was in love with and thought she would marry.
Isn't that what all girls do?
No. If you sleep around you don't.
Of your girlfriends, girls you know and work with,
how many do you think, of your age, are still virgins?
I don't think any of them are. I don't think anybody is.
At 14 they know practically everything. I don't think anybody is.
We don't really talk about things like this. I've never met anybody
who I can say... You wouldn't go and say, "Do you sleep with your boyfriend?"
-How do you hope you'll spend the rest of your life?
-Live comfortably, get married, have some children.
-No, not to live here.
-To live somewhere else?
-Somewhere else, yes.
'Caroline married a Spanish count, divorced and returned to England with two daughters.
'Norma is married and lives in Bournemouth.
'Nina also married, but sadly died of breast cancer in 2001.
'She still worked on her factory production line.'
We're about to see a programme on divorce
as it affects a merry-go-round of people in the public eye who are subject to unusual stresses.
Divorce is not a happy subject.
It can be, as you'll see, a time of great distress. Tomorrow, the House of Commons will...
40 years ago, when our investigation into the stresses of divorce was filmed,
80,000 divorcees were thrown back into the marriage market every year.
In those days, divorce lawyers could be quite cruel and so hostile to divorce by consent
that they seemed to demand a spectacle of cruelty in public
before two people could legally bury a dead marriage.
Then, as now, in every parting someone is selfish.
In every wretched divorce, there's one who goes eagerly towards remarriage, perhaps,
and a sort of happiness, one who is left behind alone.
I spoke to Robin Douglas Home after he'd gone through
the awful rigmarole then required to obtain a divorce, posing for compromising photos with someone
who was not his wife.
She didn't want a period of separation, trial separation.
She wanted her divorce.
So I agreed to give her the grounds.
That is a very expensive and thoroughly unsavoury business
involving expensive and thoroughly unsavoury girls
in expensive and thoroughly unsavoury hotels! It cost me a bloody packet!
Eventually, we all ended up, two girls, me and two private detectives and a lawyer in an office,
listening to each other giving affidavits. The thing was completely crazy.
Anyway, this apparently, despite the fact it was good for two divorces, was not accepted
as sufficient evidence of adultery.
When I received the petition for cruelty, I can only describe one's feelings to you
as if a small bomb had gone off inside your head
because, em, five years of one's life...
say, 70% of which were very happy,
reduced to a great wad of foolscap,
typed out by leering little clerks in solicitors' offices.
Your letters from the moment you'd met,
typed out. Your letters to your mother. Her letters to her mother.
Her mother's letters to me.
It was all right, you felt, to be regarded as an adulterer,
but you couldn't bear to be regarded as cruel.
I couldn't bear her to...to...
..a kind of tombstone on this marriage
reading in the way that that petition read.
Of course a lot of men, once they have married, have established a sort of pattern
and marry soon after again.
Have you thought of... of marrying again?
I've thought about it.
And come to the absolutely inescapable conclusion that it would be...
..a final mark of insanity.
..if you've failed once, you're going to fail a second time.
Secondly, I just don't want to be...
'It was probably the first time viewers had seen upper-class tears on television.
'We were not prepared for heartfelt emotion from an old school tie.
'Our programme, we were told, had helped the Divorce Reform Bill through Parliament,
'but, to my great sorrow, it did little for poor Robin,
'who, after a failed love affair with a princess, finally despaired and took his own life.'
In 1968, after 10 years with the BBC,
I was invited to join a consortium bidding for ITV's new Yorkshire franchise.
At that stage, I believe I was the only member of our group with any television experience at all.
But this imbalance apparently became an asset, since the most popular consortium was weighed down
by so many famous names that ITV decided that all chiefs and no Indians would lead to dispute.
So in the final selection by ITV, Yorkshire won,
but suffered an all-out strike of technicians on its first night of transmission.
Upon their return to work, I struck television gold in Halifax
with Percy Shaw, the cat's eyes man.
He took me for a run in his Phantom Rolls
and then a supper of beer and crisps and asked me more questions than I asked him.
How will you feel when you are about 18 months off 80?
-I don't think I'll make it, you know.
-I don't think so.
-I'm working too hard.
Get away. Look at them hands - nice and soft and clean.
-Have they ever been mucky?
-Er, yes. I did six years in the Army.
Let's have a feel.
You have no roughness.
-Look at mine - rough.
I'm glad I've had to rough it. Glad I've had to rough it.
In the days when he was roughing it, Percy followed the tram lines down this hillside from Rose Linda's pub.
But when they were taken up, he had the idea that changed his life.
He was struck by lighting and devised a reflecting glass stud to guide his way home,
giving motorists their monotonous bump-bump.
Bachelor Percy roughed it when poor and, in his own way, still roughed it when very rich indeed,
still in his house next to the works where he'd been living in exactly the style he preferred.
Every night was party time for Percy. In his stark sitting room, the invited sat before 4 TV sets,
which performed silently all day every day.
Should Percy spot something that interested him, which wasn't often, he might turn up the sound.
Why four television sets? Why not six?
I'd have six if there were six stations.
But there aren't four stations! There's only three.
-There's BBC in black and white and BBC in colour.
-Ah, I see.
-Which programmes do you like the best?
-It'll be on tomorrow night, I hope.
-And you turn the sound up for the musicals?
I turn the sound up for musicals. Good music, yeah.
-What about my programme?
-I turned it up last night, first time. Sorry.
-I see. So I've been here and you haven't heard a word.
Haven't you thought, a man with all your money, that you could make yourself a bit more comfortable?
The place is a bit bare, isn't it? It's a bit spartan.
If you've health, you have comfort in everything.
But even though you've got your health, what about a curtain on the window? Or a carpet?
Well, you can see out and when you have curtains you can't see out.
What would you say was the happiest period of your life?
When I went to London on a Golden Sovereign.
We stopped at Biggleswade going.
I dare tell you,
we had tea,
a musical evening,
a woman to sleep with...
..bed and breakfast, five course for bed and breakfast,
then she turned us out in t'orchard to fill us pockets with fruit. One shilling.
-That wants beating, doesn't it?
-What was the fruit like?
There was apples and pears and plums. So we filled us pockets.
You've been poor and you've been rich. Which is better?
Well, being rich, I forget what I have.
-It gets buried and I don't know I have it.
-'Sitting with him I wondered why, with all his money,
-'he had no one there to take care of him.'
-They'd want to be my boss and I want freedom.
-They'd want to interfere.
No, freedom, freedom and health is two valuable things.
The freedom to do what?
Oh, anything I want.
But it seems the things you want are quite regular. You want the same things every day.
Now. But previous we used to have changes.
Fresh women, as far as that's concerned.
-What's the supply like today?
-Oh, we're wearing out.
'Percy went his own way with great satisfaction.
'His was a most distinctive lifestyle.
'Soon after that brush with unadulterated Yorkshire,
'I drove 150 miles south to Baddesley Clinton in Warwickshire
'to join a group whose trust in God was perpetual - the enclosed order of Poor Clares.'
Behind their monastery walls, these women had not seen the outside world nor spoken to a man
for 20, 30, 50 years.
After 75 years in this enclosure, one had never seen a motor car, a cinema, let alone television,
though she had looked up to watch aircraft.
These hushed and holy ladies live with disciplined thoughts and downcast eyes, but they loosen up.
-Kick it! Kick it! Try again.
-I'm not as good at this as you are!
'Four times a week, the Mother Abbess permitted 40 minutes of do as you please recreation
'when they could speak.
'And they did speak, especially Sister Gertrude.' What made you choose a silent order?
Oh, I wanted...
Because I never stop talking, do I?!
Oh, I love to talk!
I love to talk.
People outside, Sister Gertrude, often believe that women become nuns after an unhappy love affair.
Oh, no, I'm afraid they don't.
Naturally, being a girl, you get temptations.
I went for a walk with a girlfriend and she wanted a boy, to get married.
I had to walk on. I wouldn't have been faithful to Our Lord if I went with a boy.
You can't play with fire. You can't do two things.
What about you, Sister Veronica? Did you play with fire?
Well, I did a bit, really. I didn't always want to be a nun. That came as quite a shock to me.
Their order was founded some 800 years ago to pray for the world outside,
for the millions with no time or inclination to pray for themselves.
A novice must live a life of prayer for six years before taking perpetual vows.
'Sister Margaret Mary was on the brink.
'Her parents had come to hear her decision, to learn if they had lost her forever.'
-How you doing since we saw you last?
-Not too bad.
-'This enclosed order
'now puts only a symbolic barrier between sisters and family visitors
-'who sit in a parlour behind a token grille.' May I interrupt you?
Sister, what do you think your parents will feel if you decide to take your perpetual vows?
I know this was a difficult thing for them when I came here and it must still be difficult.
Over four or five years, you do get gradually accustomed to it.
Now you're going to say goodbye to your mother and father and turn away and go back.
-Is there no tugging at the heartstrings?
I know I'll see them again.
-Three times a year.
-Or maybe more if the situation arises.
-But that's enough, is it?
-It would have to be.
-It has to be, yes.
-If they say only three times, three times it will have to be.
Is that all right, Mrs Sutton?
You see, it's hard for them. I do understand that and I do sympathise, really.
And I appreciate very much all my parents have done for me.
For them I know it is hard,
but I'm in love with this life and for me it isn't because of that.
'Mr and Mrs Sutton could already sense she would take her vows.'
We filmed this agonised scene more than a quarter of a century ago
but I've never forgotten poor Mrs Sutton's stricken look
as she realised she had lost her daughter.
When we left the enchanting Poor Clares to their holy lives,
we wanted to leave them some token of our visit. This was not easy
because with their vows of poverty any gift would instantly have been passed on to the poor.
'Then we remembered that they'd told us of their garden produce, that much of it went stale.
'So we bought them the biggest deep freeze we could find'
and as we drove away forever a gaggle of excited nuns came out to manhandle it to their kitchen.
They sent me an illuminated blessing
from Saint Clare.
Patroness of television.
She still seems to be taking good care of me.
'Next time, my Journey Of A Lifetime takes us to California.
'Not just a pretty place, but a sensational state that can surprise...'
-Do you sometimes go with more than one man?
-Relax. Relax. Big breaths.
'..and sometimes kill.'
Bang! I shot him right between the eyes!
Subtitles by Subtext for Red Bee Media Ltd - 2009
Email [email protected]
Celebrating a remarkable fifty years on television, TV legend and undisputed travel king Alan Whicker sets off round the world on a journey reflecting his incredibly varied life and career.
In this first episode, Whicker revisits Venice, a city of massive significance and very close to his heart, to retrace his steps from war to peace, from soldier to Fleet Street journalist, and then his subsequent move into the fledgling world of television.
Included in the films revisited in this episode are Whicker's earliest surviving TV appearance, in-depth profiles of John Paul Getty and Baroness Fiona Thyssen, and a legendary encounter with millionaire Yorkshireman and eccentric Percy Shaw - the man who invented cats' eyes.
Finally, the remarkable story of what happened when Whicker became the first man to enter a closed and silent order of nuns - and got them to talk to him.