My Mentor: MICHAEL COCKERELL ON FRANK BARBER: `I had to take the rap. It was close to ending my BBC career, but Frank was able to protect me'

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I WENT to work for Frank at the BBC for a programme called Focus on Africa. It was a very exciting time, as it was when many of the African countries were becoming independent. All I knew was that he was a pretty formidable presence. He said to me: "I'd like you to come and work on this programme as it's dying on its feet and if you make a success of it, that's what I would expect of you, and if you fail then you'll be out."

Frank was a very tough Yorkshireman who was a hard and demanding boss. He stood no nonsense. If you weren't up to the level he expected of you, then he would be very harsh. I remember one of my fellow producers coming into a morning meeting and saying: "I think we maybe should do something about..." Frank said: "If there are five words that are banned in this room, they're, `I think we maybe should... You just tell me what we're going to do."

I remember one moment when I let him down rather badly. It was during the Nigerian civil war. The BBC was seeking to be very even-handed in its coverage, and we managed to get an interview with the guy who called himself the Biafran High Commissioner. I told my reporter, a Biafran patriot, not to do a sympathetic interview. I listened to the interview as we broadcast it, and right at the very end he had added on: "Thank you very much and good luck in your struggle."

When Frank came in, I have never seen a white man's face so black with anger. He had been protecting us against the BBC bosses and the government, but we thought that horrible things were going on and we wanted to report them. I had to take the rap for this, and I think it was probably pretty close to the end of my BBC career, but luckily he was able to protect me. I felt very guilty but grateful.

I worked with him for about two-and-a-half years before moving to television. I didn't see him that often afterwards as we worked in opposite corners of London, but he was always very encouraging.

Michael Cockerell is the producer of `Michael Howard: No More Mr Nasty', BBC2, Saturday, 8pm

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