CV: ROGER BOLTON Independent producer, presenter, `Right to Reply' - Media - News - The Independent

CV: ROGER BOLTON Independent producer, presenter, `Right to Reply'

I went to Liverpool University in 1964, and at the beginning of 1967, the BBC sent people round to talk about the jobs that were available. They said we could apply to be studio managers, but told us not to bother with the general trainee scheme, because only people from Oxbridge got on that. But I thought: "Bugger that - I'll have a go", and they offered me a general traineeship.

I went first of all to Bush House, where I remember interviewing someone about the introduction of giant rabbits into Australia for food. I then worked on Late Night Line-Up, with Joan Bakewell, and on a religious programme with Malcolm Muggeridge called The Question Why?, before ending up in current affairs.

I was first on The Money Programme, then on Panorama, and in 1978 I was asked to edit a nightly show called Tonight, which was when my troubles with Ireland began. We thought our job at the BBC was to explain to the British people what the facts were about Northern Ireland, but we ran up against Mrs Thatcher, who was just coming to power. Some months after Airey Neave was killed by the INLA, we interviewed a member of the INLA, trying to find out what they believed and why on earth they had done such an appalling thing, and Mrs Thatcher did not approve.

Subsequently, when I became editor of Panorama later in 1979, I attempted to make an in-depth programme about the IRA with Jeremy Paxman, but in the course of filming there was a dreadful row and I got fired. But I was reinstated, and I had a great time editing Panorama. It was a very radical period - you could ask fundamental questions about almost anything.

In 1983, I moved on to Nationwide, and during that year's election period we felt it was our job was to give ordinary people the opportunity to question political leaders. We selected a lot of tough-minded people, telling them to keep at the leaders, and Mrs Thatcher, for the first and only time in the campaign was discomforted, because she'd got her facts wrong. One lady called Diana Gould asked questions about the Belgrano, which was steaming away from the Falklands when it was sunk, with the loss of more than 1,000 lives, and Mrs Thatcher maintained stoutly this wasn't the case. But Diana Gould didn't give up - so that got me into trouble again.

I was then moved to run the BBC Network Production Centre in Manchester, where I was responsible for more than 1,000 people and a range of programmes from Michael Wood's In Search of the Trojan Wars to the snooker and cricket, and I had immense fun. But then came the Real Lives programme, in which Martin McGuinness was interviewed and which the BBC governors banned at the request of Leon Brittan. Though I wasn't directly involved with it, I put my head above the parapet and argued that this was wrong. And, in the subsequent reorganisation that occurred, in 1986, I was made redundant.

But then, fortunately for me, David Elstein, who had been appointed director of programmes for Thames Television, asked me to edit This Week, and it was during my time there, in 1988, that the SAS shot three members of the IRA in Gibraltar. The government told everyone that there was a bomb, the IRA members were armed and that there was a shooting match, and it didn't seem much of a story to me - until we discovered there was no bomb, the IRA members had been unarmed and the shooting was all one-way.

Before long, the propaganda of both sides took over, and I felt it was a classic situation where current affairs programmes should try and establish the truth. We discovered that the government account was extremely flawed, and there was a tremendous kerfuffle about it - though, in the end, we were exonerated. But Thames then lost its franchise, and though it may have lost it anyway, I don't think the Death on the Rock episode helped.

By now, at the age of 46, my time was running out as an executive, and no one rushed to employ me. Fortunately, there were opportunities in the independent sector, and in 1992, I managed to get the contract to make Heart of the Matter, renewing my acquaintance with Joan Bakewell. Since then, we've done a lot of documentaries - we're doing a series of three programmes about the devil and the problem of evil for BBC1 - and in 1995 we devised You Decide with Jeremy Paxman, now being presented by John Humphrys.

Three years ago, I was asked if I would like to present Right to Reply, but I don't know how long that will last, as I've now insulted or embarrassed most commissioning editors. In other words, I've been dead lucky, but it has been a rocky road

Interview by Scott Hughes

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