Obituary: Louis Malle

In his comprehensive review of Louis Malle's film output [obituaries, 27 November], Gilbert Adair suggests that the documentary series Phantom India merits reappraisal. When this was shown on British television in 1970 the rumpus resulted in the closure of the BBC's office in Delhi and the repatriation of its news correspondent, writes Leonard Miall.

Malle filmed the five programmes for French television, and they were screened, in 1969, without any protest from the Indian authorities. Indeed, there was little reason why there should have been any protest, for they gave a strongly positive picture of the progress that India had made since Independence. The series examined the technological achievements of contemporary India as well as its cultural diversity, and its infinite capacity to charm and to surprise.

The next year the programmes were shown, slightly shortened, on BBC television. The British press reviewed them, on the whole favourably, and the BBC received approving letters, many from Indians living in Britain. But Malle's inclusion in the first programme of a few shots of people sleeping on the pavements of Calcutta touched a nerve. The film was heavily criticised in despatches from Indian correspondents in London, and later in the Parliament in Delhi, where no one had seen it.

Indira Gandhi, the Prime Minister, was facing a general election. She imperiously demanded that the rest of the Malle programmes be cancelled, on the grounds that they were "repugnant to good taste". When the BBC refused, the accreditation of Ronald Robson, its news correspondent, was withdrawn. The authorities also threatened to close the separate BBC Representative's office in Delhi which dealt with non-news matters, such as the difficult negotiations for permits to make television documentaries. The new conditions which Delhi sought to impose were so onerous that the BBC decided to close the Representative's office at the end of 1970.

In 1972, after discussions between the BBC and the Indian High Commission in London, relations were re-established. It was decided to reopen a BBC office in Delhi on a slimmed-down scale, with one man combining the roles of Representat- ive and News Correspondent.

Mark Tully had previously served in the BBC Representative's office in Delhi. He had then worked in the news area of the World Service. He was the obvious choice for the post. As the person then responsible for the BBC's overseas offices, I arranged for Tully to return to India, the country of his birth, with the title of Chief of Bureau. Bush House and the Television Service readily agreed to help fund his costs. The News Division at Broadcasting House refused to pay a penny, declaring that it was most unlikely that they would ever want to use any of Tully's despatches. How wrong can you be?

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer - Junior / Mid Weight

£15000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To support their continued grow...

Recruitment Genius: Marketing Data Specialist

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are the go-to company for ...

Recruitment Genius: Search Marketing Specialist - PPC / SEO

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join the UK's leadin...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This caravan dealership are currently recruiti...

Day In a Page

Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
10 best statement lightbulbs

10 best statement lightbulbs

Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

Dustin Brown

Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test