A Life Rewound: Memoirs of a freelance Producer and Director

Memories of a maker of masterpieces


Bank House Books, £20

Peter Morley, whose achievement has been too little noticed, is one of the finest producer/directors to have worked in British television. In the spirit of "If I am not for myself, who is for me?" Peter has written own his story, and made a handsome job of it. I could not put the book down till I had finished it, partly because it brought back to me memories of the early, halcyon, days of ITV. But it is packed with interest.

He was born Peter Meyer in Berlin in 1924. Peter's Jewish parents sent their children to England and safety in good time. He was well schooled, and looked after. Early on, he conceived an ambition to work in film, and in the early years of the war there he was, an assistant projectionist, a rewind boy, at the Dominion in Tottenham Court Road.

Unremarkable? Yes, but the architect had forgotten about projection, and so the Dominion's projection-box was stuck on afterwards, outside, reached high up, in all weathers, by a sort of fire-escape ladder. Up and down this ladder he carried piles of heavy cans of celluloid. Down it, he also carried the latrine bucket. But it was a start.

Military service, though he was a registered enemy alien, took him back to Berlin, on guard at Potsdam in 1945. Then he was naturalised.

Morley joined Associated-Rediffusion for the start of ITV, and advanced rapidly, making striking documentaries, one after the other. Fan Fever captured young girls enraptured by singer Dickie Valentine. Israel Rises, made with Cyril Bennett, another Jew, marked Israel's 10th anniversary. Cyril would relate that, late one evening, the cutting room door opened to reveal A-R's general manager, Captain Thomas Brownrigg, inquiring what they were doing. "Making a documentary, Israel Rises, sir", they said. "Ah", said Brownrigg, "must remember one thing - tricky fellow your Hebrew."

Morley directed ITV's first opera, Britten's The Turn of the Screw and, later, to international acclaim, ITV's coverage of Winston Churchill's funeral. To meticulous preparation he added a keen eye and unflappable presence.

He also produced Mountbatten (born Battenberg), a somewhat self-congratulatory, 12-part series on Lord Louis's life, which paved the way for other historical series that followed.

Peter seemed always to get on well with royalty; the lavish photographs in his book show him with them, tall, handsome, self-confident. They liked him, too.

In 1978, he made the documentary by which he will always be remembered, Kitty - Return to Auschwitz. Kitty Hart, a Birmingham radiologist, survived Auschwitz, and bottled up for years a torrent of memories. Peter was making a fine series, Women of Courage, for Paul Fox at Yorkshire Television. Kitty was deemed worthy of a 90-minute film on her own. She went back to Auschwitz, tremulous, with her son, to show it to him. Peter's camera unobtrusively recorded her reactions as she told what she saw and did there.

One of the problems with recounting the Holocaust is that the numbers of victims, all those millions, can seem daunting, hard to grasp, even impersonal. Kitty - Return to Auschwitz, a recognised masterpiece, commands our attention and respect. So should the man who made it.

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