Inside ‘ABC at Large’, the campaigning current affairs series, in 1962
Some of the most effective television campaigns of the past year have been launched from offices overlooking a gloomy Oldham side street.
They are, in fact, the offices of freelance journalists Tom Brennand and Roy Bottomley, co-editors of tonight’s (Saturday) late-night current affairs programme, ABC at Large. And crusades are their business.
It might be the plight of old people living alone in Birmingham. Or an over-populated dogs’ home in Sheffield. Or a vice problem in Liverpool. Their campaigns make themselves felt everywhere — even in Westminster. “But they don’t always make us popular,” said Bottomley.
When an ABC at Large programme showed the results of a week’s probe into Liverpool’s vice problem, there were strong reactions in the city. But the file they had assembled was gratefully accepted by Mr. Anthony Greenwood, M.P. for Rossendale, Lancs., who was taking part in a national inquiry into the problem of vice.
“After the Street Offences Bill was passed in Parliament, it was felt that an investigation should be made through-out the country to find out just what effects the new Bill was having,” said Mr. Greenwood.
“This was where the Liverpool file came in useful. It gave a helpful picture of the situation in an industrial city.”
Another M.P., Mr. Ellis Smith of Stoke-on-Trent, was campaigning for years about old mill lodges, flooded pits and quarries, which were claiming young lives every year throughout the country.
So ABC at Large went into the matter — and Mr. Smith is hoping that the publicity, coupled with the questions he is putting down about it in the House of Commons, will result in official action being taken to fill in the death traps.
“The investigation by ABC at Large stimulated a lot of interest,” said Mr. Smith. “The programme is doing a good job in bringing matters of this nature to the notice of the public.”
Congratulatory correspondence always follows a campaign.
When the team used a story about two old people found dead in their home, there was a veritable snowstorm of letters.
A studio demonstration of the dangers of driving under the influence of drink — in which a human “guinea pig” drank six double whiskies and then used a reaction tester to illustrate its effect on his “driving” — produced a commendation from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents.
A programme about the dangers of poisons in the home brought in scores of letters demanding that the antidotes of all poisons should be included on the bottle labels — and ABC forwarded the suggestions to manufacturers.
“Reactions like these make you feel the job is really worth while,” said Brennand. “And yet, so often, it’s the little things that make the most profound impression on you.”
Little things, for instance, like the response from pensioners recently, when Tim Brinton was taken ill shortly after spending a week trying to live on an old-age pension.
“We got dozens of letters from grateful old people,” said Brennand, “thanking him for what he’d done, and offering best wishes for a speedy recovery.”