ABC INVESTIGATES – with the gloves off


A new series aims to find out everything!

TVTimes masthead
From the TVTimes for week commencing 15 September 1957

IN this turbulent world it is not unusual for people to be puzzled, perplexed and bewildered by many of the things that go on around them.

Information and explanation are not always easy to come by. In local and national affairs there is a growing tendency to conduct matters of public importance behind closed doors.

How often do we read of hush-hush meetings, of confidential memoranda, of documents stamped TOP SECRET, STRICTLY PRIVATE, NOT FOR PUBLICATON? It is because it believes that the public is being needlessly kept in ignorance about many things in which they may be vitally concerned that ABC has decided to sink a lot of money into a fortnightly 45-minute programme that has one aim: to take viewers behind the scenes and find out exactly what is going on.

Two men and school children talk
Simon Kester, with tape-recorder, sits on a classroom desk and talks to children about the 11-plus examination

ABC Investigates is something new to television. Nothing like so complicated a technical set-up has been devised before. Each of these programmes will require the services of something like 150 people, for each in effect, is four different productions rolled into one.

The resources of three different studios — in Manchester, Birmingham and London — will combine with a complete outside broadcast unit, which might be located anywhere in Britain.

But ABC is confident it will be money well spent. As a new development in the use of television as a means of information, the opportunity to pioneer in this field has been enthusiastically welcomed.

A particularly strong team has been set up. Simon Kester, who made his name with brilliant cross-examinations in State Your Case, gets the star job of investigator-in-chief. As programme editor, ABC has brought in George Scott, Editor of Truth. From the world of films has come ace documentary director John Rowdon, who undertakes his first ITV job as producer of the programme. Under him are four directors.

There is also a team of journalists whose job it is to comb the country and ferret out the facts that will form the basis of these programmes.

Recently, I spent a day with them, and later I went out with Simon Kester and his OB team when ABC Investigates went on the air for the first time.

Although this was a full-scale effort, however, it was not seen by home viewers. The pictures and arguments were purely an experiment to see how the programme could be presented and to test the complicated technical details.

I think viewers will like Simon Kester in his new role. As the programme got under way, I found him still as sharp and pungent, if not quite as aggressive, as we knew him in State Your Case.

His task is a formidable one. As an interrogator, he has to bring out, in the most forceful way, the opinions of people he introduces to the experts. Then he tackles the panel on behalf of the people he has been interviewing, and conducts a free-for-all in an effort to thrash out the problem down to the smallest detail.

It is in this part of the programme, when Kester has the opportunity of standing up to the experts himself, that he returns to the punchy, incisive questioning that in State Your Case earned him the tag of “most hated man on TV.”

I talked to the programme’s “Big Three” in the Manchester studios afterwards. Said John Rowdon: “I like to think of the programme as a round Britain electronic conference in which we can attack those aspects of English life which, in our opinion, are not wholly democratic. We shall be out to expose things which some people would much rather keep quiet.”

Added George Scott: “Editing the programme as it goes along is a fascinating opportunity for any journalist. But then, this programme will itself be like a newspaper. We shall be following the news, and the way we treat our subjects depends on the latest news.

“The subjects themselves? Things like inflation, or the common market. Do they sound dull? No subject need be dull if you treat it the right way, if you feel the air of excitement in what you are doing.

TVTimes page with the ABC Investigates capsule highlighted

I reminded him what John Rowdon had said about exposing matters which people in authority would rather keep quiet. How would he get such people to appear in the programme if they knew they were going to be attacked?

“We shall give them an opportunity to say their piece, and, if they refuse, we shall say it for them,” said Scott. “In that case, I think they will prefer to come along and say it for themselves.”

Simon Kester left me in no doubt about his feelings on his new job. “I think it has immense possibilities,” he said, “because of the way it brings members of the public face-to-face with so-called experts and authorities.

“Why ‘so-called’ experts,” I asked.

Replied Kester: “Often a man sets himself up to be an expert, but when he’s subject to cross-examination you find he’s not so much of an expert after all.

“This is where I come in. My purpose is to interpret the questions in the minds of the public and put them to these ‘experts’ in a challenging way. They will go through a tough cross-examination.

“I feel that I shall be doing a service for the public. This is the sort of job that would give any serious-minded citizen a great thrill. In probing public affairs, I shall not be as a compere who has learnt his script but as an ordinary, inquisitive human being.”

About the author

Derek Meakin was Northern editor for the TVTimes

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