Tory, Tory, Tory and the television truth
His eyes glistened as he talked about the blue revolution. These were Maggie's soldiers, fighting fo
To dinner with David Suchet. He is bothered by celebrity culture. "Just because you are famous," he says, looking at me with his famously soft, limpid eyes, "people want to hear your opinions all the time." Not long ago, he was asked to contribute his favourite books for a Christmas reading list: "I am just an actor. Who am I to tell people what they should read?"
David and I have been working in China on a TV documentary about pandas. To celebrate the end of the shoot, he invited the production team to dinner on his boat Leoni, a converted Dutch barge moored at St Katherine's Dock in London. David did the cooking; he is an impressive chef.
He is also a weary traveller in the land of celebrity. In western Sichuan, where the pandas live, he was recognised by excited Japanese tourists. As Poirot, he has one of the world's most recognisable faces. Still, he may have missed the point. Celebrities are fated to be blind guides, deaf teachers, victims and beneficiaries of our random desire for glamour, gossip, schadenfreude. In exchange for riches and fame, they have to suffer the incongruity and occasional indignities of a symbolic existence.
Good news. Tory! Tory! Tory!, a BBC4 series I worked on, has been nominated for Best Historical Documentary. As I had been away, the news reached me rather late, but not too late for me to enjoy it before the moment of truth.
The series tells the story of Thatcherism through the eyes of the most influential Thatcherites. It was a bit of a struggle to make. Generally, true believers don't make good storytellers. Nigel Lawson's interview lapsed into a lecture on the exchange rate; Norman Tebbit seemed weary of telling the same stories for the thousandth time; John Redwood was too unworldly to grapple with the simplicities of TV history. As for Michael Heseltine, he turned down our request: why go through the same anecdotes, when they're going to be cut to ribbons?
The Hamiltons were fun. They received us in their Battersea home. We loved the decor: fuchsia carpet and zebra print cushions. "We've just done a documentary with a home make-over team," Christine explained. Neil's eyes glistened as he talked about the "blue revolution". "We were Mrs Thatcher's foot soldiers. We fought for her on the barricades."
My second favourite has to be Edwina Currie. When the crew arrived at her home at 9am sharp, she was ready and correct. The phone was off the hook, dog and husband were shooed out, make-up was immaculate. "Oh yes," she beamed, recalling Thatcher's battle with the miners, "we were ready!"
Filming Tory was interesting, but I have ambivalent feelings about television history. What it offers is a collection of memories, some self-approving, others calculated, others emotionally manipulative, all edited to bite-size chunks. As producers, we try hard to treat facts and feelings with respect. But while recorded recollections can be persuasive and entertaining, they tend to offer a pretty arbitrary view of history.
Shoes of hope
The Emma Maersk, the largest ship at sea in the world, has docked in Felixstowe with 45,000 tonnes of Christmas presents from China. Green MEP Caroline Lucas is bothered by the environmental cost of long-distance trade. To stop the ship from "plying international waters filled with MP3 players and plastic toys", she suggests "import tariffs designed to support home-grown businesses".
China is playing the globalisation game for all it's worth. A childhood friend just called me from Beijing to tell me he's moving his family to Dubai. He owns an air freight company, and is opening up new routes to the Middle East. When I last saw him, he had just set up an office in Nigeria.
Fear of China is alarmist, but the sentiment is understandable. It is not shameful to want to protect your own people, although the environmental argument is a bit of a cop-out. Look at it another way: a China that ships shoes to Britain and elsewhere is a safer neighbour than a resentful China behind an "iron curtain". The bigger China's stake in the global market, the smaller the chance of conflict.
Xiao Jia Gu's conservation film about pandas will be shown later this year on ITV1