In Camera: History recorded

Sometimes a bit of adversity helps someone to focus. Broadcaster Clive Golt found this out on the road to making his seminal series, In Camera. 

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Clive Golt is now Media Director for HM Government of Gibraltar (and as such he commissions this area of the New Statesman website) – but the work for which he’s likely to be remembered in the long term is his interview programme, “In Camera”. Deemed so historically important that the government made its release in transcript form a manifesto pledge, it became available in book and DVD form at the end of last year. Getting to the point of production was no picnic, however.

Golt was head of news at the Gibraltar Broadcasting Corporation in the early 1990s and hard-hitting political interviews were his speciality. He decided to stand for election as a socialist in 1996 and lost by a handful of 114 votes, but his brand was tarnished in the eyes of his employer, which made him compulsorily redundant. It was here, he explained, that his troubles began: “I took over a newspaper that the Gibraltar Socialist Labour Party (GSLP) had. I revamped it and made it into a weekly, on the understanding that I would have full editorial control and would not take orders from the party although I shared and would defend their principles.” The party readily agreed.

Taking on the role proved difficult, however, because the Chief Minister of the day, Sir Peter Caruana, decided not to take advertising with the paper and barred Golt from press conferences. The situation made it politically difficult for GBC to invite him back.

Golt’s view was that he was perceived as biased rather than an independent journalist despite his independent background. Years of searching for jobs followed; he went to Spain and did some broadcasting in Spanish, helped with distribution of films in local stations. He went as far as taking the Government to court and the ombudsman found in his favour, but nothing happened as a result.

It took him 15 years to recover, all told. Meanwhile GBC was undergoing some turbulence including the appointment of four rotating managers, effectively taking turns to manage. It was during this period that producer Patrick Mifsud, an old colleague, approached Golt to make a new TV programme. “I said, you’ve got to be crazy, they’ll lynch you and then they’ll lynch me,” said Golt.

In the event the rotating management accepted the proposal and Golt decided he wanted to do something other than his hardline political interviews. “I didn’t want to come back and do hatchet jobs on people, the audience would have just said here he is and off he goes again.”

Golt’s decision was to pursue the In Camera project. This was an in-depth series of one-to-one interviews with well-known personalities from all walks of life. “I got people from the older generation, as old as it could get,” he explained. He was aware that by the time he was making the programmes, in 2008 initially, this would be the last chance to interview people with certain experiences. “They had memories I wanted to explore, the Blitz in London, evacuation during the War, the Spanish Civil War.” People had seen atrocities in those conflicts and sometimes come to Gib for some respite.

“They were incredible memories – and this has now become a document of international heritage,” he explained. An initial run of 13 episodes was quickly recommissioned, growing to 52 one-hour programmes.

It was actually Golt’s lawyer, a young man named Fabian Picardo, who suggested these interviews should be transcribed into a book. Golt didn’t have the resources and Picardo offered to help; the conversations went on for some time, during which Picardo ended up in Government (and has just won his second term as Chief Minister).

Picardo wasn’t the only one to end up in Government. In a spectacular turnaround, even for a politician, Sir Peter Caruana had offered the post of Media Director to Golt ten months after the untimely death of his predecessor. “People had suggested it and I’d said, I’m at war with Caruana and he’s at war with me, he’ll never give me the job.” Soundings started to emerge from the Caruana camp, however; professional respect overcame any difficulties from the right, and Golt was only too relieved to accept. “I thought, bloody hell, I was about to lose my flat, I was in real trouble.” A steady post was welcome.

It made the front page of the Gibraltar Chronicle and some of the Spanish papers – so ironically, when Picardo was elected Chief Minister in 2011, he found Clive Golt waiting for him at no. 6 Convent Place, the Chief Minister’s office in Gibraltar.

It was during that election campaign that Picardo made a point of promising the release of In Camera for posterity. “I was then tasked with implementing it,” said Golt. In fact each of the four 13-episode series made its own book, and all of the episodes are available on DVD.

The insights in the interviews are many. Golt declines to name any favourites but is pleased to have helped make a record of this historical commentary. “People told of experiences that were quite extraordinary. They told stories about political negotiations and things we didn’t know, and personal stories. In the Spanish Civil War there was a lad called Joe Ochello who couldn’t read or write, was immensely poor and his father used to come to Gibraltar to see if he could find work every day. The money he made, he took home to La Linea and fed his kids. Most of the brothers died, and the young man’s girlfriend Elsie – he used to serenade her so they got together – taught him how to read, with comics. He ended up writing poetry and became an accomplished musician. He said: ‘I came face to face with Lady Poverty’. It was so dramatic, and nobody knew what he’d faced.”

Some of the participants have died since the original broadcast, which is evidently the nature of interviewing the elderly. One of the oldest is still with us and nearly 100. Golt’s hope is that the work will help inform current and future generations of Gibraltarians about their country. He can’t help but reflect that a couple of decades ago making such a series would have seemed so unlikely: “After all those years in the wilderness,” he says.

Guy Clapperton is the freelance journalist who edits the New Statesman’s Gibraltar hub. You can also find him in the Guardian, Computer Business Review and Professional Outsourcing which he edits.