Panic stations – for World in Action

What happens when a World in Action story falls through

TVTimes masthead
From the TVTimes for week commencing 6 February 1965

THE six-seater “Dove” aircraft that whisks the World in Action team across Europe is once more standing by, ready to fly off at a moment’s notice.

For World in Action returns to your screens on Tuesday.

The pilot is Capt. Jack Walters — a 34-year-old veteran of some 7,000 flying hours in 50 different types of aircraft. He has been conveying World In Action for the last four years and has taken them as far north as the Faroe Islands, east to Copenhagen, and south to Rome.

But to come down to earth — to London’s Golden Square, to be exact. It is a Tuesday: the World In Action team are in real action—preparing one of their “panic” editions for transmission that night.

Directing operations as smoothly as a master mariner is Alex Valentine — a broad, forceful 41-year-old Scotsman in a black crew-cut sweater. He smokes incessantly, and fortifies himself with endless cups of coffee.

He told me: “There have been, and I’m afraid will be, many ‘panic’ programmes. They’ve become part of our life. Some programmes come out sub-standard, so we scrap them. Or topical programmes fall down overnight — like the time Cassius Clay had a hernia and couldn’t fight.

“So then, we have to think and act quickly. We have to do a week’s work in two days. It’s impossible, of course, but somehow it gets done.”

He pointed to two camp beds in the office. “Those,” he said, “are the most important properties here — and coffee!”

He went on: “Physically, this job is a backbreaker, for all 32 of us. I’ve never seen so many dawns in my life, I don’t mind telling you.”

Basically, World In Action has four producers with four units working on four different programmes, here and abroad. When “panic” time comes, everyone who is available drops whatever he is doing and comes to Golden Square.

World In Action has been in existence for 764 days. They have screened 80 programmes from 24 different countries, and shot over three-quarters of a million foot of film.

“The thing is,” Alex said, “that you’ve got to be prepared to shoot two programmes, to get one on the air. On any ‘panic’ story, you’ve got to get at least 5,000 foot of film out of our library as an insurance, as a stand-by, in case what you get on the spot doesn’t work. You may never use a foot of it. Like the ‘Man In The Trunk’ case — the suspected spy who was about to be flown, doped, to Egypt.

“When this story blew up, I decided it was big enough to justify a ‘panic.’ We scrapped what we were working on, and I took the first night flight to Rome.

“The co-operation I got from the Italian police was fantastic. In less than two days they had built me an exact replica of the trunk and they used all their resources to make up a complete and detailed reconstruction of all aspects of the crime.”

Assistant to Alex Valentine on World In Action is Peter Heinze. He is one of three “fixers” — the back-roomers who do anything from obtaining £500 [£8,100 in today’s money, allowing for inflation – Ed] in Vietnamese money at the flick of an eyebrow to getting 10,000 toy soldiers delivered by the next post.

For “The Great Train Robbery,” for example, they hired the privately-owned Bluebell Line in Sussex for two days.

The biggest “panic” of all?

“John Bloom, I should think,” said Peter. “At the time of his empire’s collapse, we didn’t start on the programme until Sunday, for Tuesday transmission. Somehow, we managed to recall all our four producers and camera crews.

“We shot ‘around it,’ as best we could. We had to think of every possible background angle, in case we didn’t get Bloom himself. Once we had committed ourselves to it, we had no alternative.

“We kept ringing Bloom day and night. He kept saying … ‘Well, I’ll think about it. I’ll think about it …’ We never got him. Well, that’s the way it goes.”

The team on the tarmac

Number diagram of the above image

ABOVE is the team which brings you World In Action. Below is a key to the jobs they do.

1 and 6, Assistant cameramen; 2 and 9, Cameramen; 3, Recordist; 4, Driver; 5, Assistant recordist; 7, Co-pilot; 8, Pilot; 10, Assistant editor; 11, Editor; 12, Librarian; 13, 14 and 15, Production office staff; 16, Secretary to executive producer; 17, 18, 22, 26, Four researchers; 19, 20, 27, 28 Four producers; 21, Executive producer; 23, Projectionist; 24, Assistant dubbing editor; 25, Editor; 29, Dubbing editor; 30, Assistant editor; 31, Production assistant; 32. Commentator.

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