Fusion: guns, bunnies and fines

Rediffusion London’s house magazine, Fusion, on two productions on poverty and abundance in the USA

Intertel is a project for international understanding through television. The full title is the International Television Federation. The members of it are the National Educational Television and Radio Center and the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company of America, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and Rediffusion Television Ltd, London.

The two Intertel programmes contrast poverty and abundance. The United States is the richest country in the world. Vast car parks full of automobiles reflect this richness. Consumer goods pour out. Yet as machines increasingly take over, the awesome surplus of people grows. So do the dole queues – and despair. Homes, too, range from luxury apartments to shacks.

From 'Fusion', the house magazine of Rediffusion London, issue 37 from Christmas 1964

Location filming always brings its crops of incidents. Here researcher BRYAN FITZJONES tells some of the lighter events which overtook the Rediffusion unit in the United States.

We travelled between us something like 150,000 miles. I have lost count of the hotels we stayed in. We learnt to pack suitcases perfectly in 10 minutes flat. We even mastered driving in Los Angeles – and there is no place worse in the world. On the whole we found the Americans excessively friendly – extremely helpful and, contrary to expectation, not very efficient – particularly in hotel and restaurant services. Peter Povey picked up a telephone in an expensive hotel in Chicago and asked – quite reasonably – for ‘Laundry’. He was surprised to find himself talking to the Overseas operator in Whiteplains, New York. Some two hours later – Alan Mills rang this same hotel to contact Peter and was told he had checked out – a little strange as he’d only just checked in!

But on the whole it all works. And only now and again do you run into serious trouble. I was driving along a quiet, really very beautiful road in the Kentucky hills – looking for a location – when I saw some dilapidated houses near the roadside. I stopped the car and had opened the door when a very quiet voice said . . . ‘You put one foot on my land and I’ll blast you off’. And there he was – complete with shotgun. I didn’t see much point in arguing.

It was in Kentucky too that Desmond Wilcox did some of the best driving of his life in avoiding some hot Southern Mountain temper. And yet again in Kentucky that Ronnie Osborne – our cameraman – spent several uncomfortable hours hidden in a jeep – parked in a rubbish dump. If he had been detected by the people who make their living from the scraps of the place he would have had to have done some fast driving also. Everyone in Kentucky – at least in the Appalachian area – owns a gun. Most own two. We expected this in Chicago and we were wrong. There was some little unpleasantness on 63rd Street but this amounted to nothing more than a threat to break the camera into little pieces. But there was a very keen sense of the ‘almighty dollar’. People are only too happy to be filmed – if they get paid. The inevitable first question was ‘How much do I get?’ Then, when all was settled, complete and smiling co-operation. Chicago of course is also well known for the Playboy Club and The Bunnie Girls. One of my cherished memories is of watching the glazed expressions of the crew when they first came face to face with Bunnies. Now I come to think of it – filming in the Bunnie club with Miss Playmate for August and Miss Playmate to be – for February – at our sole disposal was almost too much for me.

Our relations with the American police were mixed. In Oakland – just across the bay from San Francisco – they were excellent. We had arranged to cruise in a police car around the toughest area in the hope that we would be able to get some real action. As the evening wore on and nothing more startling was happening than a couple of lost dogs being reported, the desire to please from our two cops became almost painful. They really wanted to knock somebody over the head so that we could get our sequence and it took some forceful persuasion to convince them that this really wasn’t what we were looking for.

Our reception wasn’t always so easy. In Los Angeles – and all in one day – Alan Mills and Basil Rootes – the most careful of drivers – were fined five dollars a head for jay walking; PA Bridget Coleman was ticketed for driving very sedately along Sunset Boulevarde with undipped headlights; Martin Case was very British in trying to explain how he managed to touch a parked car and then drive on two blocks before being stopped. Bridget didn’t really help matters by giggling when asked for her weight, the colour of her eyes and the name of her grandmother. Some three days later I was driving to an appointment in Oakland. I missed the street, did a U-turn and promptly got flagged down by a police car. I stopped behind a parked delivery van which immediately reversed into me. It seemed that there was little one could do except light a cigarette and wait for the inevitable. It turned out that the policeman was the same man who had driven us around on our unlucky evening’s filming. He was very apologetic for having bothered me. A truly remarkable country. It was in Omaha that we had the bizarre experience of seeing red negroes. They worked in a slaughter house – killing and degutting pigs. And pigs bleed. It was a horrible day’s filming.

Some snippets: Bill Morton painting faces in white paint on cactus plants in the middle of Arizona – temperature 108 degrees. Six salesmen in swimming costumes being lectured on selling techniques; Basil Roote’s expression while trying to record an interview one mile from the busiest airport in the world; Randal Beattie and the camera crew sitting on a spider-like lettuce-picking machine in a 600-acre field in California surrounded by Mexican girls dressed in outfits straight out of Vogue; Ronnie Osborne being pushed around the largest supermarket in the world in a wheel chair; the amazement in a telephone operator’s voice when asked if she could tell us where we could get such a wheel chair ‘with pneumatic tyres – and I’m not joking’; Alan Mills narrowly escaping the huge, repulsive crushing machine which reduces cars to a tiny bundle of scrap metal – ‘All I wanted to do was get out of shot’; the sight of a complete camera team solemnly taking off their shoes before entering the private apartment of Mr Hugh Heffner – Editor of Playboy; and 40 farmworkers in Stockton, California, running to be first into a rickety bus at 4.30 in the morning – only the first 10 get work. The others virtually starve.

Bryan Fitzjones

A man with a sack on his back
Alone he walks as the leaves fall. His food handout rests lightly on his back. Will the stirring of the social conscience of the United States which is now taking place bring him security and comfort in his old age? Or is he, and hundreds like him, to be swept into the gutter along with the leaves?

ON THE EDGE OF ABUNDANCE

THE DOLLAR POOR

Script
Research
Sound Recordists

Film Editor
Cameraman
Director
Executive Producer

Jack Hargreaves
Bryan FitzJones
Basil Rootes
Freddie Slade
Beryl Wilkins
Ron Osborn
Bill Morton
Cyril Bennett

Narration
Script
Research
Music
Sound Recordists

Film Editor
Cameraman
Director
Executive Producer

James Cameron
Paul Johnson
Bryan FitzJones
Fredrick Buxton
Basil Rootes
Freddie Slade
David Hodgson
Ron Osborn
Randal Beattie
Cyril Bennett

RESOURCES

America: The Dollar Poor has an American Archive of Public Broadcasting record

America: the Edge of Abundance has an American Archive of Public Broadcasting record

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