Fusion: Intertel – the first five years

Rediffusion London’s house magazine, Fusion, on five years of the Intertel project

This article is by Lord Windlesham, deputy general manager, who represents the company on the council of the International Television Federation. In it he reviews Intertel’s first five years. Lord Windlesham was the producer of another Rediffusion production for Intertel – ‘Children of Revolution’, which won a Silver Dove from UNDA at this year’s Monte Carlo Television Festival.

The company’s latest Intertel production is ‘One in Every Hundred’ which is about retarded children. Photographs from it are on these pages.

From 'Fusion', the house magazine of Rediffusion London, issue 42 from Spring 1966

On the evening of June 14, 1961 Associated-Rediffusion (now Rediffusion Television) screened an hour-long documentary on the war in Vietnam over the Independent Television network. This film, called The Quiet War, was one of the earliest full-scale reports on what was to become a war so raucous that its echoes reached across the world. Yet ‘The Quiet War’ had a significance quite apart from its timeliness and prescience. The opening titles proclaimed ‘Intertel presents’ and the programme that followed inaugurated a continuing series of documentaries on world events planned and produced by members of the International Television Federation.

This federation, Intertel for short, resulted from a meeting in Vancouver the previous November. Then representatives of five national broadcasting organisations covering between them most of the English-speaking world – Associated-Rediffusion, the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, and National Educational Television with the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company of the United States – had come together in order to set up a project for international understanding through television. In the words of the preamble to the formal agreement, member organisations recorded their desire ‘to use their facilities for the production, transmission and distribution of high quality television programmes for the common good among the English-speaking peoples of the world and to this end have agreed to form an Association for the purpose of promoting through television a wider knowledge of contemporary world affairs and a better mutual understanding of world problems’. Each programme, an hour in duration, would be shown in each of the four countries. This meant that for the first time audiences of a size which had only been consistently achieved by Westerns became available for documentaries.

So the production and showing of ‘The Quiet War’ in 1961 was an event of particular importance to Rediffusion and its partners in Intertel. Fortunately it succeeded magnificently and an experiment unique in television was launched. In Britain acclaim came from newspapers ranging from The Times to the Daily Mirror. In Canada the Montreal Star added its welcome, while the New York Herald Tribune enthused ‘Excellent program! Excellent project! And an impressive first step in a regular exchange of programming between peoples of the world.’

Now, five years and 34 programmes later, is a good time to look back on Intertel during its formative years. Its pre-eminent achievement perhaps is that it is still in existence. In television so much is transient, often necessarily so, that it is not easy to maintain any regular and systematically planned exchange of programmes over a five-year period. But Intertel has continued: a slender bond linking television audiences of many millions throughout the English-speaking world. Its programmes have been seen on television in 28 countries besides Britain, Canada, Australia and the United States. Subjects have ranged from American aid in South-East Asia, Pakistan and Ghana to the Canadian separatist crisis which preceded the Queen’s visit in 1964; from problems of old age in Italy and Sweden to young people growing up in Czechoslovakia; from the racial tensions of the American South to colour in Britain.

Location shooting and first-hand reporting has always been the rule whether in Africa; in North, Central or South America; in the Pacific Islands and Antarctica; in Australia, Japan and South-East Asia; in the Near East; in Europe and in Scandinavia. Intertel crews have slept under a basketful of human skulls hanging from the rafters of a communal long house in Sarawak. They have seen marigolds and carrots growing in an underground hothouse at the South Pole. They have been honoured at a regatta night organised by the yacht club in Wajir, Kenya (which owns no boats and is 300 miles from any navigable water).

All this has promoted close and cordial relations between the Intertel members. Annual Council meetings have been held in rotation in Canada, the United States, Britain and Australia. A planning group of producers has met regularly to review current projects and plan future ones. Documentary film makers with international reputations like Douglas Lieterman, Denis Mitchell and Peter Morley have contributed notable programmes to the Intertel series. Writers of the calibre of James Cameron, Paul Johnson and Robert Kee have added their skills to help communicate information and impressions of world problems and complexities that can only be eased by knowledge and understanding.

It is a task vastly too great for Intertel, but one that broadcasters have a responsibility to contribute towards, perhaps even more in the future as television audiences multiply throughout the world, than in the past five years. In the carefully chosen words of the citation to the Peabody Award in 1965: ‘in the fragile field of international co-operation and understanding, a strong bond has been formed by the documentaries produced by the five-year-old Council of the International Television Federation, known as Intertel, which links the English-speaking nations through the Australian Broadcasting Commission, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, Britain’s Rediffusion TV Ltd and, in America, the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company and National Educational Television. By sharing these special programs which focus on contemporary forces at work in the world today, Intertel has made the first continuing contribution towards international understanding through television.’

David Windlesham

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