Fusion: mud huts and sky-scrapers

Susan Wright in Associated-Rediffusion’s house magazine, Fusion, on ‘A King’s Revolution’

‘A King’s Revolution’ is the title of Associated-Rediffusion’s fifth programme in the Intertel series. It was filmed in Iran and tells of the Shah’s campaign to reform his country. Previous Intertel productions by Associated-Rediffusion have been set in Asia, Europe, North America, and four countries receiving American aid – Cambodia. South Vietnam, Pakistan and Ghana – this last programme was titled ‘America Abroad’. The others dealt with South Vietnam (‘The Quiet War’), France (‘The Heartbeat of France’) and Canadian relations with the USA (‘Living with a Giant’). These programmes were screened in the four major English-speaking countries of the world through the International Television Federation – Intertel. The members of the federation are the National Educational Television and Radio Center and the Westinghouse Broadcasting Company of America, the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

It is planned to show ‘A King’s Revolution’ over the British Independent Television network on Wednesday, January 1, 1964, and subsequently throughout the world . . . previous Intertel productions have had an audience of between 40 and 50 million people.

The first article on these pages is by cyril bennett, Associated-Rediffusion’s head of features, and the second article is by susan wright.

From 'Fusion', the house magazine of Associated-Rediffusion, issue 33 from December 1963

MUD HUTS AND SKY-SCRAPERS

Persian carpets are known throughout the world. In modern Iran the industry continues. These girls, aged 10 and 11, are working at looms in Isfahan.
Wherever Iranians meet and gather the Shah's reform plans are a point of discussion. These men, some of whom are out of work, are at a café outside Tehran.

In Iran a revolution is taking place – a revolution led by a king. Men have danced for joy as they have received the deeds to land formerly tilled on a share-cropping basis. Women have, for the first time, had a voice in the country’s affairs. Children of illiterate peasants are being taught to read and write. Yet in Tehran and other urban centres there has been fierce and bloody rioting against this revolution.

What is happening in the country? Who are the opponents of the revolution? Why do they oppose it? What is being done? Is it the right thing? Is it enough? What will be the outcome?

These are some of the questions an Associated-Rediffusion film unit tried to answer during a month in Iran shooting location scenes as background to the story of ‘A King’s Revolution’.

Above all, what sort of person is the man behind the revolution – Mohammed Reza Pahlavi, Shahanshah of Iran?

The Shah’s own words form the backbone of the programme. A small man with iron-grey hair and dressed, despite the heat, in a formal dark suit, he spent 90 minutes in front of the cameras explaining and enlarging on his plans and personal hopes for his country. With an impressive command of facts and figures – he is said to have a photographic memory – the Shah talked of the progress of his social reform programme, its various points of importance and of his own views on kingship and his place in Iran’s history.

At the end of the interview he shook hands with each member of the unit.

In contrast when next he faced the cameras it was at a formal public occasion – the opening of a main road extension from Tehran to the north. Here the Shah was a remote, withdrawn figure, surrounded by his cabinet and his army.

Monarch and revolutionary . . . to film the story behind this contradictory leader the Associated-Rediffusion camera team travelled hundreds of miles across Iran from the Caspian in the north to the arid desert in the south.

What will tomorrow bring for this little girl? Women now have a vote but she will having something else that her mother and grand-mother never dreamed of possessing – the ability to read and write. How will she use it?

The tradition of kingship which he inherits – and to which he looks in some measure for inspiration – is illustrated in the magnificent ruins of Persepolis, capital of Darius and Xerxes, and in Isfahan at the country’s centre, capital of the Safavid dynasty and location of the glittering Shah Mosque. Isfahan, too, provided a centre of artistic tradition in its carpet, metal and silk industries.

Here, in small, dark workshops, the nimble fingers of little girls work long hours weaving centuries-old patterns into the fine carpets which are big business in Iran. Small boys work alongside their fathers and grandfathers handbeating metal, with an age-old rhythmic precision, into pots and pans, trays, plates and drinking vessels. And glowing brocades are made on the same type of looms as were used hundreds of years ago.

Shiraz in the hot south spotlights the tradition of poetry — important to even the humblest Iranian. There the tomb of Sa’adi, Persia’s Shakespeare, is both a shrine and a pleasure garden.

The strong religious tradition was highlighted in a sequence of a Mullah (cleric) addressing his all-male congregation seated cross-legged in Isfahan’s 250-year-old Charbagh Mosque. Much of the dissension towards change stems from this religious background. But it is not only in the ‘black reaction’ of religion that there is a challenge to the Shah’s reform programme. Also strongly cited is the ‘red revolution’, a faction which could find its most ready support among the urban slum-dwellers, especially in the capital. It was, therefore obviously, important to the story to obtain shots of the slum quarter of Tehran. Fearful of a show of hostility if the cameras were seen among the huts and hovels of the area, the authorities were reluctant to give permission. In the end the filming was allowed only if the shots could be ‘sneaked’ from a car racing at times at up to 50 m.p.h. through the busy streets.

But it is with the rural communities, in the villages, that the success of the Shah’s reform programme will be most keenly felt. Three villages in the Tehran area were filmed to illustrate its progress – Talaw, which has yet to be affected by the land reform programme, Shoorkab, where the villagers now farm their own land, and Abnik, which has always been free.

To the villagers the arrival of the unit with cameras and sound equipment was an event of natural curiosity and at first every movement was watched by crowds of silent women and their more voluble menfolk. They accepted very quickly – and with much good-humoured patience – the disruption to their lives and even the rehearsal and retakes involving themselves which were sometimes necessary for the filming.

Both Talaw and Abnik have recently acquired their own schools as part of the Shah’s plan to stamp out nation-wide illiteracy. Scenes were shot in these village schools, one the converted room of a small house, the other the gallery of a mosque.

Abbas Sayadi, an inspector from the Ministry of Education, was chosen as the sequence’s central character. He was followed on a weekly tour of inspection including both villages. A cheerful extrovert, Sayadi was an unforgettable character. A born teacher, he burned with a fierce desire to impart the skills of leading and writing to the children in his care.

But it was not only Sayadi who made this perhaps the most impressive of the signs of change to be seen in the country. His teachers, too, dark serious young men in army uniform, had absorbed his enthusiasm to spread knowledge … as had their pupils to learn. Amateurs, teaching only by compulsion, the members of the ‘Army of Knowledge’ displayed, to the onlooker at least, an extraordinary contentment with their enforced sojourn in the remote rural communities and a real grasp of their responsibilities.

They became important members of the communities where they are sent through conscription into the ‘Army of Knowledge’ instead of spending the period in military service. They not only set up schools but also act as scribes and advisers to the older villagers.

In Abnik a village of more than 1,000 inhabitants where there are two ‘soldiers of knowledge’ – the cameras ‘sat in’ on a village council. During it the representatives asked the ‘soldiers’ to write a letter to the authorities on their behalf. Later this letter brought results. Thus the ‘Army of Knowledge’ is not only teaching the people but its members are also learning about the problems the villagers face.

There were other, more impersonal, achievements to be filmed – great dams, new roads (to film one being built by the army in the south, director and cameraman were provided with a helicopter through the auspices of Prime Minister Dr Alain), buildings and factories. Special facilities were also provided to cover sturgeon fishing, an industry for which the Iranian government has great hopes for the future.

But the problems of the Shah, as the programme shows, are still a long way from being solved.

After a month in the country it is the violent contrasts that linger in the mind – contrasts of lush cultivation and arid desert, of skyscrapers and mud huts, of modern factories and child labour, of lipstick and ‘the veil’, of American limousines and donkey trains, of the very rich and the very poor.

To what extent will this order of things be altered by a King’s Revolution?

Susan Wright

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