Water Lilies by Jim Harris



Holiday reading


It is a custom for people who rent out their apartments to holidaymakers to have a few shelves of books that they and their guests have read. And so it is in the charming apartment we have been staying in in Collioure, a seaside town in the Catalan district of south east France. I had brought with me Jonathan Fanzen's Freedom which I tossed aside about half way through, wondering why someone would spend nine years, as the story goes, creating characters he clearly despised. I gave up when I realised I did not care what happened to any of them. Luckily I had also brought Khaled Hosseini's A Thousand Splendid Suns which gripped me from the first sentence:more than once, I put the book down with tears welling in my eyes. But when I put it aside,  there were a few days to go so I went to the shelves of the holiday apartment owned by an English couple most of whose guests were English. There was a the anticipated range of light, popular fiction. I was looking for something more substantial ...

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I was very pleased to receive this cutting from The Independent of a brief interview with the author Terry Pratchett who happened, at the time,to be reading my book about the North American natural ice trade. This pat on the back from the hugely successful Pratchett made my day, and week!

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stead conference poster

When the obituaries of those who perished on the Titanic began to appear in the newspapers in April 1912 there were many column inches devoted to the life and work of W.T.Stead who was still then a very famous journalist. And there was no doubt that Stead's most celebrated campaign had been the investigation in the Pall Mall Gazette he called The Maiden Tribute of Modern Babylon. Stead himself had written that he would be happy with a memorial which read: " Here lies the man who wrote the Maiden Tribute". As it happened, Stead disappeared in the Atlantic and he was one of many victims of the disaster whose bodies were never found. But there was a tribute of a kind which even he, with his legendary foresight, could not have anticipated. It came in an oblique and satirical form from his old adversary the playwright George Bernard Shaw.

It so happened that Shaw was working on the script of his play Pygmalion at the time the Titanic sank and the Stead obituaries appeared. ...

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Stead Memorial

I have learned that the Chartered Institute of Journalists is to lay a wreath on the Memorial to W.T.Stead on London's Embankment on 15 April, the centenary of this famous editor's death on the Titanic.The same Institute raised the money for the Memorial to honour Stead's campaigning journalism, particularly his alleged exposure of the "white slave trade" and child sex abuse. It would be interesting to know what a modern journalist, or the Leveson Inquiry into Press malpractice, would have made of Stead's "investigative" methods. As someone who has studied in some depth Stead's most celebrated campaign into vice in London I would say that what he did would not only be judged illegal, as it was in 1885, but utterly reprehensible.


Stead's account in his evening paper, the Pall Mall Gazette, of how he had witnessed the purchase of a 13 year old girl with the full knowledge of her mother and her sale to brothel was entirely fabricated. The closest modern analogy ...

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Faking the wild


 The story of David Attenborough and the "mocked up" sequence with polar bear cubs brought back to me many memories of cutting room arguments and near disasters that I can recall from twenty years as a factual film maker. I am still not sure about the acceptability of some sequences in progammes I made,  though my intention was never to deliberately deceive the viewer. Well, only a bit.


I often re-run in my mind one episode that occurred back in the mid-1980s. I was a producer-director in the current affairs and features department of London Weekend Television. In those days there was no chasing after ratings and LWT factual programmes ( Lord Birt was in charge) and we had a reputation for making few if any concessions to "popular" programming. However I was given the chance to make the first ever wildlife programme for the company, a project I relished as a keen bird watcher and amateur naturalist.


Although by then I had made a few programmes it had never occurred ...

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