I was due to be here a year ago, but Covid stopped me.so before I was so rudely interrupted, this is what I was going to tell you.
When I was here,it was still the middle of the last century, only 60 or so years after the school was founded.I was the 1044th boy at the school. I took awaythree things in particular from my school days. I learned my love of openspaces here on what was then a 400 acre farm. It was my first experience of open countryside. I learnt to respectwhere we were and how important the countryside is to all of us.
There was the livestock, the woods and the wonderfulhills and the River Dove where we used to swim. There was noswimming pool then. In fact swimming was carried out without the need ofany clothes at all. Occasionally we were watched from the oppositebank by the young ladies of the village. We were only 100 or so boys atthe time.Maybe we invented skinny dipping. I remember spending a great deal of time outside, and I still do. More on that later.
The second thing that has remained with me ever since I left was my love of music. After lunch we used to gather in the chapel above the dining room and listen to a piece of music – generally classical. It was usually accompanied by the slight clatter of dishes being cleared away and the faint smell of cooked cabbage which used to drift through the building. Despite that, after lunch even now most days when I can, I sit and listen to music. It has been a major part of my leisure time even when I was away working I would always take some music with me. And that brings me to the third lasting effect the school had on me. Here we had a small stage at the end of the gym, now called the Snell building where we used to put on plays. I used to act in some – Lady Macbeth at the age of 13 was an interesting experience. There were many other plays from Julius Caesar to Twelve Night and more modern plays. I would act in some, and work behind the scenes for others. I came from a theatre family with both parents, grandmother and great grandmother all actors or singers. So it was obvious that I would want to work in the theatreand the entertainment industry.This is what I have spent my working life doing. I started work in a local repertory theatre, sweeping the stage and making the tea for two pounds a week. I used to get a few small parts to start with – mainly policemen I seem to remember. If you can imagine anyone less like a policeman. Repertory was wonderful as it was a place where all of us learnt our craft. We would work on three plays at a time. We would be playing one, rehearsing next weeks, and planning or reading the following weeks play. My only claim to fame in this period was that I occasionally played in scenes with Glenda Jackson and Julia Foster. But I did once play the title role in a play. You won’t be impressed. The play was called The Body in the Vicarage, and yes, you’ve guessed it.I was the body and spent two hours every night lying on the stage. The plays in rep ran for 50 weeks of the year, with a break at Christmas time when we put on a pantomime which ran for two weeks. I used to play small parts in those too. On one occasion I was playing a green dragon with a long tail, and one night after I had terrified the audience and some of the cast on stage, I exited in a puff of green smoke and my tail knocked over one of the small corps de ballet girls. Her mother was not amused. After that I concentrated on stage management. I worked on three or four West End plays, toured many parts of the country with other plays, and worked for Scottish Opera for two years as Stage Manager on half a dozen operas. After about eight years of this life, I met someone I wanted to marry, and we didn’t think that living out of a suitcase and moving to a different town every week would make a very good basis for a reliable marriage. I had been interested in television for some time having visited various studios around the country in connection with my theatre work. I applied to join the BBC. I had a reply from them saying that they were only allowed to employ non British nationals in the World Service. My name obviously confused them. I explained that I was British, born in St Albans, which is hardly exotic. They sent me a form to fill in and here began a strange string of coincidences that ran right through my television career. When I first applied to the BBC I was working at a theatre in Edinburgh for a few months. I wrote from the theatre address but heard no more for three months, by which time I had married and we had moved into a flat in London and I was working at the Mermaid Theatre with Bernard Miles. The Edinburgh theatre had forwarded the BBC reply to my parents’ address, and by chance my mother phoned on a Friday before I went to work to tell me that a letter had arrived from the BBC. I asked her to open it, and it was an invitation to go to Broadcasting House for an interview in just three days time on the following Monday morning.So eventually they employed me on a three months contract, which was long term as far as I was concerned. I had never really had a contract before. In the theatre we just used to work sometimes for as little as a week or so at a time. I stayed at the BBCfor nearly 35 years. I started where I left off in the theatre as Floor or Stage manager, when I spent a fewyears on many different programmes from childrens’ programmes, current affairsandTop of the Pops, it was now late 60s and early 70s. So all the big bands of the time were there, theBeatles, Stones, Elton John, Rod Stewart and all the other groups and singers who were around at the time, and many other programmes, and after some time found myself working on a programme called Nationwide, which was a 6 o’clock show every day. I was persuaded one day to direct a sequence for the programme, - another coincidence here - as it so happened that the boss of the programme was standing behind me in the gallery and clearly liked what I was doing. He told me to apply to be a director.This was in 1972. Nationwide went out live, and from then on almost all my programmes were live. Now it is mainly only news programmes are live. I directed Panorama, the Money Programme and many other current affairs programmes, working with four or five Prime Ministers, Presidents, many senior politicians and celebrities from all over the world. Later I directed the first 92 episodes of That’s Life which was a consumer programme presented by Esther Rantzen, which ran for many years. Famous for helping viewers with problems with companies, but there were lighter momentstoo, It was famous for introducing a dog that said “sausages”, and one of the best April fool jokes, when we had an old English sheep dog apparently driving a car. The country was in uproar about it from the road safety people tothe animal welfare lobby. We revealed thatit was an actor in a costume. That series also gave Victoria Wood her first big TV break.Later Esther and I worked together on a programme called Childwatch which led to the setting up of the Childline charity, which still helps children from all over the country with problems. I directed the first 16 years of Crimewatch from 1984, being in part responsible for setting it up and designing it. Crimewatch was the first programme to reconstruct crimes where they actually happened, and askedviewers to call in if they had any information. We only ever reconstructed scenes that were known to have happened from police or witness interviews. So we never guessed at what a murderer might have said to a victim if there was no other corroborating evidence. To start with many police forces were unsure about the idea, but for our first programme we managed to persuade three of them. It was successful as a number of calls came into the studio and police offices around the country. It wasn’t long before police forces were calling on us for help as they could see that the public would help if they had all the facts of the case put to them. That was the key to Crimewatch. It gathered together all the information, from the scene of crimeinformation, police evidence and witness statements, many of whom we spoke to. The programme regularly got 15 million viewers. But remember there were only four TV channels at the time. There were some well known and dreadful cases. One of the worst was the murder of the toddler, Jamie Bulger by two boys. It was Crimewatch viewers that put together all the facts and enabled the police to make the right connections and arrest the two boys. Sadly it was not always successful. In April 1999 our own Crimewatch presenter, Jill Dando was murdered on her doorstep. We made a reconstruction based on what the police knew, and as was sometimes the case nothing came directly from our appeals. Latera man was arrested, convicted and sent to prison, but later he was released. Jill’s case is still open, and it was never known whether there was a Crimewatch connection.. But there have been many hundreds of cases mostly serious crimes solved directly by Crimewatch viewers. The BBC stopped the show a couple of years ago. The programme ran for 33 years.About the same time I was directingWatchdog for some fifteen years, and that is still running. I was also partly responsible for Children in Need and directed the first nine years of it.I had worked on Nationwide with a producer, and he and I used our contacts from that programme to set up the idea of the telethon for Children in Need. It had never been done in this country before. The idea was to get the whole of the BBC – all its regions and radio stations to pull together, work and contribute to a seven hour long programme to raise money for the charity. Groups ranging from schools to banks to supermarkets from all over the country all collected money every year.It is still running and is now in its 42ndyear. It is probably the programme of which I am most proud, as it has affected and helped directly millions of children across the UK.It has collected over a billion pounds to date. And there was another lucky coincidence. I used to direct all sorts of studio programmes and I directed a few of The Sky at Night programmes with Patrick Moore. Shortly after that the producer left and I was told by the head of department to “look after the programme for a month or two until they could find a proper producer”. Those were his exact but hardly encouraging words. I knew Patrick quite well as we had worked together on the Apollo moon landing programmes and we got on well. I went on to produce the programme for almost twenty years – so they never did find a proper producer. Apart from a monthly studio programme we travelled to observatories all over the world to make films with the astronomers who worked in them. One astronomer once told me how lucky I was asin my time on the programme I had visited more observatories than he had, and he was theprofessional astronomer. In 1997 the International Astronomical Union named an asteroid after me. Sothere is now an Asteroid Morpurgo. It is number 5521. That is a great honour as not all asteroids are named. We had some interesting filming experiences. We visited a few of the observatories in the Andes in Chile, andhired a small plane to get some aerial shots of the telescopes. It was before the days of drones. I didn’t know that the way you did this was to take the side door off the plane, and the cameraman and Iwere sat bolted in harnesses to the floor of the plane with our legs hanging over the edge. OK when flying straight, but to get shots from directly over the telescopes the plane had to bank, and we found ourselves with nothing between us and the ground some several hundred feet below.Perhaps the most scaryepisodewas when for another series I went to Tunisto interview Yassar Arafatthe then leader of the Palestine Liberation Organization. We had a contact inside the PLO who hadpromised to arrange an interview and our transfer from our hotel to his HQ. We were picked up in a black people carrier with no windows in the back, so we could not see where we were being taken, but we could feel the van turning left and right and turning again. It took 45 minutes to arriveand we were ushered into a buildingwhere we were carefully searched by armed guards. They even took the lens off my stills camera. We set up our cameras in a first floor room. It was very hot in there, so I opened the shutters to let in some air. After a while an armed guard came in carrying an automatic rifle and closed the shutters. In walked Yasser Ararafat and we introduced ourselves. Mr Arafat had a pistol in his belt, and for the whole time there were two armed guards with their guns pointed at us. It was not the most relaxing atmosphere in which to conduct an interview. We were told that when he left he was taken straight to the airport and left the country for the Middle East. Apparently he never stayed in the same place for longer than two nights. We were later taken back to our hotel in less than ten minutes, having taken us three quarters of an hour to get there. Later I worked on many outside broadcasts. I was in charge of the worldwide TV coverage of the Queen Mother’s lying in state and part of her funeral. Over 200,000 people had filed past her coffin in Westminster Hall. The programme had been planned in every detail for some years. We had a few false alarms. The year before she died she had swallowed a fish bone and was taken to hospital. We were all put on red alert. One of my colleagues was in Rome planning the pope’s funeral and had to rush back. That same year to celebrate the Queen’s Jubilee there were two concerts in Buckingham Palace Gardens and although I didn’t direct the concerts themselves, I looked after all the other programmes from there. I spent two weeks virtually living in the gardens. The security was thorough but no machine guns. I also directed the Chelsea Flower Show that year, and finished off the year directing the State Opening of Parliament.
When I retired from televisionI went to work in a voluntary capacity which I still do for a Friends group that helps look after Bushy Park, one of the London Royal Parks, where we help people enjoy and also look after the parks, its ecology and its wild spaces. It’s a thousand acredeer park, a Grade 1 listed landscape and a Site of Special Scientific Interestand vital to the local environment. I give talks about it to local groups. I still listen to music most days when I can. So you see Abbotsholme had a bigeffect on my life in those three different ways. So all I can say is that if when you leave school or have left and you find three things that are really important to your life you just have to waitbefore the headmaster invites you back for the chance to be the guest speaker at the school Summer Gathering-in 60 years time. So good luck to you all.