EVERYTHING CHANGED AT PADDINGTON STATION
By DEBBIE KRUGER
JACK PIZZEY, writer and presenter of the highly acclaimed ABC documentary series on South America, Sweat of the Sun, Tears of the Moon, is now turning his camera on Australia.
Screened last year, Sweat of the Sun, Tears of the Moon was one of the most ambitious and expensive documentaries the ABC has made. Pizzey said at the time: If a television channel isnt attempting to do top quality programs it will find it hard to nurture and keep people of top ability.
So, with production and staff in all departments at the ABC at a minimum, Pizzeys new series has been picked up instead by producer Phillip Emanuel (Rebel), who has raised the finance to make five films on aspects of the Australian lifestyle. Three have already been sold to the ABC and Pizzey is confident the remaining two will go the same way.
In Sweat of the Sun, Tears of the Moon, Pizzey maintained a high profile. Constantly on camera, he literally led viewers by the hand through South America. Such omnipresence, he claims, was necessary for the purpose of the series. It was to be a popular series and barriers such as the language and the complex politics required an interpreter. The technique paid off, the critics raved, ratings were good and the series won a Logie.
In his series on Australia, however, Pizzey will maintain a lower profile and allow the personalities and situations in each film speak for themselves.
Pizzey is from England but considers himself a citizen of the world. It was during his 11 years in the British Navy that something happened which prompted him to write.
I never really aimed to be a journalist, he explains. I got turned into one almost by accident. When I was about 20 I was travelling on a train one night to London and there was one other person in the compartment, a miserable old fellow of about 60 who insisted on talking to me. He told me his life story it was all failure and then he produced a bottle of pills. He said when we reached Paddington station he was going to sit down and take the pills and end it all.
That really put me on the spot. I felt I couldnt let this happen. I said to him: Look, you cant do that. Ill try to get help for you. So when we arrived at Paddington I took him to the nearest hospital. It was around midnight and there was no queue in casualty but they didnt seem to want to take him in. They kept us waiting for hours. Then at 3am the old fellow took out his bottle of pills and swallowed the lot. Well, I rushed for the matron. She was really angry and said: Now well have to take him in!
It really shocked me and I thought the best thing I could do about it would be to write the story and at least make it public.
He sent the story to The Guardian and it was printed. By the time he was discharged from the Navy, Pizzey had had several stories published and knew he was a writer.
Pizzey joined the BBC and turned his talent to current affairs, first in radio and then television. Soon he was making full-length documentaries on issues such as slums, unemployment and injustice the dark side of British life.
He also made what he considers more pleasurable films, including a couple of documentaries on India and portraits of Juan Carlos of Spain and King Hussein of Jordan. Pizzey made more than 50 films for the BBC and earned a reputation for making thought-provoking documentaries in far away locations.
For the Australian series, Pizzey has chosen topics which range from concepts of mateship and the tall-poppy syndrome to events such as Opera in the Park and the Royal Easter Show, as well as a tourists view of the country.
One episode in the series, Mates, has been shot and the second, R and R, is in production. It documents a group of American marines who visited Sydney for the recent RAN 75th anniversary celebrations.
Links to Britain have been strong for both Americans and Australians, but their Bicentennials have meant different things, Pizzey says. Americas meant freedom, independence but in Australian minds Britain has remained large, and the American marines, when they come ashore, find themselves in a country approaching a bicentenary and the Union Jack still on its flag.
At the same time they find themselves in a country which is increasingly swinging under the influence of their country, America.
They find themselves in a country where the 1980s are proving to be a watershed of fading British-ness, reinforced and growing American-ness, reinforced by the military links which have brought them here.
The film follows the Americans from their arrival, recording their pre-conceptions about down under with the realities they encounter during the seven days they are here.
Each film in the series will have a different director. Pizzey will direct one, although he says he is not enthusiastic about directing which he finds too managerial. Moderation seems to be his code. He radiates a serenity which makes his adventures among diverse peoples of the world even more fascinating.
Between projects Pizzey has been working on writing something different a drama series based on some of his observations on human nature.