Roger Graef: Titan of documentary filmmaking – Televisuell | Episode Movies

This is a copy of the speech given by Tom Giles, Controller of Current Affairs at ITV, at the 2022 Grierson British Documentary Awards. The late Roger Graef was honored with the Grierson Trustees’ Award.

It is an honor to be asked to say a few words for the Grierson Trust celebration of someone who has been a life affirming force and inspiration to me and others. Even now – after he’s gone – he still is.

In fact, it’s hard to believe Roger isn’t actually here tonight because obviously he would have enjoyed it – and no doubt would be talking about a new project before, during and after he left the stage!

But “a few words” won’t really cover or do justice to Roger’s remarkable life from many parts: theater director and impresario, television drama director, author, criminologist, media professor, social justice campaigner, founding council member of Channel 4, Fellow of the Royal Institute of British architects,
Redesigner of the London Bus Plan, patron of so many charities, sponsor of so much good work, spark for so much new talent. A polymath, a renaissance man, and in between, he somehow managed to become one of the most significant and transformative documentary filmmakers of our time.

Eight years ago, Roger submitted what he called the Documentary Manifesto to BAFTA. He called them “islands of evidence and tools for change in a sea of ​​noise”. He asked for them time to flourish, space to take risks, the opportunity to try new talent, and urged us all to trust the audience’s need for what good documentaries can do.

You only have to look at his records to see how he lived with it.

His classic fly-on-the-wall series Police about the work of the Thames Valley Police gave us the seminal episode A Complaint of Rape. I remember well the riot that broke out in 1982. Even after 40 years, his topic – how the police deal with rape victims – is as topical as ever.

There was the inspirational Feltham Sings, in collaboration with Brian Hill and poet Simon Armitage. His breakthrough thalidomide film: One of them is Brett. And his many forensic, documentary insights into our institutions – from the Great Ormond Street Hospital to the European Commission in Brussels to the British Communist Party. And also into all aspects of the system charged with caring for our most vulnerable children.

All of these tried in different ways to bring light into the darkness – yes, to make the world a little better, which they often did.

My own memories are of his warmth, passion and sheer tenacity.

Roger, rightly so, had no great respect for people’s journals or their gatekeepers; in fact everything that came between him and the realization of a passion project.

But I remember being a Panorama editor and being a little shocked to find him in my office out of the blue – as I had never met him before. He would rather have wandered in on one of those tours of the BBC building that he liked to stride on. But he was charming and showed me pictures for a film he was developing.

The scenes he showed all revolved around Connor, a child in the foster care system who lost all control and attacked his social worker’s car after being denied a ride to his mother’s. It was an amazing, raw sequence and a touching story of a sympathetic but tragic child. Roger cared so much about him and the film that we immediately took it to BBC One and it became a 9pm one-hour document, Kids in Care.

Two weeks later I was surprised again when he came up with more ideas. This time I found out he was in the diary – over and over again. So after he left, I asked, “How come Roger is in the diary?” And it turns out that the first time he went out on his way out, he went to my assistant and assured me it was all for me was fine if he was booked for sessions every two or three weeks for his updates.

That was Roger. But I’ve never felt anything but gratitude for the films he’s made for me, like he’s done for so many others. In fact, the team that worked together on this film – Kids in Care – are currently working on what may have been Roger’s final assignment – which is set to air next year.

And yes, this is also about the police and the rights of vulnerable women and those who struggle with the criminal justice system to get proper protection. Because to the end – even at the ripe old age of 85 – he was still the same Roger, still full of ideas and still interested in what we are doing and the people we can help.

Pippa Considine

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