Magazine article History Today

Can TV Make History? Peter Furtado Introduces the Remarkable Work of Norma Percy

Magazine article History Today

Can TV Make History? Peter Furtado Introduces the Remarkable Work of Norma Percy

Article excerpt

WE ARE USED TO TELEVISION DOCUMENTARIES about history--they are ubiquitous but largely they reproduce the history that has already appeared in print; and we are aware that a few documentaries (Jamie Oliver's school dinners series being a ease in point) can force their subject up the domestic political agenda. But how many TV programmes make history, whether in the sense that they contribute to the onward march of great events, or in the sense that they add importantly to the record or to historians' understanding of past events in a way that a written archive could never do? Not many.

But one film-maker's work has real claims to making history, and in both senses of the phrase. The remarkable, award-winning series made by Norma Percy, together with Brian Lapping, include The Second Russian Revolution (1991) ; The Death of Yugoslavia (1995); The Fall of Milosevic (2003); Israel and the Arabs: The Fifty Years War (1998) ; Elusive Peace (2005), and many more. All have added to the historical record by telling the story of key political events from the mouths of the presidents and prime ministers, their top officials and advisers, who were in the room when the decisions were taken.

Percy's films are built around forensic interviews. For example, in Elusive Peace (which won this year's Royal Television Society's journalism award for 'programme of the year'), Bill Clinton, Yasser Ararat and Ehud Barak are intercut to tell the story of what really happened at Camp David in 2000, when the parties came so frustratingly close to a deal. No other television journalist takes the viewer down the corridors of power to the centre of the decision-making process. …

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