|Dance Tales Story Ballets Janette Heffernan|
In 1988 I was honoured by a commission from the BBC Children's Department for my Dance Tales story ballets series. This was the first and only time TVNZ had actually had an entertainment programme concept accepted so it was important that everything went well. I was the first woman independent director into the bargain as their boys would not take directions from me! I was informed. It was the 1980s!
Sad to say my experience with this BBC department was a nightmare. The BBC felt they were dealing with colonials and colonials needed to be kept in their place. They made life impossible. They insisted on having the choice of ballets. I sent 60 possibles and the BBC chose five, one The Little Match Girl for their Christmas programmes. The BBC insisted on choice of voice for voice overs and although audition tapes were sent three months before production refused to say if the voices I had chosen were acceptable. Even after many letters and eventually expensive toll calls I never received an answer.
I just went ahead! The male narrator had a soft East Enders accent and I had the received English. It was and still is a good choice especially as in hindsight the BBC of those days is now rather over the top. The BBC was furious and wanted me to rerecord. On my budget this was out of the question so I stood up for my actor. Fortunately the BBC liked my voice!
All through production I received the most hostile epistles. My commercial half hour productions relied heavily on expensive after effects which again are essential today but the BBC insisted that in the 15 minute versions not one effect was in sight. This was because in those days the BBC could not afford the effects and if the British children were introduced to them they would insist on them all their programmes. The BBC went to great lengths to see that this did not happen.
The programme sample VHS were delivered on time but were not shown at Christmas and it was not until Easter that they were put into the schedule. Easter Week has just three days so two programmes were not wanted and the BBC decided not to pay for these. They did not tell me this but just said two of the programmes were not up to standard and not required. This was very serious for me as I relied on this payment.
The BBC were adamant and turned nasty. They cancelled all five. I too was furious and hurt as I felt that the programmes which were good enough to be finalists for the LA Monitor Awards for technical excellence were worth broadcasting by the BBC and they had chosen them.
I went straight to the top. I wrote a long letter to the Director General complaining of the treatment that had been metered out to my small professional opera/ballet company and asked him to have a look. A few days later I got a call from the BBC Children's Television telling me that the BBC had found they could use the programmes after all. Victory!
BUT there was still the sting in the BBC's tail. When we sent the final finished tapes I received this telegram in Auckland New Zealand dated 20 April 1988:
Re: Dance Tales
REGRET MATERIAL SENT IN RESPECT OF DANCE TALES TECHNICALLY UNACCEPTABLE. YOU HAVE SUPPLIED PLASTIC G SPOOLS WHICH CAN SPIN ON THE MACHINE. CLAUSE 7 OF THE CONTRACT CALLS FOR1' METAL SPOOLS. FORMAT PAL .
THE G SPOOLS ARE BEING RETURNED TO YOU. LET ME KNOW WHEN THE CORRECT MATERIAL WILL BE SENT.
London to Auckland and back is 22 thousand miles and the tapes had already cost a fortune to send by airmail as they were so heavy. I was not happy. I rang my wonderful Executive Producer at Vidcom.
Bill Harman who had the most delightful cockney voice ever and who voiced The Carpenter in Walrus and Carpenter was up to the BBC and wrote them a letter. A letter of such brilliance I wish I had composed it myself. It summed up all the BBC silliness in a few simple phrases.
Vidcom Ltd, Auckland, NZ
20 April 1988
Dear Ms Duggan
Re Dance Tales
As the production house that produced these programmes, we have been informed by Janette Heffernan that you have rejected the programmes due to the tapes being wound onto small plastic "G" spools which can spin.
We do not encounter this problem as we use up-to-date Ampex VPR 3 machines, but would suggest is your VTR's are not compatible that you re-spool the tapes onto reels which will function correctly for you rather than send them back to us (in NZ) to put onto metal spools.
If this is not possible, please contact me so that I can arrange for an independent production house in London to re-spool them for you to save an inordinate amount of time and unnecessary freighting.
We never heard another word. The programmes were a great success all over the world but the BBC Children's Department did not survive the year and I am not surprised.