Ron McCullagh


Underneath a spreading chestnut tree in a tiny hamlet, gloriously lost in France, I’m busy reassessing my work/life balance. I’m on the mobile to Claudio in N’djamena, Chad. The team is safe and ready to fly home.

After all the planning, the stress, the broken bones of two would-be directors – we can all now relax. For today, at least.

Claudio Von Planta has been directing and filming my colleague, Sierra Leonean film-maker Sorious Samura, as he has been living with refugees -a group of 15 people who have escaped from the horrors of Darfur and found refuge in Chad.

Together with producer George Waldrum, the team has endured ridiculous temperatures and desert conditions, and appears to have captured a remarkable story.

Guiltless, this evening with friends, I pull the cork of a decent Cahor.


I have a friend who has a work/life balance to envy. She spends her winters in New York and her summers here in the green low rolling countryside on the edge of the Massif Central.

She’s a South African children’s book illustrator and writer called Catherine Stock and today she is driving me back to normality, to the airport.

We stop for a generous farmer’s lunch in the tiny village of Miers and there, over plates ofmeat and flaky pastries stuffed with ‘fruites de mer’ she tells me a remarkable story of a young black South African woman she first met as a baby. Athol Fugard couldn’t have painted a bleaker picture, and this is now, more than a decade after the end of apartheid. “Why don’t you write and illustrate her story like a grownup children’s book?” I ask.

“Are you kidding Ronny? Have you any idea how hard the market is out there?” “Catherine, have you tried getting serious documentaries commissioned lately?” News of Ken Bigley’s death punctuates my return to London. Four of our people once faced a death sentence in a foreign land and we all felt close to him in his ordeal.


With my mother, my sister Pamela andmy partner Kate, I’mat the 19th AGMof the Canterbury Oast Trust, an organisation that looks after mentally handicapped people.

We are in a big modernised barn on a farm near Appledore in Kent. Pamela has Down’s syndrome and for the past 17 years she has enjoyed her life living in one of the COT’s residences and working in a teashop in nearby Rye.

Everyone impresses. There was a time, about 12 years ago, when COT was in deep financial trouble – it owed millions to NatWest bank.

The bank’s then regional manager could have closed the whole thing down – but he didn’t and today that regional manager is the trust’s voluntary financial advisor. I marvel at this uplifting aspect of corporate Britain.

He reported to the assembled membership a good year and a healthy balance sheet. He describes himself as poacher turned gamekeeper -as well he might. Kate’s a corporate city lawyer and she’s impressed too.


Worthing, West Sussex. Official: My mother cooks the best Sunday lunch – and she’s 90. Sunday night’s Panorama on the sugar industry brings us all back to earth with a bang. It’s a sugar-coated cracker of a film – there’s plenty of life in the old dog yet!


Clapham, London. In the office again. Have picked up my dog Pippy from the dog minder. She too is happy to be back in the office, but her preferred position is wrapped around someone’s feet in the well of a desk.

Back-to-back meetings. David Mathews is in fine form.He’s a modern young writer and presenter with a delicious flare for the non-PC. He is also black, which shouldn’t be important -but is.His last series was The Trouble With BlackMen for BBC 3, which stirred some deep waters.

Together with Insight’s head of programmes Therese Randal and director Simon Atkins, we discuss plans to invade the tired paradigms of the British Empire. Stand by.

Day gets even better with publication of Time magazine’s European Heroes special edition-my colleague Sorious Samura is one of their featured personalities. The article is headlined ‘Who Represents the Innocents?’ and in it Sorious talks about Africans in search of refuge in theWest.

“We need the West to help us find hope,” he says. Otherwise, desperate refugees and asylum seekers will continue to risk their lives to reach Europe.

“We will come. It doesn’t matter if they electrify the seas.We will come.”

I’m proud that Insight works with this man; his clarity, his mission.


Another rejection this morning – you get used to them after 13 years.

Why don’t they just give us the money and let us get on with ‘making the important interesting’ (Insight’s motto)? Claudio, Simon and Sorious are hunched over screens watching the rushes from Chad. I join them.

Immediately you see beyond the ‘refugee’ label. I’ll spare you the details, but in Sorious’s committed engagement with the lives of these people you ask yourself how you would handle what they have been through.

To the Frontline Club in Paddington for the monthly board meeting. It’s nearly a year sincemy former competitor, Vaughan Smith, transformed his company, Frontline News Television, into this magnificent club.

It’s become what Vaughan intended -a watering hole in London for those who used to meet only in basements fromBosnia to Bora Bora to share a bottle on the road. Thank God for his vision and for his partner Prem who together havemade it happen.


Sorious is back in the office and it’s decided we’re both off to New York on Friday. We have won the Harry Chapin Hunger award for broadcast and they are paying for the tickets and the hotel. It’ll give us a chance to talk about Chad and how this film will turn out. I review story ideas on Angola, Namibia, Kurdistan, Kashmir, USA, Brazil and China. I think they are all strong: odds are that not one of them will get told.

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