SAYS the BBC (here): “Fifty years since the abolition of the death penalty in the UK, the debate about its possible return has not gone away.
“John Tusa looks back at how abolition was achieved and considers the continuing arguments with Labour politician Roy Hattersley, philosopher Roger Scruton, lawyers, criminologists and other experts.”
The End of the Rope is being broadcast on BBC Radio 4 at 2000, Saturday, November 7.
Here, Scots producer, John Forsyth, answers the questions…
Who commissioned the programme?
Mohit Bakaya, commissioning editor, BBC Radio 4, via Loftus Media, the London-based independent production house.
Explain the thinking behind the programme’s ‘look and feel’.
There are certain expectations, given that the slot is designated Archive on 4. But it’s not a history programme. The aim is to use archive to provide the sound and feel of the debate around abolition at the time but also to provide a context as public opinion ebbed and flowed with the most recent miscarriage of justice or the latest terrible murder.
We were lucky to get the participation of Lord (Roy) Hattersley who was first elected in 1964 and therefore knows the personalities involved in the then Labour government, under Harold Wilson.
But even he was junior in years to Lord Hutchinson, formerly Sir Jeremy Hutchinson. He is in his 101st year and recollects life as a lawyer in the days of the death penalty.
There was no point in looking back with ‘2015 eyes’. It was important to convey a sense of the time and of the decades that followed. Capital punishment was effectively abolished in 1965 but, thanks to a ‘sunset clause’ subject to confirmation after five years. So, 1969 was almost as important as 1965.
Who are the key personnel? How were they recruited?
I’d describe myself as an experienced journalist in radio, television and newspapers.
The roots of The End of the Rope are in a series, A Year of Dying Dangerously, I made for BBC Radio 4 – with reporter, Hugh Prysor-Jones – and a programme called The Last Execution, for BBC Radio Scotland, on the last man to be hanged in Scotland.
Some of the original interviews with people involved in that case appear again in The End of the Rope.
Brian King is the exec producer. He is a highly-experienced and thoughtful radio producer. He devised the long-running Unreliable Evidence series on BBC Radio 4.
Presenter, Sir John Tusa, has been a noted BBC radio and television presenter for many decades and is a former managing director of the BBC World Service.
What kit and software?
Edited on Pro Tools by Chris Cleary at Loftus in London.
What were the main production challenges?
Keeping momentum without making it either a history programme about a curiosity from the past or a current debate on the merits of otherwise of capital punishment.
We have an interesting contribution from Rachel Ormston, from the NatCen attitude survey organisation, that reveals how much support there appears to be when the public is asked for its views, compared to the other major changes of social policy law during that 1964-70 government, such as decriminalisation of homosexuality or legalisation of abortion.
There’s precious little support for turning back the clock on those.
Capital punishment seems to hold up a different mirror to ourselves.
What did you most learn and enjoy from the experience?
I’d forgotten how much I love making radio programmes and what a pleasure it is to allow radio to think aloud in a way that is hard for television.