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To coincide with Carte Blanche celebrating its 25th anniversary Sunday, the managing editor, Jessica Pitchford, has written Carte Blanche: The Stories Behind the Stories, which looks at some of the show’s most unforgettable stories as seen through the eyes of the producers and presenters. Debashine Thangevelo found out more…
WHEN it comes to current affairs, Jessica Pitchford is in her element. A Rhodes graduate, she worked on SABC’s Special Assignment, during which time she became most adept at researching, producing, filming and editing 25-minute docu- mentaries.
She recalls: “All I had to do was focus on one topic at a time, put up with the odd difficult cameraman or case study and produce good TV. I thought I was very stressed and busy, until May 2008 when I entered the Carte Blanche space.
“Now my mind is on a dozen stories at a time, breaking news, deadlines, budgets, desperate producers and insistent viewers. It’s a Sunday night show – no days off – on Monday we’re on the hunt for new material. For some reason, I imagined I could write a book as well,” laughs Pitchford.
And that sums up her role as managing editor. On what inspired her to write a book now, and not sooner, she explains: “There have been several half-hearted attempts at a Carte Blanche book over the years. Derek (Watts) has one in his head, Les Aupiais had put some hilarious stories to paper. The 25th birthday seemed the perfect excuse to put down all their ideas and preserve them for posterity. I treated it exactly as I would a documentary – I interviewed everyone involved over the past 25 years, a process that took three months, watched hours and hours of old shows on tape, then sat down in December last year when the rest of the office headed off for their lovely long summer break and barely lifted my head till it was done.
“They got back all tanned and the rest of January, I was pale and frazzled. And grumpy.”
Deciding which stories made it into the book was no easy feat.
Pitchford says: “I can’t imagine that this is a book someone uninvolved in the show could have written. I had a working knowledge of television and in my four years at Carte Blanche, I’d become familiar with many of the stories, anecdotes and characters that had been beamed into households since 1988. I started off with a very long list, but ended up choosing the stories with ‘legs’; the ones people could remember the most about and that had had repercussions.
“I’ve tried to make it as enter-taining and varied as an episode of Carte Blanche. I was amazed (and shocked) at the amount of sleaze and sex the early shows contained. So I couldn’t leave it out; the birthday seemed the perfect excuse. There’s a revealing chapter called Below the Belt. And lots of the funny ‘gotcha’ stories, that’s what Carte Blanche is known for: catching crooks.”
Pitchford laughs when she recalls how the interviews with the presenters and producers differed.
“The funniest part of interviewing the presenters and producers was that they have such different memories of the same event, often ego-related.
“Sometimes I had to leave out details of who did what and whose idea it was just to keep the peace. I also included the researchers as much as I could because over the years they’ve played such a pivotal role in bringing Carte Blanche stories to air and because they make good notes.”
Amid the weighty stories like the transsexuals from Beaufort West, the controversial directors of Aurora, the predators on dating websites and rugby’s best-known rogues, Pitchford captures the colourful characters who make it happen.
• Carte Blanche: The Stories Behind the Stories will be in stores from Monday.