Shoot First – no ordinary life – John Williams

copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

The news is out ! My memoirs “Shoot first No Ordinary Life” is at the printers. I’ve looked at publishing, all want lots of money with little return so I’m having copies printed for family, friends and those interested. Its tells of a 30year career making programs for the BBC and although not a definitive history it is a recollection of the “golden age” of Television production that was Pebble Mill Birmingham

Professor Paul Long  Director,   Birmingham Centre for Media and Cultural Research. Writes

While we’re overloaded by celebrity tales, we need more of this kind of autobiography from those who created programmes and of course created the BBC’s reputation as the country’s foremost cultural institution. Williams insights into the nature of regional and national production, the personalities and roles, the (literal) nuts, bolts and decision making of making TV in the post-war era adds an invaluable resources for the understanding the social history of modern Britain which, if anything is bound up in the story of TV and the stories it has told.

David Waine   (Head of the Network Production Centre 1983-86; Head of Broadcasting 1986-94).Writes

What has emerged is something more than that. It is a small piece of history written with the     passion and involvement that only someone so committed can do.


 Others have said “The book is a rollicking good read”, “boys adventure  stories ( adult boys )”. “the book is illustrated on every page ; a coffee table book ,one to share with family at Christmas”.


For those of us from Pebble Mill this is an adventure story with a difference because many of you will know of these adventures and some of you will surely  be familiar with the characters  involved . There are, so many memories!

The Book is A4, 216 pages full colour , 96,500 words and I’m selling them first come first served at cost £14 plus postage  or can be collected.

anybody who would like a copy please  contact me on


Mob  07742671586

John Williams




Screening of The Colony & The Fortress

Philip Donnellan, copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

Philip Donnellan, copyright resides with the original holder








On Wednesday 28 October 2015, there will be a screening of two of Philip Donnellan’s films: The Colony and The Fortress. The films will be introduced by Professor Paul Long, from Birmingham City University.

While working within the BBC, the passionate and provocative Donnellan used his anti-establishment sensibilities to tell the stories of marginalised individuals and communities.

In The Colony, West Indian immigrants in Birmingham describe how their expectations have been tempered by experience.

Current affairs series, Landmarks, portrayed stages of life from birth to old age; The Fortress shows how it felt to live on a Sheffield estate.

The Colony
BBC 1964
Directed by Philip Donnellan
58 min

Landmarks: The Fortress
BBC 1965
Directed by Philip Donnellan
30 min
The screening is at 18:10, on 28th October 2015, at NFT3, BFI Southbank, Belvedere Road, SE1 8XT

John Williams talking about working with Donnellan

John Williams on working with Philip Donnellan from pebblemill on Vimeo.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Film cameraman, John Williams, being interviewed by Dr Paul Long, from Birmingham City University, about working with the documentary film-maker, Philip Donnellan, in the late 1960s and 1970s, at BBC Birmingham.

John Williams, cameraman

John Williams, cameraman






The following comment was left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:
Peter Poole: ‘Great video, brings back memories of me getting the microphone in shoot. Philip was not happy!’

Philip Donnellan’s ‘The Colony’ – Paul Long

‘The Colony’ (1963) is remarkable for being different in concept and execution from the typical BBC documentary of the time, let alone any of those dealing with immigrants in Britain and the general manner in which they were treated as objects to investigate and speak about. Its distinctiveness was a result of the particular vision of its creator Philip Donnellan, a figure whose oeuvre has been barely acknowledged by the BBC itself or by historians of the media.
Donnellan was a documentarist based in Birmingham who felt particularly dissatisfied with the BBC’s approach to its public service remit.

At issue was the nature of the ‘public’ it assumed to address and those it did not. He recalls in his unpublished autobiography that he was conscious of the ways in which British society began to change in the 1950s and 1960s as result of the post-war settlement. All about him was evidence of the challenge to traditional social divisions and deference located around authority and class. Confident explorations and celebrations of the vitality of working class life were found in the of the work of Richard Hoggart and Raymond Williams, in the films of Free Cinema, in the theatre and novels of the so-called ‘Angry Young Men’. This new world was there also in the presence and vitality of the culture of Black migrants. For Donnellan, and with honorable exceptions (see below), little of this vista was adequately registered by the BBC, which was not only limited in its coverage but in the way it spoke of and to its audience. This was governed by an unspoken consensual idea of how Corporation employees proceeded about their work: ‘An understood, though undefined, cultural, social and political consensus which fenced in the world we inhabited and gave boundaries to decisions of taste, style, and subject and to the choice of broadcasters who might handle them correctly and safely’.

From his first film ‘Joe the Chainsmith’ (1958), which ventured into the Black Country, Donnellan aimed to challenge this consensus by extending the subject and form of documentary. He sought out working people and under-represented social groups, the Irish, travelers and Black migrants. He created a space in his films that would allow them to speak for themselves and about their concerns and opinions without any overt intercession from the authorial tones and spurious objectivity of the BBC. Conceived in this vein, ‘The Colony’ is one of the enduring achievements of Donnellan’s career for the way in which he sought to represent the Black experience in Birmingham. As he recalled:

The intention was not to examine ‘colour prejudice’ it was certainly not our purpose to report on or review white people’s feelings of superiority: that was frequently implied in one news broadcast after another, and in the routine programmes that almost entirely ignored the black minority. Our aim was to present what it felt like to be a West Indian, in Britain, in Birmingham, and to offer West Indians the chance to describe in their own way the feelings they had about Britain and the British. 

In order to fulfill this aim, Donnellan marshaled together a range of men and women who populate the film and give it its complex textures. They are seen and heard at home, in the workplace, at leisure, in prayer and participating in group discussions. Subjects speak directly to camera about their experiences, taking time to think about the insights they offer. In addition, a range of further, unidentified voices give testimonies that overlay the imagery that locates them in the day-to-day environment and interactions of the city. This mise-en-scène includes images of civic dignitaries at St Martin’s Church, busy streets, faces staring back at the camera (taking on a position of Black subjectivity), slum streets and walls daubed with racist graffiti.”

Paul Long (2011), ‘Representing Race, and Place: Black Midlanders on Television in the 1960s and 1970s’, Midland History. Vol. 36, No. 2, pp. 261–76