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Peter Taylor on getting both sides of the Brighton bomb story

The BBC wanted to do a programme about the Brighton bomb to coincide with the run-up to the 20th anniversary. Peter Horrocks, the BBC’s head of current affairs, said to me after I’d done SAS: Embassy Siege for BBC Two that, if I could get some of the victims and Patrick Magee (the IRA man who planted the bomb) to talk about it, we would have an important programme.

Getting the interviews was not easy and was down to convincing the Tebbits, Lady Berry (whose husband was killed) and others that our intentions were honourable. A major problem was that one of the conditions on which Lord and Lady Tebbit and Lady Berry would take part was that they would not be in the same programme as Magee.

For 18 months Magee had refused to be interviewed for the programme, so at the time of doing the interviews with the victims the situation didn’t arise. To my surprise, he reconsidered and we had to deal with the problem of the conditions on which the Tebbits and Lady Berry (in particular) had agreed. We thought that the best way to resolve it was to do two separate programmes.

I knew it was still not going to be easy because they (the victims) might have thought that we had double-crossed them when we hadn’t, but ultimately they took it well.

The interviews themselves were really quite difficult and sensitive. My talk with Lady Berry is one of those interviews that one remembers — when she talked about how “I felt closer to God” while buried alive, it was astonishing. For somebody who is a shy person and who doesn’t speak politically to say that . . . it makes you think: “What would I have done in that situation?”

Also, I think that talking to the Tebbits, to my surprise, revealed a different level of understanding about them. It will challenge viewers’ perceptions about Norman Tebbit as the “Chingford skinhead”, because there are moments in the interview which reveal that Margaret wears the trousers in their household. For example, there’s an aside when Norman says, about returning from Lord McAlpine’s party (shortly before the bomb blast), that “I think it was around 11.30pm”, and Margaret says off-camera audibly it was “well after midnight”! I think it says something about her great strength and his.

As for Magee, the important thing was that I was heard to be asking the questions — the fact that he wouldn’t answer some will enable people to make up their own minds. He was slightly wary, and made it clear that he was not going to speak on behalf of the IRA and that he did not regard himself — as very few IRA men did — as a criminal.

I have never condoned terrorism, but what I’ve tried to do in 30-odd years of reporting it is to try to understand it. You start to understand it by understanding the people who carry out these acts.

It is not a soft interview with Magee — he is given the chance to say what he wants to say, but I also challenge what he says. I think one of the media’s prime functions is to show the audience in these contentious, sensitive areas things as they really are, why they are, rather than what people think they are because of the images that they have been presented by other parts of the media.

People remember the bombing because it was so dramatic; in a sense it’s a bit like the siege of the Iranian embassy or the Kennedy assassination. People gave a huge amount in these interviews, and coupled with the remarkable archive footage, it will show, I hope, that it wasn’t just something that happened — it’s something that killed people and changed people’s lives.

Interview by James Jackson. The Brighton Bomb, Tuesday, BBC One, 9pm; The Hunt for the Brighton Bomber, Tuesday, BBC One, 10.35pm

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