Goodbye, Timothy Byford. Loved watching “Poletarac” and “Neven” as a child. As I was too young, I wasn’t aware that these amazing TV shows for children were made by a British guy who came to Yugoslavia for work, found love, and stayed with us… until the end.
Few years ago, I saw a video clip from “Poletarac”, in which Djordje Balasevic sang about Tito. Even “padezi” (declination of words) were explained using Tito’s name (by coincidence, the anniversary of Tito’s death was yesterday!)
What I have seen in that video clip was cultivating a myth of Tito’s greatness, and indoctrination. So I asked Timothy about it. And received a well thought out, beautiful response.
I was only eight years old when Tito died. I am not best qualified to make judgements or comments on what Tito’s rule “was really like”. The thing is, there will never be a unique and undisputed view of those times so many of us grew up in. But we will all agree that “Neven” and “Poletarac” brought smiles, light and happiness into our childhoods. Let’s see what the great man Tim had to say:
Thank you for you e-mail. I’m glad you enjoyed seeing Poletarac again, and I’m glad to have the opportunity of answering your query about the artistic freedom of scriptwriters.
I deliberately chose to post the first half of the 7th episode because of the references to President Tito. When I wrote the scripts I had total freedom to write whatever I liked and I deliberately chose to devote half this programme to a man whom I respected and in whose country I had spent ten beautiful years. At the time of the first transmission he was ill – dying – in a hospital in Ljubljana and I was proud to have done something to express my respect for a man who, with all his faults ( I know he was responsible for countless deaths, but then so was Sir Winston Churchill, who fire-bombed Dresden with the aim of killing as many civilians as possible, not to mention his responsibility for the post-war situation in Eastern Europe – and he is still treated as a national hero, although by today’s criteria he was a war criminal) – was a gentleman with charisma.
I know quite a number of people who wept when he died and the spat on his memory a few years later. When I was a child I was obliged to be a Christian and go to church every Sunday and we all had to love and respect the King. This was also brainwashing.
I am well-known for two series in particular – Neven and Poletarac. I can tell you quite honestly that I could never have made these programmes in the BBC, where directors in most departments have to make the programmes the producers tell them to make, whereas when I came to Yugoslavia (I chose to live in Yugoslavia, not Serbia – if I’d come 20 years later i certainly wouldn’t have stayed) I found a television company that wanted change, that wanted to experiment, and thus I was able to develop as a director in my own way.
When I made a short film in the style of Neven for a BBC series, I was told that I either had to change my style or leave the programme – I chose to leave the programme.
The freedom I discovered when I came to Yugoslavia – Tito’s Yugoslavia, which was highly respected by everyone in the UK – was so refreshing.. Poletarac won first prize in the International Children’s Programmes festival Prix Jeunesse in Munich in 1980. My former producer from the BBC was there and took a video of Poletarac back to England to show her directors, as she put it “how a programme for pre-school children should be made”.
When I visited the BBC a couple of years later, several of my former colleagues expressed their envy at my artistic freedom, and when I compared what I had done during the previous 12 years with what they had managed to do, I could see their point. They had had excellent ideas, but none of them had been able to realize them. So much for democracy.
At about that time I remember reading an interview Andrei Tarkovsky gave to an American magazine. The reporter asked him what it was like working with all the censorship he was confronted with. His answer was that maybe most of his films had not been shown in the Soviet Union, but at least he had been able to make the films he wanted to make, even though they were for a limited audience.
He said real censorship existed in the USA, where directors could only make films that were going to be successful at the box office and make lots of dollars.
My entire television opus was made in communist Yugoslavia. Look at television in democratic Serbia. I have just started as consultant in Children’s television, RTS, and it is obvious to me that it is absolutely impossible today to make programmes anything like Neven, Poletarac or Nedeljni Zabavnik.
I hope this answers your question, although perhaps you may be disappointed at some aspects of my answer. I respected Tito and his Yugoslavia and I weep for the break-up of such a beautiful country – and I shall take my nostalgia to the grave, however much people tell me that my feelings are misguided.”
Timothy Byford (25 July 1941 – 5 May 2014)