Video Arts Television

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"Interesting that Britain, the fatherland of the welfare state and the home of a major avowedly socialist party, should be where we would find producers sympathetic to free markets.” – Milton Friedman [1]

Video Arts Television Ltd was a television production company which produced a number of films promoting neoliberal ideology. Most notable of these was the ten part documentary Free to Choose promoting the views of Milton Friedman, but it also produced a three part film called Heyek - His Life and Thoughts, broadcast in 1985.

Video Arts Television was incorporated in 1978, and was then affiliated with Video Arts, a training film company owned by comedian John Cleese. In 1992 the company was acquired by Media Ventures International and became Pavillion International.

Free to Choose

Video Arts Television produced the ten part polemical documentary Free to Choose, designed to popularise the ideas of Milton Friedman. Bob Chitester, the driving force behind the project has explained that the purpose of the project was:

[T]o translate the excellent scholarship of think tanks and independent scholars into engaging material containing easily remembered stories, phrases and images. These will become life-long reminders; think of them as awareness triggers, of the tug of war between freedom and government and the constant need to rein in the latter to preserve the former. This will be particularly productive with young people whose “natural passion for change and freedom” can become a lifelong habit of seeing the many ways government stands in the way of their aspirations.[2]

After failing to find a production company in the United States sufficiently committed to the neoliberal philosophy, Friedman and Chitester turned to Video Arts Television to produce the film. Antony Jay has written: 'I am a Friedmanite. My company produced Milton Friedman’s 10 part documentary series Free to Choose back in 1979, but I was a convert to market economics long before that. In fact, that was why my company got the gig.' [3] In his autobiography Friedman recalls the first meetings with Video Arts Television to discuss their future production of the 1980 neoliberal polemical documentary Free to Choose:

Bob [Chitester] had been planning a trip to London to talk to the BBC about its interest in acquiring the program when it was completed and to talk with possible producers... By far the most important interview was with Antony Jay, recommended by Ralph Harris [Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs] as “a Friedman fan” (initially from reading my [1973] Playboy interview). Jay was a partner in Video Arts, a television production company formed by ex-BBC employees who had wanted to escape bureaucracy… [Later] Bob and I took off on September 20 for London, where we had extensive discussions with Antony Jay and two of his partners who were to be the most closely involved in the production of Free to Choose, Michael Peacock, managing director and Robert Reid, chairman. In addition, Peacock arranged for us to interview Michael Latham as a potential producer. Unlike the producers we had interviewed in the United States, both the Video Arts trio and Michael Latham were sympathetic to our philosophy and enthusiastic about producing a documentary to present it. [4]

Free to Choose eventually became a ten part television documentary. In their book Free to Choose: A Personal Statement, Milton and Rose Friedman recalled that:

After months of preliminary planning, actual filming began in March of 1978 and was not completed until September of 1979. Anthony Jay, Michael Peacock, and Robert Reid of Video-Arts played a key role in the initial design of the series and an important supervisory role thereafter.

Five TV professionals were with us throughout most of the filming and editing: Michael Latham, as producer of the series; Graham Massey, as film director; Eben Wilson, as an associate producer and principal researcher; Margaret Young, as assistant film director and production secretary; and Jackie Warner, as production manager. They initiated us gently but firmly into the arcane art of making TV documentaries and smoothed over the difficult spots with invariable tact and friendship. [5]

The BBC bought the rights to six of the programmes, [6] five of which were broadcast with studio discussions with Milton Friedman hosted by the neoliberal economist and journalist Peter Jay. According to the BBC Motion Gallery the title of each segment and the date of its broadcast were as follows: Free to Choose:1:Power of Markets (16 February 1980); Free to Choose:2: The Tyranny of Control (23 February 1980); Free to Choose:3:Anatomy of Crisis (1 March 1980); Free to Choose:4: Created Equal (8 March 1980); Free to Choose:5: Who Protects the Consumer? (15 March 1980); Free to Choose:6: How to Cure Inflation (22 March 1980). All but Power of Markets were broadcast with a were broadcast with discussions hosted by Jay.

Filmography from the (British Film Institute)

ADVENTURES: TAMING THE LION (1991) | Q.E.D.: Granny's Greatest Thrill (1991) | Q.E.D.: On His Own Two Feet (1991) | EQUINOX: The Winning Streak (1990) | The MAD COW MYSTERY (1990) | INSIDE STORY: RETURN TO HIROSHIMA (1990) | Q.E.D.: Back to the Drawing Board (1990) | EQUINOX: INVASION OF THE BODY SCANNERS (1989) | DISPATCHES: PRIVATIZING POLAND (1989) | FAIRLY SECRET ARMY: TREACHEROUS CHAPS, CAUSES (1986) | FAIRLY SECRET ARMY: YOU'RE GOING TO BE A HERO, HARRY (1986) | FAIRLY SECRET ARMY: EVER TRIED MAKING LOVE TO A MARXIST? (1986) | FAIRLY SECRET ARMY: ONE MISTAKE, WHOLE CABOOSH PLUGHOLE (1986) | FAIRLY SECRET ARMY: THIS COULD BE EXTREMELY DANGEROUS, SIR (1986) | QUEST FOR THE KILLERS (1986) | FAIRLY SECRET ARMY: ODD CHAPS, WOMEN (1986) | FAIRLY SECRET ARMY: I'VE GOT A JOB FOR YOU (1986) | FROM THE FACE OF THE EARTH: VACCINE ON TRIAL (1985) | The ART OF THE IMPOSSIBLE (1985) | HEYEK - HIS LIFE AND THOUGHT: Revival of classical liberalism (1985) | HEYEK - HIS LIFE AND THOUGHT: Keynes and the Depression and The road to serfdom (1985) | HEYEK - HIS LIFE AND THOUGHT: Origins in Vienna (1985) | FAIRLY SECRET ARMY: WHEN THE TALKING HAD TO STOP (1984) | FAIRLY SECRET ARMY: EIGHT BODS... NEED MORE (1984) | FAIRLY SECRET ARMY: The PULSES QUICKEN (1984) | FAIRLY SECRET ARMY: ROMANCE PLUGHOLE (1984) | FAIRLY SECRET ARMY: OPERATION CHARM (1984) | FAIRLY SECRET ARMY: A CHAP WORTH FOLLOWING (1984) | The ARABS - A LIVING HISTORY: The ARABS NOW (1983) | The ARABS - A LIVING HISTORY: FAMILY TIES (1983) | The ARABS - A LIVING HISTORY: BUILDING A NATION (1983) | The ARABS - A LIVING HISTORY: The SHADOW OF THE WEST (1983) | The ARABS - A LIVING HISTORY: WAYS OF FAITH (1983) | The ARABS - A LIVING HISTORY: NEW KNOWLEDGE FOR OLD (1983) | The ARABS - A LIVING HISTORY: The POWER OF THE WORD (1983) | The ARABS - A LIVING HISTORY: The CITY VICTORIOUS (1983) | The ARABS - A LIVING HISTORY: BETWEEN TWO WORLDS (1983) | The ARABS - A LIVING HISTORY: The MAKING OF THE ARABS (1983) | REPORT TO THE NATION: Nationalisation (1983) | START HERE - ADVENTURES INTO SCIENCE: Make a noise! (1983) | START HERE - ADVENTURES INTO SCIENCE: The fantastic power of air (1983) | MANSION HOUSE SQUARE (1983) | FOUNDATIONS OF WEALTH: The mixed economy (1983) | FOUNDATIONS OF WEALTH: Supply, demand and price - price and the producer (1983) | FOUNDATIONS OF WEALTH: Supply, demand and price - price and the consumer (1983) | FOUNDATIONS OF WEALTH: Money (1983) | FOUNDATIONS OF WEALTH: The market (1983) | START HERE - ADVENTURES INTO SCIENCE: The liquid show (1982) | START HERE - ADVENTURES INTO SCIENCE: Jumping molecules (1982) | START HERE - ADVENTURES INTO SCIENCE: Stop and go (1982) | START HERE - ADVENTURES INTO SCIENCE: The invisible force (1982) | START HERE - ADVENTURES INTO SCIENCE: Mix a material (1982) | START HERE - ADVENTURES INTO SCIENCE: Air at work (1982) | START HERE - ADVENTURES INTO SCIENCE: Build your own machines (1982) | START HERE - ADVENTURES INTO SCIENCE: The electric universe (1982) | START HERE - ADVENTURES INTO SCIENCE: Quick as light (1982) | START HERE - ADVENTURES INTO SCIENCE: The amazing magnet (1982) | The SEARCH FOR ALEXANDER THE GREAT (1981) | FREE TO CHOOSE: HOW TO CURE INFLATION (1980) | FREE TO CHOOSE: WHO PROTECTS THE CONSUMER? (1980) | FREE TO CHOOSE: CREATED EQUAL (1980) | FREE TO CHOOSE: From cradle to grave (1980) | FREE TO CHOOSE: The tyranny of control (1980) | FREE TO CHOOSE: The power of the market (1980) | FREE TO CHOOSE: How to stay free (1980) | FREE TO CHOOSE: Who protects the worker? (1980) | FREE TO CHOOSE: What's wrong with our schools? (1980) | FREE TO CHOOSE: Anatomy of crisis (1980) | FREE TO CHOOSE: FREETIME (1970) [7]

Notes

  1. Rose D. Friedman, Two Lucky People: Memoirs (University of Chicago Press, 1999) p.475
  2. PDF Copy of http://www.freetochoosemedia.org, created 22 October 2009
  3. Antony Jay, ‘How to save the BBC’, 4 July 2008; p.9
  4. Rose D. Friedman, Two Lucky People: Memoirs (University of Chicago Press, 1999) p.475-6
  5. Milton and Rose Friedman, Free to Choose: A Personal Statement (New York: Harcourt Brace Jonanovich, 2001) pp.x-xi
  6. Rose D. Friedman, Two Lucky People: Memoirs (University of Chicago Press, 1999) p.499
  7. BFI Film & TV Database, Video Arts Television Filmography] [Accessed 9 October 2009]