Foreword
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ix Foreword y husband, John Percival, was a passionate man, caring deeply about issues big and small. Whether it was his family, his allotment garden or the big socio-political questions, he was always curious, asking why, how and what could be done. His chosen method of doing something for change was television: in the 1960s the place to be for creative and intelligent young men and women with something to say, and John had an abundance of angry and impassioned things to say. He wanted to change the world, as he would admit in later years. In 1960, after reading Archaeology and Anthropology at Cambridge and at the tender age of 23, he went to Cameroon, hired by the then British Colonial Office to “preside along with other Brits over the demise of a small part of the British Empire”. On his return from Africa he joined the BBC and eventually went into television where he was soon given freedom to speak his mind as well as wonderful opportunities that he grasped with both hands, often presenting his own programmes in a glorious basso profundo voice. He continued to make programmes and write learned and eloquent books throughout his life. “Quite suddenly, an extraordinary prancing figure came galloping down the track towards me. It was a man with no face…. Above the faceless mask was the grinning skeleton of a monkey and around his wrists and ankles were bone bracelets that rattled as he danced…. A drummer lurked a short distance behind him, keeping up a wild staccato rhythm. Another man, close behind the dancer, lashed his head and shoulders with a bunch of dracaena leaves which drove him into extravagant bouts of leaping and posturing, but the most astonishing thing about him was his sheer power…. I stood as still as a tree, perhaps letting my twigs tremble a bit, but refusing to budge from the path…. I felt this character was trying to intimidate me and it made me angry—all the more so because he was so close to succeeding.” His frankness could land him in trouble—what he said was sometimes uncomfortable for the Establishment to hear. Winston Churchill said: “I have a tendency, against which I should perhaps be on my guard, to swim against the stream”, a characteristic that John shared. He also “tended to kick upwards and nurture downwards”. He would see the flaw in someone’s argument, hear a lie, sense the hypocrisy of a politician’s case. He told people when they were wrong and they did not always appreciate it, especially his bosses. However his friends and colleagues also knew him as self-mocking, tolerant of human frailty, generous with his experience and his encyclopaedic knowledge and increasingly psychologically astute. He could be hilariously funny, occasionally mordant, mostly gentle. “I was in the midst of my ablutions when a woman stuck her head into the tent and gave me a cheerful grin. I tried to wave her away, but she failed to go, so I threw my sponge at her, which simply made her laugh and come right inside the tent. She may not have been familiar with Europeans, but she was a great deal M x less frightened of me than I was of her. In a mild panic I called for Pius…. Pius explained cheerfully…that the chief had sent her to help me with my bath ‘and anything else you want’, he added, with a giggle. In the end I had to get Pius to fetch the hunter to translate my politely phrased request that she should get the hell out of my tent.” John was a pioneering television documentary maker who first harnessed his anger and passion to investigate the rich West’s legacy of empire. His programmes were radical, built around his great loves: anthropology, especially that of Africa, the environment and nature. He was one of the original reporters for the BBC TV series “Man Alive”. With his own landmark series in 1969, “The Family of Man”, he compared life in the English Home Counties and Colne, Lancashire, with that in Botswana, a Himalayan village and New Guinea. With his next controversial series, “Rich Man, Poor Man”, 1972, he was again in the vanguard, this time of the ecology and anti-globalisation movement. Inspired by E.F. Schumacher and Ivan Illich, he offered a personal analysis of Western consumerism and its damaging consequences to the developing world (John was an early critic of...