To celebrate the 100th edition of our Construction Buzz Newsletter, we’ve delved into the archives to bring you some of the most influential construction projects from the last 100 years, exactly as they were reported at the time.
In 1983, an ITV documentary made by World In Action caused the timber-frame housing market to crash. It alleged that timber-frame construction could not produce houses that would last, citing rot in the frames of nine-year-old homes on a Cornwall estate.
It also said timber framing was at the heart of a fire in a Barratt home in the Midlands.
The documentary caused such a furore that, suddenly, no one wanted to buy a timber-frame home. The bottom fell out of the market.
Although the claims were widely discredited, it would be almost 20 years until Barratt announced plans to return to off-site manufacturing.
The Stage, The Stage, 20 February 1986
This adjudication from the Broadcasting Complaints Commission was published yesterday, Wednesday February 19.
IN April 1983 Granada sought the co-operation of Barratt Developments Plc (Barratts) and their chairman, Sir Lawrie Barratt, in the making of a programme about house building in Britain since 1945.
The programme was to be shown in Granada’s World In Action series in June 1983. Granada requested, and were given, facilities to film on a number of Barratt sites. They also requested an interview with Sir Lawrie Barratt which took place on April 27, 1983.
In May 1983 Granada informed Barratts that the original plan to broadcast a single one-hour programme had changed. There would instead be two half-hour programmes, the second of which would refer specifically to Timber Frame Housing (TFH) and to the debate on the advantages and disadvantages of this type of construction which had been stimulated within the building industry. Since Barratts were at the time a leading TFH builder, a second interview was requested, but was not granted.
The programme related to TFH, called Your Home in their Hands, was shown on June 27, 1983. Barratts complained to IBA and, subsequently, to the commission that the programme was unjust and unfair.
The complaint, submitted to the commission on February 10, 1984, consisted of a number of individual points and resulted in the submission, over a period of some sixteen months, of detailed written statements from Barratts, Granada and the IBA. Barratts ultimately re-grouped the points of their complaint under three heads as set out below.
BARRATTS complained that the programme was unjust and unfair because:
THE programme gave biased treatment to one point of view, namely the point of view of the critics of TFH that interstitial condensation was a fact of life, and the programme was slanted by concealment of relevant facts, namely that there is no evidence that interstitial condensation has occurred and that modern TFH is specifically designed to cope with interstitial condensation.
BARRATTS were not made adequately aware of the subject matter and purpose of the programme to which they were invited to contribute:
(a) Immediatelt prior to the original filming on site on April 27 1983,
(b) During subsequent invitations to appear on the programme.
THE interview given by Sir Lawrie Barratt on April 27, 1983 was unfairly edited in such a way that:
(a) The shortened version misrepresented his views, particularly by omission of the answer to a question about site practice;
(b) Due weight was not given to certain qualifying remarks which were of great importance to the questions of quality and the reasons for promoting TFH; and
(c) By taking some of his remarks out of context the programme made Sir Lawrie Barratt appear, by juxtaposition, to be associated with a line of argument which he would not accept and on which he was given an opportunity to comment.
THE following is a summary of the points made by Granada in their response under each head of complaint.
THE programme’s treatment of TFH was fair and balanced. Of the independent experts who took part in the programme, three were critical of TFH and two, namely Mr Andrew Tait of the National Housing Building Council (NHBC) and Mr James Riley of the British Woodworking Federation (BWF), spoke in favour of TFH as did Sir Lawrie Barratt himself.
It was impossible to interpret the programme as saying interstitial condensation was a fact of life. One of the experts who was critical of TFH, Professor Alex Hardy of Newcastle University, was speaking on the theoretical risks of interstitial condensation. Mr Riley also expressed the opinion that any anxiety about condensation was theoretical.
The Government’s Building Research Establishment, in a report of 1983, had stated that there was evidence to show that interstitial condensation occurred in TFH. Even so, the opposing viewpoint was adequately put by Mr Riley. The programme dealt fully with the design element in modern TFH that was intended to cope with condensation, namely the vapour barrier.
PRIOR to the filming on site on April 27, Barratts had been informed in writing of the format of the programme as proposed at the time. It was in the bature of current affairs programmes, such as World in Action, that the direction the programme would finally take would evolve during its production.
Nevertheless, immediately before filming took place Sir Lawrie was told orally about specific questions concerning TFH, including rot, site practice and fire hazards, and these questions were subsequently put to him.
After April 27, Barratts were informed that Granada now planned to make two separate programmes, one of which would deal specifically with TFH and its advantages and disadvantages. Repeated attempts were made to obtain a second interview with Sir Lawrie to provide material for the programme, but without success.
Barratts were, and are, a sophisticated media-orientated company employing the services of two public relations companies to advise them on dealing with the media. They were well aware of the controversy, in the building industry and elsewhere, about TFH and were also aware of criticism which had been levelled in the press at their standards and workmanship.
Barratts would therefore undoubtedly have known that any programme dealing with TFH, particularly one in the World in Action series with its familiar style of investigative journalism, would of necessity include specific criticisms of TFH as a system of building. They would also have known that they, as a major TFH builder, were likely also to be the subject of criticism.
THE editing of interviews and the intercutting of opposing viewpoints is standard practice in current affairs programmes, and was not done unfairly in this instance.
The programme did not misrepresent Sir Lawrie’s views nor was he associated with a line of argument he would not accept. On the contrary, he was shown to s=be speaking in favour and in defence of TFH and this accurately represented his point of view. It was fair comment to use the interview in such a way as to demonstrate the gap between Barratt’s public statements on TFH and the reality of the way houses were actually being built on site.
The omissions complained of were made because Sir Lawrie’s comments were misleading, or because had been shown to be untrue or because the points made were expressed in greater detail by other contributors to the programme.
THE IBA fully supported the argument put forward by Granada in their written statements in answer to the complaint. They claimed that the programme, which was clearly in the public interest, was fair, impartial and free from bias. In the making of the programme Granada had at all times complied with the IBA’s Television Programme Guidelines, in particular regarding the editing of the interview with Sir Lawrie Barratt.
THE commission had before them Barratt’s original letter of complaint, a summary of the complaint under three heads drawn up by Barratts, written statements in answer to the complaint from the IBA and Granada, a transcript of the full interview with Sir Lawrie Barratt of April 27, 1983 and copies of related correspondence.
The commission read a transcript and viewed a video recording of the programme. Oral submissions were heard from Barratts and, separately, from the IBA and Granada. The commission also viewed a video recording of sections of the programme, which had been prepared by Barratts in order to illustrate the editing complained of as unfair under the third head of the complaint.
THE commission have considered the complaint under three heads, as set out by Barratts in their re-grouping of the individual points of complaint, in the following order:
BARRATTS were not made adequately aware of the subject matter and purpose of the programme in which they were invited to contribute both before the filming on site and the interview with Sir Lawrie Barratt on April 27, 1983 and in subsequent invitations to appear on the programme.
The commission consider that before April 27 Granada had not yet decided that the programme they were planning would be critical of TFH in general and of Barratts in particular, nor did they know at that stage what specific criticisms would be made.
Granada did not yet have in their possession a number of documents central to their treatment in the programme of TFH, had not yet filmed the interviews with Professor Hardy, Mr Riley of the BWF, Mrs Pat Lambert, the consumers’ representative of the NHBC and Mr Ted Cantle of the Assocaiation of Metropolitan Authorities, nor had they undertaken their photographic survey of Barratt sites.
The commission consider that the subject matter and purpose of the programme, as they stood at the time, were adequately set out in Granada’s letter of April 26 to Mr Mike Norton, Barratt’s group sales manager. The commission also consider that, even if this were not the case, the significant exchanges of correspondence regarding the programme actually shown took place after April 27.
On April 27 Sir Lawrie Barratt was asked questions relating specifically to TFH. There is a conflict of evidence as to whether Sir Lawrie was present when filming on site took place on April 27, but the commission consider that the questions put to him on that day should have sufficed to indicate the way in which the programme was developing.
In considering whether or not Barratts were made adequately aware after April 27 of the subject matter and purpose of the programme the commission have given particular attention to the following correspondence:
(i) A letter of May 18, 1983 from Granada to Sir Lawrie informing him that there would be two programmes, one of which would deal specifically with TFH and its advantages and disadvantages and requesting a second interview.
(ii) A further letter of June 16, 1983 from Granada to Sir Lawrie informing him that the programme on TFH would be looking at the debate which TFH had provoked within the building industry, the role of the NHBC and and the NHBC guidelines on site practice, and again requesting a second interview.
(iii) A letter of June 21, 1983 from Mr Andrew Tait of the NHBC to Sir Lawrie stating that the NHBC were concerned about the programme on TFH and that a second interview had been arranged between Mr Tait and the World in Action team.
The commission consider that, from the information in these letters, Barratts were in a position to deduce that the programme would b critical of TFH, of which they were Britain’s largest builders. They would have been well aware of the controversy about TFH and the two major related problems associated with it, namely poor site practice and interstitial condensation.
The commission also note that, at the time, Barratts were employing the services of a public relations adviser who could have been expected to have been well aware of the style of investigative journalism associated with World in Action programmes.
The commission conclude that Barratts were fully aware of the subject matter and purpose of the proposed programme before April 27 and, moreover, after April 27 they were given adequate opportunity to understand the changed nature of the programme and were offered the chance, on a number of occasions, to make a second contribution. The commission accordingly do not upload the complaint under this head.
THE programme gave biased treatment to one point of view and was slanted by concealment of relevant facts.
The commission are not asked to judge the merits of TFH and the specific question of interstitial condensation. Mr Tait of the NHBC and Mr Riley of the BWF did put arguments forward in the programme in favour of TFH and replied to the arguments of Professor Hardy on interstitial condensation.
The commission consider that it would have been preferable had Barratts themselves directly answered the criticisms made against them in the programme, in particular on the question of interstitial condensation.
In considering the head of commission, however, the commission have given particular attention to the fact that Sir Lawrie Barratt was asked, on more than once occasion, to give a second interview to discuss the advantages and disadvantages of TFH, the NHBC guidelines on site practice and, by implication, the question of interstitial condensation.
Given the fact that Sir Lawrie declined to make any further contribution to the programme after April 27, although it would have been in his and Barratt’s interests to do so, the commission do not consider that the programme was unfair in this respect and do not uphold the complaint under this head.
THE interview given by Sir Lawrie Barratt on April 27, 1983 was unfairly edited in such a way that the shortened version misrepresented his views, due weight was not given to important qualifying remarks and by taking some of his remarks out of context Sir Lawrie was made to appear to be associated with a line of argument which he would not accept and on which he was not given an opportunity to comment.
The commission do not consider the programme misrepresented Sir Lawrie’s views in the narrow sense: namely that he was made to appear to be saying something which he did not in fact believe.
Similarly, the commission do not consider that Sir Lawrie was made to appear to align himself with the critics of TFH. However, a comparison of the transcript of the full interview given by Sir Lawrie with the transcript of the programme as broadcast, shows that the way in which the interview was edited made Sir Lawrie appear to be answering questions which he had not in fact been asked, and replying to criticisms of which he had no knowledge and on which he was not, at that time, given an opportunity to comment.
Instances of this are the examples of poor site practice filmed on April 27 and at later dates, and the results of the World in Action site survey conducted in May to June 1983. Although Sir Lawrie may not have been misrepresented in the programme, his views were certainly not adequately represented since some of the omitted remarks formed an important part of his views on TFH.
The questions put to Sir Lawrie on April 27 were, as Granada themselves argue, intended to form part of the one-hour programme on house building projected at that time, and not as part of a programme relating specifically and in detail to TFH. It was therefore inevitable that any answers Sir Lawrie gave could not properly answer criticism which was formulated after April 27.
The commission accept that Granada faced a dilemma because Sir Lawrie had refused to give a second interview, but they do not consider that this excuses the way the interview was edited and broadcast. The commission therefore uphold the complaint under this head.