I've lost track of how many times I have counted down the days, and then the hours, to the transmission of one of my documentaries to the living rooms of Great Britain - hoping that my fellow country men and women will see fit to watch. Of course, at the allotted time of broadcast, it is for those at home to decide which channel to turn to so, via the simple press of a button, either purposefully or by chance, they may usher my work to their screens.
It is then up to the viewers either to allow my film to remain the focus of their attention or to banish it with a peremptory depression of the aforementioned button on the remote control. I know only too well that none of my films, or anyone's films come to that, will ever be allowed to outstay their welcome because the moment they offend or bore they're out on their ears - courtesy of said 'zapper'. In their place any one of a number of alternative programmes, from the mass of channels now available, will become favoured. It is survival of the fittest.
Film-makers have to remember that it is a privilege and not a right to have their work viewed in the intimate surroundings of someone's home. And even if permitted to stay for any length of time it is essential that our programmes be amusing, informative, entertaining and these days, let's admit it, controversial and/or titillating. If not any of these then zap! Or click! There is always the off switch and the competing attractions of the inter-net, the fridge, bed or taking the dog for a walk round the block.
Tonight, I have a new series going out on Channel 5. For the last week or so the channel has busied itself trying to persuade as many people as possible to consider opening their homes to Royal Marines: Mission Afghanistan in that most competitive of all the evening slots - the post watershed 'nine o'clocker' in which programmes can sink without trace or swim to the glory of a ratings winner. As a so-called 'veteran' film-maker I have become as hardened to the realities and the vagaries of the ratings as I have to the views of the critics whether they be good or bad. Kipling's If always springs to mind when I peruse the following day's reviews of my films:
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two imposters just the same...
So why is it that, more than any other of the 150 or so films I have made in my career, that I want this series to command the nation's attention or whatever goodly part of it I might reasonably lay claim to? In part it is because I think that the films I have made with my talented editors, Jamie and Julie, do warrant a wide viewership and hopefully favourable judgement - although to say that now I realise is tempting providence in a most provocative way. For what it's worth, however, I do think the stories my films tell are compelling and I also think they bring something new to the oft told but continually unfolding story of the war in Afghanistan.
Most of all though, I want people to watch the Royal Marines at work. This is a very special breed of men doing the toughest of all jobs in one of the most ferocious parts of Afghanistan. These films are not the first I have made about the Royal Marines and I have been accused before, notably by AA Gill of the Sunday Times, of making films that simply venerate the Corps. He described my last Afghanistan series, Commando: On the Front Line (2006), as a 'paean' to their greater glory. Maybe he's right. Perhaps I am guilty of eulogy or panegyric but consider this: I have a long association with the Royal Marines. I have trained with them and I have been to war with them. As a result I now enjoy unique access to the Corps because they have come to trust me. They trust me because they know I understand them, their ethos, and their raison d'etre. It is through that understanding, and because of it, that I make my films about them the way I do.
They are personal, intimate and unapologetically subjective. I am not, however, making PR films or recruitment films. I endeavour to tell it how it is. Nothing is hidden. It's warts and all TV - watch tonight and see. I do not go out of my way to exalt the Marines, to ennoble them or lionise them. What you see is what you get but I challenge anyone to immerse with the marines or 'embed' as it is described these days, and not be incredibly impressed by them and all they stand for, and moved by their determination to get the job done - whatever it takes - and sometimes that means making the ultimate sacrifice.
AA Gill might like to know that my sternest critics are not those that review TV programmes professionally but those from within the Royal Marines themselves - particularly the Top Brass who are understandably very protective of their men and their hard won reputation. There are commanders, colonels and generals who probably feel that I have got closer than a filmmaker or journalist should get to the inner sanctum of the Corps and that I might reveal too much of a world that they feel should remain private and enclosed - enshrined by the sense of brotherhood that bonds all Marines without the need for wider scrutiny. Some may well feel that exposure to the sometimes harsh and unforgiving light of TV publicity will always be damaging to reputation - especially one born of a military culture with its own rules, customs and traditions.
I feel very strongly, however, that the nation will benefit from an understanding of what makes a Marine a Marine. We are generally quick to pour scorn over our youth, sometimes with good cause, but the young men who train as Marines (the longest and hardest basic military training in the world) are working resolutely for our benefit, protection and national welfare.
In my new series I follow Lima Company of 42 Commando to the very front line of battle and beyond - deep into enemy territory. There I tell of the heroic attempts to draw enemy fire away from a village being cleared of IED's (Improvised Explosive Devices) before being rebuilt after years of Taliban occupation and given back to the people. Seven Marines lost their lives in the protection of this village and many more suffered life-changing injuries, so I am making no apologies for making films that tell this story. Some of what the viewers will see is inspiring, some of it shocking - war is shocking so deal with it - some is desperately sad and some of it is gut-bustingly funny.
The following six weeks will see the series play out. I will gauge with fascination the responses from the viewing public, the critics and the Marines themselves and share it with you in this blog.
And if you have nothing better to do tonight at 9pm tune into Channel 5 and allow yourself to be transported to Nad E Ali (north) - and the most dangerous square mile in Afghanistan.
Royal Marines: Mission Afghanistan is on Channel 5 tonight at 9pm
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