Sir Trevor McDonald said that a man recently spotted him walking down the street and pulled his vehicle to the side of the road so that he could ask for a photo. This man was a bus driver, on duty, with a bus full of paying customers. People really will go to any lengths for a moment with this legend of broadcasting, so it was an immense privilege to spend an hour in his company on Monday 11 June.
Sir Trevor shared a conversation with fellow journalist Charlene White in front of a few hundred guests in the Netflix Crucible Studio (“I was just hearing how to get Netflix, my crew were just telling me how to do it”, he later joked). The topics of conversation spanned his decades of broadcasting experience, but focused on his career in documentary making since 2009.
“Making documentaries is entirely different to making five or six minute films,” Sir Trevor explained, emphasising the difficulty of creating a longform film compared to a news bulletin, in terms of scale and depth. The journalist was unsurprisingly humble in his accomplishments and spoke of his constant insecurity and nervousness about every piece of his work, explaining that he is never not nervous until he sees the final product, yet admitting that he is “always amazed at what [they] accomplish”.
Sir Trevor explained how the gravitas of his work often overwhelms him. “There are times when the journalistic mind becomes narrow minded and you lose focus,” he stated, emphasising how he often becomes so involved with discovering new things and finding “the stories that make this place live” that he forgets to step back and appreciate the incredible scenarios in which he finds himself. “Maybe I should get a life and have a holiday some time,” he laughed.
Speaking of his Inside Death Row and Death Row 2018 documentaries, Sir Trevor opened up about his fear of prisons and hesitance to visit them before agreeing to film the documentaries – so much so that he even refused to visit a friend who spent time inside.
Hearing Sir Trevor talk about his experiences was astonishing. From his meeting with Morgan Freeman in Clarkesville, Mississippi (“We talked a lot about Shawshank Redemption”) to the difficulty in interviewing the mother of two-year-old James Bulger (“You can’t do it without thinking about yourself. What if that was me?”), every sentence out of Sir Trevor’s mouth had the audience captivated.
He spoke of the importance of keeping his work contemporaneous and holding power to account. More than anything, though, he expressed his gratitude at the fortune which led him to be able to have these experiences, and how privileged he felt as a journalist being able to experience them. One thing’s for sure, we were just as privileged to be in his company today.