In March 2016 Steve was told by doctors that he was suffering from a very aggressive form of cancer and art of his strategy to manage his condition has been to write 'My cancer diary' for the Guardian and have a regular slot on 'Eddie Mair's Interview' on BBC Radio 4's PM Programme. Many thousands of readers and listeners have taken fillip from his courage and public response to his openness had been overwhelming, with him saying that it never crossed his mind it would have had that effect on audiences.
Steve was born in Birmingham in 1958 and was transferred to a nursery at 9-10 months, ready for adoption and when he was placed in the hands of his adoptive parents, Vera and Larry Hewlett, it was all down to his new Nan because, as he recalled, she was the one who picked him out from the "rows and rows of babies, rows and rows of cots in a childrens' home" because he had the rosiest cheeks and fair curly hair and the "reason I had the rosiest cheeks was because I was coughing my guts up with whooping cough."
"They obviously thought they'd stumbled across this great investigative talent."
Employed on a temporary contract with the BBC, at the age of 24 he became the 'de facto' producer of a piece, which turned into a full 'Nationwide' Special with a David Dimbleby introduction. It focused on the police cover up of the rape of a woman who committed suicide. He recalled : "No one would believe her because the rape had been committed by Saudi Arabian Army officers who were King Fahd's Personal Guard." However, "that night the Argies invaded the Falklands and this story just disappeared."
Meanwhile, Steve's activities as a student had come to the notice of the BBC’s notorious Special Assistant to the Director of Personnel, former army officer, Brigadier Ronnie Stonham. whose job was to vet BBC staff. Three years later in 1985 two reporters from the Observer spoke to Steve about his experience with the 'Christmas Tree', the BBC's security file and reported in the article : 'In 1982 a similar attempt was made to blight the career of a young journalist-the only one we traced who is too worried to be named. A former student activist and briefly a member of the small and eccentric Maoist group, the Communist Party of Great Britain (Marxist-Leninist), he joined the BBC on an informal three-month contract and reported an incident, based on leaks from policemen, that a rape by a Saudi in Britain had been concealed for diplomatic reasons.'
In relation to the new Channel 4 he later reflected : "When I was there, right at the beginning, there was a clearly defined purpose, which was : Whenever you find a liberal consensus, probe it, probe it, probe it. If there's another way of looking at it, broadcast it and we did all sorts of things on the right and the left. I think I may positively the only person I know in the whole of television, even today, whose ever made a programme that advocated capital punishment, which is something, I have to say, I don't believe in for two seconds."
One of the first programmes he did for 'Diverse Reports' was entitled 'Peace Convoy' and focused on the alternative lifestyle of the hippies and began with Series Editor saying : "In the last week the press and the politicians have been waging war on the Peace Convoy, the hippies have been hounded and vilified, but very little effort has been made to find out who they are and what they believe. Tonight in 'Diverse Reports', members of the convoy answer the critics and explain why they chose their alternative life and what they think of the way we live."
Apparently, his programmes caused friction between between the Chief Executive, Jeremy Isaacs and Chairman, Edmund Dell who objected to what he considered to be their left wing bias.
Returning to the the BBC and up until 1994, he worked as Executive Producer / Producer on 35 episodes of its documentary film strand, 'Inside Out' with its focus on investigative journalism. The 'Special' he produced in 1991 with Peter Taylor focussed on life in Northern Ireland's prison, 'The Maze', at the time when it was Britain's maximum security terrorist jail, with eight 'H' blocks holding 450 Loyalists and Republicans, bombers and gunmen of the conflict in Northern Ireland. He spent 8-9 weeks working in the Prison with Peter and recalled : "It was a bit like the view that the prison could be a crucible for the kind of things it might be possible to reproduce on the outside and I can remember well that inside the prison the Medical Unit was accepted as 'No Man's Land', so when the leaders had to go and chat about this and that, their medical excuses would be made and they'd turn up in the Medical Unit and they would chat."
Steve found it amusing that the only interview in the prison which had to be dubbed by an actor's voice was when the prisoner who was the 'IRA food Representative', met with officers and said : " You see them there sausage rolls, they're not big enough," because at that point he was deemed to be representing a proscribed organisation, despite the fact that "other people were talking about killings, the IRA, the UVF, the UDA."
Peter Taylor recalled, when filming in the prison : "The atmosphere was incredibly intense and it was absolutely exhausting doing it. What happened at lunchtime is that the prison officers would go to their lunch and we had the choice of being locked inside a cell with a particular individual for a couple of hours while the prison officers went off and had their lunches and I did it quite a bit, but Steve religiously insisted on being locked up." "He had this amazing capacity to build trust with people because they believed him whether they were Loyalists of Republicans."
It was made in 1992 to mark the 20th Anniversary of the event on 30 January 1972 in the Bogside area of Derry, Northern Ireland, when British soldiers shot 26 unarmed civilians during a peaceful protest march against internment and as a result 14 died. Peter Taylor took the testimony of both soldiers and civilians and left the viewers to draw their own conclusions. Steve remembers the programme as the one which gives him the most professional pride.
Colonel Wilford commanding the Parachute Regiment :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3FCPe6vgS8&t=15m44s and : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3FCPe6vgS8&t=45m22s
Father Edward Daly :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3FCPe6vgS8&t=17m12s and : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j3FCPe6vgS8&t=41m41s
"the production team had come to talk about it at my house in Shepherd’s Bush. The minute they left I felt the bottom drop out of my stomach. I thought it will be shit. The only thing that was worse than not having this interview was that it would be fawning nonsense. I felt that could be career ending.” Yet, after those initial misgivings, he was encouraged when the editor phoned and said : "I think you've got a film." He expressed his exhilaration when he later said : "The journalistic world would give most of their arms and legs, all of them, to get this interview and we've bloody well got it. It was an extraordinary feeling."
we were doing a top secret story about police corruption and that shut them all up.The hardest thing was to keep it from Alan Yentob (then controller of BBC One). Everybody knew that if Yentob got the faintest whiff of it, it would be everywhere.” The Director General, John Birt, didn't tell Mamaduke Hussey, the Chairman of the BBC about the interview and "was absolutely committed to the BBC doing this programme and showing it. There was no interference of any description. Birt took a huge personal risk.”
"He was running teams investigating about 20 big stories from the sale of second-hand X-rays machines causing cancer among patients; the smuggling out of Russia, plutonium for selling in London; secret filming inside Saddam Hussein's chemical weapons facilities, an amazing array of really difficult, really important journalism, which is what Panorama under Steve was about."
The series featured disturbing images and he took this as an opportunity to warn that broadcasters were sanitising the horror of war because of a mistaken fear of a backlash from squeamish viewers and said : "There is a general sense that we are becoming more restrictive. The drift needs to be recognised; there is a danger that if you are not careful you change the journalistic impact and the sense of what happened."
Steve courted controversy when he was prompted to speak out after comparing BBC World's coverage of the Kosovo Conflict with its international rivals. On a visit to France, he saw local versions of the aftermath of Nato's bombing of a refugee convoy. "Without exception it was absolutely ghastly; it was not what I am used to seeing. Undeniably, an appalling tragedy had occurred." By the same token he thought that the BBC's coverage of the event was dramatically different : "It was so sanitised that it made me question whether the event had happened at all in the way I had previously seen."
Steve was critical of Carlton where he recalled he : “ended up in the bizarre corporate politics of an ITV company where people don’t understand television.” In 2004, Carlton Communications was taken over by Granada and Steve was made redundant, but not for long, since in the same year he was appointed the new Non-executive Director of 'Tiger Aspect Productions.' At the time the Company Chairman, Peter Bennett-Jones, said : "What excited us was Steve's direct experience of working for all the major UK broadcasters he knows the UK broadcast landscape inside out and has extensive knowledge of the international market. He has expertise and contacts across the board of programming and will be a great asset to Tiger Aspect."
In addition, he also continued to make TV programmes through his two independent production companies, 'Big Pictures' and 'Genie Pictures', which included 'Rupert Murdoch - Battle with Britain' which he based on the premise that : "Rupert Murdoch, the most powerful media mogul in the world. He is accused of dragging Britain's press into the gutter, of having contempt for the law and of contaminating our politics and public life. That is the conventional view, but let me offer you another : Think of Rupert Murdoch as an agent of change that struggling post-war Britain urgently needed and whose impact has been little short of revolutionary." Steve went on the analyse Murdoch's relationship with Britain and Prime Minister, Tony Blair." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4tUQufg6QGk
In 2009 he acted as Executive Producer for 'Scenes from a Teenage Killing' made by Minnow Films and aired by the BBC, a documentary directed by Morgan Matthews, it was nominated for a BAFTA for 'Best Single Documentary.' https://vimeo.com/32661339
An old media maestro to his roots; Steve has said with perfect self-effacement :
"The only thing I felt absolutely confident about was how to make films and how to run cutting rooms and how to get the best out of their material."
Steve's fight with cancer :
In October last year Steve wrote : 'I’ve got cancer. It’s a Stage 4, advanced adenocarcinoma located at the junction of my oesophagus and my stomach which has spread to nearby lymph nodes and to my liver. I never imagined seriously that I’d get cancer. I don’t mean I didn’t recognise it as a possibility – after all I smoked until 20 years ago and enjoyed eating and drinking – occasionally to traditional journalistic excess – and I know that many of us will get cancer at some point in our lives. But it was always going to be someone else. That is until it wasn’t.'
Looking back on his life Steve said : "I feel incredibly lucky to have had the career I've had. I've met Colonel Gadafi. I've spent eight to nine weeks in the Maze Prison. I made a film about Bloody Sunday, which to this day, I think is one of the best things I've ever done. It was about as close to 'the' story about Bloody Sunday, both human story and what happened, I think any one's ever got. I've made films in Africa. I've done loads of things and met loads of people. I feel I've been pretty lucky."
Last week, in answer to Eddie's question to Steve when he visited him in hospital :
"Do you have anything you're itching to get off your chest about the media world ?" He voiced his concerns about the institution he clearly cared for deeply and had first worked for as a 23 year old cub journalist 35 years ago and worked for on and off ever since, producing programmes of which he was justly proud, namely, the BBC : "I worry about the BBC's leadership. There are quite a lot of things going on in the world of the BBC. The scale of the savings they've got to make are truly gargantuan and I see no real evidence that they are up to the challenge in a sufficiently strategic way and that is going to create moments of severe vulnerability. I worry about the BBC for that."
He once described a quality he had, in relation to his career in the Media, that is perfectly applicable to the calmness and tenacity with which he has approached his struggle with cancer :
"In situations where you might be forgiven for panicking because everything's at stake, I never really felt that."
The BBC's tribute to Steve based on Eddie's interviews :