LONDON — A documentary that appeared to show the final dying moments of an Alzheimer’s victim has sparked further allegations of TV fakery in the U.K., after it emerged that the filmmaker had not been present at the patient’s death.
Seasoned documentary maker Paul Watson, whose credits include “The Family” and “Sylvania Waters,” has stressed that he “did not set out to deceive” with the film, which is due to air on commercial web ITV next week.
However, the broadcaster was forced on Tuesday to issue a statement clarifying that the documentary’s subject had not been filmed passing away, after a press screening last month left journalists with the impression that they were watching the actual moment of his death.
“The filmmaker responsible, Paul Watson, has now confirmed that the film does not portray the moment of Malcolm’s passing, which was in fact some days later,” said ITV’s director of television, Simon Shaps.
“This will be made clear at the end of the film on transmission and should have been made clear earlier.”
Filmed over the course of 11 years, “Malcolm & Barbara: Love’s Farewell” depicts the devastating impact of Alzheimer’s disease on university lecturer Malcolm Pointon.
In publicity material for the film, ITV originally claimed it ended with moving scenes of Pointon passing away, while surrounded by his family. However, this week it emerged that the footage was of Pointon falling into a coma, after his brother wrote to the Times newspaper pointing out that filming had stopped three days before he stopped breathing.
Watson has since claimed that he asked ITV to clarify what the footage portrayed and that he had not seen the press release that sparked the controversy.
“I offered ITV a way of resolving the issue straight and clean and they turned it down,” he told the BBC’s Today program Wednesday. “I asked them to put in five words to explain the picture is not Malcolm’s death. He did not regain consciousness and dies sometime later.”
Coming hot on the heels of the BBC’s “Queengate” furor, in which a promotional trailer appeared to show the Queen storming out of a photo shoot when in fact she was arriving, this latest slip up has fueled further criticism of Blighty’s broadcasters, who are also reeling from a series of scandals involving phone in competitions.
Only last week, ITV chairman Michael Grade promised to enforce a “zero tolerance” policy when it comes to deceitful programmaking practices and Wednesday the network announced it would conduct a formal inquiry to establish the sequence of events and the facts surrounding this latest incident.
Grade has so far refused to respond to Watson’s claims, but ITV has confirmed that Watson suggested a clarification in the film about the moment of death on Monday.