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TX: 02.11.07 - ME and David Puttnam

PRESENTER: WINIFRED ROBINSON
THE ATTACHED TRANSCRIPT WAS TYPED FROM A RECORDING AND NOT COPIED FROM AN ORIGINAL SCRIPT. BECAUSE OF THE RISK OF MISHEARING AND THE DIFFICULTY IN SOME CASES OF IDENTIFYING INDIVIDUAL SPEAKERS, THE BBC CANNOT VOUCH FOR ITS COMPLETE ACCURACY.


ROBINSON
The title music to David Puttnam's film Local Heroes set in rural Scotland. It was the film that led him to abandon his chaotic life in the city for his home today on the more gentle west coast of Ireland. Lord Puttnam, as he is now, is a celebrated film producer, famous for Chariots of Fire, Bugsy Malone, Midnight Express and The Killing Fields. He also has ME and he went to Ireland to a setting, he believes, is less likely to trigger bouts of the condition. ME is a chronic and disabling illness and it affects at least 240,000 people in the UK. Over the next week we'll be reporting on the treatments available and some of the latest research. Lord Puttnam is a patron of the charity Action for ME and he explained to Peter White how he first realised that he had it.

PUTTNAM
I'd just come back from a trip to the Far East, I was at Columbia Pictures at the time, and I got - I'd only been back I think a day, day and a half - and I suddenly came up with this tremendous fever, it was extraordinary. And the doctors first of all - first of all being tested for Dengue Fever. I just remember dragging myself into bed and then for about a week - and this is not an exaggeration to say - when I needed to go to the loo it was literally like climbing Everest, I was - by the time I'd climbed back into the bed, been to the loo, I was covered in sweat and utterly exhausted, I was sort of dragging myself across the room.

WHITE
When did you realise that this might not just be something rather sudden and virulent but something a little more permanent and enduring?

PUTTNAM
I had a very good doctor, a doctor called Dr Bovis, and rather - I was in [indistinct word] and fortunately for me is a rather quite hip modern doctor. He within a week said to me I think you've got Epstein Barr, which was the American phrase for it at that time, I don't know if it's changed but it was then called Epstein Barr. He said I think you've got Epstein Barr and you need a long rest. And I was sent off - not unattractive - I went off to Hawaii with my wife for about a month and various treatments. And slowly - I got there and all I could do was sort of sit and stare at the sea - but by the time we left I was driving again and moving around slowly. It was only really later that it kicked in that I had something of a far more permanent nature - I didn't know what Epstein Barr was to tell you the truth.

WHITE
You gave the analogy of going to the loo was like climbing Everest but can you give perhaps a broader picture of how this thing makes you feel?

PUTTNAM
Well there are two - well maybe three quite distinct phases. The initial phase which was this sort of massive dose of flu, was what it felt like, I mean a kind of extreme flu - aching limbs and exhaustion. Then there was a longer phase of maybe six months of tiredness, lassitude, lack of concentration. And then in a sense the permanent state - if I can call it that - kicked in. Now that is typified by a number of things, I'll give you one very good interesting example. All my life I've been a prolific letter writer, when I say letter writer I was a letter dictator, and I come from that generation of young execs in the early 60s who went and talked to the typing pool and you dictated letters in reams. What I found was that that bit of my brain, as it were, just got scrubbed out, I could not construct and hold a letter in my head. Now that was the first physical thing that I knew that something odd had taken place - I literally could not construct a letter in my head, it was very difficult actually for my secretary and we had to begin to evolve a whole new way of working. Faraway the worst effect for me was - and to a lesser extent still is - depression. I get attacked by - what everyone would call it - I call it ME for convenience but I get attacked by a period of exhaustion, nowadays four or five, sometimes six, times a year. And that's accompanied by two things - physical symptoms - one is - which is embarrassing - the kind of need to go to the loo on the hour every hour for about a day, day and a half. That's the first sign. Your temperature - it's as though the thermometer in your body has bust, temperature seems to run up and down, I suddenly become very, very hot. I've actually got special permission at the House of Lords, not in the Chamber itself but otherwise, to take my jacket off because if I don't I feel as though I'm going to pass out. And then the last one is depression. Now that's the most serious because no matter how rational you are - and bear in mind I'd never had it for longer than three days - no matter how rational ...

WHITE
Since the original ...

PUTTNAM
Since the original, I've never had it for more than three days but you think each time it's a bit like I suppose a volcanic eruption, this is the big one, this time it's never going to leave me.

WHITE
The other thing you've described about that depression is that in an odd way you almost kind of - I think you've said you almost embrace the sadness, that you don't want to fight it which is presumably what a lot of people tell you you should do?

PUTTNAM
I think most people do tell you to fight it but I think people who've never had this form of depression don't understand that your security in a sense - I call it the pit - your security resides in the pit, you quite deliberately pull yourself down into the pit because whilst you're in there you feel reasonably safe and you kind of wallow, that's the best - you wallow in this pit of somewhere between sadness and sometimes despair. The rational part of your body says - or mine says - I'll be out of this in a day or two, the irrational says no, no, no not this time.

WHITE
What kind of treatments have you tried, what kind of treatments have worked for you?

PUTTNAM
I tried taking a lot of little Japanese seaweed pills, within that I think there's clearly something that's useful. Massage, strangely enough, is very good, there's no question - everyone I've talked to says that they get - that the actual effect of massage is very - I don't know if it's just because it's relaxing or pulls you down - that seems to be useful. For me it's time and it's also the fact that after all these years I've learned to listen to my body, I learned absolutely - it's like putting the brakes on - that you when you get to this state you do not push it, if you do you get a nasty sense you could tip yourself right over the edge. So I just learned to hit the brakes. It's a little frustrating for people because you suddenly find that you're in the middle of the something and someone says well you know you seem to have lost interest in that, I say I haven't lost interest I'm merely going into a kind of self protective mode for frankly either for a few hours or a few days just to - I'll be fine.

WHITE
And has that made it difficult for you, I mean to be fair you were a very successful man when it happened to you, you have an enormous reputation but in terms of taking on big jobs are people wanting to take you on for big jobs - is that something you have to go into with them in some detail?

PUTTNAM
No, I mean it's a good question. Only once an extremely nice head-hunter who came to talk to me about a job raised it and said do you think you're really, really up for this. And funnily enough it was raised at the time when I was mulling - going for the chairmanship of the BBC, someone very sensibly said to me do you really think you're well enough. It's so far never stopped me doing anything. All it has done, from time to time, has meant that I've adjusted my calendar slightly. I can no longer do a flight to Los Angeles, or, as I'm going next week, to Japan and just bounce up the following morning and go straight to work. I now - I've got to give myself sort of half a day, a sensible - now all I'm doing is being sensible, probably what I'm doing is what any sensible person should do. But don't forget that for me, as a film producer, for years and years and years I got straight off the plane and went straight to work and I couldn't - I don't think I could do that anymore, more importantly I wouldn't even challenge myself to do it.

WHITE
Are there any things that you've done to try and avoid onset or to change the way you live?

PUTTNAM
Yes. Bit of luck involved here. 1983 I did a - '82 actually I did a film called Local Hero and I loved the environment in which we made that film, it was on the west coast of Scotland, and I sort of trotted around for a bit looking for something like that and then by god's good grace, in 1988, we were on holiday in the west coast of Ireland and I found the place, as it were, exactly what I'd been looking for ironically in Scotland. So I've lived portions of my life increasingly - in fact now I'm pretty well - I live there - on the west coast of Ireland in an environment, in a village, where the word stress - they wouldn't know how to spell it, I'm happy to say. And I'm surrounded by neighbours who have real normal lives and whose expectations of me are just that I'm neighbourly. So I spend as much of my life as I can away from the pressures of Westminster or - let alone the movie industry. And I think that's been a huge help. My wife certainly says I'm a different human being the moment I cross the causeway at Rosscarbery on my way home. And so I give myself a little bit of extra stress because I commute back and forth but where I live is all of a piece with the person I want to be and the lifestyle that I seek.

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