Page last updated at 13:23 GMT, Wednesday, 9 September 2009 14:23 UK

Making a drama out of Lehman Bros

By Lisa Osborne
Producer, The Last Days of Lehman Brothers

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The Last Days of Lehman Brothers dramatises the bankruptcy of Lehmans, which helped trigger the world's worst recession since World War II

A year ago, as far as I was concerned a credit crunch was what happened when my programme's end credits were squeezed into the top right hand corner of the TV screen to make way for a "coming next".

Everything I knew about finance had been gleaned from a year spent producing Charles Dickens' great novel of debt and bankruptcy Little Dorrit for BBC One.

It was a disaster movie, it was Apollo 13 with the titans of Wall Street racing the clock to save the stricken bank; it was a Greek tragedy with Lehman's chief executive brought down by his own tragic flaw; it was Twelve Angry Men with solutions sought in smoke-filled rooms

So when the global credit crunch hit the news last year and newsreaders told all about how bankers had been caught out buying and selling debt my automatic reaction was: "Oh that's a good idea, can we get someone to buy ours?"

And then Kate Harwood, Head of BBC Drama Production, sidled up to me in the middle of March and asked me to produce a 60-minute drama about the weekend Lehman Brothers went bankrupt.

'Financial idiot'

I warned her that she had picked the wrong woman and probably ought to find someone who at the very least understood the business pages of the Sunday papers, but she was firm.

If a financial idiot like me could produce a drama that explained what had happened to a financial idiot like her, we would be performing a public service.

I had only a few weeks to get very quickly up to speed.

We were working with the BBC team who were preparing a documentary series to mark the anniversary, and as soon as I read the research they had pulled together it was clear that we had all the material for a great drama.

Yes, it was about finance, but it was about so much more besides.

It was a disaster movie, it was Apollo 13 with the titans of Wall Street racing the clock to save the stricken bank; it was a Greek tragedy with Lehman's chief executive brought down by his own tragic flaw; it was Twelve Angry Men with solutions sought in smoke-filled rooms.

In mid April our scriptwriter, Bafta-nominated Craig Warner, started work and our drama began to take shape.

London's 'Fed'

James Cromwell (right) and Corey Johnson  (left)
James Cromwell (right) plays US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson

We embarked on casting and met an extraordinary number of expat American actors living and working in the UK.

We were pleased to attract the talents of James Cromwell (LA Confidential, Babe, Six Feet Under, Tales of the City) to play US Treasury Secretary Hank Paulson and Corey Johnson (United 93) to play Lehman CEO Dick Fuld.

As a low budget drama for BBC Two, we were never going to be able to shoot New York in New York, so we got busy trying to find it within the M25.

We looked at office blocks for Lehman's offices, and stately homes for the boardroom at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, (where the fate of Lehman was thrashed out a year ago).

We were startled on one location recce to find that we were being taken to the 14th-floor offices that had been used by Lehman's in London until only nine months before.

We committed to the space and found ourselves pressing Lehman's office furniture into service as… Lehman's office furniture. We had found the New York Fed just outside Croydon.

I think I understand a little more about finance now. I even read the business pages first now when the Sunday papers come.

But I wonder if it will last...

The Last Days of Lehman Brothers is broadcast on BBC Two at 2100 BST, on 9 September 2009.



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