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EDITIONS
Thursday, 25 July, 2002, 10:57 GMT 11:57 UK
The SAS unmasked
Three former SAS members
The three SAS men: Tom, Robin Horsfall and Mac

The task: to persuade members of the ultra-secret SAS to take part in a television documentary, using their names, faces and no disguises. Mission impossible?
We set off a year ago with a blank sheet of paper with the words "Embassy Siege" written at the top and a wish list below.

Heading the list were members of the SAS counter-terrorist team who stormed the Iranian embassy in London more than two decades ago when it - and 26 hostages - had been seized by six gunmen.

We had been trying to make the programme for many years, but knew that however dramatic the event itself, the programme would only be worth making if we could get some members of the SAS to speak openly and candidly about it for the first time.

Gunman
One of the gunmen, now buried in East London
It was an incredibly tall order. For the SAS to give interviews is rare. For them to do so with full face to camera is virtually unheard of.

I had helped break the mould for Panorama when I interviewed full face one of the surviving members of the SAS Bravo Two Zero patrol.

But SAS members talk to the media at their peril. The penalty is to be ostracised from the Regiment, and banned from attending all its functions and reunions. Most do not want to run the risk.


It's not being hard, it's just.. it's part of the job, you've got to shoot.. you can't walk up and say 'Excuse me Mr Whatever your name is, would you mind giving us your weapon?', so you've got to shoot them.

Former SAS man Mac
The search began a year ago when assistant producer Tom Tanner went to Hereford - the SAS's home town - to start making contact. It was hard going. Producer Louise Norman and I then began long conversations off-the-record to some of those who had been involved in the siege.

Most simply didn't trust the media and would have nothing to do with us.

Persistence

The Ministry of Defence refused to give us assistance with the programme and the SAS even sent round a letter telling members of the Regiment not to talk to us.

This obviously made our task even harder. But through Louise's persistence and charm, three former SAS men were persuaded that they should take part.

Trevor Lock
Trevor Lock, policeman on duty during the siege, and surviving hostage
We convinced them that the programme we wanted to make would be the definitive account of this iconic event. So they did a balancing assessment, and reasoned that it was more important to try to tell the authentic story for the first time. Their view was that if the story was to be told, it should done so responsibly and accurately.

As for the implications for their personal safety of being identified as SAS men, I think their view was they could look after themselves. They calculated that the risk was one they would take.

They knew precisely what they were doing. They knew the consequences but they were not unduly perturbed by them. They agreed to do the interview without masks or disguises.

This was the real breakthrough. The interviews - brilliantly shot by director Bruce Goodison - were jaw dropping in their frankness and were exhausting to conduct.


We were described as Mexican bandits, because we grew our hair long for deployment in Northern Ireland, and most of us had moustaches, none of us had beards because you can't actually wear a gas mask with a beard on

Former SAS man Robin Horsfall

The locations ranged from a draughty and ghostly former psychiatric hospital somewhere in the middle of Wales, to a rooftop in the Middle East with enough shade to escape the baking sun.

The interviews were long, detailed and unique. We also interviewed other hostages who were in the building, including PC Trevor Lock, the Metropolitan Police officer who was on diplomatic protection duty at the embassy when the siege started.

Details

Sabine Goodwin meticulously trawled through the press cuttings and the inquest into the deaths of the gunmen, to make sure all the details married up with the records.


We didn't want them to surrender, we wanted them to stay there so we could go in and hit them. That was what we lived, for that was what we trained for, that was what we wanted to do

Robin Horsfall
When we put together a rough assembly of all the interviews, executive producer Sam Collyns and I realised we potentially had more than the 60 minutes that we had set out to make. We stuck our necks out and told Peter Horrocks, head of current affairs, that we thought we had 90 minutes' worth.

The result was SAS: Embassy Siege, one of the most memorable programmes I have been involved in in more than 30 years as a journalist.

I hope viewers find it so too, as they watch it and live through this astonishing six days and final 11 memorable minutes when the SAS stormed their way into our history books and made Mrs Thatcher's reputation as a prime minister who did not negotiate with terrorists.



Find out more about what happened at the embassy
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