Michael Apted likes to think that the last instalment of the ground-breaking documentary series that began with '7 Up' is still twenty-eight years away. In 2040, Apted will be 99 years old and he hopes he'll just about have the energy to bring the series to an end with '84 Up'. It's a lovely thought but looking at Apted's evident world-weariness it's almost certainly destined to remain just that.
In a retrospective examination of his career moderated by Mark Lawson, Apted reveals that 'trust' has been the key all along. He receives backing for this view from an authoritative source - Jackie Bassett, one of the interviewees whom Apted has visited every seventh year since 1963 was in the audience and she asserted with believable conviction that Michael "wouldn't be allowed through the door" if he ever violated the trust that's been built up over the years.
Unsurprisingly, there's an incredible bond between Apted and his interviewees - together they have participated in one of the most remarkable pieces of television of all time. The relationship has shifted over the years - at first he felt quite parental towards the interviewees but as they became adults, he began to feel more like an older brother. Now he says the age gap has been reduced to almost nothing and he laughingly agrees with Lawson's suggestion that he's become like an annoying ex-husband to them.
To maintain the continuity and sustain the trust, Apted tries to reassemble the original crew every seven years with key personnel now coming out of retirement to contribute to the series.
It's hard to identify connections between Apted's other work and his involvement in this extraordinary documentary. Away from the 'Up' series, Apted has directed films as varied as 'Coalminer's Daughter', 'Gorillas In The Mist' and the James Bond movie 'The World Is Not Enough'.
Mark Lawson observes that Apted seems to favour strong female characters and the filmmaker reveals that this is quite deliberate: "the changing role of women is the biggest social revolution I've lived through". Even his James Bond film reflected this - for the first time the main villain was a woman and it devoted a lot of screen time to Judi Dench's M.
Apted says the biggest misconception about documentaries is that they are more truthful or "purer" than movies. He observes that every edit can change the meaning of a documentary but he contends that the 'Up' series has put him in a uniquely difficult position: "I'm over a barrel... if I do something to upset [the interviewees] then they won't do it again."
In answer to a question from 'The Drum', Apted acknowledged that in the last two instalments, he's deliberately included the interviewees' complaints about the way they feel the editing of the programmes emphasises his view of them. He feels strongly that their criticisms of him are valid and that their inclusion contributes to the openness and honesty of the project.
Michael Apted likes to think the project will outlive him if he doesn't make it past his 99th birthday but Jackie Bassett says the series couldn't continue without him: "I just don't think we'd be able to trust anyone the way we trust Michael."