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“It’s our future you’re eating” 1979

In the late summer of 1979, while on holiday, I made several calls back to the office at UPITN to see if anything was going on in my absence.

On one occasion, I was told that there was a letter from OPEC (Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries) asking if we could make them a public relations film. This was about the time that OPEC were getting some stick over the price of oil.

When I got back to London, I got straight into the production.

OPEC knew exactly what they wanted and I followed their instructions as far as possible. The main thrust of their argument was that:

A. They were still being paid peanuts for their oil by the so-called “Seven Sisters” – the leading Petroleum companies.

B. That they were not responsible for inflation in the West and they asked if there had been no inflation when OPEC members were being $1.95 per barrel during the early fifties.

C. Their final point was that the supply oil was finite and that it would run out by the end of the century.

In 1979, crude oil was trading at around $25. There had been a surge in prices which was to last for several years.  Only one year earlier, oil had been trading around $15 per barrel.  The OPEC countries were being blamed entirely for the increase while they wished to make the point that they were still receiving a fraction of the price at which the oil was being traded.

In Abu Dhabi, there was a saying which went something like:

My grandfather rode a camel, my father rode a bike, I ride a limousine, my son will ride a camel”.

It seems incredible now that people, especially within OPEC, thought that oil would run out by the turn off the century.  It is odd that no one mentions this, as a matter of urgency, anymore.  While researching the film, we were told that not a single oil well in the United States had run dry.  Some had ceased to be operated because the cost was too high in terms of the quantity of oil extracted.

We gathered all the anti-OPEC material, that we could find, from the western press, including cartoons and articles and showed them with the commentator refuting each one in turn.  Much of this material was actually anti-Arab whereas OPEC membership also included Angola, Ecuador, Gabon, Indonesia, Iran, Nigeria and Venezuela.  Thus, the Arab countries were in a minority.

We interviewed some of the OPEC oil Ministers.

Floating oil rig derrick

Image by Crashworks via Flickr

We had the famous quote from the Shah of Iran from the previous year when, at a meeting of OPEC in Algiers, he asked the British journalist who was having a go at him about oil prices “If you want cheap petrol in Britain, tell your government to lower its tax – they take far more, from every gallon, than we do”.

In the United States, there was a song that emanated from Nashville.  In it the singer states, in song, that “before long, we will be paying a dollar and a half a gallon … (of petrol)” . Now, thirty years later, the United States price for a gallon of petrol is just over $3, while in the United Kingdom, it has reached over $8.

I wanted that song to use on the sound track of the film.  I contacted the American version of the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society (MCPS) in New York.  They were most unhelpful and claimed not to know anything about the music.

I phoned several people in Nashville until I found someone who knew the Artist.  From them I discovered the publishers and then I phoned them.  I asked them what they wanted for me to use a section of the song. They said that I should speak to the MCPS in New York to discuss terms.  I told him that they did not want to know.  I asked if we could do a deal direct.  He gave me the run around and finally, I said “Do you know what, I think I can actually do without your music, thanks for nothing”.

The film was an apparent success and OPEC ordered enough copies to send them to the embassies within their own countries. The film was called “It’s our future you’re eating“.

The following year, we were asked by OAPEC (Organisation of Arab Petroleum Exporting Countries) to make a film for them. They wished to get over a similar message.  In this film, called A barrel sold, a barrel lost, we featured some shots of mass traffic in France and the United States.  It was to make the point that the West were using oil as if there was an unlimited supply, whereas, the OAPEC countries were sure that it would run out.

Of course, it will run out, sometime.

© Terence Gallacher and, 2011.  Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Terence Gallacher and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

For other articles about UPITN click here.

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