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The Man Who Told The Truth - BBC 2 NI

08 February 2018

Producer: Kathryn Baird Director/Editor: Mal Marken BBC 2 NI at 22:00 on 11th February 2018

Uncovering the real story behind one of the Founding Fathers of the United States of America, Charles Thomson, and how he came to leave his mark, literally, on the New World.

As Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States, begins his second year in office, BBCNI presents a landmark documentary detailing the life and times of Founding Father, Charles Thomson, a remarkable Ulster-Scot, from the townland of Gorteade near Maghera.  He was the secretary of America’s first Congress and played a central role in creating the United States.  As the only permanent office holder in a fragile new country, he virtually ran the administration for over a decade before conferring on George Washington the new job of President in 1789.

In human terms, Thomson’s story is inspiring. When Charles was ten he found himself destined for America with his father, John, who was hopeful of a better life in the New World. John died on the voyage and Charles arrived on the shores of a land 3000 miles from his home, a destitute orphan. Despite this terrible beginning he rose through America’s elite to become one of its Founding Fathers, collaborating along the way with distinguished figures like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.

Meticulous in all that he said and did, Charles Thomson acquired a reputation for honesty, particularly in his dealings with the native American people of Pennsylvania. He was even adopted by them and given the name, ‘The Man Who Told the Truth’. 

The career of this extraordinary Ulster-Scot is traced by Bruce Clark, a veteran foreign news reporter for the Economist and the Financial Times, who like Thomson, grew up in Gorteade townland and still calls it home. In course of the film, Bruce travels to America to follow in Thomson’s footsteps and unravel his gripping story.

The film features contributions from family members, historians and politicians, and it takes viewers on an incredible journey. It leads from Charles Thomson’s birthplace near Maghera, to the place where he first set foot in the New World,  to the historical monuments of Philadelphia and ultimately to the present-day seats of American power in Washington DC, including Capitol Hill and the White House.

For all the vast differences between America now and then, the film also brings home an amazing continuity in the country’s institutions.  It includes remarkable footage of documents, freshly signed by President Trump, being embossed with the Great Seal, the talisman of American power whose design was chosen by Charles Thomson.  This manual procedure has not changed in essence since the time 229 years ago when Thomson, after a week-long ride to Mount Vernon, formally transferred the Seal to the custody of George Washington, thus endowing the general with the symbolic trappings of a newly created office.     

Producer Kathryn Baird says, "Piecing together Thomson’s story and learning how crucial his Ulster-Scots honesty and forthrightness were to the formation of the United States, has been a memorable and rewarding challenge."

Director Mal Marken adds, "It was a privilege to be tasked with bringing the extraordinary life story of Charles Thomson to the screen and to be given the opportunity to reflect on just how pioneering, exceptional and ground-breaking this Ulster-Scot really was."

With support from NI Screen’s Ulster-Scots Broadcast Fund, this one-hour documentary film is made by the Belfast-based independent production company, Imagine Media. It will be broadcast on BBC 2 NI at 22:00 on 11th February 2018.

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Pictured: Bruce Clark in the US National Archives in Washington DC with the Journals of Congress, written by Charles Thomson July 1776.