Interviewed by Stephen Kelly and Judith Jones, 10 May 2017.
How did you come to join Granada? What had you been doing before that?
I was teaching. I was lecturing in further education colleges. I did have a slight connection with Granada in the very, very early days. When I was doing my post-graduate certificate of education, they called it, in Manchester, done my degree in London, came to Manchester to do this postgrad thing and I got an occasional job as an extra on Granada dramas of one sort or another. Now, the only thing I can remember, I did several of them, you know, you were part of a crowd and doing this and doing that, the one thing I can remember is that I was on Coronation Street. Coronation Street is such a well-documented thing these days by historians, I’m sure somebody can track this down. But it was a scene in Weatherfield’s first Italian restaurant. It’s a very small restaurant. So I’m sitting with my girlfriend, and in comes Elsie Tanner with somebody, Pat Phoenix, and sits down at the table next to me and tries spaghetti for the very first time, puts her head up and says, “Eee, it’s like eating tripe through a veil!” Now, that could only have been Tony Warren! Coronation Street are fill of lines like that. That must have been 1961, very early days. Well, I didn’t think anything of it, it was just about making money. So I went away, I was working in a college in Portsmouth and living in Gosport, on the other side of the water. And I was very friendly at that stage with Mike Beckham, who subsequently became a famous World in Action director. He was in his early days at Granada. And the reason we were friendly was that both girlfriends at the time were friends because they were both doing French at Manchester University, so Mike and Joan used to come down to Portsmouth. And we had quite a good laugh there, we had a flat in the Georgian terrace. We could see the whole of the Solent, with the liners going back and forth, I had a dinghy in Portsmouth harbour which I used to sail. We used to go to pubs. I had a big thing going with the Labour Party, I was the chairman of the party. So Mike used to come down, and he said to me, “You should come and join Granada.” And then I must have had a kind of seven-year itch or eight-year itch, and I had a kind of epiphany. I suddenly realised that I was getting older and older, and delivering the same lectures, and the students were always the same age. There are always young. There were always being replaced by younger ones. And I thought, “This is what I really want to do for the next umpteen years?” So finally I said to Mike, “Okay, what do I do?” He said, “Well, I can’t get you a job but I can put in a word and get you an interview and see how you go along.” And so he did. I got an interview with Mike Scott in olden Square in London, which was fine. He was a very nice guy.
So I got the interview with Mike Scott, which was fun. Somebody, years later, told me that what you needed to be a producer was to bullshit with confidence, and I think I must have done that. So he then said, “Come up to Manchester and we’ll have another interview and we’ll give you a screen test.” Well, I wasn’t interested in screen tests; I didn’t want to be on the other side of the camera, but I went along and met some very interesting people. Mike was there, there was a guy called (Peter Stevens? 0:43) who had been a theatre manager in Nottingham with (John Neville? 0:50), made a big name for himself, had been headhunted to Granada to create The Stables, had done that, and – as Peter said to me – his great triumph was not The Stables, but actually getting a bar in The Stables, because Granada up to stat stage had been a dry company. So Stephen was there, Mike was there, (Joyce Bullen? 1:12) was there, and we chatted and we had interviews and this, that and the other, they sent me don to the studio and I did a piece to camera, met Eddie Shah, would you believe – Eddie Shah was the floor manager – and I did a silly piece about Playboy, suggesting that all American youth must be very surprised when they first saw their girlfriend naked, because they didn’t have a staple in her navel – that’s a very old joke. So they said, “Fine,” and I got the job, on a three-month contract, as a researcher, on a third of the salary that I was getting as a lecturer. I mean, you couldn’t do that these days! And I sometimes look back and think, “How did I do it?” But in those days, I knew that I could go back into teaching, and I pathetically believed that I could do anything, and somehow I would give this a go. So I did. And I was a researcher on a programme called On Sight. I should have said I was very lucky at the time, because Mike Scott had just been made executive producer of local programmes, and had torn up the old system and wanted to create it in his own image, and completely changed everything. And there was a specific programme, Monday through to Friday, and On Sight was one of these programmes. And this again was one of his pet programmes. Because Mike, in those days, was a big believer in taking television to the people, and that’s precisely what On Sight did. You went out to a town for each programme, you found people with complaints against authority, whether it was the local authority or the utility company or whatever, you got those people onto a kind of hustings, outside broadcast, outdoors, and the people who possibly could solve their problems, or answer their problems, would be in the studio. And in the studio they were hosted by a very suave Scots guy called (John McGregor? 3:17). Out on the hustings, there was this lovely guy called (Ray Gosling? 3:22) who I got to be… Ray was a great friend after that for years and years, up until very recently. And poor Ray would be out there in a dirty mac, usually in the pouring rain… I mean, it was structured so that everybody’s sympathy was with the people outside, and not the people who were in the nice warm studio with (John McGregor? 3:49). And apparently it was a very successful series. So that was that. That was my introduction to television. And the first thing I did as a researcher was to go down and research programme (??4:05) people in Liverpool, and they put me up in the Adelphi hotel with a private room with a private phone, and I loved going out and meeting people and chatting to people, I loved watching the way that the programme was put together, it was just magical. Outside broadcast unit, this, that and the other, literally within a week, and I was 28 or 29 years old, I had never known what I wanted to do, but now I did. I did. And I wanted to be a producer; I wanted to make programmes.
And this was 1960…
I joined in the summer of 1968, when they made this first series. And then it went on… I can’t remember the exact sequence of events. The first series I actually did get round to producing, and looking back it was (??5:04) there was a thing called Sounds from the Two Brewers, which was a folk music series. And I got on very well with Mike. I mean, he could be insufferable, and he was easily distracted. But he was basically a very nice guy, and he knew television inside out. He’d worked his way up from floor manager to executive producer on local programmes. And I’d bent his ear time and time again. And my story was that folk clubs were not what he thought they were. They were not (Ewan McCall? 5:44) holding his ear and singing old songs. They were actually a form of theatre for a nightclub, with a huge spectrum of talent from comedians to instrumentalists to people who wrote their own songs, as well as the usual stuff. And eventually he said, “Alright, okay, we’ll go and talk this over. You’ll have to convince Denis and David.” I wasn’t entirely sure at this stage who Denis and David were! Denis Forman and David Plowright, of course, who were the motors, the engines, that drove the company, I found out. So down in the green room, a few bottles of wine, and I have to play them tapes of various people, and I had worked out – I wasn’t as stupid as I looked – that Denis was interested in music and he was Scottish. So I played him Archie Fisher, who’s a very famous wonderful Scottish winger, and he was swooning over that. David quite liked the comedian stuff. So anyway, to cut a long story short they said, “Alright, go away and do it.” And that was it. And that was part of the magic of Granada. The only hiccup was that Mike wanted to do it in the attic of the stables. And he said, “We can put straw bales round,” and I thought, “Oh, Christ!” You know? And the other thing about Granada is that you could actually talk to people straight without any nonsense. I said, “That’s a stupid idea. Sorry, Mike. You’ve been watching too much Burl Ives. This is not what I’m after.” There is a folk club up the road, and I want to take the OB unit and do it there – a pub called The Two Brewers in Salford, Regent Road, which was a thriving folk club. And blow me, he said, “Alright.” So off I go, with a budget, to find people for six programmes. And you just couldn’t believe it, that it was so simple. And it was, and it was very good for me because lots of people from Granada came to the shows. So, you know, people like Gus Macdonald and so forth were there. Mike Beckham came and said, “I want to direct one of these.” So I said, “Fine – we’ve got The Dubliners coming, you can do that,” so he did one of the shows with The Dubliners. And that again is part of the strange Granada mystique, that you weren’t compartmentalised and stuffed into a small area, you were part of something and everybody was interested in what everybody else was doing. And the other thing with that is that after the second programme, I told the graphics guy to put my name down as a producer at the end, you see, which I wasn’t entitled to. So it went out and Scott was incandescent. He said, “What the fuck?” And I said, “Well, you gave me the money, I did, I found it. My retainer, my research, we did the play, the whole thing. I produced it, didn’t I? So he carried on swearing but that was it. That was it. I was a producer.
So no application, no interview.
Just done a series, that’s all. So where do you want to go now?
So take us through the next stage of your career development.
Erm, they persevered with the idea that I should present. Which I didn’t want to do. From day one I didn’t want to do it. But I did, because it was experience and because if I hadn’t done it I would have kicked myself for being yellow, you know? So I read the news, I did interviews on local programmes, and then something really extraordinary happened. On Sight had become so popular that they made a network series called World In Action On Sight. And I presented three of them, I think. There was one with workers from GEC where I was out in a field somewhere in Liverpool with a microphone, doing a Ray Gosling job, and by this time Mike was so enamoured of this series, and of himself, that he wanted to present it, from the studio side, which he did very well. So there was a Liverpool job, there was an Indian guy who was trying to come into this country and being stopped by the authorities. I interviewed him on the quayside in (??10:52), I think. And most interesting of all, we went to Ireland just as the troubles were really starting, 1969 maybe, I’m not sure. And the story there was that a World in Action type team, I think with (Leslie Brooker? 11:16) were filming an innocuous thing in the Republic about the Puck Fair, which is a big celebration in County Cork somewhere where they have a goat in a cage and lots of booze. And things were hotting up in Belfast, the B Specials, the special police, who wore black uniforms and were as near to fascist as you could imagine, were going rowing machine-gunning the front of flats to keep Catholic heads down and so on and so forth. And the IRA were nowhere, I mean, just a few old man was starting to do it. So the programme in fact was about a 20-minute, 15-minute film… (Tom Slater? 12:13) was the researcher, who was very good, (George Jesse Turner? 12:16) was a cameraman, so it was the full World in Action, and they got some incredible interviews with everybody. And then at the end of the programme we cut to the studio. I’m tethered with a guy called Roy Bradford, who I can’t remember exactly, he was the kind of equivalent of the home secretary. But he was responsible, among many other things, for the B Specials. So the one question that seemed obvious to all of us was if the B Specials had some means of identification, then problems could possibly be solved, if they had numbers or whatever. Because they didn’t, and that was the whole thing. So everything was always denied and they was never able to prove anything at all. So I just kept asking the same question time and time and time again over the 10 or 12 minutes, and Roy Bradford was getting more and more annoyed. And the interview came to an end and he wrenched his microphone off and said, “You people try to make a name for yourself, but you’ll see, you’ll see.” And he disappeared. We then went into the green room. The crew had gone by this time, the film crew, so there were only two or three of us having whisky in the hospitality room, and somebody came in and whispered to the main guy. Apparently there’s a mob outside wanting to (disinter? 13:53) this interviewer on the programme, and anybody else who is concerned with it, so they smuggled us out through the back door, took us to a hotel and booked us in anonymously to the airport and flew us out the next day. So yes, that was World in Action On Sight. It didn’t last very long. I can’t remember what the other programmes were. But that was that was part of this presenting thing. What I didn’t like about presenting, it wasn’t the actual job, although sometimes, you know… I found myself interviewing Iris Murdoch, and I’d only ever read one of her books, and I thought, “I’m not really in a position to do this interview,” but you have to. And I don’t know how these people do it, without knowing what on earth they’re talking about, how they can actually carry on and interview. But that’s what daytime TV is all about these days, isn’t it? But I didn’t like that. I didn’t like the superficiality of interviewing. But even worse, being in a pub and somebody comes up to you and says, “I saw you on television the other night,” and they kind of associate you with what you’ve been saying, or the story you have been doing. So they think they know you. And I have found that incredibility irritating and intrusive. And I guess maybe I’m a kind of background person anyway. I like making the programmes. I don’t like being a star.
Did you continue doing World in Action then?
No. No. That was just a one off, Mike Scott thing. Can’t remember what happened after that. Oh, I think… I suppose in a sense, one of the most interesting things that happened was the whole brass band thing. That only happened… I’d done a series called Out Front. The idea of Out Front was that each programme would be a different form of minority music, but music that had an enthusiastic following. A small but enthusiastic following. So I did a programme with Fairport Convention, and I did a programme about brass bands. We went out to New Brighton, which has a lovely park and a nice bandstand, and we did a programme with a band called Besses o’ th’ Barn. Now, Besses o’ th’ Barn were a pretty good band in those days, and there was the added convenience that they were just up the road from Granada. It’s a small village, part of greater Manchester. And the other thing is they’ve got this incredible history which I didn’t know anything about at all until I met them. I knew a bit about brass bands, my grandma used to take me to the park to listen to them when I was a kid, and I like the sound. But I had no idea of the history. Anyway this band toured the world, for God’s sake, in 1910, and they were literally world famous in their day. So that was that was very interesting. And then something really strange happened. Granada went into a takeover mode, taking over other companies of one sort and another. They took over Collins, the book publishers, and then took over a music publishing firm called Novellos in London. And this was Denis Forman, I’m pretty sure. The main reason must have been that Novellos owned the Elgar catalogue, they had the rights to all Edward Elgar’s music. But I suspect what Denis didn’t know was that they had been, since 1880 something, publishing brass band music. So the takeover happened. There was a guy called (Bram Gay? 17:56) who was the musical adviser to the bellows. And Bram was very interesting; he’d been a young cornet player in brass bands, gone to trumpet, played symphony orchestras, become the orchestral manager for his day job, but he was the adviser on brass bands to Novellos. And he wrote a letter to Denis Forman saying, “You’ve taken over Novellos. Why did you do it? What on earth are you supposed to do? Do you realise there is this fantastic brass band catalogue, and the brass bands are northern? Shouldn’t you be doing something about it? So I get hauled into Denis’s office, and he showed me this letter – and again, this is Granada – he said, “I think you should get together with this chap and do something.” So I did. And Bram is a very bright, very intelligent, very lovely guy. And the thing about it was that brass band competitions in those days, and still, are like typewriter contests. Every band plays the same piece, and the band that makes the fewest mistakes wins. And I said, you know, there’s no way. That’s not television. Why don’t we get them to play a programme, you know, that will entertain a television audience? And Bram was very taken aback, took it on board, and said, “Yes, good idea.” And I said, “Which bands are we going to invite to this thing?” He said, “Well, they’ll play a half an hour each, so what should we have, 10 bands? I said, “Okay.” And he went through the past umpteen years of records of all the contests and gave them points and decided on the 10 bands that we would invite to the first Granada Band of the Year Competition 1971, at Belle Vue, which is a traditional home for brass bands and elephants. And it was a local programme. So there I am with the OB unit at Belle Vue, doing 10 bands, and what we decided was that we’d record everything – thank God for Eric Harrison, because he was the director and he did it all – but we looked through the programme… they told us what the programme was going to be, and they gave us the music. So we looked very carefully through the programme and decided which was the kind of interesting piece of each band, make sure that we recorded that, and we’d take a punt on which bands were going to come in the top three and record all their programme, and hope that we could stitch together an hour long show which would be bits and pieces of nine bands, and a full programme of half hour of the winning band, which we did. And Belle Vue was packed. They all went down very well. And there was a great, wonderful surprise winner, the (Corey? 20:58) Band from South Wales, who had a conductor – a wild, maverick major, (Arthur Kenny? 21:07), ex-Marines – and anyway they put together a winning programme. And that was a godsend because it had been a local programme, but suddenly Welsh television wanted it as well, you see. And once Welsh television wanted it, other companies said, “Well, we’ve got a band there,” so it kind of gradually grew to be a proper network programme, and that lasted until 1988, so 17 years or something, The Granada Band of the Year. It led to me doing programmes with other bands, documentaries about bands. I went to Sweden to do a programme with The Sound of Brass, I went to Germany to do an editing compilation, I wrote a book – the first history of the brass band movement for 40 or 50 years, which was very successful. Denis was very upset with that because he had a book about Mozart, I think it was, and the covers of my book were plastered all over Golden Square and it got terrific publicity, and his got nowhere and said, “I would never have let you do this if I knew this was going to happen!” He was joking. He was a lovely guy. And we went to Montepulciano, Tuscany to do a documentary about (??22:34) Connery playing at a music festival there. That was a bit of a fix as well, but we won’t go into that! Anyway, that was Channel 4. That’s another story, because when Channel 4 came it was kind of a godsend for me because it opened up the possibility of doing programmes that wouldn’t, I think, otherwise have happened. But the brass band thing was great. I went to America, would you believe? During the course of all this, I met a guy called Bob (Burnatt? 23:06), who was an American musical academic who suddenly discovered British brass bands, and he came over here on a sabbatical, and went to every contest including the Granada Band of the Year. Yes I actually met him in a box at the Albert Hall, would you believe, at a brass band contest. And he went back to Pittsburgh and formed a brass band called The River City Brass, it was a professional band. And he was quite extraordinary because he managed to get together a board to work this thing and finance it of major employers and the major trade unions in Pittsburgh, the first time these people had ever got together over anything, apparently. And I mean, the businessmen were big time. One of them was something to do with American Airlines and the other was something to do with Otis Lifts. So they put money in. And so Bob called me over to Pittsburgh, together with a wonderful euphonium player called Bob Charles, to help them inaugurate… the first concert that this one did, in the Carnegie Hall, would you believe, in Pittsburgh, and I was the MC on this thing. So I actually ran up the steps, you know the steps at the Carnegie Hall, Pittsburgh, where [Sylvester Stallone] did the first Rocky sequence. So I had a great time going up the steps, and did the MCing, and Bob… and it was more than that, I mean, we went to universities all over the place, Cincinnati and so on, with Bob playing and me lecturing about this strange phenomenon of brass bands. Because of course America used to have brass bands, but they changed and went into Sousa, big bands. But it all started with British style brass bands in works in America. So he was kind of recreating a bit of American heritage. Apparently it was very successful. And American Airlines, this guy was president or something, so I flew first class, American Airlines, for the first time in my life. I mean, all that from a local brass band programme in 19 whatever! Strange.
Did you work on this England?
No, I didn’t, no. I knew Dennis Mitchell vaguely, I was a bit wary of him because he was quite fierce guy, actually. No, the only thing I had to do with him was an obituary programme when he died. It was more or less the last thing I did.
JJ: My memories were that when I knew you, you were working on a lot of gardening programmes, which was interesting because…
Oh, that’s a whole different…
JJ: … it was interesting because I don’t remember gardening programmes being on British television before that.
The thing about Granada, and I don’t know where it came from, but it was drummed into everybody without it being drummed in, if you know what I mean, it was just in the air, was that Granada would make programmes that would be better than anybody else’s, because they were more interesting, because they would have a different angle. And I think that’s what happened. With the gardening thing, again, one thing leads to another. One of the programmes, it wasn’t mine, somebody else invented it but I loved doing whenever I got the chance, was a thing called Down to Earth, which I think had started as a response to pressure from the National Farmers Union in our area, saying, “You’re always doing urban stuff and you do have rural land in Granadaland, do something about it.” So I think it might have been Steve Morrison who started it. And at some stage I came in and did one of the series and said, “Look…” – in those days you could bargain a bit, you know, if you were told to do something you didn’t necessarily have to do it – and I said, “I’ll do it, but only if I can widen it. Farming is wonderful, and it’s very interesting and fine, fine, fine – but I need to do conservation, gardening, the whole outdoor thing to make it much more interesting.” So they said, “Okay.” And like I say, I did it whenever I could because I just love getting out and about in the countryside and meeting experts of one sort or another, ornithologists, farmers, conservationists. And we put a tiny gardening segment in because I discovered that the very famous BBC radio programme, Gardener’s World, had actually started out in an upstairs room in a pub in Ashton, which is part of our territory. And two of the people who were involved in the talkers as it were, one was Professor (Alan Gemmel? 28:12) who’s Professor of Botany at a university somewhere, and a guy called Bill (??28:18), who was a hands on nurseryman. And it was a nicely structured thing because it was a sort of combative thing; the academic versus the gardener, and sometimes they had rows, and so on and so forth. And I decided – I don’t know, was it the 40th anniversary or something? – to recreate this, because I thought it was a very worthy programme. It’s still going, of course. So we got Alan and ill in, and Bill was not particularly happy and not particularly good, but Alan I thought was very good. So we got him to do bits and pieces here and there within Down to Earth about gardens. So that was one thing. And then Channel 4 was hovering on the horizon in 1980 – started in 1982 – and I get called into Scott’s office and he’s very excited. He’s been dancing with a lady called Naomi Sergeant, who is a newly commissioned commissioning editor at Channel 4, and Mike has been explaining to her how he doesn’t know how to prune roses, and she said to him she’s very interested in gardening, what about a series on gardening? So Mike comes to me and says, “Do you want to do a series on gardening?” And I said, “No, I don’t! I really do not want to do a series on gardening. I am not interested. I’m not that interested in gardening.” And he said, “Well, give it a go.” He said, “You’re it. You’re the only one who’s got any experience.” I didn’t have any experience at all! “The other thing is I want it to be connected to the Royal Horticultural Society. So I think the best thing to do is to buy a plot of land in Salford and get these gardeners from the RHS to come up to Salford.” So I said, “Give me some time to find out what’s what.” So I went down to London to meet the posh people who were in charge of the RHS and there were a complete waste of time. Complete waste time. They were very arrogant, retired colonels and posh ladies and so on and so forth. Weren’t interested in television at all. They said, “You’d better go to the garden down at Wisley.” So I went to the garden, and the guy in charge there was not very helpful. He was more interested in taxonomy and plant collecting in the world than hands-on gardening. But he introduced me to a man called (John Main? 30:53) who was the curator at Wisley. And John was – is – Cumbrian, very down to earth, wonderful sense of humour, and we got on like a house on fire straight away. Straight away. So I discussed the problem with him and he said, “The idea is totally stupid. Totally stupid. These people don’t know what they’re talking about. Does he realise that if you start a garden there is nothing there for the first six months? So it’s not going to make very good television, is it.” I said, “No, John.” And he took me around the whole garden, and it’s huge. Very beautiful and has everything you possibly need for a gardening series. And there were people – they call them ‘superintendents’, they’re like the bosses of departments, you know, so there was (Bertie Doe? 31:43) vegetables, and (Sid Love? 31:45) flowers, and so on and so forth. All these people already were performers, because they gave lectures to members and demonstrations out in the field. “This is how you grow turnips,” you know? So all we had to do, it dawned on me, was turn the camera on them and there it was. So I went back to Scott and said, “Well, it’s kind of interesting but it has to be at Wisley.” So he said, “Oh, alright then, alright then. It’ll be very expensive.” I said, “Well, it would be the best way to do it. But we still can’t do it because there’s a director in the house who can do this.” And he said, “Well, it just so happens that we’re interviewing this guy called (Neil Clemenson? 32:32), who’s come to us from the BBC Natural History Unit. He might be your man.” And of course he was. I mean, he’s a wonderful, wonderful director, sometimes difficult to work with, terrific director, nice guy, so off we went. In 1981, before Channel 4 actually opened, we made 12 programmes – one per month – showing everything, really. Gardening stuff. And we made a compilation. Oh, we got… who was the actress who presented it? Hannah Gordon. She didn’t actually have to do much, lovely lady, but we filmed her at the beginning and that was it. She was filmed at the beginning, and she did the voiceovers, so we called her up to Manchester to do the voiceovers. And we did this compilation thing and showed it at Golden Square to the gardening press with Naomi Sergeant there, and the press was quite astonishing, the press stood up and applauded at the end of this half hour programme, whereupon Naomi gets up and gives a hysterical talk saying, “This wasn’t the programme that I commissioned, it’s a pile of rubbish, I don’t want to do anything.” She’d just flown back from Japan, she was jetlagged and off her head, and she was a strange lady anyway. So I took her to one side – took her away – and said, “Well, you’re stuck with it. We’ve got 12 programmes to show.” And blow me, they start showing the series and suddenly they find… it’s after Brookside, or Countdown, and it’s like fifth in the top 10. And so Naomi, who said the programme was a pile of rubbish, is now going around lecturing saying how she commissioned this wonderful series and she knew instinctively how good it was. Anyway, so that went on, we did four years. So the first year there were 12 programmes, the second year we repeated the original 12 and put in 12 new ones, so by the time we got to the final bit we were showing a programme a week. And then we did… it was a revelation to me. I didn’t want to do it, as I say, and I didn’t think I’d be interested, but I was absolutely captivated. And we did two series with Roy Lancaster about great plant connections over the UK. We did a series about wild flowers with him called In Search of the Wild Asparagus. We went to Italy to make a film about La Mortella, the famous garden there, for Channel 4, again. So from tiny beginnings, and for no apparent logical reason at all, it kind of ballooned and went off and off and off. Wonderful. Wonderful. But the one thing I must say, which I said to you on the phone before, I was very lucky to hit Granada at all. I was very lucky to hit it when I did. I was very lucky to be there during the time that I was, and I was very lucky to get out when I did. 1991. It all fell apart, didn’t it?
Could you see it falling apart?
Oh, yes. Yes. It was partly a personal problem, because I was… towards the end I was doing some directing as well, and I was back on Down to Earth. And I did a film at Southport Flower Show, which is a very old, established, traditional flower show in a big park in Southport, very famous, in August, and it rained. It rained for a whole week before the show and it rained for the whole week of the show. Anyway, we made a film, I directed it ,produced it and wrote it and did anything. And it was okay. But what I didn’t realise was that as the ground got more and more churned up they were putting straw down on the paths, people were walking about with supermarket bags tied around their feet, it was that bad! And there was a fungus called aspergillosis in the straw which I picked up in my lungs. So I was off… when they finally found out what it was I was off for six months. And that’s another thing about Granada, there was no question. I mean, I got paid, and they sent me to a doctor initially, and people would come to see me. There was kind of a wonderful, paternalistic looking after you thing. And they did it with drunks as well, didn’t they? I just happened to be ill. But anyway, I think that was 1988 through to 1989, and I think that was a crucial period, because when I came back I found Naomi Sergeant had gone, the commissioning editor, who by this time I was quite friendly with, but the thesis at Channel 4 was that they shouldn’t keep commissioning editors for more than seven years, then they would get a new set in. So she’d gone. Denis Forman, who had always been quietly kind of on my side, had gone, because I think when people got to 70 they had to… he was at Golden Square, but he wasn’t around in Granada. And I think Mike Scott had gone as well. He became programme controller of course, disastrously, it all went went wrong for him, didn’t it? It was a terrible shame, all that. Terrible shame. We all knew he shouldn’t have been a programme controller. He was great at local programmes and stuff. Anyway.
Do you want to talk a little bit about Mike Scott?
Very few people have talked about him.
Everybody talks about Plowright and Forman.
Well, they were the big beasts, weren’t they, Plowright and Forman. I’ll tell you a story about… I haven’t mentioned Cinema, which is a thing that I did. When I was at university in London, I frittered away my time going to the cinema – I was a member of the National Film Theatre – going to the pub, and playing a lot of jazz. What I didn’t realise was that the time I frittered away became far more useful than the degree! So I used to rabbit on about film because I’d read the books about Eisenstein and Pudovkin on directions. Didn’t know anything about it, but I’d read the books and talked about the classic films and so on and so forth. So something completely out of the blue, Scott said to me, “Plowright wants to see you.” I said, “Oh? What for?” he said, “Well, go and find out!” So I had no idea. No idea. So I went in and David’s there, and he said, “We want you to take over Cinema. Do you think you can do it?” And my instinctive response every time at Granada was always, “Yes, of course!” without thinking about it. So I said yes, of course I can do it. Yes. And I did. And they really, really dropped me in it because Mike Parkinson had just left and gone to the BBC. He’d been presenting Cinema very successfully. And so there was no presenter, and there were a few programmes still to go. And the only thing that happened was that Plowright said, “Well, you’d better take (Johnny Hamp? 40:28) with you on the first interview,” because Johnny Hamp had been producing cinema with Mike Parkinson. So we went down to Golden Square, and thank God there was a terrific team at Golden Square. A wonderful researcher called (Nora Watts? 40:44), a nice guy called (Graham Murray? 40:46). Leslie Halliwell, of course, was there, so they knew their stuff. They were incredibly helpful. The system was that when you interviewed someone, you went to a posh restaurant that they had decided on, it’s kind of a club, can’t remember the name. Had lunch with whoever it was, brought them back to Golden Square, did the interview – on camera, not on video – and then stitched it together into a programme. And again, I was lucky. The guy that I interviewed was called Norman Jewison. He was a Canadian director who was very famous because he had already won Oscars for a wonderful film called In the Heat of the Night, with Sidney Poitier and Rod Steiger. And he was in town to publicise another of his films, it was his version of Fiddler on the Roof. And so we sat down and this dinner table, Johnny Hamp and this guy and a minder from the film company. And we chatted, and I was being very earnest and asking very serious questions. And I don’t know whether this would be for publication, but it is true. And I must tell you. And so Johnny Hamp is clearly very bored by me in the conversation and everything, and suddenly turns to Norman Jewison and says, “Who do you think has got the biggest dick in Hollywood?” I nearly fell through the floor in embarrassment! And Norman said… burst into (??42:15) and went into a long spiel about who the possible candidates were. And he said apparently Milton Berle. He told a terrible story, which I won’t repeat, about Milton Berle’s dick. And so the ice is broken, this guy’s talking. So we went to do the interview and we stitched it together. And I never saw Johnny Hamp again. And the next round before the next… I must have done quite a few programmes with no presenter, and then we had a break. And then I had chance to do some auditions, and there were quite a few people who wanted to do it who I didn’t want. Kind of quite important film critics and people already on television shows of one sort or another. And I did a series of auditions with this guy called Clive James. Now, Clive has written this up, it’s in the third volume of his unreliable memoirs, memories, whatever they are. And what he says is not quite true. Because what happened was, there was a guy called (Malcolm Southern? 43:25), who was on World in Action, who I knew very well, and he tipped me off that this bright guy, this Australian guy, was doing What the papers Say, and was rabbiting on, boring everybody shitless about film. So I thought, “Well, he sounds interesting,” and I watched the programme and he seemed… he was all right, but he gabbled his words. He was too fast, and he swallowed the end of every sentence. And he looked weird. But he was obviously an extraordinary wordsmith. So we did an audition, which he writes about in his book, and of course he was head and shoulders above anybody else, so there we go. There we go. Me and Clive, you know, doing Cinema. And we had a ball! We had a most wonderful time for about… he says he did 39 programmes, so that must have been a series of 13 and then time off and then a series of 13. So it have been about a year and a half maybe? And just fantastic. About half a dozen of the people we interviewed were genuinely interesting, and the rest you can’t help but sympathise, because here’s a poor film star who’s been pushed around the world listening to the same stupid questions about the same film. I tell you, they must be bored out of their minds. And then we take them to this cell in the basement of Golden Square, with a camera that runs out every 10 minutes! You have to change the magazine. But it’s just it’s like a interrogation. And so they are all pros of course, they all did it. They all did it. But some of them seemed to genuinely enjoy it, and some of them asked if I could take them to an English pub afterwards, which of course I did, so I had an absolutely riotous time with Robert Mitchum, and with Robert Altman, the director who made M.A.S.H., and Donald Sutherland. Donald Sutherland was in that as well. But the others, you know, they came in, did the business and went, and that was it. And did you know, I never had an executive producer on Cinema? After Plowright said, “Go and do it,” that was it. That was it. I occasionally got called in to Cecil Bernstein’s office, because Cecil was part of the film industry, he was chairman of the board of the people who pick the Royal Command film performance, so he was kind of interested. He used to occasionally haul me into his office and say why did we do two programmes with that Robert Mitchum fellow, I couldn’t understand what he was saying. And I said, “Well, Cecil, it was a very popular programme.” But no, no guidance, no stern hand. All that time. Network programme.
You mentioned Mike Scott. What were his strengths?
Fantastic enthusiasm. Very creative. I think an absolute top notch interviewer – one of the best. Either one to one, or interviewing a hall full of people, he was terrific. He used to empathise with people, and he wanted to create something different at that time in local programmes, and was willing to take risks with people who didn’t necessarily have any TV background, so that was good. I was very friendly with him, but he couldn’t be exasperated because as I said, he was he was very easily distracted. He had a Lagonda that he was having restored in Stockport, and he kept taking me to see this bloody car, and I wasn’t interested at all! And of course, his wife Sylvia had an antique store on the Portobello Road or something. So he would go around antique places in Manchester, auctions, and buy stuff. And of course he was a terrible womaniser, so he was always off with… he was easily distracted, let’s say. But we got along very well. I think he was slightly annoyed with me because I married his secretary, and she was his secretary when I met her. So I liked Mike. And I remember I think when he was programme controller he called me and said, “I want to show you something.” And he took me to a building opposite where there was a whole set being built for a new series called Albion Market. And he was convinced that this was going to be another Coronation Street, you know, and I don’t know why, I don’t know why, but I thought, “This is not going to work. It’s not going to work.” The cast maybe is not strong enough, they don’t have the writers that Coronation Street had, and the rest of the companies aren’t going to let Granada do another Coronation Street. Of course, in those days everything had to be argued in a committee in London, because there were lots of different companies pitching within the commercial network, pitching for different things. And I guess you had to be quite ruthless. Scott was… he was certainly not ruthless. He probably wasn’t a ruthless guy. So I didn’t think it was going to work. And it didn’t, did it?
No. No. I always thought it was just beginning to work when it was pulled.
Well, he also had an affair with this then secretary, which threw the cat among the pigeons. I mean, I think that’s when the board started to get worried about him. Because up till then all his affairs had been, of course, you know, outside the building. You don’t shit on your own doorstep, do you? But no, a nice man. I mean, what happened? What happened? He spent the last 10 years of his life in a care home with some sort of dementia. I don’t know. I met him after he left Granada altogether. He was still doing a thing called The Time and the Place, do you remember that one? It was kind of an afternoon chat show. And he was doing it on a freelance basis. Now, I’m not sure how it worked, whether he had a company or whether he worked for a company, but he actually asked my wife Jean to come and work for him. From home. And she came back and said, “There’s something wrong. He’s not the same guy.” Now, she didn’t elaborate, but she had known him very well when she was his secretary in ’68, and she saw that there was something. Strange, isn’t it? Strange. So yes, I was terribly, terribly, terribly sad about that, because he was fundamentally a nice guy.
After Jean had been Mike’s secretary, did she then move to become a programme secretary? What was her next move?
She… she left to have the kids, she was away for about 10 years. And she went back in the 1980s as a production coordinator working for freelance companies all over the place. The kids were off our hands by then, they were all either in higher education or sixth form or something like that. And she had a terrific career for about six or seven years, something like that. She was a production co-ordinator on Crocodile Shoes, remember that? The thing with Jimmy Nail. What happened there was that Jimmy Nail was… well, he was a polymath, of course, I mean, he had written the script, he was acting in it, he wrote the music, he was head of the production company that made it. And the first couple of episodes were a disaster apparently, so he fired everybody and hired Peter Richardson, who had been a Granada floor manager, very efficient guy, and Jean knew Peter and they went to work together, and it all seemed to work very well. So she became best buddies with Jimmy Nail, and they did a second series together. And she worked on a series that Yorkshire Television did called Stay Lucky with Dennis Waterman. She went out to Budapest and did a couple of episodes there. and she became best pals with Rula Lenska, who was Dennis Waterman’s girlfriend at the time. Jean and Rula used to go off to the (??53:13) together and things, it was lovely. So she was… Jean was always terrific at putting people at their ease and chatting to people and… there were a lot of strange egos at Granada of course, and she was able to smooth fellas, and… so she enjoyed a second lease of life.
She was also a secretary on Union World.
Yes, she was! Now, I can’t remember where that came in the sequence. What year was that? Can you remember?
That would probably be around 1984, 1985.
Well, that was when she must have been doing a part time here and there, you know, six months here and so on, if it was as early as that. But she enjoyed that. She didn’t like (Donald Kent? 54:07) very much. In fact, she used to say unpublishable things about (Donald Kent? 54:16)
JJ: I heard a story that you recounted about going to northern Spain for World in Action.
Ha! Yes. Going back a long way to Sounds from the Two Brewers, one of the people who emerged from that I thought was a tremendous talent was Ralph McTell. In fact, that series was the first time that anyone had seen or heard Streets of London, would you believe? And again, I went to Scott and said, “Look, this guy is a fantastic talent, and he’s doing the Festival Hall.” He was doing a solo concert in the Festival Hall. So he had gone from folk clubs to solo. And I said, “It’s a fantastic story.” And he said, “Alright, go and do it. So there’s a lovely director called Barry Clayton who been trained at the Polish Film School, would you believe, a very brilliant ebullient, cheerful guy, very good director. So we did this film about Ralph. And so… we’re friends to this day. I mean, Ralph rings up, and… I mean, he lives in Cornwall now so we don’t see much of each other. But he got a job some time in the early 1970s. He was asked by the Basque people – I didn’t quite know who he meant by the Basque people – to do a concert in San Sebastián, because they thought that he was a lefty, left-wing good guy, and he said would I like to come. Because he was on his own, a bit bored, and he was there for a week, I think. So I said yes, of course. Because I was… I had nothing to do at the time. So word must have got about that I was going to San Sebastián to this Basque festival – because it wasn’t just music, it was sports and games and all sorts – and this guy… (Stephen Moore? David Moore? 56:33), he was working on World in Action, and he came up to me and said he wanted to chat. “You’re going to San Sebastián, yes?” he said, “What does it say on your passport?” I said, “Teacher.” I’d not changed it, it was a 10-year passport. “Ah, good,” he said. “We want you to do us a favour for World in Action.” I said, “Yes, what is it?” He said, “When you’re in San Sebastián, we want you to take this piece paper across the border into France and this village that I’ll give you the name of and the address, we want to make contact with people from ETA, but it’s got to be done in a quiet way, so we want you to go into France, get the information, go to a public phone box in France, not in Spain, and phone back the information.” So I said, “Okay.” So we did. When Ralph had finished his two gigs and we had seen the sports and the (log choppers and the oxon?! 57:41) and God knows what, I hired a car in San Sebastián and we drove across the border to this village, and it was completely deserted and all the curtains were shut. We got to the house. Knocked on the door, nothing happened. Knocked on the door again, and the door flew open and I’m staring at a double-barrelled shotgun straight in my face. And a guy who I can’t understand. I tried to talk to him in basic Spanish, I tried to talk to him in French, and eventually he must have realised that I was not the threat that he thought I was at first. The other thing was that Ralph was with me, and Ralph had very long hair and was wearing a very shaggy jacket and looked like an assassin of some sort, you know? And, we discovered later, that we were driving a car with Madrid number plates on, so… so we eventually we get introduced to this guy who was the local priest, who gives me a terrible bollocking, and says, “Why do you people think you can come over here, you can’t speak proper Spanish, your French is terrible…” – dah-di-dah – “…and it’s all very dangerous.” So I said sorry. Anyway, he said, “Here’s a piece of paper, here’s the information,” so I did it. I went back, phoned Stephen, came back, thought nothing of it. That was it. And then World in Action did do a programme about a Basque guy who actually covered himself with petrol and set himself on fire in front General Franco at some meeting as a protest, and they made the programme I think about this guy’s life work and art and so on and so forth. And apparently, they got the story through this bit of information that I had phoned through, which I wasn’t quite aware what it was, it was just names and telephone numbers and so on. But this guy Moor – what was his first name? – came up to me afterwards and said, “You had quite a narrow escape there.” I said, “Why’s that?” And he said, “Because they had a German industrialist in the cellar of the house.” They killed him later. So that was… I was kind of indirectly working for World in Action but I wasn’t on it. I was an (innocent child? 60:03), I didn’t know that was going on at all. Ralph was highly entertained when I told him that story.
JJ: You were somebody who I don’t think had any connections with the north, but you came up here.
Oh, no, I was. I was born and bred in Rochdale, just down the road. But I went away. This is nothing to do with Granada but music did it for me. I started playing the guitar when I was about 15, in terrible rock and roll groups, and then I went on to the trombone and started playing traditional jazz. When I was still at school in the sixth form, we had a band in Bury called the Cotton City Judgement, would you believe. Because in those days it was the thing, every town had traditional jazz bands and clubs and things. And (??61:09 ) was a very good con up there, so we formed this band with to journalists from the Bury Times. And when we went to university we went our separate ways, because Doug was much brighter than me, he went to Oxford and he led the Oxford jazz band. I went to London, played with all sorts of bands, and eventually became semi-professional – I was supposed to be in university, for God’s sake! – with a band called the Bob Wallis Storyville Jazz band, which was a kind of second division after Ball and Bilk and Barber, there was this rank of bands that were pro, but you know, not quite as good. And then it suddenly dawned on me around Christmas of my last year that I wasn’t going to get a degree if I was carrying on like this, you know, and panic set in – so I packed up the band. It was a useful time, because they had just got a regular job at the Palladium, three performances a day for six days a week or something, and I thought, “I don’t really want to do that.” So for the last what, four months, five months, I scrabbled to do the work to get the degree came back to Manchester to do this postgraduate thing I was telling you about, and Doug and I formed another band called The Art Taylor All Stars, would you believe. And we were quite good, I say it myself, as a traditional band of the day and at the time, and the first job I got was at Manchester college, which in those days was called the Hollins College for the Food and Fashion Industry, and is the toast rack down in Didsbury. It’s now part of Manchester Metropolitan university. So I was playing in the band there. So yes, I am from the north – I’m uneasy if I go south.
JJ: I suppose the question I was going to say was really around Granada and its sense of northern-ness, because on the one hand it was it was internationally famous for things like jewel in the Crown, and yet things that you worked on like the brass band stuff, were really important in terms of its kind of cultural identity.
I suppose that’s why they did it, because the programmes… it made a fantastic name for me in the brass band world, but not in the television world, I mean, I don’t think those programmes ever pulled in a big audience or anything like that. But yes, it was useful. The things about Granada that I really enjoyed was that it was always left-leaning, which suited me, it was always anti-metropolitan, which suited me. It was always anti-authority, which suited me. It was always anti-metropolitan, which suited me. It was always anti-authority, which suited me, and it was a buzz of creativity – everywhere you went, people were doing interesting things, you know? And of course it was a boozy culture, which I quite liked as well!