Anthea Boulton biography

Anthea Boulton joined Granada in 1964 as a Call Girl liaising with artistes.  After writing her first play that was produced by Granada, she became a Coronation Street storyline writer in 1968.  Anthea left the company in 1970 but continued to do some freelance work there in the 1970’s.

Anthea Boulton describes joining Granada in 1964

I arrived at Piccadilly Station, Manchester, the day Labour won the 1964 election. “Told you the trains’d run late once they got in” I heard from a voice behind me, but I cared nothing for late trains or election fever. I was on my way to my first proper job: Call Girl at Granada TV. 

My prospects hadn’t looked good. After graduating with an English degree from Exeter university, all the Careers Advisor could suggest was a job as an air hostess. My application to Rediffusion TV, then holders of the Midlands TV franchise, met with an apologetic note from the Personnel department saying they didn’t employ women except in a secretarial capacity. Wish I’d kept that letter but fury made me burn it.

And then came the offer from GTV. Granada was a forward-thinking company whose management saw the need to bring more women into the industry. Call Boys had been employed since the launch in 1955, following theatrical tradition, but their job of liaising with artistes was changing in the new studio set up. So, Boys would be replaced with Girls, who would then have a chance to learn about programme production literally from the floor up. Union membership was obligatory, in this case NAATKE. Did I have any objection? I did not.

So, five Call Girls duly reported to the Production Office and were inducted into our duties by the witty, wordy Peter Cuff. My first taste of the studio floor was unforgettable: a Motown group called Martha and the Vandellas singing ‘Dancing in the Street’. I’ve just listened to it on YouTube and it still gives me a buzz. That day, watching from the side-lines, it was electrifying.

Anthea Boulton recalls working on Scene at 6.30

My real ambition was to write, so the next step was to ask if I could work on the local magazine show, Scene at 6.30. Peter Cuff warned me that researchers on the show came and went like autumn leaves, and that I would need to leave NAATKE and apply to join ACCT, which I did. So, I became a proud researcher B.

There was one woman working on Scene when I joined, Rosemary Hall, a glamorous Leeds graduate who impressed me mightily because she’d worked as a Bunny Girl. Her job was as picture researcher, providing illustrations for the various stories that made up the magazine show. Amongst the men there were writers like Arthur Hopcraft, later known for his dramas, Barry Cockroft, who discovered and wrote about Hannah Hauxwell of the Dales, and Malcolm Lynch, who was never known to submit an expenses claim without the entry ‘to hire of ladder, 10/6d’, plus imaginative explanation.

Everybody on the show, researchers, producers and directors, met at nine thirty in the morning, having read the newspapers and being ready with suggestions for that evening’s edition. We researchers would then go off to the canteen for a coffee whilst the producers of the day decided which stories to include. Around eleven o’clock researchers were given their brief and then required to research and write the piece, complete with any music, film or picture additions, ready for dress rehearsal at 4.30pm and live transmission at 6.30pm.   

One of my first assignments was to write a piece about the Greek Civil War. Now I had a classical upbringing and was thinking Athens and Sparta, so it was a surprise to find the war they were on about was fought in the twentieth century. My very first script concerned a famous trumpeter who was making a comeback. Mike Parkinson was the producer that day and it was he who kindly pointed out that I couldn’t include the sentence “He hadn’t touched his instrument for twelve years.”  I was very young then.

They were a grand bunch, those producers, and I was lucky to work with such talented men. Brian Armstrong went on to produce notable films for World in Action; Peter Eckersley ran the Comedy department before his sad early death; Mike Scott was a presenter and later programme controller of GTV; Leslie Woodhead made many award-winning documentary films, and has continued to do so until recently.

There was just one producer who was generally disliked because he could be mean and bullying. On one occasion he gave me a story to write, all smiles, assuring me that it wouldn’t be needed for a day or two.  That evening as I left the office he said, grim faced, “I want that script first thing tomorrow”. Luckily, I had done the research so was able to borrow a flat mate’s typewriter to write it up that evening. In the morning I was met with a thunderous face: “Where’s the script?”  I handed it to him. Surprised, he looked it over and said “Hm, you must have been working”. Then I made a mistake, because I told him ‘of course I was working, I enjoy work’. He gave me two pieces to write that day, then no more work while he remained on the programme, which luckily was not very long. He really was the pits.

As for any sexism, I suppose we took it for granted. Like the day I arrived with my hair drenched from the rain and an outraged chap on the news desk told me to go straight off to the hairdresser to get it fixed. Or the time a boss sent me off to buy him some handkerchiefs. And the occasion when I was persuaded to share a taxi with a fellow researcher, only to have an unwelcome hand shoved up my skirt. 

But my memories of Scene are mainly happy ones. There was the time I got some Venus fly trap plants to demonstrate how they snapped shut when they caught an insect – only by show time they were already shut because the stage crew had fed them with bits of paper. And the Valentine’s Day programme when I was delegated to produce two dozen oysters, because they were said to have aphrodisiac properties. At the end of the show I was left with them but when I got them back to my flat, I couldn’t prise them open. So, I boiled them and ate the lot and I can report there were no unusual effects.

Anthea Boulton recalls meeting her colleague, David Boulton, who became her husband

Then one day my life changed. David Boulton joined Scene. He had been Sidney Bernstein’s press secretary and a newspaper journalist. On his first day he was told to produce a 4-minute item about the TUC conference for that evening’s programme. The only direction he got was a vague ‘helicals are that direction, 4 headed the other way and grams are on the second floor’. David had never worked in television, never seen a script and he sure as hell didn’t know what a helical was (it was what we called two headed cameras as opposed to video cameras known as ‘four headed’). His desk was next to mine so he asked me if he could see a script. I rummaged in my desk looking around for my best example but of course he was only interested in how it was laid out. Later he asked if I fancied a coffee. I said yes. That day my (happy) fate was sealed. 

Six months later David Boulton was running Scene and I decided it was time to move on. Denis Forman, then Programme Controller, asked me to act as secretary to FOG, a typically witty acronym for the Forward Outlook Group. This was brilliant, terrifying – and instructive in the art of subtle diplomacy. That’s when I became familiar with the phrase ‘I hear what you say’.

Anthea Boulton on writing her first play – and moving to Coronation Street

It was at this time, with all the confidence of youth, that I decided to try my hand at writing a play. Margaret Morris, head of the Drama department, was friendly and encouraging. I had always admired Anton Chekhov’s short stories and, for my first attempt, I decided to adapt one of his longer ones, Ward 6, for TV – a 90-minute drama, no less. Margaret approved my draft so it was duly presented to Denis (Forman), and I was astonished to find that not only was it accepted but it was printed in white, skipping the usual, ‘blue’ draft stage. I always suspected it was Denis’ highly gifted wife, Helen, who recommended the play to him.  Denis suggested I might relocate the story from Russia to Ireland but I wasn’t convinced. 

Accordingly, the play was cast with Eric Porter and John Shrapnel in the leading roles. A corner of Lyme Park was decorated with Russian-style huts and snow from a machine, and I’m sorry to say one of the technicians broke his leg by sliding off a slippery roof.  Rehearsals were fairly fraught. On one occasion I crept in to watch, only for Eric Porter to complain, loudly, that the rehearsal room was like Piccadilly Station!   However, the cast were appreciative when I had to produce brief re-writes off the cuff.

The show got mixed reviews. The Guardian writer, standing in for the regular drama critic, didn’t like it. The Telegraph critic said it broke new ground in television. I decided that I needed more experience, so I got a job as storyline writer on Coronation Street.

After FOG (Forward Outlook Group,) I was given my own office, where I vetted scripts. A new Granada training scheme had been set up and amongst the first five trainees was a certain John Birt. John and his mates cut their teeth on putting together a mock version of the local magazine show, inevitably called UnScene at 6.30. John collaborated with a fellow trainee on a drama script, which they wrote under false names. I still remember John’s eager face, keen to know if the script had been accepted. Sadly, it had not. I wonder what became of him……

Anthea Boulton describes the role of the storyline writer on Coronation Street

When Tony Warren wrote his first scripts for the Street, early in 1960, they were scheduled to run for only six episodes. Luckily, someone in management recognised the potential of this ground-breaking idea about a community living in a northern working-class street. Tony was 24 when he wrote it, and he based it on Manchester characters he knew and grew up with. He wrote the first twenty episodes, then his vision seems to have departed from Granada’s, or theirs from his, so the Granada machine took over. By the time I joined, in 1968, it had settled into a well-oiled rhythm thanks to its highly talented team.  

In those days the Street went out on two nights a week and we worked six episodes in advance. Every three weeks we attended a storyline conference with the writers, producers and directors to decide on a main story and, usually, two sub stories to run through the next three weeks. Harry Driver, from his wheelchair, seemed to be best at generating ideas. The Stan and Hilda Ogden characters made a splendid comedy team, so I came up with one about Stan Ogden entering his broken bike in a modern art exhibition.

My job, together with my fellow storyline writer, Esther Rose, was to build the skeleton for the writers to flesh out with dialogue. I soon learnt that we worked within tight boundaries. For a start, the actors were on different contracts. We had five stalwarts: Ena Sharples, Elsie Tanner, Len Fairclough, plus Jack and Doris Walker at the Rovers Return. We needed to include at least three of these ‘heavyweights’ in each programme. Other actors, such as Bill Roache and Anne Reid, playing Ken and Val Barlow, had 26-week contracts, so stories had to be planned accordingly.

A second limiting factor concerned the sets. Shows were shot in the studio, with only occasional filming allowed outside for the big stories. Each programme consisted of two halves, with five or six scenes either side of the ad break, and sets were built to accommodate all six episodes in the three- week cycle. To justify any one set, we had to find a way of using it at least once in each half of all six programmes. Additionally, our storylines needed to allow the actors time to move from one set to another, so we couldn’t end one scene and start another using the same character.  

Then there were the cliff-hangers to manipulate: a minor one before the ad break and something more telling at the close. At the beginning of the autumn schedule, a seriously dramatic lapel-grabber was needed to hook the audience.  Ray Langton’s maiming in a Street coach outing comes to mind; and, perhaps the biggest drama of all, the attack on Val Barlow. 

Anne Reid was a brilliant actor and a kind friend to me. When my flat mate got ill and I urgently need to move out, Anne invited me to stay in her flat, which was close by. Much later, when her beloved husband, Peter Eckersley died, she visited our house, still numb with shock, but determined to make a good life for their young son. 

Esther Rose and I became friends, if only virtually, with all the Coronation Street characters. We kept a record of their birthdays and anniversaries. We noted down their individual likes and dislikes, quirks and abilities, or lack of them. Albert Tatlock was good with pastry, ‘I ‘ave cold ‘ands, you see’. Elsie often had to soak her sore feet because of the high heels she wore. Esther and I argued over whether Minnie Caldwell, Ena Sharples’ regular companion in the Rover’s Snug, would be likely to possess a piece of string to wrap a parcel with (she said Minnie was too poor, I thought she’d have squirreled a bit away). Pat Phoenix, playing Elsie Tanner, invited David and me to a party at her house. What sticks in my mind is her delight at showing the guests her gigantic, richly adorned, ceiling-to-pillow draped bed.  It clearly played a central role in her life.

I enjoyed working with actors, writers and the whole dynamic team. Evidently our audiences appreciated our work too because Coronation Street topped the ratings week after week. The aim was to entertain at all costs, with humour, high drama and if possible, both, and I think we succeeded.

Anthea Boulton on leaving Granada – and the good friends she made there

It was Margaret Morris who commissioned me to write another drama, an adaptation of ‘Into the Whirlwind’ by Eugenia Ginsberg, which told the grim, real-life story of a wife and mother who suffered brutal imprisonment in Stalin’s Russia. However, by the time the script was written, and paid for, Margaret had left Granada. Peter Eckersley, who took over her job, wrote me a kind note saying it was a terrific script but it didn’t fit Granada’s plan, and I should send it to the BBC. By that time, though, slots for one off, ninety-minute dramas were fast disappearing. In any case I had other things on my mind. David and I were now married, and by 1970 we had a baby on the way. But that play came back to haunt me. When giving birth I needed to be sedated. As the anaesthetist stuck the needle into my arm, I saw the faces of white-coated torturers bending near and laughing as I tried to fight them off, yelling “you brute, you brute!”. A scene out of my own play!

With several other women I put an urgent case to Denis Forman that Granada should run a crèche, but we had no success. On this matter our otherwise liberal, progressive boss was immoveable. I was left with the choice of leaving Granada or organising a nanny. So, I gave up my permanent job but continued to freelance for GTV during the seventies, working as north west researcher on Bamber Gascoigne’s series The Christians and writing reports for the Granada Foundation.  However, by then we had two young children, so I looked for opportunities closer to home. BBC Radio Blackburn, later BBC Radio Lancashire, was just nine miles up the road and there I found myself free to suggest ideas, then research, write and present them – leaving a kindly secretary holding the baby!  

Those were exciting days at Granada. Quay Street was home to a critical mass of talent which helped energise the company, the city of Manchester, and the whole of ITV.  It was economics, as usual, that ended the dream.  The Thatcher media revolution meant big players such as Sky entered the broadcasting field, creating a situation in which economies of scale counted more than cultural and regional values. London became, once more, the centre of life where broadcasting was concerned 

I left Granada but stayed in touch with former colleagues, especially as David’s career continued, editing World in Action and writing and producing drama documentaries. Many of the friends I made back in the sixties are no longer with us. David and I still see Leslie and Yvonne Woodhead, and we’ve had great holidays with Claudia Milne and Mike Whittaker, and with Ray and Luise Fitzwalter before Ray’s tragic death. We visited Denis Forman just before he died, sharing memories and our passion for Mozart. Elegant as ever, he suggested we share a glass of champagne with him. We drank a toast to the glories of Granada past. I didn’t mention the crèche. 

Paul Greengrass describes how he joined Granada

I can remember when I joined. I joined in October ’77, and I was at university. I don’t think I was alone, I think, going into television was the sort of popular thing to do at that time, I think, particularly if you had a sense of the world. I always loved World in Action. I watched it as a student and a sixth former, and it had a sort of glamour attached to it, I think. I loved that idea of breaking the story, and I loved the filmic quality of it. I was pretty obsessed with films as a kid, growing up. I really was, and of course it’s funny how it all seems so remote to me. The idea of getting jobs in these worlds, you know? And at school I loved the art room. I liked printmaking, and I loved photography, and I made my first film at school too. I was very lucky; the art teacher was a film nut. So, I had a deep desire to do it, and when I went to university, although I enjoyed university, I couldn’t wait to go to work. You know what I mean? By then it had crystallised out into work in television. Because that seemed possible.

I suppose it was when I graduated, which would have been the summer of ‘77, that I really set out to try and do it. And, of course I faced the classic conundrum in those days that you couldn’t get a job unless you are a member of the ACTT, the union, and you couldn’t be a member of the ACTT unless you had a job. That was the kind of conundrum that I think most people faced. I solved it by going to the ACTT head office, which then from memory was in Wardour Street. Certainly, it was either Wardour or Dean, I can’t remember exactly which. It was upstairs. Alan Sapper ran it, from memory.

He did.

And they had a bulletin outside which advertised jobs, and they just weren’t advertised really in the newspapers. I mean, how did you get in? I actually have a file still somewhere of all of the letters that I wrote. I wrote dozens and dozens and dozens of letters all the way around the industry. Dear Mr So-and-so – because they always were Misters in those days – I’d love to work for whatever, whatever, whatever, and then you’d always get a letter back, “Dear Mr. Grassgreen, sorry, no vacancies. Yours,” and it’d just be a squiggle. Fifth assistant to the third assistant to the sixth assistant of the mediocrity that you’d written to. That’s a bit unkind, but you know what I mean.

And then I saw this sports researcher job on the ACTT board advertised at Granada, and I wrote. And I’d already written to Granada. I’d already written to World in Action. My goal was to work for World in Action. That’s where I wanted to work. I travelled a bit by then. I was quite worldly for a young student. I wasn’t much interested in being a student. I’d travelled quite extensively by that time in my life, and I’d written little bits of journalism here and there. I was obviously more interested in work when I look back, but there were no jobs going at World in Action, because I’d applied. Either not got a reply or had a brush off. So, sports researcher sounded like at least a job, and I was invited up for a board. In those days you used to have a board. Do you remember that?

Indeed.

Very well. I mean, when I look back now, tremendously well organised and benevolent to young people in its way. And, it was a little bit like an academic board. I can’t remember. I remember Mike Scott was on it, and Paul Doherty. Poor late departed, Paul Doherty was on it. Joyce Wooller was on it. And, it was very formal.

It was quite a funny story, because I of course had written an application that went, “Dear Mr Whoever…” I think you actually wrote to Joyce Wooller in those days, didn’t you? Or maybe Mike Scott. I can’t remember. “Dear Mr Granada, all my life has been but a preparation for being a sports researcher in your sports department, blah, blah, blah. I’d love to do it.” So I get in there, in this board in Manchester and it was quite nerved. I remember being very nerved right. I walked in and I remember Mike Scott holding up two pieces of paper. One was my letter saying ‘All my life has been but a preparation for a sports researcher’s job’, and then saying, “But you appear to have written this one three months ago, ‘all my life has been but a preparation for a World in Action job.’ Kindly explain.” All I could say was, “Well, times are tough. You’ve got everything you can to get in.” You know?

You wanted really to do exposés of sport, didn’t you?

Exactly! And Paul Doherty, I remember being quite amused. Anyway, and I didn’t know any of these people. Anyway, I can’t remember. It felt like it was a day or two, within a day or two anyway. Because I was then living in Cambridge, because I’d only just graduated. Did I get a phone call or a letter, I don’t know, saying could I come on Friday. They wanted me to start that day or that week. And it was very strange, because at the same time – again, I either got a phone call or a letter – from John Birt, who was then at London Weekend, who had seen me. I think he had seen me. And I think Barry Cox, I think he and Barry Cox did together from memory, some weeks before, as part of the… I mean, when you look back, people were very good at responding. It shows you what a benevolent… it was a tough world in one sense, but it was very benevolent towards young people in another. And John Birt said, “Well, we now have a job on…” I want to say it was The London Programme.

Not Weekend World?

No, it wasn’t Weekend World. It was the local programme, which I think was called The London Programme, wasn’t it? And Granada had just been in touch, and I remember John Birt was… oddly, I got to know him a little bit over the years. I haven’t seen him for many years now, but he was always a benevolent person, I thought. Not at all like the caricature that people gave. I remember it vividly. I said, “Oh, I’ve got a dilemma.” Because I was only 21, I was a young kid. He said, “If I were you, I’d go to Granada.” He said, “I started at Granada.” Because, I told him I’d seen him, I wanted to work at World in Action, blah, blah. He said, “Go to Granada. You will get the best start in the industry that you possibly can get. Not that London Weekend isn’t a wonderful place. You can always come here later. But if you get a chance to start at Granada, I would do that.” I’ve never forgotten it. Amazing thing. And he was right.

Paul Greengrass remembers his early days as a sports researcher

And so, I literally travelled up in the next day from memory, and I was put up in a pub, I’m sure it doesn’t exist now, it was down at the back of… If Quay Street was one side, then you got at the bottom of the old Granada Studios. As you looked at the Granada Studios, it was at the back, off to the left where they subsequently built the Rovers Return, all that. There used to be a grotty pub there, I can’t remember the name of it now. And I was put up in there, it was an absolute shithole, and told to report for duty the next day, which was a Saturday. So I came up on the Friday, came into the office in the morning, met Paul Doherty there. How can I forget, he said, “Okay, we’re covering…” I want to say it was an Oldham game. He said, “We’re covering, it’s the Granada Match this weekend, it’s Oldham versus so-and-so.” It helped that I was a football nut, you know. “And you’re going to be editing back at base,” I went, “Oh, really?” Okay, how does that go? And he said, “Bye.” And off he went in his big Granada car, Ford Granada, not Granada, Granada. And I was left to find my way down to VT where all the blokes who were into football were, and you had to watch and create a log of the game. You were just given this pad and you logged it up. And talk about full immersion, I loved it.

Was there anyone there to help you in VT?

No! I was completely alone. I mean, there were VT engineers who were there, absolutely super fellas, but talk about being thrown into the deep end. And so, I did a year on Kick Off and related sports programmes. And when I look back, it was the most tremendous start in life and work and television, and actually in film, generally. And I owe a tremendous debt to Granada, I owe an unbelievable debt, and all the people there.

Paul Greengrass on the debt he owes Paul Doherty, the head of sport at Granada

But Paul Doherty, I owe a special debt. Because I was a young student, I’d gone to a good university, I had the advantages and the naiveties that that bestows upon you, and probably the arrogances too. And I was, I think, in many ways, unprepared for the world of work, what work was really about. And Paul gave me a crash course of all of that in a matter of weeks. He was always in the office at 7:30, always. And he would not leave before late. And then you’d go to a game, more than likely. So it was straight into, I think the most important lesson that everybody has to learn in this business, which is that it is a full immersion, leave your life and run away to the circus type of a life. It’s not a life if you want nine to five or a structured life; you give yourself to it wholly. And that’s the only way it can work, and everything else, your life comes second to it. And he demanded that, and he was a larger than life… so in many ways, he was a sort of ‘proto Alex Ferguson’ type figure. He had a tremendous temper, which he would deploy at all times. And he had this dream that he was going to build a sports department at Granada, and the sports comprised of me, as I discovered on the Monday, another young researcher called Charles Lauder, who was very talented chap. An old Granada studio director, who’d been sort of put out to grass and wasn’t really wanted anywhere else, a guy called Mike Becker, who was actually a very sweet man. And he sort of did the live OBs, you know, not very well. So, Paul Doherty. And that was the sports department. And Margaret Foy who was the secretary, who actually ran Paul’s life brilliantly.

And he ran it like he was running a football team. And he rode me incredibly hard, because I remember him saying on the first day, “I’m not interested in World in Action, by the way. You’ve come here, I want somebody to do sport and that’s what you’re going to do. Do you understand?” I went, “Yes. Oh yes boss.” “Because I’m fucking not having effing and blinding no one, fucking not having anybody fucking doing it, that fucking World in Action shit. We’re here to do football and sport, and this company doesn’t take it seriously. And the north west is the heartbeat of sports in this country.” All of which I agreed with by the way. So he was preaching to the converted, and he had this tremendous sense of sport being, you know… all the namby-pamby intellectuals in the corridor look down on it, but actually it was what people out there really wanted to watch. Again, he was totally right about that. And he went to bat, and I was an absolute disciple. But life with Doc was fantastic, because you’d work like a demon, and then you’d go out in the evening to Blinkers nightclub, and suddenly there’d be all these footballers in there. And you’d be going, “Fucking hell, that’s George Best,” or, “Fucking hell, there’s…” you know? It was just unbelievable. It was like, I couldn’t believe the life I was leading.

Were you a Crystal Palace fan? Is that right?

Yes. Which of course only exacerbated Doc’s contempt for them.

…..

I stayed in touch with Doc. He always took an interest in what I did. Towards the end, not long before he went into a hospice, we went up and we had lunch at a restaurant in Manchester together. It was a lovely, we had an absolutely wonderful day. We reminisced. He brought this scrapbook that he had from his Granada days. He was very sick then. He knew he didn’t have long to go. Funnily enough, I just saw, he gave me the page or a copy of the page, and there was a picture of me and him and in his handwriting what he’d written underneath, because all of my records are going to the BFI. I’ve got a young person out there preparing it all for them. She found this stuff and showed it to me just literally an hour ago. Just the sweetest note in his handwriting about me, and how proud he was and so on and so forth. That was really, it brought a tear to my eye. He was a wonderful man and loyal, competitive, chippy, brilliant, a great leader, brilliant sense of humour…

Was he a person you had to stand up to? Because every time I would wander into the sports department for whatever reason, you’d feel Doc was there growling at you, and you’d timidly scamper out.

Yes. That’s why I think he liked me. Because I somewhat exasperated him, because I would give it back to him, being quite a rebellious person. But I loved him and I was very loyal to him. He was my guy. He was the boss. He was the gaffer. I would have run through a brick wall for him. I genuinely would have done. When it was time for me to go, which was really after about a year, he knew it. He knew that I was always going to want to go and do World in Action and follow my dreams. He knew that. He knew I’d had a good year for him. I’d done some pretty good pieces of work for him. I wasn’t going to be part of what he was building, but he helped me and he encouraged me. In many ways, he was an archetypal Granada figure. He was a perfect expression of what Granada was about in those days. That’s the Doc.

Paul Greengrass remembers his worst telling-off from Paul Doherty

The worst row we ever had, funnily enough was about the slides, which I often tell it to my kids when they go out to work, because it’s an abject lesson in what not to do. Which is that I’d been there a few weeks, and Doc came in one day. He was a great bloke, he’d come in, but he’d have ideas, he’d be fizzing with ideas. “This week, we’re going to do such and such, and such and such. “Go and phone such,” or, “Go and phone Alf Ramsey,” and you’d go, “Huh? How does that work?” And then he had the contacts, he has house numbers. He was amazing.

Anyway, he said, “I’m not having this Granada Reports when we do our sports coverage. They never do proper sports coverage, they never do the football team news, and I’m sick of seeing Joe Jordan’s face.” I don’t think Joe Jordan was there at that time, but anyway, whoever. “I’m sick of seeing the faces of sort of head and shoulders. I want action shots.” So lo and behold, he commissioned a bloke called Eddie Booth, who was a cameraman, I think he worked for Granada. He must’ve been well into 60s, if not, 70s. Chain smoked, not the best snapper it has to be said, but a lovely, lovely fellow. And he’d go out, and he was deputed to go around all the grounds in the north west, and photograph action shots of all the players, right? And my job, especially given to me by Doc, was I had to process these slides, and put them in those little things where you put in a slide, and I’d mark them up. So when he wanted a one of Joe Jordan, he’d see a row of Joe Jordan action slides, or if he wanted one of Brian Kidd, who I think was then playing for Man City, not United, there’d be lots of Brian Kidd, and so on and so forth. Okay, fine. Great idea Doc, yes, but boss I’m there, I’m there, I’m there.

So, Eddie B goes out, day one I get 70 slides from Manchester United’s game against whoever, right? Fine. And I go through them because I can recognise that’s Brian Greenhoff, that’s Stevie Coppell. Day two, I get Rochdale versus so-and-so, Bury versus so-and-so. Day three, I would get Preston versus so-and-so, Skelmersdale versus so-and-so, Tranmere versus so-and-so. And of course, being basically not far off a student, I’d come in, work hard go out with Doc, probably drink too much, have a hangover, get up the next morning, “Oh fuck, I can’t do it. I’ll just do a few of the slides.” And so I do a few, and the ones I couldn’t do, I’d put in a drawer. Well by about day 10, all my drawers were filled with these fucking sides. I had to bring a bag in from home, that was filled with slides, I had more at home. It became a total nightmare, because I’d let the thing get out of control. And if I stopped there for like three days solid non-stop, I still wouldn’t have done it. So of course in classic fashion, I put my head in the sand and hoped it would go away. Anyway, a few days later I was up the end of the corridor, the sports department was then on next to Granada Reports on the third floor, was it? I can’t remember.

First floor.

First floor, that’s right, yes. And I was talking to Andy Harries, as I recall, who’s just started around about the same time. And I saw Doc come out, down the middle of the corridor, shouting. And I said to Andy, “Oh fucking hell, he’s not happy with someone.” Then I saw him turn and look at me. “Oo-er, it’s me.” He absolutely… I mean, talk about tearing a strip off. “You ever fucking do that again, you’ll never…” “You namby-pamby southern fucking…” I mean, these days it would be unacceptable, the words he was using, but basically I was a student arse, not fit to wipe his shoes, cradle marks on my ass, etc. etc. and I couldn’t disagree. But it was good for me. He taught me how to work, and I loved him, and I think actually he had a soft spot for me, too. We all stayed in touch right to the end of his life.

Paul Greengrass on the training he got on Kick Off – and the team he worked with

it was a great year. I learned so much. One of the beauties about working in sports television, which you saw everything that there was, you did it all. You made films with a crew, you mounted items in a studio. We did Kick Off on a Friday night. You did OB work. You edited OBs on your own. When I think back when we did the Wednesday live match, if it was a European match, which we fed out to the network, you’d be editing the second half of the football while the first half was actually playing out live. That’s how tight it was. It taught you… all those skills were just the most fantastic skills for our business. Because it taught you how to work quickly and accurately under pressure in all regards. It was all about taking responsibility.

……

Pat Pearson was a quality OB director and in many ways a trailblazer. A woman in what was then a wholly man’s world of football.

And a really nice person as well.

Yes. Great fun. He (Paul Doherty) got Elton Welsby in, got Ian St John in. He got a whole bunch of, he built a team. It’s what he said he would do. He built a team and they were… I loved Saint. He was fantastically funny, even though he and I used to clash a bit. I remember being in a train going down to Wembley, I think we were, to see the Liverpool-Bruges European Final.

1978?

Yes, ‘78. That would have been towards the end of my time there. We had a tremendous row about football. I can’t remember what it was about but I just remember Saint getting the right up and going, “You know fuck all about football! Fuck all.” Fair enough. But it was just tremendous fun. Just tremendous fun and an unbelievable education, as I say, in television. But most of all, in life. The laughter was hilarious.

I remember very early on having to phone up Jack Charlton, who was then the manager of Sheffield Wednesday. Because one of the things I had to do on the Friday was phone up for the team news. I’d have to write it down in my notebook, and come back to him and give Doc the team news. I can’t even remember who the star player was at Sheffield Wednesday at that time, but was so and so playing. And Jack Charlton went… I can’t do the accent, the Geordie accent… but “No, he wasn’t playing. He’s picked up a groin strain in a nightclub.” I, of course, didn’t see the joke at all and just wrote it down. Picked up a groin strain in a nightclub, went into Doc and said, “Oh, no.” He said, “It sounds so plain.” He’d obviously set it up between the pair of them. I said, “No, no. He’s out. No.” He said, “Are you sure about that?” I said, “No, definitely. He picked up a groin strain in the nightclub.” He went, “You fucking knob.” He said, “You absolute arse. Do you not listen to what people are saying to you?”

Paul Greengrass on the investigation into Louis Edwards that became a World in Action

The only way you could get on, it seemed to me, was to find your own story. Obviously, I was up there doing football 24/7. At that time, the Edwards family, what they did was they brought forward, essentially, a rights issue in the shares. That had never been done in football clubs, because bear in mind, there wasn’t a market for football club shares because clubs didn’t pay dividends. They were essentially, there was no market in them because there was no value seen in the clubs, astonishingly, at that time. It was sort of, I noticed this, it was like a financial story in the Manchester Evening News. Why would they be doing this? It didn’t really attract much attention, but I thought that was odd. I took the view then that Manchester United was obviously a great sporting institution, for sure. You could not live in the north west and not be aware of it as a great sporting institution. But it had fallen behind Liverpool by a good long way, and was obviously not being particularly well-rounded at the time, but the more I was there, and the more I was around football, the more you could see there was sort of an alternative history of the club that lay behind the club.

The way in was through the rights issue. Because I remember going to Paul, I used to go out on my own account, I’d tell Paul, “I’m not doing it in your time. I’ll just go out on my own. And yes, he was great about it. He knew what I was doing. As long as I was there to do what he needed done, he was up for it. And basically… it was strange. It was the brainchild of a man called Professor Roland Smith, who was a Professor of Business I think, at Manchester University. And he knew Louis Edwards. And he cooked up the scheme… at the time, you couldn’t quite work out what it was that they were trying to do. Now, of course it was obvious what they were… what Roland Smith had seen was that these clubs were going to be worth a fortune. And what you had to do was grab the maximum value you can, the maximum shareholder you can, and that you stood a better chance if you created this potential. Rather than there being a thousand shares, if you could create a million shares, you could hoover them up quicker and easier. There was more to the story than that, but that was basically what it looked like.

And some of the supporters kicked off. A man called John Fletcher, I want to say his name was. He was sort of a more United fan. He ran a sort of supporters’ campaign against it. Anyway, I got into it, and I took that to Claudia Milne, who was then running Reports Extra, which was the sort of local programmes World in Action, basically

And then somewhere around about then I must have gone to Claudia Milne and said, “Look, I’ve got this story I want to get the rights to shoot.” And she was an old World in Action hand, of course, and she knew that I wanted to get in. And she said, “Come and do this.” And I did that. And I worked with Claudia and Michael…

……….

I want to say it would have been January that I went across to World in Action. And actually, it was like a temporary secondment.

January ‘80?

No, January ‘79.

Oh, right. Sorry, yes.

And I’d written the proposal, which I still have, out there. And I was put to work with Geoff Seed. And the other researcher was a lovely chap by the name of Mike Short, who died quite a few years ago. He was a lovely chap. Very nice man. Liverpudlian. He and I teamed up, Mike and I, and it was my first introduction to the world of World in Action, really.

And it made a big splash.

It did. Did I enjoy it as a programme? I suppose I must have done.

But it had difficult repercussions.

Well, it was interesting in the sense that there were those moments when you find things out that you didn’t know to be true and you go, “Bloody hell, that’s a proper secret.” I remember that was when I realised, or we got to the bottom of what Louis Edwards had actually been doing. What they had been doing was, they came up with this concept of the rights issue, which they knew was going to enable them to liberate the value of the club. But before they brought the scheme forward, but whilst they were discussing it with Kleinwort Benson, he went around to all the small shareholders to hoover up the shares without telling them of course what he was doing. It was particularly cynical because it meant going to a lot of people. For instance, the former secretary I mentioned was a man called Walter Crickmer who died in the…

Munich disaster?

Munich disaster, yes.

I remember going down to Bristol to inspect the share register. Somebody must have told me to do that. I remember I was talking to some people who knew about finance. They knew you had to check the share register, and that was when I realised that his shareholding had gone up, because those days – I’m sure it’s the same now – but you were allowed to inspect the share records.

Still can. Companies House.

And what was interesting was they had, they obviously didn’t expect anybody to ever come and inspect. Because it was only a small, there were only like a thousand shares, or maybe 2000. And it was just a book like this. They’d put in pencil the amount that these share transactions have been paid, and you could see very clearly that the holding had gone from whatever percent, right up to about 75% in a very short period of time. Somebody had put in pencil next to it, all the sums that he’d paid for these shares. So it was absolutely in black and white, and I knew now how much he paid.

So, then I went around to see all these people. One of whom was Walter Crickmer’s daughter. I want to say her name was Beryl, but I could be wrong. I think her name was Beryl. And she had a bunch of shares that she’d inherited from her father. And Mike and I visited all these people, and it was always the same thing. A chat called James Smart would come and knock on the door, make an approach, literally knock on the door, and say, “I work for Louis Edwards,” he worked for the meat company, but he was obviously Louis Edwards, his right-hand man, smooth talking bloke. Oh, Mr Louis, it was always Mr Louis, Mr Louis is looking to make some share purchase. He’d like to look after people who’ve got the small shares. He’s always prepared to pay a little bit of a premium because they’re really essentially valueless. This was all the schtick. And what he would do is he would offer them cash – sorry, a figure, and then some cash. And you knew already, this was all totally wrong. And he’d done the same to the Crickmers. And we went round, and I remember explaining to the son, it must have been the grandson, I suppose it would be, he’s conned you out of a lot of money actually, because his shares were worth… imagine having a chunk of Manchester United today, a substantial bit. Even one share, even one thousandth of it would have been worth a fortune. Anyway, the essence of it was that he then… we recorded him phoning up Louis Edwards and saying we’ve had an approach from Granada, is it right that you’ve offered cash? “Oh no, that’s just from my safe, oh, the tax man won’t know about that. Just don’t say anything.” But it was, you pulled it out and it was…

And by the way, I think the story that we told about Manchester United you could have told about probably every big club in the country, these clubs were significantly… they had rules that they didn’t adhere to. For instance, classically, the paying of schoolboy footballers. And of course, it was the creation of a false market to entirely benefit the football clubs, so that they would have the pick of the best young players. And for the sake of a few pounds in cash to the families, they’d have the choice as to whether to throw these boys on the scrap heap. And that would be it. So, what you had was for every George Best, there’s a hundred boys whose lives are destroyed and they have nothing. And the club, I’ve no obligation to them. And then there was the Edwards company, which was operating a significant… it was like the T Dan Smith and the Poulson thing, it was cash payments for contracts. It was a nexus of unappealing activity behind the glamour of the badge. And it ran through, I’m afraid, Louis Edwards and his brother Douglas, who was former Lord Mayor of Manchester. Anyway, the programme went out and caused a bit of a stink at the time.

Did you get any hassle from the top of the building?

Never, never ever. Remarkable, when I look back, I remember David Plowright saying one day, very early on after I started, saying, “Your job is to cause trouble. If you’re not causing trouble, you’re not doing your job.” Amazing thing. People wouldn’t be told that sort of thing today.

The very opposite.

Yes, I agree. There was no trouble. Geoff was a very diligent… he was very experienced he worked for the Daily Mail. He understood a good story and knew how to marshal it.

Louis Edwards died?

Yes, and that was a shock. And I felt rather ashamed, if I’m honest. I think, not that I probably would have said so at the time, but how could you not… you spent some months investigating what was a pretty tawdry confection of grubby illegality and fraud and bad dealing at what was one of our premier national institutions. So, I don’t doubt for a second that it was a well-judged and necessary piece of journalism, and in World in Action’s grand tradition. And I admire them for doing it, but on a personal level, it did sit uncomfortably with me as a young man to feel that a man, through an essence I had crawled over his life and found him wanting then died some… I mean, only a matter of days afterwards, I did feel that was difficult, and I think… I didn’t know that then, but I think in a way there was a large and concealed piece of me that never wholly bought the World in Action TV investigator thing. Even though I would have thought that I did at the time and would have voiced it as such, the truth is that wasn’t ultimately me. If that makes sense.

Paul Greengrass reflects on the culture of World in Action

When I went to Granada, which I was very lucky to do… and I owe Granada an equal debt, but World in Action… so I’m not decrying it in any way, but World in Action as the years… I knew none of this then, by the way. This is wisdom that came to me much, much later in life. I realised at the time I was trying to be someone who I actually really in the end wasn’t. In other words, the hard-bitten investigative television journalist. But really, the person that I was meant to be, was the person that I have become. I have made my own films in my own ways about subjects that… and that’s just one colour of it, but it’s not the all, if that makes sense.

Did you find it a macho culture?

Yes, very. And I would have been part of that too. But I think that not so deep down, it wasn’t really me. I was almost… playing a role is not quite right… because I did it, and I enjoyed it, and I was pretty good at it. But as the, I mean, the way I was… I was on World in Action for about six, seven years, something like that. They were formative years in so many ways because they taught me how to write at a shoot, at a cut, how to tell a story. How to be at eye level with an audience. Economy of style and storytelling. How important is to create emotional connection in your storytelling. They wouldn’t have expressed it like that, but I think that’s what made it a popular programme, as opposed to the more Panorama, which talked down to people, at the BBC.

Telling a story.

Yes. And of course it was a hugely benevolent culture, right? Fitzwalter, wasn’t it? A man who was always under pressure from us oiks, poor chap. But he was such a decent person really, in his eccentric way. He gave everybody their head in a lovely… he had his faults of course, but I owe him an enormous debt. But as the years went by, I think I got less interested in programmes that were about doing down. Even though I really admire them and still do. It’s not that I don’t approve of that kind of journalism. I really, really do.

I mean, John Ware, for instance, who I became a good friend of and remains a very good friend all these years later, his work I utterly admire, because he has a calling for it, and he’s one of the very, very best in the business. And he believes in telling a story well and judiciously and brilliantly, but I suppose I was always looking to the world beyond that. To a wider world. A wider world of filmmaking, I suppose. But I didn’t know that then. But I can look back now and see… I’m getting well ahead of the story… but, those first years would have been all about… I mean, all about making programmes that created a noise and the pride and thrill of that. Of the sort of drama of it with, “Are you going to get your legal opinion?” And all of the stuff that came with it. I loved all that. It excited me tremendously. And I was that person. I’m not denying that for a second. I love the fact that you saw the world. You travelled, you saw the world. Saw amazing things. I love the culture of the place. It was very macho. It was very male. It was very insular. But it was… it had its aristocratic mean about it. Do you know what I mean?

It was on its own. It was a bit like the sports department.

Correct.

It was untouched. Nobody could touch it. It had its own rules, its own…

Correct! We all bought into that. It bred arrogance and insularity and exclusivity, and a lack of collegiality, and it also bred paranoia and had done before my time and did again. I think it also bred some carelessness on a personal level. I think and some rivalrousness. I think that’s normal in those things, but those are small things. It also bred tremendous creative excellence, tremendous esprit de corps, tremendously good programmes of all kinds. A wonderful history. I think we – and by ‘we’, I mean, the generation of people who were there when I was there – wrote a really good page in a pretty damn fine television book. If you can call World in Action from 62 to whatever. I thought that period in the eighties was a rich period. I thought we gave a good account of ourselves. And you know, great sense of humour, great solidarity weirdly. So, it’s a mixed bag, as these things are, these organisations.

Paul Greengrass on the ethos behind World in Action

I’m sure that’s true of Granada as a whole, incidentally. I think one of the interesting things as we sit and talk today is that these kinds of cultural organisations are now few and far between. Organisations where you and I would have come in as young men, and matured and become men, as opposed to young men, during a period of… I don’t know how long you were there, but you know, seven, eight, nine, ten years, whatever… some people stayed for life, some people moved… but they marked you, and you grew up with people and the bonds… you and I didn’t know each other that well, but we still knew each other. We still know each other today. Those bonds, I think, are formed very powerfully in Granada, and that was one of its tremendous strengths as a company and that echoed and was synthesised also in World in Action. So it was a great place to work. As I say, benevolently run. Always both certain of its identity, and constantly questioning of it.

What was the point of a half-hour film on a Monday night? Because it wasn’t the news, and it wasn’t Panorama. It was World in Action, because it swaggered, and it was profane, and it had some brilliant journalism, and some frankly pretty duff stuff along the way, too. But it had its eclectic mix of filmmaking culture, which was always very important. It wasn’t just an investigative reporting programme. It had that strength too. And it also, let us be frank, had a sort of left-wing politics strand. Those were the three things. That was the ‘secret sauce’ of it. The mixture of those three things.

The filmmaking thing is often misunderstood. It spoke to me very highly. I remember when I first joined, so this would be ’79, Ray saying to me, “You need to go down to the screening room.” Which I want to say was away down where all the mixing theatres… or was it somewhere else? I can’t remember. They had a theatre, anyway. He gave me a list of World in Actions from the past, and I was to watch them, and I absolutely loved them. And they spoke to me. I remember watching Biko’s funeral, Mike Ryan’s film which was just a film about Steve Biko’s funeral. That’s all it was. It was just a beautiful observational film.

I remember watching John Sheppard’s film about asbestosis, which was a most beautiful film. I can’t remember the time period, but it was… I can remember watching his first ‘Dumping Grounds’ film in South Africa. That was a beautiful lot. These were films. I didn’t know it then, but of course it goes back to Denis Forman. It goes back to the birth of World in Action. It goes back to John Grierson who sold the title to Dennis Forman for a pound. Or was it a penny?

Did he really? I didn’t know that.

Oh yes. Denis Forman wanted World in Action to have a film identity, and that’s why it didn’t have reporters. That’s why it’s shot on film. That’s why it morphed as it started to live into the sort of agitprop thing, which served it well. Right back to the very early stage when they brought the coffins out of Salford.

I was going to say that. Now that was just a fantastic, when they all came out of the terraced houses.

Exactly.

Wow.

Yes, but it’s…

Still a piece of film…

It’s an agitprop, isn’t it?

Yes, exactly.

But brilliant. And those three strands, pure filmmaking, pure observational, a certain sort of filmmaking. It was observational. You stood back on a long lens and you observed. It goes to the heart of British documentary film making. That comes from John Grierson.

And the agitprop thing, which is actually not as simple as saying, “They’re a bunch of lefties.” It’s not as simple as that, that was comprised of Granada being a non-metropolitan company, being based in the north west, not being part of the metropolitan London thing gave it attitude, and that attitude in the 60s was really important, I never lost it, you know? And it obviously morphed in the 70s towards having a more sort of political hue. But I don’t think that ever was as important as the anti-establishment hue that the programme had, and that the company had. I think it made it a congenial place if your politics were to the left, but I don’t think it would be simple as to say that it was a left wing, I don’t think it was, it was just… it had a great sense of attitude. So, these are all the great things about it.

Paul Greengrass on when he realised he needed to move on from Granada

I think what happened was that, as I say, the me that was the me of my teenage years, which was always wanting to head towards writing and making my own things, and self-expression, began to collide with the World in Action that was about exposing – and not that I didn’t love those programmes, I did – but I started to feel like I had more to say and more to give. And I remember vividly, it would have been about ‘85, I suppose, but also bear in mind, I was growing up too. I was getting towards my 30s by then, late 20s, you know, you’re not 21, 22, suddenly you’re 27, 28, you’re maturing, you’ve got kids of your own, all that stuff’s happening in your life. I’d moved to London. That was a tremendous battle between a lot of us and Ray, because they quite rightly wanted people to live in Manchester, but I came from London. It wasn’t… I couldn’t see myself staying there forever. But most importantly, it was the creative thing.

I remember suggesting doing a programme about Live Aid, which would have been July ‘85. And that was sort of an unusual programme for me. And I wanted to do, you know, as I like music and so forth, I ended up following Geldof around. And it was an observational film. It didn’t have any story other than it was observational, and from memory, it was cut by Eddie Mansell, I want to say. And I remember… now, was it Eddie Mansell? There were two editors. Tony Hamm, was he one?

Tony Hamm was a VT editor, wasn’t he, I think?

Oh, was he? No, I think he was a film editor.

A film editor? You might be right. Anyway, I remember, I think it was Eddie Mansell. I remember cutting this film with him and suddenly film becoming fluid, storytelling on film. You know, you’re always trying to make it fluid and one thing moves to the next, and it’s not driven by commentary. It’s just got its own life and you can tell your story that way and you enter a different timeframe, the timeframe of film. And I remember feeling, “Oh, this is me.” I just remember that very vividly. And music on it. And then that spilled over. And really, when I mark the moment when it was obvious to me that I was moving on, it took a couple of years perhaps from that point, but it was that time that I wrote what became the first film that I made, the Film4 film, Resurrected, that I started that summer, I want to say

Paul Greengrass recalls Granada as a precious cultural institution

They were all these people, Denis Forman, David Plowright. I went around them all actually, and it left me with an abiding sense of Granada as one of Britain’s great liberal institutions, like a great university, like the BBC and very different in character. One of those precious cultural institutions that, when you set aside all the bolshiness inside, actually they, as an institution, had an ability to mark those of us who grew up in it. You, me, I’m sure everybody that you interviewed, it was a defining factor. And the years that you spent there, whether they were small in number or many, marked you. That’s the measure of it as an organisation. You can look back and tell a rose-tinted history of it all, and it definitely did love its own mythology, but that said, the exemplary values, both creatively in terms of broadcasting but also as a company, it was benevolent. The fact that it enabled somebody as bolshy and insecure as me, to find myself and then go off and become the person that I wanted to be, because of my time there.

Paul Greengrass on the world that was World in Action

So World in Action in that period was very much a closed world. The offices were up there on the third floor I want to say, off to an annexe at the back of the street. They were sort of their own space, weren’t they?

They were.

I’m not sure, actually, that was the very best thing for World in Action if I’m honest, because I think it fed the sense of separateness. Do you know what I mean?

Absolutely know what you mean.

And built walls where they would have been better taken down, so that World in Action was much more part of the overall output of the company. And there was cross-fertilisation and creative pollination between, I think it would have been good for World in Action, good for the people there, particularly myself, and good the other way round too. Because I think at that stage I, and most people on World in Action were rather…well, at its worse arrogant, but it’s perhaps best, kind of into what we were doing. And not really team players. It was a lovely space that third floor, the corridor and Ray at the end, dear old Tom Gill, who arranged all the crews and everything. And there were cutting rooms there with Kim Fletcher, I recall. And Roly Coburn, who did many, many years’ service. Yes. So it was a lovely community. Margaret, Marion I think it was, in the office, and the office is each side of the corridor. There was a great sense of esprit de corps balanced against the separateness of it. And it was fun.

You know, you’d kind of leave at the drop of a hat. I remember the day the Falklands War broke out, we sort of all heard on the radio that they were about to invade. And literally, I hadn’t even left the house yet to go into work, when suddenly Tom Gill phoned and said, “You’re going to Argentina.” You’d get your bag and go and go off for months. Then you come back and it was like you’d never been away. Of course, it was a bifurcated office, because you also had 3 Upper James Street, where there was a World in Action bunker on the top floor, which also was quite remote. It was smaller and there were always tensions between the London-based World of Action operation and the Manchester-based one, because lots of people, like me, wanted to be in London. That was a strange but rather magical place. It was right up high and quite bunker like. There weren’t very many windows. And Michael Gillard had his own sort of super locked, fortress-like office. He was a very secretive, romantic kind of figure. You sort of never really knew what he was doing. Nobody did. His telephone number was never on the team sheet. It was hilarious when I think back, it used to send Ray Fitzwalter demented.

If you weren’t hard at work on a film, you’d end up having lunch together in some place somewhere, and the conversation would always be about what was going to happen to the World in Action and how it could be made better. And generally that involved deposing Ray and installing somebody else. It was all ludicrous when I look back at it, it’s stupid politics, but then that would also… the sort of student politics side of it also was hard up against a really dedicated, serious journalistic and filmmaking side. And also the hilarity of it. It was very male, but that of course played into its insularity. And some of the women who work there like Jenny Rathbone were not treated… I think it would be, it was tough to be a woman in that environment, as it was in television at that time. And I think in many ways that generation of women generally were tenacious in fighting for their space, actually. I rather admired them. It was hard to get an airing for programmes that were about issues actually that were very, very important to people’s everyday lives.

Particularly women’s everyday lives.

Definitely. They were considered less important. I think that was part of the broader culture at the time, and television culture, and certainly World in Action culture. What was prized with a sort of CIA investigations, that sort of thing. I think actually Ray was rather good at trying to get those things going. Although he was more comfortable in the sort of harder-edged, journalistic side. He was, I think always trying to open the programme up to different sorts of programmes. Sorts of types of World in Action. I think he was rather good at that, and probably rather underestimated in his commitment to it. One of the good things about the culture was it was very much, you got thrown in the deep end, but there was a sort of, well, that was a hard school. It wasn’t without its sort of older male benevolence actually.

Paul Greengrass remembers some of his colleagues from World in Action

David (Boulton) was a very gifted man, highly intelligent, thoughtful. I think probably one of their very best executives, but he wasn’t very popular. I don’t really know why.

… but he wasn’t popular with the troops, I think because there were people around…now I’m guessing, because the first time he was obviously before my time, but I think the second time around he’d learned his lesson and was much more laid back. I think he had, I don’t know because, I think the problem was that he became a boss amongst first month equals with a generation of people who were his age. And I think there was a lot of paranoia, left-wing agitation and basically frankly, ‘we’re not having a boss, we’ll do it ourselves’ kind of thing. I think it was pretty anarchic, is my sense of it. But I didn’t… I think the problem with David was that there were people around who’d been through that thing with him. And so younger people like me got that sense, and he struck me as a man who was trying to be correct, but basically did have a point of view.

……..

I think of somebody like Brian Blake, who was very, very good to me, a very experienced producer on World in Action, and actually he’d been there many, many years and worked in Northern Ireland. Stephen Clark would be another one, Michael Beckham, Mike Beckham, people who’d been around many, many years that done it for many… and from the outset, when I first came in, they looked rather scary. But actually, they were all in their various ways, extremely good to me and other young people. If you gave your all for them, as the researcher to the producers, as I was at the beginning, you’d be looked after and you would learn in the best way that you could.

I remember Brian very early on; I can’t remember when it would be. About 1980, I suppose, ‘81. I suggested a programme which will be about Alexander Haig, who’d just been nominated to be Secretary of State in the Reagan administration. So, it would be early ‘81, I guess. I remember the sort of headline in the Guardian being, “Alexander Haig, nomination hearings in front of the Senate expected to be explosive revelations about Korea, Chile, Watergate, etc.” I remember saying to him, “Can’t we go and do a film about the nomination hearings?” “Oh yes, absolutely,” he said. Next minute, Brian’s coming down the corridor coming in to the office, we hadn’t even met really. He said, “Oh, you know, we’re going to Washington?” I said, “Oh, really?” He said “Yes, I’ll see you in the morning. We’re leaving tomorrow morning.” So, we turn up at Manchester Airport and I go and get the papers. And I open the papers, and the headline in the Guardian, I’m making it up, but it was something like, “Alexander Haig hearings now expected to be damp squib.” I handed this over to Brian. And I remember him saying, “Don’t worry, old boy. Never abort a story at the airport.” And that was very much the atmosphere there.

And there were a lot of extremely interesting, able people. I mean, Michael Gillard. Laurie Flynn was another very interesting man who’d done a lot in his life, and of course did the British Steel case. And there was an example, I think, of a golden page in the World in Action story, but also a golden page in the Granada story. Because there was a man, Laurie, who had got these papers and who knew who the source was. And obviously the injunction came down that he had to reveal his source, and the company stood behind him. And at great risk, too. They were amazing like that. There was a ballsiness there.

…….

There was a camaraderie there, as I say. It was tough for women. It was probably a little too prone to its own mythology. It certainly was prone to a bit of infighting. Much less than there had been in the 70s, I think, but it still was. And I’m sure I was as bad as the next person. But there was, as I said earlier, a great esprit de corps. A great sense of camaraderie. To be with John Ware on a story, or Ed Vulliamy of course was there, or Mike Beckham. Simon Berthon. To be in tight spots, in difficult places, and feel that your back was covered by the producer you were working with. Or conversely, when I became a producer, the researcher you were working with. And you’d be backed by your editor, and your company. So, for all the Hollywood-on-the-Irwell fantasies of it all, there was a core of real integrity and accomplishment.

And I remember it, like you do with people that you were young with once, they’re always young in your mind. I remember them all with fondness. I’m sure I was a pain in the arse, and I’m sure I was certainly very insecure. I was a young man growing up. I had an old World in Action team list. And I looked at it, with all the phone numbers in it. It gave me a warm feeling that never leaves you. That sense of being marked by that programme, marked by that company. And I owe it just a boundless debt, and all the people that I worked with there.

Paul Greengrass on the crew he worked with on World in Action

And then of course the best, George Jesse Turner and Phil Taylor were always shooting wherever you went. It’d be sometimes Alan Bale on sound. Phil Taylor. And we went to many, many places around the world. God, I remember being in Beirut with George Jesse Turner in ‘82, it must’ve been. With George Jesse Turner, Simon Berthon was producing. I was a researcher, George and Alan Bale, and it was a proper war zone. You know, we were in west Beirut. The Israeli army was just on the other side of the airport, and it was dangerous as fuck. And I remember very early on, probably the first day, we went to get our passes at a PLO building. And I was again, very young, and I’d never been. I worked quite a bit in Northern Ireland, but it was my first proper war zone. And all of a sudden there was an Israeli air attack and the whole place went bananas. everybody started running all over. We were in a sort of, from memory, like a hallway with a staircase down and up. And George had his hands in the day bag, changing film. In those day bags that you used to… and suddenly you heard all the noise and this sort of unbelievable pressure when these jets come in. Everybody was running around. I jumped down the stairs and I was absolutely, fuck me, you think you’re inside the PLO. Anyway, there was a tremendous amount of banging what went on for about five minutes and then it all seemed to be over. It didn’t seem to last very long, five minutes maybe. There’d obviously been an air strike nearby. Anyway, I came up. I’ll never forget it, I pissed myself! So my jeans were wet. Very heroic, it was. And George was still there with his hands in the day bag, with Alan Bale next to him. George said, “Where did you go?” I said, “I fucking jumped down the stairs.” And I remember Alan Bale saying, “Oh, no, don’t do that.” He said, “Listen, don’t worry. The only time to get worried is when you see us running.”

…….

I remember the first time I started directing and producing, as they called it. And of course, you’ve been the bag carrier, the researcher for so many years. And obviously, you’re integral to the process. But you can sit next to somebody driving and think you can drive. It’s wholly different when you’re in the driver’s seat. And I can’t even remember what my first programme was that I actually made myself. But anyway, I remember a couple of things about it. I remember that first day of shooting, and it was like an interview, I think. And I remember George saying to me, “So where do you want this?” And I remember feeling utterly panicked. “Oh my God! What do I do? What do I do?” Inside. You’re literally in brain freeze. And George being so nice and saying, “Look. Just look for the depth. There’s a nice corner. We’ll shoot towards that.” And slowly but surely like a jackdaw you pick up the tips. Shoot towards the light. Back on a long lens. All the basic language of filmmaking, he would impart to me as a young man with great generosity.

We were in the Philippines, we were shooting. We were doing a thing about following Cory Aquino, when she took on Marcos in the revolution. And we were with some soldiers from the army. It was hilly country. And I wanted them to walk across this hill. So we got this nice shot of them silhouetted. And for some reason I couldn’t work out, the commander of this little platoon was very, very unhappy about it. And I said, “I don’t understand what’s the problem.” George turned to me and said, “It might be a very nice shot, but let’s face it, which soldier would walk against the sunlight on the ridge of a hill?” Brilliant!

Jim Grant

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly , 12 May 2020

So let’s start about how you came to join Granada.

Well, for so many of these answers, it’s important to remember it was a long time ago. My first day of work was September 12, 1977, which was so different in every imaginable way, especially for young people. I mean, we’re talking here in 2020 and the landscape in 1977 for a young person was unrecognisable compared to how it is today. So any modern listener listening to this is going to think this was completely weird, but I was interested in the theatre. I just loved entertainment.  I loved the idea of putting on a show, that collaboration, that sort of intense relationship with other creative people. I’d always been exhilarated by that. So, I knew there was no question in my mind, I wanted to work in the field of entertainment. 

Theatre seemed, to me, to be, although it was my first love really, my brief exposure to it was so insecure, so badly paid, that you couldn’t really see calling it a career. It was much more of a vocation, I suppose. Whereas it seemed to me, television was an infrastructure that required backstage people like me. That there was a legitimate, organic career for me in television, so I wanted to apply. 

I was a student and at that point, Granada was like many other corporations where, for some reason, they had decided they would only employ graduates for whatever role, practically. And again, talking to some people now, it’s impossible to remember. I mean, I was a fairly poor student in terms of being lazy and having fun and doing other things. So, I was not a serious academic and I graduated with a 2.2, same as practically everybody. But so few people went to university back then. Demographically, I think it was only about 15% of the population. Heavily white, heavily middle-class. And given the very narrow tip of that pyramid, even an undistinguished student like me was absolutely utterly guaranteed a job. And that’s something that people these days, won’t understand, but it was absolutely true. It was virtually impossible not to get a job, and back then people would do MAs and PhDs and stuff purely just to postpone getting a job, postpone the inevitable. So there was never any insecurity. Basically, you graduated and you picked your job. 

And I remember in that July of 1977, I graduated. Hadn’t done anything about it at all. I was watching Wimbledon. It was the year Virginia Wade won. And I remember watching her win her semi-final, on a black and white rented television and thinking, “Oh god, I suppose I better get a job.” So I looked around. We had a two-day-old copy of The Guardian. Monday’s Guardian, I think, was the Media Guardian. So there was the jobs in the back and one of the jobs was for a trainee assistant transmission controller at Granada Television. And I really didn’t obviously know the specifics of the job, but there was something about it that just communicated to me that this is a job I could do. This is a job I would enjoy and thrive in. Because it sounded, without giving away any details really, it sounded like an operational job that was heavily about crisis management, when things are going wrong. And I figured I could do that. So, I went to the interview, and honestly, this is not so much about me, but just about the times really. I just thought, “Obviously they’re going to offer me this job,” and they did. 

And so, I started in September 1977, which was, looking back on it a really interesting time for Britain as a whole, and for television, and for Granada in particular, because when I got there, 1977 was approaching the end of the post-war consensus. We were heading for Thatcher in the spring of 1979, about a year and a half later. The whole country was changing, in the sense that Granada’s reputation had been this colossus of particularly documentary. I mean, I was aware of Coronation Street obviously, but apart from that, not particularly aware of Granada drama at that point, but very much aware of World in Action and the documentary strand, the documentary ethos really, that is embodied. And I think in any history of television or British culture, you got to say that World in Action, in that first 15 years, was a huge thing, a brave thing, a lot of the time. So, I was very happy to be associated with the company. 

I thought it was a great company, but I was aware that there was this sort of slight shtick they had about the regions talking truth to London. And it always struck me that that was on the way out when I joined. I was very aware of joining something that was changing, moving away from the past. That Manchester talking truth to London thing, was starting… it was very 50s and it dissipated in the 60s. And it was on the way out in the 70s. The idea that Britain was so regionally divided, but it was still very true actually in Manchester in the late 70s. It was remarkably Victorian. It was really still a 19th century city. And the people I met were, without slagging off Mancunians in particular, because everybody was the same, my granny in Yorkshire was the same, everybody was the same. It was… they were intensely regional, intensely nervous about anything else. I mean, I would talk to Mancunians in the late 70s and they would regard a trip to London with the same kind of trepidation and theatre almost that I would regard a trip to Moscow, somewhere very far away, very alien, and where you were likely to screw up and do something wrong and get in trouble. Manchester was way behind the times. 

And one of the huge enjoyments for me was, in the time that I was working in Manchester, the city just accelerated like a hundred years into the future almost on a day-to-day basis. It was quite amazing. I mean, in 1977, as I recall, you couldn’t buy a bottle of wine in Manchester and that may be at Yates’s Wine Lodge. If you are an alcoholic, you’d get some syrupy stuff from them, but in terms of what you would call cosmopolitan sophistication, it just wasn’t happening, originally. But it really accelerated. And really one of the most exhilarating progressions that I’ve ever seen in the city with all kinds of random facts is chipping in. But when I left in 1995, Manchester was unrecognisable. Completely different in 18 years.

You ought to see it now.

Yes. Well, I go back occasionally on book tours and yes, it’s amazing. Economists say count the number of cranes on the horizon to judge the economic progress, and there’s always a lot of stuff going on.

Yes. Yes. Okay. So, you had the interview. Was there anything about the interview? Was it a fairly ordinary interview or did you have a board with half a dozen people interviewing?

Yes, it was a formal board with Bob Connell. His name was, what they call the head of personnel back then. And the guy that would be my manager, David Black, head of presentation. Joe Rigby, head of programme planning, who had been head of presentation previously and had a finger in that pie. So it was a fairly formal examination, but I figured that I could spot the questions coming. But the one question that I really remember was, do I have any objection to joining a union? Because it was a closed shop, and that would be required. I was a little surprised at that question because I thought, “What, other people would object to joining a union?” And then the other thing I remember at the end, and this was something that… just a sort of naivety of youth, I suppose, at the end they said, “Is there anything you would like to ask us?” And I said, “No, I think I’m good.” And they said, “Don’t you want to know what you’re going get paid?” And I’ve just assumed it would be a salary like anything else. I said, “Yes, okay. How much will I get paid?” And they told me. I thought, “Fuck, yes, I really want this job!” Because it was a very profitable business. It was a very effective union by then. And the workers got their fair share. And I would start low on a trainee salary, but then you would get annual increments and this and that and promotions and so on. And I remember thinking, “I could earn £100 a week here!” And to me, back then, that was it. A hundred pounds a week was everything that you could ever dream of. And the established guys, the senior guys that I immediately met, who, because they were short staffed, which is why me and another guy were getting recruited, they we’re working a lot of overtime and they were making a fortune. I mean, just by what had been my standards, I just thought it was an amazing summer. At that point I thought, “This could be very cool. It’s a job that I would like to do, in an interesting environment. And I get paid a fortune. What’s not to like?”

So tell me what the job entailed as an assistant transmission controller.

Well, again, that’s rooted in the past, the old system. I mean, don’t forget obviously this was way before any kind of computerisation or automation. It was way before any kind of technological assistance. I mean, there were still typing pools. Telex was the new thing that people were depending on for emergency contacts and so on. 

The structure of ITV back then was, any one day of the week, because London had two companies – Thames during the week and London Weekend from Friday night through Sunday night – there were 15 companies in total, therefore, but 14 on the air at any one time, of which five were majors and 10 were minor companies. And the majors had a certain amount of sway, but the minors had a voice. And so you had to assemble your day’s transmission from your own stuff, the network contributions, commercials, trailers, promotions, all kinds of things. And that was the job of the transmission control team. There were two of them, a controller and assistant. It was a sort of editorial, operational type of job where whatever the viewer at home was watching on the screen, we were putting it there at the correct time and the correct sequence with no errors and no gaps, hopefully. 

And the most routine aspect of the job was making sure the commercials were transmitted correctly, because obviously that’s where the revenue came from, so that was super important. And you had to make sure it was the right commercial, in the right commercial break, for its intended duration. If somebody paid for a 30-second slot, they were not happy if they were cut off at 28 seconds or whatever. So it was a question of patching together the day’s transmission. It had to be correct, it had to look seamless on the air, but it was like a swan. It looked good on the screen, but we were paddling like crazy below the surface to keep it all going. Some days were fairly routine. I once worked out that there were 15,000 critical pieces of information in a day’s transmission schedule. They all had to be correct. It was intensive work, but some days ran okay. But when we really made our money was in the panics and the crises, which were constant in those early days. I would say the first five, even say seven or eight years, were technologically very unsophisticated. There were constant breakdowns of equipment, either locally in Manchester or elsewhere on the network, that had to be covered. 

There were news emergencies that had to be catered to, and those were decided by us, basically on a regional basis. A typical example would be, for instance, late at night, say 10:30 at night, 11 o’clock or something like that, there would be a news flash offered by ITN about, let’s say, an IRA atrocity in Northern Ireland. And typically, you would find Southern Television, Anglia, somebody like that would not be interested, not particularly germane to their demographic. Whereas Granada, obviously with Liverpool in particular, and Manchester had a huge Irish contingent and a lot of Irish interests. And so we would naturally want to use that newsflash because our audience needed to know it. So, at 10 or 11 at night, we’d be quickly cobbling together a news bulletin or something like that. It wasn’t done by ITN because it wasn’t being taken by the network as a whole. We would do it for our viewers. 

The apogee of all of that was probably spring of 1982 with the Falklands War, which is sort of one bookend to the whole process. Really, the Falklands War was two or three months of crazy, chaotic, seat-of-the-pants transmission, where the schedule was perpetually disrupted and we had constant news flashes and stuff like that. And in the control room where – it was what you can imagine as a control room, 30 or so television screens, huge mixing desk, and about, I think there were nine telephones on the desk and they would ring all day long during that period, I mean, all nine phone ringing constantly. And I do remember one night, waking up in the night, in a cold sweat with phones ringing in my head. That was the closest I ever got to stress in that job. But then, nine years later there was the first Gulf War in 1991. And that was the other bookend, that was completely pre-packaged. It was ITN, basically packaging CNN coverage in a way that was like an entertainment product. It was just delivered to us. We had nothing to do with it. And so that really was an illustration of how the job became less forensic, less chaotic, more organised, more network based, more organised by somebody else. And so the particular thrill and excitement in our job tailed off. The things that we were good at were less and less required. And we became a much more… it became very routine. When things work well, there’s no interest in it. And I’d left by the time Princess Diana died, for instance, and well before 9/11 happened, for instance, but shamefully, I do remember on both of those occasions thinking, “Damn, I wish I was still working at Granada,” because those would have been just amazing days that we had, it was a tragic thing, but we had more professional satisfaction when things were truly horrible elsewhere. It was just exhilarating doing the news like that.

Yes. I suppose in a way, for that sort of current affairs, there’s dramatic moments where what really got our adrenaline going and made it worthwhile.

Yes, absolutely. It was a job where you sort of sadly hoped that something bad would happen that day, because that’s… because of the structure, big events were few and far between. I remember I started out as a trainee assistant, as we said. And when I finished my training, I was an assistant, and then I got promoted to transmission controller when one of the existing TCs left. And not long afterwards, my first big deal was Charles and Diana’s wedding, which I suppose looking back, you regard it as rather as a silly thing to cover in that… with that kind of passion and intensity. But, at the time, we were totally aware of the viewers wanting to see this ceremony. And I remember being super on-edge because I was quite new in the transmission controller job and the stakes were very high. You know, if we screwed this up, the viewer would never forgive ITV. And we nearly did screw it up. I mean, there was a… by this point, we had a sort of crude satellite situation at Granada where we could pick up satellite feeds. And I remember preparing for that programme, saying to the engineers in the room next to me, “Make sure I have the BBC feed, if I need it.” And they say, “Well, you can’t do that!” I couldn’t… and I said, “Look. Just do it. Put it on. Get it on a satellite. Put it on an input and I’ll take responsibility,” because I wanted every backup I could get. And, absolutely, we did. We’d lost about 15 or 20 seconds of coverage. ITV’s outside broadcast truck just went dead for about 20 seconds. And I used the BBC’s feed, and I don’t think anybody ever noticed that. BBC certainly didn’t know it at the time. I never told anybody. I didn’t want to have the argument, but I just used the BBC to cover the gap. It was that important, that kind of thinking, you know? 

Before I got promoted, while I was still an assistant, albeit experienced by a couple of years, I remember a bank holiday Monday, which was a lovely feeling in transmission, actually. There was a skeleton staff in the station, and bank holidays, Christmas Day, and all that kind of stuff were a lovely feeling at work. So, it’s a bank holiday Monday. Snooker final was on the BBC, which we were sort of watching from the Crucible. And my controller went out for a long, boozy lunch, probably four hours, which was a perfectly fine, routine stuff on a bank holiday. No problem. So, I stayed there on my own. And we were showing Coronation Street and ITN called on the red phone in a panic because the SAS were about to storm the embassy, you know, for that embassy siege. And they wanted to break into Coronation Street for the coverage. And I was there on my own. The controller was in the pub. I thought, “What am I going to do?” If you disrupt the sequence of Coronation Street that is for the rest of history. You’re going to have to be playing catch-up. So, I said “No. As soon as the end credits stop, I will come to you, but I’m not cutting into the programming.” And so they reluctantly accepted that. So, as soon as the story finished, and as soon as those trumpets started up for the theme tune at the end of Coronation Street, I had the announcer quickly introduce ITN and off we went. And at that exact moment, the SAS stormed the embassy. And I figured out afterwards they were watching the television off-air. They wanted to be live on television. Because there was no way that they could have timed it that way without watching it. So, as soon as we cut to the scene, the action started and it lasted about 35 minutes, I believe. In the trivial Guinness Book of Records type of thing, I believe it’s the longest newsflash in UK television history. And so I did all of that and then we got back on schedule with the rest of the programmes and then the TC came back from the pub and said, “Everything all right?” I said, “Yes. I’m not doing too bad.”

Would you have had any kind of inquiry from on top after that? Would Plowright have wanted to know what had happened? 

Yes. Every shift, we completed a log. It was called the log, and any mistakes, errors, or departures from the schedule, we would explain in writing. And so, generally speaking, the explanation was just read and accepted. Only in a tiny minority of cases would there be a post-mortem, which was partly Plowright and that generation of management, they stuck to what they said in as much as in order to stop too many cooks spoiling the broth. The formal situation was that the transmission controller had absolute authority on that day. Plowright and everybody could plan and dream about tomorrow and such, and the future, but on the day, it was like the transmission controller was the captain of the ship, and the admiral could butt out. And so, having said that, having set that up as their system, they couldn’t really complain about it afterwards, unless there was an egregious error. 

I only really remember one unpleasantness, which is when… in due course, we’d started doing a lunchtime news bulletin that was a formal thing that was… it was a sort of thing that would normally be done in Studio 2 by the Granada Reports crew or something like that. But because it was only like a five-minute bulletin at lunchtime, it wasn’t worth scheduling anybody else to do it. So, that was a sort of extra job that got piled on transmission control because we were there all the time anyway. And so, we started doing this five-minute lunchtime bulletin, scripted by journalists and supervised by journalists, but we were, effectively, the production studio for it. And one night, we had one of these news emergencies about the IRA, actually, by coincidence. And I put together like a three-minute news report on it, using that lunchtime bumpers, you know, the intro and the outro, and making it look like an official Granada news bulletin. And I was hauled on the carpet for that for stepping on the news department’s toes. And I said, “Fine. You stay at work until 1am and you can do it. Be my guest. But if you want to go home at six, then you’ve got to leave it to us.” And it was all settled amicably. But that was more about a turf dispute rather than an error.

Yes, yes. But I remember the ledger, and I remember this always being warned we must never go to black. If the screen goes to black, there’s trouble. I think only once that I worked in a programme that went to black and there was a big inquest.

Yes, going to black. I mean, there were two minor errors. One was putting a BTR clock on the air. One was putting colour bars on the air. But going to black, yes. That was the thing because that mystifies the viewer. The viewer doesn’t know what’s going on because is the TV broken? But they just don’t know what’s going on. So that was the thing to avoid. I only saw it happen once, really, where… which was pretty late on in my career… where we got a new machine for the commercials, which was not digital. It was still tape, but it was this massively automated thing where it was a bit like, you know, where you put your shilling in and get a Snickers bar out of the selection. It was like this immense library of takes that would automatically load for the commercials. I can’t remember what it’s called now. I know it was made by Sony, but it was the first of the real new generation things that we had. And we were worried because there was no backup for it. It was a system that had no backup. And the management said, “Don’t worry about it. It’ll be all right. It’s very reliable.” And, of course, one commercial break, it wasn’t. It just failed completely. And with no backup, we had three minutes, 40 seconds of black, instead of a commercial break.

Oh, that’s a long black, that.

Yes, that felt like a year.

Yes. It would, yes. So, you must have worked really long hours?

Yes, we did. I mean, we worked… if we were properly staffed five and five – you know, five pairs of people – if we were properly staffed, it was a relatively okay, sort of around about a 37-hour week, and antisocial hours of course, but not too bad. And we had, what they called notional weekends, so that your weekend might be Tuesday and Wednesday, or something like that. And if it was running normally for the staff, it was delightful because you worked at a variety of times and days during the week and therefore, you’re at home for the variety. You know, when my daughter was little, I would take her to school. I was the only father that ever showed up at school with a kid and all that kind of thing. It was a really nice mixture. But the problem was that, most of the time, we were not fully staffed. Most of the time, we were short staffed for one reason or another. And therefore working endless overtime, that… you know, I was young, I was energetic, and I was into the job. I didn’t particularly mind it, but it was crippling, really, to any kind of family or social life. I mean, I remember when my wife was pregnant, I worked 60 consecutive days, and then I had a day off, and then I worked 30 consecutive days. So, 90 days out of 91. And that was typical for long periods of that job. It became a strange thing. 

We saw more of the person sitting next to us than we saw of our families. It was a strange thing. And it was, frankly, enjoyable in a lot of ways when you felt wanted and needed and crucial. It felt good. It felt like… and again, total naivety on my part. You know, I’m from a generation that subconsciously expected to get a job and work there the rest of your life, unless you wanted to change. But the typical expectation you would be there all your life. And so, I thought… everybody thought… we were showing commitment, we were showing loyalty. It would be in some way reciprocated, which it was in minor ways, early on. I mean, they were never very generous about the pay disputes and so on. But in a sense, again, that was a very 1950s formalised situation. It was, in and of itself, an adversarial situation and we treated it adversarially. But, in terms of the non-financial type of recognition, we were valued, we were well-treated. 

The old days were great at Granada, especially because, as I said earlier, Granada had been this brave documentary producer. But I sensed when I got there that they were getting a little weary of that, a little scared of it. The British Steel episode, which I’m certain the archive covers extensively, have been… you know, that was looking at it at this remove… you know, it’s just a little piece of history, but at the time it was truly scary. It was before I got there, but it was a truly scary thing. You know, the weight of government against you, and the Bernsteins that could have been personally bankrupted. It was super high stakes, super brave. But when I got there, there was the slight sense that they were getting tired and a little scared of the exposure. And so, what they were going to do was concentrate on drama. 

So, when I got there, they had just made Hard Times by Charles Dickens, with Patrick Allen as Gradgrind. And that was the first of a magnificent run of drama production. It was as if they were pivoting towards drama. The Patrick Allen thing gave us a nightmare because back then there was a rule that you could not use a commercial if one of the actors from the surrounding programme was doing the voiceover. And, Patrick Allen, with that dark brown voice of his, he did practically all the commercials. And so, there was always tremendous artist clashes with the commercials during that show. I remember that very well.

And the production assistants always had to check, didn’t they, that any… that there was no clash with any of the commercials, in terms of what the programme was about or who was in it.

Yes. The production assistant wouldn’t know what commercials were scheduled. The programme was made and then the commercials are sold by the sales force, and so it was our department’s job to check for those clashes. And the assistant in the morning would preview commercials for the day because, back then, there were no commercials in the morning. It opened up and went straight to schools’ or kids’ programming for about two and a half hours. And so, during that time with no commercials to actually run, we would check ahead the commercials booked for the rest of the day against the TV Times. I mean, we would have the copy of the TV Times with the cast list, and we would be expected to recognise the voice on the commercial and check the cast list. So, yes. I mean, there were a lot of regulatory things like that, including things that shaded outside of regulation much more toward a sense of taste, which we had to look at as well. You know, in the evening news, let’s say News at 10, if the first half – and we had no idea what was coming up on News at 10 – later, they would give us a bare-bones outline of what they were planning to cover, but early on, we had no idea of what was coming up. And so, let’s say in the first half of News at 10, there was a report on famine from Ethiopia or something like that, we would then look ahead, and if there was a Fray Bentos meat pie commercial in the centre break, we would have to think about the taste aspect. Is it tasteful to show glorious, succulent food. You know how food is photographed in commercials. Is it tasteful to show that directly after a report of starving people? And so, we would take out that commercial just as a… on our own initiative. And, in a way, Fray Bentos themselves would have thanked us for that because it would have created a slightly negative image, subliminally, possibly, for Fray Bentos, and so on. So, there were hundreds and hundreds of intricate regulations like that. And we were expected to deal with it, get it right. And if we got it wrong, we were asked questions about it.

Yes. So, you’ve progressed from being the trainee, becoming assistant, and then transmission controller.

Yes, when I was about 26, which was very young. It was like 10 years younger than anybody who had been before. But it was made for me, that job. The old style of that job, the first half of it, that, I was made for that. I could deal with accuracy, I could deal with routine, but I could also deal with very fast coping with chaos and crisis. So, yes, for a period of a few years, that was the perfect job for me, yes. 

But being the very creative person that you are, did you ever want to become a director or researcher?

Yes, I never really thought about it, to be honest. And I never really had that ambition. I was very satisfied doing what I was doing and kind of getting the creativity second-hand from other people, from my friends who would be… because presentation, the central control room where we worked, was literally central, you know. This was where everything went onto the air, so that we would be in constant contact with all different kinds of people. And so, I knew the directors, I knew the researchers, and the writers, and the promotion people, and other really what you might call… it was as if to the left of me were the engineers with the nylon shirts and the pens in the pocket, and on the right of me were the airy-fairy, creative types. And I was right in the middle. And I loved the exposure to both sides, but I never really felt the lack of not doing their jobs.

So, do you want to talk about any of the people you worked with at the time?

Yes. Looking back on it, the abiding memories have few of them that were really… you know, like I said, I went to Granada knowing that it was somewhat of a cultural colossus in the British landscape. But there were very few people working there, especially vertically. I mean, like I said, I walked in there as a new trainee, and my boss was David Black, head of presentation. And his boss was Joyce Wooller, who had a seat on the board, reporting to the board chairman who I think, at that point, was Cecil Bernstein, maybe Sydney, maybe. Maybe David Plowright was effectively the top guy, but that… I walked in as a trainee assistant, and there were only two layers of people between me and the board: two individuals, David Black and Joyce Wooller, and then it was the board. And laterally as well. There weren’t that many people there. And so, you got to know everybody. I mean, I remember in ‘79 or ‘80, either before or after the strike. Again, I was an assistant. I was nobody at all. I was walking down the corridor and saw Mike Scott, who was director of programming and was, at that point, really up to his eyes with Brideshead Revisited. And, as an assistant transmission control, somehow, I felt and he felt it was appropriate to have a conversation in the corridor. And I said, “Hey, Mike. How’s Brideshead?” And he said, “Every frame a Rembrandt.” And, looking back on it, I thought, “How extraordinary is that conversation?” 

But in the corporate world today, the span from the button to the top is so huge that you wouldn’t have that conversation. You wouldn’t expect it. But then? Yes! You know, it’s such a horrible cliché to say it was a big family and so on. And there was certainly a lot of bitterness about pay and conditions and so on, but it was fundamentally a family. It was the smallest number of people that… working on some great stuff, and well before it all went wrong, and well before all the layers and layers and layers of management that came in later. It was very spare, very pared down. And it felt that that enhanced the creativity. It felt people were really united, working towards a common goal. And it’s easy to over-romanticise that, but I would say, probably it’s true that everybody was valued and everybody was, therefore, committed.

And, in particular, when you compare that to the way television operates these days, where you have to go through a lengthy commissioning process, and you have to produce a pilot before the pilot even gets to stage one of being considered…

Yes. I mean, I suffer from that all the time now in this, in my current situation, where I’ve been involved with film and television as a content provider for 20 plus years, and actually, 99.99% of it is just endless bullshit talking, and very little ever happens. And it was, of course, exactly the opposite back then. Programmes were made as a right. And there was a worry that it… the network politics as a whole, there was worry that the minor companies would get squeezed out. And so, there was a formal process whereby a minor company could make a programme and designate it Category A, which meant that the rest of the network was obliged to carry it, whether they wanted to or not, whether they believed in it or liked it or not. They had to carry it. And that was a sort of… I liked that, to be honest. It was a very democratic process. And it also threw up the golden fleeces of entertainment, the thing you don’t predict, the thing you don’t expect. And, in a way, it really taught me that you can never predict in show business. You never know what’s going to work or not. 

Because I do remember this scandal really; people talking about it in the most disparaging way, that it got screwed over category A, because Tyne Tees was forcing this awful show on them that they were going to have to run network peak time that would undoubtedly be a total disaster. And everybody was very miserable and very down on the category A process as a result. But that programme was Boys From the Blackstuff. No, sorry, what am I talking about? It was the north east one with Jimmy Nail and all of that. It was the one where unemployed workers from the north east have to go to Germany to get a job.

Auf Wiedersehen, Pet.

That’s it, that was what it was. Which turned out to be a huge hit. Exactly the kind of upscale suburban viewers that Thames and Granada were worried about hating it, loved it. They clasped that show to their bosom. So that really taught me you never know, you can never predict what’s going to work and what’s not going to work. And I was very glad about category A because that forced that on the air that it would not have happened otherwise.

Yes. You got involved with the trade union; do you want to talk about ACTT and the shop committee?

Yes, like I say, so many things by coincidence from the beginning of my career to the end and were a progression. And those 18 years were really an arc for the union. It started out when I joined, it was absolutely all powerful. It was an old-fashioned traditional trade union, a fascinating thing actually, because fundamentally the structure and the tactics and the context in which it worked was entirely an old-fashioned 1950s trade union, except the people in it were much more of a kind of professional association type of person. It was a very difficult balance actually, because the members were obviously either very creative and intelligent or very engineering, intelligent, fundamentally middle-class people living middle-class lives, on a similar pay scale to any other professional that might be their neighbours. Back then a camera operator was earning the same as any solid middle-class person. It was a solid, middle-class job. But they were in the trade union. And so you have these sort of suburban, middle-class people, who would have been at home in like the BMA or some professional trade organisation or something, but they were in a mechanism that was fundamentally the same as British Leyland. But it was very effective, we were well-paid. 

Of course, when I started in the late 70s, don’t forget that was a period of incredibly high inflation. And from Granada’s point of view, of course, inflation did not matter because they could adjust their rate cards day by day if they wanted to. In other words, their revenue could go up as much as they wanted, but our salaries were fixed apart from the annual pay negotiation. And that became very, very bitter because they had a kind of knee-jerk sort of reflex about being combative about it. Even though there was money sloshing around, the profits were very high, they were doing really well, they sort of played a role – they had to be the tough employer, we had to be the tough trade union. It was a bit theatrical to be honest, but it was played out in tremendous detail. 

Of course, against the background of that high inflation, we were looking for double digit pay rises every year, sometimes 20 or more percent. I remember my first year I came as a trainee. I finished that training so, that was extra pay. Then I passed my one-year anniversary, that was extra pay. Then we got our annual settlement that year, and my pay went up 45 per cent in that one year. And then the next year we put in a pay claim for like 30 percent because of inflation. And it continued like that.

But a really serious formal situation, union versus management, and literally came to a head for me in a super personal way. As a metaphor, in 1979, the annual negotiations were going really badly and the ITN shop in London got into a particularly advanced situation and walked out. And so, the ITN content was going to be provided by non-union labour. And the first show that contained in the non-union labour was one particular day, the one o’clock news from ITN. And we knew this of course and ACTT’s position was to support NUJ and black the non-union content. And so at 1pm on that particular day, I was at the controls. And as the assistant sitting next to the controller and my fingers were on the fader. And on the one hand, on my left shoulder, I had Andrew Quinn ordering me to take the feed at the top of the hour. On my right shoulder, I had Malcolm Foster, the ACTT shop steward ordering me not to take the feed at the top of the hour. And my hand was on the fader, the clock ticked to the top of the hour and I went to black. I did not take it. I obeyed the union. And so Andrew Quinn said, “You’re fired, leave the building.” So technically I was fired from Granada twice, that was the first time. And at that point, 13:00 hours, I was fired, left the building and we were all locked out. We were all thrown out, all locked out. I mean, people say on strike, but technically it was a lockout.

It was a lockout, yes.

For 11 weeks in 1979. And somebody said to me recently, I don’t know whether it’s true or not, somebody said to me recently, that was the last strike that our union won because we did win it. We came back with a 25% pay rise, immediately full restitution of missed wages, a promise of another 25% the next year and all that kind of thing. So yes, the union situation was super formal, and the committee meetings were all run to Robert’s rules of order, super formal, proper minutes, all of that kind of thing. I was used to that culture from having grown up in Birmingham, but I did love the north west flavour on it. Like I say, it was the old days in Manchester back then. You would have people in brass bands, and you’ve got this very particular Mancunian slant on labour relations, which was subtly different than the Midlands, but fundamentally the same thing. So, I was totally at home with it. 

And then I got involved, I was nominated to the union committee, and I became a deputy shop steward, and then eventually shop steward at the end. It was all powerful at the beginning. And then, over 18 years, it suffered such major assaults that it was the end of it. My last two and a half years as shop steward were fun in a way, we won, or I won constant little skirmishes and battles, while always being totally aware I was losing the war. It was a very odd feeling. But I don’t apologise for any of it. It was a very, very profitable and lucrative business, and it purported to have certain values, and those values, in my opinion, should have included a fair share for the workers. Generally speaking, that’s what we got. We got a fair share and we got treated well in the end. In the middle years, it worked like it should. 

There were excesses; there were crazy excesses, and that was kind of the problem that you would have. There were many things that stick in my mind. For instance, making Brideshead Revisited for instance. That was a huge expensive show to make. And at one point there were crucial scenes on an ocean liner. So what they did was they… a lot of the interiors, for instance, the dining room, they did at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool with the stage manager, standing behind the camera, going like this to indicate the movement of the boat, and all the actors had to go in like that. But the shipboard scenes were done on the QE2 to New York and back. In other words, it was about nine days of location shooting. And the ETU, the electrician’s union, put in a hardship claim because they were going to be away from home on a ship for nine days. And so they were paid hardship money. 

To a certain extent… and then, of course, there was around about… in the very early 80s I think there was a car ferry capsized in the English Channel, the Free Enterprise. 

Yes. Free Enterprise. Yes.

Yes. And that was a major news story to cover. And of course it dragged on for several days in terms of the actual crisis coverage. And I remember the videotape editors working in London, were on call so much, they were getting just fantastic rates of overtime for it. We stuck out a bit like a sore thumb, and actually wrongly, they were working by the white book, they were claiming what they were owed. Some of them even forwent claiming some of it, because it was getting out of control, but still we ended up with a really bad reputation for it. 

And then what happened was Channel 4 started, which was somewhat under the ITV umbrella, somewhat detached. It was the first of the real third party issues that came along because Channel 4 was not us directly, it was not under our direct control, but it was associated with us and we had to deal with it. And so we did, which doubled up on the overtime because now we had two channels to run. So we were working like crazy. 

And in the bowels of the white book, which was the ACTT agreement, really, if you read that agreement objectively, you see it as it was about not being exploited in terms of excessive hours. Really that’s what that agreement was about. Getting adequate breaks, not too long shifts and so on. So there were lots of rules that were basically incentives to management to be efficient, in other words, do the job and get the crew out of there. That was what the white book was trying to ensure. And because with Channel 4 being a third party, not under our control, we were still being paid through the white book for something that the management could not control. 

And I remember one particular thing… I mean, first of all, the basic rule for getting paid was if you worked into a new hour, even by a very short time, seconds, or minutes, you were paid for the whole hour. If you were working on a bank holiday, you were paid extra. If you were working overtime on a bank holiday, you were getting paid extra. And then there was this fantastic rule that I can remember, it was rule 10J that if you were working overtime on a bank holiday, and that over time was spontaneously extended, your rate of pay became some fantastic multiple. 

And I can remember in the 1980s, I was doing an evening shift on the Channel 4 transmission that was completely outside Granada’s control, obviously the content was Channel 4’s, and the programme overran by about 15 seconds. And it took me into a new hour and because I was doing overtime already on a bank holiday, I got paid for that one hour at the end, under rule 10J. And I got £1,000 to that one hour, in the 1980s. So I would argue against that being an abuse, they signed up on it. They agreed, that was their rule. But it wasn’t a good look in the sense, especially not when Thatcher was around. And it was beginning to brew right there. 

Thatcher came to television later than many other industries, obviously, but she got there in the end. And again, the flash point was a very… as I understand it, the story I heard was a very ironic and unfortunate flash point really, which was that there was an ITN interview with Thatcher at Downing Street. And back then the practice was that if you were going to film, do news, from a sensitive location like a hospital or somewhere like that, you would always send two electricians – one to do the regular work and one for emergency standby. Because if you were in a hospital and you blew something up and the ICU went down, that is not a good thing. So for a sensitive location, we would always have two electricians. And so, because Downing Street possibly was a sensitive location, they routinely sent two electricians. And Thatcher noticed the one standing around, doing nothing because nothing was going wrong, and she said “What’s he here for?” and so on. And anecdotally, according to people I’ve talked to that, that kind of set her off. 

And, of course, then in the background, there was the Murdoch issue, which was, I think, transparent, and I think we’re seeing it again now with the launch of Times Radio coming hot on the heels of another attack on the BBC, that was happening with Murdoch in the 80s. Murdoch was preparing for Sky and satellite broadcasting of his own. He needed to damage the existing set-up. And so, it’s possible to see, in my opinion, politically that after the mid-80s, really everything that happened was about damaging ITV. 

And the first sign of that was a completely unnecessary, arbitrary, stupid desire to do overnight broadcasting. In 1988, we started 24-hour broadcasts, which of course for our department, because we always had to be there, it was a major stress. Instead of closing down at one or two in the morning, we would have to cover 24 hours with the same number of people. And so we were in uproar about it. But the main point about night time broadcasting was there was no point in it. Nobody wanted it. The programmes were absolute junk, just filler. I mean, we would literally put Teletext on the air for an hour. It was called job finder. And we would just put the employment pages of Teletext on the air. And I remember it was worse than junk programming because there was no organic desire for it. It was purely a mechanism for shaking things up. And the thing of course it shook up most was the white book, because the white book was all about protecting people from excessive hours. And the protections against overnight work were draconian. And there was no way that ITV could do 24 hours with the white book. So it was really a question of, they wanted overnight broadcasting simply to attack the white book, not for any other reason. And it did, and that was the first nail in the coffin really. And then over the next five years, it just got worse and worse and worse, because then we got more and more third parties, because they introduced this mandate that you had to show a certain percentage of your production had to be done by independent contractors. So it was just one assault after the other. So eventually, it all fell apart in the sort of early to mid-90s.

I remember very vividly, it must’ve been about 1988 on the shop committee, we had the This Morning programme. And it was a programme which offered a lot of employment. It was going to be two or three hours a day, five days a week. I mean, that was a lot of television, and Malcolm Foster arguing, “We need to compromise on this. We want it, we need it.” And we allowed a lot of those rules to be broken. The overnight rule disappeared, because you would have been able to claim being in Liverpool. A lot of poor people had to get up at six o’clock in the morning and catch the bus from outside of Granada to go to Liverpool. And that seemed to me to be a bit of a watershed. 

Yes, exactly. It was a programme of one initiative after another, and the devil of it was that you could look at it like This Morning, which was good for Liverpool. It was good for ITV. It was good for everybody that worked on it. So, you can’t completely condemn it, but you were always aware that somewhere deep in the DNA of those initiatives, was a destructive purpose.

Do you want to talk a little bit about when you left Granada, and your subsequent career and how you got involved in writing?

Yes. By about 1993, early in 1993, which is when the Gerry Robinson and Charles Allen takeover really happened, they were getting super serious and super vindictive about the struggle for control, really. It was the old world versus the new world. The old world, where I started, had this assumption that, “Yes, we’re all in this together, we’ll thrash it all out, we’ll come to some kind of equitable agreement.” The bosses didn’t earn outrageous sums, the workers earned decent salaries. It was all good. Then we moved into the new world, where it was really an emotional component to it, where the management and the owners just found it utterly impertinent that ordinary people should demand a say or have a say. And there was this slogan that they promulgated around that time, which was ‘it’s our train set and we’ll play with it how we want’. And so, it was really a declaration of war.

And Malcolm Foster had been ACTT steward for forever, really. He retired. And meanwhile, by that point, ACTT had merged and there was a new, larger, media union called BECTU, and Foster went, and the word was put around that if anybody applied for the steward’s position, that they would be fired within a week on some pretext. And the aim was clearly to have a leaderless union, that would be victory for them, they’ve destroyed the union. So they put about this threat that nobody should apply to be shop steward. Nobody should stand for that position. Otherwise, they’ll be fired. And I was utterly aware that it was going to be a costly move to make, but I just thought “I can’t tolerate that bullshit.” And I’m a Brummie, if you pick a fight with me, I’m going to beat you. It’s just an instinctive thing. If you challenge me, I’ll take it on. So I thought, “Fuck it, I’m going to apply.” So I put my name on the nomination list, the only name. And I saw some manager afterward, who I knew from being deputy steward, and he said, “You’ll be gone in a week.” And I said, “We’ll see about that.” And of course I was elected unopposed, and I was shop steward for two years and three months. It was like 120 weeks rather than just one. 

And it really, it really went… me as shop steward went through two phases. At the beginning, I was formal about it in the sense that I was following what we had done in the past, and I was following what I considered to be a respect for acknowledgement of the rules of the game. And very quickly I discovered that this new management were not playing by any rules. They were literally lying and cheating. And in a way that was… it was a shock, you know. Maybe that seems naive now, but it really shocked me that they would get down and dirty like that. So I thought, “Right, if you want to see what down and dirty looks like, I’ll fucking show you.” And that was the most glorious part of me being steward, there was about a year and a half where I was running a completely underhanded war against them. I had a whole bunch of people, the cleaners, who were actually… who were by that point in our union. I got the cleaners, I organised them into SWAT teams, where as soon as management was out of the building in the evening, these women would search every office during their cleaning for anything that looked like a torn up memo in a wastebasket, I trained them to look under the lid of every photocopier, because it’s surprising how many times people leave the original in the photocopier by mistake. Then I developed that into I would have people steam open their mail. I got engineers to hack into their hard drives, which they realised after a while and they started to put locks on the keyboard. And so I had… you know, we were there all night, so I had these engineers unscrew the hard drive, take it home and copy it and then bring it back. So I knew everything. I knew what they were going to do before they did it. I had the drafts of their speeches. I had copies of their memos. Some of them are about me, which was hilarious, looking at somebody else’s secret opinion of yourself. And I had it down to a fine art. I thought, “If you want to fight in the gutter, then… you went to grammar school, I come from Birmingham, I’ll show you what the gutter is like.” And we, we did great for about a year and a half, just constantly stymied everything they wanted to do. Like I say, won every battle.

You don’t mind this going public?!

There was one initiative where they wanted to start charging people to pay to park at work.

Ah, yes, I remember that. 

Which was, I just thought, ludicrous in the circumstances. Shift work and so on and bad public transport. So we got a company-wide our position to that. I said, “I don’t care whether you’re one of my members or not. If you’re somebody else’s member or if you are temporary or whatever, join the campaign.” And we absolutely obliterated that. So we had a lot of successes in the short term, all the while aware that we were on this downward slope where it would inevitably end in disaster, which it did, eventually.

I mean, as a separate thing… I remember hearing at the time, doctors complaining that men never admit to feeling stressed or worried or anything like that. And I wanted to go on holiday, and I couldn’t get the leave because somebody else had it. And so I went to the doctor and I said, “Now I know that men are very reluctant to talk about their personal problems, but I’m terribly stressed.” So she signed me off for a week and I went to Spain on holiday. And when I got back from Spain, there was a message on my answering machine, like the third message. And it said, “You’re terminated. Your swipe card no longer works. Do not come back in.” And that was the end of it. And it left me… if you go back to how I felt at the beginning about the family feeling at Granada and the old fashioned generational thing where you expect to work one job all your life, and you’d expect to provide loyalty and receive loyalty, none of that had come true. And so I do remember saying to myself when I left, and it’s a line that made it into my first book, it says, “I’ve tried it their way. Now I’m going to try it my way.” And I do remember that as a watershed, I was never going to work for a company again, I was never going to have a boss. I was never going to be in that corporate situation again. I was going to work for myself, partly because I had to. That final stint as shop steward meant I was blacklisted effectively in the new ITV environment, which was fine because I didn’t want to work in it anyway. I thought it was just a miserable, downward spiral. So I knew I was going to do something for myself. And I thought I’ll give this a try. And my honest expectations at the beginning were it might work for a couple of years before I had to get another job, but happily, it kept onward.

Had you done any writing before the first book? 

No, I’ve never done any at all. And I think that people are surprised by that, but that’s the wrong thing to be described about, because if you put the whole history of writing in a computer and ask it to figure it out, it would say that the people that make it have two characteristics. It’s always a second phase career. You’ve always done something first that involved an audience. And you’ve got to understand that what you already know is no use to you, except in the very barest of bones. In other words, you’re there to serve an audience. And I think that’s what did me more good than anything from Granada is that none of the specific techniques were transferable because television is very different than reading. But the idea that it’s not about you, and I’m sure everybody that contributes to this learned the same lesson. It’s not about you. It’s about the audience. First, second, and third. And so that’s really what I took with me on the basis of, “I’ve tried it their way now I’ve tried it my way.”

And in terms of writing that first book, did you have a plot? Did you have the book worked out?

I should have said also that it shouldn’t surprise people that I’ve never written anything before, because most writers… I mean, a lot of writers, sure, from seven years old, they’ve got like exercise books and they’ll draw little compositions in or whatever. But fundamentally you don’t do anything. What you do is read. You read for the first half of your life, which I’d certainly done. And then you become a writer based on what you’ve read. And I used to get bizarre interviews in TV, where if we were trying to recruit a new assistant or something, the TCs would rotate that duty. And we would be on the interview panel. And you would say to people “What do you watch?” And a few people said would say, “Oh, I don’t watch television.” And you would think, “What the fuck? Why are you here?” And it’s the same thing with writing that if you haven’t read continuously and obsessively all your life, you’ll never be a writer. So the preparation is always about the reading. So I was ready to start when I was. 

So, I didn’t really have the book worked out at all, but I had one image in mind, which was previously, I bought a book about money laundering. And I’d only bought it because the jacket design was lovely, it had a regular jacket and there was a real dollar bill laminated into the book jacket. And I thought, “Wow, that’s cool.” So I bought the book and it was about money laundering, basically to do with the illegal narcotics trade in the US, and economically the figures were staggering. That so much money is spent on illegal narcotics in the US that actually that sector of the market is worth twice the amount of cash in circulation. And because generally speaking drug deals are always cash, it meant that the dealers had this enormous industrial problem, which is the amount of cash. And they worked it all out, and they were processing 4,000 tonnes of cash every year, which was a huge industrial operation. Literally physically trucking it to the Caribbean, where it was banked in dodgy banks. And then it shows up as credits on Wall Street or whatever. But at its heart it was this industrial operation, trucking truckloads of dollar bills. And so that was the image I had in mind, like a warehouse full of money. And that was the key image in the book. And it was just the question of working towards it somehow.

And did you sell the idea to an agent, to the publishers? Or did you just write it and then submit it?

Yes, that’s the only way to do it. Non-fiction, you can often sell on a proposal, depending on who you are. But fiction you can’t, you’ve got to have the completed book. Because completing it is a huge thing. I mean, you could show three quarters of a book that was really good and still nobody would buy it because there’s no proof you can finish it in a satisfactory way. So with fiction, you got to write it first, then you sell it. So I wrote it, I sent it to an agent who took me on, and then he sold it to the publishers.

And did you plot the whole thing? I’m interested in this as somebody who writes myself. Do you plot it or do you just dive in?

Yes, fundamentally, I’m what they call the seat-of-the-pants type of writer. A pantser, not a plotter. Because I think it’s more spontaneous that way, rather than writing to a straightjacket that you designed last year. It produces better flow. It produces more genuine surprise. If the author himself is surprised at what comes out, then obviously the reader is going to be. So I would say generally, I’ve got one idea that might be just a tiny scene or even just one line of dialogue or something. I know that’s got to be in there somewhere. And it’s just a question of starting and hoping that it turns out all right in the end.

And do you have a set routine when you write? Do you write in the morning, afternoon, evening?

I never do anything in the morning. It’s one of my firmly held beliefs, nothing of value is ever achieved in the morning.

I have to say, I’m the opposite. I always write in the morning, I always write from nine til one.

I never do, I start late in the day, in the afternoon, and I’ll do five to six hours. And then sometimes I go back to it late at night, but it’s a delicate balance. The Granada days, I would work 12-hour overnight shifts and that sort of thing, so it’s not that I’m not capable of working long hours, but with writing there reaches a point where it’s diminishing returns. For me, after sort of five or six hours. Sure, I could carry on forever, but the quality will be not quite good enough at that point. So, it’s very self-indulgent, but I learned to stop after five, six hours and just say, that’s enough for tonight.

Yes. I mean, somebody had always said to me, you stop when you know what the next sentence is going to be.

Yes. That’s a really good way of maintaining the momentum. And what I also used to do is… you know, when you finish a book, you’ve got such pace, such momentum, such passion, such involvement. When I finished a book, I would immediately, literally that minute, write the first paragraph of the next book. In order just to capture… in other words, it wouldn’t be a cold start. And I think that’s very important.

Is there anything you want to say that we haven’t touched on?

No, I think… I’m glad you’re doing this project, because it’s the combination of the people, the company, and the times. I thought yes, I really did produce something that was very special, but also a lot of good fun for those of us who worked in it. And like so much for my generation, you look back on it as a jewel-like experience that has now gone. Same thing like university, for instance. Not only did you go free, but essentially they paid you to go. And you were guaranteed a job. That was a jewel-like experience that is gone. And I guess that we’re in an era now where if you go back 100-200 years, generally speaking, getting rid of things was good. I’m sure nobody ever had a regret about getting rid of cholera or something like that. But now we’re in an era where things are going, but they were actually good and valuable. And it’s sad that they’re gone.

Are you working on a new novel now?

No, I’m in the process of quitting. I’m not going to do any more, but my brother is going to continue the series. So that hopefully we can get a few more out of it. But again, you know…

But you’re not going to create a new character?

No, I just want to stop working. It’s like a generational thing for me, growing up when I did and where I did, it was just at such a fixed point in your life. 65, you retired. There were three phases in your life. You went to school, then you worked for a really long time, then you were retired. And I’ve always wanted that shape to my life, and so I turned 65 last year and I thought, “Alright, now I’m a senior citizen. I’m going to quit.”

Paul Greengrass

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 5 May 2020.

Let’s start at the beginning. Where were you before Granada? How did you come to join Granada? And when? Dates are quite important.

I can remember when I joined. I joined in October ’77, and I was at university. I don’t think I was alone, I think, going into television was the sort of popular thing to do at that time, I think, particularly if you had a sense of the world. I always loved World in Action. I watched it as a student and a sixth former, and it had a sort of glamour attached to it, I think. I loved that idea of breaking the story, and I loved the filmic quality of it. I was pretty obsessed with films as a kid, growing up. I really was, and of course it’s funny how it all seems so remote to me. The idea of getting jobs in these worlds, you know? And at school I loved the art room. I liked printmaking, and I loved photography, and I made my first film at school too. I was very lucky; the art teacher was a film nut. So, I had a deep desire to do it, and when I went to university, although I enjoyed university, I couldn’t wait to go to work. You know what I mean? By then it had crystallised out into work in television. Because that seemed possible. 

I suppose it was when I graduated, which would have been the summer of ‘77, that I really set out to try and do it. And, of course I faced the classic conundrum in those days that you couldn’t get a job unless you are a member of the ACTT, the union, and you couldn’t be a member of the ACTT unless you had a job. That was the kind of conundrum that I think most people faced. I solved it by going to the ACTT head office, which then from memory was in Wardour Street. Certainly it was either Wardour or Dean, I can’t remember exactly which. It was upstairs. Alan Sapper ran it, from memory.

He did.

And they had a bulletin outside which advertised jobs, and they just weren’t advertised really in the newspapers. I mean, how did you get in? I actually have a file still somewhere of all of the letters that I wrote. I wrote dozens and dozens and dozens of letters all the way around the industry. Dear Mr So-and-so – because they always were Misters in those days – I’d love to work for whatever, whatever, whatever, and then you’d always get a letter back, “Dear Mr. Grassgreen, sorry, no vacancies. Yours,” and it’d just be a squiggle. Fifth assistant to the third assistant to the sixth assistant of the mediocrity that you’d written to. That’s a bit unkind, but you know what I mean.

And then I saw this sports researcher job on the ACTT board advertised at Granada, and I wrote. And I’d already written to Granada. I’d already written to World in Action. My goal was to work for World in Action. That’s where I wanted to work. I travelled a bit by then. I was quite worldly for a young student. I wasn’t much interested in being a student. I’d travelled quite extensively by that time in my life, and I’d written little bits of journalism here and there. I was obviously more interested in work when I look back, but there were no jobs going at World in Action, because I’d applied. Either not got a reply or had a brush off. So, sports researcher sounded like at least a job, and I was invited up for a board. In those days you used to have a board. Do you remember that?

Indeed.

Very well. I mean, when I look back now, tremendously well organised and benevolent to young people in its way. And, it was a little bit like an academic board. I can’t remember. I remember Mike Scott was on it, and Paul Doherty. Poor late departed, Paul Doherty was on it. Joyce Wooller was on it. And, it was very formal. 

It was quite a funny story, because I of course had written an application that went, “Dear Mr Whoever…” I think you actually wrote to Joyce Wooller in those days, didn’t you? Or maybe Mike Scott. I can’t remember. “Dear Mr Granada, all my life has been but a preparation for being a sports researcher in your sports department, blah, blah, blah. I’d love to do it.” So I get in there, in this board in Manchester and it was quite nerved. I remember being very nerved right. I walked in and I remember Mike Scott holding up two pieces of paper. One was my letter saying ‘All my life has been but a preparation for a sports researcher’s job’, and then saying, “But you appear to have written this one three months ago, ‘all my life has been but a preparation for a World in Action job.’ Kindly explain.” All I could say was, “Well, times are tough. You’ve got everything you can to get in.” You know?

You wanted really to do exposés of sport, didn’t you?

Exactly! And Paul Doherty, I remember being quite amused. Anyway, and I didn’t know any of these people. Anyway, I can’t remember. It felt like it was a day or two, within a day or two anyway. Because I was then living in Cambridge, because I’d only just graduated. Did I get a phone call or a letter, I don’t know, saying could I come on Friday. They wanted me to start that day or that week. And it was very strange, because at the same time – again, I either got a phone call or a letter – from John Birt, who was then at London Weekend, who had seen me. I think he had seen me. And I think Barry Cox, I think he and Barry Cox did together from memory, some weeks before, as part of the… I mean, when you look back, people were very good at responding. It shows you what a benevolent… it was a tough world in one sense, but it was very benevolent towards young people in another. And John Birt said, “Well, we now have a job on…” I want to say it was The London Programme.

Not Weekend World?

No, it wasn’t Weekend World. It was the local programme, which I think was called The London Programme, wasn’t it? And Granada had just been in touch, and I remember John Birt was… oddly, I got to know him a little bit over the years. I haven’t seen him for many years now, but he was always a benevolent person, I thought. Not at all like the caricature that people gave. I remember it vividly. I said, “Oh, I’ve got a dilemma.” Because I was only 21, I was a young kid. He said, “If I were you, I’d go to Granada.” He said, “I started at Granada.” Because, I told him I’d seen him, I wanted to work at World in Action, blah, blah. He said, “Go to Granada. You will get the best start in the industry that you possibly can get. Not that London Weekend isn’t a wonderful place. You can always come here later. But if you get a chance to start at Granada, I would do that.” I’ve never forgotten it. Amazing thing. And he was right. 

And so, I literally travelled up in the next day from memory, and I was put up in a pub, I’m sure it doesn’t exist now, it was down at the back of… If Quay Street was one side, then you got at the bottom of the old Granada Studios. As you looked at the Granada Studios, it was at the back, off to the left where they subsequently built the Rovers Return, all that. There used to be a grotty pub there, I can’t remember the name of it now. And I was put up in there, it was an absolute shithole, and told to report for duty the next day, which was a Saturday. So I came up on the Friday, came into the office in the morning, met Paul Doherty there. How can I forget, he said, “Okay, we’re covering…” I want to say it was an Oldham game. He said, “We’re covering, it’s the Granada Match this weekend, it’s Oldham versus so-and-so.” It helped that I was a football nut, you know. “And you’re going to be editing back at base,” I went, “Oh, really?” Okay, how does that go? And he said, “Bye.” And off he went in his big Granada car, Ford Granada, not Granada, Granada. And I was left to find my way down to VT where all the blokes who were into football were, and you had to watch and create a log of the game. You were just given this pad and you logged it up. And talk about full immersion, I loved it.

Was there anyone there to help you in VT?

No! I was completely alone. I mean, there were VT engineers who were there, absolutely super fellas, but talk about being thrown into the deep end. And so I did a year on Kick Off and related sports programmes. And when I look back, it was the most tremendous start in life and work and television, and actually in film, generally. And I owe a tremendous debt to Granada, I owe an unbelievable debt, and all the people there. But Paul Doherty, I owe a special debt. Because I was a young student, I’d gone to a good university, I had the advantages and the naiveties that that bestows upon you, and probably the arrogances too. And I was, I think, in many ways, unprepared for the world of work, what work was really about. And Paul gave me a crash course of all of that in a matter of weeks. He was always in the office at 7:30, always. And he would not leave before late. And then you’d go to a game, more than likely. So it was straight into, I think the most important lesson that everybody has to learn in this business, which is that it is a full immersion, leave your life and run away to the circus type of a life. It’s not a life if you want nine to five or a structured life; you give yourself to it wholly. And that’s the only way it can work, and everything else, your life comes second to it. And he demanded that, and he was a larger than life… so in many ways, he was a sort of ‘proto Alex Ferguson’ type figure. He had a tremendous temper, which he would deploy at all times. And he had this dream that he was going to build a sports department at Granada, and the sports comprised of me, as I discovered on the Monday, another young researcher called Charles Lauder, who was very talented chap. An old Granada studio director, who’d been sort of put out to grass and wasn’t really wanted anywhere else, a guy called Mike Becker, who was actually a very sweet man. And he sort of did the live OBs, you know, not very well. So, Paul Doherty. And that was the sports department. And Margaret Foy who was the secretary, who actually ran Paul’s life brilliantly. 

And he ran it like he was running a football team. And he rode me incredibly hard, because I remember him saying on the first day, “I’m not interested in World in Action, by the way. You’ve come here, I want somebody to do sport and that’s what you’re going to do. Do you understand?” I went, “Yes. Oh yes boss.” “Because I’m fucking not having effing and blinding no one, fucking not having anybody fucking doing it, that fucking World in Action shit. We’re here to do football and sport, and this company doesn’t take it seriously. And the north west is the heartbeat of sports in this country.” All of which I agreed with by the way. So he was preaching to the converted, and he had this tremendous sense of sport being, you know… all the namby-pamby intellectuals in the corridor look down on it, but actually it was what people out there really wanted to watch. Again, he was totally right about that. And he went to bat, and I was an absolute disciple. But life with Doc was fantastic, because you’d work like a demon, and then you’d go out in the evening to Blinkers nightclub, and suddenly there’d be all these footballers in there. And you’d be going, “Fucking hell, that’s George Best,” or, “Fucking hell, there’s…” you know? It was just unbelievable. It was like, I couldn’t believe the life I was leading.

Were you a Crystal Palace fan? Is that right?

Yes. Which of course only exacerbated Doc’s contempt for them.

But Wallen Matthie always tells me the story of you being bawled out by Doherty.

Oh my god, about slides?

You’d made a film, and Doherty had a go at you and said, “This film’s fucking shit. You want to be a film director? No fucking way, man.” He gave you a roasting.

Who tells this story?

Wallen.

Oh really? Oh, I’m sure that’s true. The worst row we ever had, funnily enough was about the slides, which I often tell it to my kids when they go out to work, because it’s an abject lesson in what not to do. Which is that I’d been there a few weeks, and Doc came in one day. He was a great bloke, he’d come in, but he’d have ideas, he’d be fizzing with ideas. “This week, we’re going to do such and such, and such and such. “Go and phone such,” or, “Go and phone Alf Ramsey,” and you’d go, “Huh? How does that work?” And then he had the contacts, he has house numbers. He was amazing. 

Anyway, he said, “I’m not having this Granada Reports when we do our sports coverage. They never do proper sports coverage, they never do the football team news, and I’m sick of seeing Joe Jordan’s face.” I don’t think Joe Jordan was there at that time, but anyway, whoever. “I’m sick of seeing the faces of sort of head and shoulders. I want action shots.” So lo and behold, he commissioned a bloke called Eddie Booth, who was a cameraman, I think he worked for Granada. He must’ve been well into 60s, if not, 70s. Chain smoked, not the best snapper it has to be said, but a lovely, lovely fellow. And he’d go out, and he was deputed to go around all the grounds in the north west, and photograph action shots of all the players, right? And my job, especially given to me by Doc, was I had to process these slides, and put them in those little things where you put in a slide, and I’d mark them up. So when he wanted a one of Joe Jordan, he’d see a row of Joe Jordan action slides, or if he wanted one of Brian Kidd, who I think was then playing for Man City, not United, there’d be lots of Brian Kidd, and so on and so forth. Okay, fine. Great idea Doc, yes, but boss I’m there, I’m there, I’m there. 

So Eddie B goes out, day one I get 70 slides from Manchester United’s game against whoever, right? Fine. And I go through them because I can recognise that’s Brian Greenhoff, that’s Stevie Coppell. Day two, I get Rochdale versus so-and-so, Bury versus so-and-so. Day three, I would get Preston versus so-and-so, Skelmersdale versus so-and-so, Tranmere versus so-and-so. And of course being basically not far off a student, I’d come in, work hard go out with Doc, probably drink too much, have a hangover, get up the next morning, “Oh fuck, I can’t do it. I’ll just do a few of the slides.” And so I do a few, and the ones I couldn’t do, I’d put in a drawer. Well by about day 10, all my drawers were filled with these fucking sides. I had to bring a bag in from home, that was filled with slides, I had more at home. It became a total nightmare, because I’d let the thing get out of control. And if I stopped there for like three days solid non-stop, I still wouldn’t have done it. So of course in classic fashion, I put my head in the sand and hoped it would go away. Anyway, a few days later I was up the end of the corridor, the sports department was then on next to Granada Reports on the third floor, was it? I can’t remember.

First floor. 

First floor, that’s right, yes. And I was talking to Andy Harries, as I recall, who’s just started around about the same time. And I saw Doc come out, down the middle of the corridor, shouting. And I said to Andy, “Oh fucking hell, he’s not happy with someone.” Then I saw him turn and look at me. “Oo-er, it’s me.” He absolutely… I mean, talk about tearing a strip off. “You ever fucking do that again, you’ll never…” “You namby-pamby southern fucking…” I mean, these days it would be unacceptable, the words he was using, but basically I was a student arse, not fit to wipe his shoes, cradle marks on my ass, etc. etc. and I couldn’t disagree. But it was good for me. He taught me how to work, and I loved him, and I think actually he had a soft spot for me, too. We all stayed in touch right to the end of his life. 

He loved the fact that I… he loved that I ripped it out of the Scousers. Of course, the famous ‘It’s all over’ or whatever that song was that I put on the end of a programme after Liverpool got knocked out. What was that song? It got everybody into a tremendous amount of trouble, because Liverpool didn’t see the funny side of it in those days, rather arrogant ways. But he thought it was very funny. But it was a great year. I learned so much. One of the beauties about working in sports television, which you saw everything that there was, you did it all. You made films with a crew, you mounted items in a studio. We did Kick Off on a Friday night. You did OB work. You edited OBs on your own. When I think back when we did the Wednesday live match, if it was a European match, which we fed out to the network, you’d be editing the second half of the football while the first half was actually playing out live. That’s how tight it was. It taught you… all those skills were just the most fantastic skills for our business. Because it taught you how to work quickly and accurately under pressure in all regards. It was all about taking responsibility. You believed in giving… like Fergie, you believed in giving young people their break and letting them do it for better or worse. He’d back you up, and he’d critique what you did brutally, but you knew that he was on your side. He would have taken the view that what was in the dressing room stayed in the dressing room. He was that sort of a bloke.

In a way, he kept that team together, didn’t he? Unlike other departments where there was much more of people coming in, shifting after two years.

I went after a year, because I started what became that World in Action about Manchester United, which he very much approved of, though he couldn’t be seen to be helping. But he built that. He got Pat Pearson in to direct, and she was brilliant. I don’t want to decry Mike Beckett. He was a very sweet man. He was very kind to me as a young kid. When Doc would rip it out of me, he’d always be nice. But you know, Pat Pearson was a quality OB director and in many ways a trailblazer. A woman in what was then a wholly man’s world of football.

And a really nice person as well.

Yes. Great fun. He got Elton Welsby in, got Ian St John in. He got a whole bunch of, he built a team. It’s what he said he would do. He built a team and they were… I loved Saint. He was fantastically funny, even though he and I used to clash a bit. I remember being in a train going down to Wembley, I think we were, to see the Liverpool-Bruges European Final.

1978?

Yes, ‘78. That would have been towards the end of my time there. We had a tremendous row about football. I can’t remember what it was about but I just remember Saint getting the right up and going, “You know fuck all about football! Fuck all.” Fair enough. But it was just tremendous fun. Just tremendous fun and an unbelievable education, as I say, in television. But most of all, in life. The laughter was hilarious. 

I remember very early on having to phone up Jack Charlton, who was then the manager of Sheffield Wednesday. Because one of the things I had to do on the Friday was phone up for the team news. I’d have to write it down in my notebook, and come back to him and give Doc the team news. I can’t even remember who the star player was at Sheffield Wednesday at that time, but was so and so playing. And Jack Charlton went… I can’t do the accent, the Geordie accent… but “No, he wasn’t playing. He’s picked up a groin strain in a nightclub.” I, of course, didn’t see the joke at all and just wrote it down. Picked up a groin strain in a nightclub, went into Doc and said, “Oh, no.” He said, “It sounds so plain.” He’d obviously set it up between the pair of them. I said, “No, no. He’s out. No.” He said, “Are you sure about that?” I said, “No, definitely. He picked up a groin strain in the nightclub.” He went, “You fucking knob.” He said, “You absolute arse. Do you not listen to what people are saying to you?”

Funny.

Funny days. Great days. But as I said, I stayed in touch with Doc. He always took an interest in what I did. Towards the end, not long before he went into a hospice, we went up and we had lunch at a restaurant in Manchester together. It was a lovely, we had an absolutely wonderful day. We reminisced. He brought this scrapbook that he had from his Granada days. He was very sick then. He knew he didn’t have long to go. Funnily enough, I just saw, he gave me the page or a copy of the page, and there was a picture of me and him and in his handwriting what he’d written underneath, because all of my records are going to the BFI. I’ve got a young person out there preparing it all for them. She found this stuff and showed it to me just literally an hour ago. Just the sweetest note in his handwriting about me, and how proud he was and so on and so forth. That was really, it brought a tear to my eye. He was a wonderful man and loyal, competitive, chippy, brilliant, a great leader, brilliant sense of humour…

Was he a person you had to stand up to? Because every time I would wander into the sports department for whatever reason, you’d feel Doc was there growling at you, and you’d timidly scamper out.

Yes. That’s why I think he liked me. Because I somewhat exasperated him, because I would give it back to him, being quite a rebellious person. But I loved him and I was very loyal to him. He was my guy. He was the boss. He was the gaffer. I would have run through a brick wall for him. I genuinely would have done. When it was time for me to go, which was really after about a year, he knew it. He knew that I was always going to want to go and do World in Action and follow my dreams. He knew that. He knew I’d had a good year for him. I’d done some pretty good pieces of work for him. I wasn’t going to be part of what he was building, but he helped me and he encouraged me. In many ways, he was an archetypal Granada figure. He was a perfect expression of what Granada was about in those days. That’s the Doc.

The Louis Edward story, did that come to you while you are working on Kick Off?

Yes. The only way you could get on, it seemed to me, was to find your own story. Obviously, I was up there doing football 24/7. At that time, the Edwards family, what they did was they brought forward, essentially, a rights issue in the shares. That had never been done in football clubs, because bear in mind, there wasn’t a market for football club shares because clubs didn’t pay dividends. They were essentially, there was no market in them because there was no value seen in the clubs, astonishingly, at that time. It was sort of, I noticed this, it was like a financial story in the Manchester Evening News. Why would they be doing this? It didn’t really attract much attention, but I thought that was odd. I took the view then that Manchester United was obviously a great sporting institution, for sure. You could not live in the north west and not be aware of it as a great sporting institution. But it had fallen behind Liverpool by a good long way, and was obviously not being particularly well-rounded at the time, but the more I was there, and the more I was around football, the more you could see there was sort of an alternative history of the club that lay behind the club. 

The way in was through the rights issue. Because I remember going to Paul, I used to go out on my own account, I’d tell Paul, “I’m not doing it in your time. I’ll just go out on my own. And yes, he was great about it. He knew what I was doing. As long as I was there to do what he needed done, he was up for it. And basically… it was strange. It was the brainchild of a man called Professor Roland Smith, who was a Professor of Business I think, at Manchester University. And he knew Louis Edwards. And he cooked up the scheme… at the time, you couldn’t quite work out what it was that they were trying to do. Now, of course it was obvious what they were… what Roland Smith had seen was that these clubs were going to be worth a fortune. And what you had to do was grab the maximum value you can, the maximum shareholder you can, and that you stood a better chance if you created this potential. Rather than there being a thousand shares, if you could create a million shares, you could hoover them up quicker and easier. There was more to the story than that, but that was basically what it looked like. 

And some of the supporters kicked off. A man called John Fletcher, I want to say his name was. He was sort of a more United fan. He ran a sort of supporters campaign against it. Anyway, I got into it, and I took that to Claudia Milne, who was then running Reports Extra, which was the sort of local programmes World in Action, basically.

Yes, I worked on it a few times.

Exactly. So…

Late Friday night.

Exactly, late on Friday night. And I think the football season had come to an end. I think they were going to do summer sport. They did. Steve Hawes. That was the sort of summer sport thing. I may have got the chronology slightly wrong. The football season ended. That was when Liverpool beat Bruges. So that we’d now be May, June ‘78. I joined in October ‘77. That segued into summer sport. And Steve Hawes was on local programmes. I want to say maybe it was… I can’t remember, but he was an up-and-coming man in local programmes, or in… I liked Steve. He was a good guy. Anyway, he got the summer sport. And I absolutely loved it because he let me go make little films. When I look back, I could start to express… you know, put music on films and things like that. It might be things like, I don’t know, whatever they were, rock climbing or paragliding or something. You could do things that you couldn’t do in the hurly-burly of a football programme. It was all tactics and personalities, and so on and so forth. So I loved that. I was looking to get out for sure. I remember I had a fantastic thing that I did with Steve. Steve Morrison must’ve been running local programmes.

Steve was running locals. 

And I remember…

I joined at this point. I joined in July ‘78.

Right. Well, July ‘78 must’ve been when I did the Poulton-le-Fylde World Cup, which I remember was just a gorgeous day. The idea, I pitched to Steve Morrison, which was… Because one of the things I… I had to do the sports diary. Because there’d be all sorts of people sending things in. There’s going to be a such-and-such a competition in Stoke or a such, such a competition in Cheshire. And I’d have to keep the diary, and then we’d have the Monday morning meeting or whatever meeting, and you’d have to know what was… there’d be all sorts of nonsensical stuff. Anyway, one of the things that came in was Poulton-le-Fylde, which I think is up near Preston, isn’t it?

Yes. It’s Blackpool way, yes.

Blackpool, that’s right. Blackpool. “We’re going to run a world cup tournament for kids, under-11 kids, with all the nations represented.” Which sounded just… Doc would have gone to Argentina, because he would have been in Argentina. That’s right.

Oh yes, indeed. Yep, yes.

During the world cup coverage with Saint. That’s why I’d have been on my own. Anyway, I remember pitching this to Steve Morrison, who had a very agile, brilliant television mind. He immediately went, “Oh, that’s great. Love it. Let’s do it. We’ll do it. We’ll have OBs and we’ll get all the Kick Off sort of… I can’t remember who their sort of half-time people were. The footballers who do the summarising and the thing. And we’d all go up there and we’d do like a fake World Cup. But instead of it being the football stars, it would be these little kids. It was absolutely… I had a fantastic day. He just ran with it and made it brilliant, and it was a really… And it was one of those things where you were filled with wonder at how quickly an idea could be run with and turned into something fantastic. It was witty and communal and just brilliant. And it was a golden sunny day, as I recall. I just remember it as being one of the most fun days of television. And summer sport with Steve.

 And then somewhere around about then I must have gone to Claudia Milne and said, “Look, I’ve got this story I want to get the rights to shoot.” And she was an old World in Action hand, of course, and she knew that I wanted to get in. And she said, “Come and do this.” And I did that. And I worked with Claudia and Michael…

Dave Jones was presenter.

Dave Jones? Was he… oh, yes, he must have been the presenter…

Yes, because I worked on Reports Extra in the September, October. Because we did the party conferences together.

Right. Well who was the woman? Really nice person who was the other researcher? I want to say Sophie, but it wasn’t Sophie. What was her name?

I can’t remember.

Can’t?

No, no. I can’t remember her name at all.

Come to me. It’ll come to me. Because you were Reports Politics, weren’t you, mainly?

I was, yes. I went on to Reports Politics after Reports Extra. I only did a month or so, two months of Reports Extra.

And I stayed on there for a few months doing various bits and pieces. And then, I kept on at World in Action. Or, I kept on that United idea after the Reports Extra. Because inevitably you do a little thing, and then more people come forward. And then I remember in the end… I think Claudia probably encouraged me, because she was very… she said, “Do a memo and send it to Ray.” Which I did. And then he said, “We’ll transfer you across.” This would have been, I think probably early ‘79, late ‘78, early… about Christmas, early January ‘79. I must have been on Reports Extra for the autumn season. Because I remember I did a few programmes, one of which was a drug programme. I can’t remember what the drug was called. But I remember it was like a winter’s evening that went out. So, I want to say it would have been January that I went across to World in Action. And actually, it was like a temporary secondment.

January ‘80?

No, January ‘79.

Oh, right. Sorry, yes.

And I’d written the proposal, which I still have, out there. And I was put to work with Geoff Seed. And the other researcher was a lovely chap by the name of Mike Short , who died quite a few years ago. He was a lovely chap. Very nice man. Liverpudlian. He and I teamed up, Mike and I, and it was my first introduction to the world of World in Action, really.

And it made a big splash.

It did. Did I enjoy it as a programme? I suppose I must have done.

But it had difficult repercussions.

Well, it was interesting in the sense that there were those moments when you find things out that you didn’t know to be true and you go, “Bloody hell, that’s a proper secret.” I remember that was when I realised, or we got to the bottom of what Louis Edwards had actually been doing. What they had been doing was, they came up with this concept of the rights issue, which they knew was going to enable them to liberate the value of the club. But before they brought the scheme forward, but whilst they were discussing it with Kleinwort Benson, he went around to all the small shareholders to hoover up the shares without telling them of course what he was doing. It was particularly cynical because it meant going to a lot of people. For instance, the former secretary I mentioned was a man called Walter Crickmer who died in the…

Munich disaster?

Munich disaster, yes. 

I remember going down to Bristol to inspect the share register. Somebody must have told me to do that. I remember I was talking to some people who knew about finance. They knew you had to check the share register, and that was when I realised that his shareholding had gone up, because those days – I’m sure it’s the same now – but you were allowed to inspect the share records.

Still can. Companies House.

And what was interesting was they had, they obviously didn’t expect anybody to ever come and inspect. Because it was only a small, there were only like a thousand shares, or maybe 2000. And it was just a book like this. They’d put in pencil the amount that these share transactions have been paid, and you could see very clearly that the holding had gone from whatever percent, right up to about 75% in a very short period of time. Somebody had put in pencil next to it, all the sums that he’d paid for these shares. So it was absolutely in black and white, and I knew now how much he paid. 

So, then I went around to see all these people. One of whom was Walter Crickmer’s daughter. I want to say her name was Beryl, but I could be wrong. I think her name was Beryl. And she had a bunch of shares that she’d inherited from her father. And Mike and I visited all these people, and it was always the same thing. A chat called James Smart would come and knock on the door, make an approach, literally knock on the door, and say, “I work for Louis Edwards,” he worked for the meat company, but he was obviously Louis Edwards, his right hand man, smooth talking bloke. Oh, Mr Louis, it was always Mr Louis, Mr Louis is looking to make some share purchase. He’d like to look after people who’ve got the small shares. He’s always prepared to pay a little bit of a premium because they’re really essentially valueless. This was all the schtick. And what he would do is he would offer them cash – sorry, a figure, and then some cash. And you knew already, this was all totally wrong. And he’d done the same to the Crickmers. And we went round, and I remember explaining to the son, it must have been the grandson, I suppose it would be, he’s conned you out of a lot of money actually, because his shares were worth… imagine having a chunk of Manchester United today, a substantial bit. Even one share, even one thousandth of it would have been worth a fortune. Anyway, the essence of it was that he then… we recorded him phoning up Louis Edwards and saying we’ve had an approach from Granada, is it right that you’ve offered cash? “Oh no, that’s just from my safe, oh, the tax man won’t know about that. Just don’t say anything.” But it was, you pulled it out and it was… 

And by the way, I think the story that we told about Manchester United you could have told about probably every big club in the country, these clubs were significantly… they had rules that they didn’t adhere to. For instance, classically, the paying of schoolboy footballers. And of course it was the creation of a false market to entirely benefit the football clubs, so that they would have the pick of the best young players. And for the sake of a few pounds in cash to the families, they’d have the choice as to whether to throw these boys on the scrap heap. And that would be it. So what you had was for every George Best, there’s a hundred boys whose lives are destroyed and they have nothing. And the club, I’ve no obligation to them. And then there was the Edwards company, which was operating a significant… it was like the T Dan Smith and the Poulson thing, it was cash payments for contracts. It was a nexus of unappealing activity behind the glamour of the badge. And it ran through, I’m afraid, Louis Edwards and his brother Douglas, who was former Lord Mayor of Manchester. Anyway, the programme went out and caused a bit of a stink at the time.

Did you get any hassle from the top of the building?

Never, never ever. Remarkable, when I look back, I remember David Plowright saying one day, very early on after I started, saying, “Your job is to cause trouble. If you’re not causing trouble, you’re not doing your job.” Amazing thing. People wouldn’t be told that sort of thing today.

The very opposite.

Yes, I agree. There was no trouble. Geoff was a very diligent… he was very experienced he worked for the Daily Mail. He understood a good story and knew how to marshal it.

Louis Edwards died?

Yes, and that was a shock. And I felt rather ashamed, if I’m honest. I think, not that I probably would have said so at the time, but how could you not… you spent some months investigating what was a pretty tawdry confection of grubby illegality and fraud and bad dealing at what was one of our premier national institutions. So I don’t doubt for a second that it was a well-judged and necessary piece of journalism, and in World in Action’s grand tradition. And I admire them for doing it, but on a personal level, it did sit uncomfortably with me as a young man to feel that a man, through an essence I had crawled over his life and found him wanting then died some… I mean, only a matter of days afterwards, I did feel that was difficult, and I think… I didn’t know that then, but I think in a way there was a large and concealed piece of me that never wholly bought the World in Action TV investigator thing. Even though I would have thought that I did at the time and would have voiced it as such, the truth is that wasn’t ultimately me. If that makes sense. 

Explain that a bit more.

Well, I suppose it really goes to my upbringing and what sort of person I was. And you know, I was, well, I mean, I did all this when I did that BAFTA lecture, but…

You did a lot more investigative programmes, didn’t you?

I did, but my point is that my teenage years, which were pretty troubled when I look back now on a personal level, and I was sort of lucky to escape out of my teenage years intact and go to a good university. What got me through those years, really, was a love of films and a love of the art room at school, and a hugely benevolent art teacher who I admire an enormous amount, and a wonderful school that got me through. And I was always pointed towards self-expression. When I went to Granada, which I was very lucky to do… and I owe Granada an equal debt, but World in Action… so I’m not decrying it in any way, but World in Action as the years… I knew none of this then, by the way. This is wisdom that came to me much, much later in life. I realised at the time I was trying to be someone who I actually really in the end wasn’t. In other words, the hard-bitten investigative television journalist. But really, the person that I was meant to be, was the person that I have become. I have made my own films in my own ways about subjects that… and that’s just one colour of it, but it’s not the all, if that makes sense.

Did you find it a macho culture?

Yes, very. And I would have been part of that too. But I think that not so deep down, it wasn’t really me. I was almost… playing a role is not quite right… because I did it, and I enjoyed it, and I was pretty good at it. But as the, I mean, the way I was… I was on World in Action for about six, seven years, something like that. They were formative years in so many ways because they taught me how to write at a shoot, at a cut, how to tell a story. How to be at eye level with an audience. Economy of style and storytelling. How important is to create emotional connection in your storytelling. They wouldn’t have expressed it like that, but I think that’s what made it a popular programme, as opposed to the more Panorama, which talked down to people, at the BBC.

Telling a story.

Yes. And of course it was a hugely benevolent culture, right? Fitzwalter, wasn’t it. A man who was always under pressure from us oiks, poor chap. But he was such a decent person really, in his eccentric way. He gave everybody their head in a lovely… he had his faults of course, but I owe him an enormous debt. But as the years went by, I think I got less interested in programmes that were about doing down. Even though I really admire them and still do. It’s not that I don’t approve of that kind of journalism. I really, really do. 

I mean, John Ware, for instance, who I became a good friend of and remains a very good friend all these years later, his work I utterly admire, because he has a calling for it, and he’s one of the very, very best in the business. And he believes in telling a story well and judiciously and brilliantly, but I suppose I was always looking to the world beyond that. To a wider world. A wider world of filmmaking, I suppose. But I didn’t know that then. But I can look back now and see… I’m getting well ahead of the story… but, those first years would have been all about… I mean, all about making programmes that created a noise and the pride and thrill of that. Of the sort of drama of it with, “Are you going to get your legal opinion?” And all of the stuff that came with it. I loved all that. It excited me tremendously. And I was that person. I’m not denying that for a second. I love the fact that you saw the world. You travelled, you saw the world. Saw amazing things. I love the culture of the place. It was very macho. It was very male. It was very insular. But it was… it had its aristocratic mean about it. Do you know what I mean?

It was on its own. It was a bit like the sports department.

Correct.

It was untouched. Nobody could touch it. It had its own rules, its own…

Correct! We all bought into that. It bred arrogance and insularity and exclusivity, and a lack of collegiality, and it also bred paranoia and had done before my time and did again. I think it also bred some carelessness on a personal level. I think and some rivalrousness. I think that’s normal in those things, but those are small things. It also bred tremendous creative excellence, tremendous esprit de corps, tremendously good programmes of all kinds. A wonderful history. I think we – and by ‘we’, I mean, the generation of people who were there when I was there – wrote a really good page in a pretty damn fine television book. If you can call World in Action from 62 to whatever. I thought that period in the eighties was a rich period. I thought we gave a good account of ourselves. And you know, great sense of humour, great solidarity weirdly. So it’s a mixed bag, as these things are, these organisations. 

And I’m sure that’s true of Granada as a whole, incidentally. I think one of the interesting things as we sit and talk today is that these kinds of cultural organisations are now few and far between. Organisations where you and I would have come in as young men, and matured and become men, as opposed to young men, during a period of… I don’t know how long you were there, but you know, seven, eight, nine, ten years, whatever… some people stayed for life, some people moved… but they marked you, and you grew up with people and the bonds… you and I didn’t know each other that well, but we still knew each other. We still know each other today. Those bonds, I think, are formed very powerfully in Granada, and that was one of its tremendous strengths as a company and that echoed and was synthesised also in World in Action. So it was a great place to work. As I say, benevolently run. Always both certain of its identity, and constantly questioning of it. 

What was the point of a half-hour film on a Monday night? Because it wasn’t the news, and it wasn’t Panorama. It was World in Action, because it swaggered, and it was profane, and it had some brilliant journalism, and some frankly pretty duff stuff along the way, too. But it had its eclectic mix of filmmaking culture, which was always very important. It wasn’t just an investigative reporting programme. It had that strength too. And it also, let us be frank, had a sort of left-wing politics strand. Those were the three things. That was the ‘secret sauce’ of it. The mixture of those three things. 

The filmmaking thing is often misunderstood. It spoke to me very highly. I remember when I first joined, so this would be ’79, Ray saying to me, “You need to go down to the screening room.” Which I want to say was away down where all the mixing theatres… or was it somewhere else? I can’t remember. They had a theatre, anyway. He gave me a list of World in Actions from the past, and I was to watch them, and I absolutely loved them. And they spoke to me. I remember watching Biko’s funeral, Mike Ryan’s film which was just a film about Steve Biko’s funeral. That’s all it was. It was just a beautiful observational film. 

I remember watching John Sheppard’s film about asbestosis, which was a most beautiful film. I can’t remember the time period, but it was… I can remember watching his first ‘Dumping Grounds’ film in South Africa. That was a beautiful lot. These were films. I didn’t know it then, but of course it goes back to Denis Forman. It goes back to the birth of World in Action. It goes back to John Grierson who sold the title to Dennis Forman for a pound. Or was it a penny?

Did he really? I didn’t know that. 

Oh yes. Denis Forman wanted World in Action to have a film identity, and that’s why it didn’t have reporters. That’s why it’s shot on film. That’s why it morphed as it started to live into the sort of agitprop thing, which served it well. Right back to the very early stage when they brought the coffins out of Salford.

I was going to say that. Now that was just a fantastic, when they all came out of the terraced houses.

Exactly.

Wow. 

Yes, but it’s…

Still a piece of film…

It’s an agitprop, isn’t it?

Yes, exactly.

But brilliant. And those three strands, pure filmmaking, pure observational, a certain sort of filmmaking. It was observational. You stood back on a long lens and you observed. It goes to the heart of British documentary film making. That comes from John Grierson.

And the agitprop thing, which is actually not as simple as saying, “They’re a bunch of lefties.” It’s not as simple as that, that was comprised of Granada being a non-metropolitan company, being based in the north west, not being part of the metropolitan London thing gave it attitude, and that attitude in the 60s was really important, I never lost it, you know? And it obviously morphed in the 70s towards having a more sort of political hue. But I don’t think that ever was as important as the anti-establishment hue that the programme had, and that the company had. I think it made it a congenial place if your politics were to the left, but I don’t think it would be simple as to say that it was a left wing, I don’t think it was, it was just… it had a great sense of attitude. So these are all the great things about it.

I mean, it almost seemed to me it wasn’t so much the way they told the story in political term, but the very fact that they chose that story – and that story, which might be about homelessness, which might be about drug addiction, which might be about social deprivation or whatever… it was the very choice of those subjects…

Yes.

Rather than the internalising and the politics of it.

Yes. It was, yes. So it was a profound education for me in so many ways. I saw things that I never believed I would, travel around the world and saw… when I look back, anybody working on World in Action, you were seeing the history of the 80s written, whether it was the miners’ strikes, or conflict in Beirut, or apartheid, South Africa or Central America, or the Reagan White House, it was happening and you felt you were seeing it, and that was a tremendous privilege. And, as I say, although I probably wouldn’t have come across that way, I actually was a very shy, unconfident person presenting as the reverse. …

Well, it was towards, I suppose, the mid 80s, that’s when I started to feel like I wanted to go. I was starting to write then, on my own, I wanted to write a film. I started, it would have been ‘85 actually, in fact, I can pinpoint it.

Did our paths cross on World in Action?

No, I think I’d gone by… I think what happened was that, as I say, the me that was the me of my teenage years, which was always wanting to head towards writing and making my own things, and self-expression, began to collide with the World in Action that was about exposing – and not that I didn’t love those programmes, I did – but I started to feel like I had more to say and more to give. And I remember vividly, it would have been about ‘85, I suppose, but also bear in mind, I was growing up too. I was getting towards my 30s by then, late 20s, you know, you’re not 21, 22, suddenly you’re 27, 28, you’re maturing, you’ve got kids of your own, all that stuff’s happening in your life. I’d moved to London. That was a tremendous battle between a lot of us and Ray, because they quite rightly wanted people to live in Manchester, but I came from London. It wasn’t… I couldn’t see myself staying there forever. But most importantly, it was the creative thing. 

I remember suggesting doing a programme about Live Aid, which would have been July ‘85. And that was sort of an unusual programme for me. And I wanted to do, you know, as I like music and so forth, I ended up following Geldof around. And it was an observational film. It didn’t have any story other than it was observational, and from memory, it was cut by Eddie Mansell, I want to say. And I remember… now, was it Eddie Mansell? There were two editors. Tony Hamm, was he one?

Tony Hamm was a VT editor, wasn’t he, I think?

Oh, was he? No, I think he was a film editor.

A film editor? You might be right. 

Anyway, I remember, I think it was Eddie Mansell. I remember cutting this film with him and suddenly film becoming fluid, storytelling on film. You know, you’re always trying to make it fluid and one thing moves to the next, and it’s not driven by commentary. It’s just got its own life and you can tell your story that way and you enter a different timeframe, the timeframe of film. And I remember feeling, “Oh, this is me.” I just remember that very vividly. And music on it. And then that spilled over. And really, when I mark the moment when it was obvious to me that I was moving on, it took a couple of years perhaps from that point, but it was that time that I wrote what became the first film that I made, the Film4 film, Resurrected, that I started that summer, I want to say.

Did you do the U2 film?

Yes, that was the last one I did.

That was yours.

Basically, it was that, then I went off to do Spycatcher and so I took leave of absence. Ray was very good at giving it to me. I went and did Spycatcher, and then that became a huge hullabaloo, and then I came back to do the U2 thing, and then that was it. I just felt…

as I say, I date it to that sort of summer of Live Aid, summer ‘85.

It would be something like that.

And the U2 thing would have been a… then Spycatcher would have been autumn ‘86 would have been the trial. And then I think I came back to do that U2 film in the spring of ‘87. I think I technically left, but I think I came back on a freelance basis to do that. And I remember that… I feel (Phil) Craig was the researcher for that. I think he was a bit appalled because I remember saying, “Do you know what? This is going to be the last one I’m ever going to do, and I actually want to do a film that’s about good news stories.” Which was a bit heretical in the World in Action sphere, and didn’t make it an altogether successful film. But I knew what I meant, what I wanted to make was a film – and that’s how I felt, by the way in life, at that time, I felt like change was coming for me, personally, but also in the world. I felt that the darker days of the 80s, we were… there was some hope in the air. You know, people were… and U2 definitely expressed that that summer with that tour. And I wanted to find people who were finding that same inspiration. So it became young kids in Ballymun who were making their music, going to the concert and some kids from a monastery up north coming down and so forth. And it was clunky in its way, but it was what I wanted to do. I wanted to sign off by doing something that was good news, if that makes sense. And young. But by then I knew I was going off to do what became my first film, Resurrected. So, towards the end, I became a bit semi-detached, I was not in the office very much. 

I shared an office with Ian McBride, who was a superb, lovely person to share an office with, he was absolutely… he was very patient with me. I was always rather more emotional about everything. He was very calm, you know? Who else do I remember? Ray, we’ve talked about him, haven’t we?

We have. Segal, Allan Segal.

Allan Segal was joint editor, yes. He was a sort of irascible… I mean, he and Ray sort of pretended to coexist, but really it was always Ray, you know, there was a triumvirate, wasn’t there? He and Ray were… and David Boulton was the head of current affairs. David was a very gifted man, highly intelligent, thoughtful. I think probably one of their very best executives, but he wasn’t very popular. I don’t really know why. 

Well, he said to me…I know David very well, and we see each other quite frequently. But when I did an interview with him, he had two periods being involved with World in Action. 

The first one was very unhappy, wasn’t it?

It was. And he said, he recognises that his problem was that he was a bit overpowering, and he was very hands-on and didn’t let people have their say enough. Instead of delegating fully and saying, “Right, it’s your programme. go off and do it,” he was always clinging onto the programme and trying to… they were always programmes that he really wanted to make. 

Right, I genuinely had very… but he wasn’t popular with the troops, I think because there were people around…now I’m guessing, because the first time he was obviously before my time, but I think the second time around he’d learned his lesson and was much more laid back. I think he had, I don’t know because, I think the problem was that he became a boss amongst first month equals with a generation of people who were his age. And I think there was a lot of paranoia, left-wing agitation and basically frankly, ‘we’re not having a boss, we’ll do it ourselves’ kind of thing. I think it was pretty anarchic, is my sense of it. But I didn’t… I think the problem with David was that there were people around who’d been through that thing with him. And so younger people like me got that sense, and he struck me as a man who was trying to be correct, but basically did have a point of view. I’ve subsequently read a couple of his books. His book about Jesus, I thought was a very good book.

Which one?

The one he wrote about Jesus, I thought it was extremely good.

Yes, right. He’s a Quaker.

Yes. If you speak to him, will you send him my very best? I had a respect for him, because I knew that he, now, I don’t think I knew this then, but now I look back, I think I recognise that he understood what writing was about, because he’d written. And I was interested in writing and…But I wouldn’t say I knew him. I would have just been one of the soldiers, probably quite bolshy and not particularly easy to manage probably, but Ray was really always the person. He was the sort of golden thread through it.

And Gus MacDonald?

Yes, I knew him. I mean, I knew them all. I mean, afterwards, quite many years afterwards, well not that many, but some years afterwards, when World in Action was about to be got rid of… I think no, just as Ray was about to be got rid of, when the Robinsons took over, whenever that was, I wrote a long piece about the history of World in Action for GQ, and I went and interviewed them all. Gus, Denis Forman. I remember Denis Forman giving me a memo he’d written to the team at the time of what they called ‘The Troubles’, which would have been the first day of Boulton’s troubles. And I fell out, I saw it just how it was part of that pile of papers I was just looking at. And it was the most beautiful and elegant expression of liberal mindedness in the workplace. And it was basically saying there have to be shared bonds of trust that we all accept. I’m paraphrasing, but this was the thesis of the paper. This was at a time when the workers were rebelling. The World in Action team were rebelling against the bosses, and there were manifold grievances, god knows what they were, some of which I’m sure were right. Some of them probably weren’t, but the point is what they were saying was the end of the day, there has to be some buy-in of shared trust in the workplace. Otherwise nothing can ever get done. And it’s true, if the workplace is a true society. And as I looked at it now I thought, “God, that was a prescient document, given where we are today.” 

They were all these people, Denis Forman, David Plowright. I went around them all actually, and it left me with an abiding sense of Granada as one of Britain’s great liberal institutions, like a great university, like the BBC and very different in character. One of those precious cultural institutions that, when you set aside all the bolshiness inside, actually they, as an institution, had an ability to mark those of us who grew up in it. You, me, I’m sure everybody that you interviewed, it was a defining factor. And the years that you spent there, whether they were small in number or many, marked you. That’s the measure of it as an organisation. You can look back and tell a rose-tinted history of it all, and it definitely did love its own mythology, but that said, the exemplary values, both creatively in terms of broadcasting but also as a company, it was benevolent. The fact that it enabled somebody as bolshy and insecure as me, to find myself and then go off and become the person that I wanted to be, because of my time there.

And it looked after people, paternalistic.

They did, they did. So I have happy memories of it. Later I went back, made films there, later in its time, but it was a different company by then. It’s sort of just become a lot of ITV.

A kind of almost had a cut-off point of about 1990-92, because it changes completely.


So, I joined World in Action, so I think this would go after the sort of United programme. So World in Action in that period was very much a closed world. The offices were up there on the third floor I want to say, off to an annexe at the back of the street. They were sort of their own space, weren’t they?

They were.

I’m not sure, actually, that was the very best thing for World in Action if I’m honest, because I think it fed the sense of separateness. Do you know what I mean?

Absolutely know what you mean.

And built walls where they would have been better taken down, so that World in Action was much more part of the overall output of the company. And there was cross-fertilisation and creative pollination between, I think it would have been good for World in Action, good for the people there, particularly myself, and good the other way round too. Because I think at that stage I, and most people on World in Action were rather…well, at its worse arrogant, but it’s perhaps best, kind of into what we were doing. And not really team players. It was a lovely space that third floor, the corridor and Ray at the end, dear old Tom Gill, who arranged all the crews and everything. And there were cutting rooms there with Kim Fletcher, I recall. And Roly Coburn, who did many, many years’ service. Yes. So it was a lovely community. Margaret, Marion I think it was, in the office, and the office is each side of the corridor. There was a great sense of esprit de corps balanced against the separateness of it. And it was fun. 

You know, you’d kind of leave at the drop of a hat. I remember the day the Falklands war broke out, we sort of all heard on the radio that they were about to invade. And literally, I hadn’t even left the house yet to go into work, when suddenly Tom Gill phoned and said, “You’re going to Argentina.” You’d get your bag and go and go off for months. Then you come back and it was like you’d never been away. Of course, it was a bifurcated office, because you also had 3 Upper James Street, where there was a World in Action bunker on the top floor, which also was quite remote. It was smaller and there were always tensions between the London-based World of Action operation and the Manchester-based one, because lots of people, like me, wanted to be in London. That was a strange but rather magical place. It was right up high and quite bunker like. There weren’t very many windows. And Michael Gillard had his own sort of super locked, fortress-like office. He was a very secretive, romantic kind of figure. You sort of never really knew what he was doing. Nobody did. His telephone number was never on the team sheet. It was hilarious when I think back, it used to send Ray Fitzwalter demented. 

If you weren’t hard at work on a film, you’d end up having lunch together in some place somewhere, and the conversation would always be about what was going to happen to the World in Action and how it could be made better. And generally that involved deposing Ray and installing somebody else. It was all ludicrous when I look back at it, it’s stupid politics, but then that would also… the sort of student politics side of it also was hard up against a really dedicated, serious journalistic and filmmaking side. And also the hilarity of it. It was very male, but that of course played into its insularity. And some of the women who work there like Jenny Rathbone were not treated… I think it would be, it was tough to be a woman in that environment, as it was in television at that time. And I think in many ways that generation of women generally were tenacious in fighting for their space, actually. I rather admired them. It was hard to get an airing for programmes that were about issues actually that were very, very important to people’s everyday lives.

Particularly women’s everyday lives.

Definitely. They were considered less important.

And of course, World in Action was relentlessly white…white and predominantly male…which right there shows clearly the problems of UK television at that time and of wider society then.

To be honest, I can’t recall the lack of diversity ever being remarked upon, or seen as an issue that needed to be addressed, which, let’s be honest is a shaming recollection.

And even today, white dominance remains a massive problem in our industry. Ten years or so ago I was part of a film council review of diversity where we asked why was it that if you looked at the industries closest to film  and television, which would be sport on one side and music on the other, that each of these industries were so much more diverse. The answer was, when we did the research, that both sport and music were seen by young kids as industries that were accessible, where they felt they could enter and prosper. But the citadels of broadcasting and film – as Granada was back in the day – were seen as remote and conspired to lock outsiders out. It’s getting better, but there’s still a very very long way to go, and when we look back at the golden Granada years, we should always remember they were years of our privilege and that we were part of the diversity problem, and not its solution.

I think that was part of the broader culture at the time, and television culture, and certainly World in Action culture. What was prized with a sort of CIA investigations, that sort of thing. I think actually Ray was rather good at trying to get those things going. Although he was more comfortable in the sort of harder-edged, journalistic side. He was, I think always trying to open the programme up to different sorts of programmes. Sorts of types of World in Action. I think he was rather good at that, and probably rather underestimated in his commitment to it. One of the good things about the culture was it was very much, you got thrown in the deep end, but there was a sort of, well, that was a hard school. It wasn’t without its sort of older male benevolence actually. 

I mean, I think of somebody like Brian Blake, who was very, very good to me, a very experienced producer on World in Action, and actually he’d been there many, many years and worked in Northern Ireland. Stephen Clark would be another one, Michael Beckham, Mike Beckham, people who’d been around many, many years that done it for many… and from the outset, when I first came in, they looked rather scary. But actually they were all in their various ways, extremely good to me and other young people. If you gave your all for them, as the researcher to the producers, as I was at the beginning, you’d be looked after and you would learn in the best way that you could. 

I remember Brian very early on; I can’t remember when it would be. About 1980, I suppose, ‘81. I suggested a programme which will be about Alexander Haig, who’d just been nominated to be Secretary of State in the Reagan administration. So it would be early ‘81, I guess. I remember the sort of headline in the Guardian being, “Alexander Haig, nomination hearings in front of the Senate expected to be explosive revelations about Korea, Chile, Watergate, etc.” I remember saying to him, “Can’t we go and do a film about the nomination hearings?” “Oh yes, absolutely,” he said. Next minute, Brian’s coming down the corridor coming in to the office, we hadn’t even met really. He said, “Oh, you know, we’re going to Washington?” I said, “Oh, really?” He said “Yes, I’ll see you in the morning. We’re leaving tomorrow morning.” So we turn up at Manchester Airport and I go and get the papers. And I open the papers, and the headline in the Guardian, I’m making it up, but it was something like, “Alexander Haig hearings now expected to be damp squib.” I handed this over to Brian. And I remember him saying, “Don’t worry, old boy. Never abort a story at the airport.” And that was very much the atmosphere there. 

And there were a lot of extremely interesting, able people. I mean, Michael Gillard. Laurie Flynn was another very interesting man who’d done a lot in his life, and of course did the British Steel case. And there was an example, I think, of a golden page in the World in Action story, but also a golden page in the Granada story. Because there was a man, Laurie, who had got these papers and who knew who the source was. And obviously the injunction came down that he had to reveal his source, and the company stood behind him. And at great risk, too. They were amazing like that. There was a ballsiness there. 

I remember doing ‘The Untouchable’, I think it was called. It was a police corruption story that I did with Andrew Jennings about a man called Roy Garner and his corrupt relationships with the Metropolitan Police, and a man called Lundy who was a very corrupt Met detective. And we got a robust legal opinion when we came to it. But there’s always a risk when you take on the Metropolitan Police. You know that the individual officers are going to sue, and they’re going to be provided with the money by the Fed, and so on and so forth. I remember Plowright being in there when we reviewed… he had to read the opinion, and Ray was in there, I think. And I remember Plowright just saying… he looked at me quite steelily. This is towards the end of my time there, but I knew what he meant. He said, “Okay, I’ve got it.” He’d read it. He’d seen the programme. He had the opinion. He’s looked at me, and he said, “Is it true?” Looking at me deadly, right in the eyes. “Is it true? Is this true?” I said, “Yes, it really is.” He said, “Good. We’ll do it, then.” It’s proper, proper stuff. 

There was a camaraderie there, as I say. It was tough for women. It was probably a little too prone to its own mythology. It certainly was prone to a bit of infighting. Much less than there had been in the 70s, I think, but it still was. And I’m sure I was as bad as the next person. But there was, as I said earlier, a great esprit de corps. A great sense of camaraderie. To be with John Ware on a story, or Ed Vulliamy of course was there, or Mike Beckham. Simon Berthon. To be in tight spots, in difficult places, and feel that your back was covered by the producer you were working with. Or conversely, when I became a producer, the researcher you were working with. And you’d be backed by your editor, and your company. So, for all the Hollywood-on-the-Irwell fantasies of it all, there was a core of real integrity and accomplishment. 

And I remember it, like you do with people that you were young with once, they’re always young in your mind. I remember them all with fondness. I’m sure I was a pain in the arse, and I’m sure I was certainly very insecure. I was a young man growing up. I had an old World in Action team list. And I looked at it, with all the phone numbers in it. It gave me a warm feeling that never leaves you. That sense of being marked by that programme, marked by that company. And I owe it just a boundless debt, and all the people that I worked with there.

I’ve referenced a lot of people. I felt I hadn’t referenced people and my debt to them.

I would totally agree with you, certainly about the macho culture, and also particularly about the fact that you were there on the third floor, away from everybody else. It wasn’t good, that, because…

It wasn’t, no.

World in Action researchers, producers, had certain generous benefits, like refreshments, and I think you got extra holidays as well. And there was a slight resentment in the rest of the building.

Really? I’m sure that’s true. You’re telling me, I didn’t realise we had extra special benefits, but…

You did.

But definitely it was a Praetorian Guard feeling, wasn’t it?

Absolutely.

And I’m sure that we were all, me included, careless, when I look back now, at our responsibilities to our fellow colleagues in other areas.

Everybody else aspired to be on World in Action. Everybody wanted to work on it.

In a weird way, it would have been much better if it had been right in the heart of everything. With all these other programmes. So It Goes, Granada Reports, Reports Politics, so that all these programmes were cross-fertilising off each other. It would have been to its benefit.

We mentioned people like Simon Berthon and Mike Gillard. I never got to know those people really, when I was working in the other part of the building. It wasn’t until I came up onto the third floor that I got to know who these people were. A lot of them were stuck in London. So again, there was that barrier.

Yes, yes, exactly. And you didn’t go up. I mean, I distinctly remember, because I was very young, I would have only been 21 or 22 perhaps when I joined. And so I was very young, I was a pup, and wet behind the ears for sure. And these people were like gods to me, really. They really were. And I viewed them as very, very unapproachable. Actually, oddly, when you did get to know them, when you were put on a film with somebody like Brian… well, Brian Blake was a very friendly man actually. But when you did get put… Mike Beckham I remember being a very remote figure, and then I was put on a programme with him, and we went to Hong Kong together. And he was absolutely delightful. Because of course you got on the plane together, you spent time together, you were in each other’s pockets for six, seven weeks, and then you went through the cutting and all that. So of course, you got to know them, and all the boundaries and anxieties faded away, and strong bonds would be created. But in a way that process never occurred across the company. I think Ray probably quite liked that. I could be doing a disservice to him, but I think he rather liked the fact that it was a bit of a Praetorian.

And he was very protective of his little gang and the empire.

And it was protected inside the company too, it was sort of seen as a special programme. I think it… rather like Granada, its time came and went. But it was a shame when it did, it was a shame when Granada’s went too. I think it stayed there a bit in ITV. There’s still a little bit of it there, but I certainly felt it was still around in the later years when Granada was no longer Granada, it was part of ITV, it still sort of, I mean, I did… a Stephen Lawrence film for Granada and I did ‘Bloody Sunday’ for Granada Films. You know it felt to me, although they were different pieces in a different genre, as it were, there were dramatic pieces. They still had a relationship to World in Action in my mind. And by the way, a relationship that in my mind has continued through some of the films that I’ve made later in life. United 93 being one, and 22 July that I made in Norway, a few years ago, which were down the road. In those films, although they were sort of theatrical films in that sense, but they still had, I practiced all of the things that I’d learnt and was taught at Granada on World in Action, lessons that I was taught by that cadre of older people.

Well, United 93 and the Norwegian film are very World in Action.

Yes they were. They had different things in them, but yes, that’s what I mean. There’s a root there.

That style, yes.

Bloody Sunday, 93, 22 July… on a few other things as well, I hope.

I thought United 93, I’m not just saying it, but I thought it was a fabulous film. I really thought you should have got the Oscar for that. 

Very kind.

Really great movie.

Was great fun to do. Lots of other places are good though. That’s as I’ve found. It’s been interesting. One of the interesting things is I started at Granada when there were only three channels. And by the end I had worked at ITV… well, I’d worked at Granada, I’d worked at London Weekend. I’d made films at the BBC, at Channel 4, Film4, and I made some small British films, then I worked at a number of the studios and then that 22 July film I made at Netflix. So I sort of feel I’ve seen the spectrum really, of film and television. Most places are good in my experience. I wouldn’t say that Granada was the only place that I found benevolence and a strong creative environment. Universal in the States is quite like Granada like that. They’ve been very good to me in that Granada-y way, of supporting me when I’ve wanted to do something less commercial whilst also liking it when I do the more commercial ones. But always wanting to protect the creative process. So it’s interesting. But Granada definitely was special for that, I think, and of course, I can see some of the inspiration for those kinds of films came from the work that Leslie Woodhead and David Boulton did at Granada, with the drama documentary form in films like Strike and Invasion.

And also, Granada was locked into the north west.

Profoundly important, I think. Non-metropolitan. The whole world view. You could feel, and Ray of course, profoundly a man of the north west. But I think the company having its roots there was central, I think, to what it was. 

Oh, one person I should mention of course, was George Jesse Turner, and Phil Taylor of course. Put that back in the bit, right? 

And then of course the best, George Jesse Turner and Phil Taylor were always shooting wherever you went. It’d be sometimes Alan Bale on sound. Phil Taylor. And we went to many, many places around the world. God, I remember being in Beirut with George Jesse Turner in ‘82, it must’ve been. With George Jesse Turner, Simon Berthon was producing. I was a researcher, George and Alan Bale, and it was a proper war zone. You know, we were in west Beirut. The Israeli army was just on the other side of the airport, and it was dangerous as fuck. And I remember very early on, probably the first day, we went to get our passes at a PLO building. And I was again, very young, and I’d never been. I worked quite a bit in Northern Ireland, but it was my first proper war zone. And all of a sudden there was an Israeli air attack and the whole place went bananas. everybody started running all over. We were in a sort of, from memory, like a hallway with a staircase down and up. And George had his hands in the day bag, changing film. In those day bags that you used to… and suddenly you heard all the noise and this sort of unbelievable pressure when these jets come in. Everybody was running around. I jumped down the stairs and I was absolutely, fuck me, you think you’re inside the PLO. Anyway, there was a tremendous amount of banging what went on for about five minutes and then it all seemed to be over. It didn’t seem to last very long, five minutes maybe. There’d obviously been an air strike nearby. Anyway, I came up. I’ll never forget it, I pissed myself! So my jeans were wet. Very heroic, it was. And George was still there with his hands in the day bag, with Alan Bale next to him. George said, “Where did you go?” I said, “I fucking jumped down the stairs.” And I remember Alan Bale saying, “Oh, no, don’t do that.” He said, “Listen, don’t worry. The only time to get worried is when you see us running.” It was quite true. Because he’d served in the army in his early years…..

Yes. But I saw George Jesse Turner, funnily enough, not so long ago. Two or three months ago. In Suffolk. And we had a lovely cup of tea and he was still as boyish, and….

A great cameraman. And taught me such a tremendous amount. 

I remember the first time I started directing and producing, as they called it. And of course, you’ve been the bag carrier, the researcher for so many years. And obviously, you’re integral to the process. But you can sit next to somebody driving and think you can drive. It’s wholly different when you’re in the driver’s seat. And I can’t even remember what my first programme was that I actually made myself. But anyway, I remember a couple of things about it. I remember that first day of shooting, and it was like an interview, I think. And I remember George saying to me, “So where do you want this?” And I remember feeling utterly panicked. “Oh my God! What do I do? What do I do?” Inside. You’re literally in brain freeze. And George being so nice and saying, “Look. Just look for the depth. There’s a nice corner. We’ll shoot towards that.” And slowly but surely like a jackdaw you pick up the tips. Shoot towards the light. Back on a long lens. All the basic language of filmmaking, he would impart to me as a young man with great generosity. 

We were in the Philippines, we were shooting. We were doing a thing about following Cory Aquino, when she took on Marcos in the revolution. And we were with some soldiers from the army. It was hilly country. And I wanted them to walk across this hill. So we got this nice shot of them silhouetted. And for some reason I couldn’t work out, the commander of this little platoon was very, very unhappy about it. And I said, “I don’t understand what’s the problem.” George turned to me and said, “It might be a very nice shot, but let’s face it, which soldier would walk against the sunlight on the ridge of a hill?” Brilliant! But I can’t remember what damn film it was, but I remember I had to… because sometimes for World in Action’s, you’d get your rushes back on a Friday or a Saturday morning. And the transcripts would be typed up, and you’d have to cut and paste and assemble the film. And then you’d have to go off to net cutter Sunday night. You’d have to put the film together in 24 hours, which taught you phenomenal skills of get it done, get it done, get it done, move it forward.

All night sessions on a Saturday night.

Definitely. And I remember this Saturday night was the first film, I got it there, and I literally froze. It was like my brain didn’t work. And I’d always been, as a researcher, I think, pretty good in the cutting room. I always kind of felt I knew what to do. As I say, sitting in the passenger seat is different to the driver’s seat. I literally froze. And I remember wading through treacle. I can’t remember who was cutting it. Might’ve been Roland. Might’ve been Kim. Might’ve been Clive Maltby. I can’t remember. About two o’clock in the morning, it was two or three in the morning, and I had got absolutely nowhere. I was like drowning. Didn’t know which piece to put where. What the start was. It was just like, “Oh, my god.” And Simon Berthon, I’d been his research on quite a few films, was up in Manchester doing another World in Action. Don’t know which one it was. And I knew he was asleep in the Midland Hotel. And this is when I talk about the bonds of friendship, and that way people could be, although I’m sure they were arrogant and Praetorian, godlike, people actually inside could be very kind. I phoned him up at three in the morning. Woke him up, and said, “Simon, I’m drowning.” He said, “I’ll come in.” And he came in, looked at the film at three in the morning, spent about an hour and a half there to listen to us doing it. It was like putting a kid back up on the bike. Do you know what I mean? He said, “That piece. Just start there. Then get to there. And then you’re….” And then suddenly it’s like, “Oh, I get it. No. I’m okay now.” And then he said, “Can I leave you now, and go back to bed?” And I was fine. But I’ve never forgotten that. That’s a mate, isn’t it?

Tales about Sidney Bernstein from Tim Sullivan

My favourite story of Sidney…tell me if Helen McMurray’s told you this. She was working in Globe & Simpson, which was the building opposite Granada, which, colloquially, used to be known as Pearl & Dean. And we were making a show called Reports Action, with Bob Greaves, first of the local kind of telethon. We did them pre-Comic Relief, pre-all of those things. And Helen was the researcher and she’d been sent over to that big room in Globe & Simpson to set up the office. And she was having a really bad day. The desks hadn’t arrived. She had one desk. She had one phone. None of the whiteboards arrived. There was supposed to be an exchange of about… because they took loads of phone calls to take money. There’s supposed to be a little mini switchboard, yada, yada, yada, yada. She was in a really, really bad mood. And this old man wandered in off the street wearing an overcoat and a little sort of trilby hat. And she thought, “Oh fuck, this is all I need.”

“Hello,” she went. “You can’t come in here; this is part of Granada TV. What are you doing in here?”

“Oh, I’m trying to make this show, Reports Action.”

“What does that do? Look, I’m really sorry. I’m really busy. I’ve got no desks. I’ve got no phones. What does Reports Action do?”

“Well it raises money for local charities.”

“Please, could you go?”

“Well, how are you going to do that if you haven’t got any desks?”

This conversation went on for about five minutes, at which point he left and she thought, “Oh thank fuck.” Half an hour later, the doors are knocked down. There’s 25 workmen. There are desks flying in, there are phones coming in, switchboards coming in, whiteboards. It all happened. And she turned to the producer and said, “What the fuck happened?” She said, “Well, you told Sidney there was a problem.” And he came into the building and stripped an ear off someone. That was Sidney.

I never met him. Derek (Granger) had a very close relationship with Sidney. They used to holiday together. He was very tight with Sidney and his wife, but then they had a situation and they had this beautiful Oliver Messel designed garden and house in Barbados. And they were held up at gunpoint one holiday, and Sidney’s wife refused to go back, but he loved it. So, he used to go there regularly and on occasion, Derek will go with him, and meet wonderful people like Claudette Colbert. Has he told you the story?

No.

So, Derek has gone to spend a week or so with Sidney and he says, “We’re going to Claudette’s for lunch.” No, Claudette came for a drink and she said, “Will you come for lunch on Sunday?” And Sidney went, “Yes, of course.” She said, “It’s a bit of a nightmare.” And Sidney said, “Why?” And she said, “Oh, President Reagan and Nancy are coming for lunch. I’ve got the bloody CIA there. They’re fucking ripping the butler’s pantry out, putting an international switchboard in. It’s not like just having someone around for lunch. It’s like a whole great big event.” And so, Derek thought, “Oh, this is thrilling.” So they went to have lunch. Derek was an inveterate swimmer, which is probably why he’s still alive at 99. Now he would swim 100 lengths a day, right up until the 70s. And after lunch, Nancy Reagan said, “I’d love to go for a swim.” Derek said, “Oh, I’ll come with you.” And this is when he realised that she had a slight sort of mischievous sense of humour. So they walked out onto the beach. She had a swim costume underneath her dress. They’re informally dressed. And she whispered to Derek, “Watch the Secret Service.” And he said, “What?” She said, “Watch now what happens.” So, they walked towards the sea. And up on the little hill, there were about 20 suited ear-pieced, Secret Service men who all suddenly frantically started looking at each other. Then ripped off their suits, all of them, ran towards the sea. And Derek said, “As they swam out, they had a v-shape or sort of semicircle of about 15 Secret Service agents, swimming in their underwear.”

Tim Sullivan biography

Tim Sullivan joined Granada TV in 1981 as a researcher initially working on local programmes before move to light entertainment.  He became a director in 1984, later specialising in drama and left the company ten years later to direct the film Jack and Sarah.

Tim Sullivan describes how he joined Granada

The first person that I met from Granada was a chap called Gerry Hagan, who was head of Scripts. He was one of Plowright’s performance appointments. He was head of Scripts in London. I directed a play at university, which we took to Edinburgh in my second year, and I was asked to go for a breakfast or a lunch meeting with this chap, Gerry. It was interesting just to see how Granada was already then, I mean, everyone knows that they go… everyone goes to Edinburgh to see talent, like the Footlights or whatever, and try and sign them up. But this was someone actually looking at behind the camera talent, which I thought was quite interesting, because I’d directed the play, I hadn’t written it. That was my first encounter. But then I got a job…

What year was this?

That was 1978. Yes. Then I left university and I got a job as… I mean, my way into Granada, it was quite circumvoluted, because I got a job as a chauffeur for an actor called Anthony Andrews. At the time, he was working on this big TV project called Brideshead Revisited. So through him, I met Derek Granger. I was also, at the time, writing a movie script for the director Derek Jarman, which immediately… Derek Granger is one of those incredibly curious people about people, and talent, and encouraging, and so he immediately wanted to know why Anthony’s chauffeur was writing a bloody film script, what was going on. So I met him, and he became a friend and he put me up for ridiculous jobs. I was 22, I think, no experience. He put me up for an associate producer drama job. It was just absurd. Then I’d applied to all the companies, all the broadcasters, and got a flat rebuff.

Granger, in his way, he called Steve Morrison, who was head of programmes, Local programmes at the time, and said, “Will you see this boy?” And so I got a train to Manchester, and I came up and was greeted by a chap called Steve Hawes, who took me off for coffee whilst I was waiting to see Steve. Then when I went to see Steve, we chatted about what I wanted to do, and this and that. And I kind of, I was a bit of a luvvie, really. I thought, “I want to direct drama, mate. I want to do that Brideshead thing that I just saw that teenager, Charles Sturridge, doing. That’s what I want to do. Why am I looking at something like local news?” Anyway, I was sent away by Steve with a task to go down and watch Nationwide in London, and to read the paper every morning. In the morning, write four items that I would do on an evening show, then tell him what was on the evening show in London, write critiques of all of the things, and how I… so I did that for a week, and then I sent off my A4 Olivetti typed out pages to Manchester, and of course never heard another bloody thing. And that was okay, you know, I was working with Jarman, it was fine.

Then in January, I got a call from someone at Granada, I can’t remember who it was. I think it was Jules Burns, who in those days was head of Researchers, saying, “We just wanted to let you know that there’s going to be a board.” Every Monday, there was a media page in The Guardian. Every Monday, you looked, desperate to find a job, and then you applied for them and didn’t get them, in the media page of The Guardian. Anyway, the following Monday, there was going to be an advert for local researchers, six month contract, and I should apply. I then came up to Granada and I had two interviews, two boards, and I got the job. And I’ve always said, absolutely the hand of Derek Granger, how come out of all of these places I couldn’t even get an interview, and then here I was a few months later, at Granada. And I started in March 22nd or 23rd of 1981.

Tim Sullivan describes his early days at Granada

So I came up to Manchester. I knew a couple of people up here already, which didn’t make it any easier. But anyway, so we then went through the induction, then we were put onto Granada Reports, which I just found the most terrifying thing that had ever happened to me. I just couldn’t understand why I would be sent out to Stockport Post Office headquarters when there was a strike, with a cameraman, John Blakeley, Mike Blakeley’s uncle. Kind of a classic Northern kind of, “Who’s this whippersnapper,” type. I just didn’t get it.

I remember going to interview John Bond, who was the new head of Manchester City, and I didn’t really know anything about management. I knew about football. I had my team, but I didn’t know anything about, you know. So off I went to Manchester, it’s at Maine Road, and on the way there I read the Guardian, and there was this long piece about Bond, so I kind of memorised it. Then I asked this absurd question, off-camera, that was about 40 seconds long, this question, to which the answer was, “No.” It was like, “Fuck! What do I do now?” But the great thing about Granada was, you were really thrown in at the deep end.

Judy Finnigan was there; I was then given Judy Finnigan as my ‘mother’. The first thing we went off to do was a thing about the police in schools, or something. We went along with it for… I was there for about six months. In the end, you look back on it as a thing where, you got into a meeting at eight o’clock in the morning, and you had to come up with a story, or various people came up with stories. Obviously as a researcher, you’re going to either help a presenter or a reporter, or just do something lowly. But you had to come up with a story, write some links, get permission to film, get out and film.

In those days, you had to have it back in time to get to the bloody labs over the road. So you had to get it to the labs, and then you had to get it into the editing room, and then you had to deal with this weird thing called stripe film, where the sound was approximate, was a few frames ahead of the picture, because it was running alongside, it was on the film itself. I mean, I know you know all of this. The sound would be six, seven frames, eight frames ahead of the picture. So when you went to make a cut, the first line you made a cut, it went out of sync, and then you learned how to overlap the sound with the pictures, and… anyway, say it was fantastic training.

Then I finally got fired by Stuart Prebble, because I was kind of in my… I was quite an expressive young man, and I’d cropped my hair and dyed it pink. I also had a dagger through my ear, and I was hauled in to Prebble, who said, “What on earth are you doing?” And I went, “You can’t tell me how to dress, mate. What are you talking about?” And he went, “I can’t have you on the news anymore.” And secretly I said, “That’s fucking great. Thank you, because I’m just a fish out of water here.” And he said, “You know, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes up on a train to Manchester, how am I supposed to send you on behalf of Granada Reports, a serious news programme, to interview him about the economy, looking like that?” So that was my first, you know, that was me starting at Granada.

Tim Sullivan on Granada’s regional identity

I thought I had it great identity. Of course, it had two of the worst football clubs in the world. But aside from that, it took a while to get used to because it’s like going to a new school, isn’t it? Before I made friends, I didn’t really understand it. So I would pootle off to London as soon as I could. As soon as I got the director’s job, I left London, I moved to Manchester and bought a house because I thought, “I could embrace this,” which was great.

Another great encourager at Granada, when I’d worked on Granada Reports, I’d struck up a rapport with Tony Wilson. I wasn’t alone there, many, many people did. And so, within a few months, I didn’t have anywhere to live. I ended up living in Tony’s house with him one summer. So, I quickly had the virtues of the north west and Manchester and the endlessly repeated story of driving down to present Nationwide and turning around at Watford Gap station. If I had a pound… but I loved Tony, as did most people. He became a great, great friend, as he did with many people. When I came up to direct Cold Feet he was one of the first people that got in touch, we went out for dinner.

Manchester clearly had a really interesting cultural identity; which Granada was very responsive to. And you had these wonderful filmmakers, like Peter Carr who made City, the documentary, which is like the golden age of documentaries. And then in local television, you had people, all those from the north east, like Tony Bulley, making programmes like This England, which were great portraits of the north west by people who were interested in the north west and understood it. Local programmes, I would stick my neck out and go local programmes might have been a chore for other broadcasters in the ITV network, but it was a fundamental of Bernstein’s ethos. And it reflected that, it was a north west company that made really good programmes about and for the north west.

Tim Sullivan on his role as a researcher on Alfresco

I know what happened at the end of entertainment. Some chums of mine from university came up to do a show called Alfresco. And I was the researcher on it, which was very odd because they were a year or so junior to me at Cambridge, but I’d worked with some of them and I knew them all. And here I was suddenly, they were the stars and I was the researcher, but it was a great time.

Was this with Sandy Ross?

Sandy Ross was producing.

Yes. Morrison was in…

There was one moment where the director was a really lovely bloke called Stuart Orme. Stephen Fry was having trouble in a scene. We were shooting in the hospital, I remember really well. And Stephen was having trouble in the scene and I could see exactly what was wrong, so I went up and I whispered to him… a note. And we came back. We did the tape, everyone laughed and Stuart went “Brilliant. Stephen, what did you do?” And Stephen went “Oh, it wasn’t me. Tim told me.” Oh, my god, did I get a bollocking for that. That was not my job.

And who were the other stars who worked on that programme?

There was Ben Elton, and weirdly I’d met Ben on Live From Two, a year or so before. Nervous young man then, he was on a programme with Terry Jones and Alan Bennett. I then got to know Alan Bennett very well. I’ll tell you a story about that later. But Ben was going to do this stand up piece as a representative of a new generation. And it was about 18 minutes long. And I said, “Ben, the programme’s only 22. You can’t do…” So I honed it down to about 90 seconds for them, which was great fun. And he was lovely about it, very modest. So there was Ben. Robbie Coltrane. I remember on the first week of shooting, Robbie turned to me and said, “Go get me a coffee, will you?” And I went “Fuck off, go get it yourself.” And to be fair to him, he came back five minutes later, the two coffees and gave me one. I hadn’t quite got the hang of what I was doing yet, you know what I mean? And he was lovely, used to do up old cars. And Stephen and Hugh, and Emma Thompson, and Siobhan Redmond. Siobhan would come down from Scotland. And it was interesting because Ben was a prolific writer. We’d work a full day and he’d go home, and he’d come back in the morning with three scripts. And I kind of felt at the time that Stephen and Hugh were slightly intimidated by this. But they all got on like a house on fire. They’re all still friends to this day, but that was a great time.

Tim Sullivan on his training as a director

 I became a director. Did the director’s course, which was fabulous. And then Granada were brilliant because you went through everything. You did live TV with Granada Reports, or a chat show, and then we started in children’s TV, both with Spencer Campbell and myself. He was the other director, trainee director. And then we went into light entertainment where I did Busman’s Holiday, flew around the world, worked with a legend that is Johnny Hamp. Wonderful, wonderful man. Another encourager.

And eventually got to the pinnacle which was Coronation Street. That’s what you wanted. And Corrie was the greatest training ground for drama directors as is EastEnders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks. But a wonderful, wonderful training ground. I had a year on Corrie which I absolutely loved. And then did Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwick. I did a drama documentary about the three final weeks of Margaret Thatcher’s reign with Ray Fitzwalter, which was a different experience for me.