Conference Photos

Granadaland Conference

In May 2016 we held a one day conference at Manchester Metropolitan University to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the first transmission by Granada TV. The event was hosted by Gordon Burns with a keynote speech from Steve Morrison. Lord Bernstein’s two children – David Bernstein and Jane Wells – both attended along with 200 delegates, many of them former Granada employees. There were also sessions with Leslie Woodhead talking about documentaries, Johnnie Hamp in discussion with CP Lee about light entertainment, David Liddiment talking drama with Carolyn Reynolds and Sita Williams, and Sandy Ross on local programming with Don Jones and Cat Lewis. A brochure listing the day’s events is on this page.

Mike Beckham

Interviewed by Geoff Moore, 4 November 2015.

So, Mike, when did you join Granada?

I joined Granada in 1962. I was picked up at university, | was very lucky. I won the NUS Sunday Times drama competition and by great good luck, Derek Granger happened to be in the audience. I’d done a lot of theatre at university, and he said, would you like to apply for a production trainee scheme at Granada? I knew nothing about it, or about television. We didn’t even have a television set in our house. I turned up in Manchester and was interviewed by Dennis Forman and I realised what an incredible man he was immediately. He was incredibly handsome, erudite, great command of language, huge charm, very polite. He said, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve got the job, but you have to do and be interviewed by Mr Sidney and Mr Cecil, and I hadn’t a clue who they were, I thought they were two benign hairdressers. And I found myself in the presence of Sidney Bernstein, you know, a great patrician, very handsome, broken nose, and I realised he was the important man. And within two minutes I discovered we were talking about the playwright Bertolt Brecht, the Marxist playwright. We got on very well, and I was luckily offered the job.

So you were spotted by Derek Granger?

Yes, I was spotted by Derek Granger, who’s been a friend ever since. He was talent spotting.

And so he invited you to apply for trainee scheme?

That’s right. As production trainees, we were extraordinarily privileged because we were in a position where we knew we were going to be producer-directors. I joined on the same day as Leslie Woodhead. We were the second batch of production trainees. The following year were Mike Apted and Mike Newell, so that was the golden year. And within two years, 18 months, I found myself directing Coronation Street. This was early-mid 60s, and this was the golden time of Coronation Street. It was Pat Phoenix, Violet Carson, Anne Reid, characters like Annie Walker, Jack Walker, Bill Roach, Mr Swindley. Wonderful scripts by northern writing like Jack Rosenthal, Peter Eckersley, and we even got Jim Allen, the Marxist playwright, who wrote some early scripts.

It was quite an exciting time, because there were three directors. We did two shows every three weeks, two half hour shows, all on videotape. No editing. So on the Friday afternoon when you ran the show, you put the captions on, and you ran scene after scene after scene, with no editing. So it was effectively a live show. If an actor fluffed, too bad. If a cameraman made a mistake, too bad. And if a boom was in shot, you lived with it. It was exciting television, great stuff to work on. It was probably one of the most exciting times of my life, because you’re in the deep end.

I got to know Pat Phoenix. She treated Coronation Street, because she was the big star, a bit like Hollywood on the Irwell… I remember once going out to her house, which had a heart-shaped swimming pool. We drank Dom Pérignon and she did treat it a bit like Hollywood.

I joined at the same time as a producer called Tim Aspinall, and he was told to get rid of some members of the cast. And the second show I did, we had to kill off Martha Longhurst, which was very sad, and she simply had a heart attack in the snug and fell over. This was a very actress called Lynne Carol. From then on, Tim and I would treat her with great respect, because we were the great reapers. I used to go to people’s dressing rooms at lunchtime on Friday to give them notes – “oh yes, have a glass of champagne,” you know, “have a bottle of champagne!”

So what year are we talking about here?

1964 I’d say for Coronation Street, or 65.

How long were you on the show?

A year.

So you were doing it as live, half hour, record. But wasn’t it all in one studio?

It was all in studio two. Very occasionally there was a tiny bit of film, that was fed in live, gut it was all done in studio two, which is not a big studio, so you had to move the cameras around from set to set, live, move the booms around. It was very challenging and an incredibly good way to learn live television.

Because a lot of dramas were done that way in those studios, weren’t they?

Yes, but mainly in the bigger studio. Yes, the other dramas were done like that. I think there was some kind of videotape editing with the bigger dramas. I did one or two detective series after that, which were not all that good, and I have a feeling they were done in this semi-live way. I don’t think there was much editing. Because videotape editing then, in the mid-60s, was an incredibly crude process. You had to put iron filings onto this two-inch tape, look at where the line of the speech and the picture was, which would come up with the iron filings, and then cut along this strange line. I still don’t understand it.

Just to go back to when you were at Leeds, what were you studying?

Chemical engineering. I didn’t actually do much chemical engineering because I hated it, so I did a lot of drama.

Did you know then that you wanted to be in drama?

Yes. I’d done a little bit of work at York Repertory Theatre and this was just totally fortuitous, that I won the Sunday Times competition. There were a lot of bigwigs in the audience, including somebody from Granada.

And the trainee scheme, you were part of an elite, weren’t you?

We were very much an elite. There were five of us. There was Leslie, myself, Cecil Bernstein’s son Alex Bernstein, a guy called John Bassett who had put together at university Beyond the Fringe, and a girl called Caroline Seabone, whose father ran Barclay’s bank. Only Leslie and I survived. The others left for various reasons; they wanted to do other things. And you know, it was a major step up in television, because if Derek hadn’t been in the audience… people ask me how do you get in television, well, I don’t know these days, you have to be in the right place at the right time, or know somebody, you know.

Absolutely. I remember the trainee scheme. I remember John Birt was on it, was Gus on it?


Michael Apted?

Oh, John Birt was after Michael Apted with Charlie Sturridge I think. I may be wrong about that, I can’t remember now.

So take us from Coronation Street, what was your next move?

I then did some not very good detective series that I didn’t like and they weren’t all that good. I asked to start making films. I joined a series called This England run by Denis Mitchell and Norman Swallow, who were two very good documentary filmmakers. The key to the series was that there would be no commentary, so these were authored films. So you’d make films about something that you had a passion about. They were very difficult to make because we were kind of babies in this new genre. And portable film cameras had just appeared, the Arton. And I remember Denis Mitchell didn’t suffer fools gladly. You’d show him a rough cut, and he’d look at it and say, OK, well when you’ve got something to show me, I’ll come again, and he’d walk out of the cutting room.

They were both vey tough, but in the end there were some quite nice films made there. I made a film about Manchester University and found Anna Ford actually, she was one of the people in my… I picked out four students. What else did I make? I made a film about a village in Derbyshire.

Anyway, after that, around 1968, I saw a lot of people like John Sheppard walking around Granada in combat fatigues, and I thought, that looks interesting. He’d just come back from Vietnam. I’d done quite a lot of journalism at university, and I said, can I join World In Action? And within two years, I found myself climbing in helicopters in Vietnam, which was extraordinary. You know, you’d be in Manchester in the stables and a week later you’d be in a battle somewhere in Vietnam.

I made, I think, over 100 World In Action‘s over twenty years. I was on the series far too long. It became like a drug. I filmed in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Chile, Bangladesh, Brazil, Israel, Uganda. Trouble spots. I did a lot of war films. And there were a lot of very good colleagues on World In Action – John Sheppard, Jo Durden-Smith, very talented people, Leslie Woodhead, Geoff Moore, John Birt. And it was a unique programme. It was the programme to be on, because we did shows that nobody else touched.

Can I just ask you, what year did you start?

1968 on World In Action.

And you’d been coming out of filmmaking?

Out of This England, yes.

Did you start on World In Action as a director?

I started as a director-producer. The first film I made for World In Action was about a public school, Marlborough, which was letting working-class children in. It was called The Guinea Pigs. The next film I made with Geoff Moore about James Griffiths, which caused a lot of trouble but it was a very strong film. It was about a man who was psychiatrically disturbed, who shot eight people in Glasgow, and we looked into his background and reconstructed it. It caused a lot of trouble, but it was an authored film, and you know, it was good.

In what way did it cause trouble? Just remind me.

It caused trouble in that we had a camera on the streets and a man running round with a rifle, and we didn’t tell the police. The police were very upset about this and they complained to Granada. It was very naïve on my part, but it was a good film in the end.

Can I just ask, were you Manchester-based throughout?

I was Manchester-based for about two or three years, and then I managed to get down to London where there was an office, because I always wanted to be in London. I was going to talk about other World In Action’s later. I then moved onto drama documentaries. These were an offshoot of World In Action. We found, this is Leslie Woodhead and myself, we found various stories behind the Iron Curtain, which we couldn’t get a camera to for obvious reasons, but we could often get, say, a transcript of a trial of dissidents, or an area like that. So what we did, we’d reconstruct the story with actors using the transcripts for the trial, or we’d sneak in to Czechoslovakia with a tape recorder and get a story. And these were new and unique. The name of the game there was that you couldn’t invent characters or scenes, you had to follow a chronological order, so it was still journalism. You could compress time. If someone was interrogated by the police five times, you could reduce that to two. And these were the forerunners of when you see on a screen, “based on a true story”. These really were true stories. We didn’t make up dialogue.

It sounds like you’re very proud of this programme.

Very much so. I made one about some trials in Czechoslovakia. I made one about a man called Jan Kalina, who was a professor of jokes at Bratislava University. And he told underground jokes. So he had an underground cabaret. And these were political jokes against the regime. Czechoslovakia then was a Soviet satellite, much under the thumb of Moscow. And he told these jokes and he was arrested for them. I was going to talk about that later.

I then did a very big drama documentary called Who Bombed Birmingham, which was about the Birmingham Six. It was a two-hour film with John Hurt in it. And we managed to get to the truth of who’d actually bombed Birmingham and reconstructed it. We named, not the Birmingham Six, because they were innocent, but we named five IRA people who had actually planted the bombs, and that helped our six to get out of prison, where they’d been for 16 years.

Then I went back to factual programmes. I did two or three Disappearing World‘s, in Brazil, which was very exciting. This was really exciting, Boys’ Own stuff. A tribe in the middle of nowhere, you’d land on a light plane at a jungle strip, you’d take a canoe for two days upriver, and you’d find yourself in a village of tribesmen with spears, and we’d make a film about them. This was very exciting.

And then, what else do I remember? Before I left, I made some films with Prince Michael of Kent. I made two two-hour films, first of all about the Tsar Nicholas of Russia, who he was related to, and then Queen Victoria, who he was related to. The royal family often get a pretty bad press for being anti-intellectual and against culture, but Prince Michael was a pretty extraordinary guy, cousin of the Queen, spoke many languages – very good Russian, very good French and German. And I would write a link for him for the camera, and he’d say, “yes, dear boy, that’s fine”, and he’d go out in the car and have a look at it, and he’d play around and come up with something much more interesting, which he’d deliver beautifully in a very deep voice. He’d never done any television before and he was absolutely brilliant. And then I left Granada.

What year was that?


But the majority of your time was spent on World In Action?

Yeah. And then doing the odd documentary, yeah.

110+ World In Actions. The record is held by Brain Blake, isn’t it?

That’s right, 120, something like that.

Are you number 2?

I think I am, yeah. I’ve no idea. I must be.

It’s an incredible number.

It was a drug.

You enjoyed it.

I loved it, yeah. I was very lucky because I spent a lot of time getting on and off planes and I did a lot of shows in the States, and I like working in third world countries, I appreciate that very much.

When I worked on it, it was a fantastic privilege to be working on an intelligent show amongst talented filmmakers. And of course you had all these slots as well, there was a huge demand for programmes.


Which World In Actions really stand out as ones you’re most proud of?

It’s extraordinary being in Vietnam because as I say, you’ve been in the stables, and then a week later you’re in a helicopter in a battle zone. You had total access. The Americans allowed crews to go anywhere they wanted to, all you had to do was go to Tan Son Nhut and say, is there a helicopter going to so-and-so and you’d be there.

I made a film called the Siege of Kontum early on. Kontum was a town near the Ho Chi Minh trail. It was surrounded and we were helicoptered into it. It was surrounded by the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army. And we watched that town defend itself, which was pretty exciting.

I late made another siege film at Phnom Penh with George Turner and Alan Bale. It was the last town left in Cambodia before it collapsed, and it was surrounded by the murderous Khmer Rouge. We didn’t know how bad they were. We knew a lot of journalists had disappeared and never came back, which certainly didn’t happen in Vietnam. If you were captured, you were taken to Hanoi, but the Khmer Rouge just killed journalists. And this was very exciting because we filmed a convoy coming over from Saigon to supply the town. This was the last month, and we got out, thank goodness.

Five years later I went back with George and Alan to look at the shambles which was left after… this was year zero, and we were the second unit in, and it was just extraordinary. Phnom Penh was a deserted town, and people were coming in, everybody had an extraordinary story to tell about the Khmer Rouge. Amazing stories. The Khmer Rogue had this mad idea to set up a new race. They wanted to reduce all the middle class and kill them. So what they did was, when the emptied the town in ’75, just after we left, first of all they killed all the members of the army. Then they killed all the doctors, and all the university professors. Then they killed anyone wearing glasses. And then they would leave prescriptions for drugs laying around, and if you picked them up, they would kill you. And so what was left was some middle class who managed to hide and pretend to be something else, but mainly a peasant race. And coming back into Phnom Penh was extraordinary, because in 1980, they decided to get rid of all cars, so there was this huge dump of cars. Get rid of all fridges. They wanted to start from zero, that’s why it was called year zero. That was quite moving and quite extraordinary.

I did a three-part series called The Rise and Fall of the CIA with Geoff Moore in Washington. We were there for five weeks, and we charted how the CIA had changed from a benign anti-communist operation to an operation that supported corrupt generals in Latin America and Africa, and suddenly it was no longer a force for good. We caused a bit of a stir in Washington because it became known that there was a British film unit which had the temerity to question the CIA, and at one stage a former director of the CIA, James Angleton, came to our hotel, to find out what we were doing, which was flattery, if you like.

I did a film called The Hunt for Doctor Mengele. Mengele was the doctor at Auschwitz, and this was about 1980. He was one of the most wanted men in the world. We heard he was in Paraguay. We got close to him. We were using a hidden camera. We went to a German community there. We didn’t get him but we talked to people who’d played cards with him the night before. We made an hour-long film. I was unfortunately arrested and thrown out, threatened with being beaten up and tortured, and thrown out, but we made a strong film, which CBS 60 Minutes bought.

I just have to ask you – beaten up and tortured?

I was threatened. I was stood against a wall all night and a 16-year old – this was in Paraguay – kept banging me in the back with his rifle butt until I fell over. And then the next day I managed to talk my way out a difficult situation, and the American ambassador got me out of it. We had happened to interview him a week before and he’d heard about this and he was very anti the regime there and he got me out.

Gosh. You must have been in dangerous situations many times. Did you never think to yourself, this isn’t the life for me?

We were stupid and young. We were doing things that I would never do now. We were in battle areas, particularly in South East Asia, and we wanted to get the best film there was. You know, I had very good crew and usually George, now and then, Bale, and they were the most wonderful people because we were all equal on that. If there was a dangerous situation, if somebody didn’t want to go forward to a trench where there was some fighting, or a wood where there was some fighting, they could say no and none of us went forward. The three of us had to agree to do it. And I said, look, we’re going to go to a besieged town, do you want to do it, and they always said yes. We were probably slightly naïve but we got away with it. There are things I did then I certainly wouldn’t do now.

What else am I proud of? Tiny Revolutions, this drama documentary about this professor about of jokes in Czechoslovakia. I saw a five-line Reuters piece saying a man called Jan Kalina had been arrested for telling political jokes. I thought that looked interesting, so I went to Czechoslovakia, which was a Soviet satellite, and talked to his wife. He’d been arrested, but he’d run an underground cabaret of political jokes – anti-communist jokes, anti-Brezhnev jokes, anti-Stalinist jokes. For example, “what’s two hundred yards long and eats cabbage? A meat queue in Czechoslovakia”. “Why do Czech secret policemen walk around in threes? One does the reading, one does the writing, and the third one keeps an eye on the other two intellectuals.” It was a wonderful story. Jan Kalina was interrogated by Czech secret police for three months and he told jokes for three months. I got a lot of this stuff from his wife. He was then tried and spent four years in prison, but here was a perfect shape for a drama – the cabaret scripts, a man being arrested, telling jokes to his interrogators, making fun of the them and, the communist party, and then the trial. So it was one of the best scripts and ideas I’ve ever come across. It worked pretty well actually. Liverpool Playhouse said let’s make this into a play, so I rewrote it as a play, which wasn’t quite as successful, but it had all the cabaret stuff in, the drama, the songs, that sort of stuff.

What else am I proud of? The Birmingham Six, 1975. Six men had been arrested in 1975 for blowing up two pubs in Birmingham, killing a lot of people, and they’d been in prison for sixteen years. World In Action did several very good shows, Ian McBride, showing how dubious the Crown evidence was. But it was still getting nowhere. I went over to Ireland and talked to some of the senior IRA members in Belfast, who said, “look, these men are innocent. I’m fed up of their relatives saying, when are we going to get the Birmingham Six out?” And I said, OK, what’s the story? And they said there was a split in the IRA. The people who did the bombing were from Dublin, and “us northerners”, Belfast people, didn’t approve of this. So I was given various pointers, and we actually managed to get to some of the people who had actually done it, and we named them, which caused a huge row. But it was a two-hour film and I think it helped. It really got the six out of prison. That was good.

Can I ask you about World In Action again, and the administration of it, and the politics of it? It was a hell of a demanding operation. Did you feel you had the backing of Granada management and the resources and so on?

Yeah. It was one of Granada’s jewels in the crown, as it were. It had the money, it had the backing, and above all it had the talent. There were some fantastic producers on there and some very good editors like Jeremy Wallington and Leslie Woodhead, Gus Macdonald, John Birt. It had the backing and the management, particularly Dennis Forman, would always back us to the hilt. I made several mistakes on the programme and he would always get me out of it. Because it was an important programme, it was an advert for Granada’s guts and radical… and for that reason, we were always supported. I can’t think of any situations where… we were in trouble sometimes with management, but the programme got on the air, and there were bad World In Action‘s, but also a lot of very good ones. It was a great programme to work on.

The strength of World In Action was the range of programmes which were being touched at the time, which nobody else was touching. Corruption, third world problems, human rights, torture, more corruption. We weren’t just going around interviewing politicians, we were getting to the heart of it. And recently I saw some World In Action‘s and I thought, these are pretty good, did I actually make this? And what I’ve now realised that what it was all about was that there was no presenter between the subject and the audience, and that makes a heck of a difference. I don’t particularly like presenters. Certainly in current affairs I didn’t quite know what they’d do. We were making authored films, and the strength of the programme was the simple fact that there was no-one there telling the audience what they should hear or believe. They had to look at the facts in the programme, or the images, etc.

I wonder if the viewer knew that it was an authored programme.

I don’t think they did. They accepted World in Action was a kind of dashing programme, and given that we were getting audiences of ten million – OK, there were only three channels at the time – but the regular audience was ten million. You could go to South Africa and talk about the worst things of apartheid, and people would write in. It was Granada’s calling card, like Coronation Street.

Absolutely. I just want to ask you about the London – Manchester thing and the way that… because Granada wasn’t just World In Action, it had drama, I think it was split between-

The casting department.

Did that work OK?

Yes. I loved the smallness of Golden Square. You know, there was World In Action, the lovely girls in the casting department, very talented, and there was the drama department. We all drank together in the various pubs around Soho. And it was still great so go up to Manchester to see all the editors and researchers and camera crews and be in the stables. We were in a very lucky position, we had two bases and it was good.

I remember the rooftop office in 36 Golden Square. It didn’t feel like Granada. I could imagine if you worked there all the time you probably didn’t feel like you worked at Granada, it was so-

No, we didn’t, because there were a lot of wild people-

I remember them.

We used to drink quite a lot at lunchtime and still be back in the office in the afternoon working quite hard and into the evenings. It was a very good setup and we were very lucky.

All the crews and editing were Manchester, weren’t they?


So you always had to make the journey up.

Yep. The worst thing was the journey, but it was good to see old friends up there because Granada had been crated as a kind of benign public school with the very nicest people, and everybody got on, you didn’t have too many rows, and there were some really good friends up there, among the crews. I did mostly film so I didn’t do a lot of studio work after Coronation Street, and all my friends were the film crews and the editing crews. They were good, highly talented people, you know, absolutely the very best.

So why did you leave? Did you leave from World In Action?

I did various… you mean why did I finally leave the company?


I retired in 1998. I’d been there for 36 years. I was then age 60. I was told to leave. It was very cold outside, I can tell you. It was not this wonderful benign outfit. Towards the end I hated Granada because it had been taken over by Gerry Robinson and it was no longer the place which it used to be. They made the cardinal mistake of getting rid of David Plowright, and the only thing they were interested in was asset stripping and ratings. There’s nothing wrong with ratings, but if David had been there, he would have still kept some of the great ideas and programmes that we’d all lived on. It was a much tougher time because there were lots and lots of channels, and I realised that, but it was only ratings, and there were a great deal of sackings and asset-stripping going on and I was quite pleased to leave, actually. You know, I’d been making some pretty dim programmes which I’d been asked to make, and I then became freelance and as an outsider slowly clawed my way back into making half-decent programmes again.

So you got in through drama, but never went back to drama. Well, you did drama docs.

Drama docs, that’s the only thing I ever did.

You’re a documentary maker and that’s what you wanted to be.

Yeah. I should have tried to make feature films. I had a tiny offer once but it never came to anything. I should have worked harder at that, because I think I could have made some kind of film. But you know, I look back with great pride and excitement, and mainly it was just working with some very good professionals and some incredibly nice people, you know, people who I really admired. Not just producers and directors, but even electricians who were good at their job and that kind of thing.

What do you think is the legacy of Granada as a company?

Well, I think it’s important that interviews like this try and keep it alive, because it was a remarkable company in that ratings weren’t the be all and end all. It was very important that there were good ratings, of course, but it was set up by Sidney and Cecil Bernstein. Cecil did the light entertainment, and it wasn’t trashy quiz programmes, it was Coronation Street, which was brilliant, University Challenge, All Our Yesterdays, which was pop history, and then the more heavyweight stuff like This England and World In Action, which were remarkable. And then of course the huge drama stand. First of all, Philip Mackie, and he had a kind of playhouse of actors, and then things like Brideshead and Jewel In The Crown. And then Laurence Olivier Presents, you know, in the late 80s/early 90s we were doing King Lear. It’s astounding. I remember Philip Mackie doing a stylised War And Peace. Extraordinary. It was the very best of public service broadcasting. ITV was meant to be public service broadcasting and some companies were more so than others. Granada was right at the pinnacle of this, and I remember at the Banff TV festival in the early nineties, it was voted the best television company in the world. OK, take that with a pinch of salt but you know, it was as good as the BBC at one stage.

And it came down to something very simple. There was a very tiny pyramid structure in Granada. I was a producer-director answering to an executive producer or an editor. The next step was the programme controller. I would then be knocking on the door of Dennis Forman or David Plowright being told not to do something, or asking for advice, or help. You go to the BBC now and there’s a huge pyramid structure of all these management and people are upset because they don’t know who these people are, and they make decisions and nobody ever sees them.   Dennis and David ate in the canteen. Not all the time, but they ate in the canteen. And they wanted to talk to the lighting engineers. They wanted to talk to the riggers and the PAs as well as the producers. It was a great company. Unique.

I remember a couple of years ago, just after Dennis had died, there was a bit retrospective at the BAFTAs and a lot of old Granada luminaries were there. And I heard several people say exactly the same thing – we were so lucky. Mike Newell came up to me and said, we were so lucky. Derek Granger said we were so lucky. And Leslie said we were so lucky. We were in the right place at the right time and the important thing at the top of the company were some brilliant people. Dennis Forman was an extraordinary man, so was David Plowright. He learnt on the job. They were rode very hard by Sidney Bernstein who was apparently very difficult to get on with, but Sidney said, look, I’m not going to give the audience what they want, we’re going to lead the audience. The X Factor gives the audience what they want. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not my cup of tea. Granada would never have done a programme like that, as commercial as that, they would have had something else going. In fact Johnnie Hamp had much better ideas than that. And I think also, Sidney once said to me, that a northern audience is much more intelligent than a London audience. They understand more, they’re better read. Whether that’s true, I don’t know, but he believed that. And he believed in the Manchester audience.

Well, Plowright certainly had that view. They were all champions of the north. I suppose you would be if you’d buy the licence.

Yeah. Maybe you had to be. But Coronation Street clicked with northerners because it was very very good. And This England, all of our shows were done up in the north. David Plowright really believed in the North. He was establishing Granada as part of Manchester, and if he had stayed, he would have been knighted. It was very sad that he went, because the company when I left was a sad place. All the fizz had gone, the light had gone out, you know. It was a sad place.

OK, finally. What do you think of the new world of television, as it were? A, do you think ITV should bring World In Action back?

Yes. World In Action was killed off during the reign of Gerry Robinson because it wasn’t getting enough ratings. OK, fair enough, there were a lot of channels. They were simply killed off, they said it’s just not… OK, it’s much more difficult to make current affairs now because we were doing shows which nobody ever touched. Now people do that kind of thing now, they do corruption. It’s much more expensive to do current affairs now, because we did six month investigations. You can’t afford to do that now. That’s why Channel 4 often links up with the Guardian and Panorama links up with a television channel, because it’s the only way you can afford to do it.

I still think current affairs is simply not good enough now. You can still make authored films. I find that a lot of the films today in current affairs are still looking for an audience. It’s, “OK, what are the problems of changing one bank for another?” Well, OK, fine. All that kind of stuff. It’s not exciting television. Maybe I’m wrong about this and maybe it’s what the audience wants, I don’t know.

Any other things you…?

I just want to say that I think World In Action had some extraordinary talent. Leslie Woodhead, Jo Durden-Smith in particular is brilliant, John Sheppard, Gus Macdonald, John Birt, there were very talented people there who did go for pretty wild ideas and they paid off. It was different and it was good. There was a lot of talent there. Why was there talent on there? Because the management put them there.

Ann Lewis

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 26 January 2014.

Cos it was all on the phones. I do think nonetheless that there was some good stuff. I remember I suggested to him, why don’t you get people with gardens and people without gardens and connect them to people who do have gardens and then they can. And so he did it. It worked really well. It was a very successful strand that in the programme with people matched up. They’d phone in with their details and we’d match tem up. I was matched up – I had a big garden in Sale and there was someone in a terraced house round the corner and they used to come in. It was really nice cos the garden was being used and I’d come home and find tomatoes or carrots or something and I knew that they were getting something from it. There was some good things that were done like that. But I do think that a lot of tv people, and I fell into the trap, of thinking that what we were doing was terribly important. But it wasn’t terribly important. But I got that disease – for a bit.

You’ve talked about some of the characters, some of the stars. I wonder if you have recollections of people like Tony Wilson.

I do, I had a real soft spot for Tony. I know people used to call him but there was something about him. I just liked him in spite of all that. I don’t think he was a bad man, I really don’t. There’s a lot of people with knives in television and some would stick them in your chest and they were the better ones. And Tony hasn’t got a knife cos he wasn’t motivated for those reasons. He was a bit egotistical, I know that. He had an ego but I just don’t think he was a bad man. I remember Tony fondly and had a soft spot for him. I don’t mean in a romantic way but I did just like him. I remember one day – he was an ex catholic and I was. Peter Martin was the producer. He had started as the news editor and then became producer. I can’t remember how it came out but it might have been some time running up to Easter and I said, we shouldn’t be here, we should be fasting or whatever, so they said let’s sing a few hymns, so we started singing, then we did the Latin mass and then the credo – it was mad. Tony was a big force cos he was also doing so much exciting stuff around music, So It Goes, and all that. But they took the piss out of him mercilessly but he just took it, let it wash off him and produced these programmes anyway and did a service to Manchester and Manchester music in general. I remember him well and Bob Greaves was another one. He was funny, he used to call me Mrs Lewis. He would put on this ridiculous Welsh accent, he was really quite a character was Bob. He was a good journalist. David Jones was less of a character known outside television. He’d do a bit on screen but less reporting and he was a great guy and I worked with him later when I became a journalist.

Can I ask you about Anna Ford.

Yes, I never really warmed to Anna. I liked her but I didn’t really feel that she let you in very close. I was closer to Trevor than to Anna. She worked in the newsroom but I never felt that I got behind her persona. Maybe with good reason. I never disliked her, I just felt that I never really got to know her even though I spent a lot of time with her.

Do you think it was difficult for women at that time?

Oh, without a doubt. I remember when they took on Patty Coldwell. I remember thinking, it was Steve Morrison who took her on and I remember saying, Stevie you’re taking on a northern lass with a northern voice and you’re like you’re trying to be radical. But what you’re doing is to make her into a caricature. And she started dressing up in leathers and going on the back of motorbikes, like . You’re ticking boxes for yourself recruiting people in weird ways. He said well do you want to be a presenter and I said, no I don’t want to be in front of camera. And he used to bully me saying I think you should do a screen test. I did in the end but I was surly, I was surly in the studio. He just had some notion that I wanted to be a presenter but I didn’t, I just wanted to be a journalist.

So was the job in the newsroom the last job you did at Granada.

No I moved next door to the producer’s office and I worked for Claudia Milne. Claudia was producer for local programmes, Granada Reports and the rest with Steve Morrison and John Blake. I left there to work in St Helens to become a journalist.

Did you get any encouragement to become a journalist from Granada ?

No. But I remember Mike Scott saying – I was at one of the conferences in Blackpool and he was taking to me and was saying well what do you want to do Ann ? And I said I wanted to be a journalist. And he said well if they won’t let you through the ceiling here then leave and become a journalist. So I did.

Who do you think was the best journalist you worked with cos you must have seen a lot of good journalists.

I did actually. I think Jim Walker was an excellent journalist, great brain and a grasper of issues and I trusted his judgement. I could really see it. I think David Jones was a brilliant journalist, Geoff Seed as well.

What do you think made them a good journalist ?

Well they had a heart and they cared enough to sniff out a story and they were meticulous with facts and digging and not just having a sniff around and if it wasn’t there at first they would still dig. What I liked about them, particularly David Jones, he had integrity. There were some who didn’t have integrity. There were some people like this story about guns into Walton prison. He was very vulnerable this guy who brought this story and we could have ridden roughshod all over him. And I said we have a responsibility to protect him, I don’t know how but we need to look at it. I remember the producer of World In Action not really getting what I was talking about cos he was jut interested in getting the story and that was all he wanted. I remember feeling uncomfortable about that but I never got any of that from any of the programmes I worked with David Jones on. He had integrity and he was a good man.

So were you sorry to leave.

Well I was angry. But I was sorry to leave. I said I’ll take my ball away and I did but nobody noticed. But it didn’t matter, I knew that I had to go. By then I had decided that everything happens for a reason so I went somewhere else and I did well. I started on the Kirby Distorter, as they called it, so it served me well. But no I didn’t hanker, I wasn’t brooding and bitter. I was grateful for them to ignite it in me so I could go somewhere else.

How long were you there ?

Eight years. It taught me a lot. I remember Sir Laurence Olivier opened the door of the café for me. I thought Oh My God. I think he was in there filming Cat On A Hot Tin Roof or something. You’d be standing in the queue and there would be Minnie Caldwell and a seven foot wrestler behind you. I remember once The Who came, they were on tour and they came on this tour bus and they had all this booze on board. So we all went on. Anyhow I typed the script just about, I think I was tangoing in the canteen with Bob Greaves at one point, mad , mad.

On the canteen and the bar a lot of people have said how important they were to the culture of Granada.

We didn’t have the bar when I was there. Do you mean the Stables. Yes we used to go there.

Tell us about the Stables.

Well, Patrick who ran the Stables, some of our behaviour ! I don’t know how he didn’t throw us out. It was Christmas and I think punk was at a premium. I remember me and Claudia went as I was working with Claudia at the time and Mike Short and a couple of others and we all went for this Christmas bash and we said we should be celebrating this in a sort of punk way. So we started snorting these holly berries across the table, down our noses. The other thing was that we all had to have Sambucas that came flaming at the table and we said we all had to drink them without using our hands. It was mad but it was so important but I do think we should have been banned. We’d also go to other bars, like the Film Exchange, that was where Patrick was the manager. But we’d go and find other little pubs where they didn’t know where we where. When I was on the newsdesk I always knew where they were though I wouldn’t tell anyone and I’d make phone calls and say you’d better get your arse over here something’s broken. But these were little pubs like the Pineapple and the Edgerton Arms, little divey pubs, where there was not a lot of media people. Used to like them. 50’

I think one of the surprising things for people who didn’t work at Granada was the fact that everybody used the canteen.

Yes, yes, all the stars were there, Sir Laurence Olivier as I’ve said was in front of me. You were just cheek by jowl amongst all of them. There wasn’t a VIP area. I remember Muriel Young with what were they called, Bay City Rollers. Those girls – I used to come out furious and say ‘go home and get yourself a boyfriend, a proper boyfriend, he doesn’t love you, he doesn’t even know you !’ And they’d be screaming outside. And Muriel Young, I thought I’ll give you a kick if you don’t get these untalented boys out of here cos they didn’t have any talent. They were just, you know, a way to make money and commercialise them. I used to get cross with that phenomena. I was a bit puzzled, why are they that excited. But it was interesting. You’d walk through Granada, I once picked Billy Connelly up from reception and took him to the Green Room, and David Essex as well, all these stars. I remember my sister was a big fan of David Essex and she asked me to get him to sign an album Id bought her for her birthday and he sais said ‘with kisses’ and I said yes and he kissed me. And she said damn you.’ So there was a lot of that going on and seeing people. You got inside access to things you normally wouldn’t. But I wasn’t starstruck in that way. I was a big Billy Connelly fan but I didn’t do the big fan thing. I was just doing my job, being professional with him, making a cup of coffee and things like that.

You mentioned Sidney Bernstein. Did you have much to do with him ?

I didn’t much. The only time I crossed his path was when I was at the conferences. It was at the Labour Party conference and I was in the production room just looking at the monitor and listening to some of the speeches. I was standing there, looking, and this man came up besides me and said ‘what do you think of him then and who is he ?” And I said, ‘its Michael Foot and he’s the leader of the Labour Party, stick around and you might learn a few more things.’ He was quite an old man and he walked away and somebody said ‘that’s Sidney Bernstein !’ Well never mind ! I was always putting my foot in it. I was in the lift once and I’d been out and bought a suit for something that was going on, an event or whatever. Anyrate I’d spent a bit more money that I wanted to. I had it on. I was in the lift coming up from the ground floor to the second floor and this friend of mine got in at the first floor and said, ‘oh that’s nice.’ ‘Yes, I said, it’s very Joyce Wooller don’t you think ?” And her face, she was doing this thing with her face. Anyrate I got out of the lift at the second floor and she came out with me and said ‘Joyce Wooller, she was standing right behind you !’

And who was Joyce Wooller ?

She was head of all the Pas. I had been asked if I’d like to be a PA but I’d said no, I didn’t want to go that way. Though I have to say if that had been me and someone had said ‘that’s very Ann Lewis’ I would have had to say something like ‘not quite my quality dear’ but she didn’t say anything. It was Irene McGlashen who had got in the lift with me and was trying to give me all these clues. Anyate that was Joyce Wooller behind me. At that conference David Plowright used to come. And we always used to have big table tennis tournaments and I was quite good and competitive and I met him in the final and I beat him. Everyone said you should have thrown that game. I said ‘no, it’ll do him good to have a defeat.’ Then a few days later Kay McPherson who was the news editor said, ‘I’ve just seen David Plowright walk past – I think he’s tracking you down !’ But I didn’t have an y dealings with Sidney Bernstein so can’t say anything much.

Did you ever feel that Granada was a political organization. Did you sense in terms of its output or attitude?

Yes I did and that appealed to me. I think it was radical, it would take an anti-establishment view, from the other side. I remember having arguments with people at the BBC about balance. There’s no balance now so what needs to happen is a rebalance to adjust it to subscribe to this view that we need balance when its already massively out of balance. Working people don’t have a voice and World In Action came up with subjects that the BBC wouldn’t have looked at in a million years. And probably wouldn’t have got access to, I don’t know. So I did admire that about them because they were thorough, they were partisan because they knew the playing field was not level to begin with. Lets not talk about some false notion of balance cos its already out of balance. So yes, that came from the roots of it.

And the northern…?

And the northwest, yes. And I think they had a sense of gritty northerness and I’m not going into the clinging idea of the noble working classes but there was a grasp of the issues that the north and the plight of people who didn’t have power – at the beginning anyway although I think it evaporated with the takeover. Rod Caird came in and he had been in some high jinks at Cambridge and it had been the Garden House Affair and some judge had punished the posh boys where normally they just got a tap on the wrist so he was a cause celebre. He came into the newsroom and I thought he’s just a posh Scottish man’s son, that’s all you are. Something came up and he said something and I made some scathing remark about the horny hand, sons of toil or something. And he said something and I was kind of you don’t get in on that ticket in my book, you’re going to have to do a bit more than have a high jinx at Cambridge. It wasn’t high jinx I know what they were doing. It was that his punishment which had been meted out to the working classes and worse for centuries but when it came to the son of a Scottish laird it was news. So I gave him a bit of a hard time over it. Recently on Facebook I apologized I said I was sorry but he said he didn’t remember it.

I think I talked about the desk that was next to me and that was populated, year-in, year-out, by grand-daughters, nieces and nephews of people who were well connected. I think A.A. Milne’s niece came in one time. And they didn’t know a thing. I don’t know where they come from, they’d come straight from uni, I don’t know. But they didn’t know a thing, it was just who they knew. And I remember thinking ‘This is so …’ I saw it first hand and I just thought, you know. And I know I had an axe to grind, I wanted to work in journalism. But it was beyond that. It wasn’t just me. There’s a lot of talent here. What are we doing shipping it up and it’s not even talent. Why are we shipping up these people’s nieces and nephews who don’t know anything to be taught by us. And it was only because, they weren’t particularly bright, some of them. In fact, I met some very bright people. It changed my views actually. I learned that there were good people from all classes and it wasn’t, you know, I changed and learned that there were bright people and nice people who were well born, they weren’t all wankers. But I did see a lot of people who were leap-frogging over talent that was around and I don’t just mean me, I mean bigger talents that were around. And I thought that was really sad when I saw that happening but nepotism rules everywhere, doesn’t it.

Geoff Moore

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 5 May 2015.

Let’s begin, Geoff, by how you came to go to Granada and when you joined the company.

I joined Granada in January 1969. I’d just graduated from Liverpool University, did a second degree in Politics there and came out of it after four years at university vaguely wanting to be a journalist. I mean I’d done a lot of politics and I liked writing. I’d come from a left-wing family. We’d always talked politics and then I did politics at university and then of course I liked writing, as I said, and so I thought something in the journalism field so I think I remember writing to newspapers. I did work for the Liverpool Daily Post coming out of the second degree for a few months but I didn’t like it and they didn’t like me. It was a pretty Neanderthal as a place to work. I think of scouts(?) in 1968. Anyway, we parted company and then I was looking for work and I just saw an advert in the Guardian – Granada Television wants researchers for a new comedy programme. So I wrote off and I think the figures of 400 or so applicants, 12 shortlisted and they picked five and I was one of the five. Claudia Milne was also one of the five. The programme was Nice Time, produced by John Birt and starring Kenny Everett, Germaine Greer, Jonathon Routh and Sandra Gough. I’d never been to Manchester before I went for that interview in December ’68. Well basically the interview went very well. John Birt and I hit it off.

Did you remember very much about the interview because a lot of people talked about the ‘interviewing process’?

It was very informal. It was just me and him in an office, which is kind of weird as nowadays you get a team of people I suppose.

There used to always be more of a team of people – didn’t there used to be half a dozen around interviewing you?

Well, this is very early days, December ’68 this would have been. Marian Nelson was also on the Nice Time team. I think you are right, I think there was a pre-John Burt interview with perhaps her and Andy Mayer and I can’t remember really the details of that but I know the one that got me in was me and John Birt. He’s a football fanatic. We just talked about Manchester United for half the time – I remember that – in some detail so, you know, men and football. I suppose there was some bonding there but we were just of the same ilk. Provincial Grammar School boys. A lot of interest in football and I suppose bright and lively enough and then I got the offer after that.

So I found myself going into comedy as the first job, which is not at all my background or my bent. Mind you, I was young and this was great! You know, who cares what it is! You are working in television and you go out filming with Kenny Everett, you travel and they get you hire cars to go places and I just thought it was terrific. Absolutely terrific! And it was probably one of the best six months ever! I mean Nice Time ran for two series and I was in the second series. You remember Roland Atkinson’s, no, not Roland Atkinson’s, I’m thinking of Rowan Atkinson. Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. It was the UK equivalent of that. Late sixties zany wow-pow! Germaine Greer. Everyone was acting an idiot. And of course that suited Kenny Everett really well, I mean he was kind of the star. It was never a big hit show. Like most of Granada’s attempts at entertainment, it was never a big hit. It was kind of Sundays at 5 o’ clock, something like that, as a TX. Rather like So it Goes which I also produced, it was a cult hit. But it was just, as a first job on telly, Christ, it was amazing! As a kind of Junior Researcher, Kenny Everett wants to lark about on the Liverpool buses. The scriptwriter’s got some gags about him (Kenny on the bus) so I had to go and fix up the Liverpool bus from the local Corporation, arrange for it, get the documents signed, be there, arrange the lunch for the crew.

There was a thing called the Macclesfield to Buxton Backward Walking Race, which is apparently a tradition (I wonder if it is now?) so we filmed it and we actually filmed the whole thing, you know, masses of people walking backwards! From Macclesfield to Buxton! So I had to go and set that up with, again, the local council and you learnt as you went along. You got hired, here’s when you start, you don’t get any training but you learn it as you go. You know, dealing with councils, getting music, liaising with the police if necessary, all these things you pick up as you go along and it was great. It was all on location, what I did was all on location. You’re a fixer really but you travelled a lot and you got to work with celebrities and entertainers and directors and it was just great. And my good fortune was that John Birt went from there to World in Action and he wanted to take me with him so my second show was World in Action.

And how long would that be after…?

There was a gap. I took a year off from the middle of ’69 to ’70, something like that because at the time I wanted to be rock and roll star really. We’re talking about ’69 to ’70 here and I thought this telly was a great laugh but I really wanted to be a rock and roll star! So I took some time off and swanned around with various musicians in Cheltenham.

So you left Granada altogether?

I left altogether in middle ’69 and then I went back again. No, start that section again. My contract was, I think, five or six months from January to the summer then there was only a gap between contracts of one or two months in the summer. By July or August I was in World in Action with John Birt. And in that period, July and August ’69 to the summer of 1970 (it was the summer of 1970 that I left to become a rock and roll star) but the first period of World in Action was late summer ’69 to the middle of 1970 in which time I researched three ‘World in Action’s. Yes, John Birt got me into Granada through Nice Time and he wanted me to do World in Action but they weren’t sure about me, of course, because getting onto World in Action was a big deal. We don’t really know this guy, he did a few months with Kenny Everett so I had to do a probation programme, which was with Mike Beckham and the show was called The Life and Death of James Griffiths. It was about a Glasgow gunman who shot people and was then shot dead by the police. He went on the rampage on the roof tops in Glasgow and the programme was basically a portrait of his life – what makes a killer, what was his background like, what were his relationships like etc etc. And again, it was, I did quite a lot of work in Scunthorpe for some reason. Because this guy lived in Scunthorpe and I happened to be, you’ve got to realise how long ago this is.

Like I said about the Liverpool Daily Post newsroom, as a soft Southerner like me you wouldn’t want to work in the Liverpool Daily Post newsroom, it was like a bloody cattle yard and these people hated Southerners. To the man. I grew up in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. So that was out. Just a soft Southern bastard, you know, simple as that. Just anti. And likewise in Scunthorpe I remember getting the local paper and the crime correspondent was a dreadful old hack, you know, these were guys nearing retirement, they drank too much, they smoked too much and they didn’t give a shit and they hated young people and all that. And I remember being in a snooker hall and I took this guy for a drink and then he went on the phone to his boss and I overheard this conversation, something about this ‘I’ve got this fucking idiot here from Granada, doesn’t know a thing. Doesn’t know a thing. I mean, what am I going to tell him?’ So I had a great boost to my confidence on that World in Action. But I didn’t know anything. I mean we are talking about 1969, I was 23, I didn’t know anything. But I did a good enough job for Mike Beckham to say to John Birt, ‘Yeah, this guy’s OK.’ So then I was up for the longer contract.

And the second show was a story about a hippy called Ken Petty. Charlie Nairn was the producer, probably long forgotten now, that Charlie. But again, remember the time it was, 1969 and people were scared of the hippy thing. The Establishment was. You know it was that time, that era. So again, what makes a hippy tick? ‘Geoff, go and find a hippy.’ So Geoff goes out in all the seedy places to find a hippy and brings them one by one into Gus MacDonald to say, ‘What do you think, Gus? Is he any good? Is she any good?’ So eventually we settle on one.

Gus was Editor?

Yeah, they were joint Editors – Gus and John. And they were both very young indeed. I mean about 24, 25. It was extraordinary how young they were. So anyway we found Ken Petty working for us, a boy from Sunderland, who lived in a council estate in Sunderland. All his mates were straight. Suddenly a boy like that goes in a completely different direction so we profiled him and his Notting Hill lifestyle. It was a good show. That was Charlie Nairn. The third show I did was with David Boulton as producer and it was about farming. And it was called One Down, 100,000 to Go and oh, it was a great trip. Devon. ‘Geoff, find a farmer’ Like that. ‘Find a farmer’. Devon. What a great, you know, staying in nice little hotels, having pints of beer way down in Devon talking to farmers. And I found this farmer and we made the show really around him. It was about the survival of dairy farmers as agriculture was changing – hence the title. Boulton and I had a great time together. I don’t know whether other people are telling you what they think of others in Granada, are they?

They are. They are.

Do you want that?

Well, be careful!

I should move on then. I am an admirer of David Boulton and we had a good time together on the show. And Steve, honestly, World in Action in those days was a treat to work on. You are talking of the time when there was BBC and ITV, there were two channels. ITV had all the commercial advertising revenue. It could make the shows it wanted to. And we were lucky in the sense that there was no, well there were time pressures, of course there were pressures but I suppose not compared to today and the shows I worked on were under more time pressure because they weren’t like Ray Fitzwalter’s Investigations and the serious stuff like Michael Ryan did. If you are going to go for a Cabinet Minister you can take your time, it’s got to be right so these shows weren’t quite in that category but you never felt that time pressure really. But I just want to convey that for a young man what a treat it was.

And few constraints in terms of finances, budgets?

I was a junior researcher. I wasn’t aware of them.

And were you coming up with ideas as well for programmes?


And that was encouraged?

Yes, there was a World in Action team meeting every week and all of us sat down together and everyone wanted your ideas because the show had a big turnover. It turned over once a week for (you’ll have to check this) but how many weeks a year, 35ish? That’s a lot of output and a lot of planning so, yes, I did contribute ideas. I may well have suggested doing something on a hippy or on farming. I had many ideas. They wanted your ideas. I just thought it was a great place to work, coming out of university, everyone was free and easy. It wasn’t like working for Marks and Spencer or Proctor and Gamble as a – the great phrase from our day – graduate trainee. I was a graduate trainee at the Liverpool Daily Post. I just thought it was anarchic as well. I just thought it was brilliant. I had to live in Manchester which I’d never been to, as I said, so it was new territory for me. I lived in a bedsit in Whalley Range.

People were very like-minded?

That first period, January ’69 to middle of 1970 because after that I did leave for a few years to become a rock and roller. I didn’t really think of Granada as Granada. I just thought about the shows that I was on because they were all cut off, I mean World in Action was cut off from the rest of it.


Whatever happened on Coronation Street was nothing to do with us or Entertainment or Sport. And also World in Action had a London office at 36 Golden Square which was really the HQ but you always felt like it was the Manchester branch, there was a batch of us. Brian Blake and others. Richard Martin was in there but the real HQ was London. So you didn’t feel like you were working for Granada so much as World in Action.

Also, there’s a point worth making about the job market. Nobody was worried about getting a job. I don’t remember being worried about getting a job. You kind of thought I’ll go off for a bit and then come back. I’ll come back when I want. It wasn’t quite so easy. But I did leave in the summer of 1970 and I re-entered Granada in March ’74 when I met my future wife and I brought her up to Manchester in 1974. She’s Dutch. God knows what she made of Manchester in 1974. So there’s that period doing music. I had a couple of jobs in the middle there. Granada did a documentary about Keele University for some reason. Carole Wilts was the Producer/Director who did that. But the main thing I did in those years was the Frost programme. Again John Birt (who went to London Weekend) and became head of the Frost programme and recruited me to be a researcher.


At LWT. Which was great, even better. I did two series of the Frost programme. I always liked working with John Birt and I loved working with David Frost. This was even better. You weren’t going from Burton Head(?) in Scunthorpe, you were round the world. I went to Australia with Frost, I went to Beirut. I went to South Wales. But I mean Frost was very much my thing because he’d do serious stuff one minute, like the Miners’ Strike in ’72 and then the next thing he’d do something trivial. But that was Frost as a person, that’s what he always did; which was a mix I always liked – that kind of serious and light stuff. So yes, there were two series of Frost programme with John Birt and I could have stayed on at London Weekend and sometimes I think I probably should have stayed on at London Weekend but I remember in the winter of ’73/’74 I got fed up with music (there was nothing in it for me) and then I knocked on the doors of Gus MacDonald, World in Action again, and John Birt at London Weekend and they both offered me contracts. I took the Granada one. Maybe I should have stayed down south. So then we have a second phase of Granada so back to World in Action from March ’74 to, ooh, summer of ’77 so that was main stint on World in Action so, again, you know, I suppose I didn’t really feel like I was a Granada person so much as a World in Action person. You were cut off from the rest. You were often out of the office of course, travelling. And then I did a lot of shows. I did 20-odd World in Actions.

And World in Action very much was a world in itself. It had different rules for researchers and which was often resented by all the other researchers.

Yes, and I think that became worse as the years went on. They were a bunch of nutters, you know, peculiar people. I don’t know how they got in. I mean people like Michael Gillard, I mean he was fantastic but peculiar! Brian Winston. David Kemp. Ernie Eban.


Ernie Eban. Sorry, Ernie was on Frost. Nutter. But anyway, it was a right mixture of people, World in Action. It was male-dominated in those times. Sue Woodward was on it.

SK: Is this Sue Woodward who was married to…

Sue Woodford. Who’s now Lady Woodford, correct? So in that period of World in Action, the great swathe of World in Action, I got promoted to Producer in 1977 during the World in Action on Japan series because I flew out with Mike Scott and we did three shows in Japan and basically started that episode as Researcher and then finished off as a Producer. My first credit as a Producer was with Leslie Woodhead, as Producer, so I was chuffed. So up till then I did a whole raft of shows as a Researcher – The Rise and Fall of the CIA with Mike Beckham, I went to Washington for ages, three programmes, brilliant. The Nuts and Bolts of the Economy was a series Mike Scott presented. There was an Economic Unit at the time and I was in the Economic Unit along with Ryan and Blake and I went to Denmark with Mark Ryan, to Italy with him and Japan was the final series of programmes within that and we did a programme on the manufacturing in Birmingham with the Kenwicks(?) which I found. I was very good at finding things. I’d always been good at finding things! I remember the first thing about The Nuts and Bolts of the Economy. There was a big fuss in the 1970s about ‘buying British’, which has completely disappeared. “Why are you buying a German car?” you know and “Why are you buying a foreign this?” You know? And even things that were British, if you looked beneath the surface were found to be not really British at all and this was because our imports were too high. That was a payments problem. So how do we illustrate this? Well Geoff found a freezer company in Ayrshire called BW Freezers and they had a marketing campaign about the great British freezer. When you took the freezer apart and 95% was foreign and they bought the nuts and bolts from Sweden and they bought the steel from Korea etc and we dismantled the freezer and laid it out on the floor with little flags on each bit. “You think this is British? Well you should think again” It was great Mike Scott country. It really was and it was a really great show. It won an award. It won the Shell Award for Industry in 1976, as did the CIA series, Mike Beckham, that won a New York Film Festival Award so I think winning the Nuts and Bolts first show on the freezer company was good for me and they were a good series of programmes and the Japanese one was good.

The Japanese have a reputation for scrutinising everything, demanding higher standards than the Brits would and I discovered when the Japanese car people imported Jaguars, brand new Jaguars from Coventry or Solihull wherever it was they came from, they would not go on sale, they would go to a local garage in Tokyo to be scrutinised and basically buffed up and touched up because the Japanese were over there with their magnifying glasses and they were seeing scratches that the blokes in Coventry didn’t see. Because the Japanese consumer is more demanding than the British consumer and Scott did a piece on this and that made a few headlines so that was good. And I developed a relationship with Mike Scott over these years which was very good – he came to my wedding in ’74 – and the company side of my family that were so impressed to see Mike Scott off the telly, they all stood up when he came in the room. I always remember that. But he was great. He was great to work with. And then we ended up on the Japanese thing with Leslie Woodhead and stuff. It was just a great job in those years, you know, you get a lot out of it as well. Team meetings. Oh, endless team meetings, endless. There was also industrial trouble. It was a time of the unions and they were always fighting management.

Do you want to talk about the union situation? I mean, how did you find it? Were you sympathetic or were you angered at times?

I think both. I mean if you want to look for union trouble, go to the 1970s. Whether you like it or not, Thatcher onwards changed things. It wasn’t as bad, there weren’t as many strikes but apart from the strike there was a lot of internal friction that made for unpleasant atmospheres. I remember at one team meeting in Committee Room B – I think there were a lot of Committee Rooms – a World in Action team meeting with Plowright at the head and all the producers and researchers and the World in Action team members decided to, on a policy of non-cooperation with the management over some issue or other. There was always a divide between the editor of World in Action and the team. There was always some grievance or other. You told me to do this but now you’ve changed your story and then there was a meeting about it and it went on and on. But in this particular team meeting, in Committee Room B, the members had decided not to speak to management so Plowright says, “Alright, chaps, alright, good show last week, was it? Now, what are we going to do about this?” Silence. “Is nobody…Mike, what about you?” Silence. Eventually David Hart had to speak to say “We’ve decided on the policy of not speaking at this meeting”. It was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen. I could have died. How idiotic. Then there was an enquiry after that which Stephen Clarke was, I think there was a problem between Boulton and the team. Endless aggravation.

Were you there, incidentally, for the famous coup d’état on the Editor? Gus was involved.

Probably. Remind me.

I can’t remember exactly.

Brian Blake will tell you.

Somebody got thrown off. I think there was a coup d’état. The entire team had a vote of no confidence in the editor.

I think that was Boulton, wasn’t it?

It may well have been. Yes.

Yes. I think a lot of them did have a problem with Boulton. But I couldn’t possibly say. I don’t really know what went on with him.


But they were tough, you know, I mean people like Gillard and Hart, they were tough to deal with, MacFadyen. You are talking heavyweight guys here, you know, they are not easy to negotiate with. But I didn’t really know enough I think. As I say, you are away a lot as well. How lucky we were. I mean you talk to any World in Action person now – I see a lot of Mike Beckham now – how lucky we were.

So you would have left World in Action in…?

May ’77, it was. Because I got promoted to Producer I was taken off World in Action and decided to give some sort of experience of other programmes so I was made a Granada Reports Producer. Boy, was that different. It kind of hit you between the eyes. World in Action was great because you worked in small units, it was two, three or four people and here you are in this room with 30 journalists or whatever it was, every bloody morning, deciding how to fill a half hour show. It was stressful. I think it is a stressful show to do and again you had a lot of conflicting voices. You kind of felt as a…was it Editor of Granada Reports?

Was it what, sorry?

There was Morrison above me. He would have been Head of Local Programmes, I suppose.

Yes, yes.

And then I suppose I was Editor of Granada Reports.


There was me and Claudia Milne doing it alternate weeks.

Right. And then you would have had a News Editor as well?

Yes, Rod Caird was my News Editor for some of the time. But anyway, I found it a bit terrifying, very much hard work. And of course you are a referee in there. And you are also a foreman because you’ve got Morrison pressurising you from above and you’ve got this baying mob pressurising you from below who all want their pet subjects and stories done and it was quite stressful.

And you’ve got the Presenters as well who’ve got their own agendas?

Yes and they weren’t easy either. I mean Greaves was always a pleasure to work with, absolutely always. Because as Charlie Nairn says to me on the hippy show, “Geoff, it’s only telly.” And you’d keep that in mind all the way through. That’s what Frost taught you. Miners’ Strike or Cabinet reshuffle – it’s only telly, nobody bothers about it.

Yes. It’s not brain surgery.

I saw a programme on Mike Ashley on Sports Direct (did you see that on Channel Four the other day?)

No, I didn’t see that, no.

A one-hour programme taking Mike Ashley apart, you know. I thought, right, this’ll finally do it for Mike Ashley. There is no follow-up, no coverage.

Mike Ashley says to me, “There you go”, just on telly one night and that’s a good way to look at it. But Granada Reports, I think I did a year on the bloody thing or at least to the spring or something of ’78.

Yes, because when I joined Granada Reports in July ’78 you weren’t there.

Is that right?

Yes. I’m not quite sure what you were doing but you weren’t on Granada Reports.

Well I went on to a show called What’s On. For one year this was [interruption]. Yes, my career has always been a curious mixture of heavy and light and I hadn’t really done Entertainment so the World in Action people saw me as too Light and the Light people saw me as too heavy or something like that. But anyway I did What’s On for a year with David Liddiment as Director and Morrison as the boss. It was really, really enjoyable. It was a weekly show and as producer you could do with it what you wanted. I put Margox on the screen for the first time, Margi Clarke, in that series. We had a guy called Mike Riddoch as Presenter. Liddiment was very keen on him. So was I. And we had Dick Witts to do the Arts and Ray Teret to do lighter stuff.

Did Tony not work on that? Tony Wilson?

No. Wilson did the previous series of What’s On the previous year. Mary McMurray produced it, which was a kind of whacky, zany thing. I was always against whacky zany things, you know, sheep wandering in the studio and stuff like that. I wanted to make What’s On a lot straighter, down on the line, mainstream entertainment with a section on film and cabaret. There were a lot of big clubs in those days – Golden Garter and Poco-a-Poco and so on. Mainstream entertainment so me and Liddiment were very very close on all that ‘taste’. Well it’s working-class entertainment, well it was, that’s what Granada could give you. Now it’s completely gone. All you get nowadays is public school boys and the arts in London and Johnnie Hamp, who was running an Entertainment empire, which was kind of, talk about a world of you own. No matter what I’d said about World in Action and being sort of cut off, his empire was completely cut off. Nobody even saw him. It was him and Lucinda in that office and they would just be given slots – Wednesday at 8 for an hour, you know, for 29 weeks or something. Seaside Specials. He could do what he wanted. Liddiment, we both admired Johnnie Hamp (I still do) but it wasn’t, Granada didn’t have an Entertainment Department, it had Johnnie Hamp. Maybe you could say the same about Sports with Paul Doherty.


That’s how it felt to me. Anyway What’s On was great fun. We used to go out to the clubs and discos and all that and get lots of free records and, as I said, we put Margi Clarke on the screen, which was great. She’s great. We got rid of Ray Teret after a couple of months because it wasn’t working. There were four presenters and we didn’t need him and he wasn’t really adding to anything so we did say goodbye at the end of ’78 and then we soldiered on, as I say we made 38 shows; every Thursday night at 10:30. And at that time – I’m sure other people have said this to you, Steve – but at that time we’re talking about ’78ish, what a great place to work. There was no competition. There were lots of regional programmes. There was a commitment to regional programmes, that’s gone. There was a farming programme, Down to Earth. There was Regional Sports. There was Regional Religion. There was Reports Politics, Reports Extra. There were things like Live from Two (a magazine chat show) and other programmes and What’s On was a big commitment to the region. The regional commitment, it was very very strong. So that went on to ’70, oh, I’ve missed a show out! When was What’s On? ’78-’79, yes, very enjoyable. I forgot to say, at the back end of ’77 I did So it Goes. Yes, I went from World in Action to So it Goes.

That’s a big leap!

Yes. It was, wasn’t it?

And that was with Tony?

Yeah. I suppose I’d met other people like Chris Pye and Peter Walker and so on by then. Series 1 of So it Goes was 1976, which I wasn’t involved with. It was the series, which put the Sex Pistols on the screen for the first time and I think it was a Wilson badgering Plowright because it was the time of punk. This is important, let’s do it. It was a show which was kind of half buried by the network. Not every station took it and it was late night. It got horrible press. I’ve got some of the cuttings. But it was important to collect that. Series 1, Steve Hawes worked on that series. Again, I hate zany. They did zany in Series 1 of So it Goes. Obscure little references and things, which is supposed to be funny. But they will tell you, if you ask those people, that So it Goes Series 1 wasn’t a music show although they did have music. My series was a music show, full stop, so we cut out all the zany stuff and my series had on the Clash, Buzzcocks, Penetration, XTC, Mink Deville, loads of really good acts and Steel Pulse who I thought were fantastic. And we did lots of live, lots of OBs from the Electric Circus in Manchester to the Elizabethan Ballroom in Middleton to the Apollo. We did Iggy Pop at the Apollo.

You could say that Wilson and I had different tastes in music but I remember one discussion about the Clash. I thought The Clash was crap but then what do I know? You know, I was listening to the Steeley Dan and I was going to have Graham Parker And The Rumour instead of the Clash and he just, he wore me down. “You’ve got to have the Clash, you’ve got to.” I went, “Alright.” In the end I said ‘Yes’ and of course he was right. And that was a really big deal for Wilson, having The Clash on a Granada programme. So that went on and we became involved in other things. We tried to get a Sex Pistols Christmas Special, which Plowright didn’t want so the thing kind of fizzled out, it was disappointing. That’s right, so that had all come to an end. But then again in the late ’70s we had started a music thing going – I remember Liddiment doing a series (was it On the Road?), a big OB series. Was it from the Apollo in Manchester? With Tina Turner, Earth Wind and Fire, big acts. Bryan Ferry, I think, was there. So there was an interest in music and various producers and directors wanted to do more music. Yes, that’s right, I have to go back on what I said before. I went from World in Action to So it Goes and from So it Goes to Granada Reports and then after Granada Reports was What’s On.

What did I do ’79-80? I did Johnnie Hamp. I did a series of shows called Club Land. I produced one of them for Poco-a-Poco in Stockport with Bernie Clifton. Now Bernie’s great. Bernie does this act, the ostrich thing.

Oh, yes.

He puts on the costume. He pretends the ostrich is riding away from him, whoa, whoa, whoa and all that stuff. I think it’s great when he does that. So I made him main presenter and I think Steve Leahy did a show and I think Trish Kinane did a show, you know, Hamp was letting go slightly of his empire and was allowing us to dabble a bit. I suppose by 1979, ’80 we were pretty headstrong. We’d been around in the business for a while. I’d done World in Action, I’d done So it Goes and local programmes and we were kind of young bucks. Kinane, Liddiment, we thought we were up there. I remember writing to Paul McCartney and saying I’d put together a programme proposal, which to my amazement he was interested in. “Yeah, your e-mail is great, why don’t you come down and talk about it?” I made a big mistake, I took with me Johnnie Hamp, Trish Kinane and Dave Liddiment to the meeting. I should have gone to it myself but still, you live and learn. It didn’t come to anything in the end. But they were interesting times.

Liddiment and I did a thing, at the height of Disco, within Granada Reports, called GRD, the Granada Reports Disco. And it was a dance competition in various venues and, you know, we were at the time of Saturday Night Fever and all that but what was great about it was how diverse it all was! In Granada Reports we would spend the night by playing up with the Buzzcocks, then on another day you’d see Earth Wind and Fire as a Granada programme. And of course all this was going on with heavyweight drama and World in Action, the diversity not only across Granada but within regional programmes was great. And you did breaking down the barriers. You see, with What’s On there’s no barriers. We had Joy Division on What’s On. We also had Tony Christie. It’s great. It’s kind of like Jools Holland now. If you look at that, it could be anything.

Yeah. And then you also did a Granada 500 in the ’80s, didn’t you?

I did, yes.

I worked on that.

Did you? ’83?


Were you on that bloody train?

I was on that train, drunk and entertaining people!

Were you on the train with Harvey Woolfe?


Debbie Pollitt?


GM: Brian Park?

Yes. I think we were all in the carriage getting rather drunk…

Oh, not much!

And I remember singing songs from the musicals to you all!

Unbelievable! I’ve got a picture of me from that.

Have you?

That’s a typical Granada idea, isn’t it?


We’re going to take part in the democratic process; television has a job to do. It’s still a great idea.

Yes. It was a terrific idea. It got watered down over the years a bit but when it began, I think in – no, it didn’t begin in ’79, it began the Election before which would have been ’74.

Oh really?

Yeah. ’74 and ’79 it was still a very strong programme and still held the principles of trying to find an audience that was a reflection on the Bolton West constituency.


The way it averted.

Yes, but that’s the way we thought. Granada’s coverage of regional politics was second to none. You know, every by-election was covered. What a shame it’s just gone. Again, the diversity Steve, one minute you could be doing, you know, the Granada 500 and the next minute you are doing Club Land for Johnnie Hamp! Well I was. Everyone wasn’t in my position, I was lucky I suppose! But I just enjoyed the variety of it.

Did you ever do sport?

No. I gave Elton Welsby a screen test and said, “Yes, you’re on.”

Did you?

That’s a big claim to fame. No, I never did sport. I used to go and talk to Doherty quite a bit. Always got on. Admired him. I’m a Stockport County fan so used to go there and have a laugh about that and I knew some of the guys, Paul Greengrass and Welsby. Because we were all in the same corridor, weren’t we, which was great. Sharing the same coffee machines. And so I was in Local Programmes. I did a show called Teenage for Mike Scott, which was never transmitted, which was absolutely great and I did have really serious issues with Scott. Morrison would fall for it but Scott just didn’t get it so it remained on the shelf and that took quite a long time, over a year. So there we are. And then what else did I do? And then I did a kind of variety of, I kind of stuck with Entertainment. ’83 I did the Election 500 and I did an art show for Rod Caird. Granada had a very pompous strand. I mean it wasn’t really but if you think of it now. The State of the Nation, they were prone to titles like that or The Shape of Things to Come presented by Gus MacDonald, which was all about the explosion of TV channels that cable was going to bring. This was about ’83 – “the multi-channel future is coming your way” And Brian Park and I used to have a laugh about that because one of Gus’s lines was, “the future of television will be everything from pop to por,”

He was right!

He was right! He was right. Yes, this show for Rod Caird, we staged a mini United Nations featuring school children.

Oh yes, I remember that.

It was called The Great Debate. Fronted by Edward Heath I got to come up for it and if you look carefully you’ll see one of these asleep but still, it was just a fun thing to do. Gus presented that. I also did a show I’m quite proud of called Devil’s Advocate.

Oh yes.

Which was previously done by Maxine Baker, was it? It was all about young people. I mean most of my post-Granada years have been all about young people and this was an early version. It was about ’81, you know the riots and unemployment and everything and things were getting tough. So we got a hundred unemployed young people from the North West into Studio Twelve, a big set. It looked terrific. I’ve always been very big on studio presentation and Granada had the studios and the crews to do it justice and it looked terrific and Gus presented it and we got to hear from all these young people and about what their lives were like, what their hopes were and made films about them and I persuaded Fitzwalter to take it as a World in Action so it was eventually called a World in Action Special. So I was pleased with that show and in that show was discovered Terry Christian who I went on to work with for quite some time.

So there were a bunch of different kind of shows in the early ’80s and, oh, I did a show called Square One, an entertainment show, a quiz show. A show called Some You Win, another entertainment show. Square One was with Nick Turnbull presenting, was it? No, it was Joe Brown presenting. Anyway, I thought at the time, and I think Liddiment might tell you this, that the bosses at Granada were really not on top of entertainment. They were trying things out here everywhere but I think they didn’t have the judgement in some cases, or perhaps the finances. They were wanting to crack entertainment, to add to their current affairs and drama but they never could do it and Liddiment tried and Leahy tried and everything else but somehow it didn’t really work. Granada didn’t crack entertainment until Stars in Your Eyes which became a big hit. Now when was that? Late ’80s or something. So anyway, I did a motley collection of entertainment shows.

I also did a year on a show called Weekend. Oh, I did Flying Start in ’85 with Wilson, that’s right. Now Flying Start is a very good example of proper regional telly. It’s a business series, a competition with prizes. You know, it’s like Dragon’s Den, only better. And I soon found that Wilson, Wilson was always a renegade figure at Granada, they never knew what to do with him. They even had him on World in Action for a bit as well as on So it Goes and Granada Reports, of course. But I think I chose Wilson to present Flying Start and it worked in the same way that it worked for David Frost. Frost started as Mr Entertainment and Burt made him Mr Heavy and I kind of did that with Wilson and he was brilliant on it. Wilson was a great presenter as long as you steer him away from being daft and I’m very pleased with that Flying Start, it was just good. I think Bob Smithies was on it, the previous series. I think Jim Walker made a series of Flying Start. ’85 to ’86 I did Weekend for a year, brand new show rather like What’s On and this was Wilson again. It was a one-hour show, 6 till 7 once a week. A lot of time to fill. Wilson, Debbie Greenwood, Susie Mathis, main presenter – that woman from Radio Piccadilly. Oh and Ted Robbins. I worked a lot with Ted Robbins over the years. And it was kind of like What’s On, variety acts, entertainment acts, What’s On in the media. I’m very proud of a film Wilson did with Cynthia Lennon. John Wilson(?) also did a long film (oh, that was later) so that was that, it was OK. Then I got the call from Steve Leahy to do Krypton Factor.

Oh, right.

Which involved me for 2 years, ’86 and ’87. That won an award, which I’m proud of, the Spanish TV Festival. I did transform Krypton. They were fed up with Krypton. It started in ’77. They were just bored with it. Scott was bored with it. Leahy said “Do something with it.” really, make it better. But they put a lot more money into it, I have to say, it got a lot of backing and I did re-invent it. Changed the format. Kept Gordon, Buy-me-a-pint Gordon. And it did very well in the ratings and we did a Celebrity Special. 20 million on one of the Celebrity Specials and the regular shows were getting 12, 13 million.


And that was two years and great fun. Touring the country looking for contestants, staying in hotels in Aberdeen and Belfast and Trish Kinane or Adele Emm. Terrific. Spencer Campbell was my first Director in the ’86 series, Rod Blackhill(?) in ’87 and it just took over your life. An office full of people and that’s all you did. It was great fun. I mean the Krypton Factor, I have to say about the Krypton Factor – now here’s a provocative thought – if you could produce the Krypton Factor, you can do anything. Studio-based show, presenter-led so you’ve got Make-up, Wardrobe involved, four contestants that have to be chosen from around the country, you’ve got filming, an observation round, you’ve got OB and the assault course, you’ve got a panel of advisors writing questions and devising puzzles, studio and film so all in all it’s quite a, you know, it covers all basis of telly really, the Krypton. And it was doing the business.

I mean we are in the late ’80s now, later ’80s on, could you sense a change in television at this stage? Were there signs there?

Yes, there were. I mean if you read Ray Fitzwalter’s book which you have, I mean you know he goes over this ground, yes, it was increasing commercial pressure. There was a lot more, when was BBC Two? Well, BBC Two and Channel Four…

Channel Four came in, I think, ’84.

Yeah and there was just more of a commercial pressure to say the things that you used to do in this way we are going to have to tighten up, we are going to have to account for things more clearly. You know, things like the Krypton Factor assault course hospitality bill, putting up all these contestants for a few days up there, which was, you know, did get out of hand – well all that was tightened up. Yes I did notice change. Granada was still intent on cracking entertainment so I did a big, expensive show called My Secret Desire. Cheryl Baker was the star and I think it cost a million over seven one-hour shows. I can’t remember how it did. It just sort of came and went. They were looking for something that even if they’d got it, they probably wouldn’t have recognised it and I think that’s the case with some of those entertainment shows.

And when did you leave?

December ’89.

And what prompted that?

I’d kind of run out of steam with Granada after My Secret Desire. Oh, I also did a couple of other shows in ’88. I did the ITV Telethon, which was a big expensive thing. I also did the BAFTA Craft Awards from Stage One in ’88 because Plowright decided ‘why can’t we have a big awards show out of London?’ And it was a big awards show out of London, staring Shirley Bassey with Princess Anne making an entrance in a limousine with fireworks and everything else so there were some nice specials to do but by the end, well Krypton was great, but by the end of all that I’d kind of felt I’d done it. Granada was offering redundancy packages and slimming down and half the people were leaving and I thought, well can I make it as an Independent, as a new way of life so that’s why I left. My last job at Granada was in Liverpool, Granada Reports again which was great fun.

Let’s talk about Granada as a company. What was its attributes? Was it a good company to work for?

Yes. I mean I’d only worked for London Weekend apart from Granada. It suited us, us provincial grammar school boys. I mean it wasn’t a posh place, it wasn’t a place for public school boys. It wasn’t a culture-vulture place or snobbish. It was quite the opposite of that. It was a Northern ‘muck-in and be made to do it’ kind of job, which you found in the canteen. Everyone was in the canteen. I used to wander through the props area to have a chat with people and then Denis Forman would come to the canteen and it was just a great, there were no barriers. There was a kind of in-built anti-Southern thing, anti-London thing which is why, you know, Plowright’s Craft Awards and also the Studio Tours was a kind of there and it was just all good. You know, that’s where we come from, my Dad’s from Stockport, it’s all good, show it to ’em, stuff ’em, show it to ’em. So the atmosphere as a place to work, great. I suppose the early ’80s with the Brideshead time and, you know, about ’81, it was the bees’ knees. It was the best drama and the best current affairs and the strongest regional programmes and that’s what we believed. We knew what the competition was, which was crap. We saw some of it. BBC Northwest was nothing. We were more adventurous and we had the people to be adventurous. “Let’s try this. Let’s try that” and to their credit we did try lots of things. But by the late ’80s I think also there was network pressure, wasn’t there, from ITV to make a national impression from which they thought you needed to take power away from the regional slots.

Well, the 1990 Broadcasting Bill had been introduced and that began to change it all.

Yes, that’s right. And then you had the ‘caterers’ episode, the major caterer, Charles Allen and all that. I didn’t want to be a time-server and just go through to the bitter end and be heading towards 60 and still there sort-of-thing, as I saw one or two were.

I mean was there anything in the company that you disliked or found difficult? Was there bullying? A number of people have talked a little bit about bullying, aggression.

I wouldn’t single that out. Creative discussions all the time. Very strong-minded people, you know the journalists on Granada Reports, it’s bound to be that way. For a lot of that time I was a Researcher and I became a Producer in ’77, which I think is what I do. You know, it’s what I am really, a TV Producer. And I was just trying to understand it all about the thing that Producers and Directors and Researchers and what their roles were. I never understood what Directors were! In my day, well half the time I thought ‘Well I can do that’! A lot of them were wankers, the Directors, in the ’80s. I had to go to freelance Directors and they were even worse because they came up from London and they thought they were something special. And I honestly didn’t understand why a Director was paid the same as a Producer because the producer is the boss, gets the end credit. I had problems with Directors over the years. I was a pain in the arse producer though, for Directors because I was so insistent in getting my way and doing it right. I remember more than once a Director stormed out the gallery because of my interference! But no, the Director’s thing, that’s really the only thing that sticks in my mind.

Did you have much to do with Plowright and the Bernsteins, Denis Forman?

Yes. Not the Bernsteins. There was meetings all over the place in those days. There was Committee Room A, there was Committee Room B, there was Room 600, there was Dining Room A and Dining Room B – “Sue, can you phone and see if we can get Dining Room…oh, Pat Pearson’s got it, oh shit!” and all that stuff, it was great! And the Silver Service. And Forman, we used to have Regional Programmes once a month and I remember Forman coming down to it and Forman was just great. We never struck a wrong note – ever. And I remember him coming down and basically he came and said, “Don’t be afraid of failure. We all make mistakes. Just don’t worry about it and move on.” And that’s a good lesson.


Because you do worry a lot.

I very much remember Denis Forman saying that to me and admitting that he had turned down Z Cars! “What a mistake!” he said!

Well that’s brilliant but he was something else. I thought Plowright was very very special. He embodied Granada, the man from Scunthorpe. The Northern journalist, gritty, determined, terribly bright. He was what Granada was about, a bit rather like Leslie Woodhead, George Jesse (Turner). Those sum up Granada to me and that’s a good thing to be, to be proud of, Fitzwalter. So I was enormously proud of it. I suppose by the late ’80s I’d probably had enough of it and wanted to do something else. I think also, yeah, things were getting tougher and tougher and the opportunities for the adventurous stuff had gone. It was playing safe. I mean World in Action survived. Briefly. ’98, wasn’t it?

Yeah. ’98, another ten years.

Yeah, but what happened was the commercial pressure. It took away the old spirit of it. I remember David McMahon, a freelance Director I worked with a few times, saying, “Geoff, when they open you up as your post-mortem, they’ll find a big Granada ‘G’ on your heart!”

Who said this?

David McMahon, director. I’d done an awful lot of stuff by that stage. An awful lot of stuff. I see Brian Park quite a bit, from those Entertainment times.

Is there anything else you feel you’d like to talk about? That we haven’t touched.

Let me check my list. No, we’ve done my list. This is really the story of Granada. How long does your story go up to, date-wise?

I’m taking it to about 1990, to when it changes. I don’t want to get into all that. It’s a Golden Era – ’56 to ’90.

Yeah. It was a golden era. I just remember it with great fondness and I have a great love for the company and a lot of its people, which is why I go to the World in Action gathering every month in London to see my heroes. Mike Beckham, Ryan and a few others. That’s where my heart is. If you talk to some people, I remember Steve Hawes saying his heart is in Sport because that’s where he got his grounding. For me it’s World in Action. I suppose the rest was, I don’t know, I’m very proud of where the awards came, for Krypton Factor especially but I think my best memories are of World in Action.

Now Granada had sort of a reputation for being a left-wing company. Is that true?

Yes, it’s true. It was undoubtedly a left-wing company in the ’60s and ’70s especially when feelings were running very high between left and right in this country and it was a given at Granada that you were left-wing. It was unstated but there. I couldn’t think of a single person who wasn’t left-wing in Granada. That’s where you were coming from. You were kind of anti-Establishment and that phrase sort of sums up Granada’s ethos because you would question everything. The old ways of doing things had to be questioned and therefore you came from a left-wing perspective. That’s not to say that they didn’t do over the left or the Wilson government or Callaghan or anything else because anti-establishment came first but yes, if you talk to people they came from the Left, which is still pretty much today although the difference with today is that they say they do and they probably don’t come from the Left. I mean if you ask John Huntley, I met John Huntley. But the industrial relations were so bad in the ’70s all over Britain. There was a man, as John told me, that was on Granada Reports more or less every day. He was TUC’s regional representative and his name was Colin Barnett and he was always on the bloody box. He was on the box more than Bob Greaves. And there was a show called Union World which – was David Kemp…

David Kemp was Producer.

Yes. Can you imagine that today, Union World? And that was a typical Granada statement. Granada liked making statements like, you know, like the Election 500 or the BAFTA Craft Awards from Manchester. This is important and we are going to bloody well do it and Union World was one of those. But yes, definitely, everyone knew it was Left-wing. It was from the gritty North. Granada from the North. Well you wouldn’t find such feelings down in Thames or London Weekend or Southern. Northern and proud and that was Granada. And you could also say not just in current affairs but through its drama output. You know, very similar stuff of the perception of the programme-maker’s coming through. You know, something needs to be done about this.

David Bernstein

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly and Judith Jones, 23 June 2013.

David Bernstein is the son of Lord Sidney Bernstein. Although he worked in television, at Granada, for only a brief spell (during a summer vacation), he is nonetheless well versed in the life and times of Granada Television and his father’s role in the company. In particular he met many executives, actors and friends of his father who worked for Granada in various capacities. Today he is a businessman, living in London. In his interview he talks about his father’s politics, business acumen, and family life.

David Bernstein talks about why his father chose the north west for his TC company.

He and his brother Cecil looked at a population map for the United Kingdom, and the rainfall map of the United Kingdom and decided, when they were choosing which of the franchises to bid for, that the north west would have most people at home on a rainy evening, ready to watch their programmes, and I suppose equally importantly, to boost the ratings, I guess, for the advertisers to whom they wished to sell slots in between those programmes. And I think that whatever my father’s… how shall we say… his idealism, and there was a lot of that about Sidney Bernstein, he was also quite a canny businessman, and he somehow managed, quite successfully in his commercial life, to combine his ideals and his vision with a good common sense financial base – I’m sure others have spoken about the initial financial troubles at Granada, I’m sure others will be able to tell you about that more than I can, I mean, I was a very young child at the time – but although it took a few years for independent television to find a secure base with advertisers, I think they made the right decision in going to the north, and basing themselves in the north west. But he was aware of the culture there, he was aware of the, the Halle, of the fact that the industrial wealth of the 19th and early 20th century had built up a series of institutions, universities and museums, theatres, concert halls, and he himself had been brought up in London, and his cinema chain, which is what Granada was until 1954/5/6, was based in London and the Home Counties. Nevertheless, he was aware of what was going on in the rest of the country, and perhaps, as I think we all do today, that England as whole, maybe Britain, was a bit too London-centric, and maybe he also anticipated that they’d have more fun up there, I would say. Because they did – they had a lot of fun up there, I think.

David Bernstein talks about his relationship with his father.

He definitely respected the straight-speaking, forthright people he met and worked with who were from the north. My dad was a charming and occasionally flamboyant man but he really enjoyed people who spoke their mind and told him exactly what they thought – he didn’t like people who beat about the bush, and he didn’t like people who fawned over him either, and I don’t think there was much fawning in the north and the north west!

I often say to people that he was my grandfather as well as my father, and I say that because I didn’t know either of my grandfathers, and I was born in my father’s 56th year. I was his first child, and he married my mother when he was 55, and had his first child when he was 56, so by the time I was getting into trouble in my teens and 20s, he was already well into his late 70s – and that coloured our relationship, and strengthened it, and gave him a loving tolerance of my youthful indiscretions which I might not have got from a much younger father, so I am very grateful that he only met my mother and had his first child when he did. But it means that a lot of the period that you’re interested in, the early days of Granada Television, I know about really second-hand as far as what was going on in the north. What I can tell you is how his commitment of time and energy to the early years of Granada meant that he was often an absent figure in my early childhood, and another interesting perspective on that is that my mother was born in Canada, 23 or 24 years after my father, much younger than him, and she came over to England immediately after their marriage – they met in California where my father was working with Alfred Hitchcock, and where my mother was working at Universal Studios – and they met, they fell in love, they married in New York, and came back by ship to the UK, and nine months and two weeks after their wedding, their first child, David Bernstein was born. I loved my mother for those two weeks. And so she was a brand new immigrant to the United Kingdom, she had never been outside North America before. My father was beginning this hugely time-consuming project in the north west, and my mother was left with first one, then very shortly after my sister Jane, two, young children at my father’s farm in Kent, not even really in London most of the time, to bring up their children while he was trying to get Granada Television off the ground – and as you know, there wasn’t much time to do it. The timescales were very tight for the selection of certain franchises to work on, and I remember from when I was, I suppose, what, six, seven, eight, nine, that I would often only see him at the weekends. He would come down from Manchester, occasionally and rather glamorously, by helicopter, and my father had a farm in Kent, about an hour-and-a-half’s drive south of London, between Sevenoaks and Tunbridge in the Kent Weald, and we would… sometimes he would arrive by car, having taken the train back to London and driven down, but occasionally, in good weather in the summer, a helicopter would appear just before dinner on Friday night, and you would hear this noise, and we young children would rush out to the big open field behind the house on the farm, and the helicopter would touch down and Daddy and his ever-present briefcase would appear from the helicopter, and that was his life a lot of the time. Another way we saw him as children was to go up to Manchester and my mother’s sister and brother-in-law moved from Canada to England, and my Uncle Jim worked at Granada – I don’t know in what capacity exactly. We’re now talking the early ‘60s, I would have been six, seven or eight years old, and my three cousins, my Aunt Isabel’s three daughters, their parents lived in Wilmslow, and Jane and I often went up and spent time in Wilmslow, and we would go to the Television Centre sometimes and have supper with Daddy in the executive flat on the top floor, and there was a formidable lady called Miss Thorne, who was the housekeeper there, and she was very severe and northern to us rather pampered, spoilt, southern youngsters, and I feel I was on better behaviour for Miss Thorne than I was for my mother and father! So he was a larger than life figure when we were very young, and he was often away because he was up in Manchester, running a television station, and getting it off the ground. And that was an important part of his life and his career.

David Bernstein talks about the penthouse at Granada.

Yes. So if there was a board meeting or something happening up there, he wouldn’t be with us in London, he wouldn’t be with us in Kent – Jane and I went to school in London from the age of seven or eight. So I was both in 1955, so… 1963, we would have been based in London during the school week, and if my father wasn’t there it’s because he was in Manchester and he would stay in the penthouse, and other directors – my Uncle Cecil, Denis Forman and others – Victor Piers, Joe Wharton, Bob Carr – they all might, at various times, had use of the flat in Manchester. I remember going there, and my sister Jane remembers the menu that Miss Thorne served more clearly than I do, so I’ll just leave that as a teaser for your interview with her.

Well, my father’s homes, and all of the business premises that I knew of, had a similar look and feel, and in hindsight, and a little pejoratively, some people called it ‘eau de Nil’, but it was a kind of grey-green, rather inoffensive, and nothing too strong in colour, but at the same time my father was definitely a manqué architect, and loved getting involved in jobs of any sort, whether they were his business or not. There was always a modern line, so something clean, functional, practical, about all the projects he was involved in, but nothing in terms of colour or design that would distract, interfere or annoy. So no busy, loud prints. Soft, quiet colours and tones, but practical modernity as it was, and you see that just in the building of the Television Centre I think, in the styling of it, against the rather – am I allowed to say ‘bleak’? – industrial architecture, without that sounding too southern, pejorative… I don’t mean it that way at all. But something striking and modern. Was he called Tubbs, the architect? (Ralph Tubbs) I don’t remember. He enjoyed that. Later on, when I was a bit older, I was very aware of him getting involved in design features of the motorway service stations, which was when I was a bit older and I was aware of what was going on there, and also what happened around our homes and his private life, but one of the things that I admired about my father, and I think Granada benefited from, was that he didn’t see any reason why any of the commercial operations he was involved in should have anything but the best input in terms of design and style. And similarly, in the history of the television station that we both worked for, you would know that when he wanted to put on drama and Shakespeare, he went to Laurence Olivier – he wanted the best, and he didn’t see why the viewers at Granada shouldn’t have the best.

Sidney Bernstein as a risk taker

I wasn’t aware of the fragility of the company’s finances – very few people were aware of the deal that was done with ATV and Rediffusion, I only read about that in the book years later. The little bit of indiscretion which I probably will allow myself, because it’s all a long time in the past… there was a moment when the stability of the company was seriously at stake, and Granada was a public quoted company at that stage, and I discovered, after my father’s death, that in the ‘50s there was an attempt to take over the company by raiders in the stock market, and… not all the members of the family resisted the blandishments of some of those who were offering to buy Granada shares. And my father and his brother Cecil, and some of the other directors, made their own shares, and shares they had set aside for their families, available to an employee share trust, we would call it today, in order to secure the loyalty of some of the senior staff and executives who might have been lured away by those who were keen on taking advantage of the, as it proved, temporary financial vulnerability of the company. So I think that… what do I think… I think maybe they… I wouldn’t say they had bitten off more than they could chew, because they would chew it in the end, but I think they… the project proved to be more taxing financially than they ever imagined, and riskier than they had imagined, and I don’t believe that when they set out, they thought, “Well, we’ll stake everything on this.” I don’t think that’s what they thought they were getting involved in. Having said which, if you read Caroline Moorehead’s biography of my father, I mean, I only know him obviously from when I was born, and even well after that, from the ‘60s onwards, when he was a successful businessman, and he had already done a lot – but if you read about his early career, he was an imaginative innovator, and he did take risks, and he built these cinemas and they didn’t really know whether people were going to come and fill the seats; he borrowed money from Barclays Bank to do that, he bought the Phoenix Theatre in Charing Cross Road and was lucky enough to secure Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence to open it for them in Private Lives; these were all risky, entrepreneurial, showmanship undertakings, and if you both, as you did, worked at Granada Television, you would have seen those PT Barnum prints that he insisted were in every office and at every desk. So there was a showman side to him, absolutely, and that involves a little bit of faith and trust that you will have a good audience for the second house if not for the first house, that’s what he always used to say, quoting the old musical days. So that was always there, and a bit of (bravura? 23:10) certainly, but by the time he was in his 70s there was a good solid track record as well. And there was also a great network of firm friendships and established contacts in the worlds that he was dealing with, so when he was looking for programme makers, when he was looking to bring the arts, politics, current affairs, into the new industry of commercial television in the UK, he was well-placed to do that because of his earlier successes through cinema and Hollywood and so on. And one of the things that is his legacy, I think, which he was… he created an atmosphere where the successes at Granada Television could take place. The quality of the people that he brought into the company, the standards that he set, the ethos of fierce editorial independence for all the programme makers… all of that. He was well-established in his politics, his world view, and you can go back to the fact that he joined the Labour Party in 1920 when he was 21 years od, and he was a paid-up member when he died in 1993. And yes, he was a successful businessman, and yes, I was brought up in a very privileged household, but he never forgot that, and he always made a point of stressing to his children that ‘with privilege comes responsibility’, that was his phrase, and he never forgot that. There were a lot of glamorous people going through our home when I was a young boy, but the Americans, I remember… when I was older and looked at their lives, they were very much of the Hollywood group that resisted McCarthyism. He was very proud to be friends with Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Ingrid Bergman, who was a very good friend of his, had a terrible time with Hollywood over her affair with Roberto Rossellini, and she was drummed out of Hollywood by the very conservative moral police, if you like. My father wouldn’t have any of that, and supported her and always welcomed her into his home, and he was very firm and fierce about the principles that governed his business life and his private life and his personal friendships, and I think that was something that everybody who worked at Granada benefited from, whether they did it consciously or just unconsciously. And you’ll have to make sure that when you interview my sister, she repeats the anecdotes that she told… which I heard for the first time that Saturday morning, about her father telling her how to behave when she was on the opposite side from him at an industrial dispute. I mean, I thought that was marvellous, I had tears in my eyes and I swelled up with pride when I heard her telling me how Daddy had behaved on that occasion. I thought, “Wonderful, wonderful!” I mean, I had… I must have similar experiences with him but I didn’t have that experience. But you know, he was… he was a visionary man of principle like that, but at the same time he had a lot of charm and bon ami. There’s a lovely tribute to him in the Times by Bernard Levin, written just after Daddy died, which Bernard describes him as… a tribute to “a man whose greatest gift was the gift of friendship”. And what Bernard describes there is somebody who brought people together, which I think is a great gift, you know, the breadth of people that he brought together. And then you have this… like a chef bringing ingredients to a dish, you know, I mean, we talk about fusion cooking, don’t we, you know, when you take two or three traditional, separate genres, and you bring them together, and you’ve got more than the sum of the parts. And the number of people that you bump into in the creative broadcasting world who have had some association with Granada is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous, you know, it’s do over proportion, disproportion, and I think that he understood the value of that because it was part of his personality and part of his private life as well as his business life, was to bring all these people together, get the brightest, bring them together, put them in a room, see what happens.

JJ: How do you think what you call his Labour, his socialist principles, manifested themselves in the output from Granada? Do you think there was a direct link?

Well, I never thought so. I mean, I think the first thing, and the interesting thing, and I probably need to re-read Caroline’s book, is how much did he and Cecil struggle with accepting… that they… well, deciding that they ought to go into commercial television at all. It was the idea of a Conservative administration, it was against their sort of Reathian public broadcasting principles of the BBC and of… sort of in my socialist approach, which is I suppose what you would call my father’s, I suppose they must have felt that, well, if it was going to happen, we might as well do it, make sure it’s as good as it can be. Who better to ensure it’s done well than us? There’s some arrogance there, but I think they thought they could do it well, and that’s what they endeavoured to do. But I think that, if you look at what’s happening today, or what’s happened since the glory days, so… Steve Morrison’s not here to contradict me, but he sort of argued against this on your Saturday, but you know, it… the public broadcasting responsibilities that were in the original Act were fulfilled and maintained at Granada 100% – and because they believed in it, not because they had to do it, but because they wanted to do it – and I think my father would have been proud of that, and I think that was something that he consciously and overtly chose to do and strove to do, and I don’t think you can say that of all the other contracting companies in independent television in this country.

The Labour Party and two world wars

Okay, well I’m just going to remind myself that you asked about the extent to which Granada might be seen as the public face of Sidney Bernstein’s politics. And in order to find an answer to that question, I went back to sketching the period that his life spanned, and by the time Granada began broadcasting, my father was in his late 50s and he’d already been through the First World War, the slump and the general strike in the ‘20s, the depression of the 1930s, and he… he very firmly felt that the Labour Party had policies, social policies particularly, which were the ones that he supported and felt were best for the country, no doubt about that. And in the ‘60s, which was a fascinating decade, my sister’s godfather, Bernard Levin, wrote a great book called The Pendulum Years which talks about the great social and political upheavals in this country in that decade, but there was a lot of change there, and my father resolutely supported the Labour Party, even when it struggled internally with itself, and after some hesitation accepted a peerage from Harold Wilson in 1969 when he was 70, and I think that he… he always felt a bit embarrassed a bit about it but I think he felt that it was, to a large extent, a reflection of the public service broadcasting success of Granada, and I think that’s why he accepted the peerage in the end.

Well, he went to the house of Lords and he (voted in the lobbies? 2:39), he made a maiden speech… he didn’t like public speaking; he wasn’t a great orator, and he always found that difficult, so he didn’t speak a lot but he made a maiden speech in a debate on broadcasting, and to my knowledge only spoke once or twice subsequently. But he voted when he was asked to by the Labour whips, and he certainly participated as a Labour member of the upper house. His sweet anecdote, which… his sister Beryl married a doctor, and his brother-in-law Joe’s medical practice was based at the top of the Finchley Road, 615 Finchley Road, by the Blue Star garage, and it so happened that a young Labour MP called Harold Wilson bought a home in the catchment area of my Uncle Joe’s practice, and when that young Labour MP eventually became the leader of the party and then prime minister, my Uncle Joe Stone became the prime minister’s doctor and he was ennobled as well. And my father and his brother-in-law were both in the House of Lords at the same time, which I think was a rather nice family coincidence. But both Labour supporters, and both had very… another experience, if I didn’t mention, the Second World War. My father was a little bit too young to fight in the First World War, so he tried and failed a medical in the last year, his elder brother (s/l Seelin? 4:46), the eldest of the nine children of my grandmother and father, was killed at Gallipoli. At the time of the Second World War, my father was too old to fight – he was 40 in 1939 when war broke out, and he served in the Ministry of Information and was involved in a lot of the film propaganda effort during the war, and was able to document the atrocities in the concentration camps as part of the work that he did for the psychological warfare division of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force – that’s a mouthful! His brother-in-law, Joe Stone, the doctor I just mentioned, was one of the first army medics to go into Belsen, and I believe he was instrumental in getting news to my father of what the British Army found there. He and Daddy said to me that they were vivid memories that would effect them for the rest of their lives, of what had happened – not just to Jews but all the victims of the Holocaust, and I think he felt that was another reason to be very firm about the social policies that he felt the Labour Party embodied more than any of the other political parties.

Sidney Bernstein’s legacy

Well, my… here’s a personal anecdote that I won’t ask you to put the pause button on for. My father said out loud that he didn’t believe in inherited wealth, and certainly his politics would suggest that. But what he did do was he put £1,000 in trust for each of his children when they were one year old. Now, £1,000 when I was one year old was a considerable amount of money, it wasn’t a little money, it was probably a house. It was certainly more than a first flat. But he made a huge mistake, because he didn’t put £1,000 in trust, he put £1,000 worth of shares in Granada Group Plc. in trust, and he regretted that for the rest of his life because the shares did incredibly well, and by the time I turned 21, I was much wealthier than he thought I had any right to be! And he tried to think of a lot of ways to undo what he’d done. Fortunately for me, not all of them were successful. One of the things he did was inculcate into me and my sister the idea that with privilege comes responsibility, and he said that philanthropy was part of that. And all his philanthropy in his lifetime was anonymous, and he certainly encouraged us to do the same thing. And when he died, his will left no money to his children, and sadly his much younger wife predeceased him, so all the money that he had when he died went into a charitable trust, and I have the privilege to be one of the trustees, and he was very clear on what he wanted us, me and the other trustees, to do with that money, and we’ve been trying to do that ever since. And it was to support the causes that he had felt worthy of support during his lifetime, and that’s what we try and do. And certainly, we do work in the field of the arts and culture, which were a big part of his life. We support projects in the Middle East, he was a great believer in the need for an independent state of Israel for the Jewish people, and we certainly distribute funds there, and we also support a broader range of human rights projects around the world. Granada as a company, as a charitable trust, support a number of projects in the north west, and it supports people in and around the television world in a way which we haven’t with my father’s personal money, because we felt that the company was already doing well. So that’s a direct aspect of his legacy that involves me, and I’m very proud to be able to do that. I disregarded his instructions in one way; he said that he wanted all the money to be spent within 10-15 years of his death, and I haven’t achieved that. He died in 1993, and we are now 23 years later, something like that, and it isn’t quite all gone – but it’s over three-quarters gone. And that’s fine. One other aspect of his legacy which I have been personally involved in is the completion of restoration of the film that he began making in 1945, a documentary about the concentration camps, and there’s an extraordinary story there which is well covered in Andre Singer’s interesting documentary Night Will Fall, which was part-funded by Channel 4 and broadcast on Channel 4 two years ago. My father went into Belsen, the first of the concentration camps liberated by the British Army, and realised that these atrocities had to properly filmed. He was responsible for a lot of news propaganda materials, he realised this was something more serious that needed a full-length documentary as he saw it, and he began such a project with the approval of the British and American high command in April 1945. The project was never completed because the war ended – the war in Europe ended, I should say – and the allied administration of occupied Germany decided they didn’t want the film, and it was never completed. It was deposited – the work had been done and all the film stock was deposited – with the Imperial War Museum in the early ‘50s, passed on by the War Office, and in the 1980s, Steve Morrison put together a fascinating film that was based largely on the material that my father had begun to put together with his team, and with interviews with my father and others, that was broadcast under the title of Painful Reminder in 1984-5 on Granada. Four years ago, maybe five now, the Imperial War Museum contacted me and my family and said, “We’ve had a look in our film archive, we can complete your father’s project. We’re confident that we can do it justice now because there is enough material and we feel it ought to be done. We’re coming up to the 70th anniversary of the end of the war and we feel we should do this.” And we were able to use some of the funds that my father had left in the charitable trust to assist in the completion of the project, and under the working title, unglamorous, German Concentration Camps Factual Survey, the documentary was completed and has now been shown at a number of film festivals in Germany, in Israel, in London and around the world, and shortly I understand the Imperial War Museum will release a DVD of the film, and I am very proud that we have been able to complete that part of my father’s legacy. He told my sister that it was one of the great regrets of his life that film was never completed and shown before he died. It has been now. So that’s something I am quietly very proud of.

Sidney Bernstein in his latter years

Well, I think it was as well that a lot of that happened after he was really aware of what was going on. I think, you know, all good things come to an end. There were lots of external factors that were involved in the changes to the independent broadcasting scene. Not all of it was bad, and of course how Steve Morrison so eloquently explained in his segment, his participation in your day, a lot of the programme making excellence that was part of Granada continues to this day, not withstanding that there isn’t an independent broadcasting franchise under that brand. But a lot of that was painful for the people who were involved in the group as a whole, I know, and certainly I am pleased that my father wasn’t aware of all of that decline, because he was involved in his own decline; he was a physically enormously powerful and strong man all of his life, and sadly he had a series of small strokes and then a large stroke and was incapacitated. He, as I said earlier, outlived his much-younger wife, and eventually died aged 94, just a week or so after his 94th birthday, and the last thing he had left was this extraordinary grip in his hand, and I rushed back to London at the very end of his life, when he was no longer eating or drinking and was very close to the end, and I got back on a Thursday morning and he died at 6pm that evening, and I arrived and he took my hand and he gave me this hugely powerful squeeze of my hand, just hours before he died, he still had this great vigour of some sort, even to the end. [It was] hard for him to let go, but he did eventually.

Joan Riley

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 13 November 2013

When did you join Granada and how did you come to join Granada Television?

There was an advert in the Evening News for a fast typist for the Granada Newsroom.

I applied and was asked to go for an interview; a typing test. This was 1960.

At that time the main building hadn’t been finished, so all the offices were opposite Granada in Key Street in an old warehouse.

Mrs Dixon was the typing pool supervisor and she sat me down, gave me a piece of paper and said, “type it out and if you finish before I come in, type it again.”

So I typed it and typed it again.

So she said “we’ll be in touch” and that was it.

A letter came, ‘interview with David Plowright’.

He was in transit then from being News Editor to producer but was still tying up the ends as a News Editor.

He had a brand new office, which was in a portakabin in the car park.

I knocked on the door and went in.

He was in his shirt sleeves slumped in the chair with his feet on the table.

He said “sit down” so I sat down. He just looked at me and said, “what do you think of four letter words?”

I was surprised and I just said “I don’t mind as long as they’re not directed at me personally.”

“Well the girl who had the job before you she objected most strongly.”

So I said “I don’t mind.”

That was it, that was the interview.

I never heard from them and I knew I was due to start on the 30th May if I got the job.

So I phoned up on the Thursday before the 30th May to speak to personnel and I said “Is there any chance you can you let me know if I’ve got the job as copy taker.”

She said “you start on Monday at 2pm, didn’t you get the letter?”

I said “no”.

“Oh just a minute, it’s here, it’s not been posted.”

I had a bit of a problem because I was supposed to give two weeks notice at my other job.

So I confided in the accountant Mr Jacobs. I called ‘Jack-Obs’ for the whole time I was there.

Mr Jacobs said “oh it’s alright, I sent a reference for you weeks ago and it was a good reference so I thought you’d get the job. I expected you to leave tomorrow.”

He showed me the reference and it was very good.

That really set the seal because I thought ‘Granada is not like the formal offices I’ve been used to’.

Of course it was fine and turned out to be very exciting and much better in some ways than I ever expected.

You worked as a copy typist?

A part time copy typist.

There were two of us, Joyce Maxwell and me. We started on the same day and we took over from Barbara McDonald.

Barbara McDonald moved to be a PA and the other lady was called Frida, the one that didn’t like four letter words, and she left.

You didn’t go to work for David Plowright though?

David Plowright had left, he was a producer then and was just tying up the ends, he used to come in the office quite a bit. Terry Dobson was promoted to News Editor and Donald Kerr was deputy and various people would come in and out.

Then we had Mike Hill he was deputy, Donald Kerr went somewhere.

We were on the ground floor then and they suddenly decided they were going to have a late new bulletin at 11 o’clock.

We worked 2-6.

They were going to have a late news bulletin so Joyce and I did split shifts. One week we’d have two days 10-6 and three days 6-11 and then swap round. Promptly at 8 o’clock every night we’d get the empty flask and go to the canteen for refills to keep us going.

One night there was a terrible noise outside, because we were on Key Street, and we looked out of the window and there were lots of girls.

So I got my flask at 8 o’clock and went out.

The commissionaire stopped me and said “I’ve been called to help, there’s hundreds and hundreds of girls. They want the Beatles, they’re all pressing on the car park barrier and they’ve sent me to help them sort it out because there’s a danger it’ll be broken, actually it was broken.

As he said that four young lads came up to me and one of them, I think it was John, said “hey doll, can you tell us where the café is?”

So I said “I’m going there” so we walked to the café.

On the way, the studios, if they had props that they had cleared or were ready to go in were all lying down.

Of course like four daft lads they were juggling the props and fiddling about with them. We had a real good laugh going to the café.

We parted, they went to get some food and I went to get a full flask. I wish I had got their autographs because they were so friendly. Of course you didn’t, you never ever, because it was an unwritten rule you never got autographs.

That was about October 1962 when they came.

After that they decided they were going to do a new magazine programme. It was ‘People and Places’ the magazine then with Bill Grundy and Chris Howland had a rivalry.

Bill Grundy and Chris Howland were the front men for ‘People and Places’ and after that it was Gay Burn.

They decided they were going to have a new magazine called ‘Scene at 6.30’. So the whole of the newsroom was transported to the fifth floor; it was a large studio there. From the lifts you turned right and it was the whole of the floor. A very large area for the directors and researchers and at the bottom a small office which was Mike Parkinson’s and then the newsroom. Opposite was Johnny Hamp, he had a suite; a rather nice office with Lucinda Bradbury as PA.

I don’t know whether it was a sound studio but he used to play demo records and records before they were on the air or popular.

We got used to the noise, but Cilla Black singing ‘anyone who had a heart’ was going on and on. There were two girls; one was an actress who had fallen in love and the other was a secretary who had a bad love affair.

Anyway that was where I was working when Granada broke the story about Kennedy.

On Friday 22nd November 1963, it was a Friday night, very quiet and we weren’t expecting much news stories.

I was sort of sitting there doodling, there were two big desks placed back to back, and Terry was sat facing me.

There was a freestanding television that we could both see with the sound turned down.

Mike Scott had just started his spiel and I was trying to lip read.

Terry was looking through all the stories, looking for a pun, a corny ending to the news because that was a tradition; they would look for the corniest ending to a story.

The direct line phone rang, Terry picked the phone up and he whispered “paper and typewriter quick” which I knew was a late story coming in and then he drew across his throat, Kennedy’s been shot.

Apparently Stan Kirby of the Press Association had been listening to a shortwave radio report of Kennedy’s trip to Dallas, Texas when shots were fired.

He heard shots and Terry said he could hear the noise in the background.

Terry said to him, “I’ll ring back to check.”

As he’s speaking he’s phoning on the direct line to Barry Heads in the control room.

He said “there’s been shots fired at Kennedy” and Barry Heads said “you better be right this time”.

Terry said “I’m checking” and was ringing the PA back on the other phone as he was speaking.

Of course you had to check on a story like that in case it was a hoax.

I heard him say to Barry “it’s true, shots have been fired, we think an aide has been shot but the president is alright.”

He must have been put through to Mike Scott in the studio because I saw Mike pick the phone up and his face changed.

From then on I watched as Mike Scott repeated just what Terry was saying.

First of all it was “we think Kennedy’s been shot” and then five minutes later “the president is dead.”

Apparently a tannoy had gone out, we didn’t hear it, asking for any suitable people to go to the newsroom immediately.

From it being a very very quiet office with just the two of us, it was heaving.

I was on the copy phone all night taking stories, obits, tributes from the Press Association mainly and on the other phone famous people who were ringing through.

Eric Harrison was doing every hour a fifteen minute programme. I think the station had closed down, it was just these stock press programmes that were going out.

As fast as I was typing a story, a director or researcher was grabbing it off the typewriter, taking it to be subbed down.

Eric Harrison had a lot of trouble because there was very little on Kennedy. They always have obits for famous people but with Kennedy being a young man there wasn’t very much and it was locked in the archive. So he had to pick the lock and get what was there out to fill in.

At 11 o’clock there was a special tribute programme.

Here I’ve got copies, one copy of a memo sent to everyone thanking us and the other from the PA thanking me.

So this is a letter signed by Sidney Bernstein, Cecil Bernstein, Pearce and Dennis Foreman.

So a special programme went out.

It went out at 11 but there were little programmes every hour.

I think the whole of the network closed down and Granada was, as it says in the letter, the first television programme to show it.

The Press Association sent that to thank me because it was very hectic, but very exciting.

I do hope that the records put straight that it was Terry Dobson that broke the news.

After that it was decided to have ‘Scene’ at 11 o’clock as well.

So we all went back to Quay Street side, directly above where the original newsroom had been, a very large area.

At the far end was the studio. I don’t know whether you remember it but the studio was partitioned off with a large glass partition. You could see what was going on and they could see us.

Then there was this part for the directors and researchers and we were at the far end. The camera was on light railway lines so the camera could pan from where we were, right to the bottom so they could show us working.

The union, NATKE, said ‘you’ve got to pay these people appearances fees’. Granada said no, there were only four of us. The union said as soon as the red light goes on you’ve got to walk out. So we trooped out, it was quite funny really because we’d just sit watching the television.

As soon as they finished doing what they were doing we went back again.

Granada decided they wanted a busy office.

Of course researchers and directors were never in the office and particularly when they were on air because a lot of them were in the control room.

So Granada said ‘ok, we’ll pay them’. So NATKE then in their wisdom said it’s not fair they should get the extra money, we want every NATKE cleric to get it.

Obviously Granada said ‘no way’. So it was everybody out again, four of us!

They reached a compromise; that they wouldn’t pay us, they would pay our money to a charity, which we thought was the NATKE coffers.

It must have worked out quite a bit, four times the fees.

That time quite a lot of things happened.

A lot of the performers would come down chatting to us inbetween, because we were permanent staff there.

One day a little red headed girl, very small, about sixteen, Scottish. She came and was chatting away with us and they decided she would rehearse her song at our end.

I was very grateful I had my headphones on because it was ‘Shout’, it was Lulu and it was very very loud.

One day there was a lion. I came off the copy phone, turned round and there was a lion sitting next to me.

Everybody wanted me to scream but I just thought it must be old, it’s got not teeth, but it wasn’t, it was very young and very playful. It was quite nice really.

Then another time, Desmond Morris the zoologist, he did a lot of work for Granada, brought a baby chimpanzee in to demonstrate whatever he was doing.

Vanya Kewley, she was beautiful, very small, fine boned and when she spoke you did a double take because she had a very deep masculine voice, very very nice and perfect for television. She was a junior researcher and was discovered, she was perfect for television in every way.

She was involved with this story and she’d got this chimpanzee.

I didn’t think she was maternal but she was ‘oh what a lovely babe’ and she held him up in front of her and he pee’d in her face.

Give her her due she laughed as much as the rest of us.

Vanya turned out to be a very very brave lady, she produced a lot of programmes from Africa and she got in some dangerous situations actually.

I think she broke the story of Biafra, but I’ll never forget that.

So from working in the newsroom as a copy taker, where did you go to then?

I wanted to go fulltime because my son was getting a bit older, so I applied for a job. I gave my notice in because I didn’t think I’d get a job.

Anyway, Peter Bead who used to do all the nature programmes from Anglia, he became quite famous, was head of promotions and asked would I go and work in the promotions department.

It was very, very interesting work actually because you learnt a little bit about every programme.

From there I was promoted to Senior Clark, the schedules officer, Joe Rigby and David Black.

Let’s just go back to promotions, explain what the promotions department did.

Promotions department; the duty announcer would give a run down of all the programmes for that night and would pick out the special ones, do a few more words on that. And the scriptwriters would write these small scripts out, minute long for the afternoon and evening, and we typed them out. We’d get black and white stills to promote whatever.

At that time, they went from black and white to colour, so all the stills of people were redundant.

They arranged to have a small photographic studio in the green room and it was one of my duties to collect the Coronation Street people.

They had plenty of spare time then, they used to do all sorts of things in the green room. Bill Roache and Annie Walker used to play bridge, some of them were cutting dresses out.

One day Pat Phoenix walked in. Now Pat, when she was fully made up was very imposing. She walked in and said “get that TV Times girl out of here!”

She’d guessed really, because I worked for TV Times billings afterwards, but of course I had to leave the studio.

But when she found out I was just doing my job she took my under her wing and I went on personal appearances with her. She was very kind.

She took me out a couple of times for a meal. One time there was Tony Warren, the bloke that started Coronation Street, and Tony Booth, the father in law of Cherie Blair.

It was very interesting, he’d just started to go out with Pat and he told us stories of his out of life experiences. He’d died when he was burnt and he told us these out of life experiences. I’ve never seen it in any of his books or anything written about him but it was very very interesting what he said.

Joe Rigby and presentation, had a red phone which was used to connect all the networks together and they’d have conferences. Once a week we had the red phone in the promotions department and I was connected to all the promotions departments where we exchanged film clips and stories.

You had to have lines to connect all the companies together so we had to arrange for the lines.

The promotions scriptwriters would select suitable clips of all the main programmes; Coronation Street, Family at War or whatever and these clips I had to look at and select suitable opt out points.

They usually ran about three minutes but then you had to have opt our points, thirty seconds, a minute. They went down the network and the network sent them back as well, did the same thing.

That was very interesting.

Then I was promoted when I went into presentation but that was just clerical work.

Explain what presentation does.

The schedules are in various forms. First of all it’s a skeleton where they put the main programmes in and fill in all the bits.

When the programmes are timed, we got the timings and put them in. The transmission controllers would add them up and find out whether they wanted to put the filler in. One of these clips would be filler or a public announcement.

Then the typists would type them all out and the schedules would go to various departments for them to see, particularly the press office.

TV Times billings, which I did afterwards, they used it quite a lot because they had to send the TV Times details of all the programmes.

Joe Rigby was in charge and then David Black; I worked directly with David Black, he was his assistant.

So from presentation did you then go to the press office?

Yes I went to the press office.

Joe Rigby was promoted to head of something, it was a big promotion, and David Black got his job.

David Black decided he wanted a Personal Assistant, I was just a Schedules Clark.

The transmission controllers were taken off doing the actual finishing schedule and this man and myself were supposed to do it.

I didn’t fancy it so I just went into the press office, I demoted myself actually but I didn’t want to do it.

From there I then got the TV Times billing job, which was very interesting.

I would provide all the information for programmes and I worked very closely with the picture editor Mike Hill, a very nice bloke.

He had worked for the TV Times so of course we worked very closely together. He loved his job but his family wanted to go back to London so he went back to London to TV Times and they advertised the job as picture editor.

Actually Russell Grant, the astrologer, it was through him that I got the job as picture editor.

Russell Grant wasn’t as famous, he was just getting popular and Granada did a series of programmes where he predicted the future.

Rita Don was the press officer for Coronation Street, very good, and she was given the job of looking after Russell.

Russell was so pleased because she did a lot of publicity for him that he said “Rita if you give me your astrological chart I’ll tell you all about it.”

She said “No I haven’t got one, but I know Joan has one that Bill Roache did for her.” That’s another story!

So I took it in and he read the chart.

He took me on one side, and he said “you’ve got a lot of aspects in your chart. You should be a journalist.”

So I said “I’m on the edge of it with TV Times.”

He said “no, you should be a journalist. There’s a job coming up and unless you apply for it you won’t get it. But if you apply for it you’ll get it.”

I forgot all about that.

Mike Hill of course left and they advertised the picture editor’s job.

A lot of people applied for it and on the very last day I said to Norman Frisbee, “do you know who would be just right for that job?”


I said “Yes”

“Apply for it, if you don’t apply you won’t get it.”

I had an interview with Don Harker who was head of press and publicity and shortlisted between a very very high powered gentlemen from Fleet Street and me.

Of course there was no contest.

The gentlemen from Fleet Street, of course he got the job, but the photographers and the dark room lads were not very happy.

They reasoned quite rightly, Mike was very good and they weren’t bothered very much. They thought ‘if this man comes we’re going to be demoted’ so they objected.

Granada had second thoughts because this man wanted an office of his own, a secretary, a company car, an expenses account and a very high salary.

Granada then cancelled his appointment and gave me the job.

It was the best thing that could have happened to me.

It was smashing, lots of things happened, I met lots of people, I went on location with them. I went on location with the photographer David Burrows quite a bit.

I used to work quite late sometimes because it was a very busy job.

One night I went to get the car and a commissionaire said, “can you get a photographer the bonded warehouse is on fire.”

The only photographer was David who was doing the Grumbleweeds in studio three and the red light was on. You know when the red light is on you don’t go in the studio.

I opened the heavy doors, crawled in and managed to get a message to David and we went outside. He looked at me as if I’d gone mad to bring him out of the studio.

I said, “the bond is on fire”. Well you’ve never seen anyone move as fast as David, he was out like a rocket.

He got there just before the whole building went up in flames.

They could be seen all over Manchester, it was a terrible tragedy. All the Jewel in the Crown props and clothes were in there. It was used as a studio for the inside shots of Jewel.

They had to get replacements so we were all given contact sheets of the pictures taken and lists of what was needed.

We all went through trying to find things that were needed because they had to have them.

The Jewel staff toured the antique shops in Britain and some of them had to go to India because there were Indian props as well.

So this would be early 1980s?

I’ve got the date here somewhere. They did manage to get most of the things but the one thing that was the real problem was the shawl. Now Barbara Batchelor, who was one of the main characters, they had a photocall and they had scenes at her funeral.

This special shawl was very important; it had taken a couple of months for the lacemakers to make it.

They had about two or three weeks, with a group of lacemakers go hell for leather to make it and they got it ready just before the show.

That was awful.

Did you finish your days there?

In 1988 they were offering redundancies, I wasn’t interested in redundancy but my husband said, “it’s a good offer, you might as well take it.”

After that I did personal appearances for Coronation Street people, just for a while. I didn’t have a cigar, I wasn’t Lou Grade, it was just on a personal basis.

So many things happened whilst I was there.

If you had to describe Granada as a company, how would you describe it?

Family, it was a family really. It wasn’t like anything you would expect anywhere else. There were times when it wasn’t very nice, I had type part of the transcript of the Moors murder.

I finished the story, took my headphones off and Sally, another copytaker, knocked me and almost knocked me off my seat. She took her headphones off and was crying, sobbing, “I can’t, I can’t, I can’t”.

She went to the toilet, I put my headphones on and it was the Oldham Press. We used to deal with the Oldham Press quite a lot.

I said “what have you done to Sally?”

He said “oh it’s this transcript of the Moors murder tape, Lesley Ann Downey.”

It was pretty awful, but in a journalistic way.

“I want me mam, honest to god, if I don’t get home by eight my mam will kill me.”

It was awful.

The bloke on Oldham Press said “don’t ever ever listen to the tape, it’s horrific.”

There was a piece in ‘Granada the young ones’ where Claude Wathem was quoted; that they were having a get together, a meal in the penthouse, and Mike Parkinson came in quite late, he was a young producer reporter then.

He came in quite late with another reporter, they were very pale and shaken and they’d had to listen to the tape with Lesley Ann Downey’s mother who had to identify her daughter.

That wasn’t very nice.

Was Granada a paternalistic company?

I think so and unfortunately I think the unions, in a way, stopped a lot of that because we used to get two bonuses one in May and one in October. There was one strike so they stopped one bonus and then another strike and they stopped another bonus.

They had a dove plane, that the top brass used to use and when it wasn’t used by them if people wanted to have a trip to London they could go in it.

How many companies would do that?

Of course if we went to London, ladies got first class travel, until the men objected!

In a way the unions didn’t have much to grumble about because we were relatively well played. They got a lot of perks for us but they went too far, like the newspapers. That killed a lot of it.

You had a family at this time?

I had a son, I started when he was six and when he was 14/15 I went fulltime.

So was Granada a family friendly company?

They used to have a Christmas party for all the children. Bill Grundie was quite a bluff man really but when he was a parties he came into his own, he loved kids.

Yes I think it was.

Also we had yoga, we had a yoga teacher. In fact I’ve got a photograph somewhere; they had a programme on how stress affected different people.

They had hypnotism, bio feedback, a cup of tea, yoga and something else I can’t remember.

Gordon Burns fronted it and Mrs Reedo (SP), the yoga teacher, was asked if she would do yoga on this programme. She asked me whether I would do the things with her and I said yes.

So I got my old leotard on and she went through a lot of the exercises with me. Then I was geared up, like an operation, when you have all these things attached to you.

I did my exercises and then the lights went out.

The lights had fused so they went to the generator and tried to find out what it was.

It was me apparently, there was a bad connection, I think it was me because I was doing exercises, everybody else was taking it easy.

They found out that a cup of tea was the best, then it was bio feedback, then yoga, hypnotism and the other one.

They were trying to find out how quickly you recovered after a stressful situation. They had an announcer who was suddenly told that there was a big story coming through and they tested how his reaction was. Of course I had to do these exercises and then relax to see how soon I recovered.

That was very good.

You also were involved with the Centre Players?

1970, Elaine who at that time was doing the billings for TV Times said to me “I want to go for an audition with Centre Players, will you come with me? Even if you don’t want to act you can do backstage.”

It was Granada personnel, all amateurs.

1970 was the first time I went, I’m not sure if they’d already been doing any. The first play that they did was in the green room in Peter Street. It was a bit smelly, bit dilapidated and we did ‘Spring and Port Wine’ there.

That was the first one.

Unfortunately Elaine didn’t get the part of the mother but I got the part of the slut next door.

Alan Grint was producing, he was a cameraman and the first time he produced.

He was a stickler for detail. At the dress rehearsal he said “you look too clean, muck yourself up a bit”. He got his thumb, put it all the way down my tights and laddered them.

In the review they made a mention of that.

Also a part of the story was to do with herrings and he insisted on having herrings cooked backstage.

It was the first time I’d acted since school and my stomach was churning to start with, and the smell of these herrings. I went on, did my bit as Betsy Jane and then had to go off and be sick. I was alright the second time but that was quite something.

Did you get big audiences?

When we moved they pulled down the green room, the green room was a bit bigger, but when they pulled that down we were in the stables.

There was only 100 seats in the stables and they were usually full.

The first one we did there was Billy Liar I think.

It was great fun.

The last one we did in 1977 was an old time musical, everybody did their little bit. I think it was called ‘The Godmother’ a spoof on Coronation Street set in the wild west and I was big diamond Annie Walker.

Graham Haberfield was a surprise guest, he played himself but other Granada people played spoofs of people like Bet Lynch and that was very funny.

I think that was the last one they did which was a shame.

Some very popular people at Granada, you’d be surprised when you looked through the cast list.

Kathy Arrendale who was heavily involved with the Granada foundation, I think she was Foreman’s personal assistant, she played a few parts in it as well.

Mike and Jim Newell, Mike became a very famous producer in Hollywood, he was in it.

When I was in the newsroom we had an intake of Oxbridge graduates. They were a bit green but they became very famous.

Mike Apted, who started 7up, Mike Newell, Peter Beard; it was a fantastic group of young men.

Of course they were thrown in at the deep end, they didn’t have a formal education in TV, they just had to do it and get it wrong or get it right as the case may be.

The terrible tragedy was David Burrows. He’d done the Manchester Marathon just a few weeks before he suddenly complained about back ache. We thought it was because he was carrying very heavy camera equipment.

He had a few days off work, came in and cleared what he was doing. He said to me “I think I’ve had it Joan. I can’t explain it, it’s awful.”

I said very foolishly, “look David it’s not what you think. If it was cancer it wouldn’t have come on so suddenly.”

They had a very large production of ‘The Road to 1984’ with James Fox. We had a big photocall in an open cast coal mine with James Fox standing on top of this slag heap with everybody picking up bits of coal.

He was playing George Orwell and we had this photocall on the top of the slag heap.

Then they had another one in this makeshift area where the photographers and everybody were interviewing James Fox and talking about George Orwell and things.

I was holding a large umbrella because it was a very hot day.

One of the stewards from the electrician’s union came up to me and said “what are you doing?”

I said “I’m holding this umbrella to diffuse the picture.”

“No you’re not, that’s my job.”

“What do you mean?” I said

“It’s electrician’s job”

I said “the umbrella’s out property, turn the sun down.”

Of course he just burst out laughing.

David was buying a car from overseas, you got a better deal overseas.

He said to me “when we go to the coal mine can we go in your car?”

So I said “If you drive it.”

I’d got a little spitfire and if you can imagine these two silly beggars with beanie hats on and the roof down driving through this opencast coalmine with all the miners screaming and shouting at us.

When I got home the car was absolutely full of soot and dust. So my husband got the hosepipe out and the gutters were running with coal dust.

He nearly put it on me but I managed to get in the shower first.

But then of course it was only shortly after when David died.

We went to his wedding, he married the assistant librarian at Granada in the same church that exactly a year later we went to his funeral at.

Did you come into any kind of contact with Sidney Bernstein and Denis Forman?

Well Denis Forman, I went to one of the neighbour’s funerals and Phil Griffin, who lives next door but two to me, was there.

He said “you’re in Denis Forman’s book.”

I said “he doesn’t know me from Adam.”

He said ‘you’re in his book talking about the Kennedy shooting.”

I went to the library and there on page nine, Forman, Barry Heads and David Plowright had got an ongoing bet as to who was the producer on the night of the Kennedy shooting. They all claim it was them.

Apparently Foreman went into the archives and found this piece that I had written years and years before and he used it as proof it was Barry Heads.

Bernstein, occasionally he would come round the offices; of course you had to clear everything up, no coats on chairs and everything tidy.

One day he went into the press office and Terry Dobson was quite abrupt. He put his head round the door and said “any news?”

Terry said, “I was just about to say what the hell do you think this is?”

That was the only contact I had with him.

Talking about Bob Greaves

We had a photo call for the zoologist, Desmond Morris, who did a lot of programmes for Granada.

There was a photocall for him in Chester zoo, and it was a good turn out, all the journalists, reporters and photographers were there. Each one of them trying to get an exclusive; an exclusive photograph, an exclusive comment.

I was standing with a freelance photographer from Wales and he knew that he wouldn’t stand a chance of selling this photograph because there were so many nationals there.

So he said, “Is there anything else you can think of?”

So I said, “Granada Reports are doing a piece near the elephant house.”

He said, “I’ll go down.”

I said, “I’ll come with you.”

So we walked down this path and in the elephant enclosure, there were very few people apart from the crew who were there.

We got a grandstand view of Bob with his microphone starting his piece to camera.

This elephant, its trunk sniffing in the air lumbered around and made a beeline straight for Bob’s private parts and started hoovering him.

The photographer got the picture of a lifetime because he got these couple of wonderful shots of the elephant doing it.

I arranged for Granada to pay him so much for a copy that we could copy and send out.

I sent some copies to Bob but unfortunately, being stupid again, I didn’t bother getting a copy for myself. Bob said afterwards it was like being hoovered by an elephant, it was very, very funny.

But he was a consummate professional, apart from trying to shrug the elephant away and trying to shrug its body away he carried on with his piece to camera no problem.

Gordon Burns

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 22 January 2015.

Tell me how you came to join Granada and where you had been just before.

Before Granada, I was at Ulster Television in Belfast because I come from Northern Ireland, I’m Belfast-born, half Belfast-bred – I moved to England when I was five, and back when I was 13, to Northern Ireland, hence the lack of Northern Ireland accent! But I had worked on local newspapers, then I’d gone on the BBC Sport in London, on radio, and then I landed the job on Ulster Television, which was largely on sport, but in the end I became a presenter of the evening news programme, the nightly news programme for Ulster Television, just as the Troubles broke. So for four years, I covered the Troubles in Northern Ireland, battled with all the politicians, Ian Paisley and John Hughes, and ministers, and even the British prime minister, Ted Heath.

After six years at Ulster Television – and four years covering the Troubles – I wanted to move to England to try myself in a bigger pond, if you like, so I left without actually a job to go to. So I went off to England, and I got a call out of the blue from a guy called Chris Pye (corr), who had just been appointed head of local programmes there, he was in charge of the brand new, just about to be launched, Granada Reports, which was taking over from whatever its predecessor was, and I got a call out of the blue saying would I be interested. Well, at the same time I had a phone call from whatever the equivalent of Newsnight – I think it was Midweek in those days – and I went to see Midweek, who offered me work on a short-term basis “to see how it went”, whereas I went to see Granada, and they then offered me the job as one of the presenters on the new Granada Reports on a longer term basis, so still on a contract, and in the end I decided that, as I needed to buy houses and [get]mortgages, that I would take the Granada offer. And so, when Granada Reports was launched in, I think, September 1973, I was one of the three presenters. They only had two presenters a night, so they permed two from three, but I was one of the new brigade, and I presented alongside the established favourite at Granada, Bob Greaves, and a guy called Brian Truman, and we were the presenters. Note: not women. There was… in those days, it wasn’t that fashionable at all to have a woman presenter, and the producer of the programme – in fact virtually all the days I was there – the producers were all male, and the head of the region was male, although there were a sprinkling of females in the research team, and going on in the end to be producers and directors. So that’s how I started in 1973.

That’s interesting. I can’t recall a Granada presenter prior to Shelley Rohde.

Yes. From the launch of an afternoon programme, which Nick Turnbull did at the start, I think Shelley Rohde probably became the first one that I can remember, somebody might well pop up and say, “You’ve forgotten this.” But we had a number of regional programmes, sort of late night programmes and politics programmes and Granada Reports, it was great. In those days, there was quite a lot of regional programmes, which was fantastic – but I can’t remember any female presenters there. But I do remember on the research team, not I think in ’73, but joined shortly after that – ’74 or ’75 – was one called Anna Ford, who of course then went on to be of course the first female news network presenter for ITN. But it was largely a male-orientated area.

So you’re working on Granada Reports. Did you work on any of the other Granada programmes?

Well, it was just Granada Reports when I started – and I was astonished. I’d come from little Ulster television, Belfast – and although we had a major international story on our doorstep night after night, so there was that huge programme, with big interviews to be done, and a very challenging situation, we had (Toms? 5:42) going off all over the place, people being killed, pubs being blown up, we were all being threatened almost every day over there on the phone etc., so it was a very different environment. But it was a small group and there were no such things as researchers at Ulster Television, you did everything yourself – in fact, I did a sports programme which I produced, presented and did everything for. There was no researcher; I was out there filming during the week and all that sort of thing, so it was a huge change for me when I came to Granada and saw this new Granada Reports programme, saw their newsroom, which was massive. I mean, I can’t been think how many people there were, but there must have been eight or nine if not 10 researchers, a number of directors… if you went out to make a short film for the programme, a three-minute film, sometimes four minutes if you were lucky, somebody, one of these thrusting young people who had been a researcher – and they were all desperate to make it in television, so there was a great energy there, and great competition – and they fought to become producers and directors, and had to go through a very heavy board system where, if there was a director’s job going, most of the researchers would apply for it, then a number of them would be interviewed, and if they got through that interview they went to the higher level interview, which was with the controller of programmes, David Plowright and Sir Denis Forman and people like that at Granada, which were very heavy sort of state of the world type interviews, which I never thought was the best way of getting the best producer or director, because it was the people who could handle, intellectually, those interviews that tended to get the jobs, rather than the people who had proved themselves good at making programmes as researchers. But anyway, that’s how it worked.

So they were all thrusting young people, so you always went out with a director to make your little films for the programme, and I was just astonished at the budget for all these people – if you went to make a film, you would never take your own car, you called on the secretary to the programme to say, “Get me a hire car for nine o’clock tomorrow morning,” so it would arrive the night before, you’d take it home, you’d do your job the next day, deliver it back the day after, never any question – you were always delivered a hire car to the office. So it was all things like that. It was astonishing! But what I would say is that there was all that high energy of young people wanting to make a career in television, wanting to shine or wanting to become, if they were researchers, wanting to become producer or director, or indeed a presenter. And that actually gave the programme… it might have had is naivety, but it also was very creative; you got some wonderful films made by these youngsters trying to shine, and that’s what I thought made it stand out. It had energy, it had creativity and it had quality. Because the big thing about Granada, why I loved working for Granada Television at that time, in those days, and I think we were all lucky to be there in those days, is that they cared desperately about quality.

So from Sir Denis Forman and David Plowright down, they wanted the very best; they wanted high quality and they wouldn’t tolerate anything beneath that. And whatever style it as, whether it was in drama with Brideshead Revisited and Jewel in the Crown, both massive plunges by Granada Television, if you like, with huge budgets etc., but high quality, if you went from there, even if you went to the soap – Coronation Street – it had to be a high quality soap. If you came down even into quiz areas, they wouldn’t do most quizzes. When they did Krypton Factor it was because it was up market – and that shone through everything you did. It had to be quality, the pressure was on you to produce quality, which is why the programmes were so good in those days, and that’s why I love working for Granada – because I just enjoyed that belief that it had to be top quality.

But I only did Granada Reports, it was about a year and a half when they changed it, they changed every year – they changed the producer, they changed the music, they changed the set – as new guys, thrusting new guys came in to take over, and they decided to go with a single presenter in a strange cockpit situation, where they had a cockpit in the centre with a presenter set, then they had a snake-like desk behind it where the various reporters – or co-presenters, if you like, who didn’t actually present – sat, doing their own special things, and in fact it was recreated in the movie of Tony Wilson’s 24 Hour Party People, that whole set was actually recreated, as Tony Wilson worked for us in those days.

I don’t know what you know about Tony, he was… he became a very close mate of mine at the time, and my family, but he was a brilliant film-maker, and I think they lost a bit of a trick with Tony personally. Tony was obsessed with being a presenter, but his actual forte was making films, and he was the sort of main reporter on Granada Reports when I joined, this new young lad, full of ideas, completely of the wall at times, so much energy, very intellectual – I think he was a Cambridge first – but quite mad as well, he had to be channelled carefully, and I think Granada were a bit worried about giving him presenting roles in politics and things, because they didn’t totally trust what he might say and do. But every night he went out, every night it was the news reporting, e went out and he made a film, and when he came back nobody had a clue what he was doing with it, because he had it in his head, so he used to come back, get the film developed –in those days, down the road, you had to get it developed and back again – and into film editing with an editor, with Tony just barking instructions at him: “Cut this out, take that out, put this out, hang up all these bits… right, put A and C together…” and he just directed the whole thing and left the gaps for commentary, and then nobody… he was always late to the studio, he came flying down to the studio with his piece in place, the director got some basic script with blanks in it, and sort of timings when it would be, but Tony would say, “Don’t worry about any of that, I’ll give you cues.”

And he would sit in his seat in the studio, they would run the film, and he would do all his voiceovers live in the gaps he’d left by waving a finger so they knew he was going to speak, then he would do it until it came out, and then back into the film for something, then to his voiceover, he would throw his finger up in the air again so they knew he was going to speak, and it was just the most car-crash television, but it worked – and his films were brilliant, every single one of them had a great idea of how to present a boring story and make it interesting. And he was phenomenally good, and I always felt that they should have, in the end, seen that in him and pulled him out and said, “You are a modern Alan Whicker – go and make half-hour films.” And I think he would have been absolutely brilliant at that – and obviously he did brilliantly anyway with what he did choose to do. He was a lovely guy, and, well, lost too soon. I think I did the last ever interview with him when I was presenting North West Tonight, and he came in, it was just eight weeks when he died, and it was just very moving and very sad. But a lovely guy, and a great asset to Granada.

You talk very fondly there about Granada Television. Was it a company that cared for its employees?

Well, care for its employees, that’s a good question. I think as much as companies do, yes – I think it did. We tended to get whatever we needed to make programmes, so they were fairly liberal with the budget, and you never felt… well, you always felt that people like David Plowright and Sir Denis Forman cared about the programmes, and therefore cared about the people who made them, and they wouldn’t suffer fools lightly, and if you didn’t believe in quality and strive to get it – and indeed, achieve it – I think you wouldn’t have lasted very long; there were some people who moved away quite quickly. But yes, I would have said that they did care about the people that were there, I had many a nice comment sent down to me by David Plowright that I never would have expected, and it’s a huge boost if the top man sends you a note about something you’ve done on television. So yes, I appreciated that, but then that was the time when the unions were growing in power, and I think that did lead to a change in situation when the unions were challenging the whole time, and strike action was not necessarily infrequent, but there was one major strike action, and in fact the unions, in my view, got far too powerful because they could take ITV off the air at a stroke. And because they were all separate companies, Granada and Thames Television and Tyne Tees and so on, if Granada had a dispute and the electricians pulled the plug and took me off the air, it was immediately – this was a time when ITV were making money, a licence to print money – and so all the other companies would put huge pressure on Granada to sort it out now because all of the other electrician’s unions supporting Granada could take the network off – so there was always that pressure, and I think life changed a bit under that because it then became management v the unions, and everybody had to be in a union, so it probably changed a bit in that way.

Let’s maybe come back to the unions.


People have talked to me about it being a paternalistic company, a bit like the traditional – Cadbury’s, Rowntree’s – and there was a doctor on site, a nurse… did you feel it was paternalistic?

It may well have been. I never felt that particularly, unless you think of a paternal system as a… you know, your dad or your parents, looking after you and making sure you’re going everything right etc. No, I just didn’t find it. I mean, I found… certainly in those early days, I found people like the Bernsteins, who regularly arrived in the building, which caused great consternation all round. When we were told that one of the Bernsteins was touring the building… now, because I’m getting old and I can’t remember individual… I remember there was Alex Bernstein, but it wasn’t Alex…

Cecil? Sidney?

Sidney. Sidney Bernstein. I remember quite vividly, every so often he used to set off round the building, and he had marching in his wake, an assistant who had a clipboard with paper on it, and Sidney Bernstein would head into an office and so on, and bark out things like, “Wall needs painting!” or whatever, and the assistant would be writing all these things down. Of course everyone who’d heard he was coming was a bit edgy and so on – the great Lord Bernstein is touring the building! – so an absolute tidy up, tidy up the office, make sure everything was neat and in place and so on.

There were supposed to be no posters n the walls, is that…?


Apart from Barnum.

Well, I could imagine that was the case, because he was quite demanding in what he wanted, and clean offices and everything clean and tidy and so on. I don’t actually remember a ban there, and in the end I put up pictures of the programmes around the walls, and nobody ever told me to take them down, because otherwise it was a bit bare on the walls. But I could sort of see that being the case, and in fact being the Bernsteins and so on, so Denis, they only wanted top quality paintings and things on the walls, I mean, this amazing art around the walls of Granada Television. I think that was more their thing than posters and bits and pieces. But it was always fascinating, this man walking around, barking out orders, “That bulb’s gone!” and the assistant behind, writing it down furiously – and it would all be done. So I remember that. But paternalistic? I don’t remember it that way at all. The only pressure was to deliver, and to give it 100%, and to be professional, and to deliver quality – it had to be quality.

You had a stint on football programmes. You did some football commentating, didn’t you?

Well, I think that’s an exaggeration that I did some football commentating! What happened was, I wanted… because I had moved away from Granada Reports, I was given this late evening programme called Reports Extra, which was basically pop psychology. We had an audience in the studio, and we did all sorts of things, like we examined one of the senses each week, smell, touch and so on, and we would have some expert in the studio, maybe from a university or something, an we would carry out experiments with the audience about smell one week and about taste the other week, and about food. And I could tell you a story about food, which you will probably cut out of this immediately, but I’ll tell it to you and you can decide. So we were doing this story based on two learned university people who had worked out that our diets were now so good that when we released our waste, if I can put it like that, in the excrement, it was high in protein, and so they decided that if human waste was processed properly and boiled to some amazing temperature to make sure the bugs were killed off, there was enough protein in it to feed animals – animal feed – and they could survive perfectly well on this. So we invited the two gentlemen, and one in particular, to come to the studio, and they asked if we would like them (us? 21:00) to bring a sample with us that they would feed to the animals. And we said… I actually said to him, (??21:06), I mean, could a human eat it? He said, “Of course a human could eat it. If you’d like me to, I will do that on television,” which seemed to be an amazing live moment on television. So he said that what he would do is spread it on a sort of biscuit, flapjack, I think, he would spread it on that like a bit of icing on the top, if you like, and that’s what happened – he ate it to prove that it was perfectly safe. Now, we were booking him for two weeks hence, but the programme the following week suddenly collapsed, and we rang him up and said, “Look, we want to do your programme tomorrow – is that alright? Can you do it?” and he said, “Yes, we’re free, but there is a problem.” I said, “What’s the problem?” and he said, “Well, I’ve been to the toilet already today so I wouldn’t be able to prepare what I promised I would bring.” I said, “Oh, that was going to be an interesting moment.” And he said, “Hang on, don’t sorry – I’ll nip down to the chemist and get some syrup of figs.” So he goes to get himself some syrup of figs, duly did the task, then he had to boil it up at the right temperature to kill off the bugs, which they normally did at some big oven thing at the university, but that was either out of action or they couldn’t use it, so he used his oven at home to do this, much to the horror of his wife, who discovered later! So anyway, they came in the next day, and that evening we had an audience, and I was talking to them about this human waste that you could feed to animals, and I then said to him, “Are all the bugs gone? Could a human eat it?” knowing he was going to do that. So he picked up the flapjack, which had a brown substance smeared on the top, and he took a bite out of it and the audience went, “Urgh!” etc., and then he looked at me and said, “Now your turn,” which I was not expecting! But there’s a strange thing happens to presenters when cameras are pointing at them and so on, and of course the audience were encouraging me to do it, so in the end I thought, “I’m going to have to.” So I also took a bite of the flapjack with the covering on the top, and people always say what did it taste like, and the answer is bland – I tasted more of the flapjack then anything else, and I wasn’t ill afterwards – but I must be the only television presenter ever to have eaten – I’ve herd plenty of it, but I’m the only one to have eaten crap, excrement, call it what you like, on television. The amusing story about that was that his wife had been so furious that he had done what he had done in the oven at home, and she came in to watch the programme, and we had a green room afterwards where we all gathered and we played the programme back to them, and to pacify her, we gave her a big box of chocolates to say we were sorry for any pressure we had put on her husband, and please accept these, and of course when she went home – this was a very hot summer’s evening – and opened the box of chocolates, it resembled very much what had been smeared on the top of the flapjacks, which upset her even more1 But anyway, that was my aside.

But while I was on this, we were doing lots of these programmes, and then because I was actually making them, but I wasn’t a producer, so I wasn’t allowed a credit, but somebody else’s credit, who was a producer, was put on the end who actually had nothing to do with the programme, which annoyed me intensely. I demanded to be a producer, and they said no. “You’re a presenter, and we don’t have producer/presenters.” At this stage, Mike Scott (corr), I think, was the controller, and he had been a producer/presenter, so I pointed that out to him, but he put to me, “No, I was an executive producer and presenter,” and I’m not quite sure, but I think that makes it worse. But anyway, he said, “How can you be critical of yourself if you are a producer as well as a presenter?”

Then they came to me a bit later because they were stuck on sport and said, look Gordon, the weekend football, where you cover the big game…” – Manchester v whoever they were playing, Tottenham – the north west commentator was Gerald Sinstadt, and then you picked two other north west teams that were playing in other areas, and you rang Tyne Tees to get them to send you highlights of the Blackburn Rovers v Newcastle game, and you rang LWT and asked for the Bolton Wanderers v Arsenal game or whatever, and they would send you clips, and you would edit all Saturday night and Sunday morning, and it went out at lunch time in the afternoon, the Kick Off Match.

And they said to me, “We will make you a producer if you agree to produce Kick Off Match for a year at least, as well as doing everything else you do,” so I was going to work a seven-day week, which did not go down well with my wife! But football is my passion anyway, and I thought a) it gets me to be a producer, and b) I won’t exactly not like it, because it’s football. You are at the match live on the Saturday, sitting in the scanner making notes, then you’re editing Saturday night and Sunday, so that’s actually how I became a producer, and I produced the football, Kick Off Match, certainly for a year, it might have been longer, I can’t remember. But that then allowed me to produce my other programmes I was doing as well as presenting them, which at that stage was Reports Extra.

We examined all sorts of things, not only did we examine the senses – in a very pop psychology way, but that was almost the fashion in those days on television – but I also did a series about the paranormal, which I have no time for personally, so I set out to disprove it as often as I could, and we did the whole series of programmes on the paranormal, which included people like… I remember a guy called Matthew Manning, who claimed that dead artists took over his arm, and he could paint in the style of Van Gogh one day, and he could do a Rembrandt the next day, and sure enough, his pictures did seem to be in those styles and seemed, to the untrained eye, fantastic. So we did a programme on him where he explained how his arm was taken over, and how he knew who it was, and then painted etc., but we also brought on an art expert who also taught in a university as well, I think, who then said, “Every one of my students, if I asked them to paint in the style of Rembrandt, Van Gogh and so on, could do exactly what he’s done, if not better.” So he was sort of more or less dismissed.

I had another guy called (name 28:17), who was a 15-year-old lad from Tokyo who claimed he could think pictures onto a camera. So if you remember the old Polaroids, were you took a picture and then you waited for 30 seconds, and then you pulled out, and then the negative bit and the other bit sort of merged together, and then you saw the picture develop in front of your eyes? He could do it on one of those, and he had done it live on American television, and we saw the clip from American television, which was very impressive – there was an ad break in the middle of it, which was suspicious to me, but we flew him in. We took him to London and he said he needed four days to get over jet lag, so we put him up in a hotel, and we looked after him, and he had a professor with him from a Japanese university who was really being his manager now, taking him around the world, doing all these programmes and things. And in the end, we did the programme properly, it came the moment where we brought him in to do his picture into the Polaroid, and we brought a man from Polaroid along with three Polaroid cameras, still all in their wrappers, unused, and they were seen on camera to betaken out and the films seen to be put in that was handed then to the boy, who would then hold the lens to his forehead and think, and then go WHOAR! And hand it over. And we waited excitedly for the 30 seconds, pulled out the film, and on it was… precisely nothing. We tried it a few more times when he tried to claim it was his jet lag, then a bit later when he still couldn’t do it he said it was because we had no faith or belief in him and he had no ‘feeling’ for us.

So we took him to the cinema that night and wined hi and dined him so he could feel part of us, and he still couldn’t do it – and then one day they asked us if we could leave the camera with him over lunch time so that he could get just a feel for the camera and himself, and after lunch we went to do it again – WHOAR! – pulled it out… bloody Trafalgar Square! Nelson’s Column! A bit fuzzy, but there it was. But they had kept the camera over lunch time, which was fishy – he couldn’t do it when we wanted him to do it, but when we left the camera with him… but he said that’s because he could feel “at one” with the camera, by having it in his possession for a while. So we weren’t sure where we were going with this, and then our director – a lovely lad called Colin Richards, who sadly died very early in his life through stomach cancer – he said could he take one of the cameras home one night, so we said yes. He said, “I just want to look at it.” So he took it home, and the next day he brought it in, and (name 31:09) tried again to do his WHOAR! But nothing happened, as usual, and then he blamed everything but himself. And then Colin, our director, said, “Do you mind if I have a go?” We said, “What are you doing?” and he said, “No, I’d like to have a go!” So he picked up the camera, the one he had taken home, and he held it to his head and made a sort of sound as well, and we waited for 30 seconds, laughing and scoffing, and we opened it up, and there it was – a beautiful picture of a clock on a mantelpiece. And we were astonished – and (name 32:02) and the professor’s mouths dropped open. And then he said, “I’ll tell you what I did last night – I went to my mantelpiece where there is a clock, I exposed the negative to it and put it back together again, so it wasn’t developed until you pulled it out, and you’ve pulled it out, and there it is. And they stormed off. And it was never shown.

But what was shown was one I did with Uri Geller who had astonished the nation with his spoon-bending, and I wanted to see if he really could bend spoons, and whether he really had telepathy, because he claimed if you thought of a picture, he could probably draw it. So I invited him along and had lunch with him in the old film exchange up the road, a very popular haunt for Granada people, now sadly gone – it had barrels hanging from chains on the wall, and was quite dark, a very pleasant experience, a nice little restaurant bit at the back – so I took him for lunch so we got to know each other, and we actually got on really well. And I was asking him if he could really bend spoons and things, and he did the usual: : “It doesn’t always work, but I’ll try…” and blah, blah… and we asked him to try a couple while we were having lunch, but nothing happened when he did try. And then, when we were distracted by something else, he suddenly shouted, “Look, look!” and we looked, and the spoon was bent, but we didn’t actually see it happen.

But then he came on the programme when we got him to try and do all these things, so the first thing he did was to try and do a picture, so he asked somebody to think of something in their head, and then to draw it and keep it out of his sight, then he would say, “Think about it, think about it… I’m trying to get a picture… I’m not getting anything, I’m not getting anything, try harder… I think I’m getting something, it may not be right…” and he always did that bit, “It may not be right,” and then he drew a house, I think. And the other person had drawn a square with a squiggle, so he claimed there were real similarities between the two, but I’m told by psychologists that basically you tend to draw a house, a sailing boat or something else when you have to draw something quickly – so it was inconclusive.

And then I got him to try and bend spoons, and he didn’t actually bend one on the programme, because we had cameras tight on him, I was sitting there, leaning over and watching him, and he fiddled around with them, rubbing them and so on, but he didn’t actually bend on the programme, although at the end he suddenly showed us two that were bent, but nobody ever saw them bend, and they certainly didn’t bend live on the programme. But he also said to people at home, “In your houses now, knives with be bending in your cutlery drawers, clocks will be stopping,” etc. etc. And blow me, didn’t we get hundreds and hundreds of phone calls and letters saying, “It’s unbelievable! I went to the cutlery drawer and my fork had bent – it’s unbelievable!” “My clock stopped at exactly that moment!”

And it sort of got to be that this hysteria sets in, because if this was all true it would be totally astonishing – and if his mere presence made metal bend, would you every fly in an aeroplane with him, next to the engine? So I did a programme the next week where I brought in a guy who said he too had paranormal powers, but in fact he was a professor and the biggest sceptic ever about the paranormal, and he did a whole piece on making spoons bend and clocks stop in your homes now, I’m doing it now, and we got phenomenal amounts. “It’s amazing, the clocks stopped, the spoons bent, everything happened…” Well, clearly it couldn’t have, he had no powers whatsoever.

And I also did an experiment to show this hysteria where we said we were going to try and transmit smell for the first time on television, and that we had trapped smell under this container, which was actually just a metal lamp shade but it looked quite good on the television, it didn’t look like a lamp shade, and we said we had trapped smell under it. And we had all these wires coming out of it and going into an oscilloscope, so you had lines going like that, and then we put on a buzz sound, but if you actually followed the wires, they were just loose on the ground, they weren’t going into anything, but the oscilloscope did all these wavy lines, and the buzz went, and we said, “We’re now transmitting smell1 This may never work, it probably won’t, I’m not going to give you any clues. It might be something in a farmy-type community, but I’m not saying any more than that, we’re now transmitting it, let us know if you’ve got anything or not.”

And of course we weren’t doing anything of the sort – but unbelievable response, how people had smelly cow manure – name any farm smell, they’d smelt it. We had lots of people saying their dogs suddenly ran up to the television screen and barked like mad and were sniffing around it etc., and it just could not have been true! So you get this mass hysteria.

So we had enormous fun making programmes like Reports Extra and doing all that sort of stuff, and playing with the audience, and that was until it got very serious and I moved back to what I did in Northern Ireland, which was politics and current affairs, which was the launch of Reports Politics, which I co-produced with David Kemp in the early days, and later just on my own, and presented…

That would have been about that, ’77?

It’s hard to put dates on it. I would put it at around possibly ’76, because Krypton Factor started in ’77 I think, and I think I started politics in ’76.

You were certainly doing politics in ’78, when I joined, ’78-’79.

Yes, well I think I must have been there for two years… David Kemp wasn’t there in your day, was he?

Yes, he was.

Right. Well, I don’t know. Anyway, it was somewhere in that time. It’s a long time ago! So we did lots of local politics and things like that, which was fun and interesting, and we always had two researchers on the programme, of which you were one in due course, and all went on to do quite well for themselves! You and Clarissa Hyman, who went on to make a name for herself in cookery writing and cooking etc.; yourself, who went on to be an author of lots of books and are now making this recording of the great days of Granada; Andy Harries, who went on to be head of entertainment, and launched many major programmes on the telly, not least of which was The Royle Family, when everyone thought it was going to be a disaster he pioneered it through and he made a big name for himself in television; Peter Weil (corr), who went out to head up the Discovery Channel in the UK, prior to that he was head of daytime at the BBC; they are the ones that immediately…

Claire Lewis (corr)?

Claire Lewis, who I bumped into recently at some event, she went on to be a very successful documentary maker. I think she has her own company, but she made many major documentaries. So yes, potentially good people as researchers there – and we made many great programmes, but probably the highlight for me was when I got to interview the then prime minister, Margaret Thatcher. That was an interesting and strange experience, by the way it came about.

My co-producer, David Kemp, who had also worked for World in Action, had made a documentary about Mrs Thatcher when she ran for the leadership of the Tory Party against Ted Heath, who was the current leader, and nobody believed in those days that a woman could ever – especially in the Tory Party – become leader; it would have to be a man – and ted Heath was the red hot favourite. But David Kemp made this film about Mrs Thatcher, followed her on the campaign trail to be the leader, talked to him, he interviewed her in her home surroundings, all that sort of thing, and she knew how to put it across to be the caring women, the housewife but politician who understood people’s needs and so on, and she did very well in that programme – it opened people’s eyes to a side of Mrs Thatcher they didn’t know, because she wasn’t very well known at the time. She had been education secretary or something like that, but nobody knew very much about her, she wasn’t a big name, and a few days after that, the election happened and she had beaten all the odds and beaten Ted Heath to become leader, and the rest is history.

But she had always said after that, and said it to David Kemp when she next met him, that she believed that that programme was the turning point, and that when people saw her as she was it swung a lot of support around her, even in the Tory Party, and that’s how she narrowly won the vote against Ted Heath, which wasn’t exactly music to David Kemp’s ears, as David Kemp worked in World in Action, which I hope you will forgive me for saying, but in those days was a hot bed of lefties, of which David will I am sure put himself amongst, and for him to carry the blame, as far as lefties were concerned, of the future Thatcher years, was a lot for him to bear – and he was reminded regularly by his leftie friends about it. But nonetheless, he carried on manfully, and in the programmes he made he was always fair, reasonable and balanced. But she had always said, “I owe you a favour, David, and any time you need a favour, let me know.” And in due course, she became prime minister, and one day we thought wouldn’t it be a great coup if we could have the prime minister on our local politics programme and do an interview with her – because she never gave interviews to regional programmes – never, ever. She wouldn’t entertain the thought of a regional programme, obviously it’s not enough widespread coverage for her.

But David put in the application, and was told by Downing Street people that there was no chance he would get the interview, but it went to Mrs Thatcher who said, “I owe David a favour; I will do the interview.” So we were astonished, amazed and elated – we were getting the prime minister! This was a great coup against our BBC rivals! And it was set for, I believe, a Monday – I may be hazy on this, but I had a feeling it was on a Monday, so we were going to go to Downing Street and do the interview. And then over the weekend prior to the Monday, all hell broke out on the world’s stage when there was a hostage situation in Iran, they had taken hostages there – I think American hostages – and the Americans had flown in their top-notch commanders in helicopters to carry out a rescue operation, and I sort of remember it, the helicopters, I think, crashed into each other, but they certainly crashed, and a number of the commanders were killed, and the mission failed, therefore. But President Carter, the American President at the time, went on television across the world, really going to town in Iran and calling on Europe in particular to help impose major sanctions in Iran and actually called on Mrs Thatcher to lead the way, as she was not an established European politician.

And we groaned, because we thought that was the end of our interview, the whole world would want to interview her – and they did. Everyone’s application went in – Panorama, News at Ten, you name it, they all went in for it – so we expected the regional station to be cancelled. And in due course, Downing Street issued a statement saying it would a busy day that day for Mrs Thatcher because of what had happened, she had conversations to have with President Carter, she had a statement to make to the House of Commons, and because of all that she was doing no television interviews or radio whatsoever, so they were all sort of put on the back burner. So we groaned as we listened to this, only to hear the final sentence, she’s not doing any except for Granada Television’s politics programme “because she had promised to do it,” and, she says, “she always keeps her promises.”

So we were put back quite a few hours from 11an or something to 4pm to do the interview while she went to the house and made her statement – but suddenly my interview changed from local politics; I had to go in – obviously – with the big question, because everybody had booked my interview – News at Ten, ITV, BBC, the whole lot – the newspapers had booked the transcripts, so I was expected to be asked, and obviously I had to do it – and I was shaking at the responsibility of this big interview, the only one to get it – thanks to David. And we were in Downing Street in the lounge upstairs, you’ve got those stairs when you go into the front door, past all the pictures of the past prime ministers, which is very impressive when you’re in that building, all that history beside you, and you go into the big lounge, which I had been in before – I had interviewed Ted Heath in there for Ulster television when he ended up losing his temper and shouting at me, but that’s another story.

So I went in there, and we sat and waited and waited, because she was about 40 minutes late, I think, and the tension rises, the camera crew were there, and I think all, I would have to say, of a leftie persuasion, but nonetheless they were our camera crew, and in the end, the door opened, and an entourage swept in. When I did Ted Heath, he’d shuffled in on his own, and looked a very sad and lonely figure, and he wasn’t a very nice man either. Very difficult to get on with or have any conversation with. But this entourage came in – aides and PR people and so on – and she then appeared in the midst of it. She came walking over very efficiently, and I leapt forward and said, “Prime Minister, my name is Gordon Burns, I think you know David Kemp, the pro…” “Oh, David, dear! Lovely to see you again,” blah, blah, blah. And I said, “This, of course, is our crew…” and then she went round each member of the crew and shook their hands, and although I think they may have been lefties, I think they were actually quite pleased that they had shaken the hand of a prime minister in Downing Street. So she knew what she was doing. So she came in and sat down, and she said, “Right. There’s a vase of flowers just over my shoulder. Will that be in shot?” And we said, “If we pull into a wide shot, it will be, Prime Minister, yes.” “Take it away,” she said to her entourage. “Take it away. I saw an interview with myself on French television a week ago, and that looked like it was growing out of my ear – it was very distracting. Take it away.” And then she chose something else to be put in its place, and then she looked down on the coffee table in front of us, which had all the daily papers on it, and she said, “Will this be in shot?” “Yes, Prime Minister, in a wide shot it could well be in shot.” Then she reorganised the papers so that the Times, the Telegraph and the Tory papers were all prominent and the (??48:22) type papers were all tucked underneath – it was fascinating how she organised everything. And then when she felt ready, she turned to her aides and said, “Do I look alright? Is my hair in place? And the microphone hasn’t pulled my dress one way or the other, has it?” And they all assured her she looked fine – which is actually, people may say, is very fussy, but it’s actually exactly the right thing to do – because there is nothing more distracting on television than somebody with a hair out of place that’s sticking up in the air, and everybody at home is looking at the hair out of place, and start saying, “You think somebody could have combed her hair for her,” or whatever, so she was absolutely right to get everything super right.

And then I launched in – this was my big moment. Gordon – go for it. I’m going to make every national bulletin that night, so I waded straight in. “Prime Minister, the president of the United States has called upon you to lead the way in imposing sanctions on Iran. So let me ask you straight: are you imposing sanctions on Iran?” And she went into a, “First let me say how brave those American commandoes were, and what a tragedy it was…” – etc., etc. – “… trying to save those innocent people who had been taken hostage by these terrible people,” and blah, blah, around the houses she went. And of course, I then leap in and say, “But Prime Minister, that’s not answering the question. The question was are you imposing sanctions, as President Carter has asked you to do?” And she said, “I thought I answered that question, but let me tell you again.” And off she went, around the houses and I leap in in the middle saying, “Prime Minister, you’re not actually answering the question. Are you imposing…” She said, “Don’t interrupt! Did I interrupt your question? No, I didn’t – so don’t interrupt my answer!” I said, “But you’re not answering.” “If you’d listen, you’ll get your answer.” So I was handbagged, metaphorically speaking, by the prime minister, and I tried three or four times, and no way was she going to answer the question, which you have to leave in the end, because you hope that people listening have decided that she’s not imposing sanctions against Iran but she’s not going to embarrass President Carter by saying so on television, so she’s batting it out of play. So it was a fascinating experience for me. I have interviewed her three times in my career, but that was the most memorable. She was quite a formidable lady.

The Granada 500 I think began… would it be the ’79 election? Tell us about that.

Well, the Granada 500 was one of the best experiences I’ve had in television, certainly with Granada. Granada were this wonderful, pioneering organisation, I’ve talked about their quality demand, they are clearly pioneers of television, even in drama it was pioneering when they actually took on things like Brideshead Revisited and Jewel in the Crown, but even in the area of politics and current affairs. For instance, Granada were the first company to get into the political party conferences in Blackpool or Brighton, wherever they were, and the TUC, to cover it gavel to gavel, if you like, from beginning to end. They made that breakthrough to get in, they made various other breakthroughs in television, one of which was they became the first television station to bring the party leaders – which included the prime minister at the time – together to face questions from the public – because the first time this ever happened was through a series called The Granada 500.

Now, it had launched before I did it – Mike Scott did the first one, he was a very well-known presenter at the time, and he did that one. Before he became head of programmes, he was a main presenter, he did a lot of network stuff, very handsome guy, very eloquent, very likeable presenter. But he tended to do the more serious stuff, like World in Action specials, like they had a series called State of the Nation, which is what it was – they looked at the state of the nation in great detail, probably an hour-long programme talking to all the key politicians and experts and so on.

The thinking behind The Granada 500 was, in the run-up to a general election, when the campaigning had started, Granada would go to a key constituency, a marginal constituency in the election, and also if they could, to find a marginal that had always voted in the end in favour of the winning party – they had never got it wrong, so to speak. So he did it the first time, and I was invited to do it in the election… it must have been… I did it in 1979, when Margaret Thatcher became prime minister.

So we took Bolton West as our constituency that had always voted for the winning party, it was a key marginal, and the way it worked was, we moved into the Octagon theatre. And for Granada Reports they put a large section of the programme towards the Granada 500. Actually, I can’t remember if they did that or whether they had an extra half hour at the end. But the 500 people who were gathered were found for us by a polling organisation who represented a cross section of the community in Bolton West, and people who were largely, but not necessarily, undecided were polled regularly in the run-up to the election to see whether they had changed. Because every night we did a programme on a different issue of the election campaign, be it the economy one day, law and order the next day, whatever, and we would have experts there, and I would be quizzing the experts and then the 500 would be asking questions and this was done in the octagon Theatre in Bolton so you got a feel for the election you got a feel for the issues you got a father how our 500 were swinging and swaying, but it all culminated in the end with a trip to London where we took the 500 in a special train, which left Bolton station and arrived at Euston or Paddington or one of those, but it was our train, full of the Bolton 500, and the TV crew and so on, and we got to London and we had coaches to whisk us all to a theatre, I can’t remember which one, was it the Wyndham Theatre?

So they all came and took their seats in the audience and we had the stage set up, whereby each leader would arrive separately and do a 20-25 minute stint, a bit like Question Time, where members of the audience asked the leader questions, and the leader answered directly to them. So the three leaders which was then the Liberal party, so it was David Steel, Margaret Thatcher for the Conservatives, and the prime minister, Jim Callaghan was also appearing. It was an interesting experience in many ways, and it may, I understand, have played a part in what happened in the election, because it was fairly neck and neck in the opinion polls as it neared election day but Labour had a slight advantage over the Tories, if memory serves me right. I think we did the special on the Monday or the Tuesday – sorry, I should explain, although this was regional up to now, the meeting with the party leaders where they let the public in to the theatre in London, went out nationally on World in Action as a special.

So this was either the Monday or the Tuesday, and the election was on the Thursday, so it was that close. And it was interesting, the party leaders… David Steele came on first, and interestingly, Callaghan and Thatcher had the routes and the timings scrutinised when they would be coming to the theatre so they never crossed paths – there would be a gap between them. They wouldn’t even drive past each other, which was interesting. So David Steele arrived, and he was very straight and very honest, he answered every question head on, he didn’t evade any or whatever, and he came over quite impressively, I think. And then Mrs Thatcher arrived, and she had, I think, grasped the mod of the nation, law and order and all that sort of stuff, and they wanted it all to be a bit tougher, and she did the housewife bit, and how she has to organise the budget in the house as all housewives do, and therefore it’s important that you have proper budget-keeping for the nation and no debt and all that sort of stuff.

This was a time of industrial strikes.

Indeed so – the winter of discontent and all that bit. So obviously she went to town on that lot and she did really well, I have to say. She did really, really well – and I’ll tell you more about that and how people reacted at the end. And then in came Jim Callaghan, after a break when Mrs Thatcher had gone – and I found him not as I expected. I had interviewed him once before, not for too long a period, and he was avuncular Jim Callaghan and I found him to be slightly arrogant. But what surprised me incredibly was how nervous he was. He was the prime minister who had handled all these things and the dispatch box and prime minister and industrial disputes, and always looked to me as in control and calm on the television etc., always putting down people all the time – but he was shaking. His hands were shaking and he muttered as he came towards us, “I wish I’d never agreed to do this.” And I thought that was very strange – I thought he would be in his element. I mean, there’s no great confrontation, people put their questions – I might do a quick “I don’t think you totally answered that,” or whatever, but basically it was him and the audience, that’s what it was supposed to be.

So he was very shaky. And it was a time of industrial disputes, and where he made his big error in my view, sitting in the front of the audience, were these nurses, and they had on t-shirts. And there was a dispute with the nurses about how poorly they were paid and the hours they had to work and all the rest of it, and they were threatening, I think, to strike. And one of them asked a question, and Jim Callaghan turned on them and really went to town on them about being irresponsible and all the rest of it – he really tore into them, which was the wrong thing to do. You don’t attack nurses – they are the darlings of the community! And yet he went into them – and it was a big mistake. And he then left and that was it, and then we all got on the train and went back to Bolton because it was the end of the whole series – we had done it now, and there was no more.

And I remember touring each carriage on the way back, thanking everybody for their participation, and I asked them all, don’t tell me about voting in the election, but who was the most impressive of the leaders to you? And virtually all of them – not all, a high percentage – said David Steele. They said he was honest, he was straight, they liked what he said, and then I said, “Will you vote for him?” No. “Why?” Wasted vote. So that’s always been the thing the Liberals always had – he made sense to them, they liked him, but they thought he had no chance so they weren’t going to vote for him. And of the other two, they were really impressed by Mrs Thatcher, even those who weren’t normally Tory, they said she was very impressive, and they didn’t like Callaghan, and they didn’t like the way he went at the nurses. And so came the election, which is history now, Thatcher won it to become the first female prime minister. Whether it’s true or not, I don’t know, but I was later told by somebody within the Labour ranks that when they carried out their post-mortem of what went wrong, one of the areas pinpointed was Callaghan’s performance on that Granada 500 programme, which they think from having a slight lead turned it to Mrs Thatcher. Now, whether that’s true or not, I don’t know – but I like to believe that I played a telly little part in history.

I did the 1983 Granada 500 in Warrington. (It was called The Election 500)

I didn’t even know we did another one.

Geoff Moore (corr) produced and Gus Macdonald (corr) presented.

The other thing I should mention, which is another one of my pride areas, that World in Action was the great award-winning, again, pioneering investigative programme which the elite, if you like, in news… most journalists’ ambition was to work on World in Action, and it was left, right and centre award-winning, and tremendous investigative stuff, and they used me because of my expertise on Northern Ireland, and having covered the first four years of The Troubles I knew all the politicians, and I knew the story back to front and inside out. So when they did a number of stories on Northern Ireland, they used me as the… they didn’t really have presenters, but if they did, they had me as the presenter. In one particular one was the time of the Protestant workers’ strike in Northern Ireland, whereby the new power-sharing assembly – not the one that’s there now, but the very first one in which the SDLP with Gerry Fitt (corr) and John Hulme (corr) had to sit down and work with the unionists, led then by Brian Faulkner, who had been prime minister in Northern Ireland, and Paisley and the extreme Protestant section, who were probably in the majority in Northern Ireland, had refused to have any truck with it because they weren’t going to sit down with them. “We will not sit down with nationalists who don’t believe in the constitution of this country!”

So they would have no part in the parliament, which actually made it fairly ineffective if the largest chunk of Northern Ireland wouldn’t actually take part, but they were determined to make it work so it was up and running when the Protestant workers, who tended to be of the extreme unionist variety, called a strike, and they were going to bring the country to its knees, which meant the electricity was going out because all the Protestant workers were the workforce in places like the Ballylumford power station (corr) and so on, they controlled the power and they could pull the plugs, and it made life very tough.

So they told everybody that nobody was allowed to go to work, it was almost mob rule on the streets, and if you tried to go to work, they had set up vigilante groups all over Belfast and, I presume, other parts of the area, and guys with baseball bats, and if you were driving to work, your car was stopped and you were dragged out and beaten up, basically. And we went out to cover the Protestant workers’ strike, and I was there to more or less do it – but the producer had the overall control. And they decided one day that they wanted to go to the Lower Newtownards Road (corr) at 8am. Normally it would be packed with traffic – it was one of the main routes from East Belfast into the city centre, and it was also the heart of extreme unionism, if you like, but the Ulster Defence Association (UDA), which was the paramilitary group centred in East Belfast, and it was a heavy, heavy area. And of all people that the press had to be worried about, it was the extreme Protestant community, rather than the extreme Nationalist community.

Of course the nationalist community welcomed all media coverage, because they felt it helped their cause in civil rights and in equality and all the rest of it, whereas the extreme Protestant side saw all that they had was being eroded, they had already lost their parliament where they had dominated, the gerrymandering areas were being resorted and all that sort of thing, so they hated the press and television, and they regularly beat up press and television if they ever got their hands on them. So it was dodgy – and I told them that when they said they wanted to go and film on the Newtownards Road to see it empty. And it was totally empty – nobody was daring to go to work. I said, “This is seriously dangerous if you want to do this,” But we had the most brilliant cameraman in the world bar none, in George Jesse Turner (corr) – big World in Action star cameraman, all over the world in the most dangerous situations. The man who knew no fear! And I was appointed driver because I knew the place like the back of my hand. I used to live just a little bit away from east Belfast, and that’s where I used to work in my early years – so I knew it all inside out. I remember warning them again that this was a dangerous situation, and I took them through the old rules of when I worked there – once you got in the car you locked the doors immediately. You did not forget to lock the doors, that was first and foremost. So we went to the Lower Newtownards Road, centre of east Belfast, and we set the camera right in the middle of the road in its tripod, just in front of our car – and he shot down the road to get these shots of totally empty streets in rush hour Belfast. And word gets about very quickly in those areas – little streets of terraced houses, all flying Union Jacks and red, white and blue pavements and all that sort of stuff, and there was a big pub right down on the left hand side in the distance, which is where the paramilitary groups used to gather. And even though it was 8am, there was a big gathering in there – and suddenly out came these thugs, basically, carrying things, and could see us filming in the road, and there were shouts and all the rest of it, and they came for us up the road. I said to George, “George, get in the car now!” Would he? No – he kept filming. I went, “Get in the car NOW, George!” They would have killed you, or certainly beaten you to a pulp if they’d got you.

And he was still filming as they were running towards us, and then suddenly, at the last possible moment, he swept the tripod in his arms, shoved it in the boot, which was open, leapt in the car, and I yelled again, “Doors!” so that they all locked their doors, and just as we took off the mob arrived and were actually holding on to the door handles, ad these faces peering in the windows that were absolutely almost black with rage, trying to get at us and drag us out of the car. I’m glad nobody was stood in front of the car, we just whizzed off and through a few side streets I knew we could get out of, and it was probably one of the most terrifying moments of my life, even having worked in Northern Ireland for a long time – but that man knew no fear, and that’s how he got some of the greatest pictures in the world.

Let’s move on to the Krypton factor. That’s the programme you’re most associated with at Granada.

Like many things in one’s life, you get breaks you don’t expect to get – they happen in the most ludicrous way, and they change your life. And my break originally into newspapers in Northern Ireland was in a freak circumstance, I changed from newspapers in Northern Ireland to working on – totally under-qualified – sports reports on BBC radio in London when I was a mere hack on a weekly paper in Ireland, it was a complete and utter fluke of the first order. And then I came to Granada, and then came another of these moments when my good friend and colleague – and I mean good friend in that we and our wives went on holiday together and things – Jeremy Fox. Jeremy was the son of the iconic television executive figure, Sir Paul Fox, and Jeremy was very bright, inventive, thrusting young would-be television executive, and at a young age he had been made editor of Granada Reports and he did lots of transformations, like they do when they are young and they want to put their own stamp on things. So he had done that, and moved onto a few other things, but he wanted to do entertainment – that was his big thing. And he devised the Krypton Factor. And he wanted to do this pilot them, to see if he could get a network series out of it.

But it was an upmarket quiz show, which is really the only thing Granada would probably entertain in those days – they wouldn’t do a silly one. So it was upmarket, it was challenges like mental agility and intelligence and observation and general knowledge, and interestingly the most remembered thing about it, the physical challenge, which was running an army assault course.

So he devised this, but also to make it more intellectual, they had a psychologist on the programme who analysed how the contestants had performed certain tasks and things like that, who was Dr Laurie Taylor – I made a number of psychology programmes with him later. He was a psychologist from York University at the time, then became quite big on television, being interviewed on a whole range of things, and his son (Matthew) now of course, is particularly famous as a political spokesman and I think a former advisor in the Labour Party to the prime minister. I saw him on television and he looks exactly like his dad! So that’s what they did.

Anyway, they wanted an upmarket, intelligent presenter, so they got Mike Scott to do the… it’s was strange, because nobody thought about Mike Scott because he was the big political man etc. doing State of the Nation and so on, and so they made the pilot, and the pilot did well and got commissioned for a network series. So Jeremy was over the moon, I was pleased for him as his mate, and then as time got nearer to when they were going to record in the studio, Mike Scott pulled out and decided, advised by his friends etc., that he couldn’t be a quiz show host and he taken seriously when he was interviewing the boss of British Leyland or even senior politicians for State of the nation or whatever else, and I think that persuaded him that that was right, and so he stepped down – so there was no presenter and it was getting close to recording the first show.

And I used to take Jeremy over to The Stables bar, I think it was at the time, at Granada, and suggested names to him. So I’d say, “You could approach David Coleman,” or whatever, and he would make notes. And for one reason or another, nobody could or would do it, and he was getting ever closer to the studio. And then one day he came to me and said, “I’ve decided who’s doing it.” I said, “Oh, great – anyone I suggested?” And he said, “No.” I said, “Do I know the?” he said, “Oh, yes.” I said, “Who is it, then?” and he said, “You.” I paused and said, “Me?” he said, “Yes, you’re going to do it.” I said, “Don’t be stupid – I’m a serious political journalist – Mike pulled out because he felt it would compromise him and I’d have to do the same. I can’t become a quiz show host and do my politics and current affairs with Granada.” And he talked me round, maybe because he was a mate and so on, maybe because he was desperate – “It’s an upmarket show, it’s okay, it won’t affect anything else you do, and it will only be for a year…” and I quite liked the show, and I liked the idea behind the show, and the challenges in the show, and it was different from any other television quiz that was going on at the time, so in the end I said, “Okay, I’ll do it – it’s just a year.” Well, that year became 18 years, and it just mushroomed. At its peak it became – I’ve got the clipping at home from the TV Times top 20 where it reached number two behind Coronation Street with 18.2 million viewers! And it was just astonishing for me – it gave me a network profile, a face that was known on the network and so on, but it did also do what Mike Scott had feared – it pigeonholed me.

Because it was such a huge success, I became a quiz show host, and instead of doing more politics and current affairs, shortly after The Krypton Factor started I went freelance and I wasn’t employed to do any of that. Instead, I found myself on Surprise, Surprise with Cilla Black, to do a one-off for her as a guest quiz show host, which turned into a thing called Searchline, which looked for people who hadn’t seen each other for 50 years or since the war or since at school, because the quiz they were going to do fell down overnight, so they changed it to this other thing, and they were going to have guest presenters every week, and I did the first one of the latest series of Surprise, Surprise. And at the end, Cilla said, “I’d love you to do the series.” And because I needed money, being a freelance at he time, and I was seduced – not by Cilla, I hasten to add! – by the showbiz element. Because you went down to London Weekend Television, who were an entertainment side as opposed to Granada, who were more serious and political and so on.

So I got flown down on the shuttle – none of your economy train nonsense! – met by a limo, whizzed into LWT, had a studio that overlooked the River Thames in all its glory, right across to the left to the Commons and over to the right, St Paul’s Cathedral – I mean, it was just phenomenal. So I got looked after. And when the show was over – Bob Carolgees was in it, people like that – we went for a meal, sometimes with Cilla, sometimes not, limo back to the hotel, overnight in the hotel, limo to the airport, flew me home, paid me a lot of money for doing very little, and I did it for five years.

I was invited onto other programmes as well, and in the end started to devise and make as an independent my own shows for daytime television. So that’s what the Krypton Factor did for me, it opened up a whole new area, made me an awful lot more money than I would ever have… I wasn’t in the big league, but I made a lot more than I ever would if I’d stayed put. So it was a huge change in my life, considering I was the last-gasp stand-in!

Was there anything in particular you wanted to talk about?

I don’t know whether you want to do it or not, it’s a fairly unknown story… I’ll lay you a pond to a penny… do you remember Linda McDougall?

Yes. I remember her husband.

It’s a fascinating cloak-and-dagger spy-type story that I think she would deny these days, but it’s absolutely true, the gospel truth from beginning to end. This was World in Action again, and it was a time when Sinn Fein were a banned organisation, and the British government wouldn’t talk to terrorists and all the rest of it. The then secretary of state for Northern Ireland in the Labour government was Merlyn Rees (corr), and the producer involved, Linda McDougall, was the wife of Austin Mitchell MP, and she knew Merlyn really well – obviously her husband was an MP so they mixed in those circles. And we were talking one day and I said, “The British government won’t talk to the IRA, but in the end they always do.” In the back woods and so on or whatever, you have to communicate in the end. And I said, “Wouldn’t it be a great idea if you did a bit of an interview with Merlyn Rees and then took that to the IRA, let them watch it, and then interviewed them on the back of it, and then take what they said back to Merlyn Rees and let him see that, and let him comment?” So it was a sort of negotiation going on but in a different way – you never talked to the IRA, but as a World in Action breakthrough programme, we could piece it together to see if any progress could be made. Just a wild thing.

Linda McDougall took that on board actually, and quite liked it. She came back a bit later and said, “I’ve talked to Merlyn Rees and he’s up for that,” which I found absolutely impossible to believe, that he would allow himself – or be allowed – to do that; even though he wasn’t directly talking, he would still be seen to be involved in it. But she said, “Yes, he will,” and persuaded World in Action that she would deliver him to do it. And they were all quite excited, but the problem was to get the IRA, who were not that easy to get. And they said to me, “Can you sort that out? Could you get an IRA leader or a chief of staff of the IRA to see if they would do it?” And I said, “Well, I could never guarantee that, but I’ll try.” So we flew into Belfast, Linda McDougall and myself – she was terrified of flying, she would grasp my hand through take-off and landing, I remember, she was absolutely terrified – and we were booked into the Europa Hotel. I said to her, “Right – I don’t want you involved in this bit at all.” She had already made another World in Action which had upset some of the nationalist community, so I didn’t want her involved. I said to her, “You stay in the hotel and you don’t come near me,” So I said I was going up into the Ardoyne to visit a well-known person who I would say was attached to the IRA – or certainly her husband was, and she clearly was as well – who I had interviewed on Ulster Television, which created a total storm with the Protestant Community, a woman called Máire Drumm (corr), a very tough, hard lady. But I got on quite well with her when I did my Ulster Television interview with her etc. So I went up to her house, and right opposite her house was a big army base in the middle of the Ardoyne, which looked a bit like the perimeter fence of Colditz – a huge fence all around and then they had these towers where the guards would stand, and they were fairly enclosed, otherwise they could be shot, and they had a thin slit down it. And as I stood at the door, knocking at the door, (there was this guard stood on my shoulder? 34:20), looking at this strange edifice behind me, I could hear clicking, and then the door opened and Máire said, “Come in.” So I went in, she took me into her front room where I could see out of the front window. I said to her, “What’s that funny clicking sound?” She said, “You’re being photographed; everyone who comes in and out of here is being photographed from that tower.” And as I looked up at the tower, I could see a rifle pointing at me – they had it pinned right towards me in the house, which made me feel hugely uncomfortable. I said to her, “That looks like a rifle.” She said, “It is. Would you like to come in the back room?” I said, “I think so.” So I went in the back, and then I explained the story to her, and said, “What do you think?” She was very, “No, it wouldn’t happen…” I went on a bit and I assured her that we had Merlyn Rees ready to do it, so it would be a big thing. And she said, “Right – wait there.” And she went and got on the telephone – and it was just like in a movie. She dialled some number which I presume was in the south of Ireland, and she said, “Hello, can I speak to Uncle, please?” And there was this sort of double-speak because she probably knew her phone was being [hacked]. She said, “I’ve got somebody here who I think you should see.”

After a while she came back to me and said, “Right – I can’t guarantee it’s happening, but what you need to do is to go down to Dublin, just off O’Connell Street, the top end, there are the offices of (what was the IRA newspaper) An Phoblacht (corr).” She said, “You’re to go there to the office and say that I have arranged for you to visit there, and then somebody there will talk to you.” So off we went down to Dublin – I told Linda to stay away as well. I wasn’t sure if I was frightened or not, but I went to the office, a tiny little office where they did this heavy Nationalist newspaper all the time, and sure enough a guy came, I identified myself and mentioned Máire Drumm and all the rest of it, and asked if he could set it up, and he said, “Stay there.” So I waited for a bit, and he came back and said, “Yes, we’re interested.” I said, “Right.” He said, “The thing is, when you fly in your crews to do this, they’ll be monitored all the way, so you’ll have to send your crew to – it was a Scandinavian country, I think he said Finland, I’m not sure – and fly them in separately.” You know, so they can’t me monitored and followed. So I said, “I’m sure that can be arranged.”

So he said, “You’ll have to come back tomorrow and then we’ll give you a definite answer. By the way – the chances are you’re being followed, because you have been photographed at Máire Drumm’s house. Just to check that, when you leave here and go back to wherever you’re staying…” – I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Dublin, but O’Connell Street is a huge street, right down the centre of Dublin and over the River Liffey, like a dual carriageway either side with a big (aerial? 38:05) statue all down the middle, very impressive street. – so he said, “When you get to O’Connell Street, go along a bit and then cross it twice.” So as I crossed it right over the first dual carriageway and the second to the other side, I was to look back and see if anyone was crossing as well. And then I was to walk along a bit and cross back, and then look back and see if the same person was crossing, if anyone had been crossing the first tie. It was like a spy movie! I didn’t know what I had got myself into.

So anyway, that’s what happened, and I finally got back to my hotel that evening – I had been gone a long time – to find that Linda had reported me missing to World in Action, and I think it had got to Plowright level and so on, and they were thinking about whether to bring in the police, which would have blown everything. So I was furious with that. And then a bit later in the evening she took some phone calls and came back and said, “Right, bad news – Merlyn Rees has pulled out.” I said, “Sorry? You said he was guaranteed.” And she said, “Well, now he’s decided not to. He’s pulled out. He won’t do it.” So I’d just been through all this with the IRA people and then I had to tell them that it was all rubbish? I was absolutely beside myself.

And so the next day I went back, expecting them to say, “It’s all set up, here’s what will happen, you’ll be blindfolded and taken here for the interviews,” so I got in first. I simply said, “Look…” I think another incident happened that night, I think it was just high tension, everyone was being monitored and followed. I said, “We like the idea but it’s too dangerous to do it at the minute, let’s just let this die down a bit, and if we can, we’ll come back and re-set it up.” And I think they thought it was odd, but they sort of bought it, and so the great programme that would have been breakthrough television, never happened in the end.

Brian Blake

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 8 November 2013.

Brian Blake joined Granada Television in 1966 and worked almost exclusively on World In Action, initially as a Researcher and later as a Producer.

Brian, let’s go through your Granada career chronologically. When did you join and how did you come to join the company?

Well I joined in 1966 and it’s a slightly strange story how I joined.

Basically I was an academic, which sounds a bit pompous. I’d done two degrees in history and I was working on a big project in London on the history of parliament. I’d done three years of that and was beginning to get a bit bored.

I suddenly saw an advertisement in the New Statesman which said, “wanted: northern graduate to join television company.”

I wasn’t a northern graduate, in fact I graduated from Bristol where I read history, but I came from a small mining village in Durham. So I thought well, maybe that’s alright.

So I wrote a letter saying ‘I’m not a northern graduate but I’m a graduate from the north of England’.

I was summoned down to London and on the board were two of the grandees, Dennis Foreman and Mike Wooler, typical Granada style; shirt sleeves rolled up, red braces showing, gin and tonic on the table.

So we went through all of this and I’d no experience of television, I’d hardly seen one, never had one at home.

The final question came after all of this, “how do you feel about living in Manchester (moving from London where I was working)?”

So I said, “coming from where I come from, Manchester to me is the north midlands.”

Whether that got me the job or not I don’t know.

But I got a job.

In a sense that was the typical Granada style, you had no experience of television, they just took a gamble on lots of people who they thought ‘he or she could be interesting we’ll go for it’.

That’s what they did, so I got the job.

So I joined in 1966.

For nine months I worked on the seventh floor and the idea was Granada was into publishing then. They decided to become a publishing company and they owned one or two paperbacks, grafton and panther.

The idea was, World in Action did a lot of research on programmes which never hit the screen so they though they’d publish these pamphlets, maybe one every three months, on a particular subject which had lots of research on.

It could be anything really, from Northern Ireland to whatever.

After nine months, typically, Granada lost interest in the whole project.

So they said just go down and join World in Action, just like that.

Again I had no experience in television, I didn’t know anything about it whatsoever and suddenly I was thrust into this job on World in Action.

My first job, they were doing a programme in Cheetham Hill of all places, not very Worldly.

They were a family of ten living on the dole.

The production team had been working with this family for three months.

They just said to me, here’s a microphone go in and interview the father, just like that.

I said ok, so I sat down and just had a chat with him really.

Finished the interview, came back, thought ‘I don’t know how good that is’.

Mike Murphy was the producer and he said “will you go along to the film editors room and strip out some sync.”

I hadn’t a clue what he meant, ‘strip out some sync’.

So I went along to the film editor and I said, “I’ve been told to strip out some sync, what does it mean?”

He said, “what you do is, you look at the interview, which had been printed out, and you pick out the bits you wanted, that you thought were the best bits.”

I said “right I’ve learnt something today how to strip out sync.”

I was totally ignorant.

So you spent nearly all your time on World in Action then.

Ever since.

Who would be editor of World in Action then?

When I joined it was David Plowright.

What was he like to work with?

He was probably the brightest of editors I ever worked with, in a television sense. He was a master of summing up a film; looking at a film purely coming in from the outside. He had a really terrific turn of phrase; what was wrong with it, what was right with it.

Punchy, very very good man to work with. An absolute bully having said that.

He took no prisoners and could be absolutely ruthless and hard. But in terms of the cutting room, he was probably the best editor I worked with.

I worked with maybe thirteen or fourteen over the years, he was very very good indeed.

So I was a researcher then for about four years.

Coming in from the outside the atmosphere was incredibly glamorous on World in Action, at the time. There were people jetting in from Vietnam, Laos.

Of course my first major job as a researcher was to interview four hundred families in Wolverhampton who had been rehoused. I had to trace them all and find out whether there was any racial discrimination being practiced against the black families in Wolverhampton.

So it meant actually knocking on four hundred doors and finding out the new addresses where they’d moved to.

That was not the most glamorous, everybody else seemed to be doing glamorous things, I was doing really bread and butter stuff.

We did a programme on aspirin, is it good for you or bad for you. I rang up two hundred doctors on that to find out their views on aspirin. The film actually took two years to make. The story was, when we started doing the vox pops with people in the street about aspirin by the time we finished the programme the skirts of the women had shortened by about twelve inches.

So some of it looked a bit dated!

There was a lot of hard graft in World in Action. There was a glamorous side, which the producers got at the beginning.

The team was always incredibly small, maybe sixteen, seventeen, eighteen of which eleven or twelve were producers, so about six researchers.

We tended to get all the bread and butter stuff, the hard graft of hitting the phone and knocking on doors. Very rarely did you get abroad, all that began to happen much later on.

So the top side was very glamorous, bottom side was hard work; typical journalist stuff in a sense.

The people on the team are worth talking about because they were an incredible melting pot of anybody you could imagine.

We had foreigners; Americans, Australians, South Africans, Czechoslovakians, we had all sorts of nationalities.

We had people from Oxbridge, red brick universities, people who came straight from local papers, national papers.

We had every sort of combination of people; one had been an airhostess and never worked in television before.

Gus Macdonald of course, who became editor, worked on the docks in Glasgow.

We had a military policemen.

Today you think people have got to do media training and come up through that way, there’s hardly any other way now to get into television.

Then people were just plucked from every walk of life.

The story is Mike Scott met this airhostess on the plane and thought she would make a very interesting presenter so she was hired.

There were gambles, there was no set way of joining World in Action; you could be anybody from any walk of life and if they took a fancy to you or thought you had some sort of potential then you were employed. That was the Granada ethic I suppose.

It would never happen now, obviously not.

Let’s go back to that programme on aspirin, it took two years to make. How many people would be working on that?

There was one producer who was Dennis Wolf, who actually still lives in Stockport I think.

The researcher tended to come and go, you weren’t on it for two years; you might be on it for three months doing one particular piece of research and then somebody else and somebody else.

So probably about three researchers altogether. You could actually spend two years before you got a programme out. Again I doubt whether that would happen very often these days.

It’s a huge commitment that.

Well it was, I suppose it went so far down the line that once you’ve committed to doing a programme it’s very very difficult for a company to stop it unless there’s some reason for it, like a legal reason or the research isn’t holding up.

Once you’ve started a programme you tend to go on with it and hope you get the right result in the end.

There were others, not as long as that I have to say. People would disappear for three months abroad and even longer before coming back. Some programmes took six months before transmission. Others were done in three days.

That was a huge financial commitment as well.

Especially when you’ve got a small team, and when someone’s only doing one programme in two years it puts a load on other people as well. But they bashed on with it.

Tell me about some of the other memorable World in Action’s you worked on.

Memorable, that’s always a difficult question.

I can tell you worst programme I ever worked on, or the hardest one.

Roland Coburn was the editor on it so he will probably give you another side of he story.

It was the first gay rights civil march in London, to Hyde Park on a Saturday.

We had two crews out, one followed a group of gay rights people from Liverpool and I went down to London and filmed the equivalent London group of people who were marching to Hyde Park.

So it was filmed on a Saturday and it was big rally in Hyde Park; bands, speeches.

It finished about eight o’clock so we got the last train back and got back to Manchester at midnight on Saturday.

Of course it was all on film in those days, you didn’t have the luxury of today of video editing and so on.

So the two producers, we got our heads together and the other producer agreed he would work through ‘til seven o’clock on Sunday night and would prepare a rough cut, assembly of material.

I would come in at seven or eight o’clock on Sunday night and work through the night until Monday to get the programme out on Monday.

So I came in on the Sunday night at half past seven and not a frame had been cut.

The producer told me “it’s impossible, it can’t be done.”

I said, “have you told Ray Fitzwalter the editor about this.”

He said, “Yes I said I would get a studio programme ready just in case.”

We didn’t actually have a standby programme; the idea was you always had a standby programme which was timeless. It could be anything; conversations with a trade unionist was one of our standard ones, conversations with an old aged pensioner. They were timeless, you could slip them in anywhere, but we didn’t have one.

Ray said, “What do you think?”

I said, “I’ll have a go and if we can’t make it you’ve just got to get somebody ready to come into the studio.”

So I worked through the night and it began to take shape.

You had to time it back from transmission in those days. Transmission was eight, and if dubbed the film, it probably took an hour which took it back to seven.

Then you had to neck cut it and match it up and get the film which took another three hours so you were back to four o’clock in the afternoon.

You had to be finished basically by four o’clock.

Ray came into the cutting room at three o’clock, he hadn’t seen a frame yet.

He said, “I must see this film.”

I said, “you can’t see it, at this stage now it will take forty minutes to show it to you which will take us up to twenty to four. So that leaves twenty minutes for your comments.”

He said “oh my god.”

So I pushed him out of the room and we worked on.

It came to a point, at five o’clock, we were losing the battle.

I said to Roland, “I think we’ve lost this one, we’re not going to get there.”

We had cut about twenty three minutes of the film which was meant to run at twenty eight with commercials.

It did actually go out, we did make it but what happened was we called it a draw at twenty three minutes.

What we did then, the Tom Robinson band was the main band on stage with their famous hit ‘We are family’ a big gay rights number.

So the last three and a half minutes of the programme was the band playing ‘We are family’.

So that was the worst programme I ever made in terms of tension, sweat and certainly not the best by a long way, but interesting.

World in Action wasn’t very good at doing studio items was it?

Well it was a last resort. The whole ethos of World in Action was not to use the studio. When it was set up it was in direct opposition to Panorama, which did films of course, but it relied a lot on studio, it relied a lot on presenters like Richard Dimbleby, it was a studio led programme.

The whole ethos of World in Action was to get on the road. With the advent of these new 16mm handheld cameras the cameraman could actually dive into the action. He could carry it on his shoulders which couldn’t be done in the fifties.

We did occasionally go into studio; we did one on the Hillsborough disaster, we did two or three on the Falklands War because we couldn’t get access to the Falklands.

ITV weren’t allowed to go to the Falklands during the War, but it was a last resort, a very last resort. Nobody wanted to do it, we all hated studio in a way or we didn’t like it very much.

Just on an aside, I worked on a couple to do with the Labour Party; the Labour Party election and the SDP which were studio items; a bit of a disaster to be honest.

Did you work on the 1968 Anti-Vietnam March demonstration?

No I didn’t. I was filming another programme in Wiltshire with Mike Beckham. I think the two of us were the only World in Action people who weren’t involved in that.

We came back to Euston station from Wiltshire and there was the crew climbing on to the same train. We all go on the same train back to Manchester.

Everybody was there, six crews I think.

So our claim to fame was we were the only two that didn’t work on the 1968 Grosvenor Square.

Any other memorable programmes?

So many really, I did do more than anybody else. I am the world record holder for World in Action in terms of numbers; I did do about 130.

It is hard to pick out individual ones and often for strange reasons.

I did one on Chernobyl, six years after the accident; that was a very very tough experience, and quite a hazardous one.

One of the last ones I did was the killing of James Bulger, which was memorable for a totally different reason.

It was great competition among the media for that programme because everybody was after, it was a really big story.

What we did, we were up against all this competition, everybody including the main ITV news.

We got the scoop and what we did was, myself and the researcher, we had a drunken night in Liverpool.

Very hard to find a decent pub in Liverpool as you know!

We managed to get, from what source I still can’t tell you, the tapes of the police interrogation of the two boys who were later found to have killed Bulger.

Nobody else was anywhere near it, nobody even knew they even existed.

We got back to Granada with these tapes and constructed a little set within Granada of the actual police interrogation room.

This ITV female producer was after me all the time. She hadn’t a clue what we were doing. All the interviews they had done we didn’t bother with, we didn’t view any because we had the goods.

She couldn’t work out what we were doing.

She kept coming to the Granada building trying to find out and she actually came up once and got very near the set. If she’d seen the set she would have guessed I think, she might have thought we were just doing a reconstruction.

Anyway we managed to push her off.

So our show went at half past eight and the opening of the programme is roughly along the lines of ‘these are the actually voices of the boys who have now been convicted (it was after the trial had ended)’.

The phone rang into the office and it was her on the phone.

She said, “you bastards, how did you get that?”

It was a scoop. It was an awful story, in the sense of the case, but the triumph of doing that is one of the great things about journalism, when you get something everybody is after; whether it is good luck, a good intuition or a good head for drinking in Liverpool.

Those were two of many but they were important stories.

The other one of course, the famous one that I look back with affection, which again is an English story is the village that quite smoking, Longnor.

My twins had just been born then, they were born in early December and I was sent up to Longnor on New Year’s Eve to start research on the project; knocking on four hundred doors to find out the smoking habits of the village.

Then my job, once we started getting ready for the film, was to persuade the whole village to give up smoking. That was a project.

I would sit in the pub seven nights a week playing darts and dominoes and persuading people to give up smoking. It sounded like a wonderful project until it came to my expenses, ‘how can I claim expenses for this?’

So I actually put down ‘entertaining the village of Longnor – £169’.

The accounts department looked at me with a knowing look, of course they couldn’t do anything about it and they actually paid it up.

It was the Granada ethos, pictures of Barnum the great American showman on the wall. The idea was you had to get showbiz somehow into current affairs, to make people watch and enjoy it, not just hard journalism.

The whole idea of the village giving up smoking, we had brass bands, hypnotists, we had Coronation Street people going up there to speak. It was a little showbiz enterprise and for a very worthy cause.

I think about 70-80% of people gave up smoking, what happened after of course is difficult to know but for the time being it was good fun and a worthy programme.

So for all different reasons these are some of them.

You talked about the Granada ethos, what kind of company was Granada, would you like to expand on that?

It’s difficult not to be clichéd about it. It had a genuine interest in all the people, in the early days certainly.

Some moved from London to Manchester, you’ve still got the same thing now with the BBC in Salford. There’s this problem of getting people to move to the North from the South.

We didn’t have that problem so much; it was only World in Action really that had that problem.

The management always lived in London of course, they came up on a Monday say and they had flats in Manchester and back on Friday.

The World in Action team was half London, half Manchester roughly speaking.

Everybody was going up and down.

They wanted people to move to Manchester, I remember one producer he said “I can’t afford to move to Manchester” and they paid his deposit.

That’s the sort of thing they did.

People who were drunk, there was a tremendous amount of drunkenness in those days; it was the old journalists tradition of hard drinking. People were sent to sanatoriums to dry out, a lot of that went on behind the scenes, it wasn’t broadcast.

So in that sense a very benevolent company.

As I said earlier they took gambles on people, like Brian Armstrong a fine documentary maker suddenly became head of comedy.

‘How did that happen?’ It couldn’t happen anywhere else.

They just looked at people individually, they had time to do that and they took flies.

I must say they were a very good company to work for, good fun. A few ups and downs, a few shouting matches but of course they encouraged that.

They used to invite people up to the seventh floor at Granada for a dinner party.

The whole idea was to get everybody drunk so that you would actually speak out what you thought of them or what you thought of Granada. A sort of bonding session.

There was one famous one, Denis Foreman.

We were all up there about ten World in Action producers, all sparky individuals, all thinking we’re pretty good.

He said “there’s only been two directors in the whole history of television and cinema who are great, who are famous, who are really good.”

We al said “Oh yeah, who’s that then?”

“Orson Welles and Ken Russell.”

And we all started throwing bread rolls at him. People were picking up bread rolls from the table and throwing them.

He loved that, that’s the sort of thing they did. They wanted controversy, they wanted people to let their hair down and speak their minds. And you could speak your mind, you could say what you liked.

So that was all good, no complaints there at all.

You’ve mentioned bullying and drunkenness. Bullying fairly rife?

Well bullying is perhaps putting it too hard. It was a rough and ready sort of crudity, in a way, like ‘I’m the boss and you do what I say’.

We thought we were better than that, you felt you had a right to be listened to, to explain your point, to get it over with.

There was just a certain few, as far as World in Action and current affairs would go, who thought they could run rampant and roughshod over you.

So that happened.

It’s something you forget about afterwards.

The Allan Seagal episode, I was in America doing a programme on Alexander Haig. He [Alexander Haig] went in front of the Senate committee, he was going to be appointed the equivalent of the foreign secretary. In America they go through this Senate committee who question him about his past and so on.

As usual we flew over on the Monday with it to go out the following Monday.

I got there and arrived in the court room to talk filming and Panorama were there with Peter Vile, who had been a Granada researcher, who is now a Panorama producer and Margaret Jay who was the presenter.

So Peter Vile came over to me at the break and said “Hello Brian, you’ve come to do Hague?”

I said “yeah, yeah.”

He said, “when did you arrive?”

“Oh we arrived yesterday”

“We’ve been here three months.”

I said “what?”

He said “yes, we’ve signed up everybody; Bernstein, we’ve got every person signed up for Panorama exclusively.”

So I thought ‘Oh my god’.

Paul Greengrass was the researcher, now as you know a brilliant feature film director.

I rang back to Manchester to say to Seagal, “listen we’re in big trouble here. We’ve just done a days filming, we tried to interview people can’t get anyone as they have all been signed up. Margaret J was having an affair at the time with Bernstein. It’s all signed up.”

He said, “Listen Blake, if you don’t get that fucking programme out on Monday you’re fucking fired.”

So I said “Bog off Alan, what are you talking about.”

We went out the same time as Panorama, I’ve still got the TV reviews, and we beat them hands. I’ll tell you why we beat them hands down.

First of all, Paul Greengrass as a researcher pulled off the great coup. This guy, Roger Morris, who was teaching at the University of New Mexico had written a biography of Haig in the early days, an expert.

Panorama had been nowhere near him because they had got all the stars, all the big names in Washington.

So Paul got him on, I said “get him up to Washington. Will you do it?”

He said “yes I’ll do it for you.”

He flew up from New Mexico to Washington. We filmed him, absolutely brilliant interview, he just knew everything.

So we finished the interview and the phone rings and it’s his wife ringing up from New Mexico. His wife says “I’ve just had Panorama on the phone, I’ve told them you’re in Washington, they want to interview you.”

Roger turned round to me, “Panorama want to interview me, what shall I do?”

I said, “I can’t stop you from being interviewed for Panorama but I’d be very grateful if you wouldn’t do it.”

He said “right I’ll do that” and he flew back to New Mexico.

So we scored on that, we had one interview, they had nine.

Secondly, in the courtroom Haig was facing the panel of this committee. What Panorama did was they were getting a feed from CBS, and what CBS did was as soon as Haig spoke they showed a close up of Haig, and as soon as somebody from the committee spoke they showed a close up of the committee man.

What George Jesse Turner did he started off like that, he filmed Haig, but when the committee started asking him a question he stayed on Haig.

So you could see Haig’s face crumbling as some dirty trick he’d done came up.

You could see the man crumbling.

The reviewer said ‘they scored on two things; brilliant interview and wonderful camerawork of George Jesse Turner’.

I said to Seagal, “you don’t know how lucky you are.”

We should have been absolutely slaughtered, we got away with murder, as you do sometimes.

Were you there for the great World in Action revolt?

Oh many of them, all of them I think!

The ousting of David Boulton, what were the other ones?

That was the major one.

There had been all sorts of little ones, Lightbolt? like I said had tried to get rid of most of the London office, in fact I think five left eventually and took redundancy.

But that was the major one.

It was quite funny because we had this election amongst the team as to who would be our representative to stand for editor. So there was three on the shortlist; Mike Ryan, Ray Fitzwalter and me, we were the three candidates for the job.

Granada tradition we went for an interview with all of them there of course; Foreman, the lot. The gin and tonic was still on the table.

The first question was “you don’t really want this job Brian, do you?”

I said “erm, what do you mean?”

“You’re not interested in being a boss, sitting behind a desk.”

I said “I prefer making films but the team have put me forward and I’d be quite happy to do that.”

Anyway, there’s me, Mike Ryan we’d probably done 120 films between us, Ray had never made one.

In Granada tradition they gave Ray the job and they brought in Brian Lapping as an executive over Ray, again who wasn’t a filmmaker, who had written for the Spectator.

In a wonderful swoop they scuppered us, got their own nominee in and put somebody else in as well.

We’d been through the democratic process and we were left absolutely… It wasn’t funny at the time, but funny now.

And then Ray went and became editor for the next twenty years or whatever it was.

There was a great bonding wasn’t there when teams worked together whether it was World in Action or any other programme teams seemed to bond and spend a great deal of time together.

You did, as I say it was a very small unit of people and often you tended to work with the same researchers quite regularly.

When you were away it was a very small unit of people, originally it was eight; five or six crew, but in the latter days it was four. You could travel away for weeks and weeks abroad all over the place.

So we were together all the time, every night of course, every morning for breakfast, all during the day.

You were like a family on holiday, not on holiday but working together all the time.

So a lot of long friendships came out as a result of all that.

Whenever you have a reunion now in London the faces are all there, some have died now of course.

You stuck together as well if there was criticism from whatever, you stuck together in the cutting room or against flack from anywhere.

As I say it was a very small unit, the rest of Granada often I think looked upon us with suspicion because they worked funny hours. Some people came in at five or six o’clock in the evening; their working day was starting when everybody else was going home.

You come in the morning and there would be pants in the washbasin. A lot of people did that sort of life, they were like newspaper people they did those sort of hours where the night shift was nothing, especially the single ones.

It was a close-knit team.

Would you say that it was not very family friendly working for Granada? In terms of you were working long unsocial hours, going off filming to here there and everywhere.

 I don’t think it ever really bothered them, they just thought that’s the job. Maybe if you’d just had a baby or something they might be slightly more tolerant. I think it was just ‘you’ve got to get on with it’.

What about women who worked on the programme?

There weren’t many at all, especially the early days. Most of them were single, tough in that sense because they had to be, it was an incredibly male society.

It was funny it was different, they were very sensitive filmmakers, very good at emotional films which was not so easy for men I think.

But as I say, most of them in the early days certainly were very tough, very determined. None of early ones that I can remember were married at all, married later of course when they left.

So they were slightly different in that sense.

Maybe one or two at a time on a team of eighteen to twenty, sometimes only one. But later on of course it became much more prominent and quite rightly so.

Somebody said to me that Granada was an unashamedly left wing company. Would you agree with that?

I know somebody who did, that was Ken Clarke. Again we were doing an interview with Ken Clarke in London, I think he was Home Secretary. He said to me, “I don’t know why I’m bothering doing this interview, you’re all left wing Marxists.”

I said, “well some people might think that all Tories are rabid fascists, but I don’t.” So there was a deathly hush. That was the attitude.

It was a very left wing programme, the British Steel papers, all the clashes with the government over Northern Ireland, the IRA and so on. [Little unclear]

We were accused of giving terrorists air space, arguments that are still going on today and we’re talking about the sixties and seventies, some things never change.

I think Granada was sort of conscious of that in a way. So they did try to make the odd conservative one on World in Action.

Generally speaking because people were young, because it was that sort of area of documentary making you tend to be left wing.

The same accusations are made against the BBC today aren’t they? They were saying the same thing forty, fifty years ago so none of that changes.

They must be a Guardian reader because they’re doing these liberal things, it’s very difficult to escape from that criticism.

I suppose yes it’s true, broadly speaking I suspect 80% of us would have voted Labour in the times.

But then we’ve had the chairman of the young Conservatives, we’ve had Tory MPs working for us, we’ve talked to Ted Heath on programmes.

So there was no sort of attempt to be purely one sided, I think one did try to be a bit more liberal hopefully.

Then as you say, looking down the team for example there were two members of the team Margaret Beckett and Jack Straw who both became Labour cabinet ministers.

Lord Birt and Lord Macdonald… so there is a left wing tinge and was bound to be to that programme. Lord Bernstein was a Labour MP { Labour Peer} I think.

Hopefully we were pretty fair about it all, I don’t think we were fantastically left wing.

Let’s talk a little bit about the trade unions, at that time in commercial television, whether you thought there were certain rules which inhibited programme making or made life difficult. Whether they were they justified or not.

I think the one that irritated me was you had to have a card to become a director. That used to annoy a lot of us on World in Action because we were producers, but also directors.

Most of us didn’t have a card because a card was something you got mainly through directing drama and none of us were interested in drama. So that was a little niggle.

I remember when the people in London went on strike and they brought in two or three producers from Manchester working in other programmes to come onto World in Action.

One of them I particularly remember is Jim Walker.

Now Jim Walker was a producer on other programmes but he couldn’t direct on World in Action, they wouldn’t let him direct.

He would set up a film, and you would have to have somebody like me who was not working at that moment. I’d go out with him and sit and let him do it even though it was his programme.

There were silly things like that, he couldn’t actually produce a film on his own, he had to have a director standing there, probably having a drink at the bar while he was doing it.

So that was a silly thing.

Some of the undermining was a bit silly.

There was the famous one about Margaret Thatcher when she was being interviewed. She looked round the room, and I think there was ten people and she said “What are they all doing?”

This happened, really, in the early days for us. You would go abroad with eight people. Now that is a tremendous cumbersome lot of people to travel around with.

For a start you need two cars, maybe three if you had luggage.

There was two of everything; two cameramen, two soundmen, often two electricians, if you were doing some big lighting job, researcher and producer.

There was a feeling of that.

That was obviously resolved in the end and eventually you came down to four; cameraman, soundman, researcher and producer.

So that was halved and you could travel in one car so mobility was much improved.

That was a slim lining, which I think was a good thing.

For example one of the big series I did with A History of Television we travelled the world on that and we had to take two electricians and two PAs.

Now two electricians you don’t need, so one would light the room, the other would bitterly sit outside.

So there were things like that, which were annoying but gradually they were sorted out.

I remember a World in Action I worked on, where we did a studio programme from the Royal Commonwealth Society with various MPs and there was no vision mixer. It wasn’t until the programme had been finished at whatever time it was, four o’clock on the Monday that Alan Seagull, who was producing, realised there was no vision mixer.

So the programme was immediately blacked. I think Paul Greengrass was working on that. Mike Walsh did a piece to camera in it and because of that you had to have a vision mixer. We had to get a helicopter to take Gus McDonald and Mike Walsh up to Manchester and run it through the studio.

Having said that I must say the unions revolutionised my life and many others.

When I joined I think I was paid about £900 a year.

We had that eight-week strike in the late seventies and we all went off and did various jobs like window cleaning and god knows what. When we came back the salaries very quickly trebled and quadrupled and became a decent salary for the first time.

Nowadays the story is of presenters like Paxman and BBC people getting millions of pounds.

In those days it still wasn’t a huge salary, in fact it was no better certainly than a low paid teacher.

There was no huge expandary of money, it was only after the strike.

They were making huge profits then, ITV was a fantastically profitable industry.

Only then did they begin to realise something had to be done and the unions won that battle and transformed the lives of all the people who worked in the industry.

That was a tremendous plus.

So I’ve always been a very strong union man, I have to say.

What about some of the personalities who worked at Granada; Dennis Foreman.

Yes I mean the grandit as every body called him.

I didn’t realise, when I mentioned earlier about the interview in London and he was sitting there with his shirt sleeves, always wore red braces and a gin and tonic.

So I had the interview in London.

When I came to Manchester, I had never been to Manchester before apart from playing football in university days, but I had never been to Granada.

I went to the desk and asked “can I see Dennis Foreman?”

They looked at me, “is he expecting you?”

I said “yes he is.”

I didn’t realise he was here on the sixth floor; he had this huge office, two secretaries.

I just didn’t realise he was such a powerful important figure, which of course he was. He really was the front of Granada.

The miser about the Bernsteins and rightly so as being the founders but Foreman was the one you saw and had dealings with, not a lot because he had the whole empire to look after.

He was a very imposing figure, very cultured, loved music, loved film, a very imposing man indeed.

One of his many claims to fame, going back to History of Television, was when I was doing a summit on sex in television, the beginnings of the sexual revolution and all that.

His famous series which he set up and looked after, the jewel in the crowns, has a scene where one of the characters comes down the corridor and through the door you can hear two people having sex, grunting and groaning and so on.

The papers said the next day that it was the first time they had ever heard the sound of sexual intercourse on television.

So I interviewed Foreman for the History of Television.

I said, “Why did you do that?”

He just rolled his eyes and laughed and said “isn’t it about time we found out what was going on behind closed doors. Absolutely harmless!”

He was larger than life figure.

A History of Television ran into problems. It was a huge enterprise, it was six one hours filmed all around the world. They suddenly realised, I think, about half way through that they weren’t going to recover the costs unless they sold it to America. It had to be sold to America.

So they decided to Americanise the programme, in other words use more clips of American television, not so much of British television or particularly foreign television which we all thought we were meant to be doing.

So we had this meeting and we all complained that what we had been filming; television sets in Africa, Japan and Indonesia and people in peasant villages watching television.

Obviously this was going to be pushed aside so we all complained about it.

“That’s enough of complaints,” he said. “Two million pounds for the budget, I want American clips and off you go.” And that was it.

So the combination of what we were talking about earlier; bullying but power, the power just to say “two million pounds…” which was a lot of money then, you’re talking thirty years ago.

I wouldn’t say it’s the greatest series ever but we tried. It was the most difficult series I think I worked on, trying to balance these various things.

And there was an ability in those early days, was there not, to be able to come up with an idea one minute and by the afternoon be actually making the programme.

It was exactly the same as I was saying earlier about picking people on a flair, ideas were the same. There were no committees in those days, one person could actually make a decision. If you convinced one person, one boss… he might take it one step up but that would be it. Nowadays to make a programme you have got to go through various committees, various people coming to see a programme, have their own criticisms.

There you had an idea, you took it to your immediate boss. If he wasn’t interested he might suggest you take it to another department.

As you say, very quickly it would be taken up.

Same with people, if they met with somebody, they thought ‘this is interesting’ and away they went and employed them.

It was a small company in some ways, there were very few bosses. You would probably deal with about five or six people in a year, if that.

So there were instant decisions taken and instant protection of people as well if things were going badly.

It was a very small and very tightly run company, very financially solvent and very carefully run company.

Quite well controlled I think.

Did you have anything to do with Sidney Bernstein?

I did, not a lot I have to say.

I had just finished the History of Television and Steve Morrison rang me up and said “Sidney wants this film made.”

I said “oh yes”

In the Second World War Sidney was one of the first people to go into Belsen concentration camp. He was a major in the army and he decided when he came out of the army he wanted to make a film on Belsen.

It’s an interesting story in itself because he got people like Hitchcock involved and all sorts of things like that. So they collected all these newsreels but the film was never made, never transmitted. All the rolls of film were kept in the British War Museum in London. People had heard of them, knew of them, but they’d never been seen.

He wanted someone to do this film of Belsen using this Hitchcock inspired material.

So I did that.

I built up four interviewees, one of the first soldiers to go into Belsen and then three Jewish survivors in London who had been at Belsen.

We had a grand showing of this film in London. He sent me an invitation to this film, ‘Mr Lake he said’.

So that was it and then a week later I got a letter from him, again saying:

‘Dear Mr Lake, thank you for all your efforts on this film. I didn’t quite like all the interviews you put in but otherwise thank you very much.’

So that was my immediate experience of dealing with Bernstein, being called by the wrong name.

But he was a presence of course, he was always sweeping up and down corridors.

We interviewed him in the making of this Belsen film and I had done all the interviews up until then but of course no, he had to have Mike Scott to interview him.

He obviously trusted Mike Scott, he didn’t quite know who I was.

He was more of a presence, people just didn’t meet him like that, he might pop into somebody’s office in the evening and see what they’re up to type of thing.

Foreman as I say was the presence.

Sandy Ross

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 1 December 2013.

How did you actually come to work for Granada, because I know that Granada didn’t always take people who were obvious like journalists?

It’s quite difficult to try and understand but I think I was part of the working class phase because you’re absolutely right, they had quite an eclectic hiring policy. Sometimes they would do the conventional thing and go on the Oxford and Cambridge milk run and hire very bright people from there. Tony Wilson was a perfect example of that, Tony was somebody who came through that Oxbridge route. Another time I remember it was only women they hired because they desperately wanted women to come and work in the company. It just so happened at the time when I applied, as I say, I think they were looking for people with not necessarily a working class background but people who had worked and who had done different things. Not necessarily either in journalism or in television.

I always think that in different circumstances I doubt if I would have even got an interview at Granada Television. But it just so happened that I knew Steve Morrison who was in then head of local programmes. Steve asked me if I wanted to apply and I put together a form of application which I put in. I think probably it was helped to the top of the interview pile by him, which meant I at least got an interview. The thing I’ve always said, one of the most difficult things about television is being heard. If you can get in and be heard, even vaguely impressive people who are listening to, you can get in and do anything you want.

I still remember the day of the interview because if I’d known who the people were who were interviewing me, I probably would have been terrified. I went to the interview room and apart from Gus Macdonald, who I vaguely knew, I didn’t know any of the rest of them. There was Chris Pye who was Gus’ deputy in the regional programmes department at the time, Brian Armstrong who was the head of comedy, Derek Granger who went on to make Brideshead, Ray Fitzwalter who was running World in Action and Gus himself. It was an absolutely formidable bunch of people to interview you but because I didn’t know who they were it didn’t actually bother me very much. Gus knew vaguely who I was because I’d been very, very active politically in Scotland. In fact I’d just come off a major student demonstration that had lasted almost the whole year over the lack of teaching jobs for teacher training students. And during the course of the interview Gus kept going on at me about ‘the only reason you want to come to work in television is so you can be a troublemaker and make political programmes and smuggle political messages into programmes’ and all the rest of it. I have to be honest but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. I was told afterwards that the thing, almost more than anything else that got me the job, was at one point Brian Armstrong suddenly said ‘Gus seems to know more about you than we do, are you a raving Trotskyite?’ I said ‘I’m not raving.’

And they just all laughed.

I was told, that was almost the turning point. Chris Pye told me afterwards that I got a tick from all of them. I’m not sure I ever got a tick from Gus, if I’m honest with you, but I got a tick from the rest of them.

What had you actually done before?

I trained as a lawyer and I had worked as a solicitor. I’d been a town councillor in Edinburgh since I was 21, I got elected when I was 21. So I had obviously that kind of background and experience. I had been elected at least twice during that period. I was a member of the Labour party and had that kind of knowledge. I’d also shared a flat at University with Steve Morrison and I was always very, very interested in the arts and culture and all the rest. Living in Edinburgh, you had the Edinburgh festival every year and Steve Morrison and I got very involved in that. Every year for four or five years we used to act as the Edinburgh brokers, agents, fixers for the Bradford University theatre company. So they used to come every year for three weeks and put on shows at various theatres and halls. Steve and I used to organise that, because we were on the ground in Edinburgh during the year we kind of did things. Because I was also a solicitor I did some of the legal work for them and stuff like that. I had that kind of experience of working with them.

At that time the Bradford University theatre group had some amazing contacts and some amazing people writing and working for it. They would come with plays from guys like David Edgar, Sue Wilson, Howard Brenton, who were all at that time – in the seventies – just beginning to make names for themselves. I remember one year, it must have been during the miners’ strike, it was a David Edgar play about the miners’ strike and he said he rewrote the end every single day depending on what had happened in the strike during that period. So I had a bit of experience of doing things like that, and I’d also set up and ran a thing called the Leith festival. It was vaguely modelled on the Edinburgh festival but it took place in Leith, which is the port of Edinburgh. I set it up and it is still running. So I used to be, I don’t know what I called myself, artistic director, organiser, producer of that and I did that for five or six years before I came to Granada. I had that kind of general organisational background which without knowing it, but subsequently finding out about it once you moved to television, is the kind of production background that a producer needs.

So what year is this that you joined Granada?

I’m terrible with years, but I think I joined in ’76 and then I was there for about eleven years because Gus Macdonald went back to STV (Scottish Television) in ’86. He was hired by STV to prepare STV for the franchise renewal in 1990 and I was one of the people that he asked to come back and work with him at STV.

So I think it was about ’76 that I joined Granada and at that time of course, I didn’t appreciate this, but they were gearing up for their own licence renewal in 1980. If you remember in these days licence renewals used to happen every ten years and I think they got it in sync so it used to happen in the zero year; 60, 70, 80, 90, 2000 were the years when companies had to reapply for their licences.

So you joined as a researcher.

I joined as a researcher and was put straight into the newsroom where the evening programme at that time was called Granada Reports. It was presented by a rota of four people; Tony Wilson, Trevor Hyett, Gordon Burns and Bob Greaves. There was a woman called Ruth who would do it occasionally. With hindsight now it was a very male led evening news programme. It was always a two hander, so there was a rota. It would be Wilson and Greaves some nights, or Trevor and Gordon Burns some nights, and they were all different characters. Again, not having lived in the North West I didn’t really know who Bob Greaves was, but I learned pretty quickly that Bob was Mr Manchester and a huge star locally. Some nights the thing would be done in such a way that all four of them would present the news.

I remember one of the redesigns of the set and the desk was shaped like a snake, and that’s what we called it ‘the snake’. Sometimes you would have the four presenters sitting behind the desk all doing different bits of the news, it was absolutely fascinating.

I can still always remember one night. Trevor Hyett was probably the main joker, Trevor was a bit off the wall, quite left wing. I was in the gallery, can’t remember if I was producing the news that night, or just in the gallery. All four of them were sitting there on the set and Trevor Hyett, with about two minutes to go until on air, said “right, what we’re going to do tonight is we’re going to present the news with our dicks out. Everybody dicks out.” So they’re all fumbling under the desk, and they sat there for about half an hour presenting the news all with their dicks out underneath the desk. Juvenile, yes, funny, yes. So it was interesting.

How long did you spend on Granada Reports?

Quite a long time actually when I think about it. I was a researcher on Granada Reports for about a year, fourteen months, something like that. What amazed me was there wasn’t really any training, it was quite incredible. You were on the news desk for a couple of days, just sitting there to see what happened as stories came in, how the news editor tasted copy.

You would attend the morning meeting, which usually started at about nine o’clock every morning. It was meant to be attended by the whole team although sometimes the presenters wouldn’t attend because they would come in later in the day. You were expected, when you went to the morning meeting, to have at least three ideas for stories that day. So that meant that before you even got in to the morning meeting you should have read the papers, the local papers, listened to Radio Manchester, listened to the Today programme or whatever. So you were always expected when you came in in the morning to have at least three ideas.

In the land of the blind man, the one eyed man is king.

There were certain guys, a guy called Mike Engelheart I think his name was. Mike could read Welsh so he had a head start because he used to read the Welsh local papers. So Mike always had the unusual story because he nicked it from some bloody Welsh language paper somewhere. I can’t remember whether they attended or conference called but the Liverpool newsroom had the same kind of meeting in the morning.

When the meeting finished in the morning the producer of the day and the news editor would sit and go through things. Some things were no brainers because they were the major stories of the day and all the rest of it, and other things were kind of optional. So they would then come back and assign the tasks to everybody. There were certain individuals who were specialist like Nik Gowing who now does BBC worldwide news. Nick was the industrial man so he would always specialise in trade union stories and industrial stories.

There was somebody else who would only ever do medicine stories, that was the only thing they were interested in, because there were a lot of people who had these little specialities.

After about four days of being in the newsroom, sitting on the news desk, seeing how things ran you then started to go out with crews. So you’d go out with the reporter, who was usually a member of the NUJ, who was going to do the story and you would be out there as the researcher, fixer or whatever it is.

Eventually, the speed of it was incredible, within about two and half-three weeks you were actually going out on your own with the camera crew. There was a one plus one crew or there was also some two plus two crews that were used because there were restrictions on the length of stories in these days. These were the trade union restrictions at the time. If a story was shot on a one plus one crew the story could not be any longer than three minutes long, I may be vague on the time. And the other thing is, you couldn’t keep the story for more than a day and half. So if the story didn’t get transmitted within a day and half of being shot you could never transmit it. Whereas if you shot the story with a two plus two crew, i.e. with a full union man crew, the story could be any length you wanted and you could transmit it whenever you wanted. There were all these restrictions on doing it. If you were not an onscreen person but a researcher going out with a film crew, everything you did was off camera. In an ideal world you would also try and get your voice out of it as well but sometimes you had to leave your voice in because you were asking the question.

I was always terribly conscious of the fact that I had a Scottish accent in the North West.

In these days in the beginning of course we were using stripe film. For a start we were using film, but it was stripe film on the one plus one crews. That meant a number of things. What it meant is that if the film didn’t get to the bath in the labs by ten past four in the afternoon it would not make the six o’clock news programme. There wasn’t enough time to get it back from the lab, get it edited, get it cut and get it on air. In the world of twenty-four hour immediate breaking news back in the seventies, ten past four was the deadline for any pictures on the six o’clock news programme. The other amazing thing about stripe film was the picture and the sound were at different places on the film. The sound was either ahead or behind the picture, I can never remember. That caused problems in editing and that’s why if you go back and look at some of the film reports from these days you would see lip flap. The film had to be edited from the picture but what it meant, was you took the sound off but you could still see somebody’s mouth flapping but no sound would be coming out of it.

There used to be a guy there, he read the news. As well as the presenters Bob, Tony, Trevor and Gordon, we always used to have basically what we called a rip and read during the six o’clock programme. These were the stories which we still felt were worthy of being reported but we had no footage to go with it, we might have had some still pictures or something like that. So it was just a round up of five or six stories or however many, and it was Bob Smithies who used to do that.

Bob was an ex Guardian journalist, ex photographer, set crosswords for the Guardian as well. Bunthorne was his crossword nickname, which was a pun.

Smithies was the rip and read man but he also went out and did stories, he came from Rochdale.

But Smithies was the master of stripe. He had got down to a fine art how you could instruct a cameraman to pan the camera in such a way that when it came to Bob either asking the question or doing his piece to camera or the interviewee answering the question, Bob’s great claim to fame was that all of his news reports could be edited with no lip flap. So Smithies was the master of stripe in these days.

So I did fourteen months or something like that in the newsroom just learning, seriously, seriously learning and picking stuff up. Granada Reports again was slightly different, at that time, it wasn’t one hundred per cent news programme.

On different nights of the week they did different things. So on a Monday night I think they did some gardening stuff, on a Tuesday they did something else and Thursday night something else. There would be about seventeen-eighteen minutes of news and then the last part of the show each night would be devoted to something else.

I got assigned to work with Tony Wilson on a segment on Thursday evening which was called What’s On. It was just saying to the North West ‘this is what is on in the region over the next week or so’; films, books, magazines, plays, bands and all the rest of it. In hindsight now what I realise is the best thing that ever happened to me was being assigned to work with Tony Wilson. I can honestly say almost everything I learnt about the tricks, the techniques, the style, how to do things and all the rest of it I got from Wilson. He was one of the most televisual guys I think I ever met. He just understood television and the way it worked and it was just great fun to work with him. I learnt huge amounts from him.

The other person who learnt huge amounts from Tony Wilson was Andy Harries.

Andy worked on the ‘What’s On’ project for a while as well. Andy has gone on to be one of the most successful film producers in Britain, producing things like ‘The Queen’ and various other films. Andy learnt huge amounts from Wilson, so that was great fun working with Tony.

Eventually, this was later on, because it was so successful they spun the ‘What’s On’ programme off out of the evening news programme into its own standalone slot. And I was a producer of that for a while.

And that would also be at the time when Manchester had a lot of bands.

I’ll tell you exactly when it was. It was when punk was just beginning to happen.

There were all of these bands suddenly appearing in Manchester. I will never ever forget one night we were doing What’s On in studio two and we had Richard Todd and one of these old actresses, Cicely Courtneidge. She had been in Noel Coward films, and was one of these grand dames of the theatre and Richard Todd the matinee idol movie actor.

What’s On was such a mixed bag that Wilson was interviewing Richard Todd and Cicely Courtneidge about a play touring around the country and appearing at the Palace or wherever. You segwayed away from them to Slaughter and the Dogs at the other end of the studio. The contrast was unbelievable. I always remember Cicely asked to be taken out of the studio because of the noise. Wilson of course was a huge champion of these bands, he had kind of got into all that music.

So he knew them all, all the Manchester lads who were coming up. So they all appeared on the What’s On programme. For example I still remember Elvis Costello’s very first television appearance was on What’s On, just him on his own with a guitar and he sang the song Alison.

It was interesting, BBC Four did a great hour and half documentary about Elvis Costello three weeks ago. I watched it and waited for it and I waited for it and I waited for it and there it was, the clip from What’s On of Elvis Costello singing Alison, his first television appearance.

There were huge numbers of these bands who made their first appearance on Granada Reports, which is no new thing for Granada. You go back to the early days of Leslie Woodhead when he was the very first person to film The Beatles in the Cavern. Granada always had a bit of a tradition of finding these bands and putting them on the telly.

So from Granada Reports you go to…

What happened then was they advertised internally for producers. I’d been there for about fourteen months and they advertised for producers. I applied because I just felt it was the right thing to do. I’d been there fourteen months I thought, foolishly, ‘I know how to do this job’ which of course is bullshit. Anyway, I applied and much to my surprise I got the job. Steve Leahy and I were appointed producers on the same day. But, as I’ve never allowed Steve to forget, he was head of the promotions department at the time so he wasn’t allowed to leave that until they found his successor, whereas I basically started the next day.

Tell me about that selection process.

Basically they advertised; we are looking for producers, so if you want to apply, apply. So I applied. I was interviewed by Mike Scott, who at that time was director of programmes, and Derek Granger again, who was head of drama. Just a panel of two. I can’t really remember much about the interview, I put a suit on that I do remember which was bizarre. I think I only had one suit. The next day I got a phone call from Mike Scott asking me to go and see him. So I went up to the sixth floor and I walked in, this big office that he had. I remember seeing out of the corner of my eye something odd on the table in the office. He said ‘congratulations you’ve passed the interview’ and he handed me a copy of the ITC guidelines. He said ‘read this, your troubles are just beginning’. I thought there would be a slightly longer conversation. He then turns to the table and what it was on the table was a magneto from some old MG sportscar, which he’d just bought and wanted me to admire how fantastic this magneto was that he taking back to London to stick into his MG car. Apparently he was a bit of an obsessive about old cars.

So, I’ll try and remember what happened after that. I think the first thing I was asked to produce was a live afternoon show. These were before the days of all day television, but it was beginning to happen. So they needed programmes.

What they decided, I’m not sure who decided, Mike Scott, David Plowright, Dennis Foreman, whoever, decided they wanted to have an afternoon magazine show. They asked me and Steve Leahy, once he was allowed to leave the promotions department, to jointly produce a show called ‘Live from To’, which came from studio two, three days a week. Terrible original title; started at two o’clock, came from studio two and it was live. Live from Two. It was presented by Nick Turnbull who was a journalist in the newsroom. We also had another journalist called Shelley Rohde who worked on it as well. Later on when Nick stopped doing it, Shelley did it on her own. It was quite an eclectic afternoon programme. It was the familiar mix. If you listen to Start the Week on a Monday morning on BBC Radio 4 you always had a sense who was on the book circuit that week. It would be the same people who would come round doing all the regional news programmes and the regional magazines. There would be films that were released that week so there would be the film star, director, producer around selling the product. So it was topical in that sense; books, magazines and we had a studio audience bit.

One of the segments that I introduced which we did for about four or five weeks, but was an absolute disaster, was a popular psychology thing. It was with a psychologist called John Mollison trying to talk to people about why they behaved in particular ways but that wasn’t a very successful segment. We also had a fantasy segment, I always remember that, it was Steve Leahy’s big idea.

It was almost a Jim’ll Fix It segment where we asked people in the North West to write in and tell us what their greatest fantasy was. And then we would choose from the fantasies and make them come true for the person in the studio audience. Two that I remember and always stuck in my mind. One was some woman who wanted to share a railway carriage with Cyril Smith. God knows why, but she did. Cyril Smith at that time was the Liberal MP for Rochdale and was a huge, huge, huge man. Whenever we used to have Cyril Smith on any of the politics programmes, or even in the studio, you phoned down to the props department and say ‘can we have the Cyril seat please?’ He needed a seat, which was about twice the size of the seat required by an ordinary person.

For this it was a woman, she wanted to read a poem to Cyril Smith in a railway carriage. So we got the stagehands to build a fake railway carriage. We got the Cyril seat in the railway carriage and we had the railway bench on the other side.

The woman sat opposite Cyril Smith and read him a poem.

And Cyril came?

Oh yes he came and sat in the carriage and she did it.

Another one, was some guy wrote in and said he’d always wanted to have his photograph taken with the European Cup, which Liverpool had won that year.

So we contacted Liverpool, I can’t remember whether we did it through the sports department.

Anyway, I can remember being absolutely amazed. Ray Clemence came through in a car with the European Cup. He brought it into the studio and we made this guy’s dream come true. Not only did he get himself photographed with the European Cup, he got himself photographed with Ray Clemence with the European Cup. The thing I always remember about that, I remember being shocked at the state of the European Cup. It was battered, it had dents in it, it was bruised. Obviously, you realised afterwards whatever team has been presented with the European Cup they carry it round the pitch, they drop it, they throw it to each other. I still remember the shock of looking at this bruised piece of silverware.

Live From Two was quite successful and it ran for quite a long time.

One of the other things that happened to it, I can’t remember quite how this translation happened.

We were coming close now to 1980, Granada was up for licence renewal. David Plowright was masterminding the renewal of the licence process. There was always this issue between Liverpool and Manchester and the fact that the television station was based in Manchester. There was a newsroom in Liverpool but there was always this tension between the two cities in this sense. It’s interesting if you go back and look at it, Liverpool is probably the only major city in the North of England that didn’t have its own TV company based there. You had Tyne-Tees in Newcastle, Central in Birmingham, Granada in Manchester, Anglia in Norwich, stations in Bristol, Cardiff, Glasgow. There was the same kind of tension, oddly enough, between Edinburgh and Glasgow. Edinburgh was the capital but the TV station was in Glasgow. So there was always that kind of Liverpool-Manchester conflict, which I always remember was never helped by Tony Wilson. Whenever he was on air he lost no opportunity to have a dig at Liverpool.

Plowright was very conscious of this and realised that in the two and half years leading up to the franchise in 1990, you had to pay special attention to Liverpool.

He started concentrating on trying to get programmes that came out of Liverpool. I was involved in two of them; one was called Exchange Flags which basically was a version of Live From Two that we did from a studio that they built at Exchange Flags in Liverpool.

To be bluntly honest the reason the studio was put there was to sort out any potential bidders against the Granada licence who might try and argue the North West franchise would be better served from Liverpool. So they built this studio in Exchange Flags, we did the programme from there.

The other thing that we did was a kids Saturday morning programme called the Mersey Pirate, which we broadcast from the Royal Iris. Steve Leahy again joined me later on as a co-producer of that, but I was given the job under Chris Pye of putting together this kids Saturday morning programme from a boat in Liverpool during the summer of 1979. Plowright, maybe he’d been taking acid or drugs or something, he’d just suddenly woken up with this idea. Liverpool’s maritime history, the Mersey, ferry cross the Mersey, all of this kind of stuff; ‘I know we’ll do a kids Saturday morning show from a boat’.

I was assigned to find the boat. I still remember Chris Pye and I went down to Bristol, up to Glasgow, I think we went to Hull, looking for a boat you could present a television programme from on a Saturday morning. I remember the thing we came closest to was the Waverley paddle steamer, which was based in the Clyde. That would have been ideal because it looked great and it was paddle steamer and all of the rest of the stuff. But no way was it available to come down and be based in Liverpool over the summer because it did trips up and down the Clyde. So in the end we came back, and there was a ship called the Royal Iris, which was a Mersey ferry. It didn’t do the conventional ferry stuff, but it was used much more as a pleasure craft and you could go on wee trips in it and all the rest of the stuff.

We went along and discussed it with them and they agreed that we could do the show from the Royal Iris but part of the conditions on which we were going to make the show was that it couldn’t be taken out of service. So it had to continue on a Friday, the rehearsal day was a Friday and the show went out live on a Saturday morning. The Saturday morning wasn’t a problem because it didn’t do anything on a Saturday morning. But on the Friday afternoon it had a series of trips that it made up and down the Mersey as a pleasure craft and these trips had to continue while we rehearsed. It was a nightmare.

The technology that we were using was very basic. Apparently it had been developed by Southern Television to cover the homecoming of Sir Francis Chichester when he had sailed round the world. It was all based on line of sight.

We had a guy with a dish on the top of the Liver building. The Iris sailed up and down the Mersey and there was a line it could not cross, the mouth of the Mersey. The Mersey then becomes the sea and it couldn’t go into the sea, so it could sail as far as that and then had to turn and come back round but the water could be very choppy, even in the river. The guy on top of the Liver building had to direct his thing and it was line of sight. It had to hit the exact spot on the Royal Iris at the other end in order for the picture to work. Of course if the sea was choppy or the boat went from side to side you would lose the picture. If you ever watched it on a Saturday morning there would be instantaneous, tiny black flashes because the boat would have rocked one way or another and the picture would have been lost. So we worked on the thing and worked on the thing and we built this Buckminister Fuller bubble on top of the Royal Iris. It looked spectacular, I have to say, and that was the control room because the producers, directors and all the team were all on view during the show.

It was presented by a comedian called Dougie Brown.

The day that we went for the pilot, just to see if the whole thing worked, we set out into the River Mersey on a morning where the whole deck of the boat was covered in snow. The whole boat was covered in snow because the weather was awful.

The pilot was a bit of a disaster. One of the other things that we did was we decided if it was a proper boat it would have stowaways. We had a d-j on the boat as well who knew there were stowaways but wouldn’t tell the captain. Billy Butler, who used to duck back and forward between Radio Merseyside and the commercial station, City. I can’t remember which one he was working for at the time. Billy was the entertainment officer, and he used to wear a straw boater and a blazer.

I’d met and got quite friendly with Alan Bleasdale. I thought the Scully books were absolutely fantastic so I managed to convince Alan that Scully and Mooey, his mate, should be the stowaways on the ship. Alan used to write the stuff, almost like a spin off of the Scully books.

What we would do when we rehearsed on a Friday, we would pre record most of the Scully and Mooey bits, shoot them separately and then play them in on the Saturday morning although they were involved live in some of the stuff as well. The Friday would be really busy to try and get the whole thing together and all the rest of it.

One of the problems was about 14:30 on a Friday afternoon it would stop off in Birkenhead and a group of adults who had learning difficulties would come onto the ship. This was part of their weekly routine; that their carers brought them onto the ship on a Friday afternoon and they would sail up and down and after about two hours come back to Birkenhead and they would get off. One of the things they did on the ship was they would have a disco and they would dance. But of course every time we had to go for a take or to record something, Scully or Mooey or something else, we had to stop the disco. We couldn’t have the noise and all the rest of it, so there was always this element of tension between the social workers, the carers, the dancers and us as we tried to rehearse.

So the show eventually went on air without ever having had a proper pilot because the day that we had done it was the day there had been snow and the thing never worked.

We went live to air and it was meant to run until 12:15 when World of Sport took over with Dickie Davis. We’d never really had a proper chance to work out timings and running orders and all the rest of it. So at 12:05 we were finished and there were still ten minutes to go before World of Sport happened. I can still remember going through on the comms, Stuart Orden was the director, Jane McNaught was the PA, I remember that. I went through to transmission control in Manchester, remember this show was going out to the Network, and said “transmission control, we’ve finished can you take us?”

This voice came back saying, “can we fuck, you’re on your own.”

By a stroke of good fortune, that day on the very first show, we had Frank Carson on the show as well. Dougie Brown was a stand up comedian as well. So I said to Stuart “we’re on our own”.

I remember saying, “Dougie, Frank can you fill for eight minutes?” And they did until 12:15, ‘right that’s all from us, bye. We’ll see you next week’ and off we went to World of Sport.

The only good thing I can say about the Mersey Pirate; it was a great experience and great fun to do but nine weeks later the ITV strike happened and the show came off the air, never to reappear. It was an experience.

You mentioned Scully and Alan Bleasdale, and you did the Scully programme. Can you talk a little bit about that and in particular that great opening sequence in the titles.

I’d read the books and always thought it was a good idea, we always knew Alan was a good writer. At the time when we were doing the Mersey Pirate, and talking to him about the Scully idea, was when he was writing the Boys from the Blackstuff. I didn’t understand the way it was done but it had obviously been commissioned by the BBC.

I still remember one time going round to his house to see him, to talk to him. He gave me this script and said “this is the best thing I’ve ever written.” It was Yosser’s story from the Boys from the Blackstuff’. He knew even at the time he had written it, it was the best thing he had ever written. I managed to convince Steve Morrison that Alan was worth persevering with. We eventually managed to convince Channel 4 they should commission it. It was made by Granada but made for Channel 4. To give you an idea of the time it took to get it off the ground, Scully’s hero in the book and at the start of the process was Kevin Keegan. But by the time we actually got the thing made that translated to Kenny Dalglish, who was wearing the number 7 shirt and was Scully’s hero. We needed to convince Kenny to take part in the thing; to appear in some of the sequences, that Scully was going to wear his number 7 shirt and all the rest of it. I always remember I phoned Kenny, I got a number from the sports department for his house. I phoned his house and it was his wife Marina who answered the phone, and I couldn’t get off the phone. She wanted to chat and all the rest of it. Eventually I spoke to Kenny on the phone, I explained what we were doing and would he like to meet us. He said of course and he said there was a hotel somewhere to the North East of Liverpool on the ring road, I can’t remember what the hotel is now. He said he would meet Alan and myself there at one o’clock on whatever day it was, I think it was a Thursday. I think the hotel was near the Liverpool training ground, near Melwood. So I phoned Alan, and said “right Alan, he has agreed to meet us so we can go and talk to him about it.”

“Oh great.” Alan was so excited.

Alan and I get there about quarter to one, Alan has brought along copies of all his books, the Scully books, ‘Alan Bleasdale to Kenny Dalglish’ and everything else.

So one o’clock comes and goes and there is no sign of Dalglish. So about ten past one Alan says “he’s not coming, he’s obviously changed his mind. I’m having a pint.”

He goes and has a pint of beer, so we sit there Alan and I talking. By this time Alan has had about three pints of beer and suddenly Dalglish arrives about an hour late.

He’s full of apologies and what has happened was, we hadn’t quite realised this, they had been playing somewhere on the Wednesday night. Their cars had been left somewhere but when they had come back the night before they had come into somewhere else. So he had had to go to Speke airport and pick up his car, which is why he was late. But of course by then Alan was slightly the worse for three pints of beer.

Kenny was very friendly and all the rest of it. He always made it clear he was no actor but he was happy to take part in the thing. All these kind of negotiations started with Liverpool about getting him to shoot that sequence and all the rest of it. When the team ran out it was Scully who was wearing the number 7 shirt. So that was quite complicated to organise but of course what made it easy was the Kop knew who Scully was. So there were announcements made to the Kop, ‘this is what is happening today, we are shooting this sequence’. So they behaved like the Kop, cheered for Scully and all the rest of the stuff and Dalglish came out later on.

Didn’t they do a chant; ‘there’s only one Franny Scully’ as he came out onto the pitch.

You must remember Scully had been serialised on Radio Merseyside, Alan read the book. Scully was a very, very well known character in Liverpool, so of course the fans at Anfield all knew who he was. ‘There’s only one Franny Scully’.

Just talk a little bit about what kind of a company was Granada.

Granada was, not their words, the best television station in the world. Granada knew they were good. They had weaknesses, don’t get me wrong, but they knew they produced good programmes and all the rest of it. Every year there used to be the BANFF television festival, which I think still runs. One year the BANFF television festival decided that Granada was the best television company in the world.

That was the accolade that was given to the company just because of everything it produced; the drama, Coronation Street, World in Action, some of the current affairs where they stood up to the government. They pioneered the first coverage of a parliamentary by-election when they challenged the Representation of the People Act.

They had an amazing history of firsts in terms of things they had done. It was also a regional television station producing all of these things out of Manchester, this wasn’t coming out of London. For example David Plowright used to argue that Coronation Street was a local programme, which he allowed the rest of the network to see.

I know for a fact that if he had a dispute with the network he would use Coronation Street as a bargaining tool, “I’ll just take Coronation Street away” which would have panicked the network.

It was a very, very proud company and you were aware of that when you joined the company, about this reputation and the place of the company in the broadcasting firmament. After that year, which must have been ’76 or ’77, where the BANFF television festival decided it was the ‘best television station in the world’ you would come into work in the morning at the studios on Quay Street. The quote from the BANFF television festival and the citation things were up on the wall next to a Francis Bacon painting of one of the screaming popes.

So when you came into work every morning, the first thing you did was you stared at this framed poster which said ‘the best television station in the world’ and you looked to your left and here was £3 million worth of contemporary art. Just going to work in the morning was a feeling of pride, you felt you were working for the best television station in the world.

These were the days when World in Action was the current affairs programme and did an incredible number of things. Everybody was desperate to work for World in Action.

You would go into the canteen and there would be in the queue Coronation Street actors that you had grown up watching on the telly. Lawrence Olivier would be in shooting King Lear, Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood would come in to do Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. I had reason to look back recently at the King Lear cast, it was a veritable who’s who of the best of British acting. I still remember Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud doing the Pinter play No Man’s Land in the Granada studio.

So you’d be in your office and you’d have the ring main on and you’d be seeing Richardson and Gielgud doing these diologues from Pinter or see Sir Lawrence Olivier doing the soliloquies from King Lear. You thought ‘my god I work in quite an important place’.

There was that sense of pride, superiority to the rest of the broadcasting world.

The other really interesting that I still enjoy and benefit from; Granada was the station, certainly then but I don’t think it’s so true now, that essentially did the training for the rest of the ITV network. None of the other 14 ITV companies had any kind of training system. Granada’s training system was fairly rudimentary in the sense that it was training on the job. At least it was a training system. We also had a policy of bringing in quite a lot of researchers, some of whom wouldn’t make it after the first six months; they’re not for us, we’re not for them, and they would go. There was quite a high turnover of researchers coming in and let’s be honest, a lot of people were successful and a lot of people made it. Then what would happen is they would go off into the other ITV companies because they’d done their time at Granada, they’d learnt to direct, they’d learnt to produce, become good researchers or whatever it was. They would go off to Central, LWT, Thames or wherever it was they went. Even to this day there is a Granada old boys network of people who you have known from Granada days. Or even the fact that you meet somebody and despite not working there at the same time, the minute you know you both worked at Granada there is a bond that is created there, simply from having shared that Granada experience. I think that was part and parcel of having worked there and experienced working there. You felt that you’d had a special kind of training in television and a special kind of experience in television if you’d worked at Granada, which I don’t think you got anywhere else.

Would you describe it as a paternalistic company?

It was a very paternalistic company. It was also quite a fraternalistic company. I’d worked in solicitor’s offices, for one horrible year I worked for the general trustees of the Church of Scotland, that was dire. And I’d come from Scotland. Suddenly you arrive in this company where with the exception of three people everybody was on first name terms. Culturally to me that was quite a shock. You come from thinking these guys are your bosses but actually it was David, Dennis, Steve, Gus, Chris…

The whole company right from the start was a first name term company. The only three people who, when I joined, weren’t first name people in that sense was Mr Sidney and Mr Cecil, the two Bernstein brothers. I think the Mr was an act of respect, they’d set up the company and Granada was their vision. As a mark of that respect they were known as Mr Sidney and Mr Cecil. The other person was Mrs Wooler, Joyce Wooler who was an administrator. For reasons, which I never quite found out, she was never Joyce she was always Mrs Wooler.

Sidney and Cecil used to come to the building. They were based in London, so they weren’t there every day, but they would come to the building. Their big heroes were the circus people Barnum and Bailey. They understood the concept of entertainment through Barnum and Bailey and through the circus. So there was Barnum and Bailey posters, as well as other fantastic works of art. That was another nice thing about working in the building in Quay Street, it was like an art gallery. They invested in modern art and they were obviously very, very well advised by whoever bought the paintings for them. There were some fantastic works of art all around the building apart from the Francis Bacon. The Barnum and Bailey thing, you were never allowed to lose sight of that.

I was never so aware of Cecil but I was always aware of Mr Sidney because the word would come out that Mr Sidney was going to be in the building on such and such a day and could you please just make your officer that bit tidier, or bin this or bin that.

Him and David Plowright would walk around the building. Sidney would see things he didn’t like and a day or two later an edict would come out, ‘could you not do this or could do that’.

The one I always remember was when we moved into the bonded warehouse, a wonderful brick building which had been refurbished. We had started sticking stuff on the walls of the brick and Sidney had walked through this huge open plan office.

An edict came out the next day that Sidney did not want stuff stuck onto the brick walls, please take it off, which of course everybody did. From that point of it was quite paternalistic but I also thought it was quite fraternalistic because there was a collegiate feel about the place and the way things were done.

Everybody was actively encouraged, no matter which department or speciality you worked in, to submit programme ideas to whatever department. There was an encouragement for you to do that, and you did it because if you believed in the idea what you would hope at the end of the day is that you would get to work on it.

The other thing they used to do very regularly was David Plowright, because he’d become the MD at the time, would host a dinner in the flat on the seventh floor.

You might get invited to that twice a year, I don’t know how often the dinner happened, but if you were lucky and part of the group of ideas people you would get invited a couple of times a year. The drink would flow, the food would be nice but what Plowright wanted was to be challenged. He wanted to meet the younger people in the company but he wanted to be argued with, he wanted to be challenged, he wanted to hear different ideas. They were ‘serious sore heads the next day’ dinners.

So that again, yes it was paternalistic in that sense but it was also collegiate in the sense that anything was up for grabs. David might say a few words at the beginning of the dinner but essentially the conversation round the table, went in the direction the conversation took depending on who was there and what was being said. David might say there was particular challenges that had to be met or whatever. These were the things that were talked about at these dinners.

For example I can remember one around that time which was all about this new channel called Channel 4. ITV had been lobbying quite hard for a second channel which they wanted to be to ITV essentially what BBC Two was to BBC One.

So that they would have two channels and could sell twice the amount of advertising, thank you very much, but also you could put particular kinds of programming on the second channel that hit different markets. ITV One was always going to be a popular mainstream broad based channel. Even today I doubt very much if something like Jewel in the Crown and Brideshead Revisited would be commissioned by ITV.

If they had two channels it would have certainly worked well on the second channel.

So David, he really wanted to challenge this group of producers to come up with ideas for Channel 4.

The example used, he had some slides taken of the magazine section in WHSmith with the whole range of magazines; women’s magazines, men’s magazines, sport’s magazines, golf magazines, car magazines, bicycle magazines and all the rest of it.

And I remember him saying to the producers that the challenge to you is to think differently; not to think World in Action or not to think popular entertainment.

He said these are the magazines that sell to the public, so what you have to start doing is thinking of programmes in the way the magazine companies have hit the magazine market.

I still remember the day that the government decided, Willie Whitelaw was the minister at the time, that Channel 4 was going to happen. Plowright called together all the producers in the building into one of the downstairs committee rooms in the main building. We were all in there, David came in and he said “there’s good news and bad news. The good news is we’ve got Channel 4 but the bad news is we’re not running it, but the good news is we’re selling their advertising.” So that was the day Channel 4 was announced. But Channel 4 right from the beginning was never really interested in commissioning from the main broadcasters, it never saw that as being its function.

Let’s just finally talk a little bit if we could about the trade unions because you were active on the shop stewards’ committee.

I’ve always thought the problem in the early years with trade unions was quite a big one. Granada was a post entry closed shop in these days. So what that meant was you could come in without being a member of the union but once you were in you had to join the union.

There were three or four unions. So there was the NUJ, most of the journalists in the newsroom and other people as well, at one stage I had an NUJ card. There was the NUJ who essentially ran the newsroom and these were journalists. There was the electricians union who did what it said on the tin, and in some respects were hugely powerful because they could flick a switch. There was NATKE, which was the stagehands, prop hire, technicians. Then there was the ACTT, which were engineers, cameramen, soundmen and producers, directors and researchers. These were the four main unions in the building.

I think probably the problem with trade unions within the ITV system goes right back to the beginning from 1956 when the ITV system was set up. When these people came into the industry they brought with them the model of trade unionism, which had applied in the factory, in the workplace, down the pit. It was a model of them and us, the employers and the trade unions. The trade unions were there to fight for the rights of the workers and not to be exploited by the management. I think what people failed to realise was television was a different kind of industry. I’m a great believer in trade unions but perhaps the industrial model had worked down the pit or in factories, wasn’t quite the right model to work in a much less formal, modern television type setting. But that was what they had. The trade unions applying that same model were hugely powerful. They negotiate with the management, they had this thing called the white book which was all the terms and conditions that were agreed and all sorts of other things agreed with the management. If the management wanted to make changes, these changes had to be negotiated with the unions who always insisted on payments for this, payments for that, changes in this way, changes in that way.

Because the companies, at that time, were so successful and making so much money the management were happy, by and large to go along with what the unions asked for.

They just threw money, ‘if you want extra for doing this that’s fine’. So you had this white book, which had been agreed between the trade unions and the management on the one side, which set out the basic terms and conditions, basic payments that should be paid.

But you had another almost black economy running alongside it where I don’t think there was anyone in the building who was paid on basic union rates. Separate allowances had been agreed for this, separate allowances had been agreed for that.

There is a friend of mine, Professor Alan McKinlay who is now teaching at Newcastle University. Alan has made a speciality of looking at the industrial practices within television. He has written a couple of papers on it and his argument is the management in ITV didn’t manage. They were not managers in the sense you imagine managers running a business. Alan’s argument is that the ‘medieval craft guilds’ which he called the trade unions, ran the companies. They determined for example the size of film crews, the working hours, the break between one shift and another.

All that kind of managements was done by the unions and ‘the management’ trotted behind or ran fast to keep up with what the unions were suggesting or proposing.

To give an example, you would be the producer of a programme and when you went down into the studio, which you were in charge of, you would walk on to the studio floor but you would have to ask the floor manager for permission. To go on to the studio to speak to a presenter, or an actor or whatever it is you wanted to do you had to ask permission because the floor manager was in charge of that, not you. Theoretically you were in charge of it but actually you weren’t. Similarly if you went into the gallery as the producer you had to ask for permission. If you’d been watching something in your office on set and you thought ‘that doesn’t look right’ you could not touch anything on the studio floor. Seriously in these days if you touched something on the studio floor you risked everybody walking out. I remember once we were doing a comedy programme with Stuart Orn, who I mentioned earlier on, was directing the programme. I was in my office about to watch it on the ring main and nothing happened. I’m thinking ‘what the hell is going on’. Half an hour went past and still nothing had happened.

Eventually I went downstairs and I said, “what’s going on? It’s half an hours studio time gone, nothing’s happened.” When Stuart, as the director, had come in the studio, Bruce who was the national treasurer of the ACTT had gone across to him and said “we’re having a spot inspection of union cards, could I see your card please.”

So Stuart had to go to his car to find his card and when he’d come in, Bruce

knew, because he was the national treasurer, that he was in arrears with his subscription.

He said, “we’re not working with you until these arrears have been paid.”

So Stuart then had to go outside, find the chequebook in his car, come back in, write a cheque for the arrears in his subscription and at that point he was allowed to direct in the studio. A whole number of things were happening there. One, Stuart was freelance and freelancers were only just beginning to appear in the stations at that time and the union was very opposed to freelancers. So this was their way of making that point.

Two, they were asserting their authority over the director, ‘you don’t without us agreeing’. It was an interesting time.

But then as the technology changed there started to be an awareness that there had to be a come and go between the unions and the management. The strike in 1979 was a real watershed in that sense, I think the unions lost quite a lot of their power when we came back after that because they were forced to accept that things were changing and working practice had to change. Disappearing World was an example of that, where the unions had determined the size of crews that would go on a Disappearing World shoot. So that if you went to shoot a film in a country where there was no electricity, no roads, no this that or the other, you still had to take a stagehand, an electrician and a driver. So these guys were just along there for the ride. Eventually there was an acceptance that that sort of thing just couldn’t continue.

I still remember, for example, there was a thing that was paid as part of the white book, which was the 1C4 allowance. If you were above a certain grade, mainly a producer or director, you were entitled to this 1C4 allowance. It would be paid at a different rate dependent on which company you worked in. It was section 1, sub section C, sub section 4. What it was, was a percentage of your salary which got paid to you in lieu of overtime. I think at Granada it was something like 15%, so that if your salary was whatever, you got another 15% of your salary on top of that in return for working longer hours. The producer couldn’t schedule himself or herself to work overtime so you were paid this allowance and you did the job. Basically you did the job and got this 15% extra on your salary. You got this 15% whether you worked the hours or didn’t, it was just paid. Some people really benefitted massively from it, other people did work additional hours.

I still remember when I went to Scottish television and I was in charge of the entertainment department there. These overtime forms suddenly started appearing on my desk. I’m looking at them and they’re overtime forms from producers and directors saying they’d work a Saturday or four hours this day or five hours that day.

I remember phoning up the personnel department and I’m saying, “why are these guys submitting overtime forms? Do you not have a 1C4 allowance?”

“Oh yeah, we’ve got a 1C4 allowance.”

So at STV, not only were they getting the 15% on their salary for working overtime, they were claiming overtime. They were getting paid twice for the same work. I think that was pretty common throughout ITV. It was just the fact the companies had so much money they were happy to buy it all off because they all wanted a quiet life.

After the strike all of that started to change.

Brian Trueman

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 13 February 2014.

Right Brian. Let’s begin, let’s look at your career chronologically. When did you join Granada TV?

I was there, I started at Granada in 1957 when I would be 25. I’d been, I won’t go into the tormented history of how I got there, but by a series of accidents I started acting in radio just before my 15th Birthday. Acted through school life, and acted through university life and even on a couple of weekends to do a bit of work, mostly radio, whilst I was doing my national service. Came out after 2 years mostly away from the business, I’d done a little television acting, and came out to find that most of the connections that I’d had before, which I wasn’t able to maintain whilst doing service for Queen and Country, albeit only in Regents Park Barracks driving the staff car for the past year, an exciting experience, I don’t think. A lot of them had faded, got some work but coming very slowly, just beginning to pick up more resting than working, beginning to pick up but more gaps than not and at that point I heard from a journalist, well a relation, my brother in law had been a journalist, that Granada were looking for a part time news reader he told me he’d worked with Barrie Heads and David Plowright on the Yorkshire Evening News, Post and kept in touch with Barrie. Do you know anybody?

So one Monday I went in to chat with them. It was in the evening and the news had finished a little time before. I sat on the desk and talked to them. They handed me the news script and said would I like to read it and on Tuesday I was the newsreader in a little tiny studio, which is that front lobby that looks onto Globe & Simpson, or what used to be the Globe & Simpson building. Little window, tiny studio there.

That was actually inside Globe & Simpson?

No, across the road in Granada. New single storey building I think, right on edge of Quay Street by the car park gate. Size of a shoebox.

That would be the original reception?

Yes, that’s right. Very peculiar it was, wearing my makeup which was bright orange in order that I’d look normal with a vivid emerald green shirt which would look white because we were on …. “What did you call those cameras which were very slow …?” Very early black and white, very primitive camera. I read the news quite successfully as they said to me that was great. The only thing is when you look up from your script, no autocue, no monitor for me to look at, no ear piece or anything like that, just a cameraman behind a small camera about three feet away from me.

When you look up from the page, can you raise your head a little more slowly.

Why’s that’s?

They said it smears on the camera and what happens if you come up too quickly your eyes stay behind and come up and join you 1.5 seconds later!

So I started news reading. There was no earpiece so we had an ingenious system, which allowed them to tailor the news to the time available. They didn’t have a P.A. either, you just had the editor running it and the tech. people. On the desk was a little light box that lit up with numbers 1 to 10 and they related to stories 1 to 10 which were of varying lengths, which were, supplemented stories after main stories. So you read the main ones that had to be got through, then they calculated how much time they had left, depending on how much time you had, did a quick calculation, No 3 would come up and you’d read Story 3, put that to one side, and 7 would light up, you’d read 7. All very primitive. It worked all right until they started running pieces of film on it and I was supposed to comment or relate to the film but I couldn’t see the film. There wasn’t a monitor, well there was later, but the camera itself did not have a screen so the cameraman lines it up on a TV monitor on a stand he had next to him and obviously its back was to me so I couldn’t see the damn thing. They couldn’t think. There’s no way we can do so I came up with a brilliant idea of having a mirror low down on the door, immediately behind, tiny room on the door that you came in, screwed to it so I could see the film, albeit in reverse, so I could do a commentary on it as long I didn’t have to say on the left of your picture!

It was left there for years and I heard someone say “I don’t know what it was down there for, perhaps it was a dressing room for dwarfs!”

After that it was then that I started doing film reports with a cameraman called Steve Stephens (Stevens) who weighed … at his lightest must have been 18 stone with a shirt that was too small and a hairy stomach sticking out and he had a Bolex wind up camera initially which he had converted to 16mm Mag Stripe. (Discussion about mag stripes here) He converted it and he applied his own stripe to his own film.

But you could only do a limited length of tape about 2 minutes fully wound after which it wouldn’t keep up to speed. The first thing I ever did was a Voxpop on Crewe Station because Crewe Athlete were going to London to play someone or other, no interest in football I’m afraid so I remember saying to lots of people … so what do you think about Palace’s chances? But they couldn’t afford the time for me to ask the question on film so I had to say I’m going to ask you what you think of Crystal Palaces’ chances, just tell me and I’ll nod my head and then the camera will turn and just say what you think. Ok? Right fine.

Steve would say Right, turn it over and they’d say … what was it I was going to say?

They were a nightmare until we got something exotic like an American camera which Steve carried around, weighed about quarter of a ton and had a transformer that took 2 of us to carry up the steps to anywhere and consumed massive amounts of energy I think because his camera was 110v or something and we could only get 240 so it was an ex USA AF Air force transformer – can’t believe it really. I do know we filmed with the, not the Manchester High School for Girls, but I think the Manchester High School in the middle of Manchester, did some filming there with the kids and Steve plugged into the mains for all this lot and his lights, came back and looked at the fuse box which was outside on a wall and took a look and said … phew! Blow these buggers! So he fished in his pocket and pulled out a 4” nail which he shoved in the box and by the time when we cam out it was distinctly … there was quite a bit of vague steam rising!

It was an absolute nightmare! A very strange man, very strange!

We filmed … I told this story in the book, we filmed … “Granada’s early years” about him on the steps of York Minster when we were doing a piece, say in those days though patently obvious I’m standing on the steps of York Minster and set up for the shot and I started doing my piece to camera about what I don’t know and a figure came out down the steps of the Minster and Steve stopped and said “Hang on! Hey! Oy! Would you mind? We’re filming.”

The bloke said I need to come down the steps.

“Well, we’re filming – I mean do you think you own the bloody place?”

“No, but I’m on very good terms with HIM who does. I am the Dean of the Minster.”

I have to say I was acutely embarrassed and Steve couldn’t have given a damn you know! Very odd experience.

So filming for news then I started doing voice-overs as well as though I was an actor …. Oh! I’d better tell you about who was running newsroom later but because they though he was an actor or something so got me doing voice overs very early for What the Papers Say with Denis Foreman producing and probably Eric Harrison directing. He directed nearly everything. They got me into the news, part time news job which was developed into full time because Bill Grundy was the star of the local show at the time but he was doing more and more shows and the workload was becoming impossible.

They tried a lot of local journalists to do it but they were absolutely hopeless – good journalists but no good at presenting the stuff so I just acted the part of being a journalist, reading the news you see, do everything bar acting actually!

I started getting involved with local magazine programmes – originally as reading the news within the programme, then a bit of the programme presenting and that developed and developed and eventually I suppose I did a late night show that Bill Grundy was doing, I used to finish whatever news it was – on about 11 o’clock. I finished our late Northern news 10.50-11.00pm and then I hurtled downstairs to the Studio, slap makeup on and I became the actor, voices or play characters for him in little thing he’d set up or reading bits, poetry or whatever it was he decided to insert into the night. Interesting life.

That developed and I ended up on Scene at 6.30 with Mike Parkinson and Mike Scott and George Reid….eventually and that went on for quite a number of years. I can’t remember the earlier show, Bill Grundy’s show was called, was it People to People?

People and Places?

People and Places! Yes, that was it! That gave way to Scene I think, very successful and very interesting. I even did bits ..

The Scene, I remember, was distinctly young? I remember you on it, Mike Scott and certainly Mike Parkinson, and then who else?

There was a woman at one stage. A famous Irish talk show host – Gay Byrne might have been on it, not quite sure.

Very distinguished bunch with you.

Well they were, I wasn’t at the time.

Mike wasn’t a journalist, we used to take the mickey. Mike had a problem with his “R”s and we used to write a piece for Mike – we’d do an introduction which we’d done on film and try to put as many “R”s into it as possible.

“You wotten lot! Awound the wagged wocks the wagged wascal wan!”

Nice guy to work with, he was much brighter and much more creative that the journalistic side of the business gave him credit for because they didn’t rate him at all. I think David Plowright was often quite scathing about him and certainly Parky didn’t think much of him because he was a proper journalist!

Whereas Mike was quite a playboy. He was a great favourite of the Bernsteins was Mike, been with them for ages. He’d started off I think as a stagehand or something like that then a cable puller, you know, they assisted the cameraman.

When I arrived at Granada Scotty had just been make Programme Controller – there was still the shock waves from that ….

There would be. I must have been well ahead of that. I was making films with a director when he was appointed. Barry Clayton who was very Barry Von Stroheim, pretty camp, became a very good friend, lovely man, very theatrical. He’d been an actor with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre, Glasgow Citizens Theatre, things like that. Decided he wanted to get into film direction, went to Warsaw Film School, taught himself Polish, came back with a Polish wife. He was very fond of her but I think married her was to get her out of Poland more than anything. She’d had a hard time, family in war, persecuted by Nazis and all that stuff. Anyway he was very outspoken and never took any notice of anyone. I know Mike Scott was appointed from whatever he was to be Head of Local Programmes, Ex Producer Local Programmes and everyone came in to congratulate him and Barry popped his head in, looked at him behind his desk and said “Oh lovey! Why are you going in for all this crap?”

By that time I must have started making documentaries. It must have been when he was made Programme Controller.

I’d made a series of films with Barry Clayton and Peter Walker did a couple as well. When we first started in a series called, much to my irritation, It’s Trueman. It was after Scene at 6.30 finished and they decided instead of doing a magazine programme, Mike Scott decided instead of doing a magazine programme, they’d string shows across the week, art show which Nick Elliott produced on a Monday and we had a documentary, local events, on a Tuesday. 25 minutes, good old Black and White film and I needed a director, researchers for it. Researchers to being with were Diana Bramwell ….(laughs) Quite formidable and Ashley Hill who became the Programme Scheduler for Channel Four and then subsequently for the awful Channel Five. He was the researcher.

We made 32 x 25 minute documentaries in 12 months all over the North West which was wonderful experience with Alan Ringland. The 2 researchers leapt-frogged, 2 film editors Alan Ringland and a London bloke who left, before your time so you won’t remember him. He is now a quite well regarded movie editor.

We leapt frogged those too. Barry and I did everything. Interviews, links, wrote the links, voice overs. We had 2 ½ days per week to shoot, and 2 days to edit so it was quite an effort over the year.

Were those quirky?

Yes! Mostly they were. I was annoyed because I’d gone on holiday just before it started and whilst away Cecil had got … we had a number of titles for it and all related to what matter it was going to be. I got back to find that Cecil had decided it would be called It’s Trueman which I found really irritating because it wasn’t anything but, but I was in the mechanism by which their stuff, one of them was made into a documentary so I wasn’t at all happy but they wouldn’t take any notice. You couldn’t argue with the Bernsteins! If they’d made their minds up though I did have a particular contra temps with Sydney Bernstein which I may come back to. Silly story!

But they were about poets, places, artists, village life, bits of industry, anything but nearly always, inevitably it was the people involved.

We did a nice piece with Norman Nicholson, the poet, the Cumbrian poet. Lovely stuff. A kind of … who’s the Irish poet who’s just died??? Seamus Heaney! He was a kind of Cumbrian Seamus Heaney, very kind, deceptively simple language that he used, about the area he’d lived in all his life and the people. Lovely thing to do. We enjoyed that. It pissed down with rain the whole time – very moody!

Was it a period when Granada seemed to allow people to just go out and make half hour moves because people like Ray Gosling …. And very quirky. Do what you fancy sort of documentaries? Very special?

It was a wonderful atmosphere to work in because the Bernsteins were … it was living with a benevolent despot crossed with a Jewish mother really and they had a great affection for the people they recruited. They put enormous trust in them. They were like the best people … It was like when I was I was writing in the early days of Cosgrove hall, writing for animation films, that you worked for people who believed you could do the job they were asking you to do, and they gave you the go-ahead to do it. They presumably looked at what you’d done and they said to themselves “Yes I was right” and they just left you to get on with it.

An absolute degree of trust between everybody which is so … such an energising, creative situation to be in where you’re not in dread of being snipped at, or the politics or whatever. Yeah. If you think you can, have a go!

I know the money was pouring in so they could probably afford to do that rather better but they were great and the very small detail … Sydney was notorious for living on the premises! You know when they built the new block he had the Penthouse on the roof and begins … Sydney was known as “Fiddler on the Roof”!!

So he would patrol the building – in the evening – but he would patrol the building during the day with poor Mr Pook, Dennis Pook, who was office manager’s side kick something!

He was trailed behind him with a notebook and SLB would say “Cigarette ends in the sand bucket!”, all sorts of minor details, fleck of paint off. Poor chap had a terrible life!

But he’s go around at night as well and secretaries used to come in and find a piece of somewhat created carbon paper on the desk with a little note on it saying “This could be used again. SLB”. So talk about micro-management! … Wasn’t in it! And someone, I can’t remember who – might have been Mike Parkinson or Dennis Pitts – he saw someone in studio wearing socks which had spots on them and he phoned down and said “who was that wearing those socks! Never, never let me see a spotted sock in my studio ever again!”   They were out.

On one occasion he came round, he had different approaches to his relationship with Germany. Naturally. No doubt there might have been people in his family who had been persecuted by them, by the Nazis, but it was a bit variable. For instance he came round the studio and said “Very good. Yes, what are these microphones? Whose are these microphones?”



They said, yes, and they really are the best microphones.

He said “Are they German?”

Yes, well yeah!

“Get them out! Get them out! I want British microphones in here. Get them out!”

But, but ….   So they went!

They fished around but there weren’t any decent British microphones – there were things like the Clarian, I don’t know what! They stuck these microphones up and about 10 days later there was another angry phone call from SLB, who watched all the programmes going out, saying “What’s the matter with the sound in my studios? Its appalling.”

And they said …. Well, it’s the microphones.

“What’s the matter with them?”

They’re British mics and not very good ….

“What are the best microphones?”


“Well get the damned things!”

And then before you know it, you were staring at a new car in the car park. It was a Mercedes!

He was a bit confused!

There was a newly appointed secretary who’d just come to work, been there about 3-4 months, and her mother got seriously ill and she was desperately worried about her. SLB was going around sometime and she was trying to catch up on her work – she’d been to see her mother in hospital or something and she was typing away in the evening. SLB saw her and asked “Why are you here? Why are you working late?”

“Because my mother’s ill” and she just started weeping. He said “There isn’t a problem. You must look after your mother, forget the job, look after your mother.”

“But I need the money”. He said “We’ll pay you so je just said come back when your mother either unfortunately passed on or better. That’s incredible. You can’t imagine anyone doing that these days but of course he owned the shop. Could do what the hell he liked!

It was a very paternalistic company?

Oh yes, very. Held people to it. It was exciting. The fact that I cold go in as an actor, be a newscaster then do voice-overs and then start presenting news programmes then making documentaries is a most peculiar zigzag route! Actors don’t do that sort of thing! Every now and then I went back to do something … I presented Cinema after Clive James, I think, stopped doing it. I think Mike Parkinson had done it, someone who knew about film had done it …

Did Barry Norman do it?  

No! BBC.

When I was doing Cinema for Granada people would shout across the street – Barry Norman!!! My wife – and my kids – would think it was hugely amusing! Almost the right programme but wrong bloke!

I did a massive documentary towards the end of my career, which was the energy, an energy house, A House for the Future.

The conversion of a wrecked coach house into an energy conserving Eco house with high levels of insulation, heat pumps, Lord knows what else, with a real local family who sold their house, moved into it and lived in it. And helped to built it. We did 20 x half hours for the network on that, after which by that time we were nearly up to 1976 when I left …. Started in 1957 – 19 years later.

I left really because I didn’t like the input. Gus McDonald had come in, I didn’t like Lord McDonald at all and I didn’t like Steve Morrison at all.

I mean, I met Steve Morrison for the first time in the canteen, introduced to him and he said “Oh hi! I’m Steve Morrison. I’ve got a theory about television.” Oh Christ! Not a theory!!!!

After which we got some bullshit rules about filming. He believed … he’d just come out of Film School I think and one of the first films he’d directed, gone out and directed to show us how to do things was with some Romany’s in a gypsy caravan who were lined up inside the caravan. He didn’t believe in cutting or things like that. You had to do the whole thing so the camera would be panning at one end of the caravan and the bloke would start to talk at the other end and it whipped across to the other end and for the most part, they got there just as he’d finished talking and then whip back and of course it was entirely uneditable! He must have shot 800ft, which was unheard for the time.

He had no idea what he was doing! But he wrote Gus McDonald a very good memo so I thought I don’t like these people, pushy, and nasty and I thought when David Plowright said he’s like you, we need an experienced hand that people know, to go back to fronting the local magazine show which was Granada Reports by then, I thought enough is enough. If I don’t move now I’ll never move, you know.

So I became … I was never on the staff, I became, I had a rolling contract, either one year or two years, forever, and so I went to work for the BBC as a …… I fronted current affairs shows for one year which was awful, a nightmare! So manipulative, so cosy!

People said what’s it like working for the BBC after working for Granada. I said working for Granada laterally was like walking on broken glass, working for the BBC is like being smothered in cotton wool. Its awful. Arm around the shoulders. “Wonderful to have you with us, Brian” all the rest of the stuff, very possessive, clubby and very enormous …

Granada was proud of being Granada but it didn’t mean that it failed to recognise other peoples’ talent or particularly to think you were yourself, a special person. You were lucky, I don’t mean it wasn’t a contractual relationship they weren’t necessarily – no need to be grateful to them – to the company – but you were lucky to be working for a company like that and you liked to think they were lucky to have you.

A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Left wing father used to say! Not that that isn’t true.

But the BBC has a feeling, pretty well (34.02 minutes) everyone who works in it has a feeling of working in it … of infinite superiority for an awful lot of time and the way we do things and they pile up bills for Prosecco. Now that they have been stopped, paying for champagne, they paid £20 a bottle of prosecco instead.

Did you come into contact with Denis Forman and David Plowright?

Yes, when I joined the newsroom, Barrie Heads was the Editor, David Plowright was the Assistant Editor and Terry Dobson was the junior (Asst) Editor I think. Those two were fine, Terry Dobson was an awful little what’s it, used to like bullying people. Used to send me out to every interview and he’d say “I’ve got the questions for you”. There would be five questions which were basically some words changed but

  • how does your scheme work
  • what are the changes of it going through
  • how much cost is it going to involve
  • have you had any reaction so far
  • and what of the future

and he gets very stroppy when I said “Well I think I know, I’m quite capable of asking my own questions.”

Very angry about that and if you shot more than 400 ft of film, about four minutes, you got hauled over and I’ve got a bone to pick with you! So didn’t get on with him. I got my own back because I used to call him at every opportunity the Cub Reporter that turned him absolutely puce!

And Forman, involved with various aspects, What The Papers Says, and used to get me to read poetry now and then. He was interested in voice-overs for possible music programmes and various pieces. Very nice, very dignified person.

David and Barrie were fine to get on with – if you did the job, fine. Negotiated contract with Plowright once every right or two years. He was a lot cleverer than I was – he thought I was clever. He was OK.

And Joyce Wooler?

Yes, briefly. When I joined them I got a one-off – a sort of acting job before I was a newsreader. I had been in the place before I remember, as they needed a continuity announcer for a week. There was an actor guy I’d worked with when I was doing BBC Radio and he was a regular, went away for a fortnight and someone else was ill, so they got me in. Continuity Announcer! It’s a frightening job, having to watch the stopwatch, and getting red lights and saying FROM THE NORTH – THIS IS GRANADA TELEVISION!

You couldn’t hear what was going out and she got cross with me for some reason. They were trailing a show for a London based arts programme which was made in Golden Square and they had a very famous opera singer, Greek … who was it?

Maria Callas!!

As a reminder they said this is the tumultuous. And this was the reception that Maria Callas got at her performance of … something or other and there was a 10 second pause and just carried on. Apparently there was no sound at all and Joyce was …. “Why did you say that? Why did you say that?”

She was very ladylike, wasn’t she? Very lofty. She appeared and Mike Wooler I knew quite well and Nick Elliott and John Hamp.
Johnnie Hamp I knew quite well, done things for show business and voice-overs. I remember the Beatles coming in, first appearing, and the Rolling Stones! They were late!

The local programme – Granada Reports in the early days which was in a very small studio, Studio 4, which is now a store. Well last time I was in, it was a store room, electric cables,e tc.

We packed a lot into it. We would have the magazine programme and they would nightly, most nights I think, they’d have a rock band or a musician or some musical element.

So the Beatles came in on what I think was their first, almost, their first TV appearance and I can’t for the life of me remember what they sang. They were a nice, amicable gangling, cheerful .. “how did we get here? Hello mate!”

I used to run into them from time to time and when I tried to get an interview with them after they’d been to see that Sharman and they were out in Conwy, North Wales – Maharishi something … they went to see for a de-focus weekend and they came out and I was with the other journalists outside trying to get an interview with them. They didn’t give me any but Ringo came past and saw me there and said “Hi Brian. Sorry mate!” That was all I got! I knew the Beatles!!

But the Roling Stones came in and they were late and they were scruffy. They were quite noisy – came in and they smelt a bit as well! Think they’d been in the van driven back from Germany or something and they smelt a bit. They made a fuss and messed up the dressing room and did a piece and after that Plowright said “Right! That’s it. A disgusting bunch. They’re not coming inside this building again!!” Just wrote them off! Much to his chagrin … later!

What about Mike Parkinson? Nobody has talked to me about Mike.

Mike came into local programmes and took on a kind of “I am your leader role” as a proper hard-work experienced journalist. Quite tough, Yorkshire and prepared to say what was wrong with the programme and how it should be reshapes. What we were doing, that we weren’t getting enough resources as we ought to and having arguments with people. So quite useful in that sense. We used to have programme conferences, every now and then, often in an evening in a committee room with food and drink with Denis there.

I sat next to Denis – you know he lost a leg at Anzio?

I sat next to Denis and moved my leg and kicked his left leg and said “Sorry Denis” and he said “What?” Very embarrassing.

Mike was always fighting for something and the more he had to drink the most argumentative he got. He drank a fair amount. More than once he came in looking very rough and saying he’d slept in the garage all night. He’d fallen asleep in the car and Mary had come down and seen him in the garage, closed the door and left him and went back to bed to teach him a lesson! He never learnt!

At one stage, we, he complained bitterly that we didn’t have enough resources, not enough film editors, no access to this, that and other and Denis said “all right, all right. OK. Yep. In that case I will take the show over and I will run it for a week and we’ll see if all this is true.”

So he took over. Needless to say Denis could have as many film editors, as many film crews, as many facilities as he wanted so for a week it ran absolutely smoothly and he said “there you are!” and of course it all went back to normal the week after!

And you think, you must have known Denis, wouldn’t you? Just your clever way around it.

We had one or two funny incidents. Barrie Clayton, the director and I made a documentary about Peterloo. The company said, I can’t remember, I think it was Plowright, we need to make a documentary about Peterloo so I want ideas from lots of people. We came up with this quite theatrical complex idea that Barrie and I had dreamed up which was based on a book that had been written by Joyce someone or other. An historian who took a very, somewhat, unbalanced view in that it was not actually a massacre, but entirely on the side of the people on the ground, which is not unreasonable but took no heed of the pressures that the other side were under, for political or social reasons, or indeed the general atmosphere in the country and community at that time. However we did that we also found the Court Records of some of the people who’d been tried for rioting or whatever it was.

We got an interesting cast; many of whom had worked with Barrie in things like Glasgow Citizens or Joan Littlewood, so obviously on the side of the masses as well and we interviewed the historian and we filmed the events. We filmed the court scene. We re-created galloping horses, banners being carried, cabbages filled with red ink being chopped in two by a sword for heads and all that kind of thing. Cheapo, cheapo, cheapo really. At Plowright’s request we set off filming. Plowright went on holiday and Denis took over and said “All this has to be shot in colour. We can’t do this in black and white. Its ridulous.” So the budget rocketed way way beyond anything that had been conceived.

Plowright came back and was absolutely furious! We edited the thing together, very complicated, so many complex elements to it, so many bits and pieces. We made it into a very interesting but complex piece of film which Plowright looked at and said “This is terrible’ I think what he’d hoped for was a much more journalistic documentary approach to it despite the fact that we’d specified what we were going to do.

SO, Brian Tagg, that was the other editor, we were working with Brian Tagg who knew a thing or two about film editing and it was really beautifully, beautifully knotted.

Plowright looked at and said, “Right, go away the pair of you. Go away! Take a week off! Go fishing!”

“Fishing lovey!! Oh God!!” said Barrie but we went off and left him to it and he spent a lot of the time on it when he should have been administering. I think he was Head of Programmes, with the editor and we came back and saw him the next week and he said “You bastards!” he said, “You bastards! I can’t do anything with it. If I take a bit out, anywhere, the whole bloody thing falls to pieces!” So we said we told you. Oh the hell with it!

So it went out!

This was the editor saying this?

No, this was Plowright telling Barrie and myself that we were bastards!

It subsequently went out and was well received. However it was way over budget so I went to see Denis and we had two parts of the conversation.

He said “Some of the filming was really rather below par. I mean the people who were marching, carrying the banners. You needed far more. We only saw … they seemed to be walking on a moor. We needed to see them marching through the streets. I don’t suppose there was more than two dozen.”

We said “There were 11 actually but we filmed them several times over!”

He said “We needed more horses, more men on horseback wearing the uniforms

Brian: Well the budget ….

Denis: But, but, never mind, well I suppose you did your best. Now the budget! Why did it go so far above?

Brian: Just a minute, two minutes ago you were saying …..

Denis: Brian!

No! Sorry it was the other way round, blimey, I’ve made a complete mess! We had the row about the budget first. “We’re way over budget, we’re far over, I don’t know how you’ve managed to do it. Part II of the conversation was we needed to see far more people marching so that it was the other way around.

So I said “Just a minute! Just now you’ve said we’d spent far too much …

Denis: Brian! I’m not talking about money now

Brian: Right Denis, thanks a lot!

Anyway we got away with it!!

We had a wonderful debacle at Scene at 6.30 – just a silly story where we had to ….

Journalists, as ever, left the script for the evening magazine programme to the last possible minute. The scripts had to be in by about … last minute was about 20 to 6 if … no! we had to rehearse at 6 o’clock so they had to be on the desk for 6 o’clock. They had to be in the Roneo machine being churned off by about 5.35pm.

Then someone came up with a Xerox so that meant you could …. And that was zip zip zip .. the scripts came out so that was a doddle – that gave the journalists the opportunity to shovel the deadline much nearer to the rehearsal time and usually you got the scripts for a quick read thru and a tech. test by 5 past 6 so you didn’t have time for … you got the tops and tails, your in cues and out cues whizzing past, you got your scripts, you read your piece, did the balance, cleared the studio and you were on air.

So the first day of the Xerox and it seemed to have worked all right. As usual, as everybody does you get all the bits of paper, pile your scripts together, get them neatly, bang them on the table and the print slide off the page and ended up as a pile of carbon dust on the desks!!! Leaving a pale shade of what had been there.

So the whole programme was people saying ….ah …. You know …. Bumbling their way through words and getting the wrong one and not knowing where the hell they were going and saying with a great deal of relief “And now to Mike Scott – cut to Mike Scott” and Mike says NO!

Quite a row about that but they didn’t go back to the Roneo!!

How important do you think Granada was to the region?

Hugely. Hugely. I mean it brought …. The BBC was already there, but the BBC somehow kept itself to itself and was obviously an adjunct of the metropolitan BBC, of BBC the Corporation. I don’t think it interacted in quite the same way with the population in the way that Granada did. I mean Granada presented itself as being THE NORTH and SLB was talking about issuing Granada passports. Obviously fake ones that you got stamped as you came over the border of Granadaland!

A Granadaland passport! People would obviously enjoyed having their passport franked as they came past … that that fell through. He had some daft ideas!

But Granada certainly did and apart from anything else it recruited a lot of people locally than the BBC tended to do. Many of whom were émigrés from other areas, I mean they started with, they started generating their own but certainly the Heads of Departments came from other parts of the BBC for the most part. Metropolitan BBC sent out into the wastelands to bring us good news! But Granada wasn’t like that and certainly we were very welcome on the streets. I think because, in part, as the news team, we were on the streets a lot seeking peoples’ opinions on this, that and t’other. We did a lot more Vox Pops than anybody else and people would say to you “You know, you’re great, we like out TV, its our kind of … good programmes, its really smashing, not like the BBC is it” so evidently the more downtrodden in the population felt that the BBC was toffee nosed and not their style and we were reaching more into their lives. And indeed I suppose its true and the documentaries didn’t look for spectacular things at all. It was more kind of domestic and local and about small people than it was about big famous things and huge events and the rest of it.

I think it did that and I think in general and of course through the drama it did on television. It encouraged a lot of interest. It brought good drama to, I think, a wider population and they weren’t afraid of doing adventurous, artistic programmes. They did some Offenbach operas and things like that. Music and talent shows. They were very often admittedly made in London but the artistes they needed to get where in London.

I think they were good and I think for as far as those of us who worked in the business they gave people an enormous opportunity to learn, what to do how to do it, what you were capable of, how to work with other people, in a kind of relatively non-heirarchic team.   There were certainly people at the top but you tended to get people with a much more casual and less formally laddered relationship than you do in the BBC. People were easier with the girls who did the typing and the Head of the Typing Pool and everyone. Everybody seemed to mix in, to much in, in a very good way.

There was always the feeling that the SIXTH FLOOR was more remote. The famous Sixth Floor and I suppose to a certain extent they were and they probably had to be but even then it was not that difficult to get to see the man at the top with no problem at all.

Anything on your list that you wanted … tell ou what you would have been at Granada when Coronation Street started. Any memories?

Well I do. Coronation Street had started and amongst other things I’d worked as a child actor in the BBC radio, starting as Tubby the Cook when I was just short of 15 in The Adventures of the Puffer Patrol – jolly good and moving on through life doing all sorts of daft things like working for comedians and the rest.

I worked a lot with Violet Carson and I worked with Tony Simpson who had to change his name to Tony Warren because there was another actor called Tony Simpson but his real name is Tony Simpson.

And Alan Rothwell. In fact my two sponsors when I got my Equity card when I was about 18 were Violet Carson and Ewan MacCall – not bad was it? So she appeared on the scene – I’d acted with her on a television play not that long before really. The last play I did before Granada said you can’t be on television but you can continue doing radio, which I didn’t really cover when I started the job.

But been in a television play with her and acted in a lot of radio and I always seem to be called Jim in the plays we were in and she was always my mother so when we met she would inevitably say “Hello Jim” and I’d say “Hello Mum!: but there were there and that was interesting.   I never had anything to do at all to do with it. I knew a number of the people in it, vaguely, a little bit – Bill Roache but Violet and Alan yes. See them quite a bit and got news from the front and I think they were quite bemused by its enormous success.

Oh! And Doris Speed! I’d actually directed Doris Speed in my last year at Uni, Manchester University when I was part of the University Drama Group. I’d produced The Lady’s Not For Burning, Christopher Fry and Doris played something for me – a mother or some senior citizen, something like that. She was very brave about it. It was pretty chaotic I remember but so I knew people like that. We had funny exchanges and we had a nice link. They were curious to know what went on in the rest of the building, you know.

The other story right at the beginning I’d been doing was for …. Only about a week and we were summoned, David Plowright, Terry Dodson and myself, were summoned to a meeting by Sydney Bernstein who had an office in a building on the other side of Water Street. In an old building, big office. The big feature of which was an enormous round table, a central column in the middle and splayed feet. Huge post table and the three of us sat at one end, diametrically opposite Sydney at the top and his big idea was …

He said, amongst other things, his big idea was that he wanted it to be more lively, he wanted more headlines! Man Bites Dog! Train in Crash Drama! To introduce each story. I sat a bit.

I thought this is bloody rubbish, this is not what reading the news is like. You are an individual reading the news. So I said “That’s right. That’s for reading newspapers, isn’t it?

At which my companions, sat on either side of me, said …. Sharp intake of breath,mutter, mutter!


Brian: They’re newspaper headlines. They work on newspapers. I’ve got to ready them and I’d look a right bloody idiot saying things like that.

Their chairs moved appreciably further away.

Sydney said “Not at all. Have you …. Have you …. American Television does it very effectively. Have you ever seen the Walter Cronkite show?”

“No, I haven’t actually got a television set.” I didn’t know that Walter Cronkite was an American, at which he looked totally baffled and I got quite agitated. By this time Terry Dodson and David Plowright were almost out of sight which left me in the beam and rage of Sydney and I lent on the table and said, “Look!” at which point the table tipped up and his papers came rocketing down the desk and landed on me!

That was the end of the interview and I think he gave in at that point!

“Well, think about it!”

And they said “For Christ’s sake, Brian, what do you think you’re doing?”

“Its perfectly ….”

“You don’t argue with Sydney Bernstein!”

“Rubbish!”   You know, green as grass! I wasn’t fired and neither were they so it was all right really.

That was an indication of his micro-management but his “in the end it’s your job, get on with it, I may not like it, but all right then” which is big.   A big man. 

Andy Serraillier

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 14 October 2015.

Let’s start where I started with lots of people. How did you come to join Granada Television? What was the process and where had you been before?

I saw an advert in the Guardian, as I’m sure lots of people did. They had a page of media and creative jobs on a Monday and it was for a promotions scriptwriter, whatever that was, I’d no idea. I’d been looking for jobs and I wanted a real gold-standard company to work for. I’d looked at all the journalist training schemes like Thomson and Reuters. This came along, and I thought, “Let’s look at it”. And it was Granada. I remembered the Granada ident, which is ‘From The North’. It was kind of muscular. It was a big thing in my life. Even though I was living near Chichester on the south coast, I knew what Granada was: a big part of the ITV federation.

Had you been at university then?

Yes, no. well… If you wind the clock back I’d actually applied to Granada when I was 17 and I’d asked, “How do I become a director at Granada?” And the personnel officer, a guy called Bob Connell, he wrote back and he said, “My advice is you go through the camera department and you work your way up from assistant to cameraman to DOP, and maybe you’ll be a director one day.” Which was odd advice in a way, because I didn’t meet many people at Granada in my time who’d ever come through the camera department, there are one or two. Maybe he was thinking of the big feature film directors like Stanley Kubrick, Nick Roeg; they certainly worked with cameras.

Anyway, that was well before university. I was taking a lot of cine film on my own and that was something I obviously brought to my interview. But I did go to university. I did French and Education which was fairly useless, and made films on the side. After university I joined the Observer as a researcher, which was mainly cutting stuff out to create an archive of useful stuff that journalists were going to lean on, and to be on the end of the phone for people who wanted to know how to spell ‘SWAPO’ and what it stood for. I was also a researcher for Chris [Braicher?]’s Breath of Fresh Air series in The Observer.

What year did you see the advert?

1978. I’d done a few other things. I’d worked as a printing management trainee, but got sacked from that for fraternising with the printers. I knew I always wanted to do something in television or film, so when this opportunity at Granada came up, I thought, yes, go for it. Actually, I didn’t stand much of a chance because I think hundreds of people would have gone for it. But I threw my hat in the ring, got on the train and made the perilous journey north, and turned up at Granada.

It was the first time I’d ever had a team of people interviewing me. A board. I can’t remember who was on it. People like Steve Morrison, Joe Rigby, head of programme planning, who would be my immediate boss, and a few other grandees. I can’t remember who they were. It was all going as it did, I didn’t know if it was going well or terribly badly. Then they asked at the end, “Have you got any questions?” And I’d done my research. I’d bought the ITV Yearbook 1979, in other words, a year ahead, just published. So I knew they made various local programmes like This Is Your Right and [Arp Car Hack?]. And I said, “What on earth is [Arp Car Hack?]?” And that started a great discussion in the room. They more or less fell about laughing and started having a go at each other right across from me. I just kind of leaned back and enjoyed the spectacle. Then I thought, “I’ve got a train to catch.”

Anyway, the interview was over and I just hadn’t a clue how it had gone. The next think I knew was a few weeks later when my dad rang me up saying there was a letter for me and it was marked Manchester, and did I want him to open it. So I said yes. He did, and it was offering me the job, promotions scriptwriter. And I remember my dad saying, “I throw my hat up into the air!” He was so thrilled – I think even more thrilled than me. So that’s how it all began.

So when did you actually step into Granada as an employee?

I think on the 3rd March 1979. And the first thing that happened was I went and sat in reception and with a woman called Sue and I thought that she must be joining with me in promotions. She was called upstairs and I thought, “Why haven’t they taken me as well?” It turned out she was a secretary, I think she worked for David Plowright. She was starting on her first day in the job. Then I was called and I went upstairs and I me the other members of the team, all women, Helen, Liz and Caroline, and they took me out for a lovely pizza lunch, and that was a great way to begin.

You were working for promotions. What was the job? What does promotions do?

Promotions is a bit like a little advertising unit in Granada. Our products were the programmes. So we were there to explain them to people and to hopefully be alluring and encourage people to watch them. So we made trailers. We produced and edited them. They were scheduled throughout the week. “Coronation Street, tonight at 7:30”, with a clip. They were mostly very simple, often consisting of a bit of action where you put 5-10 seconds of introductory words, and then a clip of 20-25 seconds, and then maybe you cut to a slide at the end. They were just reminding you: tomorrow, tonight, next Wednesday, whatever.

The beautiful thing about promotions was you got the play with every tentacle of Granada: the studios, the film crews a bit later on – I’ll come to that – and the continuity announcers, you were writing scripts for them, standby scripts. But you had this great big toy box. I know it’s a cliché. Orson Welles talked about toy boxes and train sets, it’s just a great thing. I honestly feel like Granada was set up for my personal amusement!

It was good fun to be able to play with all these toys but thinking back it was incredibly basic. For example, if you had a line saying ‘Tonight at 7:30’ it was literally Letraset put onto a black board. So one of your jobs would be to commission all of these captions and inevitably they would be spelt wrong so you’d have to check all that. But then you took this great cluster of cards, and they were big, 2’ by 2’6” cards with a tiny bit of Letraset, and you took them to a studio, Studio 2 which was the first studio in Britain specifically built for television, so it’s historically something important. To get the whole studio brought in just to put a caption on the end of your little trailer just seemed ridiculous. But that’s how it was in those days. So these jobs were rotated between the four of us. And we’d do one day in the studio, one day researching our programmes which were allocated to us, one day writing continuity scripts, and it never felt like work.

And would you have been liaising with producers and directors getting some of the film from a programme, if it was available?

Yes, if they were big things like King Lear or whatever you might go and talk to a producer. But I only did that to sort of get my foot in the door and talk to somebody. I don’t think it was actually strictly necessary. I’m sure some of these people would have wanted to make their own trailers. I know I did when I was a producer later on. You had to collect the material. One of the big things in promos was doing an evening’s worth of entertainment that would run as part of a bigger package. That would be edited by us in the most rudimentary fashion, with somebody there to load the cassette machine which would trigger another cassette machine which would trigger another. It wasn’t a cut and done on film; these were little shuttles of video tape, very crude. I remember some of them couldn’t run for less than six seconds. These days, you might want to run a clip for three seconds if it was a run of programmes, and then spend your time on something a bit longer. What was the question? I’ve been rambling!

Whether you liaised that much with producers and directors. What about if it was for a programme like World in Action, which is being edited right up to the final minute?

They did their own and did a dirty feed from the continuity booth. So that wasn’t recorded in advance. But every other programme was. And of course there were things like feature films that would also need to have a trailer. That was a great day when you went and got the six or seven that you were going to do for that week, and you literally went and picked up a 35mm film, which is a big beast. In fact I probably ordered it and somebody else picked it up and delivered it to the projection booth. Because everything was over-manned in those days, or, adequately manned, depending on your position. So I turned up to Alan in the projection booth and he would play Hawaii 5-0 just to me alone in the theatre, and I asked for the sound to be full volume, lay back with my feet on the chair in front of me – it was just fantastic! And then you’d watch for a bit where you didn’t need to make a cut. It was just 30 seconds of something that was happening, with a little bit of room on the front to say, “Jack has the surprise of his life tonight on Hawaii 5-0” and then you upped the sound. There was a little switch in the dubbing theatre or the viewing theatre, and Alan would be listening out for it, and he’d shove a bit of paper into the machine, into the projector, which is where we were going to sync it up to run live into the studio or into the transmissions suite.

That would be run live?

Well, actually I’m gilding the lily. Maybe it would have been in the studio and would be recorded on tape.

So you would edit it?

No. I think it might have been live, you know. Because we knew where the start was because I would write the in cue, and they would roll it back however many seconds it was. No, it would have been live. They would have rolled it back enough to get the machine up to speed, and then transmission, who knew exactly how long the trailer was and exactly when it began, would cut from whatever they’d just done to a cue off the tele-cine machine – the projector, if you like – and they’d cut it up onto transmission, and there it was! There it was live.

In fact that’s something to think about there, because when you think about programming planning and presentation, how many hours of TV are there in a day? It wasn’t 24 in those days, in 1979, but every single minute and second of the schedule was accounted for. So whilst things may not have started exactly on 7:30 – Coronation Street might have started at 7:30 and 40 seconds – they knew when it was starting. So, to answer your question, if we were rolling in live it wasn’t so frightening because we knew how long the roll up was, we knew how long the voiceover was, we knew how long the trailer was. It was all marked on the script several days in advance. That’s what the presentation department did, and you may well talk to somebody who would explain it much more clearly than I will.

And did you do any scheduling?

The scheduling was done by the promotions editor who was over the four of us, the three girls and me. I think Steve Leahy did that job for a while, but just before me. I never did that job but there was someone called Stuart[sp?] [Daltin? 15:42] to begin with and then Nick, and then I moved on.

Is there anything else you want to add about programmes?

I’ll think. I need a drink of water. I’m rambling.

You’re doing fine. So it was just the four of you working there, the same team, more or less?

We had a wonderful guy called John Fleming who used to come in “off the bench”, as it were, because there’d always be a reason, like we were on holiday, or whatever. So he would come in from wherever he was and he was [“Orange John”? 16:35] and a fine fellow and fitted in perfectly.

The other thing about promotions is that the promotions scriptwriters worked with continuity announcers. There were four in my time. There was Charles Foster, Jim Pope who was the voice of World in Action and I think University Challenge, Graham[sp?] James, and a guy called Malcom. All these men – women came later – these men had fantastic voices. They really did. They didn’t have to write any of the words. Anything was done by us, except at the end of the night they often did personal things. If anything went wrong, if presentation broke down for any reason, they’d have one of our scripts standing by. But the great thing about these guys is that whatever you wrote, no matter how rubbish it was, it would always sound fantastic because they had these lovely fruity voices, deep voices, melodic voices, maybe a voice which had a chuckle in it.

The big thing you learned in that department was how to write for different voices. And I can imagine that real writers, scriptwriters, have these voices in their mind and they can get it right. And after you’d been there for months you knew who was going to do different bits and you could write for them. That’s one of the things that I loved.

It sounds like you really enjoyed your time.

I had a lovely time at promotions, yes.

But you wanted to move on?

I did. It took me a while. I got a bit stuck. I applied quite soon for a director’s job, got an interview and didn’t get the job. The obvious next step was researcher, and I couldn’t crack it somehow. I don’t know whether I was too comfortable doing what I was doing, but I waited a long time for a researcher’s job. It did come along. And you needed a different ticket for that. You got an ACT card. Is that what I mean? It was ACT wasn’t it? And I had an NUJ card. Again I applied for a director’s job reasonably soon, and was told, “I’m very sorry…” – actually they weren’t very sorry, they were pretty nasty about it. They said, “Listen, you haven’t been in the ACT team for two years yet.” There was a cut-off point. And that was a bit frustrating.

So you went to work as a researcher, starting in locals? How many years?

I was four years in promotions, till 1983. In 1983 I went straight onto a network programme in entertainment, so I skipped locals. But I went back to locals because locals is actually a much better place to be. If you’re working on an entertainment programme as a researcher then you’re really booking and you’re just doing a lot of fairly mundane things. If you want to make programmes then you need to step into locals where you’ve got lots of opportunities. The main ones were on things like Granada Reports.

Speaking of locals, what programmes were you working on there?

The first one I worked on was called Some You Win, which was kind of cruelty television. I remember one of the items. It had five or six elements to it, short films really, or studio items. I’m not even sure of the premise now but I remember very clearly one film. I had to find a scriptwriter who’s never ever had anything published, produced or performed in his life. In other words you were looking for people who were life’s losers or life’s unlucky ones. It’s the first time I’ve talked about this or even thought about it for 35 years. I invited this guy up and we had his script and we went to a little church in Rostherne in Cheshire, and it was basically a kind of melodrama in which I think somebody was jilted at the altar. So I got a full film crew and a drama director and it had the full works and it was going to be three minutes of prime time television. And I don’t know whether I was stupid or caught up in it all but it wasn’t until I actually heard these actors reading the lines that I realised they were actually mercilessly ripping the mickey out of the text. And this chap who’d obviously come along very excited, he left. And I just felt dreadful. And I thought, “I don’t want to be anything to do with this.”

So you felt that Granada, or at least the actors, were exploiting..?

No, I think that came from the director. The programme was not a very nice programme. A lot of TV is like that. It isn’t kind. Anyway, I didn’t have to do that for very long. I worked on pop programmes. Again my job was to meet record reps and be around for the filming and liaise with the bands and the band management. It wasn’t a huge job from my point on view. New Brighton Rock is one example. There was a good little one called Hold Tight which we filmed at Alton Towers. It was a children’s programme, again, network, with children going up a massive Snakes and Ladders board. It was a Leahy invention. It had bands doing their bit. It was presented by Sue Robbie and somebody.

So I did a lot of entertainment, but I think going into local programmes was much more my thing because I was working on half-hour films, so everything was longer-form. This England was a series that I think had enjoyed quite a reputation as a network series. But it wasn’t a network series when I joined, it was a regional programme. But I made loads of those. And they were half-hour films. I had about six weeks on each. The first three weeks was to think of something and then cast it, get people, think of locations, and design the story. Then a freelance director would be assigned who would have three weeks. They would have a week to walk the course with me, a week filming, and a week editing. That was one This England. I did 15 or 20 of those. I loved it.

And what kind of thing were they doing? Was it quirky?

AS: Some were quirky. In Search Of The Wiggly Woo was about pantomime dames. Freshers’ Week was about Lancaster University. One of my favourites was about Shap[?] in Derbyshire, the highest village in England. It was cut off by bad weather and snow. It was one of those films that literally sprang from, “What are we going to do this week?” We were in The Stables then, it wasn’t the Green Room, the pub attached to Granada or the relaxing area, or whatever you want to call it, and we were well into our cups. Andy Mcloughlin was my boss at the time. He had this idea of going into Shap[?] with two researchers. One was Phil Griffin who went in behind the post van, and the other was me and I went in the helicopter. And the idea was that we both met in the village and literally, like a grenade, we just splashed out and talked to whoever we could find. And so in a day’s filming we had one half-hour film. And it was really good I thought. Lots like that.

Did you work with good directors on those?

One or two good directors. Do you want me to name them? People like Tony Bulley. And one or two not so good.

There was a parallel series called Celebration and that was an art series. I did some network editions of Celebration, but also when it wasn’t commissioned again they wanted to keep making them and they put them out locally. We did one about Nicholas Hytner, a profile of this young associate director at the Royal Exchange who went on to run the National. He’s just left now and he’s made a few feature films and he’s got lots of projects. A very clever man. And my experience on that film was one of the frustrations of being a researcher. What had been commissioned was a profile of this man. He had worked at Exeter Northcott and he’d worked at various regional theatres and done bits of this and that, none of which was very interesting. At the Royal Exchange he was doing Mumbo Jumbo which was a brand new play which won a new writers’ scheme run by the theatre. One afternoon we’d scheduled a bit of rehearsal filming just to see this man at work. For me, that should have been the whole film. Seeing a director at work. The cameraman on that day was Lawrence[sp?] Jones, who was a superb cameraman but also very strong hand-held. And so he literally followed Hytner around the rehearsal space, and Nick Steer probably did the sound because he did an awful lot of those ones with me. And between them, they got what was cooking before our very eyes. In those days film came in ten minute magazines so we ran one off without a cut. Nowadays you’d probably run off 34 minutes. Dreadful, slack film-making. But if you knew what you wanted, you’d normally work in small bursts. And then we ran another ten-minute film magazine off. And then perhaps a third. And I thought that was the film. We didn’t need any more. That is a working director. Let’s stick it out. But of course, it made three minutes of the final film and it was very disappointing.

So that was the frustration of a researcher’s job.

So you stayed on This England for quite a while?

Yes, I don’t know how long it was. We rattled through them. I don’t know what else I did there. I should have a list of programmes. It’s all gone into the ether, I can’t remember.

After This England did you continue on locals?

AS: I can’t remember. I get confused because I went back as a director. I think around that time, it must have been coming up to around 1988, that’s when Granada was commissioned to make This Morning, which was a 2 hour 10 minute live middle-of-the-morning programme. I don’t know if it’s just because I wasn’t doing anything at the time, but they made me the producer on that. Probably technically acting producer, but producer none the less. My job was to get it up and running. There were two guys appointed on that first day: Pete Connors and me. And then three more producers came on board. And we each had one day.

So you had been promoted to being a producer now?

Well, I wouldn’t say I had been promoted. I was still a researcher but acting as a producer. Which had its own frustrations. But it seemed like a good idea at the time, and again, was a very enjoyable experience. I can take you through that if you like.

Yes please.

It’s a programme that was made out of Liverpool. This Morning was the brainchild of David Liddiment and Rod Caird, if I’m not mistaken. But I kind of got it. It was TV that could touch a lot of bases, and was there to entertain and had various things that the ITC had put in – not ITA; BA – about educational strands. So it had a whole load of stuff. But I seemed to be getting on Friday’s programme a lot of beauty and fashion which eventually – I don’t think people realised at the beginning – was almost the most popular element of the programme, so it got stripped through the week and almost took the programme over. That was a programme presented by Richard and Judy, who were a force, because I don’t think that had been done before, a husband and wife, or certainly partners. They were married at that time. And they were just fantastic, and very easy, I thought, to work with. They were both very experienced and the whole chemistry of the programme was to do with their relationship really, and they tried to relate most of what was done in the programme to their own personal experience. So everything was, “Oh, yes, that happened to me!” And that worked as a formula.

And were there problems being Manchester-based and working out of Liverpool?

It was unbelievably kind to people who were based in Manchester because we got an allowance. We got expenses for working away from base. So I not only got paid for doing the job, but I was also paid extra for being 30 miles away from where I lived. It really wasn’t a very difficult commute from Manchester to Liverpool.

How long did you spend on This Morning?

I did nearly the whole of the first series. I was yearning to be a director. Remember, I hadn’t been a director yet. I’d done little stuff on Granada Reports, we can come back to that later, but I hadn’t actually done what I’d set out to do when I’d joined the promotions department in 1979. I was doing a lot of producing but not a lot of directing. I thought, “I’ve got to leave the company in order to be a director”. I remember having this conversation, saying, “Okay, I really enjoy this and I’ve done a good job on This Morning and it’s gone really well, and now I want to direct”. And I had a number of projects I wanted to direct. And they said, “But that doesn’t suit us. You’re a producer. You’re producing this programme.”

I wasn’t going to win so I left at that point, and was immediately re-hired as a director! But I guess it was win-win. I don’t know what was going on really. But I joined a local programme called Down To Earth with Bob Smithies. I did a couple of those, and then I went to the BBC in London and joined the BBC documentaries unit in Kensington Road. All network programmes. And then the natural history unit, and TV features in Bristol.

When did you leave Granada?


So the company at that stage was beginning to change quite radically.

Right, it was. But I was fairly insulated from that change. I think the change was about to come and I noticed it more when I left and came back. Do you want me to talk a little bit about the change?

I think the only insight I can offer is that when I was working for an independent production company, we were commissioned to make a film for the combined sales houses of ITV. The film was not for broadcast to the public. It was aimed at media buyers who placed adverts at ITV. The industry was changing because it was more fragmented. Car manufacturers were being encouraged to spend their money on motoring channels. And the thrust of the little film that we were making was that you get more bangs for your buck by hitting a bigger audience with ITV, because you pick up all these guys anyway. But they were trying to save money, obviously. Anyway, as part of this, one of our ambassadors making the case was Jerry Robinson who was running Granada at the time. So I went down to Golden Square where he had his bare office, and I commented on his bare office.

Bare, in that there was nothing in the office?

There was nothing in the office. And he made a fantastic case, saying, “Why would I spend any time in this office when I could possibly avoid it, when I could be somewhere else?” This seemed quite a cogent argument at the time. We were going in, we were doing a job, we were somewhere to do it, and here’s an interview. But this is the point I was going to make. He said, “You work for Granada. Can you tell me, how do you think morale is?” So I think that was playing quite high in his consciousness and he was trying to address that probably, and I don’t know how he did it because I was in and out of Granada, or whether he did it. But I think he detected quite a lot of dispiriting murmurs coming out of the place and some downright rebellion, I would suggest. But I wasn’t a part of any of that because I wasn’t as Granada at the time.

What kind of company was Granada prior to that? Was it a friendly company? Patronising? Paternalistic?

I think it might be slightly different coming from the promotions perspective because we were running our own little outfit and we touched all the other departments and there wasn’t the family feeling of the camera department, for example, or ‘film operations’ as it was called. We weren’t in the makeup and costume department. We were touching everything, so I didn’t feel there was particularly somebody putting their arm around me.

What I did find is that all the individuals I met might be divided into people who would encourage young people and others who’s kind of rough them up or resent them a bit. There were very few of the latter. I only met people who I thought were trying to help me. And the kind of example of that is that in promos you’d always be trying to get machinery but you hadn’t booked it, not because you were incompetent, but because things moved on and you hadn’t quite got round to it. People would help you. They’d say “yeah we can do that for you.”

As for whether it was paternalistic, I have heard people say that. But I kind of think you need to have a mentor or somebody that’s looking out for you or trying to guide your career. I didn’t get any sense of that. I’ve always felt a bit of an outsider. And maybe I was unusual. I didn’t really ever fit in snugly.

Were they encouraging to people to develop their own ideas? I talked to a lot of people about the BBC, and they say programmes at the BBC get made in spite of them, whereas Granada was just the very opposite.

I think the advantage that Granada had, and we’re going back to the early days here, is that it was a big beast in the jungle. We were one of the big five in a federation of fifteen. We had a big chunk of the schedule. So if we wanted to make a programme we had our share and we just commissioned ourselves to do it. At the commissioning level, not at my level. So programmes got made. And probably didn’t need a lot of people to convince to do that. All my ideas were through the local department. I never had any network ideas because I was usually assigned to an existing network programme. So I didn’t feel I was encouraged in that sense. But later on as a freelancer they were all over you. There was an awkward time when you’d get a three month contract or six month contract and if you were going to have an idea that you felt had to be made, you wouldn’t necessarily share it with Granada, it just didn’t work like that. So some of my best stuff never got near Granada. And I think they began to address that later on after my time with trying to incentivise people and say, you know, you will get a bit of a percentage.

You talked a bit about The Stables or the Old School as it then became. Is that were ideas were fomented?

I think it was a very rich place to be. I suppose it always helped to have a drink in your hand but I rarely went up through [this strata? 22:28], I wasn’t hanging around with executive producers at this time. I would be hanging around with my mates, people I was working with, some people I was playing football, because a bit of the family side was that we had a football team and a cricket team and we ran competitions with other ITV companies. But no, I think the example of make the This England where you’re just sitting having a drink with your mate and then it pops into your head, yes, but that also happened at lunchtime during allegedly working hours. So I think it was a force for the good.

Occasionally, I would go and break the ice with somebody I didn’t know, and I could think of one particular example, and that was a producer called Peter Eckersley, who was a drama producer. And I just wanted to go and talk drama because I wondered what it was about. And he was most generous, and we just sat there and talked about it, talked about the programmes they were making, and it was just a lovely time. But I didn’t make a habit of going round tapping people on the shoulder. It happened more organically I think.

And you mentioned the canteen?

The canteen was fantastic. Irma lives long in our memories. She came round with a tea urn actually, right round the building. Irma in the canteen – “CHIPS OR MASH!?” But very soon, she’d know whether you were a chips man or a mash man so you’d get it if your plate went forward. Very irritating if you felt like mash. But Irma was a legend. All of them actually. Pretty good fun. Not grumpy. And that was a great feature. There weren’t very many grumpy people at Granada. Only later on.

Did you ever work in Liverpool?

I was one of the five launch producers of This Morning. I worked on Exchange Flags for a season. I think Shelly Roadie was presenting it with Nick Turnbull, was it? And Mike Short was the producer. There was not much for a researcher to do, really. You had an idea of who you might want on that week’s programme, and you rang them up and you had a little chat and you did some notes for the presenter. None of this is work. It was just good fun! I’m trying to think who we had. John Cleese and Billy Connolly and the nun…

The nun?

The skating nun. Not Phil’s nun. Yeah, if you fancied meeting someone you just rang them up and said to come on the programme, if you just ran it by someone first. What else do you want to know about Exchange Flags?

Was it different working out of Exchange Flags? Was it a closer-knit operation?

AS: No. I don’t know.

You clearly like art. Did the Granada collection of art appeal to you? Was that something important?

I loved that Bacon right in the foyer. I wasn’t really conscious. I just heard that when people got their own office, and I never got my own office, they got to choose something and put it on the wall. I was never that rarefied and I never got am own bit of art. But wouldn’t it have been nice to have a Lowry or something up there? I know the Barnum and Bailey stuff was in the canteen, and I understood why it was there. It was all part of the myth, really, of Granada, and trying to make a story.

Did you ever really come across Bernstein or Forman?

No. I think Scott and Plowright would have been on a couple of boards. I probably did four directors’ boards and didn’t get any of them. That horrible moment when you get through one that’s not gone very well. One time I was just desperately grasping and I said, “There’s something I wish I’d had the time to talk about, and that’s [presenting director camera?]in a drama like Alfie, and you’re involved, and the characters come out of their role and engage you directly.” And I think it was Plowright who said, “It’s alright, we can stick around, you’ve got two minutes.” But of course that’s not what you want to hear. And you just dissolve into jelly and run out with your tail between your legs.

But on that board I have to say there were several Hollywood directors. People that make Star Wars films who went on, David Castle and all that. There were six of us on that final board I think. And Gareth. People who had a huge reputation in the theatre. And little me. I kind of think maybe I was shooting too high.

Tony Drinkle

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 21 July 2015.

How did you come to join Granada?

Well, I left school at Christmas in ’55, and I started working at an advertising agency just off Peter Street, you know, brew boy, errands, things like that. And one lunchtime – I used to walk around town, as you do, have a wander around – and this particular day I was walking down Quay Street, and I noticed there was something going on at the bottom of Quay Street called Granada TV. I thought, “Oh, (??1:12),” but at the time as well, my wages were two pounds five shillings at this advertising agency. So I don’t know if it was the same day or a day or two later, I thought, “I’ll give them a ring and see if they need anyone.” So I rang into Granada and said, “I’m making enquiries, do you need anybody?” I just told them the details, you know, 15-year-old lad, blah, blah, blah. So they said, “Yes, come down.” So I got an appointment to come down, saw this chap who was doing the recruiting, I thought he was doing it for everything, every job that was there, and he said, “When do you want to start?” and the big carrot he held in front of me was he offered me three pounds a week. Well, from two pound five, it’s a big jump, you know, so I thought, “I’ll have a go at that!” So I said, “Yeah, okay.” So I started on April 9, 1956. Basically that was it. In the post room.

So you started in the post room.

Yes. Do you know the names Bill Leather and Graham Wild?

Graham Wild I knew, yes.

Well, he was already in the post room, he started before I did. And Bill Leather, I think he went to production manager or along those lines. They were both there when I started. Jack, Jack (Dardis? 2:54), who goes to the dos, he started the same day. We were both sat there, me and Jack, just young 15-year-olds, you know, we started on the same day, and then it was just… it was just a question of time, I suppose, I think Graham and Bill moved on into the production office at the time. I was still in the post room when, one day, a chap called (Bill Wide? 3:32), he was in charge of the film department at the time, and I more or less just got a hand on my shoulder. “There’s going to be a vacancy in the film department, doing the film dispatch, would you be interested in doing it?” because the chap that was doing it at the time, (Alan Ringland? 3:52), who has since died, he was doing the film dispatch at the time and he moved into what was called commercial makeup, which was basically joining the commercials together on a spool – you used to get this list from the presentation department of all the commercials, the breaks and everything – and that was a step up from film dispatch, you see, so Alan Ringland was moving in there, so that’s when I moved to film dispatch. And then… the job that I ended up doing for most of the years, the time was split between… or the likes of Bill Lloyd, because I think he started as assistant editor, you know, he wasn’t in charge of film ops when they first started, it was a chap called Tom Hewson, who only lasted I’d say about 12 months at the most, and then Bill took over in charge. But at the time, you have to remember that the transmission, it didn’t transmit after about midnight, it closed down, mornings was always schools programmes, so the type of work I ended up doing, like feature films and one-hour programmes, like The Streets of San Francisco and rubbish like that, whatever, there wasn’t much of that going out at the time, so the people, the assistants, people like Bill Lloyd and a chap called (Riz Kennington? 5:25) and (Fred Massey? 5:26), they’re dead by now as well, they were doing that sort of job, and like I say, Bill Lloyd said do I want to go in doing film dispatch, so I said that and that was it. And then eventually Alan Ringland moved up into the assistant editor, so they asked me then if I wanted to co into the commercial makeup, so I was like following him, you see, so I went doing that for a few years, and then the usual thing happened, Alan Ringland went to be assistant – by this time I think Granada had got around to making their own programmes, on film, the off half-hour bits and quarter of an hour things, and also news inserts on the news programme, stories and that. So I did that, I can’t remember how many years, and then eventually, like I say, I took over from Alan Ringland, doing what’s called the assembly editor’s job, which basically… like I said, you get the normal feature film, they were the same prints that had been used in cinemas, so you’d end up with nine, 10, 11 cans of film, and you had to join them together, obviously, view them, time it, and you’d get timings from presentation – John Rigby, that’s the name, Joe Rigby – have you interviewed Joe, by the way?


No? He was in charge, he was still in charge when I left. And from that department, we used to get all the running times that they wanted. You’d have a film, and it might be running, say, 120 minutes, but they only wanted 115, so you just viewed it, hopefully cut five minutes out that nobody would spot…

And that was your responsibility? To do the cutting and decide what could go?

Yes. You had to put it on spools to start with…

So you had to make sure you didn’t cut something crucial.

Oh, yes. I mean… he’s to here now, Alan Ringman, he dropped one of the biggest clangers before I started doing it, on 42ns Street, he cut the song out! The… the biggest mistake I might have made, and it was my own fault, was… where the films… you’d have a running time for the film, and especially at weekends or on a Sunday, they didn’t sell all the commercial time, so we (add on films? 8:24) – they were called COIs (Central office of Information) like driving… just the odd little 30 seconds, 10 seconds – but this particular Sunday there was about seven or eight minutes short of unsold time. I only worked the five days, Monday to Friday, and this particular Friday, one of the Fridays, I got involved with the lads, everything work-wise was finished, everything tidied up, I got back to work at about five o’clock or something like that, and there was a message they needed this cartoon for Sunday, there’s a feller (cutting ?? all the time? 9:05). Now, e had a big cupboard, and there must have been about 1,000 cartoons there of Tom and Jerry, Road Runner, all these things. And what I’d done is I’d timed them all and wrote the running time on each one so whenever they wanted… because it was always last-minute stuff, “Oh, we’ve not sold time, we’ve got to fill for six minutes 20 seconds.” “Right, okay.” So a chap who was in charge called Burt (Guy? 9:38), who was in charge of the film dispatch bit then, all these were kept in his room because there was no room in… my room was on the front of the main building there, so only a small edit… you couldn’t keep all this rubbish in there. So we used to just look through and get a cartoon that would be the nearest time, which was this particular one. Basically all it was doing, you just have the standard leader on the head and backspacing on the end to run out, which I did. But… 99 times out of 100, just to make sure, you would view it to make sure what the quality was like, because you used to get a lot of scratched prints in those days, nobody bothered like it is now, so you just used to check it and if it was bad you’d say we can’t play it. Anyway, this one went out, I didn’t check it, which I should have done, and it was all in French, wasn’t it? One cartoon out of all the lot! So it went out on a Sunday afternoon, I didn’t know anything about it until I got in on Monday and Bill Lloyd, who was in charge, first thing, called into the office… we used to get on all right and all this, you know… and he said, “I’ve had a presentation. A cartoon went out yesterday – how come it was in French?” I said, “Oh, it wasn’t, was it?” He said, “Yes.” So I told him, there’s no point making up excuses, I told him exactly what had happened like, and 99 times out of 100 you would have got away with it, because the timing was right. It was Pepe le Pew or something like that. And it was just, “Just be more careful in future.” In fact, I found out later, after it had gone out, the announcer actually said, “And that ends our programmes for French-speaking people,” or something. So that was about the biggest mistake I’d made, I can’t think of any more. There must be some more minor ones.

When you started in 1956, it must have been a very small company. Handful of people, almost.

Well, we started off in what was called Granada House in Water Street, you know the building in Water Street?


It’s now the Royal Bank of Scotland, opposite the college. Because the offices were there, the first studio like where they are now, across from Quay Street, but the next one was the main entrance on Quay Street, next door to it was a petrol station.

I remember the petrol station, yes.

So you had the petrol station there, and then along the side of Atherton Street were all these small garage, repairs, servicing. There mist have been about seven or eight companies in these ramshackle old buildings, you know. It was only a few years later when Granada had bought them and cleared them all out and built the building that’s there now, where the main reception used to be until a few years ago. But yes, like I said, the post room at the time was in what was called Granada House, which was right at the bottom. If you go down Quay Street, you know when you come to the Globe and Simpson building, turn right there, and right again onto Water Street, on the right hand side, as Water Street goes right down on the left, it also crosses over, and if you just go down there… I had a walk round last year actually, just to see, because it’s changed so much round that area. The college is still there, just before the river, just this side of the Irwell, is a college, and then facing it now is the Royal Bank of Scotland. The actual building has been knocked down, it was just a three-storey building, and on the corner there was a pub actually called the (Bollocking Donkey?! 14:08), which one or two people used to pop into. Like I said, it was three storeys, not a very big building, and accounts was on the top, that’s (Frank Clarke? 14:21) on the top floor with a chap called (Roy Montrose? 14:26), the two of them, they were like the… they were probably the accounts department at the time.

I remember Sidney Bernstein being in Sunlight House.

I don’t remember being in Sunlight House, to be honest. (Cathy Arondale? 14:50) will tell you that for certain, but I don’t remember him being in Sunlight House. I remember him being in Granada House, because his office was there when he was up in Manchester, him and a chap called (Victor Piers? 15:03), he was always up here, and obviously Cecil, but Cecil didn’t seem to have as much involvement or control as Sidney did.

So it was a small, close-knit group?

It would be. Have you ever seen the Year One book? I’ve got one at home somewhere. If I remember rightly, it’s got a list of the Granada staff from the opening night, and there’s quite a lot in there when you look through it, if you come across a copy sometime, have a look – there are quite a lot of names there. I can’t think… like I say, going back to…

When did you move into the…

Into the big building? I couldn’t say for certain. It was probably… it was a good four or five years later, because I remember one of the (??16:48), as I say, I started in 1956 and I had roughly two years in the post room, so going up to 1958. While I was in film dispatch, all the film was done in this Granada House in Water Street, and every morning, I had to take all the film over for tele cine, which was in the building as it is now. So we had this big truck, it was about so big and so tall, and we used to bang all the film in it – because it was nearly all 35mm film, including commercials as well, roughly about three or four reels of commercials, and you used to put them all in this truck, and we used to have to take it from Granada House over to the main… the other building, you know, dragging it across the road. I remember doing that. I must have done that for a year or two, so at a rough guess it was probably close to 1960 when that building was built.

Because they did have something there on that site, as you say.

Well, tele cine, all the transmission stuff was over on that side, and what was called network operations at the time.

So there were two sites.


Water Street and Quay Street.

Yes. Water Street was mainly just offices, but on the ground floor was film ops, which was about three or four editing rooms. When I say editing rooms, Granada hadn’t got into making your World in Action type thing s then, they didn’t do anything on that scale then, but all the sort of what we call packages –feature films, our programmes, stuff like that – was (Don Kelly, Chris Kennington, Fred Lassey? 18:50), they used to do what I ended up doing on the programmes then, sort of thing, which was on the ground floor, and the post room, obviously was on the ground floor with reception next to it, and then like I say, the other floors were just producers, directors, what few there were then. There was one or two, (??19:17) for one I can remember, (Guy Nottingham? 19:17), he was another one…

And the newsroom would have been over in Quay Street?

Yes, the newsroom… in fact, there again, coming back to that year one book, mi think there is a picture of (??19:34) mother in there, when she was in the newsroom. As you came into the reception, you turned to the right, it was like one fairly long… it was down to like where the car park lodge is, that building, but what they did, they used to have curtains separating different departments! So you’d have the newsroom, which consisted of about four or five people at the time, then next to it had been another department, some sort of production office maybe for something they were doing, you know… and like I say, everything was transmitted live then, no programmes done in the studio… The Army Game (corr), that was a popular programme at the time. It also happened, while you were in the post room, one of your duties was, one night a week, after you’d finished in the post room at six o’clock, you would have to go onto reception in the main building with – they were called commissionaires in those days, not security – the main receptionist would have finished at six, and one of the commissionaires then took over the desk and was there until 10 or 11 o’clock, whatever it was. But they needed someone on call in case an artist or someone needed a job doing, or errands, so once a week you would end up working until 10 o’clock, so basically we were just in reception in case anybody came in and said… the chap inside, the general manager, was a chap called (Simon Kershaw? 21:27), I don’t know where that name’s cropped up, Simon Kershaw was like the overall general manager, and somebody might come in or have come to see Simon and you would take them to the office then, from reception. So anything like that, anything in the studio, if somebody came and said, “I’ve come for a programme,” you would take them down, just generally running about, you know. But you worked until 10 o’clock and the advantage of only being 15 was that you had to have a certain amount of breaks, so you couldn’t start work until 12 o’clock the following day, so you came in at 12 and still finished at six, so you got overtime for doing your night, so… it was okay, like. There was a programme called My Wife’s Sister (corr), that was the one I used to end up doing on the nights I worked, Eleanor Summerfield, I remember that. That was very popular at the time. And like I say, I think I was probably around 20 when I went to do the job I ended up doing, and at that time it had always been a one person job, so there was only me doing it, except obviously when I was on holiday, one of the editors would step in like Reg and Fred, who I referred to before, they’d do it while I was on holiday, and like I said, it was… there was enough to do but it was never too busy because there was no morning transmissions, it was all schools programmes. Like I say, they finished transmitting at about midnight, so there was nothing through the night, but then as it started building up I don’t know what came first, whether they started putting film programmes out in the morning or after midnight, but it built up where it got to the point where I couldn’t cope on my own, so that’s when Barry came to help me. He started at Chelsea in London, he was a bit younger than me, and he started working at Chelsea at Nine sort of thing, because he was only a young lad then, and then eventually, obviously they closed Chelsea down, and they asked him if he wanted to come to Manchester, he obviously said yes, he came up here, and he came in, like I say, I was getting too busy and couldn’t cope, so Barry came in with me, helping me, and did that for a couple of years or so, I don’t exactly know how long. But I was quite happy because it was half past nine until six job. I was quite happy with what I was doing and I didn’t really… I wasn’t too concerned, moving on and going onto the what you would say proper editing, creating programmes, you know, (??24:51) Blaze and things like that. I was quite happy and content doing what I was doing, so I just stayed plodding on, but Barry wanted to move on, you see, which was fair enough, and he got the job as assistant editor to go and work on… as I say, Barry will tell you. And a girl called Ruth who had been in commercial makeup, she came in with me, she did a couple of years and moved on, and then a lad called (Brian Cardingley? 25:25) came in with me and he took over as the main one when I finished, and he was still (??25:30), but we were getting busier and busier, so ended up with three of us, there was another girl came in, Joan. So the actual section that I was doing ended up three of us doing this particular job because you’d got the 24-hour transmission then, you know, and of course they wanted you to fill most of the time with feature films or, you know, one hour things. And I just carried on doing that for about 30 years!

When did you leave?

I left in 1989, just when… it was when the voluntary redundancies… I was 49 at the time, and funnily enough me and Jack Dardis left on the same day as well! We started on the same day in 1956 and left on the same day in 1989. So they were asking for redundancy and at the time it was a good deal – a month for every year you had been there. I didn’t jump at it, put it that way, because as I say I was only 49, but they said that I could start drawing my pension at 50, which I had been in for a few years, but it was talked over with the wife, and I said, “I’ll take it, we’ll have a couple of decent holidays and then I’ll start looking for another job.” Of course, while I was off, roughly about a year after I’d been off, I got a phone call off a chap called David Black, do you remember him? You could say he was more in touch with that department, presentation, everything used to go through Dave Black. And I got a phone call one day from Dave, and he said, “Can you do us a favour and come in for a month?” What it was, there was this Brian, and Maurice had come in as I left, and the girl, three of them, when there were three of us working there you could only have one off at the same time on holiday, and they wouldn’t let you have two on holiday at the same time. But I think Maurice wanted to go to America for a month and someone else was off for two or three weeks at the same time, so Dave asked me to come in. So I went back into Granada doing my old job for a month, of course while I’m in there, you’re seeing people, “Oh, hello, you’re back, how are you?” “I’m all right, I’m only here for a month.” You know, you’d get talking. And one particular day, a guy in the post room called Barry, I was just talking to him about things in general, and he said, “What are you going to be doing?” So I said, “Well, I’m looking for a part-time job really. I don’t want to be doing nothing, I’m only 50…” So he said, “We could do with somebody to cover in the post room, you know.” Going back to square one! So he said, “Are you interested?” I said, “I’m here for a month, I’ll tell you before I finish.” So anyway, to cut a load of rubbish out, at the end of the month, I saw the chap in charge of the post room, a feller called (Dave Crowther? 29:31) at the time, and he said, “What we could do with is cover for holidays when there’s two off.” So I said okay. I was virtually like on standby. I might get a phone call saying, “Can you do next week? I’ve got someone off.” So I would go in and do a week on the post, and I actually ended up doing regular mornings, 8am-1pm, which fitted in great. So I started that roughly in 1991 and I left again in 2002, so I actually finished with Granada completely in 2002, and then that was it really.

In those early years, did you come into contact much with the Bernsteins?

Not really, apart from… he would always let on, Sidney, if you walked past him in the corridor. We never stood face to face and had a conversation type thing, so I only knew him on nodding terms, you know, so I can’t really say anything about that. I had a foreman and all that lot, but it was just saying hello really, if you saw them. Especially in the early days, Sidney would go into the canteen, there was no feeling he should be up, alone… he would just walk into the canteen for his dinner, stuff like that.

A lot of people have talked about the canteen, the stables and the old school, places where you could relax, socialise and network.

Yes. (??31:44), it was basically The Stables or The Old School, I very rarely went into the canteen. I think the only time I went into the canteen was if I was working late. When I was in commercial makeup, you used to work late and take it in turns in there, because in those days, everything was transmitted live, even the commercials. If you had a reel and a join came apart in tele cine, they would always try and slot the commercials in later on, so they needed somebody on standby. It didn’t happen a lot, but it was saving money at the time, you know, because you wouldn’t lose the commercial. And so whenever I had to work late I always went in to have my tea, but that was the only time I ever went into the canteen.

Could you get food in The Stables or The Old School?

Basically just sandwich type things to start with, pie. I can’t ever remember having a proper meal there.

You’re from the north west.

Manchester, yes.

How important was Granada to Manchester and the north west?

I would think it was very important at the time, because it was a completely new thing. People were so used to the BBC. I think a lot of people were against it at first, the fact there were adverts breaking the programmes up – I don’t think people liked that idea. You sat watching the television and then an advert would come on, and from what I can gather I think there may have been letters to the press saying it won’t last and that sort of thing. But I think it was very important, eventually, as it progressed.

And those programmes that they did were very kind of north west.


And the presenters, people like Chris Kelly and Mike Scott.

That’s right, he was a presenter, mike Scott, yes. He did a lot of presenting. Of course Parkinson, have you had a go at him yet?


He was there, he was on local programmes at one stage.

Bill Grundy?

Yes, Bill Grundy. He’s ended up in a few places where he shouldn’t have done, put it that way, falling asleep on trains.

Kay McPherson was a presenter, wasn’t she?

I’m not quite sure actually, I can’t say for certain.

You must have seen huge changes in the technology.

Yes, especially with tele cine, things went out… by the end, well before that finished really, everything was being transferred to tape, the features and everything. One particular thing I remember, which probably wouldn’t happen these days, but it’s one of those things that stick in your mind… quite often we wouldn’t get a film until the day it was going out because another company would be playing it, and they would send it off. There was a transport company who used to collect and deliver films, based in London. (Axon? 35:38), and all the films had to go down there, after we transmitted them, they would all be sent down to this place, and they would say, send them to Anglia to play a day later or something like that. But occasionally there would be one, say Yorkshire would be playing it one day and we need it the next day, so not a lot but sometimes you would get a film on the actual day of transmission, so a bit of a rush, not to put you under pressure like, the usual thing, you join it together – on average you get about 10 cans – but each part, if it was in four parts you would have four spools, each part on a separate spool, and you would go in the theatre and watch it, and while you’re putting it in the spool as well you’re timing it, so by the end, so you’re like, this film runs 106 minutes, that’s fine, but you might need 108 so you get on to presentation and say, “We’re two minutes short,” so they would work around filling that two minutes, or the other way, it might be two minutes over, so I’d have to take two minutes out then. I remember we got this film, The Mask of Dimitrios (corr), I think it was. An old black and white 1940s film. And like I said, we used to get a lot of prints that have gone round the cinemas. Unless they were really badly scratched and terrible, they used to go out – I don’t know if you remember seeing scratched films and stuff like that – but sometimes you just had to say, “Dave, the print’s terrible, I don’t think we can play it.” It was okay if you had a day or two spare, but if it was the last minute… anyway, this one came in and I was viewing it, and it must have been 15-20 minutes from the end and it went way out of sync, really out of sync, and it seemed a long time – 20 or 30 seconds – and there was no way you could cut it out, it was a vital scene right near the end of the film. So I said to Dave, “You can’t play it.” In fact, I think it was before Dave. Anyway, whoever it was… luckily – and I got a brownie point for this – I was watching the telly the night before and something had broke down or gone wrong, and straight away the announcer had said, “Sorry about the fault, bear with us,” type thing, so I thought, “Why not play it as it is and put this caption over?” which is what they did in the end1 it was the only way I could think about getting it – putting the caption up to hide the picture but still hear the sound. So that’s what they did. Another big problem – Dave Black solved this one – when we were playing Raiders of the Lost Ark for the first time. They didn’t like putting features out on the network because they used to always get better ratings than the main programmes, but they always liked to put a network one out on Boxing Day and Easter Monday. So Raiders of the Lost Ark was being transmitted for the first tie. I mean, different companies used to take turns; one film was being networked, say Thames or Yorkshire, and then we would do one, and we got lumbered with Raiders of the Lost Ark. But apparently, it’s supposed to have come from Spielberg, that whenever it’s transmitted for the first time, you weren’t allowed to cut it. And chipping in again, a big help as well, I can’t think when this came in now, but it was a very big help to us, and that was when tele cine got this new equipment, and we had been transmitting films at 24 frames a second, so that’s how it went out, and then we got this equipment, we found out that you could adjust the speed. And they found out that if you went up to 25.26 frames a second, you didn’t notice – the sound wasn’t distorted and you couldn’t tell. So you could transmit at 25 frames per second rather than 24, so that meant if you had an hour programme you could save two minutes, so if a programme was two minutes over you could just speed it up and you didn’t need to edit it, which was a big help. So getting back to Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was running over – and this is Dave Black, I had nothing to do with this, I’m not getting any credit for this – if ever you see Raiders of the Lost Ark, the end credits run for about five our six minutes, but we couldn’t cut them off, we weren’t allowed. And they are just white on a black background, very slow for about five minutes. So Dave Black came up with the idea of transferring the end credits separately so they could play the sound at the normal speed but speed the end credits up, which he did – and that gave us the time we needed. So the complete film went out, including the end credits – that was always a favourite, if something was running over, if it was only 30 seconds or a minute but the end credits went on and on, we always used to fill a form in which had the running time on for each part, and also you had to decide where the breaks would be as well. Nowadays the breaks just pop up – half the programmes that come on now, we’d have had a right telling off for putting the breaks where they go now! So it had to be at the end of a sequence, or ideally at the end of a scene where it just fades out, then fades in again. So on these forms we had to fill in, we had to give a description of what was happening , like, “So-and-so says to so-and-so: ‘Right, I’m going now.’”. Then you used to measure how much time there was from the last dialogue to him walking out, it might take 10 seconds, so then the transmission controller could fade the picture out and roll the commercials. I forgot what I was leading to! I as confusing myself, babbling on. But yes, basically if there was a feature film and there were a lot of end credits, you would say there are three minutes 30 end credits, and the transmission controller would decide when to fade out, but we couldn’t do that with Raiders.

That’s interesting. Were you involved at all with industrial relations?

No. not at all.

Did it affect you very much? Did you have many rules and regulations in your department?

No, I can’t… it was very easy going from what I can remember, you just got on with your job. Just days and weeks on end. All I would do is go to the reception at Granada, up to the first floor, down the corridor, into the room at the end, facing what was the croquet park, they were all facing there, all the editing rooms. So no, there was… we had our usual… you know, we had a few strikes in the early days, but that was just sort of union… I used to quite enjoy it as well! Being single – I didn’t get married until I was 31 – so quite a few times we would go on strike, it always used to be round about August, you know, and e were off for three or four weeks sometimes. So I didn’t mind that, I was a single lad, I didn’t have to bother about family and stuff like that.

You’ve mentioned a couple of programmes that you remember. Do you remember any others?

I know one of the programmes that used to go on quite often when I was doing a late night was Russ Conway (corr). He had a programme on the old piano, a request type programme (Probably The Wakey Wakey Tavern)… I’m just trying to think now… I mean, obviously… I remember a bit about the opening night on May 3, because they had all the… we were actually classed as messenger boys, that was the official description, the boys working in the post room, and a lot of the work in the post room would entail doing errands around Manchester – if the producer/director wanted something collecting from somewhere, we would go and get it – that was another part… but getting back to the opening night, e were all on duty, it was really chaotic and I remember people buzzing about – practically running in some cases from one place to another – and Arthur Askey was sort of the big star they had to actually open it, you know, the official opening. I’m not sure, I think Gracie Fields was there, I’m not sure. There were quite a few what you would call celebrities at the time, stars… I can’t remember…

Did you say it was a bit chaotic?

Yes, a lot of buzzing about, not being used to it – and I was only 15 at the time – and it was like, “Can you take this down to dressing room seven?” it could be anything, just running around really. I didn’t see anything that went out on transmission that opening night.

How did it feel, seeing people like Arthur Askey?

It felt good. Any sort of stars, it’s like they’re not normal, not human, star-struck, I suppose, in a way. I suppose everyone… you see these people, and I don’t think he even nodded or said hello to me, so I can’t put that down as a claim to fame! I remember Eleanor Summerfield, all the people to do with the programme were all based in London so they probably did all the rehearsing in London and just came up for the transmission, and once it had gone out – say nine o’clock – I do remember them all gathering in the reception area on the front of Quay Street and there would be a couple of taxis to take them to Piccadilly for the train back to London, just little things like that. They’d just be stood around talking and you’d be watching and listening to what they were saying.

Was there anything else you want to add?

I can’t think of anything in the younger days, like at the start… no, it was mainly once it was classed as assembly editing, not what we call proper editing. I remember one thing about when I as doing that job, it must have been the late 60s, there was a programme called The Fugitive, very popular, in America a well, a top programme. It had gone on for I don’t know how many series… it was this feller who had been done for murdering his wife be he reckons he had seen a one-armed man coming out of the house, and he got convicted, he had got the death sentence but while he was being transported the train had crashed and he was on the run, and the basic story was he would turn up in another town and there was a detective who was always one step behind. When it came to the last episode, they had made two or three different endings, and they wouldn’t… we used to get… when it was a normal series we’d probably get it maybe a week in advance, the actual film, and you just dealt with it in the normal way. But with it being the last episode, we wasn’t going to receive it until the day of transmission because they didn’t want anybody to know about it. So I don’t know how it came about, but they decided on big publicity. It’s my 15 minutes of fame. All of a sudden, this reporter and photographer turned up from the Daily Mirror, and it was the Evening News as well, and they wanted a picture of me – at the time, this was before (steambex? 52:36) had been invented – they were what were called (acmaid? 52:39), have you ever heard of that?


Basically they were 16mm, you couldn’t put 35mm on, because we had a few programmes that were 16mm of which The Fugitive was one. You just basically put the film on one end, lace it up on the screen in front and that was it. And of course we hadn’t got the print, so this… (Joe Rigby? 53:05) got involved with this… so I took another programme, whatever it was, and put it on, and I had my picture taken and all this, and it was in the Daily Mirror – this was about three or four days before the actual transmission, it had me stood there in front of this machine without saying anything, and the headline THIS MAN KNOWS THE SECRET. He knows how it ends, whether the one-armed man is found, and all this business. And of course everywhere I went people were asking me, and I didn’t know anyway because we hadn’t got the actual print. Because people were saying, “You do know, don’t you?” I honestly didn’t! And we actually received the print on the day of transmission, and it was dead straightforward, it didn’t need editing or anything. I can’t even remember how it finished now! It’s just the fact there was such a big fuss being made about it, you know, being in the papers. Funnily enough, my mother died about four years ago, and when we were sorting everything out – papers, policies and everything – we got this cutting out of the paper of me. I can remember that. So when you think that was the highlight of my career, it’s not very much, is it?!

Stewart Darby

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 16 December 2015

OK, Stewart when and how did you come to join Granada Television?

Well, just before that let me tell you that I left school at 15 and in those days you left on a Friday and you started work on the Monday which I did and I’d got a job as a messenger boy on the News Chronicle, which was a National newspaper, based in those days in Derby Street of Cheetham Hill [Manchester]. The Daily Mail eventually bought it. But I started there at 15 as a messenger boy, taking coffee, brewing tea for the reporters and what-have-you. My brother, I followed in his footsteps. He was in photography at the News Chron., 6 years older than me but I followed in his footsteps. So after about 6 months I got the chance to go in the darkroom to be taught how to be a printer, a photographic printer. I did 5 years apprenticeship, night school for 4 years. The News Chron. folded in 1960 and I went to finish my apprenticeship at the Daily Mail where I stayed about 3 years. I then got a job on the Stockport Express as a photographer when an old pal of mine said, ‘There’s a job going, Stew, it’s yours if you want it” because you go from Locals to Nationals, you don’t go the opposite way in general. And I’d had, you know, quite a lot of time as a National of printing for the News Chron. and the Mail. Anyway, I went there for 12 month. Do you remember a photographer called Ray Green, who was a big, stout lad?


Well he was the photographer then when I first went. He tipped me brother off saying, “There’s a job going, tell your Stew to write in”, which I did. I wrote in, got an interview and there’s a guy called Vic Adeley who I was at the Mail with who got the job. Anyway about 3 month later I got a telegram (it was telegrams in those days!) saying, “Are you still interested in the job?” There was three in those days, printers. One guy kept coming in at 11 having had too much to drink. Anyway, I got his job. So in those days, then, we were called Photographic Technicians. This meant that you weren’t just a printer, you could be called upon to operate – you know, to take pictures – and I’d had this 12 month, 14 month at the Stockport Express but to cut a long story short, I got the job and the other guys were a bit older and it was me that was, you know I was 24, I wasn’t 24! I was 24 in the May, keen, photography, blah blah blah. And so often Ray Green left, a guy came in called Frank Pocklington who wanted to be a camera man. Finished up doing all the Whicker’s Worlds for Yorkshire TV. He was the sort of Design Photographer and I was being called upon daily to go down to photograph the group in Scene at 6:30 or whatever it might be, which obviously you’ve seen some of the pictures. But I was doing that regular. Or there’d be a job – “Stew, you go and do so-and-so and so-and-so” – so I was gaining experience all the time. Eventually because Frank Pocklington was photographing Sidney’s paintings on the wall and preferred that, I was the Press guy if you like. I’d had 9 years’ experience before I got to Granada, you know, in that way. Anyway one day, I’m doing more and more for the Press Office, I get a call from Norman Frisby – “We are going to see Barry Head.” Barry Head, you know Barry Head, Head of old Granada and stuff and we went up and they offered me the job permanently. That would be about the June of ’66, roughly. So they offered me the job, Norman and Barry, and I said, “Well, 3 month trial – what happens if I don’t make it?!” He said, “Well, you’ll go back in the darkroom!”

So you were actually working in the darkroom as a Photographic Technician. Right, so when did you actually start that job with Granada?

March 1965.

So you left Stockport Express March ’65 to become a Photographic Technician at Granada?

Yeah. So, that was about June ’66. And never looked back of course! And went on to do, well, just everything! Frank left. I soon discovered, which is quite funny really, that I became not only the Press Office Photographer but the Design Photographer, the News Photographer, the Everything Photographer because, with Frank leaving, Peter Ash, Head of Design, said “Stew, while we interview you do some design work for us”. “Yeah, absolutely.” And I was running round everywhere for 12 years on me own. As I say, I soon discovered I was expected to do everything or brought it on meself in a way. Design pictures, News, World in Actions. I went on many snatch jobs years ago or with the crew or what-have-you, you know. Like we went to Puck Fair in Ireland with George for 3 days. Puck Fair is a male goat that they had on a platform 20 feet in the air. This is at Killorglin.

They have a male…?

A goat.

A goat?!

And it used to eat and feed there, 3 days and 3 nights and the pubs were open all day and all night and we did that and we went on to do, well, an IRA interview, a pine forest we sneaked through and oh, the…anyway, pictures of that. But…[where am I up to?]

You’d started as a proper photographer.

Well, that would be about June ’66 [1966] when they made me into the Press Office Photographer but, as I say, before I knew it I was doing record covers for Johnnie Hamp. I was doing brochures. Me and Peter Plumber went to all different Granada companies. Novello, wasn’t it? Our publishing Novello music.

Oh, Novello music, of course! Yes.

St. Albans, Motorway Sandwich Cafes, Service Stations, the Bingo Halls, we went everywhere to produce this and I’m now shooting what they call a 5×4 Camera. 5×4 Quart film, which is that big, in slides, with uprights, to get uprights level and I mean I’m a Press Photographer, if you see what I mean! But you learned to cope and I’d used them before. But we’d produced this brochure that everybody was extremely pleased with it, it went all round the Group and what-have-you. So consequently that was my learning of, not learning but realising that I just covered everything! Which I thoroughly enjoyed – don’t get me wrong – and then through the years, more and more, we were doing fantastic shows with great actors, you know. I mean I am going back then to Country Matters, Sam, Family at War, these great…This is 51 episodes! 51! My Godfathers! John Finch was involved with and lots of others.

So, just to get it clear. What your role was would be taking photographs that could be used in the TV Times and…

For Press and Publicity generally. So when I photographed Coronation Street – in those days they were only a fortnight in front – those we would try and get in the Daily Mirror, the Sun, the News of the World, the TV Times, whatever it might be. Press and publicity to promote the show basically. But, as I say, there were a lot of spin-offs from that. So I would go on a shoot maybe one day, on a Street location. In those days we shot the Street outside on a Monday. There was a technical run on the Wednesday. First episode was done Thursday afternoon and the second one was done Friday. But I’m going back to when before the Street was built it was a cardboard cut-out in Studio 2 and 6. The front of the houses was like they are now, you know, sets kind of thing. So it was mainly Press and Publicity but the spin-offs on that were crackers! You know there were so many different things as I say. You know, one thing I discovered very early on was to make friends with everyone. And I tell you why. The lights would go down on Coronation Street, the set, and I needed that picture and the early days was a set dress, 28 minutes, bang bang bang, one camera. As one scene finished, cameras moved to another set – are you with me? – to start that off, and so on. And it was 28 minutes and that was it.

What do you mean by 28 minutes?

That’s what it was, the timing, with the commercials. And then they might say, “we need to quicken it up a bit”, “we need to slow that”, “We just need a few other guys”, you know. So often when the light went from that set and I hadn’t had a chance to do what I wanted, I’d be on to the camera guys – “Get the lights on for me!” – so friendly with everybody. Sparks, Floor Managers…most Floor Managers were excellent, there were one or two who were a bit tricky but anyway. But everybody, sound, “get the lights on for Stew” and then I’d go, “Thanks very much!” because I’d got me picture! Because stills are so different. Stills you have to hopefully show in one go what that’s about, if you see what I mean. And later on I used to just get an idea with the Press Officer who was doing the Street, what we were going to base it on, what was the shot of the week kind of thing and I would go and line that up to hopefully show in one go what that episode was about! Which can be quite tricky sometimes. But I thoroughly enjoyed it. I mean the Street, God, they became personal friends of mine, you know, over 27 years. I did their weddings, their christenings, their parties, played golf with Bill Roach, Johnny Briggs, all of them became very good friends. Bill Tarmey, great friend, well they all did!

Tell me about some of the Coronation Street characters. What were they like about having their photograph taken? Like, say Violet Carson?

Oh, Vi was lovely! Oh God! She was a very good actress, Vi. I will tell you a couple of stories. There’s a couple of pictures, I don’t know if you remember it, but she’s like that grinning at me at the camera on one of the pictures from the exhibition. Now Vi was, you know, her character was the total opposite and I knew them all as well as they knew themselves! So I could say, like Minnie Caldwell, God, what was she, not Martha…

Annie Walker?

No, that’s another story I’ll tell you more. Margot Bryant, she was called, in real life.

Who did she play?

She played Ena’s friend.

Minnie Caldwell?

Minnie. This is one example of Minnie. The train crash, the train came off the viaduct many many years ago. Alan Rothwell who played Ken Barlow’s brother, is getting her out and I said to Margot, “Margot, your pal’s under the, I need a tear”, and she could cry like that, streaming. But Margot, she could be difficult! She could be tricky, Margot! She could, depending on her mood. I’d worked out a system. If I knew I was going to photograph her I’d meet her in reception and she used to come in with all these awful hats that she’d bought. They were terrible and I used to meet her at the Commissioner’s desk and I’d say, “Hello, Margot, how are you?” “I’m fine, dear boy” and what-have-you and I’d walk her down the steps and I’d say, “That’s a lovely hat. Is that a new one? Just bought it? I need to do a little picture of you after”. I used to call it the three-card trick to be honest because it was professional kind of, I was being genuine but for my own. Now, you take Doris. Doris was lovely! Doris Speed. But she was deaf in one ear! And Fred Feast, who played the barman, and she did have a superiority complex, Doris, very much so. She did think that she was better than the others! But in a scene she’d go – and her nose would go up in the air – and she’d talk to Fred, the barman, and he’d have to come round the other side so that she could hear what he was saying! If he was on the wrong ear…he’d say, “I need to be on the other side”. And then, well, to finish with Pat. Actress through and through. Absolute through and through. Genuine.

This is Pat Pheonix?

Yeah. Sorry.

Who played Elsie Tanner.

Genuine, showbiz star from arriving in a taxi to arriving at night. A star and we all made her that way, I think, but there is one story I can tell you with Pat. I’d photographed her wedding to Alan Browning, this is. Forgot what year that was. She was doing a play and she was going to wear the wedding dress as part of one of the scenes and the Daily Star had just – it had not been going long – and they wanted an exclusive and they’d heard about Pat and the wedding dress and what-have-you and we’d arranged the photo call and of course the obvious is the Rovers Bar with a drink in a long, you know. Well, she arrived in a taxi at Make-up. Went down and she’s in tears. “What’s up?” “Me taxi was late, I’m not in the mood, I don’t want to do this picture, Stew! I don’t want to do it!” I said, “Calm down, I’ll get you a cup of coffee”. This was again the three-card trick really, if you see what I mean. So I’d got her a coffee and said, “Calm down, just have a rest and take your time and I’ll come back and see you in 10 minutes.” So I did and she’s finished in Make-up and I took her to her dressing room and I said, “We’ll go on the Street lot and we’ll do, you know.” “OK.” So I said, “I’ll be down in 10 minutes”, went down and she’s got this dress on and she did look nice and I went, “Oh, Pat, you’re absolutely stunning! You look absolutely marvellous! Are you OK? Come on” and I linked her and I took her to the Rovers Bar!!! Well, I did the pictures with a drink in the Rovers but she didn’t want to know. So I was kind of crafty in a way but you had to do that otherwise you’d lose out. You’d never get a picture in your life, you know! But that’s the one thing I missed when I left is the cast from the Street, I would say. And the crew, you know, really which was fantastic.

But to move on to other programmes. It went through the years and we eventually found that we’d got Sir Laurence on board via, of course, his brother-in-law David Plowright. I think that was about ’68 [1968] but I might be wrong on that but he did Olivier plays and my God, did we get the stars! There’s nobody else. It was, without doubt, the finest TV Company in the world at that stage ’cause we had Mobil Oil backing us all the way on all these fantastic shows. I don’t think anybody else could have pulled Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner, Donald Pleasence, do you know what I mean? Just fantastic! Joanne Woodward. And it was fantastic to work on. It was hard work and there was no messing about, you had to be on the ball. There was no, “Oh I’m sorry, I didn’t get that, can I have another go?” And in those days of course there was no motor drives, single frame. I used to shoot black and white, single frame and I’d shoot in colour in ’69 [1969]. That was transparency. Now transparencies you write, you’d ruin half the stock.

These were the small slides? Transparencies.


Yeah. Were they produced as slides?

Slides. The colour transparencies, yeah, slides. So TV Times would use the colour, you know, papers that used colour would use, but otherwise you got one go basically. And, touch wood, it sort of worked out. But there is so many like that, the Olivier plays, that I loved it! Absolutely! You know, almost weekends got in the way sometimes! You know, really, and I have a fantastic wife and 3 daughters but I just loved it! And I was on call, no two ways about it, 24 hours a day. I used to go to work in the morning, shirt and tie, suit, smart because often the phone would go at five to six – David Plowright – “Stew, got some visiting the Penthouse, can you whip up and do a quick pic?” “Absolutely.” And produce them before they went. You know what I mean? So I loved being on call. I was a Granada man 150%! Absolutely!

But then I was also fortunate. I got not all round the world but I went to India, for Staying On which was Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. I have a feeling that could have been their first get-together since the famous film, Gone with the Wind? Was it Gone with the Wind? Not Gone with the Wind, what was the famous…?

Brief Encounter.

Brief Encounter. That was a funny story because I went for about 10 days and that was brand new to Granada, of course, and we were staying in a place called Shimla, which is in the Himalayas, about 10,000 feet up and I don’t think they’d been checked over much! They were trying to feed us raw chicken and the guys were asking for egg and chips and stuff! But I’d gone for about 10 days and Celia Johnson had slipped in the bathroom and got a black eye and I’m there to photograph them with the view of the Himalayas and, well there were pictures in the exhibition. And I thought, ‘Oh my God, what do I do here?!’ And Leslie Diamond came out for a few days. You remember Leslie, of course? Anyway, I kept checking, “How’s your eye?” “Oh, I can see it!” In the end I think I had 2 days before I’m going back and ‘I’ve just gotta do something!’ and I actually turned her away from camera so her black eye was on the wrong side of me and the pictures were lovely, you know, pulled in the Himalayas and they had a dog there and fantastic. And funny story, when we got back Leslie Diamond, who was at the side of me while I was lining these pictures up, doing pictures, when I got back he said, “I don’t understand this! I was at the side of you with the same camera, yours are 30 x 40 on the wall and I can’t get mine to 10 x 8!” And I said, “That’s why I’m the photographer and you are the General Manager!” you see what I mean! But that was, again, fantastic! I mean I’d played snooker with Trevor Howard in, because we were staying, there wasn’t room at the hotel and we stayed at a Prince’s Holiday Home. Funnily enough, a couple, Mrs Hall, she was called, from Crosby. She’d actually stayed on after the Raj. Oh when I think back! What a name to be friendly with, you know, fantastic! There was a little story there.

Like you do, you take your litre of Scotch in and I’d suspected it was being stolen while I was out on location so I started taping it up and putting a mark on the bottle, on the tape! And one night I thought, ‘I’m sure it is going down!’ and I mentioned it to a couple of the guys, “No, she wouldn’t do that!” Anyway, it was Bells that I’d got. One night there was a meeting, a conference in the house and whatever I heard was, you know, between the 4 walls. And eventually somebody said, “Have you got any whisky?” and I said, “Well, I’ve got some, I’ll bring it down.” In the meantime Mrs Hall said, “I’ve got some” and it came down and it was Bells! There’s no two ways about it, it was Bells Whisky! She’d been sieving it off, I think, really! But, yeah, funny story!

When you went out taking photographs would you take a couple of cameras with you?

I carried three because I shot black and white, which was the main in those days, and so I had different lenses on although I did used to swap lenses – quickly. So I might have a telephoto on and a wide. For colour I might have a standard because you might only get one go or it might be bang, bang, black and white, and one in colour, OK, I’ve got time, I’ll swap a lens.

What cameras did you use?

Nikons generally. But later on I got Hasselblads because I did a lot of front covers for mags and they wanted that extra quality of, you know, of the mags. But they were wonderful days when I think back. I say it was always my intention to get on with everybody. We did a thing in the Lake District called, Ken Russell directed.

Is this the, Delius, no?

About the poets.

Oh, the Wordsworth. Coleridge Taylor.

What was it called?

It was the one about Samuel Coleridge Taylor.

This is Wordsworth?


Clouds of Glory. And David Warner and Felicity Kendal. And Ken Russell he used to be a stills-man in these early days and so he knew…he introduced himself to all of us, at least Les Davies did. He used to be a stills-man and he said “Anything you’re not getting, tell me.” Oh, this is fantastic! And he did a couple of times say, “Have you got that?” I said, “I could just do with that little…” “Right, OK, stills!” Which was fantastic! But one day I arrive and there’s David Hemmings in the middle of a river, fishing. This is the scene. So as a Pro-photographer, soundwise I wouldn’t always bother the camera man, I’d see the sound guy – “If I’m over there you’re going to hear me?” “No, that’s fine, Stew.” Or we’ll do a test. “Can you hear me? No, that’s great. OK.” Or I’ll wait till they swap camera positions, which they did, and I shouted, “David, Stewart Darby. I’m the stills photographer.” “Hello, Stewart, I’ll see you in the minute.” And then he gave me a bollocking! Well, not really. “Don’t speak to my artists while I’m working with them” and he wasn’t working with them. They were swapping positions. Anyway. Long story, it was nothing. Came out, talked, we became great friends. He was a talented magician, David Hemmings, and my Dad was so we swapped tricks and one thing and another. Conjuring tricks. And we finished up playing pool together in an evening so we’d be on location and he’d be in all his gear, his wigs and everything and we found the pub had opened early, within 5 minutes of the location. I’ve forgotten what it was called. So he’d say, “Stew, get the engine going!” So he’d say, “OK, that’s it wrapped! See you at half eight in the morning!” And he’d be running to my car with all his gear and Make-up and Wardrobe were saying, “We need your gear! We need your wig!” “Ohh, it’ll be alright, I’ll look after it!” And we’d get in the car and we’d go to the pub and we’d have 30 games of pool at £1 a corner, you know, and we’d have a few pints, you know but we were even matched so nobody lost an awful lot of money! But again that was, again, getting on with people. Friendship. Knowing that I had to photograph David Hemmings the next day and if he liked me and I got on with him I’m doing twice as well here, aren’t I? And I did that with many artists, many people. Not conned them, just used me love because the times it could have backfired on me. Just by being bolshie, the wrong attitude. Pat, I think, once had ago. Apart from that she was supposed to be leaving the Street to go and live in America. TV Times wanted a picture of her packing her suitcase, asked me to do it for a cover, explained it to her. “I’m not doing it!” she said. “I am not doing it!” I said, “OK, I understand, Pat.” You know, it was just a suitcase, just putting a few clothes in. “If Petula Clark was asked to do this she’d want paying!” kind of thing. So I said, “Don’t worry, I’ll just have to phone up and say you wouldn’t do it.” “Well, will it take long?!” “Honestly, I’ve got it all sorted.” Clothes in the suitcase! So, the times I think if I’d said, “Oh stuff it, I don’t want to do this!” I’d have lost many pictures really, you know. (Right, where are we up to?)

Well, how many of you worked in the darkroom?

How many worked in the darkroom?

Well, in that little office that you had which was…

On the second floor?

On the second floor by Graphics, wasn’t it?

Right. In the very beginning, the guy that opened it, Frank Hardy, then Vic, then me. I went out and then in the end we had 7 Printers and 2 Photographers because I got an Assistant in the end, David Burrows, who unfortunately died at a young age, and then Neil Marland who when I left, well he was my Number Two for about 5 years I would say. So at its busiest you had 7 Printers churning out runs of 50, runs of black and whites and transparencies and 2 Photographers. Because then of course we started to get even busier with Brideshead and Jewel in the Crown. Again, completely fantastic programmes with names and I mean will you ever get another Brideshead or Jewel in the Crown?! You never will! Ever! And these were with talented people. God! I can remember now very early days with 2 trainee-directors – Mike Apted, Mike Yule – trainees in the canteen, you know, early days, and those were the days when Sidney would come in (shirt sleeves), Denis Forman, sit with anybody for their lunch. Fantastic!

Let me give you, while it’s on my mind, a few Sidney stories, can I? This is fairly early days and Jack Smith (do you remember Jack Smith?) had come across a very rare stamp and I was going to photograph him with this stamp with a glass, you know the sort of thing. The stamp die would be bigger than the stamp sort of thing. So I get in the lift, it must have been at the second floor because I used to have my bag in there and stuff, with, in those days, a Mamiya camera which was a twin lens. So it had a twin lens, one was for viewing, the other was for taking, with a flash on. And the door opens, the lift door, and I get in and there’s Sidney, Cecil, Alex, down to Denis, Julian Amyes – the top six. Joyce Wooller also. Sidney said to me, “Who are you going to photograph?” I said, “I’m going to photograph Jack Smith, Sir, with a rare stamp.” “Oh, and what’s that camera for?” And I explained that this is for viewing, that’s for taking. “And what do you need the flash for?” And he’s having, you know, a little nibble! I got out the fifth floor, it seemed like forever, and he’s challenging me. Anyway, I think I’ve answered everything and as I get out Norman gets in, Norman Frisby, my boss and I saw Norman later and I said, “What was that all about?! Sidney was asking me about the camera, what I was doing, what was that for, what was that for?” He said, “Well, he looked at me and winked! He said, ‘I’ve just been taking a bit out of your man!'”

The other lovely story with Sidney, with Sir. I’d got a phone call from Norman Frisby. “Sidney wants to see you in London tomorrow in Golden Square. “What’s that about?” “No idea.” So I go to Golden Square and I go in and see Miss Hazelwood, Sidney’s secretary, sit in the reception and eventually I get shown into his office, leather chairs, and sit there and there’s another couple of guys and he said, “Thank you, gentlemen, for coming.” He said, “Stewart, I want you to know you’ve volunteered to do my daughter’s wedding!” What! Jane, she was called. I had met her. I said, “Oh, OK Sir.” And the other guy was, I think, sound and lighting. Gave me a date. Jesus. This is a hide into nothing, this! Long story short, the day comes along. Nick Plowright’s going to film it. It’s outside of Brighton somewhere he lived so I’d gone to the house, I’d made contact and it was gonna be horse and cart to the Registrars and then back to a marquee in the grounds. Well, I’m there early doors like you do and it’s the one day I didn’t eat me breakfast. I had 2 or 3 cups of coffee! Not that I ever show nerves. I’d never shown I could ever do anything, no, no. It might be in there but I’ve always been a confident person. So, OK I do the pictures outside, the horse and cart and the carriage and I’ve now got to beat the carriage to the Registrars, which I did, and there they arrive, bang, bang, bang, do the wedding and I’ve now got to beat them back, which I did, we go in the gardens – fortunately a nice day – and one word was said to me, “Everything that moves, photograph it!” Really. I went around doing groups and then Sidney saying, “You’ve got enough of me now” and I thought, ‘God, I just need more of him’ but you wouldn’t go and say, “I really do need you here, please, Sir” so I went through his daughter, saying, “I need your Dad on this picture” so everything went smooth and I shot a dozen rolls of film I think and, as I say, everything went extremely smooth and well. I drove back that night, drove to the labs the next morning and said, “Whatever you do, make sure the dev’s fresh! Everything! Because if these go up the wall you won’t get the blame, it will be, ‘Did you hear Stew Darby made a mess of Sidney’s daughter’s wedding?!'” 25 years up the swanny, if you see what I mean! Anyway, everything was perfect which produced a dozen albums and I got a lovely letter from Sidney saying, ‘You made the day in the Bernstein’s family’ etc etc so you couldn’t ask for more than that really.

And the other nice story with Sidney. Graeme Kay and I went to London. Sidney had been honoured with an Oscar, a plaque, whatever it was, it was a face I think, for services to Television if I’m not mistaken. That would have been in the eighties I would say. Richard Attenborough presented him with this on stage and he came off stage and he gave it to me and he said, “Look after that for me.”!! I slept with it under me pillow I think!! You know, just ohh! I mean that was being trustworthy I think. I got on extremely well with David Plowright and Sir Denis Forman who, I think, in general thought quite a bit about me though that sounds boastful. I used to get Denis’ pictures done for him. He would involve me somehow. I’ll try and find that letter if you want to read it in a bit. Great times!

I started to get a bit…what’s the word?


Disillusioned, in the late eighties I would say, knowing that I’d really had the best out of this, really. But without going too much into detail I’d got a new boss who, to me was inexperienced and yeah, I wasn’t that keen on to be honest. But funnily enough I went to cover Sir Laurence’s funeral and we flew down there. I was put in charge of the Photographers and Film Crews to make sure they worked and what-have-you and there were just loads of photographers and crew and I went round just saying, “Guys, I’d normally be with you here, I’ll make sure you get everything.” And as all the guests arrived I said, “Please, don’t be going up to the cars with a 20mm, 28mm, it’s…please, I’ll make…”, you know. Anyway, the guests arrived. John Mills and the Plowrights and what-have-you and I made sure everybody worked. In fact the Chief Inspector thanked me for, you know, organising my sort of little part, you know. And then we went back to the house and David said, “Have you got a camera?” I said, “I’ve got one.” “Lady Plowright would like some doing”, you know, kind of thing. Lady, yeah, in other words Sir Laurence’s…

Lady Olivier.

Lady Olivier, I should have said. But, (let me think, where are we up to? How are we doing?)

I think we’ve covered most of it to be honest.

Truthfully I don’t think I ever had a failure. That sounds very boastful. I’ve never ever come back without anything and I would never have left a location if I didn’t think I’d got it in the can, within reason. Successes? Well, compliments. Successes? You know, it’s only when you look back over that period of time do I know how lucky I was to have gone through that period of great names. I mean, you know it sounds very, I helped Julie Goodyear become a star ’cause I photographed her from being an Extra and she’d say, “Stew, I’ve got a new pair of hotpants!” and I used to photograph her, get her out to the Press. Like Liz Dawn was an Extra. And I feel, you know, I was sort of part of that. I helped with what-have-you but the artists, the up-and-coming, Charlie Dance from Jewel. I used to go in the morning on location and I taught Charlie Dance and Tim Piggott-Smith barbershop harmony so we’re singing, [singing]“The old songs, the old songs…”, you know, in barbershop and that started because I was a great pal of Roy Jackson. Do you remember Roy?

I do.

Alan Claydon, Production Manager. Howard Arundel who was a Prompter. Anyway, we all used to sing. In fact, I got Jeremy Brett involved a few times. On Baker Street once, I used to always go up and go, [singing]“Hello! Hello! Hello! Hello!”, you know what I mean, with the guys. And we got Jeremy involved, we stopped the show once! Me, Roy and Jeremy Brett singing, [singing]“You’ll never know how much I love you”, you know, dah dee dah dah, anyway…or was it that or was it…oh no, [singing]“I love you as I’ve never loved before…”, in harmonies. Oh!! And everybody’s clapping, the film crew’s stopped and were clapping and singing and, so anyway, as I say, Roy and Alan, we got together and we discovered that we could sing some barbershop and in those days the Stables Theatre Club used to have a residence cast of Maureen Lipmann and others, One Foot in the Grave guy, John Finch and the crew used to put shows on at the Stables and you know, artists, Pete Morran would be doing magic and we sang barbershop and all the Coronation Street people used to come and watch us! We’d put it on about 3 nights so, you know, so I started singing with that. In fact we entered the British Barbershop Competition on radio which Charlie Chester used to do and we came 11th in the country out of 12, you know! Yeah, that was fantastic!

So, oh I was telling you about coming back on the plane after Lord Olivier’s funeral and I’m on the plane coming back with David Highet who became my big boss. Nice man, David. And he said to me, “Have you ever thought about leaving? You know, becoming redundant. Taking the deal?” And I said, “Well, I haven’t really.” and he put ideas in me mind and I just wondered at the time – this is well before I left – I just wondered at the time if he was trying to tip me off that things were gradually going to change, going downhill etc. In the end I decided to take the shilling. As I say, it had changed. This is October ’91 [1991] when I left and I’d been on holiday in the August so I came back, went to do a show called El Cid in Spain, came back and made me mind up. As you can imagine, over the years I’d made a lot of contact with colleagues, with TV Times, with magazines, with all of them and I put a feeler out saying, “What do you think?” and they all said, “Oh, if you go for an interview we’ll give you work”. So I left on the Friday, I think, had me first job on the Monday and I had 14 very good years as a freelance. I mean I’d done my stints at 8 hours or more, up mountains in pouring rain and although I did do some telly, it’s true, I got involved more with the magazines so I was working for the Sunday mag, the News of the World, the TV mags, the women’s mages – Take a Break, Bella, Chat, Women’s Own – and they pay very good money, you know. So, as I say, I had 14 years of that roughly which was excellent. Can’t complain at all. Obviously you wind down. They, picturing it as retire, picture it as change, they bring their own people in. You know the story, don’t you?


But I can’t complain and I’m still in contact with quite a few of them. They’re retired now, of course, but I can only thank them for the work over the years, you know, really. (Just let me have a peep here.)

I think you’ve covered most areas, you know.

I’ll tell you what I never found. I never found or heard of any bullying. I never heard that one at all. Never. It could well have happened but…Granada as a Company – I’ve said that, it was fantastic. I loved Granada. Benefits – Yes, I earned a reasonable wage I would say. That was compared with newspaper photographers. Expenses were good. You know, I used to entertain artists, you know, buy them a sandwich, a pint in the old school, wherever I was, knowing damn well that…you know I’d be with Johnnie Finch, say, “need some pics this afternoon, John”. “What are you having?” “I’ll have a large…”, you know, that sort of thing. You got that. And it was good. Ex’s really in those days, I would say. Shares – We got for nothing, didn’t we? Company – I thought was fantastic. I really did. Going back there, you mention Mike Scott. I mean Mike Scott and the rest of them I photographed at Scene at 6:30, on the News, you know in those days Brian Armstrong, Scotty, Gay Byrne.

Bill Grundy?

Bill Grundy, who of course did What the Papers Say and the rest of it, you know, and Peter Wheeler, Peter Eckersley. Are these ringing bells?

They are indeed! I think you did a very nice photograph of Anna Ford?

Anna Ford, yeah! With Bob Greaves, she worked with.

And Tony Wilson?

Tony! Many, many times! Photographed Tony with interviewing Lauren (Sophia) !

Ah, that’s a wonderful photograph!

Well you’ll notice, when you see it again, she’s got a ladder in her stocking one side and I asked her to swap legs so that, you know, you won’t see it! Oh, God, that was a…

How did she respond to that?!


Did she swap legs?

Yes, she changed, well, ladder was showing in her, I don’t know if I’ve got it here.

Don’t worry. I remember the photograph vividly!

You remember it, yeah?

Because she’s looking well away! She’s not in the least bit interested!

I know! Yeah. But I only, you know, that was shot very quickly. There was no real time to line anything up. That’s why I say you generally had to be on the boil because if you missed it, you didn’t get another go so often. Really. Canteen – Brilliant in the old days, wasn’t it, really. The old school, The Stables – Fantastic. Used to go in, finish work and have a pint or two with friends. I thought it was very important it was in Manchester as the base. You must know the story about how they got there. Trade Unions – They were very good in the early days, my Godfather’s! I remember going on strike! Were you there, then? ’79 [1979].

’79. Yeah, because they locked me up.

And we went back for about 39%, didn’t we?!

Yes. Huge increase!!

Can you believe that’s possible?! Gees! The legacy of the Company – Fantastic. What you guys are doing now is brilliant because it’s going to be there, isn’t it, for the future. I mean I often see on here people saying, “God, that’s me Dad!” Because the daughter works there or the son. I really cannot think of anybody, not many, that would really have any squabbles with Granada and I worked, as I said, across the board. I loved Leslie Woodhead’s shows. Ohh! You could get your teeth into them! Red Guard, I can see the picture now! Just brilliant! Do you know what I mean? Because Leslie, what talent was Leslie, my God! But I must have done almost all his shows within reason and I never ever went to any that I couldn’t get something out of, you know, a good picture. A nice picture! No, I loved them.

That’s great!

I did!

Yeah, there could well be other odds and sods.

Kenneth Haigh, a well-known actor really, in the earlier days. A bit up himself, a bit kind of living it too much but we did a thing called The Prussian Officer and I had to do a picture for TV Times with his bat man, Warren Clarke, dusting him off and he gave me 2 minutes and walked off. And he had Make-up in tears, Wardrobe throwing chairs up the set and in the end he said I was catching his eye-line with me camera. What photographers never do is catch an actor’s eye-line. They stand off camera. They don’t, do you know what I mean?

I know what you’re saying.

Some distance away so you don’t, but he complained about the noise of the camera going off, had me thrown out of the studio. Not thrown, asked to leave. So I got very little. In the end he didn’t work for Granada for years. Many many years later we were filming in Llandudno, the end of the pier is the Grand Hotel, a play called, about a murder on the golf course. It’s not a bad story so don’t knock it. Again, Warren Clarke, again Kenneth Haigh etc. And I’m there, Gordon Fleming’s directing and I walked in, got me cameras and Phil Smith is sound, Harry Brooks on the boon and I do one frame and Harry says, “Oh, sorry, Stew!” And Gordon says, “Eh, you don’t have room for him and he’s got nothing to do with this show!”, you know, that sort of thing. Anyway, Roy Jackson said, “Come on, Gordon, he’s got a job to do!” That night we were in the Imperial where we stayed, Gordon’s come in the bar as I’m there, “Hey, Stew, got plenty of stuff today, lad? Two large scotch’s, please.” So he was just a bugger but we finish up in The King’s Head, which is on the tram station in Llandudno, you know that?

Yeah, yeah.

We are all in there, have a few beers and I decide to tell Kenneth Haigh what he’d done 10 years later. Really. I said (I don’t know where I got the courage from) “Can I tell you this story?” And I told him what a swine and he couldn’t apologise enough! That he’d got himself uptight in those days, you know. I think that is one of the very few times when I really, I didn’t have a big…I just said, “You were a bugger, mate, I’m telling you!” So there’s another!

Steve Morrison

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 19 January 2015.

How did you come to join Granada?

Well, this is actually a very funny story.

Everybody says that!

Well, maybe it’s true of Granada! I was a student at the National Film School, which is now the national film and television school, and I was in its first ever year when it opened. And I had started making an observational film about my local Labour Party, which was the Norwood Labour Party; it was largely about their social interaction. And during the time I was making this film, a postman who was a member of the party very kindly came up to me and told me that Shelter were secretly planning to symbolically occupy Centre Point, the tallest unoccupied building in the centre of London, very famous symbolic building, and that this would be non-violent, they would go in on a Friday afternoon, come out on a Sunday evening, basically to make the point that, whilst many people were homeless, this huge building shouldn’t be left empty. So I said, “Oh, that’s very interesting,” and I went back to the film school, got a couple of friends to do camera and sound – I think in those days we used quarter-inch Acai video tape, which is totally unreliable – and we joined this group in some under the arches warehouse in Waterloo. We were given our instructions, and different groups appeared at different entrances and exits to tube stations, waiting for a signal to run across the quadrangle and the patio into Centre Point, and right at the last minute the guy in charge of this called it off and got everybody back to the meeting place and said there were three guests, very sort of sober business people walking across to enter the building and we couldn’t risk doing any harm, so we are going to call it off tonight, we would like everyone to remuster next Friday at the same time and the same places that they wee all designated to be, which turned out to be a very good thing, because I thought to myself, “Why am I making this on quarter-inch video tape? It could be very interesting,” and I raised my standards and got a big film camera and 16mm film and got myself prepared with my little crew better than I had done the week before. Anyway, the next Friday it went absolutely smoothly, we got into Centre Point at about 5pm, the janitor was on the door in reception, the glass doors were barricaded with huge beams in a kind of cross, and I said to the janitor, “Would you mind if I used your phone?” There were no mobile phones in those days, this was 1974 I think it was, and he said, “No – carryon.” So I picked up the phone and I happened to know, from being a student, Gus McDonald, who was the then editor of World in Action, or he might have been the executive producer, I’m not sure. And I rang up Gus and I said, “Gus, we’re in Centre Point, it’s barricaded, nobody can get in, nobody can get out, it’s a symbolic occupation, we’ll be here to Sunday night, I thought you might be interested in this for World in Action.” He said, “No, no – we’re making a programme about oil, we’ve interviewed Lord So-and-so, who is the secretary of state, we’ve spent £750…” – which in Granada means you have to continue and complete the programme – “Why don’t you offer this to This Week in Thames?” I said, “No, it’s either a World in Action or a student film, and if you don’t want it we’ll make it as a student film. Here’s my number, but it’s not my number, it’s the number on reception, if you change your mind let me know,” and I put the phone down. And it was one of those absolutely classic American silent comedies where the phone literally jumped back out of the hook and began ringing, out of the cradle, and began ringing, and I said, “Hello?” and he said, “STEVE! You’re barricaded in, and everybody else outside is barricaded out? This is a scoop, man!” I said, “I’ve just explained that to you, Gus, but you don’t want it.” “No, no, no – we’re sending a man down, he’ll somehow smuggle more film and more cans through the windows. Keep going, and on Sunday night when you come out there will be people there to meet you.” So we were now making this film supposedly for World in Action, although I suppose in our minds we still thought we were making our National Film School film. And I got the organisers up onto the roof, and a big map of London, and they recreated how they planned this, and which groups they had approached and how they did it, and where they arrived, it was a bit like a military operation, which groups arrived from which directions, obviously what their goals were, how they intended it to be entirely peaceful and were coming out on Sunday night, and obviously I spoke to a lot of people who were part of the occupation to find out why they were doing it. Sunday night, it’s dark, the place is surrounded in spotlights from various crews, and there’s about a few thousand people outside the building, and we all pour out and I’m filming away, and I feel this hand on my shoulder, and a guy whispers to me, “Are you Steve Morrison?” and I said, “Yes,” and he said, “I’m Mike Beckham from World in Action, we need you to stay awake all night tonight because this is going out tomorrow night, and there will be two cutting rooms and you’re the only person who knows anything about what’s in this film, so we’re going to have to keep you awake with coffee and keep two cutting rooms going, and we’ll piece this together for tomorrow and we’ll transmit it from ITN in London.” So it went out the next night, I think slightly out of synch, but everybody was in a hurry and it was obviously very immediate. Mike did a terrific job filming outside, so he cut all the stuff I’d done with what he’d done, and I then, having been up for three nights and three days, went home, and the next day I was literally in my pyjamas and dressing gown and a guy knocked on the door of my house, and he said… his name was (John Sheardley? 8:03) and he said, “Are you Steve Morrison?” I said, “Yes,” and he said, “I have a message from Gus McDonald.” I said, “Oh, what is it?” And he said, “Gus said, if you can hustle your way into Centre Point, you can hustle your way into Granada. Would you like a job?” So I said to John, “I really don’t know, I’m a student, and I haven’t finished my course.” And he said, “Well, don’t waste your breath engaging with me, I’m only here to deliver the message.” So I then went back to the director of the film school, who was… he is – he’s still alive, thank goodness – a terrific Scot called Colin Young, who had started the film school, now the National Film and Television School, and was the original director. I said, “Colin, I’ve just been rung up by, or been told, or invited, by Granada to go there, but you know, I’m in my final year, I haven’t finished my course, I haven’t graduated,” and Colin said, “You have now – take the job, man!” So on May 1, 1974, I turned up at Granada and somehow made my graduation film at the same time.

Did they put you through any interviewing process at all?

No, none at all. Basically, Gus invented a new role, or a new unit, called the Northern Documentary Unit, and he said, “You’ll be running the Northern Documentary Unit, you make little films just for the region, and you find stories and you find directors, and I’ll give you a couple of researchers,” one of whom was Anna Ford, “just get on with it.” So one day, a Granada director, a bit bolshie, came into the office, and he stood at the jamb of the door and he said, “I don’t know who you are, but this unit’s never going to work. There’s often been attempts to make little films as well as do Granada Reports but they never come to anything – and neither will yours.” I said, “Why do you say that?” and he said, “Well, you have no authority, you’re a director and directors have no authority in Granada, you have to be a producer to get anything done, and you’re not a producer, so that’s it,” and he walked off. So I walked down the corridor into Gus’s office, and I said, “Gus, I’ve just had this mad conversation with a director who says this is never going to happen because I’m not a producer,” and Gus said, “Okay, you’re a producer.” So in that moment, I went from being a director to the producer-director, and basically the head of the so-called Northern Documentary Unit, which nobody understood, but we started making films. And actually, I still remember some of those films. We discovered – I don’t know how we discovered this, probably down to a very good researcher – that in the car park of Sefton Hospital in Liverpool, I think that’s what it was called, there was a caravan, and in that caravan, on the National Health, a very beautiful blonde woman electrocuted homosexuals – it was called ‘aversion therapy’, and homosexual men would come in, they would be shown pictures of other men in, you know, more or less naked positions, and very glamorous, and when they saw them they would be given, not a huge, but a persistent electric shock on their leg, then they would be shown pictures of naked women, or semi-naked women, and they weren’t given the shock, and at the end of this, which went on for about 10-15 minutes, they would be given a talk, or a conversation, with the lady therapist, and in fact, the lady therapist was so beautiful, and so genuinely interested, that homosexual men who had never been fondly regarded by a woman would be very interested in her, and talking to her, but of course the electric shocks had no effect, and I thought this was a great little film, totally self-contained in a caravan, if the subjects will agree to be filmed, and if the lady will agree to be interviewed, that’s our first film. And in those days, you will recall that very cheap films were made on something called Stripe, magnetic stripe, not normal film, which meant that you didn’t get a print of it – the actual thing, the piece of material was the only piece of material that the picture was on, as opposed to other kinds of film where the negative can produce different prints. So I was back in the cutting room, having done a 20-minute interview with this lady, and interviewed the subjects, and Gus Macdonald dropped into the cutting room, where the editor was a very famous World in Action editor that I had somehow got hold of for a couple of days called Kelvin Hendrie (corr). And Gus looked at this interview with the woman when I was asking her why she was doing this therapy, and did she realise that these men had an affection and a relationship with her, even though they were homosexual, and Gus looked at it and said, “Yes! That’s a good interview, that’ll make two minutes.” And I said, as he went out, “Gus, every single frame of this interview is going in this film – this is not a news programme, this is a film.” And he went, “Ha!” and he walked out. Meanwhile, we had what’s called a ‘trim bin’ with a lot of old bits, ends of stock that we weren’t going to use, and occasionally Kelvin, bless him, would throw the dregs of his coffee cup into the trim bin, and we get another interruption, which is a phone call from David Plowright, who is literally down in the controllers group in London with all the bosses with all of the ITV companies in the fortnightly session when they tortured each other, selling each other programmes, and I don’t know who was listening, but he said, “Steve – an election’s just been called, and Lord King,” – I can’t remember what his name was, the guy who owned the Daily Mirror (Cecil King?) – “but he was doing a film with us around Britain about what he thinks of Britain, and now the election’s been called, we can’t use it, it’s partial, and it’s not suitably balanced under the Representation of the People Act (1918), but Gus tells me you’ve got a very interesting film for regional programmes.” I said, “Yes, we’re cutting it at the moment.” He said, “Well, that’ll be fine, you’re on the network next Tuesday night.” And I said, “How long is this slot, Mr Plowright?” or David, I think I called him. And he said, “Oh, the usual thing – 52 minutes. I’m sure it will be fine,” and put the phone down. And I said to Kelvin, “We are making a 26-minute film, aren’t we?” and Kelvin said, “Yes,” and it is on Stripe, so there’s no extra footage than what we’ve actually got?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “How many pieces of trims in that bin have you got that aren’t covered in coffee? Can you make this film last 52 minutes?” And this film, called Joe, went out on something called First Tuesday, the next Tuesday night. That as my first experience of Granada, and the culture of Granada, which basically was, if you’re determined you can do anything, and you should be as bold as possible in your creative vision and your determination, but as conservative as possible in your estimate of the actual value that the rest of the world will put on it, so that you make it with a sense of creative boldness, but commercial prudence, and don’t overspend. So here I was with a 26-minute magnetic Stripe regional programme, no problem as far as Granada is concerned, just stretch it and put it on the network! So that was my introduction to Granada. Anyway, this went on for a while, and my to-be wife, Gail, who was working in the newsroom, came up with an incredible story in Manchester, which was of a suburban house where a group of very young social workers in their 20s were living with a group of very disturbed teenagers who were so disturbed that they had been bounced out of school, bounced out of special school, bounced out of any remedial place they could be held, and the only people that could actually handle them was this group of I suppose what you might call rather trendy social workers, but very good people, and Gail had come back to the news desk and said this is a terrific film, although she didn’t come from anything to do with media, she came from travel, and they said, “No, we only do two-minute items on the news – if you want this to be a longer film you’ve got to talk to Steve Morrison at the documentary unit.” So I got a message to call her and she took me to see this house and we all went out to play snooker, and it was obviously a fantastic set-up, so that became our next film, and it was so controversial that Granada – again, very boldly – agreed that I could do a live outside broadcast immediately after the film, which in those days was quite common, where the participants and the authorities would debate what was happening in the film, and again, the mayor or the leader of the council who was responsible for these children stood up to make a speech during this live outside broadcast, and as he did so, his trousers fell down, and he was very embarrassed, and he said, “Excuse me,” and he belted his trousers up again, and Gus Macdonald leaned forward and whispered to me, “Steve, is this programme going to finish in good order, or is it going to be a complete shambles?” and I said, “Don’t worry, Gus – it’ll all be fine.” So I had a very colourful entry into Granada. In fact, on my first day, they didn’t have an office for me because this documentary unit was a gleam in Gus’s eye, but nobody knew about it. So what the hell are we going to do with this guy who has turned up, and they said, “Look, why don’t you go into the studio and observe Crown Court?” which was a daily drama, each episode lasts three days and at the end of each episode the jury are taken off to a committee room, given loads of orange juice, and at the end of 20 minutes – they’re only allowed 20 minutes – they come back with a verdict. And the programme has got two verdicts scripted, and whichever one the jury comes up with, they do. “Why don’t you go and watch this? It might be interesting.” So I thought, “Amazing,” so I went into the committee room, I don’t think anybody in those days, in 1974, had actually made a film, a real documentary about a jury, and I was listening to the jury, and they all came into the room and said, “That guy’s obviously guilty, you can tell by the look of him, and there’s no point in us going on further, let’s just say guilty,” and then eventually, as in the famous film 12 Angry Men (1957), the Henry Fonda type says, “Hang on a minute, shouldn’t we check the actual facts?” So they discuss it for 20 minutes and then come up with a verdict. So I went back to Gus and said, “Gus, I’ve only been here two hours, but you’ve got the cheapest, most interesting documentary you can ever imagine – two rolls of film, 22 minutes, in this committee room, it’s a real jury deciding the verdict of Crown Court. That’s a documentary.” And he said, “That could be a problem.” And I said, “But that’s going to cost next to nothing.” He said, “I think you’d better go up to the sixth floor and see the head of human relations.” I said, “Really?” I was thinking, “What have I done? Am I out of here on my first day?” So I go up in the list to the sixth floor, you come out of the lift, the atmosphere is totally different – it’s completely quiet, thick piled carpet, doors shut in offices, no noise whatsoever, and I go down the corridor until I find the door that says Julian Amis, and Julian had been a drama director, and typical of Granada, he was now the head of human relations, and I knocked on the door. “Ah, Mr Morrison! Come in, take a seat. Cup of tea? Welcome to Granada, absolutely fabulous to have you here. I hear you’ve had the most wonderful ides for a documentary, Gus tells me, it sounds absolutely terrific. Of course, there’s just one problem.” I said, “What is it?” and he said, “Equity. We persuaded Equity that 11 out of the 12 members of the jury should be ordinary members of the public, and not members of Equity, because obviously that wouldn’t be representative, but the foreman who says guilty or not guilty has to be a member of Equity because he speaks – but the rest of the 11 could have been members of the extras and walk-on committee, but after a lot of negotiation, we have managed to persuade Equity that it should be genuine members of the public. You come along, you make your film, it’ll be absolutely fabulous, gets a lot of attention, wakes up Equity who says, “Who is this jury?” and they come back to us and say, “You can’t have members of the public, these are jobs for Equity members,” Bob’s your uncle, Crown Court goes down the pan.” So it would be a huge relief to us if a man of your ability came up with another documentary idea pretty quick.” But it was done in such a gentlemanly manner, that this introduction to Granada was… in a way, what with Centre Point and Crown Court, you just saw how unusual a company this actually was, and life went on more or less in that manner – as various opportunities came up, one just took them, and Granada usually backed them.

And that was also a good introduction to the world of television industrial relations.

Indeed. Indeed.

Take us on this continuing journey of your career.

Okay, so after a while, after I had ben running the documentary unit, Gail and I – who were not romantically connected, but did films together – were invited to join World in Action, which obviously was a very glamorous programme, and we soon discovered that we were the ‘quick turnaround’ team. So while all the more established members of World in Action would be doing very important investigations that took 3-6 months, they had to have some young people that actually got out some programmes in the meantime. So we were sent out on very fast turnaround to make very quick, cheap World in Actions to allow other people to do their very important investigations, and the first programme that Gail and I worked on was called The Blood and Guts Shift (corr), and again, it was in Liverpool in a hospital, overnight in the casualty ward, which actually you see an awful lot of now, but in those days was very close to the action and a little bit unusual, and Gail, who had been a senior staff nurse in casualty in Liverpool in a previous life, came up to me and she said, “The staff nurse, who is like a matron, does not rate or respect the doctor, who is a locum, and she has told him twice that if he doesn’t wear mask and gloves when stitching a patient, she’s going to kick him out of the ward, and this is going to be the third time, and it’s going to happen in five minutes.” And I said to Gail, “You know, it’s absolutely wonderful when a researcher tells a director that something is actually happening and to go over and film it, but to have a researcher tell you before it is going to happen is pure gold dust. We will get over there and prepare for this explosion.” And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. And at the very end, overnight, at the very end of the shift, which was about 6am, I said to the staff nurse, “How do you clock off?” And she said, “Well, I go to my locker room, I put on my coat and I come out.” And I said, “Well, do you take off anything? Do you change?” She said, “I don’t change out of my uniform, but I take off the cardboard thing off the top of my head, because I think that looks pretty stupid walking down the street.” And of course, in uniform she had the watch on her bosom, she had the very starched uniform, she had the little cardboard cut-out sitting on her head, she had her hair very neatly and primly tied up, which made her look an incredible authority figure. So I said to the camera person, who was a brilliant cameraman, “When this woman comes out of this locker room, she’s going to look totally different from how she’s done for the last 12 hours. We’re not going to say a word; I’d like you just to follow her out of the hospital and down the street for 30 seconds – this is going to be the shot which is the credits of the film.” He said, “Yes, that’s absolutely fine, it’s all hand-held, I won’t say a word, nobody will say anything, there’s going to be no ‘action’, no clapper board, we’re just going to follow her.” And into the locker room goes this severe authority figure, and out comes this woman in a black leather coat and blonde hair all the way down her back to her waist – totally different – having taken off her authority and become a beautiful young woman, and walked off to go to bed, and that was the end o the film. So Gail and I had a wonderful time for a couple of years making these sort of quick turnaround, short, sharp World in Actions, so we would be sent to Scotland to do Scottish devolution, and then told half way through that it was going to be two weeks of World in Action, because there was a gap, and we had to stay up there and vend another one – it was all very fast and furious. We actually filmed domestic disputes where husbands would be bashing up their wives, which was very controversial at the time, and I remember the head of the West Midlands Police, the chief constable, very, very nice guy, calling us in and saying how much he supported this film we were going to make, and how were we going to do it. I said, “Well, there’s a routine, we have a release form, and we film, and maybe after the filming we get people to sign a release form,” and he said, “I wouldn’t use release forms.” And we said, “Why not? We have to, it’s part of the rules of the IBA regulator.” And he said, “Working class people might sign them, but I can tell you that no middle class husband, having had too much to drink and possibly hit his wife, is going to sign a release form for any film, so I think you’re going to find this very difficult.” So this was the long arm of the law telling us how to be realistic while we had Chinese suppers on the bonnets of police panda cars, and the production manager of World in Action, who was a fearsome character, called us into his office and he said, “Look, I know you two are an item, and you don’t need to say you’re not, but there is absolutely no point in you two booking two hotels rooms. Is that clear?”

Is this Tom Gill?

Tom Gill! So it gradually became obvious to ourselves and to the rest of the team that Gail and I were going to be engaged on a level more than engaged to make a film, and ultimately we got married. So after this, I got another phone call from Gus, after a couple of years, who said, “I want you to be the editor of Granada Reports,” which was the nightly news programme. And of course I never worked in news, so there was a fearsome news editor with a beard, who was very tough, on the news desk, but I was the overall editor, and I used to practice something, in order to have any influence on this programme whatsoever, I used to practice something called ‘ed’s notes’. So I would come in, having watched the programme in my own office, and not in the newsroom, I would come in every night after the programme and we would all sit round in the newsroom, and just like a viewer, without knowing the insides and outsides of how the stories were made, and how difficult it was to make them, I basically gave my reaction, and they took this in the best spirit, although I’m sure they thought, “This guy’s from film school, what does he know about making news?” And there had been, when I first got to Granada, while I was still working out what the films would be for the Northern Documentary Unit, I was called up by the then news editor who said to me… in fact, he may have been the then editor of Granada Reports, John… his second name will come to me in a minute… and he rang me up and he said, “Look, Steve, I know you’re setting up your unit, but you’re free at the moment – would you mind taking a crew up to Barrow, we’d like you to do five 2-3 minute items, if you wouldn’t mind staying up there for a week?” And I said, “Sure, that’s no problem. I’d like to make one condition…” and he was a bit taken aback that a new boy was insisting on a condition, and he said, “Oh, what’s that?” and I said, “Well, I’d also like to string them together, these five stories, and end up with a half hour film abut Barrow. You can have your 2-3 minutes for the news programme, but I’m in a documentary unit, and I’d like to make this ultimately into a film.” And he said, “Yes, yes – you can do whatever you want, but I need these stories.” So we get up to Barrow with a very tough, very experienced cameraman, and his crew, and we get out of whatever vehicle we were in, on a rubbish tip packed with rubbish by the sea in a dock, and swirling around this rubbish tip were the most beautiful seagulls with long, yellow beaks. And as we got out of the car, two of these seagulls started to fight each other with their beaks, and I said, “Mike! Let’s get this! Let’s get this now.” He said, “Well, hang on a minute, Steve – I haven’t got the tripod and I haven’t got my so-and-so…” And I said, “Mike, forget the tripod, forget the measuring, forget the focus puller, forget everything – just shoot this.” And he said, “Well, how do I shoot it?” I said, “Just get down on your knee, man, and shoot what you can see.” Of course, I was about half this guy’s age, because I was a student graduate, a very recent graduate… and anyway, he got the thing, and he was very, very unhappy with this, and he was muttering to his crew. And then the next minute, I saw two gulls actually having sexual intercourse right in front of us, one perched on top of the other, and I said, “Mike! Mike, get this!” and he said, “Where’s the tripod?” I said, “Forget the tripod, we’ve got to film this, and we’ve got to film it now, because I understand it doesn’t take very long.” Anyway, grumbling, he took it. And during the week, I had lots of debates in the pub with the film crew about how the film school saw making films against how they made films, and news, and they were very disparaging of me being a little film student, so when I got back I started a weekly film club, so every week I would invite crews and others interested into the preview theatre and we would show a very famous documentary, probably American – because in those days there were some very, very famous American observational documentaries – and I said, “Look, we’ve all been out together, we’ve had rather different views on how to shoot things. I don’t want to argue with you because you all know what you’re doing, I just want you to watch these films, and see how these film-makers got things that we don’t normally see on television, and I have arranged for a number of them to be shown to us over the next three months – see what you think.” And after two or three of these screenings, one guy came up to me and said, “Now I know what you’re trying to do, and I appreciate it.” So that was like my initiation test, but that was very much right at the beginning. So I did a year, probably about a year, of editing Granada Reports.

What year would that be?

That would probably now be about 1976, because I came in in 1974, I did the documentary unit, then I did World in Action, then I came back to Granada Reports, it would be 1976-77. Then I was asked if I would run the whole of Granada’s regional programmes, which was a very, very interesting job, because you were like a TV station within a TV station, nobody higher up the building really cared, although obviously regional programmes are very important for the licence and the franchise, everybody else in the building was in the network department of entertainment or comedy or drama, and they just left you alone, basically, to do the regional programmes, which were all on the first floor, in the shoddiest offices, because we were the poorest relatives of the building. But what it did allow to happen was that every year I would do a budget and I would go and see the finance director of the whole of Granada, who was a wonderful guy, and I would say why I needed this and why I needed that, so I started to add programmes to Granada’s regional output within my budget, so invented a programme with a producer, called Reports Extra, which was like a half-hour current affairs every week on a Thursday night, and then we had a programme called What’s On, which was presented and more or les… not produced, but more or less enhanced, by Tony Wilson, and it was full of exciting things that were going on in the region. And then we invented a programme called Celebration, which was basically an arts programme about the best things that were going on. So the programmes began to increase within the budget that I’d managed to secure from the finance director, and then one Friday night, the team called me in to the larger area where they all worked, I think they were… by then I’d increased the department to 70 people, and they said, “Look, Steve – we’re absolutely exhausted. You keep adding programmes, and we’ve only got so many people, and we’re now making so many more hours than we used to. We just can’t make any more.” So this was like my first revolution in management, and I said, “Why don’t you all hang on here, and I’ll go and phone the chairman and see whether he would agree that we perhaps tempered our output.” And they said, “Oh, could you do that?” and I said, “Yes, I’ll just ring him up at home and see what he thinks.” So everyone stopped talking and I went off to my office and I phoned up Sir Denis Forman, who was then the chairman of Granada, Granada Television being part of the whole Granada group, and he lived at the weekend, although he came up to Manchester in the week, he lived at the weekend, I think, in Essex – very, very famous character, very patrician, but actually quite a liberal, and I rang him up and said, “Denis, it’s Steve Morrison here, I’m in the newsroom in Manchester, and there’s a bit of a revolution going on. We’re making so many programmes, people are falling down on the job, the unions don’t want to work overtime, it’s all very difficult, so I’m going to have to take some action which might temper what we’re actually doing, I just wanted to check it with you.” And he said, “Steve, we have absolute confidence in anything you want to do, just carry on exactly the way you wish and I will back it.” And that was another aspect of Granada. So anyway, we had a wonderful time with a great sense of pride, and turned regional programmes, I hope, from being downtrodden into something exciting.

And what you did was to hire in more people.


One of which was me!

Ah! Welcome. There was a very funny aspect to it, which was, in those days, the Sunday Times review section, which was new, had on its back page, a forecast and a preview of everything that would be on television that week to come, which now of course has developed into a huge magazine called Culture, but in those days was just one page, and it was edited by a very, very interesting guy called Elkan Allan (corr), who had come from entertainment, not from journalism, but was now editing this page. And I went down to London as the little guy who was the head of regional programmes, and I said, “Elkan, I’m from Granada – would you mind, one Sunday, previewing all the programmes as if you were living in Granadaland, and not living in London, and put the London variations as the variations, but the master previews being what would be seen in the north west?” He said, “What a clever, original idea! I couldn’t do that every week, but I’ll come up and I’ll do it once.” So we opened the Sunday Times to see all our little regional programmes that nobody outside the northwest had ever heard of, as the sort of default programmes on television, and whatever was on in London or elsewhere were the exceptions. And that was almost like the crowning glory of what we were trying to do with regional programmes, so we absolutely had a ball. There was one very funny moment when, those of us who weren’t in the newsroom were in tiny offices, rather like social security cubicles, and I had my own little cubicle with all these sort of cardboard little moveable sides, which could be moved as people got shunted around. And the phone rang. And I picked up the phone – nobody had a secretary in those days to themselves – and this voice said, “Good afternoon, is that Mr Morrison?” and I said, not being dressed like that generally, “Yes.” And he said, “Are you in charge of Granada’s regional programmes?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “This is Mr Cecil,” who was the brother of the founder of Granada, who was Sidney Bernstein, this was Cecil Bernstein, who was a kind of shadowy, heroic figure, who nobody ever met, who I think was in charge of things like Coronation Street and other things that Sidney, the main brother, was not dealing with. And he said, “I’m just calling to ask you whether you knew that Erich Segal (corr), the famous American author of Love Story, was in your region this coming week, and he’s doing literary lunches and book signings in different parts of the region.” I said, “Hmm, yes- that sounds very interesting.” “And I just wondered if I could ask you whether you knew of this, and if you knew that Mr Segal is published by Granada publishing?” I said, “Ah, yes, that sounds very interesting.” And he said, “And also I wanted to ask you why you are the only region in the whole ITV set-up of 13 companies, the Granada region, that has refused point blank to interview him?” And I said, “Oh, that’s very interesting, Mr Cecil,” – which was how he was addressed – “Why don’t you just hold on the line for a second and I’ll open the window, and I’ll find out from the editor, because I’m the head of regional programmes, I’ll find out from the editor of Granada Reports what’s happening.” So I open the window, the panel, and it’s Rod Caird (corr), who is on my right, and I said, “Rod, I’ve got Cecil Bernstein on the phone – why are we not interviewing Erich Segal?” And Rod said, “No idea – I’ll have to ask Rachel.” This was Rachel Hebditch (corr), the producer, so he opens on his right, the glass panel, and I’m saying, “Just a second, Mr Cecil, it won’t take a second, we’re just talking to the producer,” so Rod opens his panel and says to Rachel, “Rachel! Why are we not interviewing Erich Segal?” And the book after Love Story, which was called Oliver’s Story (corr)… and she said, “Because it’s SHIT!” “Ah,” I said. “Okay, Rod. No problem.” So I went back onto the phone, and I said, “Mr Cecil, we have researched Erich Segal’s book, and the editorial view was that the book was not a patch on the first book, and it would be somewhat embarrassing to interview Mr Segal is such a critical mode, and we felt it better not to do the interview at all.” “Quite right! Carry on, Mr Morrison, thank you.” And he put the phone down. Again, these little things happen which, whilst Granada may have been old-fashioned in some ways, it just gave you a hint you were in a very unusual place. Firstly, that one of the co-owners of the business was treating you with such respect, and secondly that you were creative, so you were allowed to carry on whatever was in the commercial interests of Granada [which]were not the most important thing. What was the most important thing was that the creative people had the independence to make what they thought they should. And a similar thing happened on World in Action when Gail and I were sent off to interview the Labour minister for what was then called… I think it was called Sport and Pollution. So this guy got this double-barrelled job when he was really interested in boxing and sport, which included tips and all sorts of pollutants that he was responsible for, and we made a World in Action about how refuse and waste that shouldn’t have been deposited in this tip was going through all the soil and coming out the other end and infiltrating the water supply and so on, and being the producer, I was sent off to interview this minister, and half way through the interview when I was asking why he was allowing this to happen when it was against regulations, he tore off his microphone and stood up and said, “How dare you interview me in this manner, I cannot know the intimate details of every tip in Britain – you will never get another interview with a government department again.” And off he went. So I thought “Gosh, I wonder what this means?” So I went on making the film, and the next day I get this call from Sir Denis Forman’s office, would I like to come down to London with the rushes of the interview, and Sir Denis would like to view them with me. So I had to get the late evening train down to Euston from Manchester, I’ve got this huge can of news film under my arm, and at Euston I get on the tube to go down to Brixton – because I had lived previously in Herne Hill – and when I get to Brixton, I don’t have the can – I’d left it on the tube. And it’s midnight. So I’m knocking on doors and banging on closed metal partitions saying, “What do I do about this can?” and eventually this guy says, “It normally goes to lost property, I’m on the carpet tomorrow at 9am with the chairman of Granada.” He said, “Well, nip on the last tube and go back up to Euston, and knock on a few more doors.” So I shoot back up to Euston on this tube, bash on every metal door I can find, and eventually this big guy comes and opens the door. “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” I said, “Have you seen a huge can which is full of film, before it goes to lost property? I’d really like to get hold of it, it’s life and death.” And he said, “Funny you should mention that, it’s in my office – it’s just been handed in.” So I take this can of film, and the next morning I turn up at Granada, we go into the preview theatre, Sir Denis is there, “Steve, hi – come and sit down!” it’s just me and him, and he presses a button and says, “Peter, roll this film, roll this interview.” So I’m sitting there, pretty shattered because I’ve come down overnight, nearly lost the can of film, don’t know what’s going to happen, and exactly the moment when the minister stands up and says, “Balls!” and takes the microphone off, Sir Denis leans forward and he says, “Peter, that’ll be enough for now.” And he turns to me and he says, “I don’t think you’re going to have a problem with this interview – just leave it to me.” Now, when you’re a guy who’s just arrived at Granada and the chairman says that without any huge investigation, you feel much better. The next thing that happened is that I get a message from the editor of World in Action saying, “Sir Denis has written to the minister, and the minister has asked if the interview could be done again.” So I said to the then editor, who is David Bolton, “Gosh, do I have to do this interview again?” because him tearing his microphone off, isn’t that the way we should leave it?” He said, “No, Sir Denis and he have agreed; the minister has apologised for his behaviour in view of what Sir Denis has written to him, which doesn’t show him in the best light, and so we’ve all agreed the interview should be done again.” So I’m doing the interview again, which obviously is hugely embarrassing, the same guy, and a thought comes to me, and I said, “Minister, I’m sure you weren’t aware at what happened at this tip, but now that you are aware, would you be prepared to publish all the tips in Britain which should not have certain types of refuse dumped in them for reasons of health and not polluting the water, and these tips are prohibited from anything but a certain kind of waste?” “Certainly, certainly – no problem at all. We will put that out straight away.” And of course the film went out two weeks’ later, and we asked the department every day if they were going to publish this list, and of course they didn’t – ad at the end of the film as the credits went up, we ran a little roller which said, “You’ve seen in this interview that the minister has promised to publish this list, but as of time of transmission, it still remains unpublished.” So it was a kind of draw between us and the ministry, we wanted to keep our position, but we re-did the interview. But again, just as in the Cecil Bernstein example, one got the intervention of a very senior member of Granada who, once they understood the situation, acted in full support of their staff, which is something that kept you there at Granada.

A lot of people have talked about that kind of loyalty and support from Sir Denis in particular.

Yes. So this was…

You ran the locals for how long?

I ran the locals for two or three years, had a wonderful time, and then again, I think Gus may have been still in charge of the whole factual area. He said to me, “I’ve got a problem with the Spanish Civil War.” He said, “We’ve got an executive producer and producers and a very good team, but it’s not working out quite right and it’s very, very slow, would you come over and become the executive producer of this programme?” and combined with that, I can’t remember if it happened simultaneously or consecutively, “Would you become the head of features?” So I left regional programmes and came to become head of features. Funnily enough, I saw that sign, the features department, in my garage the other week, so it still exists, the features department, of the then Granada in Manchester, and I went to meet the team of Spanish Civil War, and again it was the most remarkable programme that very few companies, maybe Thames, who made The World at War, would have undertaken, and Granada undertook… and the BBC would have undertaken… but very few other TV stations would have undertaken it because it actually took us longer to make the Spanish Civil War series than it took the Spanish to fight the Spanish Civil War – it took us over three years. We had a terrific team who were sent all over the world to interview Russians and Americans and the like about the international brigades, and there was a certain rule on the film, which was a very modern form of history-telling, which was there would be no experts with opinions; that the film would only contain eye-witness accounts of people who were actually at an incident, and news film from the time, and I’m sure there was a voiceover commentary and some very, very, very Spanish music, which was very, very evocative. But this very spare, modern idea that this wouldn’t be a lot of talking heads, reminiscing or giving their opinion, it would be people who are actually there in the incident, and the news film that went with it, so it was an absolutely fantastic series, and Granada had had it commissioned at the very start of Channel 4, which was borne out of the ITV bandwidth, another spectrum bandwidth was found to create the second channel, and it was going to be called ITV2 but ultimately it became independent and it was called Channel 4, and this was one of the first series, the first two or three, that were commissioned of that scale, and so this series had been long in the making because everybody knew the new channel was coming along, and it took three years to make. And I remember, because I wasn’t on the ground making the film, I was overseeing the series, and even then I was the head of the department, so I was slightly removed, but it was such a wonderful series that… we went over quite early on to Barcelona to ask RTVE, the Spanish television station, if they would do this as a co-production. We’d actually started, but we were having these negotiations. And the Spanish entertained us to the most incredible munch, which started at 2.30, and at 6pm it was just about winding up. And lots of toasts were given, and everybody was very excited about the programme, because it was obviously the most important subject of the 20th century for the Spanish, and the head of RTVE got up, and he said, “We hail our comrades from Granada and the wonderful enterprise they have undertaken; we have to tell you that, for reasons of state and national pride, we cannot…” – this had never been mentioned until 6pm – “we cannot be your co-producers because the people of Spain will wonder why we were allowing a foreign television company to physically make the series when it’s our war and we are Spanish television. So we don’t feel that we should be the official co-producers, but we are going to make sure that everything you want in the national archive is made available to you with our full support.” So actually, we ended up with a perfect solution, which was we weren’t bogged down by the politics of a very sensitive situation with a very sensitive co-producer, but they opened the archives and we got a fantastic series out of it, and a beautiful, lilting theme tune which I still remember to this day. So the features department was a kind of mixture of hybrid forms, you would get drama documentary, you would get pure drama which didn’t come from the drama department, you would get factual historical series, we had a very interesting film called The Road to 1984 (corr), which obviously went out in 1984, so this is basically where I would have got to by then, having done World in Action, regionals and features. So we made a scripted drama about the life of George Orwell, written by Willis Hall (corr), a very famous northern playwright, which basically cut from a real situation that Orwell was living in, so he may have been living on Jura, a Scottish island, while he was writing Animal Farm or 1984, and then from his own set-up we would cut to a scene in a book that he was writing at the time, so he may have been working in the BBC when he wrote something, we would cut from the BBC to a scene he was writing, so you began to see what circumstances, many of them during the war, just prior to the war, with the Spanish Civil War, because he wrote Homage to Catalonia and fought in the Spanish Civil War. Then working in the BBC during the war, then being in Jura after the war, we saw where he was and what he was doing as he was writing his famous books, and because it was features you can combine the skills of factual and drama in any way you wanted, nobody would stop you. So it was a very original department, and one of the most original things we made, which was an idea from David Liddiment, who I know you have also interviewed, who was working in the entertainment department, but the entertainment department wasn’t making it, it was a musical called There’s Something Wrong in Paradise (corresponds with KC song title – Allie) or something similar to that, I need to check that, and it was a musical performed by Kid Creole and the Coconuts. And David Liddiment said to me, “You must meet this fantastic singer-songwriter who lives in New York who comes from Haiti, I think he’s amazing and I would like us to be making a musical with him.” So I was sent to New York to interview and sort of persuade the guy who… one of his stage names was August Darnell (corr), although his most well-known stage name was Kid Creole. But I went to meet August in New York, and on my way I was in a taxi with a big, burly, black taxi driver, and I said to the taxi driver, “Have you heard of Kid Creole? I hear he’s the rage in New York,” and he said, “No, never heard of him.” So actually, David Liddiment had found somebody who was well-known in France, but totally unknown in America, who had come from the Caribbean, and was now living in New York. And I persuaded August to fly over to Manchester to make this musical in Studio 12, with a huge basin of water that was made up to look like the beach and the sea of a Caribbean island – so that was as exotic as we could do it – and I went down to Heathrow to collect August Darnell, to take him in a car, kind of limo, up to Manchester, and he came off the plane in a 1948 zoot suit with spats, fantastic suit and waistcoat, big colourful tie, and a huge fedora, and a little sort of Latin moustache, and mixed race background, and he walks down off the plane with something like 12 pieces of luggage that looked more suitable for a cruise, you know, wooden suitcases. And I said, “August, we’re not driving straight to Manchester, we’re going to Cheltenham races. I think you’ve been on a plane all night, and you need a bit of rest. Don’t change, we’re going straight there.” Anyway, he looked immaculate. So we get to Cheltenham, and after our lunch we go out into the paddock, and right next to him is the Queen Mother. And he says to me, “Who’s that little woman standing five yards away?” I said, “That’s the Queen Mother – one of her horses is running in this race.” He said, “Steve, do you realise that if a black man was five yards from the Queen Mother in my country I’d be shot by now.” I said, “Well, in England, the class system is such, once you’re in the paddock you’re fine.” So we go back up to Manchester after this day, we’re already good friends, and David Liddiment directed this stunning musical, which I always think, “How on earth did this small television station in the north west of England end up making a musical in the sea and the beach of a Caribbean island? And yet again, Granada had no idea we were going to make this, but they didn’t stop us making it. So during the time I was head of features, I got this completely mad idea to start Granada Film, and on a Friday, at the end of the day, I used to sneak up the back stairs and occasionally have a whisky with the managing director of Granada then, who then became the chairman, who was a fantastic guy called David Plowright, who was very different from Sir Denis, very northern, very journalistic, and combative guy, but a very, very, very driven person. And occasionally I would creep up to his office and we would have a whisky together, and he would ask me what I was doing, how it was all going, and we would have half an hour. And on this occasion, I brought this piece of paper in my back pocket, and I said, “Look, David – we’ve got the largest drama department in Britain outside the BBC, we’re making hundreds of hours of drama, we know all the best writers, we know all the best actors…” – in fact, his sister was a very famous actress called Joan Plowright (corr), married to Laurence Olivier – “We’re in that world, we can get good people – why don’t we start our own film company?” And I knew that Granada Group, under the guidance of Sir Denis Forman, also had a small film company, so I wondered whether there might be an element of rivalry here between Granada Group and Granada TV, and would that work against me, or would it work in my favour. And David – this is absolutely typical of Granada – said to me, “Great idea! Let’s do it.” So I took this paper out of my back pocket and I said, “Well, I’ve got a list of names here – David Putnam, Richard Attenborough – there’s a load of producers who love Granada and respect Granada, and they would like to help us.” “Don’t be stupid,” he said. “Leave your office, take your secretary, go into the bonded warehouse and start the company – you don’t need the help of any of these people, this is Granada.” So I was a bit shocked, because now my bluff had been called, so I get up to go, and I go out of the office, and I had this sense that as I went out of the office – and this is apocryphal, I don’t know if it ever happened – David would pick up the phone to the finance director, who of course knew me from all these annual negotiations over regional programmes, and he would say, “Bill, I’ve just had a conversation with Steve Morrison, he’s got this cockamamie idea for starting Granada Film. I’ve encouraged him and told him he can start developing it, but don’t give him any money.” Which is very typical of Granada, if that conversation ever happened. So what you had to do, you would get a few pence to develop the scripts and the projects, but then you had to ring Hollywood to actually get the production money. So you would be sitting in the bonded warehouse with an industrial sunset of bright orange sun over an industrial landscape in Salford at four o’clock in the afternoon, and be phoning LA, which of course was eight hours earlier and just coming in, and you’d be saying, “Hello, is that so-and-so productions?” or, “Hello, is that so-and-so distribution? This is Granada.” “Grenada? Are you phoning from the Caribbean?” “No, no, no, no, no – Granada Television.” “Television? We don’t do television, we do film!” and over thousands of miles, you would be basically selling to these people. “I’ve got this script, I’ve got these great actors, I’ve got this director – will you fund the film?” Because Granada wouldn’t fund the film, but you knew that ITV would pay the licence fee, which would go a long way to start funding the film, so you were half way there but not all of the way there. And this had all come about, because during the features department, we had decided to make a film called The Magic Toyshop (corr) with Angela Carter, and it was going to be directed by the most wonderful guy, who sadly has died young, called David Wheatley (corr), a north east, tall, bluff, interesting, really interesting guy who was a director, who I had worked with on something or other already, it may have been Scully (corr) (it was The Road to 1984), I’m not sure which project we had worked on, but in the features department we had made a drama series about Alan Bleasdale’s Liverpool character, Scully. I think David may have directed that, I’m not sure. Anyway, the next project David wanted to do was an Angela Carter book, and we chose The Magic Toyshop.

So David Wheatley and I had worked together, and we decided to make a film about one of Angela Carter’s books, and the one we chose was called The Magic Toyshop. Angela Carter was in Texas, lecturing, so David and I got on the phone, which in those days seemed a very long way away, and we rang her and we said would she agree to letting her book be made into a film. In those days, it was going to be a television film, and she said, “Oh, that’s one of my earliest books. Why are you choosing that one when I have made all these more complex, magical, realist, more fanciful subjects later on?” I said, “Well, look, the thing is, in television, you get more engagement if your characters start being real, and then gradually through the story they become magical, than if they start being more abstract, which in television people may not engage with in the same way. We want everybody to believe that they are real characters before they transfer themselves into the magical world.” And she said, “Oh, that’s a very good answer. Agreed.” And we were sort of kicking ourselves and pinching ourselves, and I said, “When are you coming back?” and she said on such-and-such a date, which was two or three months away, and I said, “Do you mind if David and I come down to Clapham and your house, and talk through the ideas and discuss this?” And she said, “Yes, you can come, with pleasure, but whatever you want to do, you do – I’m not going to stop you doing anything – this is a film, not a book.” So we go down to Clapham where she had a huge townhouse, all painted purple, and we would go up into the attic, and we would sit round a rickety little bridge table, and David, Angela and I would be deciding how to make this film, and it was one of those classic situations where you literally had to pinch your leg that somebody was paying you to work with an author that you adored, making the film of your choice, without any hindrance, and Granada was letting you do it. So we made this film, which was made incredibly economically, and I think the supervisor on the production side, the head of production, was Brenda Smith (unverified), who was very, very helpful and fell in love with the project. Everyone was very helpful, the designer was being stretched, everyone was seeing how interesting this was, and David Wheatley was a marvellous director, just has David Liddiment had been with There’s Something Wrong in Paradise, and the film, somebody found out in Palace Pictures that this film had been made, and put it into the London Film Festival. So we were sitting down in London, and we were approached by… is it Steve Woolley? I think it was Steve Woolley, who was working in Palace Pictures at the time, now a very famous producer-director himself, and he came up to us and said, “We want to release this in the cinema,” and I said, “Well you can’t release it, it’s destined to be on television in two months’ time over the Christmas period,” and he said, “Well, can you stop them? Can you stop them for a three-month window, we want to put this out in the cinema.” And that is the poster that they created, which is one of the best posters… and it was… I wouldn’t say it was a huge commercial success, it was a very small, art-house film, but it got a lot of very good crits, and I think that’s what it was, that complete accident that put it into my head that we should start g Film. But of course, starting Granada Film, we quite quickly made two or three films and ended up making My Left Foot, and The Field, both of them nominated for Oscars, and My Left Foot winning two Oscars, so there was a sense of triumph in David Plowright’s mind that somehow, little old Granada Television in Manchester had beaten the whole of the Granada group to the punch with the success of our films, which worked incredibly well. Now, Joe – if you want to stop this for a second –

So there is a story I must tell you about My Left Foot. By the time the Oscars came around, we had completed the film, and I had been promoted again – which is a whole different story – from the head of Granada Film to the director of programmes at Granada, which meant that every fortnight you had to go down to what was called the controllers’ group, which were all the major ITV companies, bargaining with each other about selling and buying each others’ programmes, which was quite an evil experience, because everybody was trying to outdo the other and get their programmes sold but not have to buy the others, which is pretty difficult. Anyway, the Oscars were on a Monday night in those days, and the controllers’ group meeting was on Monday morning. So I said to my wife Gail, “We can’t just fly to Hollywood; I’ve got to go to this controllers’ group meeting in central London – why don’t you go to the airport, the plane is at 1pm, I’ve asked David Liddiment to stand by at the meeting behind me, and when I’ve won the things that I need to win, I’ll dart off and he’ll take over, and I’ll be at the airport by 1pm. Hold the plane!” So she smiled, and off she went to Heathrow, I went to the controllers’ group… anyway, the two things I wanted to sell were worth millions of pounds – one was a very famous drama called Prime Suspect, which is a whole other story in itself, very famous modern drama, and the other one was another drama series set in Spain called El C.I.D (corr). And it turned out that both Thames and London Weekend, who ran different parts of the London franchise, had both read the script of Prime Suspect and they both wanted it, so it became a relatively easy job for me, and we managed to persuade them to play it Sunday/Monday, which meant that they would each get half. The series would go out on a Sunday/Monday, but it would be in two different franchise periods, and somehow or other I managed to get El C.I.D sold as well. So I had come out of this, drenched in perspiration but having sold the two big dramas, and I rush off to the airport, and I get there and Gail says, “It’s closed. The doors have closed.” I said, “For goodness’ sake, Gail, you knew I was coming,” and she said, “Well, I’ve held it for as long as possible, but they’ve closed the door.” And I said, “Well, let’s bang on the door – we’ve got to get on this plane because the Oscars are tonight!” And of course, Gail being Gail, she managed to persuade them to open the door much better than I could, and we get on the plane. Well, we had no time when we landed to change, so half way through the flight we went to different toilets to get changed into a dinner suit and a ballgown, and as we came out of these toilets, the cabin we were in all started to clap and cheer, and the pilot came on over the tannoy saying, “We’ve got two people on the plane who are flying to the Oscars tonight, they’re from British television and they’ve made a film called My Left Foot, and it’s up for two Oscars!” Everybody cheered again, we get off the plane, we’re standing like idiots in the queue for immigration, dressed in our funny outfits, we get through immigration, we get into a rather truncated limo, like a squashed limo, which is all that Granada could afford, and the driver said, “There is no way I’m going to get you there in time, it will be tail to tail for three miles.” I said, “You’ve got to get us there! We’ve come 6,000 miles and we’ve got to be there by 6pm.” Five to six we arrive, and we’re immediately interviewed on the red carpet by Good Morning TV, or TV-am, whichever it was, “Hi, Steve, have you got a chance of winning?” We’re into the hall, and in America the film was regarded as an Irish film rather than a British film because we had a lot of Irish cast, and it was an Irish story from an Irish book. And Daniel Day-Lewis and the director and the producer and other actors were all out of their seats in the bar, having a great time, and I’m sitting in the hall, and it comes up Best Supporting Actress, Brenda Fricker, who of course nobody had heard of in Hollywood, who was the mother in My Left Foot. And of course, she went up to collect her Oscar, and I whipped up to the bar and I said, “Listen everybody, we’re on a roll here, I don’t know what else is going to happen – you’ve all got to come back to your seats immediately.” And of course, we won one of the top awards, which was the Best Actor, which was won by Daniel Day-Lewis. So we’ve now won two Oscars for this tiny film. We all come out of the awards, and the procedure is you go into the Governor’s Ball, which is a ball and a dinner, but nobody balls, and nobody dines – it’s just a kind of networking affair where everybody talks to everybody, then they all go off to different parties. But as we came in, the president of the Academy at that time, I think it was Gregory Peck, (It was Karl Malden, apparently – Allie) stopped us and said, because we were like a bunch of Irish hooligans, stopped us and said, “Well done, you Brits, you Irish, for winning those Oscars – didn’t you do amazingly?” And I said, “Well, actually, I thought we could have done better.” And he said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Well, surely we should have won best film,” which had been won b Driving Miss Daisy, which I didn’t think was that great a film, and we had been nominated for best picture. And he sort of… he was wearing a sort of Western outfit with that kind of, you know, liquorice tie, and a waistcoat, and he sort of grabbed me by the lapels, and he said something like, “Listen here, son – you’re very lucky you’ve won two Oscar Academy Awards,” – that’s what they call them – “And if you think that we’re going to give away Best Picture easily to the limeys, you’ve got another thing coming. Be satisfied.” Which actually, was a wonderful moment. And then the next day I was offered various deals at various studios, but much to their amazement I said, “Look, we’ve got to fly back immediately, I’m the director of programmes at a small television station on the north west coast of a small island, and that’s my job.” And what was very interesting about that was, why wouldn’t I have gone to Hollywood and done six-picture deals, or whatever it was on offer, of course they were only development deals, and the answer was that you were very, very proud to be the director of programmes at Granada Television – you felt it was the best company you could possibly be working in in those days, and it was your job and your responsibility to get back to the day job, and so off we went. And we got to the airport and we went up to the desk at the BA terminal, and they said, “We’ve heard about your Oscar success, that’s absolutely wonderful, sir. We’d like to upgrade you to First from where you are,” which was club. “Unfortunately we’ve only got one spare seat in First, so would you mind if you were upgraded and your wife remained in the front row of club?” And I said, “Don’t be silly. My wife and I hardly see each other, and we’re travelling together for thousands of miles – we’re not going to separate.” So this guy, he leaned forward into a microphone and he said to the entire hanger,” The Morrisons will not split.” And we stayed in club. But as we got on the plane, a very elegant young Italian came out of First, and he said, “Would you like to come forward to First Class?” I said, “We can’t, because there’s only one seat and we can’t split.” And he said, “No, my father has asked me to take your wife’s seat. There will now be two seats available, and Senor Armani would be delighted if you joined them.” So when we got up there, we find that the whole Armani family is in First Class, except us – and we were entertained by the family for the rest of the flight. So it was an amazing experience, but it was down to earth in Manchester the next day. So… where do you want to go on to next?

Do you want to go onto the Broadcasting Bill Act?


Late 1980s, the Tory government introduced a Broadcasting Bill, which subsequently became the 1990 Broadcasting Act. That much have had… well, it did have a huge impact on Granada. Could you describe how you dealt with that?

Yes. There were basically two things that happened in the late 80s which were very, very important. The first thing was that when I was at the controllers’ group, there was a great deal of rivalry between what was called the seven-day companies, which were those that had franchises across the whole week, and the London companies, who were split into one five-day and one two-day franchise – it was really for and a half and two and a half. So Thames would have the weekday, and London Weekend would have the weekend, and they had the same franchise, split. And because they had split franchises and therefore were more commercially endangered than the seven-day franchises, they had the right to draft the schedule, but we had the right to offer what, in effect, were guaranteed programmes. So whether they liked them or not, they had to play tem, and they would fight each other for the ones they wanted, and leave to the edges of the schedule those they didn’t like, but they had to play them. But during the time I was director of programmes, which started in 1987 and went on to 1992, the regulator, which in those days was called the Independent broadcasting Authority (IBA), had a director who sat on our controllers’ group to keep order and stop us killing each other. And he initiated the idea that they would phase out guaranteed programmes, because guaranteed programmes were not bought on merit, they were related to the size of your advertising revenue. So if you were in a small geographical area, getting 11% of the network’s ad revenue, you would be entitled to make 11% of the programmes, minus exceptions – or plus exceptions – but generally that. And if you were in a very big area, you were entitled to make more of the programmes. So it was totally unrelated to merit.

So during my early period at the controllers’ group, I was approached by the man from the IBA, who was a very, very clever guy, David Glencross, and he said, “We’re going to phase out the programme guarantees, but you should go back and say to your colleagues at Granada not to be worried about this, because Granada is fitter at programme making than most of the other companies, and with the right application you are going to do well out of this. So I had just become the director of programmes, and on my first day I was asked across the corridor to a meeting with a managing director, Andrew Quinn, and this was in a climate when the government had passed a new rule that 25% of all programmes should be given out to independent producers not in the ITV companies. It had been agreed internally that the regional ITV companies, the smaller ones, were to get a bigger share of programmes, and now we were going into a situation where the bigger ITV companies’ programmes would not be guaranteed. So Andrew had had a chart drawn up in beautiful different pencils and colours over the next 3-5 years, suggesting that our make would go down, first by 25%, then by another 25%, so instead of making £37m worth of programmes a year, we’d be making, say, £20m. And he said, “This is inevitable, it’s going to happen, all these other quotas are opening up, which studio should we close in which order? And I’m afraid we’ll have to lose a lot of staff.” And I said, “No, Andrew, the loss of guarantees is the loss of our floor, but it is also the opening of the ceiling. So previously, we could only make £37m of programmes, now we can bid, we can compete on merit – although of course there will be a lot of politics and a lot of shenanigans – but we can now compete for other programmes that are not in our guaranteed make. I suggest we wait for a year before we sack a lot of people and close studios, and see what volume of programmes we are likely to be making.” So the first programme that was put out into what was a contested area, what was called the flexi-pool, which was a kind of precursor for the BBC’s window of competitive competition, the walk, so in the area of programmes that were not subject to guarantees but had to be bid for on a merit basis, was the morning magazine. So there was 1.5-2 hours in the morning that was made up of educational programmes, and the same IBI executive, David Glencross, said to the controllers’ group, “Why are you running these half-hour educational programmes? They’re as dull as anything.” This came from the regulator. “As long as you have educational content in brief, in seven-minute bite-sized chunks,” as he called them, “Why don’t you put a wrap-around package around this time and make it into something more popular? Have a morning magazine with seven-minute educational strands.” So it was decided that this would be the first programme that would be competed for in the flexi-pool, and the daytime committee, which was chaired by a rival ITV company, Andy Allan (corr) from Central, would look at the pilots and choose one. So, of course, I said to my number two, David Liddiment, “This is our opportunity – we must strike and win this programme.” And we were sitting and discussing this all day during what was called the ITV Telethon, watching the studio in Manchester, where the Telethon goes on for about 24 hours, and presenters present it in shifts. And during this shift we were watching was a husband and wife team, Richard Madeley and Judi Finnigan. And David and I looked at each other and we said, “Could this be the first married couple that presents a daily television programme? They’re both journalists, they’re not a confection, they’re both natural TV journalists and TV presenters, but they happen to be married – would they be suitable? Should we have them in this pilot?” and the second thing we decided, which we hoped would make a difference between us and the other competitors, was we weren’t going to do it in a studio. We didn’t tell anybody this, but we decided that we would do it on the Albert Dock, which had a backdrop of glass walls, and the dock in Liverpool, which would give it a totally different feel, and more of a sort of open air magazine feel, and we even built a huge rubber map on a dinghy of the whole of the United Kingdom, and the weather man would have to jump from Wales to Northern Ireland, across the sea, to tell us the weather. So it was quite different in look than all the other entries – I think there were three other ITV companies, including one of the biggest ITV companies, Thames, who put in a bid – and lo and behold, although we were not on the committee, we were not chairing the committee, the committee chaired by a rival ITV company chose us as the winner. This was actually an incredible turning point, because I then went back to the Granada MD and said, “We’ve just won a year’s contract to make a daily programme, so there’s going to be 40 weeks of five episodes, so that’s 200 episodes and 400 hours of television.” He said,, “Oh, that’s terrible – how are we going to make redundant staff, how are we going to start another studio when I told you that I wanted you to close down studios, and Granada group will be petrified by us putting on more overhead.” I said, “No – don’t put on an permanent over head. What we’re going to do is we’re going to contract these staff for a 40-week run of contract, freelance, in Liverpool, what’s called ‘run of the show’, there’ll be no redundancy at the end if the programme is not continued, we’re going to lease the area around the Albert Docks and we’re going to put the set costs in the cost of the programme, which will be paid for by the network – so there is no investment by Granada, we’ve got nothing to lose, if the programme fails after a year, you haven’t added any permanent staff, you haven’t added any permanent studio, and if it succeeds, you have just won millions of pounds of programme business.” So, bless him, he let me do it, and off it went, and recently it celebrated its 27th – 27th! – year on the screen. It’s now transferred, after many years, to London, where it was made here, but This Morning is still going strong, after 27 annual series, in 2015. So the world basically shifted from that moment, and by the time I actually retired from Granada in 2002, having become the director of programmes in 1987, we had moved our annual programme turnover from £37m a year to £537m. So in a way, this threat of removing our guarantees turned out to be the most wonderful expansionist opportunity that Granada had ever had. Now, during the guaranteed period, the quality of the programmes could be very high, because we weren’t making that many and we could choose to make what we want – but beyond the guarantees falling off, we were running a proper programme business, and we made glorious programmes like Prime Suspect and the like, but at the same time we grew the business almost 20-fold – not quite 220-fold, but from £37m to £537m – and the second thing that went in parallel with this removal of the guarantees was this huge change for Granada, was after the 1990 Broadcasting Act, the ability to buy and merge and consolidate more franchises, more regional franchises. So we bought London Weekend Television, and I was asked to go from Manchester to London to become the managing director of LWT, then I became the chief executive of the Granada Media Group, and finally the chief executive of Granada PLC, the public company – but during that period, in the 1990s and into the early 2000s, we bought LWT, we bought Yorkshire and Tyne Tees, we bought Meridian, and we ended up in the end being two major conglomerates – Granada and Carlton – that eventually had to merge in order to form one unified ITV. So that policy, that philosophy, which as I described it to the Granada group executives, who were Gerry Ronson (corr) and Charles Allan, my strategy was, “Get into the London cockpit where the schedule is determined, because that is where the plane is driven.” And it has two pilots – Thames and LWT. You have to own one of these London franchises to be in that cockpit, so the one we chose was London Weekend, which was a very aggressive takeover, and therefore a very arduous time, when I was sent down, the barbarian from the north, to be the new MD of the city slicker licence, which was the London licence, and I had to win over the Melvyn Braggs and all the others, but we changed LWTs output; we concentrated on its strength, which was its entertainment, but added to it other programmes, and within a year or two we had turned that programme division into a very profitable one, and doubled the profits of LWT. We then bought Yorkshire and Tyne Tees, which was the second half of my strategy, which was ‘strengthen your local neighbourhood’; be in the London cockpit, but strengthen where you are. So the north was combined between Granada, Yorkshire and Tyne Tees, and from there we then bought Meridian. So we ended up merging, Granada and Carlton ended up merging, and the two chairmen of Granada and LWT decided they didn’t need their best men at the wedding, so the chief executive at Granada, which was me, and the chief executive of Carlton, we both agreed to leave. I took early retirement and did what I had wanted to do for many years, which was form our own production business, but I have to say that…

What year did you leave?

I left in 2002. So I was at Granada for 27 and a half years, 21 in Manchester and the rest in London, and my reflection on all of this is that Granada went through two golden eras. The first golden era was up to 1987, when it had guaranteed programmes of a relatively small collection, but it included Coronation Street , which was the most popular programme on the network, which gave Granada the clout to make reputational programmes as well, and of course the famous days of Brideshead and Jewel in the Crown and World in Action and a great documentary tradition which you will have heard from Ray and Lesley Woodhead, and a drama documentary tradition – I was very proud of us making Who Bombed Birmingham? (1990) and the whole 7 Up series during my time there, when I was responsible for 28 Up and the director of programmes at Who Bombed Birmingham? Stage, although I didn’t make the programme, I was very proud of it. So, during that guaranteed period, Granada concentrated on the top commercial programme on the network, and loved it, which was Coronation Street, but also made some of the most reputational BBC-type programmes. When the guarantees got reduced, and the takeovers and consolidation took place, Granada changed gear and expended. It took the changed circumstances not from a defensive position, but asserted the strength of its programme making and won many more programmes – there was a point where we were making the majority of the programmes of the whole network; we were making more than 60% of the entire output of ITV which, given that 25% was an independent quota, was a pretty incredible achievement. And occasionally, those two eras, cultures, would clash, so I would come back from the controllers’ group and say to the managing director – or as it was then, the chairman, David Plowright – “I’m going to expand Coronation Street, and this will give us more influence to make what we really want, because both episodes are in the Thames part of the week, and if we introduce a third episode in the LWT part of the week, so that it will not go out Monday and Wednesday, but it will go out Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and even one day Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, then both London companies will want our programmes more because we’ve got the thing that makes their business work.” And David went white, and he said, “Look, Steve – we’ve made Coronation Street for 28 years, and we’ve maintained the quality at twice a week. Are you now threatening that?” I said, “No – we’re going to invigorate and reinvigorate it, and we’re going to give it a jolt which will make it ever better and more important to the network, and more important for itself, and give us more room for more characters and more things to do.” And I’ll say this of David Plowright – when he heard the story, he backed you. So he took this young guy who was jeopardising the tradition and history of Granada to make Granada stronger; he was going to expand Granada’s most dear programme, most important programme, and he let me do it. And we ended up with five or six episodes a week with no strength ebbing – quite the opposite. The programme got more vigorous than before. So you come back to the ability of Granada to back you to be as bold as possible, but caution you to be conservative about how much you expected people to pay for it, and combining those commercial and creative instincts into entrepreneurship on a bigger stage than we’d had before, so I think the second period was as glorious as the first.

Steve Leahy

Interviewed by Geoff Moore, 14 August 2015.

Tell us how you got into Granada, and when it was.

I was studying Law at Leeds and I’d scraped through my first year and hated it. My brother was a solicitor, that’s why I went into it. I didn’t know what the hell to do, so they nudged me that way, hoped I might make a barrister. I absolutely hated being a student. And I absolutely hated Law. As dry as old Wotsits. And I scraped through but I knew I couldn’t see myself doing two more years by any chance.

So I decided to leave, which my parents were very hostile to. We only got a television when I was 14 at home, so I was very new to telly, seeing it, and I just decided I wanted to work in television. So I wrote very naively to every TV station seeking a career, and Granada gave me an interview. I was working at the time up in Scotland for British Petroleum doing road safety for schools, going round schools with a microphone and little show. And so the police who were running these weeks – we were assigned to a police force each week in a different area to do these shows – they were so nice, and I was getting on so well with them that they covered for me completely, didn’t tell BP I was skiving off. And I went down to Manchester for the interview, which was for an assistant transmission controller, of which I had no idea what it was, or anything. I did the interview and lied my way through lots of things, as we all do. Manual dexterity: I claimed I mended my own car, and built my own stereo and all this sort of crap that was total rubbish, and could type – rubbish! But I had a good interview and got the job. So I moved up to Granada to be an assistant transmission controller as a trainee.

Tell us about the interview. Who was there?

I honestly can’t remember that interview at all. I can remember subsequent ones to become a researcher and things like that. But that initial one, I think it was Joe Rigby actually. Yes because it would have been presentation, wouldn’t it? And Dave Black. Yes, it would have been. I’m still in touch with Joe Rigby now.

So you got into Granada.

Got into Granada, arrived very green, as a trainee assistant transmission controller, which was a nine month training programme. And I did it in three months, which is astonishing because it was mind over matter, I can’t push buttons and do things, I really can’t, I had to just learn it. I was determined to learn it so that I stayed in the business. But I was fascinated by what was happening in telly. I didn’t wish to become a controller and aspire to work in that area. I wanted to get creative and join in shows and things. And after two years working in there, a researcher’s job came up on local programmes, and I wanted to apply. And they were horrified because they’d invested in training, and you just don’t leave where they are. It was seen as going from pseudo-engineering to creative, which was not heard of, so they told me I had to resign to be considered. I had to say, “I’m leaving now” and then they would give me a board to become a researcher. I didn’t mind because I was fully qualified and working for the biggest TV station virtually in the country, which meant that there were 13 or 14 other stations who would be desperate to have somebody totally trained to walk into their control rooms. So there was no question I’d have got a job anywhere. That was fine. And I thought, oh well, sod it, yes. So I now have two Granada pensions. One was for the few years as a baby and then the next one kicked in when I joined staff again.

So you had to resign to apply for the researcher job?

Yes. And then I did the researcher board, which I remember Chris Pye was on, I can’t remember much else about it, and I got that, and then I was again training and on a contract, and then when you got your union card, you became staff then. I was just cock-a-hoop. Wonderful.

What year was that?

Oh, gosh, I can’t do years.



So you joined Granada Reports with no journalistic background.

Correct. But I was Tony Wilson’s researcher on What’s On and things like that, so I did the fun and games. Always entertainment stuff. I never ever was put on a proper story. I didn’t want to. That’s not what I was there for. I went to become an entertainment researcher.

As I remember it, Granada Reports was a mix of journalists and researchers.

Yes, it was. I wasn’t the only one there, there were lots there. But certainly the newsroom was god, and that was a lot of people.

Was this when Steve Morrison was in charge?

Yes. My first day at Granada was exactly the same as Jules Burns’ first day, I think.

So how long were you on Granada Reports? And what happened after that?

I was a researcher on Granada Reports for a few years and then got involved in… I don’t think I did much else at that time. Then I became a researcher in entertainment with Johnnie Hamp.

How did that happen?

I think there was a vacancy or a show coming up and I said yes, I’d like to go into entertainment, so that was a move across. Then I became a promotions editor, working back with Joe Rigby. I think that was the order of it. And then the producers’ board, and I got a producer’s job in entertainment – locals again. That’s when we did things like the afternoon programmes that we were all involved in, and all that sort of stuff. Sandy Ross was similar at that time. And then I went into entertainment proper for Johnnie Hamp.

What shows did you work on with Johnnie Hamp, and what was the first show you did together?

There was a period when I was a researcher in entertainment, so maybe before I became a promotions editor I’d become a researcher in entertainment, because the first show I ever researched for him was Wheeltappers and Shunters. I had to go round the clubs at night. I found Cannon and Ball, which I’m not sure is a good thing!

You discovered them?

Yes, well they were an existing act on the circuit. I got them in for audition and stuff to Johnnie. I’m sure he must have known about them, they were out there. I used to go round the working men’s clubs at night, trundling around.

So it is the case that you were always aiming to be in entertainment from the moment you arrived, so you worked towards that?

Yes. Completely. And I don’t know why. But that’s what I wanted to do.

And then you were made a producer, you worked for Johnnie Hamp.

Then I became head of children’s programmes, which wasn’t under Johnnie Hamp; that was answering direct to Mike Scott. Granada had a requirement of so many hundreds of hours of children’s programmes to the network per year. So that was great, that was a little empire and you did what you wanted, because nobody was interested at all! [laughs]I honestly think that the entire period of working at Granada was a charmed life. An absolute privilege. I don’t think we realised it at the time. But we were in a hotbed of talent and productivity and creativity. When you think about it, we were nurtured, all of us, and that doesn’t happen today anywhere.

It’s interesting you made that point. As an assistant transmission controller there was a formal training scheme, wasn’t there? But it seems for the rest of the stuff, like being a researcher, there was no formal training at all.

Yes, you just learned on your feet. It was down to your wit and your value and your experience as you gradually got into the job. They had director courses. They didn’t have producer courses.

Were you happy with that? I mean, the BBC would have had training courses.

Well, you know better. I was born at Granada and you grow up the Granada way, don’t you? I think I learned a lot for future life through Granada. I loved the way the Stables worked, and before that, Film Exchange. While I was an assistant transmission controller I was talking to Peter Eckersley in the evenings and really getting to know people on every side of it, and gave you the entrée to speak to them in a bar, which you would never do in normal life. You wouldn’t go and knock on office doors and things. That was absolutely brilliant. We got Granada in our blood.

I was always fiercely loyal to Granada. I would defend Granada on anything. And we were all also very proud of everything they did. I had absolutely zero to do with Jewel in the Crown yet I can remember being immensely proud. I wouldn’t have said that at the time because I wouldn’t have realised it, but just looking back you think, gosh, it was a wonderful club, and it wasn’t an exclusive club. It was absolutely terrific. That was the training for people all over the world now: Granada. They’re all out there, aren’t they? You keep coming across it.

Later on, when we took on Action Time, it was like I’d been through a college to be able to do that. How to grab a team and make them loyal and make them yours, and have fun as well. That really stood me in good stead. I think Granada was absolutely amazing. Talking to people who had other backgrounds, I don’t think they had the same.

In other companies?

Yes. Apart from the sheer richness of programming and the vast quantity and quality of programming, which obviously smaller stations didn’t enjoy…

And its reputation was second-to-none at the time.

Oh! Unbelievable. One of the best moments for me was, we’d done a pilot of Busman’s Holiday, and it was accepted by Granada, by Mike Scott and co., to go to series. And in those days they would dictate and tell the network, “We’ve got a new series for you.” It wasn’t a question of going to a panel or anything like that. And obviously the series looked nothing like the pilot but that’s life. They commissioned the first series and we shot it, and transmission was going to be Wednesday nights at 7 o’clock. And on the Tuesday, the day before the transmission of the first show, Mike Scott sent for me and I went up to the sixth floor to his office, at 6 o’clock, and he opened a bottle of champagne, and said, “I love the show, it’s absolutely terrific. Second series commissioned.” And we hadn’t even gone on air. That was the biggest kick ever. Wonderful. I can remember the moment. Absolutely fabulous. You felt like, “Yes!” And we got 14 million the next night, but you would in those days, preceding the Street, which is probably getting 20. But that was just fabulous.

By then you were head of entertainment? You went from children’s to head of entertainment?

Yes, I look over from Johnnie Hamp.

Was Busman’s Holiday your creation?

Yes, completely. Busman’s Holiday was borne out of… after the Film Exchange there was a bar opposite Granada, down some steps.

I remember, and I can never think of the name.

What’s that called? It was a spin-off, wasn’t it? And I can remember coming out of that after lunch one day, as one did, and it’s pissing with rain, with umbrellas and all that, making the hop across the Granada, and thinking, we’ve got to write something that gets us out of this bloody whether and place! Manchester, not Granada. And it just literally then occurred to me over the next few days, the idea of travel and occupations, and the title came naturally. And off we went.

Which other shows did you create?

Well, the first one I was ever involved in creating was Krypton Factor, which was Jeremy Fox’s idea. This was while we were on regional programmes, but Mastermind had started, and ITV wanted to counteract that. It was deemed that the right calibre show would play as adult education in peak time, which we’d then get huge brownie points for. So Krypton Factor never had a commercial break, because it was adult education, which the public didn’t obviously realise. It was Chris Pye, Jeremy and myself. Jeremy’s idea was the “krypton”, the idea of mind and brain, and then we contributed the other bits. The “factor” part of the title was mine, and different things like that. I went off and found the assault course and talked to the army and got all that going. It was great fun. So that was the very first. Thereafter, Granada, whenever they wanted a quiz, said, right then, we’re not paying, buying an American show in. I wrote 19 network quizzes in the end for Granada. And of course, didn’t get paid a penny extra. If I’d written a drama I would have. It’s quite funny. And they wouldn’t give me credits because they thought it might be contentious for a claim [/acclaim?] of some sort.

Some of those 19 shows, can you name some of them?

Oh, gosh. There was a lot of children’s ones – Runway wasn’t children’s, it was Richard Madeley’s first foray into network entertainment, that was a morning quiz show. Runway, Busman’s Holiday, Connections, which was done with a producer whose name’s gone… the staff producer at Granada who worked in regionals with us… it’ll come back.

Did you say you created 19 quiz shows that all got on air for Granada? Various shows, daytime, evening?

Yes. A couple may not have been quizzes. They may have been network series, entertainment shows.

You made the point that, we’ve all been there, a Granada show is a Granada show, you didn’t even get a credit, let alone any sort of stake in it.

I didn’t mind at the time, don’t get me wrong. I wasn’t muttering for years, not at all. But it’s very funny to look at how the world works today.

Was this a factor in your leaving Granada?

No. When I left Granada it was a big surprise to me, because I was totally happy, I was mid-productions on everything we were doing, I was having a ball, totally, really enjoying myself. I got a phone call offering me Action Time, and we had long conversations the night on the phone, and I just said yes. I just could see the logic of going independent. I could see it coming. And there weren’t independents much then. I just thought, that’s got to be a way forward. That’s going to be what happens. And I really fancied the idea of running my own company.

And Action Time was part of which…?

Zenith. And Jeremy Fox started Action Time and he had sold it to Zenith and was going off to America to Jess McDonald to make their fortunes. So they asked me to take it over, to run it as MD. We didn’t even discuss money. It wasn’t the point at that initial thing. I just thought, yes, I can see it with absolute clarity, that that’s what one should do.

So Jeremy Fox asked you?

He put my name forward; he recommended me, yes. I inherited two filing cabinets and a soul music show on Channel 4 that had just finished. [both laugh]So there wasn’t a lot in the larder at all, but they did own a company and it was independent. We started literally from the back of a garage behind where our Action Time office became, with two of us, that was it.

David was saying yesterday that some of the shows, Busman’s Holiday included, became independent commissions.

Well, what happened was that dear Mr Morrison held a gun to my head when I left because within months I’d found You’ve Been Framed and Stars In Their Eyes. Stars In Their Eyes was Dutch, and You’ve Been Framed is actually Japanese, but I was in a cutting room in ABC in Hollywood watching one show and I could hear laughter next door, and I said, “Can I go and see what they’re watching?” And it was America’s Funniest Home Videos, but a pilot. And I bought the rights off the Japanese in LA while I was there and brought it back.

So I had really golden new shows, the rights to them. Granada drove a very hard bargain which I shouldn’t have done, but they said they need to make stuff in-house, I can’t have all those shows out as an indie down the road. But they would license them from me. But they offered me Busman’s Holiday as an indie. And at that time it was running very successfully and making a lot of money, and it was filming round the world, and fun still. And currency in Britain, as an indie, we make this, a network entertainment show, so it put us in a position. So I made the decision to accept that, and I shouldn’t have done, I should have said “Bollocks!” and gone to another company with Stars In Their Eyes and with You’ve Been Framed and they would have gone on air, they’re great shows.

So you’re the man responsible for initially bringing those shows, Stars In Their Eyes and You’ve Been Framed, to British viewers.

Absolutely. 100%. Stars was Joop van den Ende, it was his side of it. It was their show. I just saw the potential.

And Stars became a great hit for Granada.

Yes, we made a pilot with Chris Tarrant hosting, who’s brilliant because he was sardonic and tongue-in-cheek. Not, wonderful, wonderful. I mean, Matthew did a great job but the pilot was really good. But Mr ITV didn’t like Chris Tarrant. So they wouldn’t have him. But we advertised on Granada for lookalike singers, because Granada and Liddiment and the network insisted it’s got to be straight, we can’t just ship in people form Holland. Is the talent there? That was the big question. And we were just inundated, it was amazing. The pilot was brilliant. And that was that.

You’ve Been Framed was London Weekend wasn’t it?

No, it was Granada. Totally. And it stayed. You’ll still see Action Time credited on it because of legalities, although Action Time was subsumed into Carlton a long time ago.

Did you leave Granada in the nineties?

I left in ’88. I can remember that year! [laughs]

We could talk for ages about post ’88, but the project is…

Yes, I understand that. Anyway I left and at the time David Plowright had two of everything. So Liddiment and myself were heads of entertainment, which we carved down the middle and he did the Street which counted under that at time, and he did all comedy, which I had no interest in whatsoever, and correctly, he should do that. And he did singing and dancing, in that he did Kid Creole and all those things. Meantime, I got on with my quizzes and all the stuff I was interested in. We were totally compatible, it was very happy. I mean, it doesn’t sound like it would work, if you have an empire cut in two, but it really did because neither of us crossed over on each other and we both backed each other completely.

Complementary talents.

Yes. And we liked each other hugely. So that worked. There was never a case of, I’m not showing you what I’m doing, what are you doing, that sort of thing. There was no competition between us. We were absolutely on the same table all the time.

Was this the age of quizzes, do you think, the eighties and nineties?

No. I think it’s cyclical anyway. It’s the taste for quizzes that comes and goes. I mean, America now is seeking the next big hit, because Millionaire was an absolute triumph, and there’s been nothing since that’s quite swept the world. There will be, which is why I want to keep on writing. There will be a novel idea that really kicks and goes. But the staple of many companies around the world is still daytime solid quizzes, blocks of them. Look at ITV. I mean, Channel 4 ruled afternoons for a decade with quizzes and stuff. They’ve lost it; they didn’t refresh and redo. ITV have got it now with The Chase and things like that.

Looking back on your Granada years, what are the strengths and weaknesses of Granada as a company?

I can’t think of weaknesses. I thought it was cocky and it did the hell what it wanted and it fought the network on everything, but they meant it, and they were great. Certainly working for Granada I didn’t find any negatives whatsoever, I really had a ball. Absolutely privileged.

That world has gone now. But the community, you mentioned the Film Exchange and the one across from there, as David did yesterday. He came from the promotions department, but you just get access to a lot of people, from writers to producers, everyone. That sense of community in the same environment, that’s gone now in television.

Yes. In a funny way it’s probably easier to get a job in television now than it ever was because there are more courses and more training at colleges and universities, and also there are independents galore. But the trick is obviously to find the right independent who’s creative enough and big enough. Because in my experience of independents they don’t tend to build people. You have to leave and go somewhere else to become a producer if you’re a researcher. You’re not recognised in your own country. I think it’s much harder, therefore, for people.

And I think a lot of people I know in independents are in development, which we never used to do. We used to have day jobs, and developing was on the side. We didn’t have an office with the word ‘development’ on it, ever. We literally carried on with what we were doing, and, by the way, I’ve had an idea, and we’ll have a meeting on it, and while we’re producing this show. So it’s turned differently now. I don’t think television is anything like the fun it was at Granada, but that’s maybe me in hindsight, sitting back a bit. It was fun. All the time.

Are you sad about what happened to Granada? Other people have expressed regret at the way it went.

I suppose I’d like to see it still doing what it did, but I’m not World In Action, not as sad as they are. We know from the books written and all the stuff, there is a lot of hurt there. I’m not, because the areas I worked in would have changed anyway. I think it’s a shame that there isn’t the creative hotbed that we enjoyed, but then there isn’t anywhere now. BBC is decimated. It’s a completely different world. We were just in a bubble. I think television was in a bubble. Everyone was making money. ITV was very prosperous. There were only four channels, and Granada had the license to print programmes. I can’t remember anything being denied in productions terms. We had budgets, but they were bloody good budgets, certainly in entertainment if it’s network, bloody hell. I know it was political because we wanted to wave our flag in Liverpool, but we did things like Rock Around The Dock, and in those days that was about 800,000 quid, and that’s several million now, on a rock show at night in Liverpool! And I know they wanted to make big noise for Liverpool, but that money was there, and you just went and put your hand out for more.

What was that other show you made around the same time?

New Brighton Rock.

Wasn’t there one on a battleship or something?

Yes, that was Rock Around The Rock, which was out of Gibraltar on Ark Royal. It was fun.

Looking back at the time you were at Granada, which individuals would you single out at as having impressed you or having been great role models for people working there?

Well, I think leadership from Plowright, and Mike Scott was very good to me. Very good to me. I remember several times I went to him as head of entertainment and just said, “I’ve totally fucked up.” I’d booked The Three Degrees to sing on a show and they hadn’t even got permits, which we thought they had and they hadn’t, and we couldn’t transmit, and we had to re-record the whole sequence with another act, which meant putting the set back in and god knows what. And I just said, “Sack me, I’ve really buggered it up here and it’s costing a fortune.” And he was absolutely fine. So there was that sort of relationship, that meant you could talk honestly and not need to fudge things or cover things. So I benefitted hugely from them. Johnnie Hamp was good to me. His television was very different television from mine, so I was sort of biting at his heels in a funny way, but I certainly learned a lot from him, although it’s not the sort of telly, or the way we’d made telly. He was very focused on how he made telly, which was a different brand. Morrison had a big impact on my life because I worked with him for years.

Do you think that entertainment was given enough respect in Granada?

No, but I don’t mind that, because that made you fight your corner more. We were the grotty dustbin in the corner that somebody had to do. I don’t think anyone in drama or World In Action or whatever was ever proud of entertainment shows that were going through; they were mildly intrigued but they didn’t see it as being the flag. Whereas I think we saw it as, if we got a big entertainment show on the network, it was a triumph because it was another string to the bow. I never felt disadvantaged at all, but I’d understood. I mean it was quite obvious, when you’d sit at creative boards at Granada, that the focus was on the heavier side of things and the more illustrious side of things. But they understood there was a need. And if there is a need on the network, it might as well be Granada that makes it.

So you have a very positive recollection of your Granada experience.

Absolutely. Wholly positive.

And you learned as you went along. That was the company way. And for you it was good fun.

Yes. There’s nothing I regretted about Granada or hated at all. I never ever went into work thinking, oh bugger, another Monday. That feeling that I’ve had since in different things. Absolutely, no. Thoroughly, really enjoyed it. I think everyone did. I don’t think there were unhappy people there.

What was Granada’s biggest entertainment show, over those years?

In Johnnie’s terms, it was Wheeltappers and… things were massive on Saturday nights. Big hit Saturday night shows, which Granada subsequently and historically didn’t really get because LWT swept in on all that. Granada wasn’t into stars. LWT was and is. London made front type of shows and we were more inventive in coming up with formats that would work.

I remember Mike Scott, who I worked with a fair bit when he was controller, he was pretty desperate to get an entertainment hit. I think he took the view that, you’ve got your Coronation Streets and your World In Actions but if only, and I remember him saying about Cilla Black, “If only we had Cilla Black”. The appetite for creating a hit entertainment show was very big.

Also, once you’ve got a hit show, it runs for years. That’s another worry out of the way. You can return for 13 weeks for five or six years.

And Krypton Factor was an important show.

Krypton Factor was a very important show, a) because it ticked the boxes, and b) it was very popular. You still hear references to it now.

And of course it won the Spanish television award in 1987.

Yes. I won one subsequent to that, the Premios Ondas.

That’s the one I’m talking about.

Yes, but I won it again myself for something else that was a hit in Spain, I can’t remember what it was.

I remember because Gordon went there with you to Spain.

Yes, I’ve still got photos of that.

I’ve got the flying horse, which I remember you were presented with, at your leaving dinner in the Midland Hotel, by [Claret?] or somebody.

What would you say is the legacy of Granada, from your perspective?

The legacy of Granada to the world? It was a fantastic training ground for so many people who have then gone out from there. Think of it as a school or college. Everyone’s gone off now to do other things, and that excellence is all over the joint. It’s all over the world. So I think, that, and also a brilliant history of programming.

Another thought occurs here, because this is what happened when we worked together. I remember Granada could have its snottier section, that was another thing with the BBC as well. Some people just put up with entertainment and quiz shows because there are more worthwhile things to do and we’ve got to pay the rent. But you were never like that, were you? You never wanted to see entertainment as a poor relation.

Oh god, no. I lived for entertainment and game shows. I absolutely thoroughly enjoy the chemistry of them, the makeup of them, and the execution of it. I honestly think quiz and game shows were the first early reality television, because it’s unscripted and using real members of the public in a position. Obviously reality now is freer, but that was the first thing where focus was on members of the public for entertainment. I would defend my corner completely. I wouldn’t have done it if I didn’t love it. I think you have to, don’t you? You’ve always got to be true to yourself, otherwise, why?

You were a bit unusual in Granada. Granada had a lot of worthy people, mostly, you had no shortcut. But I can’t think of other people like you – I mean, David Liddiment would be one – that were so committed to entertainment.

No, but it was wonderful because it was like being given license. That was fantastic, to come up with ideas and be able to do them, and have a whole team working on them. It was brilliant. I hope people you’ve talked to have positive memories.

No, they do. There isn’t any negative. I’ve done you and John Woods the cameraman, who was brilliant, and David was brilliant. And, you know, there are downsides in everything. Relations with the unions have been talked about as problematic.

But that would have been industry-wide, you see. I can remember things like not being able to pick up a paintbrush in the studio or move a chair, or all this nonsense. I still think now, yesterday in the studio in [Carnarvon?] I was helping move a podium, and it still strikes me, gosh, you wouldn’t have got away with that a few years ago! And nobody cares. So there’s still that. But that was industry-wide and not a Granada, problem, I don’t think.

Stephen Kelly

Tell me how long you worked at Granada

I worked at Granada for ten years. I began in July 1978. I had been working on Tribune the Labour left wing newspaper in London, so I had to move from London to Manchester . So, as I say, I worked there for ten years. I worked as a researcher but in the latter part of my career there I was a producer.

And this was ?

July 1978 until July 1988. In September 1988 I left and became freelance.

When you were a producer what were you producing ?

A: I worked mainly as a researcher which in BBC terms was a producer. I’ll take you through my entire history if you like. Everybody who worked as a researcher initially worked on the half hour news evening magazine programme which at that time was called Granada Reports and went out at 6.30pm after the main ITN news. Everybody had to start with working on that. I spent not many weeks on it, probably only about four weeks. I then went on to another local programme which was called Reports Extra which was a bit of a quirky half hour that went out on a Friday night. Again it was a local programme and you could do almost anything in on it.

I remember one programme we did, I think I may have worked on two or three, but I certainly remember one because we went to the conservative party conference which was in Blackpool and we did a half hour film about it. Margaret Thatcher was leader of the party then but she was not prime minister. I well remember we did an interview with her. We wanted an interview but we couldn’t get one so we bluffed our way into the Conservative Party ball and she was dancing on the floor with someone, I can’t remember if it was Denis or even Cecil Parkinson. Anyway we were there with our cameras and crew and on the dance floor we went. Our presenter was a guy called David Jones, who was from Liverpool. He was a tall lanky character, a bit of an anarchist as well. Anyway he went up to her and said, ‘I wonder if I could have a dance with you Mrs Thatcher.’ And she said, ‘that’s very rude of you, you’re not even wearing a tie. You must be one of those comprehensive schoolboys.’ And David said, ‘no, actually I went to a grammar school.’ And she said, ‘well it must have been a very bad grammar school.’ And he said, ‘no actually it was one of the best grammar schools in the north west of England.’ And then I think we got ushered very quickly off the floor. I well remember that and sometimes you still see that little piece when they are doing stuff about Margaret Thatcher, you see that little snip.

So, I worked on that for a few weeks and then I joined the local politics programme which was called Reports Politics. You see a similarity here using the work Reports because all the regional programmes had the word reports attached to them, well most of them. So Reports Politics was the Monday night half hour political porgramme which went out at 10.30pm because that was a regional opt out after the ITN news. It was a good programme, it lasted for half an hour and was a mix of film and studio, you could have 26 mins studio, 26 mins film or mostly we would do a bit of both, maybe a 14 or 15 minutes film and then studio. It was produced by two people. One was Gordon Burns who was also the presenter and he also presented the Krypton Factor.

Gordon presented the Krypton Factor but he also produced and presented this programme. His co-producer was a man called David Kemp. Kemp was also Granada’s political correspondent and lived in London. We could have an entire interview about David Kemp but I don’t want to go into too much detail about David Kemp. But he was an alcoholic. When I joined the programme he was dry. I spent a lot of time working for David Kemp. There was a great Granada strike in 1979 and he started drinking again after that. Let’s just leave it by saying that he became very difficult to work for.

I probably spent about a year working on Reports Politics which was good fun; I enjoyed it. There were interesting people who worked on it. One of them was Andy Harries. Andy is now a very famous film producer and won an Oscar; he produced the film The Queen. He also bought and produced the Gary Lineker play, an Evening With Gary Lineker which later became a film. He saw the play and bought it up. We had great fun with Andy, he was a good laugh. And a girl called Clarissa Hyman, Clarissa is now a very well known food writer. I enjoyed it in the main working on that programme. Kemp was a difficult man but he was also a very cultured man; he could be great fun to work with but he could equally be not much fun to work with. He was very cultured, very bright. He had worked with the Labour Party in their press office at one point. He knew politics inside out, he knew the history of the Labour Party and he was the brother of Sir Arnold Kemp who was the editor of the Glasgow Herald and he was the son of George (correction Robert) Kemp, the famous Scottish playwright who had founded the Edinburgh Traverse Theatre and had written a number of famous plays including one called the Three Quaires. I’ll talk no more about Kemp – I’ll leave it there.

So I worked on Reports Politics for about a year and then after that went onto a programme called Hypotheticals. Hypotheticals was a networked programme. Sixteen people sit around a horseshoe table with a moderator and each of these people play a hypotethical role and a story is presented to them. For instance you have somebody – you’re a journalist. The first programme they did was about journalism. An envelope falls on your desk and inside the envelope is the secret minutes of a cabinet meeting – what do you do ? And there would be an editor of a newspaper, a Cabinet Minister, the police and so on. And you work out a story. It had been devised by the Ford Foundation in America in the 1950s and a man called Fred Friendly saw it in action. And Fred Friendly was one of the greatest TV producers of all time. He produced the Ed Murrow Show and produced that very famous one about McCarthy. Fred Friendly was a legend and he saw this and he changed it and devised a scheme for television. So the first one we did was about journalism, the second series was about doctors. The thing was that you confronted an ethical or moral dilemma; it was about decision making. What do you do if a 14-year-old girl comes into your surgery and wants to go on the pill? What decision do you make? Well, I worked on a series about the police and I spent about a year working on it. I have to say that it wasn’t altogether successful, mainly because the police wouldn’t play ball. You try to introduce an element of surprise; you say, for instance, the prisoner has been found in his cell the following morning black and blue, black eyes, bleeding nose. What do you do ? And the police would then say, ‘well that wouldn’t happen. It wouldn’t happen in the police. Sorry.’ The police are a very rigid organization, so it was very, very difficult to get them to face moral dilemmas because it had all been worked out beforehand. So, it wasn’t hugely successful that but I quite enjoyed it and I got a couple of trips to New York because the moderator was a man called Benno Schmidt who was a professor at Columbia University. He’s now quite famous. He became president of Yale University and is now one of the leading academics in America and a great friend of Woody Allen. If you go to see Woody Allen films, Benno nearly always has a walk on part! So I did that for a year.

I think after that I went onto World In Action. I may have done a few programmes in between but, yes, I think it was WIA. One of the problems of WIA – now my expertise was in British politics. Now WIA was not very good at doing British politics. WIA had certain problems; it was not a studio-based programme, so it didn’t have a studio set and it did not have a presenter. Now the problem with British politics is that the kind of programmes I was doing were fast moving. Now WIA at this time was shot on film, this is before video, it was shot on film so you had to start putting you’re film together on a Saturday, you couldn’t film afterwards, couldn’t get it processed.

Things change rapidly so it wasn’t ideal for doing British political programmes. So they didn’t do that many. When they tried to do studio programmed and I worked on a number of studio programmes, every one that I worked on seemed to be a bit of a disaster. It was not my fault.

I worked on one where we did an interview – it was to do with the SDP – and we did a studio interview in London at the Commonwealth Society. The first great mishap was the cameraman – there was this beautiful building with these statuettes on plinths. It was a lovely summer’s day and the windows were wide open. The cameraman turned with his camera and he knocked one of these statuettes off the plinth and it crashed down into the forecourt. The next crisis was that they discovered they didn’t have a vision mixer. There were some appalling trade union rules in those days and you had to have a vision mixer – somebody was going to be reading something into the show. It was an outside broadcast We were going to film the whole thing, 26 minutes, then it would be taken back up to Manchester and put out. But they put in an insert where someone else was going to be involved and it needed a vision mixer and they didn’t have a vision mixer. So, as soon as they finished filming, they said that the film was going to be blacked because we didn’t have a vision mixer. The producer went wild, ‘I didn’t know I had to have a vision mixer, nobody told me.’ So the consequence of this was that – the only way that it could be done was to run the interview through studio and this little extra insert would be done in studio with a vision mixer. So we quickly had to book a studio in Manchester and we had to get a helicopter to fly the presenter and reporter up to Manchester to put it through studio cos with the train times we couldn’t do it. We came back up on the train and I think we arrived just as it was finishing. What an outcome. It was ridiculous.

The culture of bullying


Was it man against man, man against woman, or general.

I think general. There was a culture of bullying. Sometimes you had to shout at people to get anything done. You’d go round to certain departments to get things done – it was their job and it would be a case of ‘ooh I don’t know, difficult’ etc. Some people would shout and scream and it did seem to be more effective. So there was a culture of bullying. Producers were very powerful and again they could bully if they wanted. You are also working in an industry of deadlines. I used to always say that television was the most efficient business of earth cos there was never an instance when a caption went up saying, sorry we can’t bring you Coronation Street cos somebody’s off ill. They always got made. There were very tight deadlines People did get tense and stressed, so yes, there was inevitably a certain amount of bullying.

And affairs ?

Yes, the place was a bed of gossip. I was warned very early on, within the first few weeks of joining Granada – ‘don’t go out with anybody in Granada cos it will be all around the building.’ And it would be. People would have affairs, people would – particularly when they went filming and the entire building would know about before they got up for breakfast in the morning. It was bad. Yes, there were lots, lots. Well I mean it was inevitable in a way because it was not a family friendly business to be in, particularly if your partner was not working in television. It must have been very, very difficult because you’d be away from home filming, you would adjourn to the bar at the end of the day, so you might not wander home until 10 o’clock at night, 11.00 o’clock and people spent an awful lot of time drinking and socializing, so it wasn’t conducive to family life. And affairs did happen, it’s a bit inevitable when people are away filming, creeping along corridors and that. It happened.

Did you do that?

No, I didn’t actually. No, not at all. I only ever really went out with one girl at Granada and she became my wife.

So, you did go out with someone from Granada. What did she do?

Her name was Judith Jones and she was a production assistant who worked on Union World. She was based in Liverpool at the time and she worked on Union World and that’s how we got to know each other. I think we started going out with each other fairly quickly. We kept it quiet for a while although all the other researchers in the office knew. But the producer never knew. We kept it quiet for a little while. She then moved to the Manchester office and went to work on WIA. She spent six months on WIA. Normally a production assistant would spend 12 months working on WIA but I thought that that would be really difficult.


Well being a production assistant on World in Action is a real merry go round. I just thought that it would be too long and not easy to have a relationship. Because what happened was that you would go off filming on the Monday, sometimes you would get back on the Saturday, you’d unpack your suitcase, pack another one and you were off again on the Monday. She would spend the entire weekend sleeping, washing clothes, it’s really hard going. And I don’t think its conducive for a relationship. So we agreed that she would do just six months on World In Action.

And then ?

I think she did Coronation Street then and various other programmes and then she got married and had a baby, so she packed in then.

Was that because it wasn’t conducive to her, to a woman. Well two things, if a woman got married to somebody in the team were they expected to leave.

No, not at all. No, no there were no problems there. There were lots of Granada people who were married to one another, so that was not a problem. The problem was that she asked Granada if she could go part time but they said ‘no’. That was when she was pregnant and they said ‘no’. So that was when she packed it in. It’s just not a job, it’s not a family friendly job, it’s very difficult.

So how long was she at Granada?

Oh, I think three or four years, something like that.

How much a part of your life – you were there for ten years and you left 25 years ago – how big a part of your life has it been.

A: Oh, a major part. I had really enjoyable years there. It was a major part. Back in the early eighties when I was there Granada made Brideshead Revisited which was one of the great dramas. And I always remember you would go into reception and there was this big quote that had been reproduced on the wall in reception, it said ‘Granada television is the best TV company in the world’. End quote. New York Times. And it was. You know we were in the best TV company in the world for a number of reasons and you were making wonderful programmes. It was a very paternalistic company but it was also very innovative with programmes like Union World, World in Action, dramas like Brideshead Revisited, Jewel in the Crown, Cracker. They were all wonderful dramas. Money was no expense. They made wonderful and innovative programmes like WIA, Union World, What the Papers Say.

It was also a very northern company, it was proud of its northern roots and it boasted about them. It was also quite left wing. You knew that everybody you worked with was of the same ilk, of the same thought and the company was not ashamed of it. The company had been formed by Sidney Bernstein who later became Lord Bernstein. Bernstein was a Labour Party supporter throughout his life and he took the Labour whip when he became a peer. The entre family supported Labour. That was it; it was a Labour company. Just as the Daily Mirror was a Labour newspaper, so Granada was a Labour company.

I remember they hired a woman once who had worked at the Conservative Party Research department. They felt, ought to – I think there might have been some criticisms – so they thought they ought to branch out, so they hired this woman and she didn’t last six months.

Was that because she couldn’t cope with Granada or Granada couldn’t cope with her.

I think a bit of both actually. But you knew that everybody was the same. Everybody was bright. I remember somebody saying to me once about the Labour Party, where are all those bright young people who used to join the Labour Party. Answer, working for Granada Television. And it was true. And after the 1979 general election Margaret Beckett had lost he seat , Jack Straw, Brian Sedgemore who had all lost their seats came to work for Granada. So Granada was full of extremely bright, extremely bright, creative, left wing people,

Was that across the board ?

Across the board. Yes, well I’m talking mainly of production people here rather than technicians or crews. But I think a lot of the technicians and crews were of the left. Not all but that was the reputation it had. And it was. It was great to work there, everybody was of the same age. We just had a great time.

So how much do you miss it ?

Well there are some things I miss. But I’m old now and don’t have the kind of energy I had in those days. Your social life evolved around Granada and you couldn’t have much of a social life at times. I worked on a lot of programme which went out on a Monday and seemed to involve working all weekend. I remember once working on World In Action and I got a telephone call at 12.30 at night and I am in bed. It was Friday night and I had an entire weekend organized. I get a phone call, ‘be in London for 11.00am in the morning, we’ve got an emergency programme’. That was it.

What was the programme?

The programme was to do with the Labour Party election, the election for a new leader of the Labour Party. So, that was another bad programme.

Did this have anything to do with you ?

No, it had nothing whatsoever to do with me. I’ll tell you what happened. We are doing this programme about – was it Michael Foot – I can’t remember which election it was about, and it was a very close call. Nobody quite knew who was going to win, it was such a close call. And they said what we want you do to do is ring – at this time in the election for Labour leader the trade unions got so many votes, every constituency party had a vote and every MP had a vote. It was a third, third, third. So, they said right I want you to ring every MP and ask them how they’re going to vote, every constituency party and ask them and every trade union. And I said, that’s barmy because it’s too close to call anyhow and who are you going to talk to ? Half the MPs are going to lie to you. If you ring the constituency Labour parties who are you going to ring, some will not have made a decision yet, who are you going to talk to, the constituency secretary, the chairman. If you ring the trade union, some of the trade unions haven’t made a decision yet. It only needs one or two of those to be out and your vote is no good. So, they said ‘do it!’ So I spent an entire weekend sitting in an hotel in London phoning everybody. And, it was predictable. That’s exactly what happened. A lot of people said they didn’t know or whatever and of course at the end of the day we said ‘blah blah blah… and we can reveal in an exclusive World In Action poll that it’s too close to call’. I could have told you that. It was such a waste of time, it was bad journalism.

Roland Coburn

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 30 January 2014.

Let’s go through your Granada career chronologically. When did you join Granada? 

Bloody hell! I was there for thirty-seven years, and I left four years ago.

When did you leave school?

I left school when I was eighteen, and then I went to work for a company called Greendow, which was a small independent place that used to have freelance editors, assistants and things to help out all the television companies around the country. They used to supply editors to work on programmes like World in Action.

I started as the little van driver who took out bits of film and gave people lifts out to all the various other stations and things like that. After that, I was lucky enough to go into a department called ‘Negative Cutting’. We used to cut the negative to match the film. So the editor would work on the film, cut it all up into lots of little pieces, put it all back together again and then I’d match the negative to that, so that when it was printed in the labs you’d get a nice clean, pristine colour print. Or that was the theory of it, anyway. I did that for about three years.

Luckily enough, again, I managed to get from being a freelance to being an assistant at Granada. I was assistant to one of the best editors I ever worked with, which was Jack Dardis. I did that for about a year and then I was made staff. I stayed editing, as Jack’s assistant, for about five years. He was a great editor to learn from. We worked on lots of dramas.

Such as?

Philby, Burgess and Maclean, Strangers. Of course, Philby, Burgess and Maclean had Derek Jacobi in, etc, so they were great dramas. After that, and still as an assistant, I worked with another great editor called Tony Ham.

I was sent to the Lakes with Ken Russell, who was then a features director. So having a features director work on a television programme was interesting, to say the least! David Warner was in it, and Felicity Kendal — people like that.

We were up there, and we actually edited the programme in Ken Russell’s own little cottage in Keswick, by the side of a lake. We were up there nearly nine months and the whole of Keswick was basically full of Granada personnel: the crews were out there, stage-hands, everybody. It was absolutely brilliant. You very rarely had the chance to meet someone like Ken Russell, never mind actually work with them for that length of time.

So what was it like working with him?

He was exactly as you expected. He would go out during the day and cause complete havoc. If you do a scene and you don’t like it, you do it again, but sometimes when I used to put all the sound together with the film, and was syncing the rushes up, on the clapperboard it would often say ‘take 45’ or ‘take 46’. He would make you do it over and over and over again.

There was a particular scene where David Warner was walking back, and the idea was that he was quoting some sort of poem, and he actually fell over. He got up and was really shouting at himself and annoyed that he’d fallen over. Russell went bonkers, because he wanted him to get up and carry on — the fall was so natural — and because he stopped the flow he went berserk. I felt a bit sorry for David Warner, but that’s just the way Russell was.

Another scene, where they wanted leaves blowing over the mountains, they brought in these wind machines, which had to be carried halfway up this mountain, complete with bags and bags of leaves that could be thrown in front of the wind machine to give it this effect. That’s just the way he was. He was amazing to work with.

What was the programme?

I think it was called The Three Lakeland Poets. Unfortunately, it’s never been shown since, because I believe that Russell had it all tied up in relation to repeat fees that he’d be paid. Huge sums of money. So these great dramas were never ever shown again, which I think was a really, really great shame, because in those days, Granada — through Mr. Plowright, etc — did make wonderful dramas.

And your mum and dad had worked in Granada as well?

Mother was, in fact, David Plowright’s secretary, in the very early days, and also helped Sir Denis Forman out as well. Then she became a PA. Father was a researcher on Scene at Six Thirty — or People and Places, as it started — and things like that. He eventually left Granada and went to the BBC, and was on things like Dee Time — as in Simon Dee — so that shows you how long ago that was. He used to write as well.

But Mother stayed with Granada until she eventually retired. She became what I would call one of the top PAs. At the weekends, she did all the football on the Saturday and all the church services on the Sunday. Football she loved. She was also a PA on the World Cup as well. Because she spoke six languages, it was useful to have a PA talking to other companies in their language, to say when they could change camera angles or do anything they wanted to do. She was also the PA on the original royal wedding of Charles and Di. She did quite a fair bit.

Did you mean the 1966 World Cup?

Yes. She loved sport, which helped. She kept doing the football for many, many years.

Your mother was German?

She was, yes. She’d been an interpreter during the war for one of the British armies, and then met Father out there and was given permission to come and live in England. You had to get official permission from the government, and various other bits and pieces, in those days.

So you must be well-steeped in this Granada tradition?

I suppose I was lucky at an early age, because I never wanted to do anything else but work in television. There was never a thought of: do I want to do this, or do I want to be a doctor or a lorry driver? I’d always wanted to work in television. Originally, I wanted to be a cameraman, but the opportunity never quite arose so I went down the editing route and have done that ever since I left Granada.

So there you are at Granada. You remained the film editor throughout your Granada career, and were one of the great film editors, if I may say so. What kind of programmes did you work on after doing those initial dramas?

Well, it was a bizarre setup really, because when I was an assistant, ITN used to have a north-west reporter, who used to come up to Manchester and do little north-west news items. The very first thing I cut was a fifteen-second mute item — no sound, just four pictures cut together — of a rail delay somewhere in the north-west. It went out in ITN, and that was my very first thing. Just to see fifteen seconds of your own item go out was amazing.

I then started Granda Reports News and, because it was shot on film, or what they used to call reversal — once you make a cut, that’s it — you could stick it back together, because they had sellotape to cut the joins. So you had to make a decision.

What it taught you was to make a decision, and hopefully the right decision, because if you changed your mind, you’d always get that flash where the shot was rejoined back together again. So you knew you had to make decisions and make them quick.

Often, the item would come in at half five and it would be transmitted at six o’clock, so you had no time to mess about; you had to make decisions. That was good, because it learned you to be quick, understand what the reporter wanted and things like that.

Granada Reports, in those days, used to do nice little half-hour documentaries. You’d do a few little documentaries, which gave you more confidence. After that, I went onto a great football show called Kick Off, which was run by Paul Doherty and, in fact, in those days, someone like Paul Greengrass — the now Hollywood director — was one of the researchers. Elton Welsby was the presenter and Gerald Sinstadt was another presenter.

It was great, because I loved football and I was doing all these shows. I did that for quite some time — or it seemed quite some time. Ultimately, it came that there was an editor’s job. I applied for it and luckily I got it. You then started editing ‘proper’ programmes. I was lucky enough to do a Bulman and a Strangers which, in those years, were ITV’s top drama programmes. Not many people now will remember them, but they were great, great programmes. After that, there was a chance to work on World in Action which, of course, was everyone’s idea of being at the forefront, and I said, ‘Yes, I’ll have a go at that’. Twenty-one years and just short of seven hundred programmes I was on World In Action.

You spent your whole time on World in Action then?

I was on it for virtually twenty-one years. Occasionally I was taken off to do particular one-off programmes because, perhaps, World in Action was off the air, and things like that.

One of them was The Battle of Monte Cassino; this was the battle in which Sir Denis had been injured and lost his leg during the war. Sir Denis often used to pop in and come and see how it was doing. Not because he would change the programme or anything like that but purely so he could see how we were doing.

The director, Mike Beckham, I think, would be, ‘Oh, he’s here again!’ But he actually used to come in and say, ‘Oh, hello young Roland, how are you?’ because he remembered me through my mother. We’d chat for a bit then off he’d trundle. It was amazing.

Did he ever talk about losing his leg?

No, and it was something we never mentioned, purely out of respect for what he went through. I’m not actually quite sure if it was Mike Beckham or Ken Greaves. It was one of those two.

Would you see people like Denis Forman and Sidney Bernstein around the building?

Sir Denis, often, would walk along the corridors and so would Mr Plowright. They would both walk up and down, and you always knew because somebody would say, ‘Quick! Tidy the room up! Clean the floors! Polish your hair!’ and all that kind of thing. ‘Sir Denis is on the prowl.’

He’d walk up and down the corridor, check up and see what was happening, and it was brilliant, because he was like the god, the main man, and it was wonderful to see him wandering around. You could often be sat in the canteen and he would suddenly appear. He’d have his sleeves rolled up and sit down and have his dinner in the canteen with the workers, and people really liked that. They liked to see that he was there, and he did have this authority about him that left people in awe.

Sidney Bernstein?

Yeah, the Bernsteins would pop in. But you knew if they were around because the whole company, the whole building, was at attention, because you never were quite sure if he was going to pop in. It always made people slightly nervous and wary. But they were around. Of course, then they used to have the place at Golden Square in London, which was the London side of Granada. So most of the time, if they were around, they would be there.

Would you spend any time down at Golden Square?

I’d done two or three World in Actions down there, purely because World in Action, in those days, was split into two camps: they had a London side and a Manchester side. Often, the London people would come up to Manchester to do the edit, but if the edit was very tight, or perhaps had lots of problems with legalities, we could cut it in London, so the lawyers could pop in to the room, see it and go away again. So I’d cut a couple down in London. It was interesting, because Golden Square was where the real big bosses were. It was good fun.

Who would you have worked with on World in Action?

Lord Gus Macdonald was on World in Action as a producer and, later on, as a deputy producer as well. There were great producers like John Shepherd and Brian Blake; people who made wonderful programmes and wrote beautifully. It was the writing of them. You can argue the rights and wrongs, that the visuals weren’t perhaps as inspiring as they are today — because you didn’t have that kind of technology — but the way they wrote, you could follow what was going on and you were never in doubt as to who was the baddie. And there were quite a few baddies around!

It moved on at such a rate of knots that, all of a sudden, people like Paul Greengrass — who I’d worked with as a researcher on Kick Off — then was a researcher on World in Action, and other people, like the Jeff Sees (?) of this world, went on to be great producers and write lots of books and things. So there were lots of people there who really knew the industry inside out and could really make a wonderful programme.

You were there at Granada when you get this crucial change in film editing?

Yes. One of the great things was, obviously, film would have to move, in the sense that you would shoot the film, it’d have to go to the labs, it’d have to be developed, you would get a print to edit, you’d cut it all up and then you’d have to go back to the labs to match it up with a negative, which would then have to be printed. All this took time, and time could be maybe a day or two days. Often, you might lose a very valuable slot.

So it moved on a bit and the next thing, you thought, would be VHS editing: we’d do it on VHS in the edit suite and then you’d match it to tape, and the programme would then go out on tape. So film was slightly being manipulated out. The only problem with VHS, as you’re well aware, is that once you’ve done one assembly, if you change your mind and try and make another copy of it, the picture quality gets less and less. So it didn’t really quite work.

They then tried Beta tapes, or VTR tapes. The cameras were a lot bigger; a lot more cumbersome. But it was the same again: you’d go on Beta tape and it was fine, but it was always having to have three machines to work. It held its own for quite a few years and then, ultimately, it became what it is now, which is non-linear editing.

The best way of comparing that is that it’s just like if you have a Word document. You cut and paste; it’s exactly the same. All you’re doing is basically cutting a picture and pasting it, and it enables you to move it wherever you want. You don’t lose the quality. You have all the stuff at your fingertips. It’s shot onto a little card which you can put in your pocket and carry it around with you. Put that card into the machine and it digitises all the rushes. Then you just non-linear edit it. Of course, you’re able to add all the wonderful optical effects that you can do with computers, whereas in the old days, you’d have to make several layers of film to make anything work.

So basically you’re editing on a computer now? 

It is, yes. One of the good things in that respect is you see what you are doing. When you used to be on film, if you would just do, say, a simple mix, you wouldn’t see it until it came pack from the print, so you’re always hoping that it worked. Now, with it being non-linear, you do a mix and you can see it instantly. Straight away you can say, ‘Actually, no that’s too short’, or ‘That’s too long, there’s a bit of wobble on that camera movement. We can do it again’.

So with non-linear, you’re now spoilt, because you can just do so many versions, and you eventually get it right. Also, whereas before, on film, you’d just have one little screen when you were working with it, now you can have up to three or four monitors, showing pictures that you’re working on, pictures that you’re about to work on and even, depending on your system, a picture before that. So you have all these images and all the monitors. You know exactly what you’re looking at: if the colour’s good, if the sound’s good, and all those can be tweaked during the edit.

And presumably you can do that sitting at home? 

Yes, I have an edit suite at home and four twenty-seven inch screens which I work from. Because of all the applications and add-ons, you can tweak all the sound, you can help lose any hum or distant traffic and things like that. You can clean it all up. You can colour grade pictures. That’s just the way it is: you can virtually do everything you want to do.

Do you prefer doing that or going back to the old Steenbeck machines?

When the director said, ‘I want thirty seconds of this sequence’, while I’m cutting that he’s got time to write and work out what he wants to do. Whether you write pictures to words or you put words to picture is always open debate. Whereas now, on non-linear, because nothing ever rewinds and everything’s instant, if he says, ‘Put me four shots together’, you can do that within about a second and a half. So that producer doesn’t have that time, that thinking time, to work out. It puts a lot of pressure on them to, perhaps, bring a script into the edit suite. So you used to get two weeks to do it; now it’s down to a week. Things have got a lot tighter; a lot shorter. The thinking time is lost now. I think that’s a great shame.

But the quality of the picture?

The qualities of the picture and the sound are perfect, because virtually everything now is shot HD, which is 1080i. The sound, with all the new microphones and things, is really good quality. When you go back into the old film days, sometimes, if they had to do secret filming, they used to use old Hi8 and Super 8 cameras hidden in the bottom of a bag. Cameramen — people like George Turner — would hold it as if they were stood there watching the world go by, and they were filming you. The quality would be awful. But this was the beginning of new technology.

Is is true to say that you can almost film anything, any way, and you can cover up all the mistakes easier now?

Yes. Most of the cameras and the editing software have a stabiliser, so if the camera is a bit wobbly, because it’s handheld or whatever, you can stabilise it. You have to zoom in a bit to lose all the shakiness, but you can do it.

If the colour’s terrible because of the sunlight, you can alter the colour, you can change it, and within reason, you can virtually make anything better. Computer-wise, you can copy bits and pieces; you can add bits to the frame; you can blur out bits; you can change things round. So often, what you might think is a normal background, you can actually lose the background and put another background in its place.

When you see any feature film these days, is what you’re seeing real or not? You see a man doing something and you think, did he actually do that? You don’t know nowadays what is real and what isn’t, because of the world of computers.

Let’s talk a little bit about Granada as a company. You were there during its heyday. 

Yeah, I’d like to think so.

In its heyday, what kind of company was it?

It was a brilliant company to work for. Everybody seemed to want to do their best for the company. Everyone said, ‘I work for Granada Television, because they make the best programmes’, and they did. Jewel in the Crown, Brideshead Revisited: these wonderful dramas that they would make, and they would spend a lot of money on them and made them look good.

Some of the documentaries like The Christians — which I was lucky enough to be an assistant on — were great programmes. It always made you feel very proud to work for Granada. Even now, I say, ‘I work for Granada’, and not ITV. As far as I’m concerned, Granada was the one and always will be, because the original caption always said: ’From the north, Granada presents.’

You made wonderful programmes there, but what about it as a company? Was it a good company to work for in the way it treated its employees?

They always wanted their pound of flesh, and the hours could be quite difficult and quite challenging. But ultimately, you always did it, because you did think, these are the best programmes to work for and, in hindsight, this is the best TV company to work for. You always thought you were better than the BBC. I’m sure people would argue that point, but as far as I was concerned, Granada’s were the great programmes.

It was run by people who liked to make films. Mr Plowright did make films; he knew what it took. The people that ran Granada always knew what was involved in making decent programmes. I’m not so sure that’s the case these days. I’m not sure how many people who run TV companies have actually made any programmes. That’s the big difference.

And you were well rewarded? 

Well, you were well rewarded in the sense that you got overtime, and overtime was often an incentive for a lot of people to go beyond what was normal. On World in Action — and it went through across the board — if you did work overtime, you’d have to have what they called a ‘ten-hour break’.

Explain that. 

Basically, after you’ve done a day, you’re meant to have a ten-hour break, and a ten-hour break is, which is at least ten hours before you restarted work again. This was brought in by the unions to stop people working until three or four o’clock in the morning, going home, and coming back at eight o’clock.

So it was a penalty, and the penalty was, if you didn’t have a ten-hour break between finishing work and starting again, the following day you would be on double time. So it meant that the people who wanted you to work would think, ‘we can’t afford that, so you’d better go home now’.

However, if you were on a programme that was really up against it — it happened on World in Action numerous times. Sometimes, I would go home, having worked maybe twenty hours a day for three days on the trot. The first day was double time, the second day was four-T an hour and the third day was eight-T an hour. So it actually doubled up.

So all of a sudden, you’re finishing your last day and you’ve been there for maybe ten hours, and you’re on eight-T an hour. If there was any incentive to want to keep going, that was the one to do it.

The downside was that it would cut out the budget, so you knew this wasn’t going to go on forever, because companies couldn’t afford this kind of money. But again, sometimes on World in Action, I’d start on Saturday morning and I’d go home Monday night, and you’d work through two or three days with no sleep.

So I think you deserved to be paid that extra money, because it’s a long haul to go through that much time without any sleep. The next thing you know, you have a day off and you’re back in work again the following Wednesday. You do that for a few months and then you’re really on your hands and knees by the end of the run, before the summer break came and things like that.

But it was never going to last. I understand that the unions were trying to save people, to stop them working, but you knew that this kind of money couldn’t go from all the budgets. So somewhere along the line it would have to stop and, unfortunately, it did, and it cut budgets down left, right and centre. You got very little overtime. If you did, it was just simple time-and-a-half which, again, is fine, but all the days of double time had gone. Double time at weekends had gone. So it was just straight, normal pay at work.

So the company begins to change, in the late eighties and into the early nineties?

Yes. It almost seemed to come at the same time as Maxwell took over the Mirror, because he moved into the Mirror, which was in Manchester — because I knew people that worked at the Mirror — and all of a sudden all their little extras had started to go. They were cutting the budgets down. All this free drinking and free this and that all went out of the window.

At the same time, it seemed Granada then started cutting down on this; you couldn’t get budgets to do that; we can’t afford it. ‘I want four days filming.’ ‘No, you can only have one day filming.’ The whole thing started coming down to money, which was a great shame, because, obviously, there were more and more channels opening. So ITV didn’t have a monopoly on all of the advertising. Once the advertising revenues start to drop, you can’t afford the same kind of money for the programmes.

And the company had been taken over? 

The company had been taken over and, ultimately, everybody who takes over a company, all they want to do is make money, and to make money, you have to start cutting corners. And they cut corners quite drastically in those days.

Did you find it was a family-friendly company? 

It was always very friendly, especially in the early days. I always remember, when I was possibly about eight or nine, Granada always used to have, at Christmas, a children’s show, that they used to have in one of the studios. They used to invite all the children of the employees down there and it would be party time. The canteen was opened up and full of jellies and cakes and so forth. They used to have bands on and, on one of these particular occasions, the band was Lulu and the Lovers — and that was before Lulu went solo, so it shows how long ago it was! But they looked after kids, they looked after the people, and it was great to work for. It made the parents feel as if they were all part and parcel of the same company.

I think you mentioned to me you would get taken into the studio by your mum?

Yes. Obviously, with Father working for the BBC and Mother working for Granada, I was volunteered to go to boarding school — that’s probably the best way of putting it — and often, when I used to finish the term, Mother would still be working, and during the day and during the week would be on University Challenge and things like that.

So while she used to be in the control box, sat next to the director, I’d be sat on the floor with a pen and paper and she’d say, ‘Draw, and sit there for a couple of hours while we do this show’. That’s what I would do. It was always interesting, because, at the end of it, you’d meet all these people. If it wasn’t University Challenge — if she’d worked on a couple of dramas or a couple of big shows — you’d meet all these people, and it was really nice to meet everybody. She was also involved quite heavily, in the early days, on Coronation Street.

She was very good friends with Violet Carson, Ena Sharples, Elsie Tanner, Pat Phoenix and Doris Speed, who was Annie Walker. They were always at our house, and I was always wandering round with mother to their houses, because Pat Phoenix lived in Sale. She actually had a swimming pool, which was quite big. I always used to go over there and used to go swimming in the swimming pool. Mother and her would be sat there having a large gin and tonic or something.

You’d go round and you’d meet Doris Speed and you’d meet her mother. The mother would always try and give me a Dubonnet and things like that, which didn’t go down particularly well, but it was great to meet these people.

There was one particular time we had to move to Ansdell, which is just near Blackpool — which was one of the reasons why I was at boarding school — and all the Coronation Street people had come round to Mother’s for a party. It was great. They were all there.

They’d had a few lemonades and were quite happy with life. I think Elsie, or Pat Phoenix said, ‘Why don’t we go to the pleasure beach?’ So Mother duly volunteered me to take this bunch to the pleasure beach. So off we trundled; there was Elsie, Pat and all the others. They used to have this ride called the Helter Skelter — which I’m not so sure if it’s there any more — and it literally was. You’d walk up quite a long ladder, you’d sit in a sack and they’d just push you down this thing.

Pat said, ‘I’ll have a go at it!’ and up she went. And the expression of her face as she came straight down on this slide; I thought the whole of Blackpool was just going to collapse in laughter as she went head over heels and into this bale of hay. But that’s the way it was: everybody was friendly, everybody knew each other and they were nice to each other. You could always sit and talk, and it was a fabulous time. It really was.

People have mentioned to me about the canteen, the bar and the stables being very important?

The canteen was very important, for several reasons, I always thought, because anybody who was working at the station and wanted anything to drink or eat would have to go in the canteen. There was none of this, ‘Oh, there’s a separate canteen for this production or programme’. Everybody would be sat there.

One time I was stood in the queue and Tom Jones is stood behind me. They would say, ‘Hello’ and that was about it. There was one time when I was sat in the canteen. Someone said, ‘Can I sit next to you?’ and I looked up and it was Stefanie Powers and Robert Wagner, because they were in doing a big drama. They went and sat down and had their lunch and I kind of said, ‘I think I’ll go’ and left them. But that’s what happened. These great stars of film and theatre would appear, because there was only one place to eat. Sir Denis wanted everyone to be part of this lovely family culture.

And the canteen would be open from dawn to dusk?

It would. There was a young lady called Irma, who used to run the tea. She had this huge pot of tea, and if you were at the beginning of the queue it’d be great. But if you got towards the end of the queue, she’d refilled it so many times with tea it would melt the spoon, I think. But it always a laugh and a joke, and it was great fun.

Everybody was nice; everyone looked after the canteen ladies and they looked after you. If you were nice to them, they’d be nice to you. If you gave them any hard times, you’d suffer in the process. There used to be a little theatre group at the side, in the building, and then some bright spark said, ‘We’ll make this into a bar’, which was called the Old School and the stables.

As you know, television people do like the odd drink or two, and this place would just be absolutely heaving. People would be in there at all times, because some programmes would be finished, some would start, some would start early, some would start late. So whatever time you went in there, it would be full. And also, it would be full of all the so-called actors and actresses. Again, it was still a family unit, and that’s what made it so special.

Let’s talk a little bit about the way the company did change.

There were changes. When David Plowright lost his position on the board. He was on holiday at the time. People had moved in and moved him out. He knew straightaway once that had started, that was the end of the road. Not necessarily for Granada, but the end of the road of the family feeling.

Because these people that had come in, all they were interested in was pounds, shillings and pence. That’s all that they wanted to know: how much money they could make; how much could they save; could they do this; could they do that. From that point onwards, it then lost all the family connections and it got very hard and bitter, because people who’d been at Granada from day one always remembered what it was like and compared it to what it had gone on to be, and it was never, never the same.

Even now, if people talk to me, most of the time you can’t help but talk about the ‘good old days’. You don’t really talk about the days when various money men had moved in. That saw the demise of Granada Television.

Is there anything else you want to say or talk about? 

I don’t think so. I kept the technical side out of the film, because if I start talking about reversal it just loses it. I think non-linear is almost self-explanatory. I think people can understand cut and paste. I think that’s probably about it.

Michael Ryan

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 5 November 2015.

What were you doing before you joined Granada Television?

Working for the BBC as a studio director. I was headhunted, or something, for the BBC 2 start up. Technically I was a BBC 2 trainee from Oxford in 1963, and I spent about nine months on Panorama as a sort of tea boy/researcher. Then I went into a studio directors’ course and I spent about the next between 18 months and two years as a studio director on the lower-budget educational/current affairs strand. I was mainly on the current affairs side.

This is crucial to my coming to Granada: I actually knew what the BBC was like, the good side and the bad side. Particularly the bad side being the bureaucracy. I won’t say it was any worse then than it is now, but it was not a great organisation to work for, thought I thought, and still do, that there are some remarkably talented people there.

This is a minor interest, but my father was a publican in Chelsea, and I met Michael Parkinson, who at that time was a Granada producer, by accident. He was a friend of the late journalist Anthony Howard who lived just round the corner. What was funny about it was that he was going to join 24 Hours [? show name?], this kind of news strand, the equivalent of Newsnight in those days in the BBC. He had no public celebrity at all at that time. He asked me a whole lot of questions and I jokingly said at the end of this, “It sounds to me as though Granada’s a better place than the BBC!” And he said, “Do you want a job? Because they’re desperate to get people. We’re very under-staffed at the moment.” And I said, well, I’d certainly give it a spin.

An interview was arranged with David Plowright, who at that time was running local programmes, and we got on famously. He said the requirements for the job is that you have a sense of humour, and I said I think I have that. Anyway, I made him laugh about a few things. I think Barry [Higgs? 03:36] wandered in at the end of the interview and that was it, I was employed as a researcher on Scene at 6:30 for six months.

This would be what year?

This would be January 1966. I joined in January 1966 and I had a kind of revolving door over the next couple of years with local programmes. In the autumn of that year they revived a series called The World Tomorrow which was a rather muddled view somehow reflecting the obsession with Harold Wilson’s ‘the white heat of technology’. I went on that first as a researcher for a short period and then I was made up as a producer. John Shepherd suggested to me I should have put my foot down and been a director form the word go, but I know perfectly well that the facts are that we were on contract employment and they weren’t taking any chance other than to see whether you were good enough, or what it was they wanted.

So that was a short-term contract to begin with?

To begin with, and then it became by the year. I’ll come back to the contract point, because it’s quite important, later on. So I did films. The best film in that series was the film Mike Apted and I did on the Provos. Apted of course went off to Hollywood and became a superstar director and won the Oscar for The Coal Miner’s Daughter, but he started as a Granada trainee, and working with him was really something.

In what way?

Well, he was a natural director. Unlike some of the people I’d noticed when I’d been on film locations, he knew exactly what he wanted and he wasn’t prepared to go until he got it. Very patient, and he had a very precise sense of time. Filming, as you well remember, is expensive, but it also requires that extra edge of control, and he certainly had that. So I made other films, but we will avoid a shopping list. I’ll just pick out the ones that seem to have a bearing on the organisation or something that says something about the organisation. Then I came back as the co-producer with David Boulton on Scene at 6:30.

Then for about six months in ’67 I produced Cinema with Mike Scott, and that was an amazing experience because, now it seems unbelievable, but it wasn’t unknown to get audiences of 14 million for a few film clips and an interview with the stars. The thing I best remember about that was the interview with James Stewart. He was hilarious. That made two programmes. The executive producer of Cinema was Cecil Bernstein. In retrospect it was quite sensitive for [Dennis] Forman because he was the intermediary but Bernstein would have a habit of ringing me or saying, “we can’t do this”, or, “that wasn’t [bared? 08:39]”. Dennis obviously was uncomfortable with having to be apparently number two after Cecil Bernstein.

Mark [Shivers? 09:07] took over from me, and I’d taken over from Peter Wildeblood who was a very talented writer and involved in the famous Montagu case. He died quite recently. So they sometimes would go outside, and sometimes it was inside. I can’t remember if Mark Shivers was in Granada at that time. He came and then he went. He became quite a famous drama producer at the BBC.

So then I think it was back again to local programmes, and then I went to World in Action as a producer/director in the autumn of 1968 and basically I stayed there for ten years and I didn’t do anything else, with the exceptions of oddities like election programmes. But to all intents and purposes I was on World in Action as a producer.

Can I go back to Scene at 6:30? Who would you have had as presenters on that programme?

Mike Scott, Chris Kelly, Parkinson left just as I was arriving, a man called George Reid, later Bob Greaves. What was interesting about the local programming was that apart from university I hadn’t really lived outside London and being in Manchester was actually quite an education for me. The sixties were the last decade of Manchester as the industrial city. The buses to Old Trafford used to be choked at 6:30 in the morning and you still felt that you were in a kind of LS Lowry town. The local programmes were things that people took very seriously. If you were filming with, say, Scott, he was such a famous local personality you would literally be mobbed. I know it sounds bizarre. It was extraordinary the kind of power the local presenters had. Brian Truman, he was particularly talented.

Most of those presenters were from the North West.

They were. Bill Grundy wasn’t in the local scene much but he was doing other things for Granada.

Do you think that those local presenters helped galvanise that relationship with the North West and the public persona of Granada becoming?

Yes, I do. I think the obvious thing is to point at things like Coronation Street but it was the local programmes five nights a week that really did it. You always had enormous fan mail. I remember Scott and other people would measure their fan mail with rulers and would have fights amongst themselves about who was the star of the week, and all that sort of stuff! A lot of people there were not there for very long, but it was also the world of the ex-journalist. Our generation were the first of the university graduated. I know there are exceptions both ways but the Granada management were not people with degrees, apart from Dennis Forman. They’d worked their way through. They’d been either in Fleet Street or in regional newspapers. And there were some very talented people there. I remember Barry Cockcroft, he died years ago, but he was the one who did those famous Yorkshire documentaries about, Hannah (Hauxwell) on the snow-capped mountains of the Yorkshire Dales, and farming. Very like Dennis Mitchell, that kind of production where you’re not intervening at all, you’re recording the voices of the workers. Malcom Lynch, he was a good writer. You learned quite a lot from those people. How to turn something round quickly. John Slater, much later, he was around for a long time, and he really felt that it was more important than the national programmes. I think there is something to be said for that argument. You were more in touch with the audience in that regional sense, which would include things like football, stating the obvious.

Then I had the long run on World in Action. I’ll mention just a few of them. I think I’ve got something between 30 and 40 programmes under my belt. I’m particularly specialised in the fast turnaround programme. We were exclusively working on film because we didn’t have presenters. We weren’t in the studio at all. I actually did a thing with [Claudia?], Meg Murray, the lady with multiple sclerosis. The film was called Death by Request. That was out on a Tuesday, finished in a couple of days, one overnight edit, and out the following Monday. There were quite a few like that; some of them didn’t work. The simple defence was that you always had to fill the slot. That was a programme that went on for years, in terms of consequences. It was shown in Japan and we had to deal with about six sacks of mail from Japan just on the argument. Somebody with a disease who wants that final assistance which wasn’t possible under the Suicide Act. And that argument has never gone away. That was one.

I did a film with Gavin MacFadyen called The Watergate, he was a researcher in 1973. It eventually led to the collapse of Nixon but at the time he was saying it was all untrue. But what was particularly funny was that the Watergate department actually were owned by the mafia, and we’d managed to reconstruct the raid, to the total horror of the Republican Party when they found out we’d done it. These mafia guys told us we could do what we liked, and turned up with their moles and Cadillacs and gold and it was totally hilarious. They said, “Hey, these British guys are doing this!” That was memorable.

I had a period in ’69… the first person to be editor of something called the ‘investigative bureau’ was one Gus Macdonald. That come out of the appointment of Jeremy Wallington. Wallington was, again, the classic Fleet Street type journalist who wasn’t a graduate but Plowright brought him in I think to assist Lesley Woodhead, they were joint editors of World in Action. Then they set up an investigative unit and Gus was the first one, and I can’t remember the sequence now. I was asked to do it and it faltered in one way, and then they were chronically understaffed and I simply couldn’t do it for about four or five months. Then they decided that the best thing to do was maybe to not have a labelled unit but rather to do investigative programmes. I did a few things with Ray Fitzwalter, for example we brought Reginald Maudling to account over his relationships with John Poulson and the famous fiddles over the hospital in Gozo in Malta. That was front page of The Mirror stuff when it was done.

From a personal point of view, the stand-out success of the seventies was the film I made in Longnor in Derbyshire in 1971, where I persuaded the village to give up smoking for a week. This was at a time, of course, when 75% of the male population was still smoking. It was timed to coincide with the second and definitive report from the BMA on the connection between smoking and cancer and heart disease. Again it was slightly comic because I was on the edge of giving up smoking myself then anyway, and this Fleet Street lot arrived and we were literally on the pages of every tabloid for a week, to the delight of the senior management. But one of the things they were doing was following not just me but the production team around trying to catch us in the act of smoking while we were engaged in this experiment. So it did have one consequence: I never in my life smoked after that. And I got Tom [Gilms?] to stop smoking. When he died at the age of 91, his sons had some memorabilia in the room with the wake, and one thing was a card, and I recognised my own handwriting. I think he left in about ’85, but I think it said something like, “At least I stopped you smoking, Tom, I know you’re going to have a good old age!” Again, that was an example of an idea that worked beautifully. Just occasionally an idea works beautifully in television.

The people were very funny, they were entirely up for it. People were writing poetry and doggerel and making up verses and enjoying the fame. We went back about a year later and needless to say only about between 8 and 10 were genuinely off cigarettes. But I still see that as an important social experiment. I always thought that the main reason people do things they shouldn’t do is because other people are doing it. Now it’s commonplace, but then it wasn’t, people always argued that they didn’t really believe it was true that it caused these terrible diseases, and that defence has gone entirely. There are still people who smoke but they do it guiltily and they don’t attempt to argue the contrary case. That was very enjoyable.

Another one that worked brilliantly was the funeral of Steve Biko. I’d done with David Hart a sort of undercover film in South Africa at the time just after the student riots in Soweto. So I had all the contacts and when Biko was obviously murdered in prison, I knew exactly who I would go to, and persuaded Lapping, who as first was very disinclined to do it, but the actual images, the film that the cameraman Bernie Vince got, were just extraordinary. We stayed near Port Elizabeth, I can’t remember the name of his birthplace. You must remember that in South Africa it was almost impossible for more than a very small number of blacks to meet other than in a church. That was the one concession. As we were driving towards the funeral site you could literally hear thousands of voices singing the anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and other songs. We got there and it was just a complete mob scene around the coffin. It was just extraordinary. They were there as a group for the first time. Physically, it was a real turning-point moment. Donald Woods, he wrote a book about it afterwards. He was a journalist in Port Elizabeth. He appeared in it. That worked brilliantly. Those are just a few personal highlights.

Although when I came to World in Action I was delighted with the prospect of no presenter, I began to feel that sometimes if you want to handle anything above the level of a simple story, it is very difficult to do it just using the techniques of interview script. Well, it can be very difficult. In the 1970s, I did with Brian Blake, and also Segal was involved, a thing called Nuts and Bolts of the Economy. I actually learned by then that if you want to say, “Why is the British economy underperforming?” you need to do two things. One, that World in Action always did brilliantly, is you take a simple theme, so we break a washing machine down and look at who’s making what, look at the technology and the costs and all the rest of it. At the same time, using white goods as a kind of way in to the argument about low-level semi investment and the simple failures of the British economy, particularly in the mid-seventies. Issues of productivity are still there now. Forman was delighted. Forman, who was very fond of Scott, felt that somehow he hadn’t gotten the best of him. That one won a few awards.

And you produced that, did you?

Brian Blake and I were the producers on that, and then I think Segal did another one, because it became a little mini series. So Scott had a very good – this is where I start talking about personalities – Scott had a good common touch. He knew the art of simple questions. Partially because he never asked himself, “Am I being too simple?” But he was very good at just personal charm and just being pleasant to people. It paid off.

Then I left. I think there was a whole flood of new people and of course new people must be given their own chance. So when I was pushing 40 and I’d done it for 10 years, I basically moved into longer documentary production. I worked with Roger [Dreyfer?]. I did a film called The Shirt off our Backs where we compared the dying clothing business in Britain with Hong Kong which had basically taken the market up, and Sri Lanka where they were beginning to pull themselves away from a peasant economy. We were arguing the pros and cons. That worked very well.

I did a series on the Brandt report [3 1 hours?]. That was a tricky one because the whole political climate suddenly changed with Thatcher and Reagan, so in a way you knew you were banging your head against a brick wall. To put it crudely, it wasn’t going to happen. The Brent report was essentially a Keynesian argument about how to deal with world poverty. Willy Brandt. Heath was on, he was very good actually.

Then I came to What the Papers Say, which I think you’re familiar with. Partially because it coincided with the birth of the twins and it was very useful after quite a lot of travel, and domestic strains of having to deal with constant travel, just to have something that was at least a fixed ritual. We were only away for, whatever it is, one month. I enjoyed that tremendously, again because you were working with talented writers every week, and you were getting the gossip as well, and you could pass any general knowledge test because you’re reading all the papers all the time. I’ve often reflected that, although it’s still on radio, it was a mistake to drop it.

Scott loather University Challenge and when he became the controller he put his foot down and said, “It’s got to go.” There’s nothing wrong with University Challenge. I never produced it but Peter Mullins did and he used to do papers as well. He begged him not to do it. But it was an incredible mistake because it’s still there, Jeremy Paxman is doing it now. Similarly, All Our Yesterdays is arguably something that could still be done. This is long-term programming that trains people and delivers, frankly, cheap programmes. What the Papers Say is a very cheap programme. I think that was one aspect of Granada that was particularly forceful: the ability to come up with long-running cheap programmes. All Our Yesterdays, Zoo Time

Just explain what All Our Yesterdays was.

As I remember it, I stand to be corrected, it was essentially a collection of archive film, cinema, newsreels and photographs from that week, I can’t remember, was it 25 years ago? Brian English did it. He wasn’t the only one. Brian English was the main presenter. What the Papers Say is about 50 years old, isn’t it?

Are there any stand-out journalists you worked with?

Everyone. I mean, Allan Rusbridger went on to become the editor of The Guardian. Peter MacKay was very successful, the gossip columnist person. Richard Ingrams was incredibly witty. Ian Hislop later. Michael Leapman, independent [/The Independent?]. Paul Foot. I think one of my best moments on What the Papers Say was a Paul Foot programme after the Bradford fire and we were talking about the quality of the coverage, and it sounds obvious but we said we weren’t sure the local paper would have been quite so gung-ho. When we got the local paper, the Bradford Argus, it was completely different. It was calm, systematic, everything you would expect about compassionate coverage. And that was one of those really successful scripts, I remember that. He was able to show the exaggeration or the falsehood in the other report by comparing, A, B, A, B. I was probably on What the Papers Say a bit too long actually. It is a ritual.

I did the Aden programme in the End of Empire series for Lapping. That was good. We were lucky in that proper news film was available for Aden, and it wasn’t, say, for the independence of India or most of the African independence stories, or Kenya with the war and Mau Mau. Yes, there was some film. But in Aden it was just different. You had people on the ground filming, frankly quite a lot of army brutality. That worked well. There were two series with Paul Heiney on Europe, trotting around with Peter Swain who was the director. I was quite happy with those. It was early evening but it was quite entertaining. Apart from what you might call the “odds and sods” I think that’s roughly up to the point I leave.

Gerry Robinson took over the company, and that was that. One or two individuals stayed but basically they wanted to close the London office and flog it off. So we were made redundant. I think I was there about 27 years. The contract system ended around 1973-4. It partially related to the struggles on World in Action. If you have a situation where the reputation of the company depends on a person getting something right, that person can’t be in the situation of second-guessing whether they’re going to be in employment three months from now. Then the VAT system was a problem. You had to pay VAT on expenses for a short period of time. You’d be travelling with a crew and obviously running quite serious sums of money, all on an American Express card, I seem to remember. And all of which has to be accounted for, which was very time-consuming. Once you were on staff that didn’t happen. They moved to staff employment and the company began to expand at a fair rate of knots, from the small family firm to something quite a lot bigger. It was also the period of Brideshead and Jewel in the Crown.

Did you feel it was a special company to work for?

Yes. What made it exceptional was that the people at the top cared about television. They weren’t necessarily always right but they were always up for an argument. I’m thinking particularly of Forman and Plowright. They liked an argument. You could go from an argument about whether one shot should be in a film, to something quite fundamental, like, are we in danger under the law of contempt if we go now? I remember once I did a film with Richard Belfield on fraud in the building trade and concrete. It’s too boring to go into now but essentially it was a manufacturers’ oligopoly and it was going to come up at some point before the Restrictive Practices court. There was a super-sensitivity about whether this counted as contempt, and eventually after several legal meetings with Lord Goodman they took the risk. It wasn’t a programme they involved me on, the mole in British Steel. To put it in military terms, you felt they’d got your back. They were very good like that.

They’d be supportive?

Absolutely. There was a time I was in Uganda with Gillard after the fall of Amin and there was a union row involving the cameraman George Turner and Phil Taylor the sound man, and they didn’t turn up because the union was fighting over some issue of expenses with the crews. I had to fly back with great difficulty from Kampala and with not much hope of actually rectifying it, but I did rectify it. I persuaded them so eventually we were alright. That time I was entirely on the management’s side, I have to say. There were one or two union problems. I myself was a shop steward in London. My sympathies were generally speaking with the workers. But sometimes I think the actual arrangements that they’d inherited from the film industry were really quite difficult. There is a point where if you have too many people in a room you’re not going to get the quality of the interview you hope for. It wasn’t only an issue of costs. I think the good people were aware of that but there wasn’t an easy way out.

Eventually it resolved itself when the Robinsons of this world took over. Now often you’ll see credits: filmed, written and directed by one person. I think some of it’s gone too far. For example I constantly notice how poor the sound quality is on television because there’s nobody standing there with the mic, because the sound man is operating the equipment. Some of the technical standards leave quite a lot to be desired. Some of this was more than justified but at other times I think it went too far.

When you were working with film, did that present problems in terms of turning a programme around? You had to finish at a particular time in order to get it developed?

Film is very expensive, and if you can do it in two rolls, say 20 minutes of interviewing, it’s better than shooting four rolls. It’s even more the case if you’re in for a weekend edit where you would sometimes do two nights without sleep or crash out maybe for an hour or so. The physical business of editing the film couldn’t be avoided. The business of splicing the stuff and going backwards and forwards. S it put a hug premium on being well organised. But that said, there are times when you have no means of knowing what’s going to happen. For example if you have a demonstration that then turns into a riot. Other things happen. Film gets lost at airports. It’s quite hard.

I know in later years when I’d left Granada, in the new world of electronic recording and computers, it was unrecognisably easier. In fact sometimes that encouraged a certain slackness in interviewing because now you didn’t try to get it in, say, 15 minutes. An hour that rambles round the point but doesn’t actually ask the point was one of those things you really had to stop people from doing. You have to say, “He’s got to be asked why he did this. What are his reasons?” It’s almost like having a GPS system in a car, you don’t have to think. That said, it’s quite obvious, particularly in the area of graphics. I wince when I think how crude our graphics were, but then there was no electronic alternative then.

And you also would have had to finish filming early.

We had to meet certain deadlines. Like, a slash print had to be produced when it left the lab on a Saturday night and be available for cutting three or four hours later. You had to finish it, and somebody had to come and neg-cut it, i.e. align the original negative with the slash print, which again was a process which couldn’t be done very quickly, maybe a couple of hours, it depends how complicated it was. Then you get the transmission print. There are clear moments beyond which you cannot go if you’re aiming for transmission that night.

That, in effect, would mean that if you were finishing filming on the Friday, by the Monday any number of events could have happened in between, so your story was only up-to-date on Friday.

Sometimes there was the kind of rewrite over the opening credits or the last shot: ‘since then we have learned X, Y and Z’. It was one of those consequences of obstacles that come from the process of film. You couldn’t do anything about it. There were some very great cameramen, I mentioned earlier Vince on Biko, George Turner is superb and always was, some of the crews were really good. Kelvin Hendry, who is unfortunately no longer with us, was a great editor on World in Action. If you could do it with him, you tried to, because he was just so clear about his cutting. Someone said of him that you could tell a Kelvin-edited film within about three shots. Maybe that was an overstatement.

What else do I need to talk about here? Granada as a company and maybe Plowright and Forman. I think the important thing at Granada for me personally coming out of the BBC was the unbelievable short chain of command: the editor, Plowright, Forman, and that’s it. Things weren’t allowed to drift. Also when it’s as simple as that it’s not a constant clash of egos because when you get 8 or 10 people round a table you’re going to get a very difficult decision made sometimes. I think they sort of preserved that side of it. As they expanded they obviously had an HR and PR department, and things which people had done on the back of an envelope very quickly were suddenly somebody else’s job. There was a bit of that. But not that much. I don’t think there was much waste there at all. Also, as was once said by Dennis Healey, Forman had “hinterland”. He knew about opera. He had written a book on Mozart’s piano concertos. He was very well connected. I think he was just wise. He’d been in the war and had seen quite stressful things and indeed lost a leg. He just was a wise man. You didn’t always agree with him but you knew it was a respectful argument.

Hugely respected.

He was, and so was Plowright. Plowright was a very good ideas man, a bit less good on the mechanics, like who you get, what the best possibilities are, what the middle level is where you can make the programme but it won’t be as good as it could be unless you do this and this. But he understood the crucial importance of research. What was unusual about them was that they were always interested in the substance of the programme. That may sound a slightly odd thing to say but I’ve known television executives since then who were certainly not interested in the substance of the programme but were interested in where it was going in relations to their own careers.

Partially, it’s a different world. According to the famous phrase, I think by Lord Thompson, it was a licence to print money. They didn’t have to worry about the operational expenses that much because it was in a sense a tax write-off. They didn’t have to worry about the bottom line all the time, whereas I’m sure everyone knows that in an independent production you have a budget and that’s it. In film production it’s a pretty brutal way of doing things because if you haven’t got the money you can’t do it. But there are a lot of things you can’t know, if you’re doing something controversial or sensitive, for example whether you are going to get key interviewee A. Or if you don’t get A, will you get B, and will B do it if A hasn’t? It’s difficult to translate it all into terms of a budget before you set off to make it. Obviously you make an attempt but it’s hard.

People have said to me that Granada was unashamedly left-wing.

Yes, I think that’s true. I wouldn’t say left-wing, I would say anti-establishment. I can think of some individuals who were Conservatives actually. But the broad picture was what you might call the Labour Party consensus of the seventies. I think, in all, honest people who work as journalists, who could easily do something else if they’ve got qualifications, have some feelings that they might try to, if not change the world, then at least draw attention to certain problems. If you think about it, look at Ken Loach making Cathy Come Home in 1966. He hasn’t ever changed his opinions. He’s known for being and he is a radical left-winger. But then there was an explosion of shame and controversy about homelessness and particularly the shortage of housing. Now it’s sort of on page 7 with occasional notes. The mass media is not jumping up and down on the shortage of housing in this country at this very time. I think there has been a hardening of what I would call the public conscience anyway. It may be that there was a certain sentimentality about the way things were when we started but it was after all the sixties.

And a lot of campaigning programmes.

A lot of campaigning programmes, yes. For example, on prison conditions, housing, health, mental health. The late [?????] made a brilliant film. She was trained as a nurse, and she got a job as a nurse at some dreadful hospital in, I think, Staffordshire – not the one that became famous in recent times. But she investigated it. It was called Ward F13. Her combination of her actual nursing skill and her – she was a bit like Sue Lloyd-Roberts who died earlier this year, she was the kind of woman who never took no for an answer.

It is a fantastic film, that.

MR: Wallington was there as the kind of help-mate of Leslie Woodhead. He was a talented writer, his contacts were good and he did have a very good journalistic sense: when things were surfacing, being first, and those kinds of considerations. I had some time for him actually. What he didn’t really know what the mechanics of production, but I suppose up to a point it didn’t matter and he wasn’t paid to do that. Occasionally he would make requests which were daft because he hadn’t understood the technical point, but he was a good man, he did his bit.

Allan Segal?

Allan was a good film director. He held his own. He because co-editor with Ray Fitzwalter, I think just after I left the programme, so I didn’t work with him, but he was fine. He got on very well with Scott, I know that.

John Birt wasn’t there very long. There was a big row about some programme David Frost did, an interview. I can’t remember the details. But John Birt is a very good example of family firm patronage. He’d only done a programme called Nice Time with Germaine Greer and the comedian Kenny Everett. He was very funny. It had been very successful, fair enough. He was made editor of World in Action when he hadn’t really done anything. I think he’d been a researcher on the famous Mick Jagger interview with John Shepherd as the director. His good points were that he was bright in terms of understanding arguments and scripts and making suggestions, but he had no experience of doing it. I’m sure he picked up a bit but Gus did much of that. He’s a rather cold person, John. I’m not surprised that in later years he was rubbished by a lot of people in the BBC. He gave the nation ‘Birt-speak’. They were under-crewed. There is a point below which you cannot go. You need enough people. They started off with a rather short list. And then he suddenly moved on. He became Mr. London Weekend Television very quickly.

Anything else that you’d like to add? You talked a bit about the difference between the BBC and Granada.

The BBC responds to competition, so the BBC in one period will be different to the BBC or Granada in another period. Perhaps I’ve tilted it more in terms of the sixties and seventies, but I do think that the central model is rather like putting on play, you only need a producer, a director and a writer, and a cast. You’ve got to get all those things right, and the design. You’ve got to be there at the time you said you were going to be there. Everything else is small change. These constant labels, you almost can’t invent it, ‘Head of External Relations’. The disastrous pattern in the BBC seems to be that people who should be fired are not fired, but promoted. That becomes very irritating to those who are doing the work. The most famous case recently was the Jimmy Saville business. I don’t think Granada was like that ever, though it started to move a bit in that direction. Who is in charge of this, you know? It’s rather like successful newspapers, really, you need an editor and you need a reported and a columnist. These are clear functions, you fill the paper, that’s it. I think it was really the triumph of Gerry Robinson for all kinds of other reasons, like the rest of the Granada group and taking over all that. There is this nuisance called television. “Well, I suppose we need Coronation Street.” “I suppose we need this and that.”

What I will say is that everybody plays by the same rules, i.e. we’re in a free market where people sign contracts to do things, that’s what we call television now. In a way, that’s the source of the BBC’s difficulties, because they have a structure which in essence is out of date. Remember people who are employed in senior management positions who are not really required are going to be holding meetings. It’s brilliantly satirised in that Hugh Bonneville thing West One [(W1A?)]. So while it’s still the greatest broadcasting organisation in the world and it’s still producing so much good stuff, it’s going to be so easily out-flanked unless they get themselves back to that basic model, which is where we started. Somebody has to be in charge. Somebody has to be there to say, “We’re going to court on this if necessary and we’ll fight it.” That’s the bit the accountants never like because you never know how much it’s going to cost. It particularly affects obviously investigative programmes, but it can affect others. You need rumbustious management. And we certainly had it and I think we were grateful for it.

Maggie Coombes

Interviewed by Judith Jones, 18 March 2015.

Okay, Maggie – just to begin, can you tell me how you came to be employed at Granada?

Yes. I’d done a postgraduate course at Bristol University in film and television, and I just wrote round to all the television companies I could think of, this is who I am, I’ve done this postgraduate course, I’ve been at art college for four years before that, I’ve done a three-dimensional design course, I’d like to be a set designer, have you got any jobs. Most of them wrote back and said no, I think I had one for Thames and they said thanks but no thanks, and then I had a letter from Granada saying come for an interview. So I borrowed somebody’s suit, a friend from Bristol, and got the train up, and was interviewed by two very senior designers, who were lovely, they looked at my folio, really liked the fact that I knew something about programme making, having done this postgraduate course, and then Bob Connell, who I think was the what do you call it… personnel… and that was a bit weird, because he asked me all sorts of questions, and one of the main things he seemed to be worried about was who would look after my parents if they were ill, which I thought was an odd question, but I thought he probably asked me that because I was a woman, so I said I had other siblings who still lived in the south, and I felt between us all we’d manage, but my parents weren’t old then, so it wasn’t a problem. So that was it – they took me on, on a three months contract as a trainee assistant designer for three months and they said, “We’ll see how it goes,” and I think that’s how it started. I started on November 5, which was a good day to start, I thought.

What year was that?

I can’t remember if it was ’74 or ’75 to be honest, I was going to check on that. It must have been ’74, I can’t remember.

So what programmes did you work on to begin with?

I think the first thing I worked on was Sam (corr), which was a long-running drama series that John Finch wrote, and I was working for somebody called Colin Pocock (corr). I think the first thing he asked me to do was to design a wall for somebody’s back garden – they needed something for an actor to sit on, so that was very exciting, a wall, and it just went on from there. And I guess most of the time my working life was in drama. I mean, I did do a few other things when I was an assistant, a trainee, or starting out… I did a bit of current affairs and the news, but it tended to be drama, and that’s what I really loved doing and I always angled, if I could, to do drama, and it worked out tat way, so…

So in a typical drama, at what stage would you be brought in, and how many designers would there be?

I think when I started there were12 designers in the department and six assistants. They were all men except me, and again, some of the designers worked in drama, some of them worked in light entertainment, and some of them did factual stuff. And there was one designer who just did Coronation Street, as far as I can remember. So if it was a drama, there was generally a designer and an assistant, and the designer had the big ideas and worked things out with the director and the producer, and as the assistant you would do all the technical drawings and liaise with the workshop because Granada at that stage had its own construction shop with carpenters and painters and construction managers, it was fantastic really. And that was a large part of an assistant’s job – getting a set built. I mean, obviously the designer came down and oversaw it, so yes. And then getting it into the studio, and if you were lucky, you got to go and do some propping with the designer, which meant going to look for all the bits and bobs that you fill the sets with to make them look real. And there were about three prop houses in Manchester, and that was obviously the first port of call, and if you couldn’t find what you needed there, and you’d got enough budget, then you’d go down to London – and that was always great fun, because there were a lot of prop houses down there and it was a bit like going into all these amazing Aladdin’s caves… and just learning by watching designers and seeing their different tastes and their different takes on whatever drama you were doing, which was fantastic.

Are there any programmes that you particularly enjoyed, or you’re particularly proud of that you think about?

I suppose the Sherlock Holmes thing with Jeremy Brett (corr), which I think was through four series (Jeremy did four different Sherlock Holmes productions, each ran for between one and three series – Allie) and then they did some one-offs after that. I really enjoyed that. I mean, one of the great things if you were doing drama, and particularly historical drama, you got to do a lot of research about the period, so you could spent legitimately quite a lot of time researching that period. So that was a fantastic thing to work on too. I mean, something like that was really interesting because it was a mix of studio and location – and that was the other thing that change quite a lot in my time at Granada – to start with things were largely studio-based, and as time went on, we tended to do more and more location stuff.

Was that easier for you as a designer to do location, or did that bring about its own…

That brought about its own problems with it – it was fun finding locations, because you would spend a lot of time driving around all sorts of weird and wonderful places with location managers, knocking on doors, and people would just welcome you in to the most astonishing places, but practically that could be difficult. But as I said it was all interesting.

And presumably you had to be there when the filming was actually taking place, to kind of iron out any particular…

Particularly when you were an assistant, you were expected – if you were in the studio – you would be on the studio floor and you would be kind of the eyes and ears of the designer, you would be up in the box, watching a monitor. And then if you were on location you stood by the camera, and if you were lucky, the cameraman – DOP – would let you look down the lens and see what you were shooting, and what was in the composition, so he could shift things around to make it look as the designer wanted. So you always had to be on set when they were shooting, as an assistant. I mean, that changed as time went by and we did more and more on location, particularly when I became production designer, because then you were always ahead of the filming. Because if you had… I don’t know, I’m just trying to think. Well, even something like Sherlock Holmes, and then later on Brideshead, they would be shooting on one location or set, and you would be dressing the next, so you were always ahead of the filming.

So what kind of programmes did you work on as a production designer, then?

All sorts of things really. Detective things, police things, as I said, Brideshead, which I did as a sort of art director, I guess.

What did that involve?

Well, we went all over the place, we built studio sets…

So were you brought in right at the beginning of when they decided to do Brideshead?

No – I wasn’t the first assistant – I think Chris Truelove (corr) was the first assistant. But I came in after there had been a big break, and they had lost the first director, who was Michael Lindsay-Hogg (corr), and they brought in Charles Sturridge (corr). And I started more or less the same time as Charles Sturridge, and I started over at Castle Howard, which was Brideshead, and Chris Truelove became… I think that was when he actually became a designer, so he was offered the opportunity of doing his own show and spun off to do that, so that gave me the opportunity to work on that, which was extraordinary.

It seems to be quite exciting and quite… that you never quite knew what you were doing from one day to the next.

It was tremendously varied, it really was. First of all you’d get a script, and you’d break it down, so you’d read it, you’d work out how many different locations or sets there might be, and you’d have to think about if it was a period or contemporary and how you’d dress it and work out budgets… obviously talk to the directors about their ideas, how they wanted it to look, and do any research that you might need to do to get things built if it was a set, or redecorated, if it was a period drama that you were doing on location, all sorts of things like that.

Did you ever find that there was insufficient budget, or was that not an issue at that time?

I mean, I think it was always an issue; you never had as much money as you’d like, but I think in later years it’s got very much worse, very much worse, and it’s almost to the point where you have to beg, borrow and steal – well, not steal, but beg or borrow stuff, because there simply aren’t the budgets, which is very dispiriting, and it also means that I’ve found that you have to ask teams who are working with you to work very long hours, which I think almost to the point where it’s not safe, you know, you worry about them driving home, because sometimes you’re clearing up a set after the filming’s finished, or you’re dressing very early in the morning before they arrive, and filming days are much longer now, so it means that the days are very, very long. And also we used to only work a maximum of six days a week, and usually five, and not long days, but that’s all changed – I think the norm is now six-day weeks, and very often the design department is working seven because you’re getting things ready for the first day of the next week – so it’s fairly relentless, which took a lot of the fun out of it, and with lack of budgets, it became more and more of a grind.

So presumably when you were first at Granada you were in a union.

Yes, I belonged to the ACTT, and at one stage I was the union rep for the design and graphic department, and I had the privilege of sitting on the committee with Margaret Beckett and Brian Sedgemore, amongst others, and that was quite instructive about how the whole thing worked. I mean, I think that there were certain unions who held productions in the company to ransom, and made actually other people’s lives very difficult, but I think things swung far too far the other way with… I don’t think that the unions have any power now, other than the electrician’s union, who still wield I think quite a lot of weight.

You said you were the only woman when you were employed as a designer in the beginning, and presumably as well you worked in quite a male-dominated environment, and I wondered if you had any views around that.

Well, I mean, the designers and the other assistants I think were pretty welcoming, but I think there were issues with some of the tradespeople that I worked with in the construction shop – again, mainly it was fine, but I remember them telling me, I think in my first week, somebody down there said to me, “Oh, we had a woman once, she didn’t last, she burst into tears.” And I thought, “Right, that’s it – whatever happens, that’s the last thing I’m going to do.” And I don’t know, I suppose because you were running up and down stairs in the studio and running downstairs to the offices in the construction shop, which were on the first floor, I mean… and just because you were working… if you were down in the construction shop, it was a dirty environment, so I didn’t run around in heels and skirts, I wore jeans and what have you, and again, I can remember being asked if I was a lesbian because I must be, because I worked with all these men, and it was a male department that I had chosen to work in, which was a bit odd. I mean, I thought it was quite funny, really. But it was quite strange in retrospect, I suppose.

And did you see a change over the time you were there? Did more women come into the department?

Yes, yes they did. I mean, I suppose… I’m just trying to think… I suppose late 70s, early 80s there were… a couple of other women came in, which was good – that was great, except the powers that be then decided that… before, designers were in one section and assistants were in the other, and that worked fine, but they suddenly decided that the women should all be in one office together, and I dug my heels in and said, “No – I don’t want to work in a ghetto, thanks very much.” Not that I didn’t like the other women, but I just thought that was dreadful. But other than that, it was fine.

So you became a production designer, and then… I’m sorry, I’m not familiar with the structure.

No, I mean, that’s the top of the pile, if you like, and that was a tremendous privilege really, because you get to work with so many creative people, I mean, writers and directors. I mean, Anthony Minghella, Charles Sturridge, John Madden, Ken Russell… I mean, I worked with those people, even now I kind of think, “Did I really?” And I did!

What was Ken Russell like to work with?

Er… quixotic. But very, very stimulating. And I think that was one of the first things that was done entirely on location, up in the lakes. I can remember we were up there looking for locations from the early spring right through until the summer, and setting it all up – and then we started shooting, I think, about September, when the crowds had mostly disappeared with children going back to school, and then we shot right through until early December, which was again and amazing experience.

So what was that for?

It was called Clouds of Glory (here and here), it was about Wordsworth and Coleridge.

So did the director always have the final say in terms of the design? Did you ever have any kind of conflict where you felt quite strongly that the design should be one way, or…?

No. I mean, generally… I mean, the most rewarding bits, when you had actually very imaginative and visual directors who you had a really good rapport and interaction with, so that you could kind of spark off one another, that was one of the most exciting bits. Occasionally you would get directors who were wonderful with actors, and you would talk about sets or talk about locations, or talk about the look of the thing, and then when you actually got on set they would find the darkest, dimmest corner, with nothing in it, and shoot that –when they had something wonderful around them that they just chose to ignore, which is frustrating really, because they, you know, spent money on things that they never actually saw.

And did you have to, in terms of designing, did you have to think about the way the actors were going to move and the way they were going to use the set, as well as just the look of it?

Absolutely. You had to read the script and make notes about what the actors were using – did they cups of tea? What were the cups like? What kind of tea? What kind of teapot? Depending on the period or what have you, you know, how many chairs were needed, how many people were in that scene, how many doors, how did people move around the set, how was it described in the scene, so… as I said before, breaking down the script was a very important part, you know, one of the first things to do.

So this was presumably your first job really.


What did you think of Granada as an employer? As a company, what were they like to work for?

I think they were terrific, absolutely terrific. It was small enough and eccentric enough to feel almost like a family. I mean, it sounds like a cliché, but it was – and although I didn’t really have anything to do with the very senior people like the Bernsteins or Denis Forman or others, I mean, they were around the building, and as I’m sure other people have told you, they did use the canteen, they were regularly seen in the canteen, you know, talking to programme makers, actors and all sorts of folk, and that was a sort of very egalitarian kind of atmosphere that was quite extraordinary. I mean, people used to come up from London and saying in a sort of amazed tone, “But it’s so friendly here!” And it was. It was. People tried to help one another, and we all worked together to get the best out of whatever programme we were working on.

And did you think as well that there was a kind of social element of working at Granada? So it was more than a job in terms of…

Yes. I mean, to start with, probably because I was the only woman in a very male environment, I don’t think the social bit was as important – I was sort of take up with the job to start with – and I think too, as I say, I worked with mainly men, and… I don’t know… it was a sort of… I think it was more when I became more senior, and I had more to do with directors and producers and actors, that the social side of it became… and I just got to know other people in other areas, the longer I was there, I suppose. You know.

And it must be accentuated in drama, but if you go away and you’re filming, it’s almost like a little bubble, because you’re working in your way.

Yes. It is, yes. Very much so. And people would obviously rush home, when they did have a day off, or a day and a half off, or if, like me, you had a boyfriend who would fly up the motorway, and if you were perhaps up, say, in the lakes, like working on the ken Russell thing, I rented a cottage for the period and my boyfriend would come up there. But yes, I think you… again, we became like a family unit when you’re working like that on location.

Was there a stage where you started to think that the way the company was was starting to change?

Yes, definitely.

Signs either within your particular role or in the overall ethos?

Yes, I think… sort of mid to late 80s, things started to change, definitely. I mean, for some years before I left, and I left for personal reasons, because we had a child and I wanted to spend more time… but it had really started to change by then. It was quite obvious that things were… that they were letting staff go, and that in some cases, people were being actively encouraged to go. I mean, it suited me to go because, as I said, we had a small child, but there were very good packages on the table to go. But it was quite obvious that it was going to become a freelance industry, and it was a change… I suppose around the time of the contracts being up for renewal, and the whole Sky debacle… it was around that time, I think, that things started to change, and then obviously when Compass, or the Compass people, well, before Compass, but… um…

And do you think they had a different view because of what you said, you primarily worked in drama, did you think that that changed, or…?

Yes… no… I think yes, it did. I mean, you know, we look around us now and the whole world has changed, and I think what happened at g was symptomatic of what was happening everywhere – that instead of having management who were genuinely interested in what people did and how they did it, it was all about the bottom line – and it became more and more about profit. I mean, I’m not saying the Bernsteins didn’t want to make a profit, but they were also interested in what people were doing, what programmes were being made, and that definitely changed.

And as a designer, how did that impact on you on a day-to-day basis?

Well, as I say, there was… I don’t know, you just felt that people really didn’t care how you got things done, or didn’t want to listen to problems that you might have about the hours tat you were asking people to work, or that indeed you yourself were working, because that was the only way to get things done – and that was a huge change, a sea change.

What year did you leave?

I left, I think, in about ’89, ’90, something like that, maybe ’89. I think I had sort of six months’ maternity leave, came back for six months, and even then they were very accommodating, the people immediately above me, sort of managers, it just didn’t feel right. I had a small child I wanted to spend time with, so I left. And then we had another daughter, and I did tiny bits of freelance work, but not much, and then when our youngest daughter was about six, I sort of stuck my head above the parapet and sort of said, “Does anybody remember me?” and fortunately a few people did, and gave me some work. But that was in the late ‘90s then, and things had changed incredibly. It was like another world. But I still loved what I did, so I went back freelance. And, as I had felt, it was a freelance world by then, so…

You said that before, when people came up, one of the things they talked about was Granada being very friendly, and I wondered if you thought it was significant that Granada was kind of situated in the north west, in Manchester, you know, what that brought to the company.

I think that was… it’s something now [that]I get quite cross about. I hate this sort of – I mean, I’m from the south myself, but I’ve lived most o my adult life in Manchester, and I think what was so refreshing about g was that it wasn’t a London satellite. It really wasn’t. And when I first went there, and sort of into the ‘80s, people were actively… they were expected to live in Manchester if you worked for the company, and you were staff, you were expected to live in the north west. Quite rightly. I mean, there were people who commuted, there are always exceptions, but mainly, even people from the south like myself were happy to come north, and I think that was an important part of who the company was. And the atmosphere was to do with being in Manchester, and not being in London.

And looking back now, I wonder, because I think there’s a cultural resurgence of Manchester, if you look at the International Festival and things like that…

Yes, absolutely.

And I wonder, do you think that Granada contributed to that?

I do, I do, because I think… you know, it gave the region a sense, or reflected the region’s own identity, back to itself in a very positive way. A lot of other companies, regional companies, tended to make things that, you know, I don’t know… dramas for instance. “Let’s pretend we’re in London.” Why? Whereas I think Granada celebrated the fact that we were not London, we were Manchester, and we do things differently here, and we are different.

Can you think of any particular productions that you’ve worked on that could be described as having been based in Manchester, or you drew on, I don’t know whether you talked about Sam, or something…

Sam’s a good one – that was very much a north west set drama, and it was about this region and the people here. I mean, Coronation Street, for goodness’ sake! It couldn’t possibly be London or Birmingham – it’s Manchester.

Did you ever work on Coronation Street?

Very briefly, but as I said before, in the early days, there was one designer, it was his kind of fiefdom, if you like, and occasionally other people were drafted in to help, but no, I didn’t really have very much to do with Coronation Street.

So which programme do you think you most enjoyed?

Oh, I think… as we were talking, I just think I was incredibly lucky to work for Granada and to work at that particular time in television, because there was such interesting things going on.

Do you think, because I know, having worked at a similar time, we look back now and it does seem like a golden era. Do you think… would you still argue that it was very much very special? I mean, you say there were lots of very interesting people to talk to, or do you think it was just a combination of factors?

I mean… yes, you can look back with rose-tinted spectacles, but I don’t actually think… I think it actually was like that. It was extraordinary. It was a little creative powerhouse – well, not so little. It was! I felt proud to work for Granada – I still do, you know. “What did you do?” “I worked for Granada Television.” And that was something to say, I think.

And were there any particular characters that you remember, any particular people that you worked with who made an impression or made a difference?

I mean, some of the designers I worked with were… really inspirational. I worked a lot… one of the people who sort of took me under his wing and taught me a lot was Michael Grimes, who I had enormous respect for. Peter Phillips (corr), who was the designer on Brideshead as well… as I said, there were a lot of people, and directors too. Some really wonderful directors who, again, were inspiring, you know. Inspired you to do more. Do better.

Is there anything else that you’d like to…?

… but always women, but there were sometimes, and the same with make-up, you know, or PAs. And when I was an assistant, that wasn’t the case. I suppose it was quite lonely in a way, but as I say, I was so in love with the job, I didn’t care. And I suppose I met people other ways, people I shared flats with and other interests, and got to know people in Manchester, so…

Because it’s interesting as well I think that from a gender point of view, there were quite strong lines of demarcation in that all the PAs were female.

Absolutely. And I mean… whereas guys… it seemed easier for chaps to change direction than it was for women. I mean, I can remember… do you remember Sue Pritchard? I mean, very bright woman, fantastic drama PA, and she would have loved to have been a producer or a director, and she went for board after board after board and didn’t get it – and you kind of think, “Why?” I mean, she did eventually become a producer, but… I don’t know.

It was very much that those were the roles that you would do.


And it was difficult to break into.

Hmm. I mean, more women did get on directors’ boards and things, I suppose, and things did change a bit – there were more women producers, weren’t there? But it took a long while.

And I think there were, whilst it became more egalitarian in drama, I think there were still bastions of male domination, like World in Action.

Oh, goodness me, yes! Yes. I mean, interestingly, I think I said to you, you know, (??2:00) because she lives just… she moved, actually, into the hamlet that we lived in, that we have our house in, in Norfolk. It’s just extraordinary really, what a coincidence. But we saw her last week, and in fact, this last weekend, just before we came home, we didn’t see her. Claire Lasko (unverified) went down to visit. I mean, she worked on World in Action, but there weren’t that many people, were there?

No, it was only in later years, wasn’t it?

Leslie Woodhead

Interviewed by Judith Jones and Stephen Kelly, 11 March 2015.

Going right back to the beginning, how did you come to be employed at Granada?

It’s a curious accident and quite simply the most fortunate thing that has ever happened to me. I was in my last year at Cambridge, reading English, and a chum of mine from Halifax, where I grew up, said, “I heard some guys are coming down from Granada to try and recruit graduate trainees – I’m thinking of applying, why don’t you?” So I wrote to these guys at Granada, and oddly enough the chum didn’t go for his interview, but I did, and they said, “Okay, come to the University Arms in Cambridge, and we’ll talk to you.” So I did that. They said I was the candidate they had ever met who had seen Coronation Street – it was on my patch and it felt like opening a door on my life, in fact it was really very striking when it first came on air. So, armed with my Coronation Street memories, I went and did the interview, and in typical Granada fashion I then heard nothing for three months and I went and got a job in advertising in London, as a copywriter, and was on the verge of taking that up when I got a telegram from Denis Forman (corr) in Manchester saying, “Be in Manchester tomorrow.” Again, a perfect Granada introduction! So my dad drove me from where we lived in Halifax to Manchester, and I was ushered into the presence first of all, in fact, of Sidney Bernstein (corr) and his brother Cecil, these two immaculately tailored, softly spoken gentlemen who didn’t seem to me at all to be like television guys. I’ve not forgotten the interview, because it was quite surreal. Sidney mainly wanted to talk about who did I think was the most distinguished writer/novelist of my time. I thought, “What on earth is this? This is very, very peculiar.” So I think I said DH Lawrence or something, and we had an agreeable little chat about… Sidney seemed particularly thrilled when I said that my father had been a dance band musician and he was from Yorkshire, so he ticked every box as far as Granada was concerned – I was the son of a northerner, and better still somebody who could be called ‘in show business’ – so that obviously lit him up, he was fascinated. My father had trodden the boards in a very wacky way in the 30s with an itinerant pop band that he was going around with. I was then shuffled into the presence of Denis Forman, an extremely elegant, silvery-haired gentleman, who said, “Okay, we are able to offer you a job.” And I thought, “Christ – after all this time, suddenly this is happening at an impossible speed!” I said, “When do you need to know? I’ve already got a job in London, in advertising.” He said, “Now.”

What year was that?

It was the early summer of 1962. I often wonder how it would have been if I had gone into advertising. Who knows, I mean it was the period when people like David Puttnam and Alan Parker and all of that were making their lives in advertising, so who knows? But I’m really, really glad I didn’t do that. But again, it was typical Granada, that having waited forever, they now needed an answer within five minutes! I said yes, and shortly thereafter I was hired as part of a group as production trainees. At that time, on a faintly regular basis, Granada ran this production trainee scheme, during which they would grab half a dozen graduates from around the universities and put them through a nine-month immersion into TV, which I then discovered what this meant. Partly it was because of the very tight union situation at Granada, we couldn’t begin to do actually anything, so we were shipped around the various departments – graphics, technical areas, observing local programmes being made – for nine interminable months, which was really quite kind of stultifying, because it was clear that they thought, “Who are these kids? They’re just time-wasters who are never going to do anything.”

Anyway, the nine months began with a month for each of us in a Granada cinema, because Sidney felt that we should sample the real world. So rather than living in the ivory tower of academia or TV, we should go out and meet the people, as though we hadn’t been doing that already. So I got the Granada Grantham – I always think that Margaret Thatcher must have been growing up around the corner, but that’s what I got – and had a kind of numbing month, tearing tickets and doing whatever one did at the Granada Grantham, before starting as a production trainee in July 1962, going through the routines I have just described, writing little reports on things.

I remember one of Sidney’s ideas was that we would all go… Sidney was convinced that the railways were blighting Manchester, so we had to wander around with cameras and take pictures demonstrating that Manchester was indeed being blighted by the railways, which there was some truth. Manchester in those days, it’s hard to recall. Looking at the sort of glass-spired place that it is now, it was a pretty gloomy place. There were a lot of still uncleared bomb sites in the city centre, everything was soot black and everything was very down at heel, so Sidney wasn’t wrong in thinking that the city could do with a bit of upbeat, and of course Granada were in the business of trying to provide some of that.

Eventually the course came to an end, after the nine months, and on my course there were a number of people, including Cecil Bernstein’s son Alex, who was a fellow trainee, who sadly died not long ago, and the man who, interestingly, is the person I most recall, is a man called Johnny Bassett (corr). Johnny Bassett was the man who knew all the people who became Beyond the Fringe (corr). Mostly they didn’t know one another, but John knew them and put them together. So laced through the beginning of being a production trainee, with John Bassett hurtling down to London in his Volkswagen, and coming back, bringing stories of Beyond the Fringe, of how Dudley Moore had disgracefully been conducting himself, and what Jonathan Miller (corr) and Alan Bennett (corr) were doing, and Peter Cook, and eventually we hurtled off in Johnny’s Volkswagen to one of the early productions of Beyond the Fringe, so that was part of the heady things that were starting to happen there, also The Beatles.

So having come to the end of the production trainee course at last, I got – as we all did – seconded on to working on local programmes. In our case, that meant People and Places (corr), which was the nightly magazine show with Bill Grundy (corr) and Gay (corr) Byrne – Gay has since gone on to big, big things in Ireland. They were the stars of local programmes. So my early days were People and Places, gathering force was Coronation Street, which was happening all around us, black and white once a week at that time, but nevertheless becoming something of a thing – this is pre-World in Action, Tim Hewat (corr) was making really ballsy documentaries, some of them on 35mm film, God help us, but I was really raw and just feeling my way, working on little items for local programmes, gathering a few captions to tell the story of the Bridgwater Canal, I remember from my early things. And then I got really lucky.

Denis Forman had hired a young filmmaker called Michael Grigsby (corr) with a promise to make documentaries, but while we were waiting. Sidney deeply distrusted film. He didn’t want film to happen on Granada’s premises because he rightly thought, “Once I’ve got one unit, I’ll have to have 12.” And he was completely right – quite soon that turned out to be the case. But anyway, Grigsby, who was a really fascinating and inventive film-maker in the really kind of observational school of Denis Mitchell (corr) and people like that, I got paired with Grigsby to make little northern films – and that’s when I feel that my life at Granada started. I was instantly captivated by the idea of making films, which I knew absolutely nothing about, so I toured in my little blue Mini with Grigsby, around the north of England, as a researcher, doing these little four-minute films. And they were contrasts – the idea was we would look at contracting things happening in our region. So we had a guy who was a clog-maker, and we contrasted him with a young man who, incredibly, was a dress designer in Uppermill. God knows how he survived that in the early 60s! That was one of our contrasts – and that’s where my collision with The Beatles happened.

The guy who was running us here was a very mad Australian called David Baker (unverified), who was running People and Places at that time. And he said, “Let’s do a musical one of these Northern Contrasts – find the most traditional and untraditional music things that are happening in our region.” So I lined up the The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band (corr) and off we went and filmed them. Then I remember asking a fellow researcher on People and Places, a guy called Dick Fontaine (corr), a guy who is now head of documentaries at the National Film School. “Any ideas? What’s the thing that’s most unlike The Brighouse and Rastrick Brass Band in our area?” And he said, “I’ve heard there are these kids in Liverpool who are making a bit of a noise. Why don’t you ring up a man called Epstein and see what’s possible?” So I called and talked to Brian, met him in the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool, went down to the Cavern Club, was completely blown away on a winter evening in ’62, we agreed that we would come and film with them and we did that in August ’62 in the Cavern Club, a lunchtime session, which became the first film ever made with The Beatles.

And that went by, I was fascinated by the Beatles, and followed them around the northern clubs as long as they were still playing the northern clubs, but we couldn’t transmit the film because the Brighouse Band would have broken the local programmes budget for a month if we’d paid them full MU rates, so we were stuck with this half a film of The Beatles, and finally Brian Epstein collared me when I went to a concert – they were playing with Little Richard at the Tower Ballroom in New Brighton – and said, “When are you going to put the boys on TV?” And he wasn’t kidding. He had me pinned against a wall, but more ferocious than the public vision might suggest. So the only thing we could do, since we couldn’t say, “Brian, we’ve only got half a film, we can’t put the boys on television,” was to get them into the studio, which we did – and they did their first TV on People and Places, and then several more visits to both People and Places and Scene at 6.30 (corr), so that established that relationship.

I then went on to Scene at 6.30, which was a very early, groovy, nightly magazine show, much groovier than People and Places had been, with ‘pop music’ as it was called, Johnnie Hamp (corr) getting bands into the studio… it was very much in the shadow of – and aware of – That Was the Week That Was on the BBC, it was very influenced by that very free-wheeling version of life. Quite soon, our performers included Michael Parkinson and Mike Scott (corr), and we all had a bit of fun with that. I was pulled out of being… I had done some early directing on People and Places and on What the Papers Say, and on All Our Yesterdays, I wasn’t particularly seized by studio direction, and I also directed the party conferences that tended to put me to sleep. But I was then yanked out of all that, just at the moment when I was about to do Coronation Street, and told that I was now producer on Scene at 6.30, first of all doing a little adjunct called Sporting Scene – about which I knew nothing, but anyway, that’s what I was asked to do, and that went on for a spell until I managed to wheedle my way into making my first film, which was a film for a series that Denis Mitchell and Norman Swallow (corr) were producing, called This England (unverified).

I can’t even remember how this happened, but I managed… I knew the northern artist Harold Riley (corr), who knew LS Lowry, and he managed to persuade Lowry to let us in to make a little documentary with him, so that was my first real film, following Lowry around for a couple of weeks. I remember we were so hopelessly naïve about doing something like that; I remember the camera man taking the Éclair (corr) camera out of a box, out of its original wrapping, on Lowry’s doorstep and was looking at the instructions, trying to work out how to assemble this thing, and how to lace it up – but we sort of managed to make it work and then went through Lowry’s door, filming as we went, in true early wobblyscope style!

It was fascinating, but a complete dogs dinner, the rushes that I produced. I remember recording the vital voiceover with Lowry in the Kardomah Café (corr) in St Ann’s Square when they were washing up all the cutlery, so all you can hear on the soundtrack, it sounds like it’s recorded in a steelworks, just completely unusable. So for about 18 months, nothing happened to this film, it just lay on the shelf while I went on producing Scene at 6.30 and it was only finally Forman and the guy who was then programme controller – I don’t know what his job was actually, a nice man called Julian Amis (unverified) – anyway, he took a look at this thing and said, “Well, there’s something there – why don’t you go back, re-record that voiceover, work with a decent editor and try and turn it into something?” So I did, and eventually that became part of This England series. I am now trying to remember how that then rolled forward.

So this would have been about the mid-60s.

Yes. It’s just before… I think it was ’64 when we did that. But Plowright – who I should have mentioned, since he was always an immensely important person in my life, and remains so – he had been the second producer on People and Places, and he had then gone on and I had worked for him on All Our Yesterdays (corr) and What the Papers Say when he was doing that, and indeed for the party conferences, but he then became the producer of World in Action, and it was then heavily based in London with Tim Hewat, and when David took it over, he relocated it to Manchester, and I was one of Plowright’s original producer/directors on World in Action, so that we’re now in ’64-’65.

So when did World in Action actually start?

In ’63 with Tim Hewat. This was 18 months later when Tim Hewat moved on to other things, and Plowright took it over, and that was kind of my launch pad really, for everything I then did. There were about eight or 10 of us as producer/directors on World in Action. The wonderful thing for me was that we were all allowed to do everything – in other words, we were our own researchers, we were our own directors, we were our own producers, we edited our own films, and in some cases did the narrations, always wrote the scripts, so it was a fantastic grounding in the full range of doing documentaries – always in a hurry, usually with a lot of overnight edits and all that went with that, but a very, you know, uplifting and energising time, especially given all that was going on in the world at the time as well – revolutions here, there and everywhere.

Did you feel that, if you came up with an idea for a programme, you could pretty much get it made?

Not at that time. At that time, David was firmly in control of the agenda. We had our conferences and tossed our ideas in, and those were sometimes taken up. The period when I began to be able to initiate things and have them followed through was really in the 70s. Up to the end of the 60s I was heavily involved in World in Action, it was my obsessive employment in lots of ways. It began to take me to crazy places.

Were there any particular programmes that you remember from that time?

In that late 60s period, we began to do… well, first of all, Plowright’s idea was that he wanted to pair… the change that he made from Tim Hewat’s time was to try and make it a more filmic series. In other words, he was interested in films that looked like films, as well as hectoring documentaries of the sort that Tim had wanted to do, which were very strident, tabloid, very effective, but consider these facts, really just wallop. David wanted to do more filmy things, which was great for me because I got teamed with investigative journalists, about which I had no experience at all. I got teamed with a guy called Jeremy Wallington (corr), who had been with the Sunday Times Insight (corr) team, and Jeremy and I did a number of investigations together. I remember we did one where we smuggled a back axle into Ian Smith’s sanctions-bound Rhodesia in ’67, which was the first time I had been to anywhere as exotic as that. And Jeremy drove the investigation, and I crouched in ditches and filmed. We actually filmed it ourselves because it would have meant breaking cover to take a film crew into that, so that was all kind of heady stuff – that was an enjoyable programme.

We did a mob-handed thing about the Golden Square demonstration in ’68 that was very striking, that was done on a Sunday afternoon for transmission on Monday night, 20,000ft of film rushed to Manchester, and all that went with that.

My first trip to America was the day after Martin Luther King was assassinated to do a film called Listen, Whitey! (corr) with black voices talking about King’s legacy and all that went with that, which was another fly over on a Friday, shoot Saturday and Sunday, transmit Monday – so those were all films which were effectively about staying awake! It was an immense crash course in making documentaries in a hurry with enough filmic ingredients to also be very instructive about how you might do that.

Remember, this was at a time when the technology was becoming totally liberated – that made a huge difference to me. I remember my first World in Action ever was about an adoption, and we started the film with an old (Orica? 25:14) camera that you could only really work with on a big rosewood tripod, and half way through that shoot we got our first Éclair (??25:24) set-up, and it was like suddenly you could fly! We were very aware of what was happening in America with Bob Drew (corr) and Richard Leacock (corr), and Al Maysles (corr), and very envious of that.

What would be the size of a crew at that time?

Well, in America, we worked with a one on one crew, actually. But usually, there would have been a camera assistant at least, and sometimes a sound assistant. No PAs at that time, so it was fairly tight – they were fairly small crews, and of course working on 16mm film which all had to be run through the labs and all that went with that, but there was a real feeling of kind of excitement and exhilaration actually, I mean, we were monstrously arrogant, we really felt that we were the smartest kids on the block.

I remember filming during the Golden Square demonstration, looking around and seeing the camera man I was working with had borrowed a slogan from Pete Seeger (corr) and pinned it on the side of his Éclair, which said: “This machine kills fascists.” (corr) The toe-curling arrogance of that is hard to remember at this time, but it was a feeling that we undoubtedly had – I mean, we were very pleased with ourselves, and you could say bliss was in that dawn to be alive. I mean, it really was a time when new things were happening all over the place, and the equipment was revving up at a speed that could deal with all of that, and we were very possessed of the idea that we were everything that Panorama – the BBC’s current affairs programme – wasn’t.

Was it that you just believed you were making a difference in political terms, or do you actually think that you were?

I think it’s very hard to estimate how fundamental the change was. Certainly we were part of a wave that was going on, which included rock ‘n’ roll and included fashion, and included new theatre and cinema. We were involved with all of that; it wasn’t an accident that the Beatles’ office was only across the street from Granada’s London office, and there was a great deal of interchange about all of that. So I think that there was… I mean, certainly we were much enlivened by the fact that the Conservative politicians took violently against World in Action, and said it was a ‘nest of Trotskyites’ – which of course it never was, far from it, although some would argue that Gus Macdonald (corr) was a little closer to that part of the world than he might have been. Gus joined as part of Jeremy Wallington’s investigative unit.

In the later 60s, I remember working on a film with Gus Macdonald about arms dealers supplying weapons to the AFRA, the breakaway republic in Nigeria, and that was fun, very sweaty and felt dangerous, and of course we liked to glamour ourselves by thinking we were doing hairy stuff, and to a mild degree I suppose we were. So there was a lot of international going about, there was a Vietnam war, I went to Laos to film – not to Vietnam – so there was a lot of all of that sense of pushing boundaries, taking risks, challenging received ideas, and all of that self-aggrandising fun that was going on there. The other thing that was fun for me was that my good friend and long-standing colleague, a guy called Jo Durden-Smith (corr), who has now, unhappily, passed away.

David Plowright, who was always enabling of nutty things, set up Jo in an office in Golden Square to make rock ‘n’ roll documentaries. Jo persuaded David that this was the wave of the future, that this was highly political, that things that were happening in rock ‘n’ roll were reshaping the world. So Jo and I did a film together, while I was still very much involved with World in Action – in fact, from late ’67, through ’68 and into ’69, I was series co-editor of World in Action with Jeremy Wallington, but I broke away once to do a film of the first London production of the stage show Hair with a bunch of World in Action camera men who we shipped into the theatre to shoot rehearsals and then perform, so that was a lot of fun.

And then, as we began to move into colour, Jo then persuaded Granada to do a film about the Rolling Stones concert in Hyde Park. By then, I had moved on from World in Action, I can’t remember the exact dates, but I discovered that I really… I had this 18 months as co-executive producer of World in Action, and it was really useful that I did – because I discovered something important for me, which was that I didn’t enjoy being a studio-bound executive. It was all right, but I just felt… I remember there came a moment where one of my colleagues on World in Action, John Shepherd, put through his expenses after shooting in Vietnam, and item three on the expenses was ‘opium party for Laotian general’ and I thought, “Come on – I don’t want to be signing the expenses – I want to be at the party!

And I – with some difficulty, actually – persuaded Plowright and Forman that I really didn’t want to do the exec-ing thing any more – I wanted to go back on the road. I wanted to make documentary films. And I remember Plowright saying, “You can’t be Peter Pan all your life!” I thought, “Yes, I can.” So I left World in Action to others, including Jeremy Wallington, Gus, and John Birt (corr), who took over, and David Boulton (corr), who took it on, but I then only returned spasmodically to doing some World in Actions in the early 70s, and then mainly made one-off documentaries. And from 1970 onwards, I also got involved with doing drama documentaries, which was another territory I was utterly inexperienced in – I had never directed an actor in my life! Wallington got hold of a smuggled transcript of a trial in a mental institution in Russia, under which a dissident Soviet general who had challenged the system was shut away in a mental prison for his dissident activities – he was called General Grigorenko (corr).

And so we got the transcript, and Jeremy thought it could be turned into… there was no way we could talk to him, he was shut away in his mental prison, but actually that was interesting because it became the basic purpose of our drama docs from then on, for the next 20 years, which were always really some form of dramatised journalism. We used drama doc as a form of getting into places we couldn’t get by conventional documentary means, which over the years tended to mean Eastern European stories, which was always shut off to us until the 1980s. But we got very good information from various sources, and set up ways of dramatizing that as austerely as we would, usually with smuggled transcripts or tape recordings or whatever, and that first one I did in 70 about General Grigorenko, which was made in an empty, converted carpet factory in Stockport, which then stood in for, over the years, for a Chinese red guard base in Beijing, and for a polish dock worker’s meeting centre in (Stretin? 35:26). That same carpet factory did a lot of business for us.

It was always an intermittent activity for me, drama doc, and not something I was… I remember when I was waiting for the actors to arrive for that fist thing, ringing up my chum, a new graduate trainee called Michael Apted (corr), and saying, “What do you say to actors when they come in to the room, Michal?” and he said, “I don’t know – I have no idea. You just kind of find something to say.” So that wasn’t much help! But it was at a time when Granada was beginning to do film drama, which they had done I think from the late 60s, Mike was doing his terrific things, and so was his fellow trainee, Mike Newell (corr), so there was a lot of energy in film drama.

Over the decade of the 70s, I did three or four drama documentaries of increasing ambition and billowing budgets, which were always… the interesting thing about them was that no two were the same – they were all done in different ways, throwing up different problems. We had come terrific cast people like Ian Holm and Tony Shirr (unverified), and folk like that who signed on for these things.

Just to follow on from that strand, we eventually formalised that drama documentary unit, somewhat against my best feelings, I always thought that the form really… you really ought to do those things only when you came upon something that needed to be doe that way, rather than setting the form before the content. But anyway, we set it up as an outfit in whatever it was – ’77, ’78 – me and David Boulton, and we made a number of films under that heading, right through to the early 80s, we were doing those things. As I say, they got more lavish, they got more expensive, they got more ambitious, and it became a bit of a phenomenon really, and it was never really my… I loved doing them, but they were never quite my obsession. There were a few of them that worked really well; there was one about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia called Invasion that we did in 1980 with information provide by a guy who had been a senior member of Alexander Dubček’s (corr) inner circle of his Politburo, and this guy, our informant, wrote the programme for the Prague Spring. So he was a phenomenally well-informed guy who had come, who had left Czechoslovakia before the collapse of communism and gave us the information for that drama doc, and he was our guide and monitor through the making of that film.

And then we did another film about the birth of Solidarity in the shipyards of Poland – that’s the one where Ian Holm played Lech Walesa for that film, and again that was driven by tape recordings, and in fact that was filmed in the railway yards behind Granada in what became the Coronation Street set.

So that was a strand in my life for a long time – I guess for the best part of 20 years. And the other thing that was mainly… the main strand, as opposed to individual documentaries, was Disappearing World. That, like most things for me, happened kind of by accident.

Was that programme already in existence?

Yes, it was. Before I worked on it… Brian Moser (corr) started Disappearing World, again, Denis Forman… it was very much Denis’ obsession. He had become very keen to use Granada’s documentaries to record the lives of threatened cultures, basically, and to make observational films in which the local populations in remote parts of the world would tell their own stories, and the other decisive thing is they would all be made in co-operation with anthropologists who knew these people, had their trust – crucially, spoke their languages – and could take us in there in a way that would allow us to do the kind of films we were talking about. So Brian had started that out in the early 70s, he made a couple of one-offs, but the first six-pat strand of Disappearing World was going to happen in ’74, and one of these was in Ethiopia. Roger Graef (corr), the great observational film documentary maker, was working at Granada at that time, and he had been asked to make a film with a tribe of migrant cattle-herders in south west Ethiopia, who had the most extraordinary way of making decisions about what the group would do. They would hold public debates in which any man – not women, of course – was allowed to stand up and say, “We should move the cattle here, we should keep them there, we should do this, we should do that,” and this sounded absolutely fascinating – it as a genuine democracy, a leaderless society, and in fact from what we were told, a man got status by ability to speak in these debates, so that was fascinating.

So Roger, because he was working in this kind of area, doing observational films about decision-making, was asked to do this, and my great luck was that Roger decided he wouldn’t do it unless they took a unit doctor on location – I mean, this was absolutely inconceivable – these people lived somewhere off the edge of the known world, accessible only by flying 300 miles, getting dumped in the bush by a plane that would then fly off and leave you there for six or seven weeks – but I said, “I would love to do that.” It was extremely foolhardy, but anyway, off we went, in the June ’74, to make a film with these people, the Mursi (corr), which was an overwhelming experience. I mean, it’s one of the most, perhaps the most extraordinary thing that has ever happened to me in television. When we got there, we found ourselves in the middle of a major tribal war between the Mursi and their neighbours, and we were dropped 40 miles away from where they lived and from where we were going to make the film. We had to work out a way to carry our equipment those 40 miles through the bush, through the war, filming as best we could along the way, then walk around a lot while we were there, and then walk back again. So it was a round trip of… I reckon we walked 200 miles on that trip, just grabbing what we could – and it was maximum difficulty, it was just hellish. I had never spent a night in a tent, and we were stuck doing this… in fact I got one of my World in Action crews to do this with me, so we were one camera, one sound, me and André Singer (corr), who was the researcher.

We thought we could fly a Jeep in there in the Dakota, but then we discovered we got the wrong fuel for it, God help us, so we were stuck in the middle of the Ethiopian bush with the wrong fuel, and the Jeep broke down in 200 yards, so we had to walk, and Andre stayed and watched the Jeep while we made the film. And I thought until quite late in that, “We haven’t got a film here. It is so difficult to just be and survive here, we barely have anything to film.” But as so often with these things, on the very last morning before we had to turn around and walk back for the plane, the whole thing exploded, and we got amazing footage of one of these big debates about what to do about the war and all of that.

And that… and I became absolutely… I remember writing about this and saying, “This is the most absorbing business of my life. It’s captivatingly interesting, terribly alarming, but it stretches everything I’ve got, and it’s kind of one of the things documentaries seems to be for.” And then I went back five other times across the 70s and into the 90s to make more films with the same group of people, recording hat happened to them as their lives changed beyond recognition, basically they collided with the outside world, the Ethiopian government got fed up with them and wanted to control them, and I made my last film with them in 2001 – so that’s gone on for 35 years of being with the Mursi. And along the way I also did films with Sherpas in the Himalayas, with Basque shepherds in the Pyrenees, with fisherman in the South Pacific… so I did 10 Disappearing Worlds, of which six were with the Mursi. But they have really, as I am throwing away photographs in my out house here prior to moving house, I am finding that 60% of all the photographs are on Disappearing World. That sense of tapping into the exotic was overwhelming, and I still count those as the most intriguing things I have ever been involved with as a documentary maker.

So that went on, and I also went on making one-off films of various kinds. Most of the one-offs were the drama docs, in fact, rather than simple observation work and documentaries here. My life was really bouncing around between drama docs and Disappearing World with some excursions into things like I did a film with Mike Scott about some charlatans in the Philippines who called themselves ‘psychic surgeons’ and claimed to be able to remove diseased tissue from people with their bare hands – a bizarre spectacle, and we filmed that… I thought, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but something is – this is completely impossible.” And we finally cracked it, we got a young magician who was just starting to work with Granada to come and look at the rushes – he was called Paul Daniels – and he spotted it. He said, “You’re looking at the wrong place – look at the other hand, not the one that’s doing the operations. That one is palming the rabbit’s giblets, or whatever they’re claiming has been removed,” and you could see it, of course, on film, quite clearly, once you knew what to look for. So that was a fun thing to do.

I did three films with Mike Scott in Japan called The Uncommon Market, about a trade delegation trying to do business with the Japanese; we did an EEC (??48:48) for the European Union referendum, whatever that was, in ’76, we went round the market with a bus load of punters with George Brown and Clive Jenkins (corr) cajoling away at one another while the punters looked on in dismay. So we travelled down through France into Italy and back up again, and made that film in a hurry, just on the verge of the big ITV strike. So there were things like that that wen on in between my Disappearing World and drama documentaries.

As we moved into the 80s, the drama documentaries got more ambitious and the Disappearing World became more difficult because of a big stand-off with the union over PAs being on the shoots, which stopped us for a while completely. But I was still having a wonderful time at Granada and by now, to respond to your earlier question, it was – and I have always thought about this – it was possible to go through one door and talk to one man and get something okayed. I remember going to talk to Plowright about that Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia film, and saying, “Here it is.” “Okay, go and do it.” I thought, “Really?” I mean, that was over a quarter of a million pounds.

So you had the resources and the budget.

Yes. To just do it. And the same happened when Mike Scott okayed the Solidarity drama doc. So it was then possible – one of the defining things about Granada was that there was that very immediate access to people who could make the choice. It’s so unlike the world that we live in now, with the galleries of execs and commissioning execs, and who knows who in the pyramid, who have to agree or stick in their idea. It was a very straight and clean process by which things got done. I hope I don’t sentimentalise it, I don’t think I do, there was much that was maddening about Granada but it worked wonderfully in those terms. Also I think there’s one of your questions about the defining texture of Granada, and I think… I have thought a lot about this. First of all, an awful lot of us worked together for a long, long time. I mean, some of my colleagues over there all those years were people I had worked with for a quarter of a century – the same people. Obviously they had grown up – Plowright had moved from being a local programmes producer to being controller of the universe, Denis was in the stratosphere and all of that – but there were a lot of people who knew one another very, very well and had worked together across a variety of programmes, and I always thought that it gave us a kind of telepathic sense of shared purpose. And strangely, that went across genres. So in other words, in some ways I felt that when Derek Granger and Charles Sturridge were doing Brideshead, they were fired up by the same corporate enablement as I was – we were in and out of each other’s editing rooms and all of that – unlike the BBC, which stratified these things. First of all, it was a fairly small group of people, at its most it was 1,600, something like that, Granada, not 25,000. We knew one another very well, we had worked together on various things… I mean, I first knew Granger when he was series editor on World in Action, God help us – what a bizarre piece of casting that was! But there was that long shared history. I mean, Mike Apted worked on World in Action before he became a feature film director. So that long understanding of what the other bloke was doing, and bumping into people in that building on Quay Street, and bumping into their edit rooms and seeing how they were doing it, and getting to know the people they were doing it with, gave it an extraordinary cohesion and, as I say, a sense of shared purpose that seems to be, looking back on it now, unusual and crucial.

And presumably the kind of experience you are describing about Disappearing World, where there is a small group of people together for 24 hours a day over a period of weeks, really accentuated that.

Absolutely. I men, in the Disappearing World I did, the crews I worked with over the 20 years I did them were mostly the same people. Same camera men for the most part, many of the same sound people. Tried to work with the same editor in Manchester – usually Kelvin Hendrie (corr) or Oral Ottey (corr) or Kim Horton (corr) so it was a very tightly entwined group of people – utterly unlike my more recent experience as a freelance where you meet an entirely new group of colleagues on every production – you make yourself (??55:00) one at a time, I mean most recently I have been working with a very nice production company in Glasgow who I had never met in my life before, which is interesting and fun and stimulating, but quite unlike the Granada patch which had its own reinforcements. I suppose there are those who would argue that in the end it became incestuous and not sufficiently open to… by the late 80s, a really changing world, and of course that duly came to pass. But for a long time, the fact that across the spectrum, from investigative journalism to anthropological film making, to major drama, to drama docs, these were all people I knew well, sat in the canteen with, went to the pub with, and really… we went to each others’ houses and spent all of our lives really, in cahoots with one another. It’s quite unlike the very atomised world I came to know over the last 10-15 years.

When did you leave Granada?

November 1989. I remember… I left at that time because of something Boulton said to me. By then, of course, change was very much in the air and it was plain that Granada wasn’t going to stay as it was.

So what kind of things? How did you discern…?

Most crucially, it became clear that through the changes that Mrs Thatcher had brought in the structures of British television, partly that, but partly actually – you can’t blame Maggie for all of this – the technological uproar that was going on through satellite distribution and all that went with that, multi-channel television, all of that, it became plain that Granada’s extraordinary stranglehold over a large part of ITV… crucially, Granada could say, “We’re going to do this daft drama doc about the Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia,” and nobody could tell them they weren’t. Or, “We’re going to do these mad films in Ethiopia and that’s what we’re going to do.” It became clear that wasn’t going to be anything like as easy as it had been, and that other people were going to be calling the shots, and frankly that market forces were going to bear down on them in a way they hadn’t done. They wouldn’t have the kind of money that they had taken for granted… the cake would be carved up tighter, and that it would be a very changing world. That was evident by the late 80s.

David Boulton said to me, “Have you thought about what this is going to mean?” I said, “No, I hadn’t really. I just get on and make the next programme.” He said, “Here’s one of the things it’s going to mean: the current arrangements that Granada have for final salary pensions are not going to survive this change. They’re just not. Much, much more puff-minded people are going to be in charge; they’re not going to be the rather loose charmers who’ve run this place for the last three decades who are far more interested in programmes than they are in making money. It’s not going to be like that.” So he said, “I’m going to go – and you should think about it.” So I did think about it, and I thought, “He’s right.” Not just because of the final pension, but because I could see around me, a number of my colleagues had gone freelance once Channel 4 was up and running in the mid-80s. Some of them were really… people like Claudia Milne (corr), who had been on World in Action with me, were prospering. Her husband, Mike Whittaker (corr), had been a cameraman on some of my drama docs, they had formed Twenty Twenty Television (corr) together and they were doing well, people like Claire Lasko (unverified) had gone to join Claudia there, there was a real stirring of a new world going on. And at the same time, it was plain that people who were fighting the good fight to preserve the old version of Granada – primarily Denis Forman and David Plowright – were having a hard time.

There came a moment – you will have to check out what year this was (1986) – when rank made a takeover bid for Granada in the late 80s, and that was absolutely decisive. Granada got really rattled by it – because it nearly worked! They nearly got taken over – because they had load of cash and not enough diversification, so they were very vulnerable. And I remember that moment being quite galvanising, and the realisation came that they had better do something about it, and one of the things that Alex Bernstein did was to invite Gerry Robinson (corr) into the fold, which changed everything I mean, I barely… I think I had gone by the time he arrives, but I remember people telling me that they had a meeting in the penthouse and Gerry said, “I have been going around, and help me with something – am I to understand that each of your programmes is made separately?” in other words, you have different people… and he said, “That’s impossible! You don’t have a template or a mould, like portion control?” And he sat there and said, “Listen. I’ve been wandering around here, and all I ever hear is about Brideshead Revisited and Jewel in the Crown and Disappearing World – I don’t want to hear about that any more. I want to hear about what you are going to do next.” And you could feel the whole culture shifting. I mean, that was not going to be the same any more. We could talk for ages about whether it as better, worse or just different – but it was a massive change.

So it was with enormous trepidation, after 28 years man and boy on the staff at Granada, stepped out into the void, not having any idea what would come next. The first film I did – which is not of concern for this – was a film for Gus Macdonald, who was then boss man at Scottish Television, which was a little film about the selection of Britain’s first astronaut – a woman who got the job of joining in on the Russian space station. There was some sort of technology with Mars, and inevitably she became The Woman from Mars! Anyway, I did that – it was a quick turnaround – and I was up and running in the freelance world. I had always, always wanted to work with the BBC – that had been my one regret about being at Granada all that time, I had always… I knew people at the BBC and I thought they did fantastic things and wanted to see what that was like. Then I did an Arena in 1990 and then spent much of the 90s doing more Arenas. I used to think, “God, this place at Kensington House, it’s like being at Granada in the 60s.” they would play rock music all day, they’re got guitars hanging on the wall, they are all rascals who get pissed all the time and all of that, but it’s exhilarating. But that was a great transition for me – I loved doing the kind of things they were doing, dotty films about music, the arts, politics, all intertwined very much in the Granada style. So I did those – I did a couple more freelance jobs back at Granada on Disappearing World subjects and another drama doc about the Lockerbie air disaster – but really, the BBC experience, until I hit Storyville at the end of the 90s, was of mainly an Arena story, and then it became a Storyville story, which has been a major part of my life ever since then.

Just to talk a little bit about the BBC and Granada, how important do you think it was that Granada was based in Manchester? How significant do you feel that contribution was to the North West?

I think for Granada, the separation from London was terribly important. I mean, rather like the arrogance we felt about being young producer/directors on World in Action, they felt about… they used to rejoice in some quotes they would come up with like, “What Manchester thinks today, London will think tomorrow” and they really, really felt that. There was a close involvement with the Guardian – the when Manchester guardian – and there was very much a feeling that Granada was the TV equivalent of the Manchester Guardian, both in terms of its liberal tendencies and it’s interest in journalism. So that separation from the metropolitan take on things I think really was valuable, and I think when Plowright pulled World in Action back from being a London-based programme in the mid-60s, that had a lot to do with the way the company then shaped up.

It was funny that this obsession with what Sidney called ‘Granadaland’ was devised by people who simply didn’t live in Granadaland. Sidney, apart from going into the penthouse occasionally, I don’t think he ever spent a night in Granadaland! Denis didn’t, Plowright did live in Granadaland, which was terribly important for Granada, and there was a feeling that being in this region gave us a certain take on the world that wasn’t quite the same as the one in London. We didn’t tend to either hang out with or find places for mainstream politicians on Granada programmes – World in Action barely ever featured them, much to their dismay. And that separation from Westminster gave us a certain independence of spirit over the years, and so I think that was important for the region. I would imagine – although I am less familiar with this – that having a company committed to the area based in Manchester and eventually with outstations in Liverpool, all that that meant was terribly important. It really did provide a sense of regional cohesion and worth that to some degree centred around the region’s TV company. It really was significant, I think.

You talked earlier about opening the camera on the doorstep while making the LS Lowry film, and I wondered if certainly at the beginning of your career, was there a sense that for most of you, you were kind of novices and learning as you…


And that wasn’t just for you personally.

All of us – and I guess that was what was exhilarating about getting involved at the moment I did. Television was quite new here. I didn’t grow up with television in my house; I remember the first set being brought in for the Coronation. Television was not stitched into my boyhood at all – it was radio. So even by the time I joined Granada in 1961, Granada was still a new place – Coronation Street was six months old when I joined Granada, so we were all learning our trade, journalism and documentary making was mainly occupied by former print journalists, reporters of various kinds, or by people like me who were just layabouts from university! I mean, I had no… I brought no particular expertise to the job, and the people who surrounded me were, like me, dilettantes who read English at university and had no particular equipment for doing this job apart from an interest in the world and their consuming curiosity. But we felt that we were having to make up a thing because it didn’t much pre-exist.

There wasn’t… although it had been back in business since the end of World War 2, it didn’t really start to evolve until the mid- to late-50s into anything like what we know now, and with only two channels for most of the early part of my life in TV, we were all very much novices, all fumbling about to try and discover how to do this thing, even the people who were working with us technically. In the studio there were people lumbering about with these bloody huge studio cameras who sort of knew what they were doing, they had done that elsewhere – but in my area, trying to find out how to tell stories with documentaries, that was a fairly new trade. When I first arrived, all the documentaries – or most of them – were being done on 35mm film, with all the angularities and problems that that provided – World in Action really took Granada into the 16mm world and was really conscious of trying to find new ways of working with this new lightweight – as it then was – film technology. So there was a tremendous sense of newness and learning together how to do this new thing.

You also said that whilst there were a lot of positive things bout Granada, there were things you said were maddening.

World in Action was a microcosm of the things that were maddening about G. There was a preposterous arrogance and self-absorption and a sense that nobody was doing it as well as we were, a sense of… if you are going to come and work for Granada, don’t expect to be paid properly. You pay a penalty for coming to work for the greatest television company in the world. Literally seen in those terms. That worked for an awful long time, and it was true, but there was a kind of smugness and self-satisfaction I think, a certain kind of sealed-up self-regard. And indeed, I guess you would have to say that the other side of this isolation from the metropolitan view of the world was a certain insulation and a certain self-absorption about being outside that orbit which was often exhilarating and helpful and wonderful but must in some ways have also been limiting and stultifying. And also the extreme consistency of people working together eventually must have been running out of steam to some extent. I didn’t eel it particularly until… I remember so clearly, the moment when I think… the last wonderful moment at Granada for me was when, in 1986, Granada won the lifetime achievement award as a company from the Banff TV festival (The Banff World Media Festival) in Canada. Plowright took about a dozen of us on a flight to Calgary and we were loudly extoled at this thing, and on the way back he was laying out, overnight on the plane, how it would all play out from here etc. – but it didn’t.

I mean, by the time he was talking about it, the things I was talking about earlier were starting to impinge. Importantly, he offered the programme controllership to Gus Macdonald, and Gus didn’t want it, so Mike Scott got it, which was never an entirely comfortable fit, but it wasn’t Mike’s problem, it was dealing with a rapidly changing world which Gus would have struggled with in exactly the same way. So after that thrilling moment in Canada… it’s not that it went downhill, but gradually the wind went out of the sails, and I have often thought back about that. It was even stronger for me because I had just come back from a particularly knackering Disappearing World with the Mursi just three weeks before the Banff thing, and I had lost a stone and a half and I was very tanned, very trim and very knackered before we headed off to Canada – so it was a pivotal point for me, swapping the Lower Omo Valley for the Banff TV Festival was a bizarre moment. And it didn’t seem, at the time, anything other than thrilling – but it was the beginning of the down slope.

SK: A couple of things. You mentioned The Stones in the Park (corr). Could you tell us more about the making of that?

The Stones in the Park came about because Jo Durden-Smith, my long-standing chum who was doing these rock ‘n’ roll documentaries, got a call from Mick Jagger himself – he said, “Hey, Jo – you guys have got great cameramen – why don’t you come and film our concert in Hyde Park?” – this is the summer of 1969, before Woodstock, weirdly enough, it wasn’t afterwards – and so Jo and I went to talk to Forman and Plowright about it, and with great reluctance they signed a budget of I think £9,000 to make it, and we simply shipped in every good World in Action crew we had worked with – including George Jesse Turner (corr) stuck on the top of a van in the middle of the park – and that was all done in a day.

Again, it was made up as we went along. I mean, we had no… the only film that had happened that was somewhat analogous was Monterey Pop (corr), Pennebaker’s (corr) film at the Monterey Festival the year before. But we basically… there were six crews, the directors were all former World in Action people – people like John Sheppard (corr) and so forth – each had a crew and a camera man – all World in Action people – and we went off, we decided we would record whatever the hell was going on in the park that day as well as what was going on on stage it was a technical omnishambles, I remember, doing that thing, it really was. I mean, first of all, I arrived in the park at the stage at 7am that morning, on a beautiful summer’s morning, to find that none of the filming equipment had been delivered – not one thing.

So we immediately ordered it all over again, and then shortly afterwards we got all the old stuff and the new stuff – so we had a pile of equipment 10ft high that had to be sorted out. So we fumbled through the morning with the Hell’s Angels being a pest, and then as we began filming, the Stones were so late on stage that we were getting concerned about the light levels – they were hours late. Brian Jones, of course, had met a (guide? 78:00) just leading up to that so we got Mick’s poem and all that wonderful absurdity. But as I say, technically, it didn’t really… it stretched us to the edge of possibility.

When Jagger picked up the mic to start the first number, he picked up the wrong mic – or at least one that didn’t contain our feed – so if you look at the first number, about half way through it a frantic man runs from behind and sticks another mic in his hand. So half of the first number is semi-audible. And the band were so wrecked, out of their heads stoned by the time they started the concert, that I remember it was tragically out of tune, their performance. I remember going to mix it with a very good rock ‘n’ roll mixer who had done a lot of their albums, and he said, “What do you want me to do with that? It’s just terrible.” And when we screened it, we screened it in Golden Square, Mick was in Australia doing his Ned Kelly thing, but the remaining Stones… we filmed the rough cut of the Stones in the basement at Golden Square.

I remember when it came to a stop, part one came to an end, Keith said, “I hope the lead guitarist tunes up before part two.” Of course he didn’t, it just gets worse. So God knows how it survived – it still gets screened a couple of times a year and I still get grabbed by people who remember it fondly. It was the very early days of us shooting in colour, so we only got 10% of the rushes printed in colour; the rest was in black and white – which was a real problem when we discovered that the camera I was shooting with, which was on the left hand side of the stage, the assistant had left the door open for the early numbers, so it was all orange-edged (??80:15), all our stuff was… a sort of vibrating band of orange. For years after that, mad hippies came up to me and said, “That was years ahead of its time, that groovy tinting of the film,” which we didn’t even know about until we got the show print.

So one way or another it was very primitive technically, but it had the energy of the concert – so it delivered the goods. I remember the Daily Telegraph said, “This is the loudest thing since World War One.” I remember screening it for Cecil Bernstein at Granada and he was just shaking his head in bewilderment about what his boys had been doing! I edited it all in Manchester, and that was the most fun actually, putting that together and finding different ways of doing the different numbers, despite the many technical shortcomings, like the main camera for Satisfaction, we lost all the rushes – they disappeared under a bush somewhere, which we never rediscovered – so that had to be cobbled together from whatever else was surviving, with a lot of crappy freeze-frames and stop-motion things, which were done in Humphrey’s Labs in London (unverified) because you couldn’t do them in Manchester, which meant that they went off on a train and didn’t come back for a week, by which time they were wrong, but it was too late to do anything about it – that kind of thing was just par for the course in doing those films. So that was fun, and that charged up a series of Granada rock documentaries that Jo went on and did, he did his Johnny Cash thing, and The Doors film – The Doors: The Doors Are Open (corr) – which was amazing, actually, which John Sheppard directed in the Roundhouse, which was done incredibly on video tape. So that became a strand of life, and I always loved doing music documentaries, I really have, since I went freelance. I have done a thing with Tony Bennett, another one with Randy Newman, and another one about the music in New Orleans – they are a much-loved strand for me of what I have been doing with documentaries.

SK: You didn’t do the Johnny Cash one though?

No, I didn’t, no. The Johnny Cash thing (Johnny Cash in San Quentin) was done by Mike Darlow (corr) in San Quentin. Huge row at Granada because Darlow and Jo Durden-Smith had a really powerful sequence built around the gas chamber – not with somebody in it, but waiting for its next victim – and Forman absolutely refused to make it part of the film. And I think Darlow took his name off the film. I mean, I don’t know why Denis – usually an unbelievably courageous executive – decided that that was a step too far, but he did. That was not one of Granada’s best moments.

The other thing you’re asking about, the down sides, I remember that Sidney was… there came a moment, just about when I was starting World in Action, they did a film about Freemasonry, which Mike Hodges (corr), the then feature film director, made – and it was one of the very, very few programmes that Granada pulled – and the reason was that Cecil was a Freemason, and he was very uncomfortable with it. And Sidney – I mean, I didn’t have this conversation, David Plowright did – and he said, “You have to understand, David _ I love my brother; I am not going to do this to him.” Now, you can certainly argue that that was shameful and shocking. It was the only time in my entire experience that that kind of personal agenda intervened, because for the rest of time, I remember they were absurdly courageous about those things. I remember when World in Action did a film about Aspirin, saying it could be dangerous for certain people, and they lost £1m of advertising in a week because they proceeded with that programme. They didn’t (miss a strike? 84:50) about that.

And the famous British Steel case, when they were at risk of haemorrhaging enormous fines for denying a court order to reveal their sources – never wavered on that. So they were usually editorially immensely resilient.

I had a personal wonderful story about how, when I did my drama doc about the Red Guard trial, the Chinese Embassy got really, really angry – and a man was seen that morning – photographed by the Daily Mail – standing on the door of the Chinese Embassy with an axe in his hand, as a sort of young red guard, and a delegation descended on Sidney at Golden Square to say this film that your producer, Mr Woodhead, has made is a ‘travesty’ of everything that has gone on in China. It was about the trial of a leading member of the Politburo which the red guards humiliated and stamped all over this woman, and we did a drama doc about this, and they said, “This cannot go forward, this must be cancelled,” and Sidney had me up and he said, “Did you get it right?” I said, “Yes.” “Bye,” he said, and that was it. Amazing. I mean, he was under enormous pressure, and he didn’t ask me any more questions, just that. So they were usually editorially very robust.

On occasions, the other time it got edgy – there were a couple of World in Actions about Israel that producers had a torrid time with – it seemed to me that Sidney demanded more evidence of bad things going on than he might have done with other stories. There was a story about how the Israelis were demolishing the houses of the Arab population – which was undoubtedly true, and remains true to this day – but he really put David Plowright through the hoops in a way that he might not have done with another story. So I would have to say, those passing moments of editorial intervention that were less than wholly likeable, and there were near moments where Denis and David had to reign in Sidney – after that long strike in the early shooting of Brideshead, Sidney wanted to cancel it. He said, “We’re just haemorrhaging money on this thing, we cannot go on doing this,” and they managed to persuade him to keep going, but left to himself he would have pulled the plug on that, having already spent, I don’t know, £150,000. So what really saved it editorially was the tension between Sidney’s instinctive courage about editorial matters, and his left of centre take on the world, occasionally limited by his personal sensitivities, and the fact that Denis and David were enormously ballsy about editorial things – and indeed, that’s what got them out of bed in the morning, they both loved the mischief of doing serious, rabble… cage-rattling TV journalism. That’s what they loved. In fact, they took much more pleasure than I ever did – I just loved making films.

Kathy Arundale

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 3 February 2015.

Okay, Kathy. Let’s start by talking a little bit about your Granada career. When did you first join the company, and how did you come to join the company?

I joined in May 1957, which was just a year and a few days after the company had gone on the air, and I joined because I wanted to be in the press office, really. I was interested in journalism at that time.

A friend of mine, who was working for the chief accountant, told me there was a vacancy for the assistant chief accountant. So I applied and got it, and instead of doing journalism I spent seven years of my life in the accounts department.

 But you hadn’t trained as an accountant?

I couldn’t add up! I didn’t even take maths for O-level. So that was a bit of a hoot. But, of course, I didn’t need to, because there were other people doing the figures; I was just a shorthand typist in those days, as we all were. Granada secretaries, on the whole, had their eyes set upon becoming production assistants. But I didn’t, for some reason.

Then I moved into what would now be called HR — we called it personnel.

How many years were you in accounts?

Seven. Against all the odds! But I began to enjoy it, and they were a lovely bunch. I’d never worked with a big team before, so that was rather an eye-opener for me. And, of course, they were exciting times, because we started off in the old Gallagher tobacco factory, which was across the road.


 Where the college is now. If you went out of the main entrance of Granada and crossed over the road, it was over there. Now I’ve completely lost the layout of the streets, because they no longer exist. But there wasn’t enough room in the first build of the TV centre to accommodate the admin staff, so the accounts department and several others — and, in fact, the directors — had an office in that building. I think that was for about three years, because the TV centre, proper, opened in 1961, and we all moved over.

We used to go over to the main block for lunch, because the canteen was over there. We had no facilities in our block, apart from Agnes — and I’m sure everybody’s talked to you about Agnes — who brought the trolley round. It was irresistible in the afternoons: teacakes, buns, biscuits!

She would just go round, office to office?

 Yes, with a trolley of tea, coffee and goodies. I mean, you’d never get that happening now; you either go to a machine or you go to a building, don’t you? But that was 1957.

So what do you remember of those very early days of television production?

 I had no conception of what went on in the studios, and we never went over there. I can remember going to one production, when Woody Allen did a gig, but that was much later. I think that was in the mid-60s. Just as a member of the audience.

We were all asked to look at the first episode of Coronation Street, of course — that historic night. But we just got on with the figures, and did what had to be done in admin terms.

There was very little contact, really, between, say, the studio floor and us. People like Frank Clarke and Roy Montrose bridged the two, because they were doing the costings. But we really didn’t see — except at lunchtime, in the canteen — anybody who actually made television, and they were like another species!

But gradually, particularly as we moved into the office block, you did get to know more people, because seven floors, instead of two isolated sections, made a big difference.

So after seven years in accounts, you then moved to HR?

 Yes. I worked for Derek Roberts, who later went to work for an Oxford college. A very nice man. That, again, was a fairly small department — six or seven of us. That’s when we recruited Andrew Quinn, who went on to bigger and better things.

And what did you recruit Andrew as?

Assistant personnel manager. It’s a joke to say that I recruited him, but Derek Roberts was the kind of man who wanted his department to run smoothly. He said to my colleague and myself that we ought to meet Andrew, and if we thought we couldn’t work with him to say so. But, in fact, we liked him very much, so he owes us his career! His secretary, Betty, who worked for him then, subsequently worked for him in London, when he went down to be whatever it was in ITV.

So how many years in HR?

 About three, I think.

So you would be dealing with a whole range of personnel problems and issues?

 We did. I didn’t have anything to do with interviewing. There were people to do that. But we did all the contracts and of course they were all done manually in those days. Filed all the contracts. Dealt with meetings for unions and everything else.

There was always a rather strange process of getting a job: getting an interview, and then the interview with this panel of half a dozen people?

 Yes. That was rather slightly outside of the main personnel. I think what we were doing was taking on and looking after the core staff, if you like. The creative staff, if we call them that, were always seen by other creative staff, and we only did the paperwork. I mean, Derek probably sat in, but you would find people like Denis and whoever — the general manager, possibly — recruited for the programme makers.

Right. Who then went through his very strange interviewing. It’s been described to me as being a bit like an Oxbridge entrance interview.

I’m sure it was, and out of that probably came the production trainee scheme which was aimed at the top universities. That’s how we got people like Leslie (Woodhead), Mike Apted and Charles Sturridge. Thousands of them applied, and we took on six at a time, and only for a very short time.

Yes, because I think that scheme finished by the mid-70s.

It did finish. A massive amount of work involved, of course. I don’t think they imagined, when they first decided to do it, that there would be that kind of a response. It was massive. Derek Granger masterminded that, if I remember rightly. He’s still alive and kicking, with a vengeance! Living in Brighton, but still top notch.

By this time, we’re now into the seventies?

The sixties. I can’t remember when I left personnel — isn’t it terrible! But I went to Fred Boud, who was then general manager, and, after a very short and enjoyable time working for him, went to Denis Forman. That was 1968.

At this stage, Denis Forman would be programme controller?

 He was programme controller and possibly joint managing director. I can’t quite remember if he’d got to that then. He certainly became joint managing director, and then managing director — still keeping on the programme controller, I think — and then David Plowright became programme controller.

So what sort of thing were you doing for Sir Denis?

 Well, secretary. Everything. Tea-making, coffee-making, meeting-fixing. Typing, endlessly. And in those days, of course, there was no taking paragraphs from one bit of the computer and putting it into the next. It was all really hard work, and endless drafts. Everything was circulated to at least six people. So it wasn’t easy, in the physical sense.

But he was just fascinating to work for. Scary, in many ways. Certainly to somebody like me, who hadn’t had a university education. But he, and the breadth of his knowledge and interests, was amazing. And during the time I worked for him, he wrote two books — one of which I typed, in my own time! — about Mozart’s piano concertos. I mean, you could not get anything further from day-to-day television.

And as he took on more, of course I had to take on more, because he became chairman of the opera committee at the Royal Opera House and he was chair of many industry committees, which meant London meetings with loads of paperwork. There was the Annan inquiry into the future of television. Masses and masses of paperwork. Things going on all the time, while Granada had to be kept going.

Was he an easy man to work for?

 He had very high standards, but I never found him difficult. I used to get cross with him, as you do, and thought I was being put upon, but no. He was fine.

And held in enormous esteem within the building?

 Yes, he was, and I think part of that came from the early days, because when the canteen was in the old building and we were still across the road, and later, when the admin block first opened, he and even Sidney Bernstein used to just wander down to the canteen and have their lunch, and go and sit next to anybody where they saw an empty space. So you’d suddenly find yourself talking to the MD. It never happened to me, of course, because we spent too many hours together as it was! But that all bred a sort of feeling. Everybody said it was like a family, and it was in many ways.

There were obviously disagreements. The unions didn’t always give them an easy time. But, even so, I think there was an enormous respect for what would have been called ‘the management’.

Somebody described it to me as a very paternalistic company?

 It was, in many ways, with a lot of benefits. I think Sidney was an amazing man and, yes, it wasn’t like the John Lewis ethic, but we did all have that feeling that we were part of something. Which I doubt most companies had, or have — certainly not now.

And also because it was a creative company, as well.

 It was a very creative company. The people who ran the organisation knew what it was like to write, direct, produce. Denis had his knowledge from the British film industry. They were all part of a programme-making team where they knew what they were talking about, and many of them had come up. People like Mike Scott, for instance — who rose to be programme controller from being a floor manager.

So there was that feeling that they all knew what they were talking about, in terms of producing something. And once we got to the Brideshead Revisited stage, we were really cracking on then. But there’d been wonderful drama before then. People tend to forget things like Country Matters, which Derek Granger produced. Wonderful pieces of work.

Any others that you remember?

 Not offhand. I can think of some series I didn’t enjoy on a personal level. In terms of critical acclaim, I suspect that Country Matters had taken all the accolades before Brideshead.

And were you with Sir Denis when The Jewel in the Crown came?

I certainly was. He was very put out to discover that I’d read the novels before he had, because it was a massive piece of reading. And, unlike the way it was done on television, it’s all in timescales, going back and forth. Quite a difficult read.

He really did want to put that on the screen, and he produced these great pieces of paper, which were rolls of old wallpaper, and laid out the chronology, and would have them pinned on the office wall so that we could see how it was going to be.

Then he started talking to people involved — Ken Taylor, I think, and others — and then Christopher Morahan came in. And it really took off. It was the kind of thing that probably wouldn’t happen today, because it was a project on a very personal level, from one person who wanted to do it.

It went to the programme committee of course, and they all knew it was going to cost a bomb, but they didn’t think: is it going to pay for itself? Are we going to get the advertising? All the things that are now the bottom line. ‘We want to make this. We’re going to make it and put it out.’ And I think that was a wonderful decision.

I’d always got the impression that Sir Denis had read this book many, many years before and always loved it, so that’s not really the case?

 Well, he had read it before he started to do that. This is nit-picking, but I had actually read it before he had, because I read it when I was very young. It was lovely, because then we were talking about it and we both knew what was going on in the books. It was an amazing time. But when the crew went out to India, we were in constant touch, but how one wishes there had been mobile phones, because it was all telex and this antiquated machinery. Having to type everything out and send it on this ghastly machine, so that they would pick it up however many hours later — I’m afraid I can’t remember how many hours ahead India is!

Then we’d wait for phone calls, and phone calls were so difficult because you’d have to try and get them in the hotels. It was a nightmare, really.

And did you get to go out at any point?

 No. The greatest disappointment of my life, I think, because two of my very good friends were working on it as PAs, and I kept in touch with them by letter, would you believe. I used to write them a weekly bulletin from the TV centre. Amazing, when you think what you can do now!

Who were they?

Millie Preece and Sue Wilde.

Are you still in touch with them?

 Yes. They could tell you about Jewel in India.

So Sir Denis had read the book, and thought it was wonderful.

But he had realised, I think, that the way it was written — the flashbacks and the forwards and everything else — would be too confusing, so that’s how they picked out the bones of the storyline and carried it on in a fairly logical, chronological order, which worked.

My one great memory of Sir Denis is he admitted to me once that a man called Elwyn Jones had come to him with a script for a new possible television series about police cars in Liverpool, which he was going to call Z-Cars, and Sir Denis had said no to it and rejected it. But what I always liked about him not being afraid to tell people that was that he was not above himself, or was not ashamed of the fact he made mistakes.

And he did admit to the biggest disaster in Granada’s history, in Judge Dee, which was a massive mistake. It was terrible, and he laughed about it afterwards, but for some reason he wanted to do these Chinese books and they did them. It was awful!

Judge Dee I do not remember. I’ve heard the name come up, but I don’t remember any of that.

 I barely remember it, other than thinking: oh, God, I can’t watch this!

And that was his idea?

He wanted to do it, yes. But afterwards, if he was ever making an acceptance speech about how good he’d been, he’d always say, ‘Remember Judge Dee? So he was aware that he wasn’t infallible.

So you were with Sir Denis from ’68 until?

Until he retired from Manchester and went back to London full-time to be a member of the group board, when David Plowright took over as chair. So that was just under 20 years.

That’s a long time to be personal assistant or secretary to someone.

 Yes, it was. And of course we kept in touch until he died.

So he went off to London. What happened to you then?

 1987-88. I took on the foundation, looking after the collection. Bits and pieces, really.

Tell us about the Granada Foundation, and the work of the foundation — what it does.

 The Foundation is actually a separate entity to Granada Television, because Sidney and Cecil Bernstein settled an amount of money in what was then called the Northern Arts and Sciences Foundation. The interest from that capital was to be used to help arts and sciences in the north. I can’t remember when they changed the name to the foundation, but nobody from television was on the advisory council; nobody from television could interfere with the finances. So it was then, and still is, entirely separate from the company.

It’s contracted in that we no longer do the whole of the north — we just do Granada’s region. Granadaland, as it was. Because, for one thing, there isn’t enough money to spread around anywhere else, and we couldn’t possibly cope with the ITV’s area, which is the whole of Britain. So we’ve kept it to the old Granada boundaries.

We give grants to applicants who we think are worthy of support, and they can range from a few hundred pounds to a few hundred thousand pounds. In our guidelines, we try to encourage people not to ask for too much but, inevitably, they do. More and more, we have actually put money into capital projects in institutions like the Royal Northern College of Music, Chetham’s, the library renovation — there is now a Granada room — and various other big projects. Liverpool has benefitted enormously from grants from the foundation, and we hope that will carry on.

But the way the stock market works, of course, sometimes we have less money than others. We’ve drawn a little on our capital. We sometimes talk about going out with a bang, and using the whole of the money to do something really major, but nobody can decide what that is. So at the moment it’s still business as usual.

We meet three times a year and go over the applications. I used to do the admin for the applications — sorting them, bringing them to the meeting, all the follow-up work — but now that is done by Irene Langford, who used to work in the Chester news base. When that closed, they were looking for something for her to do, and I was about to go, so that worked. Now I just sit as a member of the advisory council, which is very nice. I do do some preliminary and follow-up work but, on the whole, it’s just going to the meetings and looking at the applications on the day.

You looked after the art collection, didn’t you? When did Granada start purchasing paintings, and why?

 Well, Sidney Bernstein had always bought paintings, and the London offices had them forever. I don’t remember, in my early days at Granada in Manchester, that there were pictures on the walls, but there may well have been and I simply didn’t notice them.

It did become much more obvious in the 70s, probably — I’ve got a book in there I could look at. But Alex Bernstein was deeply interested in paintings, and he started to buy contemporary works, which came to Manchester to be hung.

At one stage, the Granada collection was recognised as probably the third best corporate collection in Britain. We had an exhibition at the Whitworth, where many of the works were seen by thousands of people and then came back to the building.

Gerry Hagan, who was then head of the library and later of the script department, had a brief to buy locally — smaller works, possibly — for Manchester, and used to go to local galleries, local exhibitions and buy things he thought would be good, which is why most offices have one or two paintings on the wall.

That, together with what you might call the official collection — Alex’s works — was very highly regarded. It’s very sad now that it has dispersed.

A lot of people have talked about the art collection. Particularly, people have talked about walking into reception and seeing the wonderful Francis Bacon, and the quote about Granada Television being the best TV company in the world, and feeling a huge sense of pride and awe.

Not everybody liked the Bacon, of course. It was a very acquired taste, but it certainly made an impression. That was Alex’s buy.

And other people have always talked about how they remember paintings, and will tell you precisely where this painting was that took their eye.

 It was a very unusual thing, to see people like John Hoyland and Patrick Heron hanging on a corridor which was just a way through to the back door. It wouldn’t have happened anywhere else, I don’t think. And sometimes, as a result, they got a bit damaged, because people would be passing by with food and drink and so on, and they’d get bits of splashes. But on the whole they survived pretty well.

And you could apply for a painting if you were in an office?

 Yes. I think Gerry started the scheme by saying to people, ‘Well if you see something you like, you can have it hanging’. And there was a period when he actually bought things that were for sale. They used to hang on a staircase going towards film ops, I think.

In those days, you could pick up a really nice piece of work for fifty pounds. So that was an interesting scheme, but it didn’t go on for all that long, and I can’t remember why not. Probably too time-consuming for Gerry, or whoever else was operating it.

But people did used to say, ‘Oh, I like that. I wish I had it in my office’ and, if it was feasible, we’d move them about. And so many people used to say, ‘When I go, I’m taking this with me’. I think sometimes it did happen, but we’ll gloss over that!

I wonder what happened to the art collection in the end. It was all dispersed?

Are you planning to talk to Jane Luca? Ask Jane what happened to it, because I was told only after the event that it had gone. They apparently had an internal auction, in the building, for the smaller works — what you might call the Manchester works — and people could buy them. Had I known, I’d have gone, because there was one that I left in an office that I would have loved to have bought.

But the main collection slowly was sold off. The Bacon went to New York, even before the change of ownership, shall we say. But the big ones, like Heron, Hoyland and Christopher Le Brun, I’ve no idea where they went, or how.

Some smaller works — there was a group attributed to Constable, but we knew they weren’t, though they were very similar to Constable’s skies — went to Granada’s head office in London, when it went into St. James’. So they could still be there. For all I know, they might be on the South Bank, in the old LWT building.

I don’t know who has got what, if anything. But I suspect that all the major works were just sold at auction. And since I don’t buy an art magazine, of course I didn’t see it happening.

And you’d gone by then?

 Yes. It’s fairly recent. Within the last ten years.

 I know some were sold off to the staff as well, weren’t they? Some of the lesser paintings.

Yes. I’d have liked to have had the opportunity for that, because there were two on my office wall that I really liked. I can’t remember by whom now. In Globe and Simpson. Is that building still being used now? I don’t know.

Was Globe and Simpson the one across the road?

Yes, the triangular one.

Yes, I worked in that one as well, for quite a while.

 Well, obviously they’re not using it, because they’ve gone to MediaCity. But they were, and I had two pictures in there. See, being in charge is nice — you can choose your own!

And we had some cooperation with the Tate in Liverpool, which was very useful, because they had conservation staff who, once or twice, did some work for us to mend a little tear, for instance, and remove a few splats from the corridor works. That was interesting.

Would you have come into much contact with Sidney Bernstein?

I did in the early days, yes, because he came up to Manchester regularly to see how the building was progressing and everything else.

He used to bring a secretary with him from London, but it was never enough, so they had to have somebody else, and I used to get seconded — maybe once a fortnight or something like that — to go and work in his office, which was absolutely terrifying for the first few times! Because he was an astonishing man. The speed at which he did everything. The things he knew. He always looked so fabulous; he was beautifully, impeccably dressed.

But terrifying for a young typist, because you couldn’t afford to make mistakes in those days. Carbon copies and Tippex and all of that — if you made a terrible mistake you had to start again! But he was amazing. He missed nothing. He used to walk round the building, with somebody from the general manager’s staff, and point out the scratches on the paintwork and the fingerprints on the glass, and never missed a trick. Which is why the building was always pretty ship-shape really.

And, again, held in great esteem by the staff?

Yes, I think so. And he would go down into the canteen at lunch in his shirt sleeves, and sit with somebody and quiz them on what they were doing and what should be done.

We had a suggestion scheme at one stage, where you could actually put in ideas, and there was a small prize or a little amount of money if you made a really good suggestion. That seems to me like a Sidney idea, but I could be wrong. I can’t remember the timescale.

As the admin block grew and was then occupied, he came less frequently. But he still kept on eye on absolutely everything, and of course his knowledge of music and art and everything else was as wide as Denis’.

What about David Plowright. Did you come into much contact with him?

Yeah. I knew David very well for a long time. For one thing, at one stage there was a section of three offices, and the secretaries were in the middle and David was on one side, so I used to see him coming and going. But he had his own stuff, of course.

He and Denis worked very closely, so they were always in and out talking to each other. I can’t remember David’s timescale — he was news editor but I can’t remember if he did anything else between that and programme controller.

He did World in Action.

That’s right, he did. I didn’t know him really in those days, but later on.

And who else were you close to, and knew well, at Granada?

I kept up with Andrew Quinn, of course, because his role overlapped, when he was general manager. So I saw quite a lot of him. The accountants people I didn’t know as well later. Inevitably, their department gets bigger and they’re in a different place, and you just don’t see them anymore.

I can’t even remember who the last chief accountant was. But all the programme committee team, and Leslie Woodhead, were pals. They were all really nice, always kind, and it was so interesting listening to them in discussions, because, at one stage, I was actually in Denis’ office — I had my desk in a little corner in the office — and they would come in and be talking about programmes, and the dialogue there was like a programme in itself, if you’d been able to record that.

And you knew all the secrets?

Yeah, I suppose so, but I’ve wiped them all from my memory bank! I made no conscious effort to either write anything down or try to remember, because I think it’s counter-productive in many ways.

But I have enjoyed reading other people’s versions of what went on. Not always accurate, but there we are. There were some really major battles with World in Action and the authority, which went on forever and ever, and produced files this deep.

This is the British Steel papers?

British Steel and, oh, all sorts of things. Because that programme was such a breakthrough. It really was. When you think of the subjects they tackled, and how they tackled them, at a time when nobody was really being what you might call ‘aggressive’ on television. They got into all sorts of scrapes. But it was worth it, because things happened as a result. New laws were changed, and safety precautions brought into factories, and all kinds of things. It was brilliant.

Is there anything else you want to talk about?

 No, I don’t think so. I think you can gather that I liked my life at Granada!

Yes. That’s great. Thank you very much for that.

 My pleasure.

June Buchan

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 21 January 2014.

Let’s start June when did you join Granada and how come did you join Granada?

I joined in 1973 in London as a Programme Secretary on a programme called, what was it called, I told you yesterday, Brian Lapping’s programme, State of the Nation, I was a programme secretary on that in the main building in Golden Square.

And how long did you do that for? What was that like?

It was unbelievably tedious in the sense that the programme outline was consistently changing so I was endlessly retyping to notes but it was interesting in that I didn’t have very much idea about the workings of Parliament so I learnt quite a lot on that level and I also met some interesting people and went to the party conference. Yes generally got immersed in it but I got to a point when I was generally quite bored.

Do you remember what the programme was about?

Not very well I have to say. I know it was heavily based on what was going on in the House of Commons at the time, now 73. Was Wilson still Prime Minister then?

No Heath would be Prime Minister; Wilson became Prime Minister in February 74

Oh OK, right I remember that now because I remember we used to have a lot of contact with his researcher, Jane Cousins, she used to come into the office at lot and Norma Piercy was a researcher on it and David Kemp I think was a researcher on it as well. I t was pretty dry I have to say and at that point I didn’t really have much grasp of actually making television programmes because we didn’t get that far or I didn’t get that far within the job. I left actually I left Granada and then I came back six months later.

So why did you leave?

Personal reasons

So you came back six months later?

This time it was to be the Programme Secretary on World in Action in the basement of the adjacent building across from Golden Square. It was downstairs, it was a huge basement room I took that job

So who would be in the office, which world in action people would be in the office, do you remember?

Oh Gus was in charge, Gus Macdonald, I was trying to think of all the different people who were there, Claudia Milne, Mike Gillard, Brian Blake, Barry Cox, Stephen Clark, Mike what was his name, Mike it’s gone, Eva Kolouchova. I was there the day she arrive to see Gus and I think she’d only just managed to leave Czechoslovakia and she almost came in straight off the train and went to see him. And er John Shirley,

John Birt, was he there?

No he wasn’t working on the programme then, no.

Mike Apted?

No I think they’d very recently moved on. Give me a few more names and I’ll tell you

Steve Segaller?


Paul Greengrass?

No that was well before him.

David Boulton?

Yes, he was.

So what did role, Production Secretary involve?

It was really an exciting role, I loved it. It was basically keeping things ticking over for Gus, paperwork but organizing the crews going out all over the place, keeping tabs on where they were – it was very, very exciting particularly as there was a lot of underground filming going on then and a lot of surreptitious filming. I think I can remember them going into Chile, I’m pretty sure I can.

That would have been just after the revolution?

Yeah, yeah.

The coup d’état rather?

Yeah. And I think they were going into South Africa. So it was keeping tabs on all of that, getting updates from all of the crews, how it was going. A lot of liaising with Tom Gill in Manchester, well obviously typing up a lot of stories, the researchers giving me things to deal with. It was very, very exciting; it was never a dull moment in there.

One of my best memories is coming in in the morning to find various researchers asleep under their desks because they’d just never made it home. But it was a huge open office with kind of individual cabinets, all around the room, little offices where people were doing their work. So I was right out in the middle next door to Gus and that was it, you’d come in in the morning and you’d see someone was under their desk, having got back the night before. And there was a lot of activity with AKA, the camera crew they used.


AKA they were called. Alan somebody   Associates they supplied the crew, people like Mike Dodds and who’s the other one, John Shepherd worked on it then, and John Slater, it was that bunch.

John Blake was he..?

John Blake, yes. I think he came a bit later on but certainly Shepherd was there. Leslie Woodhead, John Shepherd, John Slater..

Allan Segal?

Allan Segal, yes, yes. (laughs) He was the light part of it, he always made me laugh, he was a very funny man.

And upstairs, one floor up from up was Disappearing World which was equally exciting, equally fascinating so that was Brian, the man who went, Brian Moser, Jeremy Wallington, Carlos Pacini was one of the directors there at the time, Pattie Coldwell who was their Production Secretary, that’s how Pattie and I became friends. Yeah.

So how long do you stay in the particular role?

That role, about let me see now 73, probably about 18 months and then Jeremy Wallington said ‘Look they’re looking to train PAs up in Manchester’. I think I’d got to a point where I was thinking, right what next? I also wanted to leave London because I’d recently got divorced and my ex-husband worked in television and I just kept thinking we’re going to keep on bumping into each other so I thought it was a good idea to leave London. And Jeremy said why don’t you go up and apply for a PA board which I did. And the first time I didn’t get it. I remember having a terrifying interview with Joyce Wooller who said to me at the end ‘There are twelve people applying for this job and eleven people really want it.’ So I went back to London with my tail between my legs but then it came up again and I applied and I got it.

So when you went up to Manchester did you get any sort of formal training?

I did, yes. In fact, this turned out to be quite a problem because what I hadn’t really realized was how good you needed to be at Maths to do this job and I hadn’t even got GCSE Maths, O Level Maths at that point, and so I remember they had to apply to ACTT to extend my training which was fairly unheard of but I couldn’t work very well with minutes and seconds. I could work with pounds, shillings and pence, and tens and multiples of tens.

Explain a little about why…

Because if you were doing timings on a programme you had to, you were constantly having to make sure a programme ran to time so you were constantly having to do mental arithmetic to say have we got enough time to do this item or are we going to have to cut it in thirty seconds and my mental arithmetic was really, really poor so it took me a long time but I did get it in the end and now it amazes me that I did. But I just hadn’t grasped that there was so much of that involved. I suppose I hadn’t really researched the job that well before I applied. But anyway I got it, I was trained. I was trained by two of the very best PAs at the time.

Who would they be?

Sue Wilde, and Roly’s mum, Ursula Coburn. They were great, they really helped me.

And how long did that training last?

Well I think it was probably about nine months, I’m not sure. I know I went over the usual allotted time. It was probably about nine months.

So you finish your training and what do you go onto then?

All sorts of funny little programmes, like This is Your Right and Picturebox, was that one of their’s? Childrens, little programmes, children’s programmes and then I graduated to University Challenge and did that for quite a long time which was good fun. And then a lot of local programmes and news from Studio 2. I did a lot of Granada Reports, yes so that the earliest. And things like the Something and Shunters Club – what was it called? The Wheeltappers and Shunters Club?

It was comedy programme?

I think it was a sort of, it was a bit like that other one they did where you had an audience in and it was like a nightclub, I can’t remember that one but it had lots of comedians on it. In fact one of my very first memories at Granada was going, I think it was my first day, at the end of my first day, and someone said to me ‘why don’t you come up to the Film Exchange?’ So I went and there was that very large comedian who died not long ago.

Bernard Manning?

Yes who was unspeakably rude to me, and I just thought, he was so sexist, and I just thought ‘I don’t know what I’m doing here, I’ve just come up from West Hampstead. He’s so rude.’ But I know he was part of this other programme which was, oh it was like a working men’s club and they had acts on and comedians..

It wasn’t The Comedians, was it?

No, no, it was before that. It might come back to me. Anyway I did those sorts of things, University Challenge.

Just explain what the Film Exchange was.

The Film Exchange was a bar on the right hand side of Quay Street walking up towards the library which was almost exclusively frequented by Granada people. It was just, that was it, see you at the Film Exchange and it was long before the Grapes which was on the other side of the road, and it was long before the Stables. There wasn’t a bar at Granada at that time, I don’t think, so that’s where everyone went to have production meetings or after you’d done a show, mostly after you’d done a show. I did quite a few of those lightweight music programmes like Shangalang, was it, something like that. I know it was the time of the Bay City Rollers and I was absolutely amazed that you’d see queues miles long outside of the studios of these girls in tartan waiting to see these boys. I’d just never seen anything like it before. So that music shows and University Challenge, as I’d said, those kind of things but a lot of local programmes, a lot of local programme filming. And they graduated from that to Coronation Street and weightier things.

Tell me about your time on Coronation Street.

I loved it, I absolutely loved it but I found it quite difficult because I got on quite well with local filming, documentary filming but drama was something else, particularly filming I found difficult because I never quite grasped ‘crossing the line’, I never quite understood what that meant. Well I understood it in theory but in practice it didn’t seem to work somehow. But that was the time of people like Ken Grieve, Alan Grint, I trying to think of some of the other directors who were on that, I can’t remember their names now. But yes, once I got into it I did really enjoy it and I liked going to the script readings and dealing with the artists but it was a very different kind of experience. It was much more long winded and doing different takes and all of that type of thing. And of course, typing up the scripts was a nightmare. That’s one of my biggest memories of Coronation Street that long after everyone’s gone you’re still there at midnight typing up the scripts thinking ‘I’ve had enough of this’ and of course there’d be endless script changes. But it was interesting.

What characters were there on Coronation Street then? Was Ena Sharples still there? Pat Phoenix?


Len Fairclough?

Yes, yes. Who was the lovely guy, Eddie someone?

Eddie Yates?

Eddie Yates, yes – yes in fact, he became quite a good mate. He was sort of my contact in the cast. He was very nice to me. And of course Ken Barlow, and Deirdre. Deirdre I remember quite well because we became good friends at the time. And ..

Annie Walker?


Jack Walker?

I don’t think Jack, I’m not sure about Jack. I can’t quite remember that but Annie certainly. And of course, Bet Lynch, yes. So it was a very different experience because all I’d ever know up to that point was documentary work really, and news so I was introduced to this world of ‘darlings’ and it took a while to get used to it but I did enjoy it. But it was three week turnaround and I think, of course it’s much worse now, but I think, I think we did two programmes every three weeks, something like that. So there would be a three-week prep period and then we’d shoot two episodes, as far as I remember.

And at this stage it was just two episodes a week?

Yes I think it was, yeah.

Monday and Wednesday?

Yes, something like that and there wasn’t much outside filming, just little snippets to put into the programme. I just remember those being relentlessly cold and wet whenever we had to do any outside shooting and working with my hands in plastic bags. They never quite worked out how PAs were supposed to write in the rain so I would have my pen inside a plastic bag over my clipboard trying to write things down, I remember that. And then of course you’d see them in the canteen and because you were on the programme they’d be quite pally with you. I suppose I did a good six months on that.

And then what did you graduate to?

Well, aah then it got quite interesting because I went onto So It Goes which was a music programme with Tony Wilson and it was very, very demanding. It was very high tech, the first series. I don’t know what happened with the second series but I remember we had something like, I don’t know, two banks of monitors in the studio I think and I was constantly having to feed in clips of telecine, clips of VTR, get the timings exactly right, swap them over, merge them in, it was just a nightmare but once I’d got it, I’d got it and it was very, very exciting to do. And it was very exciting in terms of the kind of artists that we were getting on the programme. You know, because this was when Tony had finally decided that he’d given up on Neil Young and all that and he was well into punk. I actually named the programme which now looking back I’m quite proud of because I was very, very into Kurt Vonnegut at the time and we were talking about what we could call this programme and I just said ‘So It Goes’ and they went ‘Yes, yes, that’s brilliant’. So that’s how it came to be called ‘So It Goes’. And we had some extraordinary filming events on that programme like I remember going, one memory I’ve got is going down to a very small club in London to film Van Morrison and I’m sitting at the front taking my notes and I knew that he had a reputation for never smiling at anyone and I just thought ‘I’m going to make you smile, you bugger, if it takes me all day’. So I just sat there grinning at him all the time and eventually he cracked, he just laughed. I felt like ‘I’ve done it, I’ve actually made Van Morrison smile’ so that was a highlight.

I remember going to film oh Siouxsie and the Banshees at Belle Vue and we were on the stage and I got absolutely covered in spit which was just revolting but that was the sort of thing that was going on then. I remember someone actually spat on the camera lens and they kept it in the programme because it was so disgusting. We filmed Ballet Rambert in London, we filmed Iggy Pop, John Otway, that’s a name I remember, and of course the Sex Pistols. And who else in London? The Clash. So yeah it was vibrant time.

Do you remember anything in particular about the Sex Pistols and the Clash?

I remember thinking, my problem was I didn’t really like the music. I was still stuck in Neil Young and West Coast, the Eagles and that sort of stuff. But I do remember thinking ‘The Clash are actually quite intelligent’ just listening to them talking in between takes, thinking ‘Mm they don’t seem as rough as some of the ones we’ve done’. I don’t remember much about the Sex Pistols to be honest except I didn’t really like them very much. You know everyone those days was so abrasive, you couldn’t get a nice word out of them really, they were just unpleasant, deliberately. It makes me laugh now seeing them, seeing Johnny Rotten on butter commercials. I’m just trying to think of who else we did. Oh, I know, John Cooper Clarke, he was just in his early days then and oh, wonderful bunch called Jonathan Richman from the States, he was very, very funny – I’ve still got his records. It was a complete new experience for me in terms of television. I’d not done anything like that at all and Peter Walker was directing that series. But it was good because it was one of the kind of top shows that they were doing at the time and there was some sense of prestige of belonging to it, it was like ‘I’m the So It Goes PA, aren’t I lucky?

And who was producing?

Tony, oh producing erm sorry, now was it Steve Hawes or was he researcher? Steve Hawes was certainly on it and also erm crikey let me think. You know I can’t think who was producing it.

Not Johnny Hamp?

No, no it wasn’t him. Geoff Moore produced the second series, I cannot remember who produced the first series but I am sure that can be discovered.

Tony presented?

Yes Tony presented.

How big an influence was Tony on the show?

Huge, absolutely huge, yes. Tony got pretty much what he wanted in those days. I think probably most of the ideas came from him. He’d find the people he wanted and put them forward to the researchers and then they’d agree or not but generally they did agree. It was all quite anarchic actually. We had a, we had an office for a while I think on the second but then for some bizarre reason we ended up in a Portakabin in the car park and it was like, it was our only little realm. We just got on with what we wanted to do and nobody interfered with us, I remember that.

Was it a network programme or regional?

No, it was network, it was network and it was very successful. People still refer to it. They tend to say when talk about Tony, Tony Wilson before Hacienda, and Factory, of So It Goes because I think there hadn’t been a music programme like that on television at all. It was breaking new ground, it was breaking presentation format and the kind of people that were being given air time that most other programmes were shunning really because they didn’t have big audiences. It was avant-garde I guess at the time.

So after So It Goes?

After So It Goes I went to India for a long holiday and came back and decided I wanted to be a photographer so went to night school for about a year and this thing just grew and grew and grew and it got to the point where I must have been working on something deadly dull and I just remember a time when I thought I could be out taking photographs rather than typing up these notes so it got a hold on me and somehow I don’t quite know. Oh I know what happened I went for an interview for the photography degree at what was then Manchester Polytechnic and I had a dreadful interview and I wasn’t accepted and I remember thinking I’m glad I wasn’t accepted because I couldn’t bear to work under you anyway. But then something happened and it must have been through a Granada connection because somebody suggested that I should go do Wally Butler’s directing course at the Capitol Theatre in Didsbury which was where the Film School was at that point. So I went along to see Wally Butler who was running it. There were only four of us and it was supposed to be a postgraduate course. For some reason they took me on even though I hadn’t got a first degree so I was doing this postgraduate course before having done a BA. And I directed little plays and films and made animations and things like that but still photography was very much my main concern.

By this point you’d left Granada?

I’d left the staff, yes but I was still freelancing frequently all the way through.

This was what year?

This was ’78, I left in the summer of 78 and that year at Wally Butler’s course was 78, 79. And I just remember him getting so infuriated with me saying ‘this course is a director’s course and you don’t seem to want to be a director’ and I said ‘ I told you that at the beginning’. So for the final term they sent me up to the photography department at the Poly and then applied again and then I got on the degree so that was 79 to 82 but I carried on freelancing all the way through, mostly for Granada and mostly on Coronation Street because it was the sort of thing that you could slot into for a few weeks.

Can we talk about Granada as a company. I mean what kind of company do you have it, how do you see it as a company…

Then I saw it as a family firm. I thought they looked after their staff incredibly well, the Bernsteins were still there. It did feel like one great big family and my other memory is which I quite often say to people was that in those days it was just a sea of denim. You know you’d go into the canteen and everyone was in denim or kaftans, it was an extraordinary time. And then by the time, by the time I got back and had finished my degree it had really begun to change, it began to feel like an insurance company or something, everyone was walking around in sharp suits.

This would be into the later 80’s?

Yeah, yeah. It really felt like it had changed. I can’t remember that Cyril died and Cecil carried on, I can’t quite remember what happened there but it felt, the atmosphere felt completely different. In the early days I felt like, well I don’t know it was things like, if you had problems, they would help you. If you had personal problems, they would help you, they would look after you, there was a company doctor, all those things that made you feel valued, yes valued, that’s a good word. And that all seemed to disappear. It was probably about the time when, it was about the time when individual companies were starting up and they weren’t taking on any more freelances. I remember I couldn’t get back on staff but they were also not taking on any more freelances. They were using out of house facilities and I think in a way that was probably, that was probably what destroyed the family feeling of the company really because before everything had been done in-house apart from props. I know they used to use huge prop warehouses around Manchester but before you used to feel that everything about a programme was done in house, the graphics, the filming, the props, the set – it was all done by the company and that was a good feeling. You’d walk down the canteen through the props department and see the guys who were making the props for your programme, have a chat with them. I think the thing was then, you could talk to anyone, it didn’t really matter whether you were a PA or a designer or a graphic designer or a make-up artist or whatever. Everyone spoke to each other and you all felt equal in a way. That ‘s my memory of it anyway. Had it not been my obsession to be a photographer I probably would have stayed happily for a few years but I think by the time the accountants came in and started shaking the place up I’m not sure I would have been happy for much longer really. It all seemed to be very, very cut-throat and very stripped bare. There didn’t seem to be room in some way for people to be creative, perhaps in the way they had been before because they’d been given time. It was all too time-tight by then whereas my best memories are of sitting around, banging ideas around ‘we could do this, what about that?’ and it was kind of an organic process whereas later on it felt very machine, very manufactured, yeah that’s it, I can’t think of the right word really, manufactured rather than created.

Yes, formulaic

Formulaic, yes that’s it, that’s it even to extent that I noticed it on World In Action towards the end although that was one of the best programmes but somehow it seemed to develop a kind of formula. And then it got to the point where things were being repeated all the time, we’d come back from a commercial break and you’d have the whole synopsis of the programme again you’d think ‘we’re not idiots, we do understand’ but somehow that seemed to be happening across the board really. So yeah I just feel as though I was there at an incredibly exciting time.

You mentioned Sydney Bernstein and Denis Forman – did you have much contact with them?

No they were way up on the 7th Floor. But they would come into the canteen, you know, and they’d smile at you, and they’d say hello if they passed you in the corridor. I didn’t feel intimidated by them.

David Plowright, yep. I much more frightened of Joyce Wooller, she was really intimidating. In fact I can remember my very first day, the other person who joined with me was Steve Morrison. We were both sat outside Joyce Wooller’s office waiting to be inducted and we were both shaking really ‘ Who is this formidable woman?’ And also Ivy Stephens, the head of PAs, who was difficiult to say the least but then I don’t think I really fitted her idea of the ideal PA because I was a bit of a hippy. She had her favourites, for sure. Yeah.

Somebody said to me Granada, and I am talking to you now as someone who is quite political, that Granada was a company that was not ashamed of its left-wing reputation.

Exactly, exactly and that’s what was so enjoyable about it. And for me as a youngster working on World In Action it was just thrilling. I hadn’t met people who were like this before, I hadn’t met people who were so politically active and working on such fascinating stories. And I did feel, I got sucked into it and it was probably where my politics began to gel really. I think I’d been a bit wishy-washy before that. No and it was something to be proud of, I felt, that they would go out on a limb and make these programmes.

People have also mentioned to me about the importance of the Canteen and the Old School, the Stables.

Yes, yes. Well the Stables came later in my time really. But the Canteen was a kind of a melting pot of ideas and conversations, and in those days you could smoke in the canteen. I remember they had these horrible tinny little ashtrays, they were sort of, what’s the word, shiny orange, turquoise or green and I think they had the same ones in the Granada motor cafes. To think now, we’d sit a table of six, maybe four people on that table smoking and the other two weren’t and everyone was eating their lunch and nobody said a word, it seems extraordinary now. And we smoked in the studio, we smoked in the gallery. I can remember changing from packet cigarettes to roll-ups because when I used to work on say Granada Reports I’d get through ten cigarettes in the gallery before the show was over so I thought if I start rolling myself maybe I wont smoke so much so when I had a thirty second break I’d sort of roll a cigarette. But I just find that extraordinary now. The air in the canteen and the studios must have been absolutely vile but nobody complained. But I did love the canteen because you could see a group of people and think ‘Yes I really wanted to talk to Ken about so and so. I know he went to see such and such a film last night I must find out about it. It was all that interchange with people and it wasn’t too cliquey, you didn’t feel you always had to sit with the same people. It was vile actually, the décor was horrible, I seem to remember it was orange flowers but the canteen ladies were lovely. There was one called, I think she was called Irma but all I can remember she used to go’ Roast or mash, roast or mash?’ and then they’d pour tea from an enormous aluminum teapot. And then while I was away doing my degree, by the time I’d come back it was all smartened up, self-service I think, pick your own salads and I think they’d re-done the actual seating by then. But I do remember, the thing about those early days, was that I remember there were beautiful paintings all round the building which they were what, Bernstein collection I suppose, but they felt like they were being shared with you. They were in the foyer, they were down the corridors by the studios, they were in the canteen and it was just, I don’t know, I’d never worked in a place like that and I found it really exciting.

What about, erm, I was going to say something about the canteen there….

Canteen props, pictures, smoking?

No, I’ll come back to pictures when we’ve finished. Let’s move onto – what about the unions, trade unions and various problems?

Yes I do remember quite a bit about that. I was a member I can’t remember whether we had to be members or not? Did we – right? I remember a lot of union meetings in a big room up on the 2nd floor I think. I can’t remember which year the big strike was.

I think it was 80 – it was either very late 79 or 80, somewhere around there.

And how long did that one go on for?

Nine weeks I think.

Was it? Well I wasn’t on the staff by then but I do remember smaller strikes and there was all kinds of stuff when you were filming about, you know, double bubble, I think that was if you worked more than ten hours you got double pay.

Ten-hour break

The ten-hour break, that was it, and you had to have so many meals in a day, you had to have so many food breaks in a day. And I do remember things which seem ridiculous now but I suppose it was the time where if I went and moved a chair on the studio floor the props man would come up and shout at me. It took a bit of getting used because I think the thing was as a PA you were trained to be sort of generally helpful and I was quite often not helpful because I’d trodden on someone’s toes. But I was very much in favour of the union at the time but I suppose that was all part of the left-wing politics of the company and the feeling of ‘we’re the workers’. But I’m sure looking back they were probably quite out of place quite often. But it seemed exciting, you know, I’d not been involved in strikes before, I’d not been in a union before so anything that was like’ Come to a meeting, we’re going to discuss this’ I was ‘Yeah alright then’.

What about Granada’s position within Manchester? How important was it to the region?

Oh I think hugely important, I really do. Granada Reports, very important programme. I think people identified with it, I think people identified with people like Bob Greaves and Tony, Trevor Hyett and who was that lovely man, erm, he had been a photographer…

Bob Smithies

Bob Smithies, yes. I mean I think people felt that they knew these characters even if they probably didn’t. And of course, Coronation Street was a massive influence – the fact that it was so successful and Manchester felt it had been recognized in some way was really important. I mean I can remember as a child living in the South, well my father was a Scot but my mother was a Londoner. She wouldn’t let us watch Coronation Street as kids, she thought it was too common. And I just found that hilarious and when I started working on it of course she was incredibly proud of me. Guess what my daughter’s working on, Coronation Street. But I think that whole thing of the local presenters doing local stories plus Corrie plus maybe the location as well. Everyone knew where Granada was, well I say everyone pretty much everyone did. I don’t know if it would have been the same at Anglia or somewhere like that, maybe, but it was integral to city life to me at the time.

I know when visited other of those regional stations back in the 80s they were very small, they didn’t seem to have a presence whereas Granada was big on the Manchester skyline. Right at the top of the building the Granada sign could be seen from miles away.

Yes you could. The only other one I had any connection with was Thames at Teddington. Well I suppose that seemed quite, it didn’t have the same impact at Granada, maybe that’s London and its main offices were in the Euston Road and its studios were in Teddington but it all seemed sort of Home Counties to me. But Granada, I think because of its political edge as well it felt to me as though it represented quite a large proportion of the population here and I was proud to work there. It was also something to do with the fact that it was just on the edge of the Irwell, Salford was only spitting distance away whereas the BBC was on Oxford Road and that was a whole other ballgame. But it sort of felt right that Granada was where it was, I thought at the time.

Is there anything else that you wanted to add that we’ve not really touched upon?

Well the fact that I wasn’t actually on the staff for that long, it almost feels as thought my involvement or my interest for your project is more to do with the fact that, it’s more to do with the people that I was around at the time who went onto great things. Leslie Woodhead, one of my very favourite people. I worked on a film with him which was nothing to do with the normal stuff he did. He made a film about Randy Newman and I was his PA on that and it was just a lovely, lovely experience. I was proud of that credit. So yes in a way I feel as though even though it wasn’t a very long time that I was, I was really affected by the people who were around me, the people who… I remember Paul Greengrass who was a very young researcher I suppose and then I blinked and he’s an Oscar-winning director. So it’s a feeling of how lucky I was to be with those people at that time. It think that’s it and even though it wasn’t long and so much more life’s happened since then I still look back on it with great warmth and think how privileged I was, how lucky I was and the only drawback, the only thing I think I would say now that maybe we stitched ourselves up in a way was that as a PA you were kind of stuck and you were kind of in a sexist role. There weren’t any men PAs and you invariably became a PA because you graduated from being a secretary so the main thing was you had to be able to type. I do remember a wonderful incident in the World In Action office in London when Claudia Milne came up to me and she said ‘ Could you type this up for me’ and I said ‘I’m really busy, I’m just doing something for Gus’ and she said ‘I never learned to type’ and I thought ‘Huh, that was my mistake.’ Yes, that’s it – I think I was lucky to be there when I was, I think I was lucky to meet the people I met and within ten years I was talking to people who were still working there and I thought ‘I’m so glad I don’t work there now because everything seemed to have changed’ I don’t know, maybe I’m wrong but I got the feeling that buzz somehow had gone but that may have been the same in any other industry at the time. Maybe that’s just what the 70s was like and then by the time Thatcher came in, everything changed.

Jon Woods

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 16 June 2015.

So, Jon. Just to get going with this, take us back. How did you come to join Granada and when?

I have been a staff member at Granada since 1978, that was when I joined the staff. But I left university in 1973 and was looking for work in television, I worked with Arthur Smith at Rose Productions, he gave me an opportunity, he knew a producer at the university, Vivian Daniels, a BBC Manchester producer, who put me in touch with Arthur. I worked with Arthur for two and a half years, and during that time I did quite a lot of work at Granada working for him and with Granada cameramen as a freelance.

I managed to get my ACTT ticket in October of 1974, and so I could work – as it was a closed shop in those days – so I did several jobs at Granada, Coronation Street, with a variety of cameramen, things like that, but then I left Manchester and joined the BBC in 1975, worked at the BBC for a few years, and in 1978, Stan Challis asked me would I like a job as a cameraman at Granada, so in the August, I left the BBC, and in September 1978 I started work as a staff member of Granada Television.

What made you want to be a cameraman?

That’s a question quite a few people have asked me because certainly I didn’t have an artistic education as such, I had a scientific education.  I went to university and read geology, I’ve got an honours degree in geology. But it was a hobby. Photography and film-making were always a hobby to me, and during the time at university with some people who you will know from Granada like Phil Griffin and Andy Harries, who were at the same university at the same time, I took a lot of photographs for the university newspaper, Torchlight. You know, bands coming every week to the union to play, we took photographs of those and things going on around the university campus.  I also joined the film ops, the film unit at the university, which was a student-based film unit, we made a variety of films on a little Bolex  16mm camera, and during the end when I was graduating, I asked Vivian Daniels, who ran the Gulbenkian Arts Centre , could he recommend anybody in the north west around Manchester as a cameraman who might be tempted or be happy to take me on as a trainee assistant cameraman to try and get my way into television.

As I say, Arthur Smith and Brian Spencer from Rose Productions had a long chat with me and took the plunge, and gave me the chance to become a film camera assistant in those days.

So you joined in 1978?


And you were there on the film ops team?


What was that like? What were your first impressions?

I’d always thought that I would become a cameraman. When I was a youngster, so before I was a teenager, sort of eight, nine, 10, black and white television was just turning into colour television. I had seen a lot of images on television of cameramen working and thought, “That sounds like a great job, that.” But of course I didn’t have the artistic skills to be able to go to university to become a cameraman, but when I joined Granada it fulfilled a lot of the sort of desires I’d had within me to work in the place. I passed the Quay Street headquarters of Granada many times on the bus going home – I was born and brought up in Salford – so I regularly came out of central Manchester, past the Quay Street… and you could look, on the upstairs of the bus, over the wall into the car park, and wondered what on earth was going on there. So it was like a fulfilment of a dream, you know, from a guy from Salford, to get a job with the company.

It was like a very large family, and I know that has been said quite a lot about Granada, it’s a big family, but what it was, and my over-riding memory of the place was how welcoming it was. Even though it was a union-based company – I had worked on stuff at the BBC, which was no union at all – and joining Granada with an ACTT ticket was great, but everybody was very friendly. And the one thing, as the months went on, when you worked on a variety of projects, you got to know everybody from the security man at the gate, the canteen staff, the chippies and the painters in the construction shop, the sparks, right the way through to the management, through the various departmental managers to some of the higher ones, into the cash office, and it was really… everybody knew you by name, which I think is quite unusual in a company of over 1,000 staff based in Manchester. So certainly my initial impressions were that it was a very friendly company, but secondly also a very forward-looking company.

It was one of the major four ITV companies, and had a wonderful, wonderful record for making great television programmes, from the local news right through to top end drama. So a good company, I thought, to work for, and it was a good company… would make me leave the BBC, I had a nice job at the BBC in film ops, film operations, there, so it was very tempting to come back to the north west, my home town, and to work for a company that I really wanted to work for.

After you joined in 1978, what jobs did you do?

I joined as a film camera operator, not as a lighting camera, a film camera operator, so my role was working as the camera operator on any programme I was assigned to, and we did work in film ops on a whole variety every week, every month, it was changing, dozens and dozens of different programmes, but the staff them, there was Ray Goode and David Wood  as the two leading drama cameramen, Mike Whittaker, Mike Thomson, Mike Popley, George Jesse Turner, David Odd were there as cameramen I would assist.

When I first joined Granada in 1978, my first day on film ops was on Coronation Street, doing the location – all the location filming was done on film in those days, before electronics, you know, went lightweight. And Ray Goode was the senior cameraman, and I was his assistant, focus puller, and that was my first job. So it was a fantastic learning curve, and the one thing that I feel sorry, and for now, for young people coming into the industry now, is they can’t learn from people with experience. It was an apprenticeship of sorts – it was a full-time job in terms of the role of a camera operator, assistant cameraman, focus puller, all those sort of combined roles which you did, it was a learning curve, so you watched a man, you asked him questions. Somebody with loads of years experience of lighting, about the grammar of film, about the technique of film making, about how to deal with actors, how to look at lighting and make it work for sound and vision, and to be able to give the director what he wanted in terms of the look and the style of shooting. So it was a great learning curve, and I have nothing but respect for Ray Goode and Dave Wood, who were wonderful at giving you their knowledge.

Tell me a bit about those two characters and your experience of them as individuals.

Basically, unlike the BBC, where an assistant and a cameraman would maybe work together for two or three months at a time, Granada had a much more flexible, almost programmable, change. So if you were working on a drama, say Strangers or The Mallens, or something like that, you would probably work with the cameraman through that particular programme but then you would go onto another cameraman. So working for, you know, a month or six weeks, which was this general thing, to make an hour-long film it was probably a month to six weeks’ shooting on location to shoot it all, it as really using that ability to be able to ask him anything he wanted, to ask him why he was doing this, why had he chosen that lens to shoot it, why were shooting it at this exposure. Always very willing to tell you why, also to drop you in at the deep end and say, “You’re shooting it this morning, I’ll light it and you operate it. You discuss what lens you are going to choose with the director and I’ll join in, but I’m going to leave it with you and the director to sort this out.” So it was a wonderful apprenticeship, a free apprenticeship, to that. So both David Wood and Ray were very happy to tell you why, to shoot what they wanted to shoot, but always to give you the opportunity to get the experience, which I think is a wonderful apprenticeship level which you don’t get nowadays.

Were you very good as an apprentice?

I think all of us… you know, Andy Stevens, you remember Andy Stevens? Mike Lemmon , Mike Rayner, there was quite a few of us in the same sort of grade. Andy Stevens was probably the most senior camera, he’s been there the longest, the camera operator, so he’d… so I wouldn’t say I was Ray’s favourite in any sense at all, we all worked on a variety of different shows. We were just assigned a drama with a cameraman, a sound recordist and a boom swinger, who were just assigned to a show, and it was great to be able to bounce around. Certainly, I’ve done a lot with Ray and David, but Mike Thomson was very generous with his… you know, a newer, younger, cameraman, Mike Popley, Mike and I did lots of things together – The Mallens, which was an ongoing series, where a lot of the interiors were shot in studio one week, and we went out on the road the next week. It was an episodic series that Mike was doing. So you saw different people’s ideas, techniques, the way they dealt with it, and it was a really, really big challenge.

Because as a young man, I was 27, 28 when I joined Granada on staff, and still had a lot to learn, you know. I’d had a lot of experience, I’d done six or seven years in television, nowadays most people would think they were producers after six or seven years and be able to shoot anything! But film, and the film equipment, is a much more technical based thing than modern-day electronic technologies. It isn’t forgiving; film isn’t a forgiving medium in terms of if you don’t know what you’re doing with it.

You can’t fix it later.

No – in so many ways. If you expose a piece of film and get it completely wrong in terms of the exposure, the focus, it’s a wasted piece of film.

I remember Ray Goode – he had a big reputation. Did he work on Brideshead (Revisited)?

He was a lighting cameraman on Brideshead, and also a lighting cameraman on Jewel in the Crown, which is where I worked with him for two years, just short of two years. So I was a camera operator on Jewel in the Crown.

What was your opinion of Ray Goode?

I think Ray had learnt his trade in London, and was probably a little more old-fashioned in his approach to using brutes, you know, big lights, whereas the younger cameramen used slightly smaller kit and much more available natural lighting styles, you know. All of us talked about why you did something a certain way, but Ray’s approach was naturalistic to an extent, but in terms of his lighting style had a slightly more ‘washed’ feeling to it, as opposed to dark areas, you know?

Was he demanding to work with?

I think what Ray wanted you to do was concentrate. These were long days, 10 or 11 days on location, and he needed – as everybody did, the producers, the directors – everybody to work quite hard to fulfil the schedule. It wasn’t a flamboyant, easy-going schedule in most of the dramas at Granada. They were, not penny-pinching, but the certainly liked to get everything done on time and on budget. So Ray was a very good social friend, I knew his wife and children, my wife and children, we used to see each other and go to dinner at each others’ houses. So it was beyond work as well, but whilst we were working, he demanded that you concentrated and got it through well. And I don’t think anybody who has never done it, who has had to live through rushes sessions – this is on 16mm film, most of the stuff we shot – you shot it one day, it went to the labs that night, the next morning it came back as rush film, that evening, after you had finished filming, you would watch yesterdays rushes – and to sit in a dubbing theatre, or a preview theatre, with the producer, the directors, most of the leading cast, Ray Goode, the sound men, and you’re the only person, as a film cameraman, who has ever seen it – because these are the days before video assists or monitors, so as a film cameraman, film camera operator, you were the only person looking through the viewfinder, and if you said, “Yes, that shot was great, this happened or this happened,” you’re the only person who had seen it. Had a boom come in or a shadow happened, and you missed it, everybody looked at you. So it was quite a challenging old deal to sit there for an hour watching yesterday’s rushes while everybody commented on it or took it apart.

There’s much more responsibility for you as a camera operator to make sure everything’s okay, from the boom shadows to the noises to whatever, because no-one else is going to pick up the pieces.

No, absolutely. There’s a lot of responsibility on the camera operators in those early days before video assist and video record and replay. Literally, it was film… if you imagine, during Jewel in the Crown, we were in India for six months, and I think we were there for nearly three months before we saw one foot of rushes back as VHS. So you can imagine the responsibility on your shoulders to get it right. And one thing you do learn to do is to multiscan the screen. Even though you’re framing it, you have to keep scanning the screen, and looking for everything, everything that goes wrong.

I can remember once, I think it was the series Strangers with Mike Popley as the lighting cameraman, I was the camera operator. A Canadian director called Bill Brayne, who had been himself a film lighting cameraman before he started directing, and I remember shooting a car sequence for him on one of the Strangers things, and two cars had to come together and stop at exactly the same moment, and as the cars stopped, he wanted the doors to open, instantly. And this is what he had seen in his head, this is what he wanted, and I was shooting it, and the cars stopped at exactly the right moment but the left hand car door opened about half a second after the first one. And in the rushes session the next night, watching it, he went bananas with me, saying, “I wanted it to happen almost as a ballet, the cars’ doors, and it’s late. That car’s late!” He gave me quite a bollocking about it, and I’ll never forget it, and all you can say is, “Yes, it is.”

And of course everyone makes mistakes, it’s part of the industry. Sometimes you have to re-shoot something that didn’t quite work, for a whole variety of reasons, not just your own bad camera work, but it is funny, you know, that people don’t realise the pressure that… and also in the profession, you’ve got to concentrate all the time about everything, and not… you know, I guess it’s part of… because it’s a film and because it’s part of cinema, what you don’t want is wobbly shot. If you’re framing a shot it’s got to be held steady, it hasn’t wobbled, it had to be level, it’s all those sorts of things that you’ve got to keep an eye out. Forgetting whether people are hitting the mark, whether it’s in focus, whether there’s a boom in shot, all the technique, it’s quite a responsibility.

In those days of making drama, what, the late 70s, early 80s, the director was not looking at…

A screen?

He was trusting you.

Yes. Basically, you discuss the shot, you would frame up the shot, you would show him the shot, if it’s a tracking shot you show the beginning, the end, if he feels comfortable, the grip could push him through the shot as a rehearsal…

Was there a playback on the camera?

Not at all – all film. So in those days… it was only really around the advent of 16mm cameras… when we first started… Éclair NPR  cameras, 16mm cameras, a French camera, they had Arriflex BLs , Blint, B-L for Blint, camera, we then moved on to Arri SRs, and Arten cameras. Jewel in the Crown was shot on two Artens, and Artens did have a very basic black and white video assist system it come in, so we were starting then to use… but it was a dreadful… you couldn’t quantify anything, it as just an image on a very small five inch black and white monitor, and you basically couldn’t really assess what the lighting was like, you basically just saw this image and yes, that was what I was looking for. So in terms of quality of whether it was in focus, whether the colours were right, whether their contrast was right, whether the lighting was completely where you wanted it, it was a very difficult, different game.

Just as an aside on this process of filming a drama, and yes, the responsibility is yours, and because you have a lighting director there to make sure the lighting was right and the framing was right, if you… how much scope was there later on to correct things? Because there were things like grading… compared to today.

Obviously… compared to today… things are probably better now in terms of being able to grade things. The modern colour grading that Final Cut Pro and Avid now have, when you were on film and we went to grading, if it was going through DaVinci, there was a DaVinci process for colour grading which came in I think after Jewel in the Crown, but colour grading was a laboratory lights and filtering system, so you would go and… so the lighting cameraman would look at that. But in terms of exposure, you had a bit more latitude than you do on video for exposure attitude, especially in the whites, in the over-exposed area of the frame, with film, you can print it down and get detail in the whites, in the sky or whatever, whites, with video of course, white is white and there is no other detail within it, so you can’t… So the modern… the way we used to approach it is with slightly over-exposed film but certainly under-exposed video when we started to work in video. And so in those days, in the 16mm days, yes, you could grade it, you could change the exposure somewhat, you could change the colouration somewhat, but you can’t obviously… if it’s out of focus, it’s out of focus, and you can’t change that, and you can’t really change the framing. Nowadays, with electronic scanning on video images, and certainly in the HD world where the image has got such a lot of information in it, you can cut a bit of the corners up without it, whereas in our days, 16mm, the frame was the frame, and that was it really.

Did Granada go to 35mm shooting?

We did. I shot the titles for Sherlock Holmes on Baker Street on 35mm, using Arriflex 35 BL to shoot that, that was just for the quality because they wanted to do a lot of post work on it. But I think basically… for myself in my career, I’ve used 35mm, really, at the BBC, on Z Cars, we used to shoot that on 35mm on black and white when I first started. I shot some stuff for stage back projection on 35mm. I shot a couple of commercials through Granada on 35mm for an Italian company, but almost everything we did in terms of drama was 16mm.

How many years were you in film ops?

I  joined film ops in 1978, and left film ops in 1989 after a bad accident. I was directing a shoot for World in Action in Burma about Khun Sa, Lord of the Golden Triangle, and I broke my neck. The film was a joint venture between Observer Films, a newly based company, and Ray Fitzwalter’s World in Action. And Kimis Zabhiyan, a producer for Observer Films, and Andrew Drummond was a journalist who had great contacts in Burma/Thailand area, and had been to see Khun Sa and his guerrilla army several times, and came up with a concept to make a one-hour documentary about the opium trade in the golden triangle between Burma, China and Thailand. Kimi and Andrew interviewed, I think… quite a few of the cameramen at Granada… George Jesse Turner was the stand-in World in Action cameraman, and Mike Blakeley had been interviewed, he interviewed me, he interviewed David Odd, I think, and anyway, Kimis Zabhiyan having interviewed us all, said would I like to do it, and so it was a team of four of us. Les Honess was a freelance sound recordist, ex-BBC sound recordist, freelance, so the four of us – Kimis, Andrew, Les Honess and myself went out to Burma illegally through Thailand, with a 16mm SR camera, boxes of film, and we lived with a guerrilla army for about five weeks in the jungle, making a documentary about how Khun Sa and his guerrilla army managed and manipulated the control of opium out of that triangle through both Burma and Thailand and China. And we went in, as I say, on horseback overnight, into northern Thailand into Burma illegally, and stayed there, and then came back into Thailand. Kimis took some rushes out about half way through into Thailand to fly them home, and basically towards the end of it, we had a car crash and I broke the top of my vertebrae. I thought I had dislocated a shoulder at the time, Andrew, Les and I, just the three of us, I thought I had dislocated a shoulder, I’d carry on, we were almost at the end. We had a couple of interviews to do in Thailand with the Thai police and the Thai drug enforcement agency, plus the American DEA who were based in Thailand. We did them and Les and I flew home, and I had an MRI scan when I got back, because I still wasn’t very good. We all had private BUPA insurance in those days, and they sent me to the BUPA hospital in Manchester, I had a scan, and I had broken, cracked, C6 and C7 on my vertebrae.

Did you recover?

Absolutely. I spent about two and a half weeks in hospital in traction, they were going to fuse my neck, but it fused on its own. I have a little bit of an arthritis problem from it but, touch wood, I’m not paraplegic.

What caused the crash?

Just an old World War 2 jeep, the steering wheel went.

In the vehicle you were in?

I was driving it! The steering went, it went off the road and rolled over on top of me and broke my neck. Andrew and Les got out with just scratches, but there you go. But I was off work for about eight months, and that’s where you have to say Granada were brilliant. In terms of care, caring for their staff, they looked after me beautifully.

Did you go back to being a cameraman after that?

I did, for about a month. I went back into work I think in September. it happened in January/February, 1989, so I came back in February, I had February ’til about September recovering, I had a neck brace, and… I was very fit in those days, and that’s what the specialist said – had I not been quite as fit we would have been much more seriously injured. But anyway, I came back to work in the September of 1989 and I found it quite difficult to be a cameraman, holding a camera on my shoulder. So quite a few people said, “Why don’t you try and direct?” and I was, and still am, very grateful to Paul Docherty, who was head of sport, who I had done quite a lot of filming for. I’d done a lot of drama and documentaries but we also had to run through news as well, and we shot quite a lot of news as part of our scheduled routines – we all had to go and work in news. And I’d covered quite a few football matches on two rolls of (stripe? 28:00) film on a CP-16 camera, and worked with Paul quite a few times, and he said, “Why don’t you try and direct, Jon? Come and have a go at directing studio.” This is something I’d never done as I’d been a location film cameraman, and he was saying, “Why don’t you change all that and become a director?” And so I joined in… I think the first week in October in 1989, I got took on as an attachment to sport as a director, and was trained by an experienced director in sport, I can’t remember the name…

Pat Pearson?

I knew Pat, it wasn’t Pat, it was another Freelance director who was very kind to show me the gallery techniques. So I went from being a film cameraman to multi-camera studio, multi-camera OB, and yes, it took a few months to get into the aspect of learning how to do live television, which was what pretty much all of it was – multi-camera live television.

But you left Granada in that year?

No, I was still staff.

So you stayed on as a director?

Yes – a new career, a new period. So from late 1989 to 2003 I was a director, then producer-director in Granada all the time. I was staff. SO I did pretty much 25 years as a staff member at Granada Television.

Are you glad you made that change to producer-director?

At times, I’m a little bit unsure whether it was the perfect move, but I think at the time it was a perfect move. Whether I would have enjoyed staying as a lighting cameraman, I don’t think I will ever really know. But one thing I do know is that I thoroughly enjoyed, and I think I’ve got a bit of a skill at doing multi-camera studios, both studios and OB – I quite like that live feel. So I have worked in sport, studios and OB, lots of football, boxing, rugby, you know, bowls, bit of cricket, so that was really good. And learning how to vision mix, another skill that a sports director needs, so that was quite good. And I’m grateful to all the Granada vision mixers, I think almost all of them were women, and what they gave me was an insight to how to vision mix and how to use the desk, and how to make it work – it was great.

So you were 11 years in film ops?


During that time, tell us some names of programmes you worked on and your memories from that time.

As I said earlier, you worked on a massive variety, so I’ve worked on thousands of programmes. I think one of my favourites was A Kind of Loving (corr) with Mike Blakeley, he lit and I operated parts of it, and that was a very nice thing to work on, about Salford and that sort of area. That was great fun to do. I did a few weeks on Brideshead, which was another great thing to remember, but one of the big shocks of my life was having to work on the Toxteth riots for ITN. Shooting on film, spending nearly a week in Toxteth, not getting home for nearly a week, and being close to very serious danger, and being almost injured quite badly a few ties, with petrol bombs and flagstones dropped from flats onto Upper Parliament Street – that was quite an eye-opener, how social disorder and rioting, if you are right on the front line of it – literally only a foot behind the policeman when petrol bombs are landing at their feet and on their shields – and that was quite interesting. Also, and something not many people will realise, is as the press you were probably hated as much as the police, and people in Toxteth really didn’t like us at all. Our cars were smashed regularly, windows bricked in, and it was in film, so it was quite a complicated process, not like electronic cameras where you just switched them on. So we were shooting film and having to get the film on a bike, on a motorcycle, back to the lab. So it was quite a complex period. The riots went on for several weeks and John Toker was one of the main reporters for Granada in those days, and was filing reports for ITN, although ITN were there as well. We spent a lot of time trying to get into the mindsets of the leaders of the riot – why it had happened, what was the reason for it. I think it all started from, I believe, a very simple act of police stopping a motorcyclist, and it just escalated from there.

Did you have to get people’s trust?

You never got their trust. I remember going to a funeral to somebody who had died in the riots, and was physically ejected. The camera was thrown out, before we even got to the church. They saw a film crew and we just weren’t wanted. They ripped the camera from us and threw it over the wall and threw us out, physically. So yes, there was quite a lot of hatred. And interestingly, it’s not generally that you work in an environment where hate becomes quite as apparent.

Did you feel threatened or in danger?

In danger, yes. Threatened by both the police and the rioters at times because you wanted to get to places that the police didn’t want you to go and see… so you were the filling in the sandwich – you were pushed between both cases. And a lot of it was very serious. At one point Upper Parliament Street was on fire – someone had got hold of a petrol tanker and emptied it down the street and set fire to it. So these things were happening – not necessarily the bricks, the stones and the petrol bombs and the threat of violence if you didn’t go away from both the police and the rioters – it’s not a happy medium to have to walk along the middle of.

Tell us about… you worked a bit on Coronation Street and World in Action, two of the biggest names in Granada history. What was that like?

Well, as a Salfordian, working on Coronation Street, shooting the film inserts, either on the street itself, on the lot, or round and about in Manchester as location work, was great for me. It was like the fulfilment of a boyhood dream. A programme pretty much based in my home town, and being a Salfordian myself, it was a lovely thing to work on. I never, ever thought I would get round to directing it, so I was very happy to have shot lots and lots of inserts, lots and lots of location inserts for it, weddings and on the lot, so that was really pleasant. Nice, great… Coronation Street is a drama about strong women, and the women on it, all the leading actors, were just fantastically strong women. But genuinely they were kind people as well, and I just think it’s something I will always be pleased to have done and always proud to have done, to have worked on what is a global brand.

So from the time of the Burma incident and leaving, you were on Coronation Street?

Yes, I did probably about a year and a half on Coronation Street… we had moved away to electronics by then, so I was directing in the studio. I asked if I could have a go at Coronation Street as a director, and they kindly… I was assigned to an already…

It’s like a dream come true, isn’t it?

It was absolutely a dream come true. I’d done a lot of drama, I mean, I had shot Jewel in the Crown with Christopher Monahan and Jim O’Brien, the two Jewel in the Crown directors. As a camera operator you have a lot to do with the actors –how you stage it, the blocking of it, ideas of why… as a camera operator you have a very close relationship with the director and the cast in terms of a working relationship, how you’re going to work, and what the director wants and the blocking of it. So I was very used to talking to actors, asking them to do things slightly differently, to turn this way, that way a little bit, hitting this point, you know, trying to play it a little… because it’s a big close-up, don’t play it so big…

The external set of Coronation Street was a street in Salford.

Well, it wasn’t actually a street, it was a build… I think we used streets in Salford, around Chimney Pot Park, a lot, which is down the bottom of Langworthy Road in Salford, Chimney Pot Park, that elevated park in Salford, terraced streets abound, so we used that as a sort of bigger linking spaces, but the set, the lot itself had been built just off Water Street, so it’s where the gateway to the Granada Studio Tours was on Water Street, it was a built street running almost parallel to Water Street, and it was built on the cobbles. If you look at the very early episodes you can see that it’s wrong because the cobbles run at a slight angle to the way of the pavement as opposed to in all cobbled streets the cobbles run in parallel to the pavement, but on that street it crossed at a diagonal.



So was that there from the word go?

They rebuilt it pretty soon after it had been established, yes, they had built it…

And when did it shift to where it is now?

Well, it moved up to its new place, they built a slightly larger version with arches near the (Rosel Square? 39:31) end of St John Street, that was the second street, and they put a big studio in there, stage one, and built a second stage, or converted stage two, which was there to do Sherlock Holmes, when they had Baker Street there, so they had two studios. And only recently, within the last six months, they moved to Salford Quays, of course, they have a complete new… obviously Manchester’s closed, they’ve gone to Salford Quays.

The bonded warehouse and the land around it which became the Granada Studio tours, was that always Granada’s?

I think they had an option to own it, and basically… when Sherlock Holmes was commissioned, they needed a street to be Baker Street, they couldn’t go to London and do it in London, so they built quite a big set with a big cyclorama of London, the bottom end of it, and on the third floor, I think, of the bonded warehouse, it became the Sherlock Holmes studio, where they put all the major, you know, Baker Street, the interiors were there, and lots of other little sets were put in there and that became a permanent studio in a bonded warehouse, so I think they did own it, because it wasn’t long after that…

What was that building and the land used for in the 70s?

I think it was the railways… because there was canals that went into it, a canal barge entrance… I don’t think it was used in the 60s, but in the 50s it was used as a bonded warehouse, a spirit warehouse, and behind the other side where the Science Museum is, the lines are still there. It was next door to The Stables, because the bonded warehouse was next door to the Stables bar, before that turned around and went to the old school.

Tell me about World in Action.

I assisted on quite a few World in Action. It was a very busy weekly show, high turnaround of ideas and projects, and one that I smile at a lot was a World in Action we were shooting with Stuart Prebbles, producer, about the IRA, and we were filming in Belfast and Dublin, and it’s the only time I have ever been arrested by the British Army. We were filming some GVs around Belfast and being slightly too obvious around some of the command posts and observation posts for the British Army around elements… on the walls at the divide between the to sectors of the town. And we pulled up in a hire car, we had flown to Ireland, we had been filming, doing interviews around Belfast, one morning Stuart said, “I think we should spend a couple of hours just getting some GVs of the line between the two communities and the paintings, the wall paintings and the barbed wire and the command posts and the observation towers.” And we did that for half an hour, happily away, getting out of the car, few shots, getting back in the car, drive somewhere else. At one point we stopped and I got out and put the camera down, and got back in the car, and about 10 seconds later we had about 20 squaddies who had come out of the command post with their rifles pointing at the car, asking what we were doing. I remember Stuart… some of the moments fly by in your head, but I remember Stuart telling me afterwards that there was this young squaddie pointing his barrel through the window of the car at him, asking what we were doing as he was sitting in the passenger seat, and the young sort of 17 to 18-year-old was sweating, wondering whether this was a car bomb or something like that. So they marched us into the command post, took our passports, found out exactly what we were, who we were, and let us go about an hour and a half, two hours later, and said, “Don’t be so stupid – if you want to film these places you have to ask permission.”

What are you most proud of when you look back at the Granada years?

I think it would be difficult not to say Jewel in the Crown as a drama… that was quite a big achievement. It was a big, 15-hour series, global, acclaim… I think probably as drama, that rally was very good. Although, before I became a director, I really enjoyed working with a director called John Madden, he was a London-based freelance. We had worked on one Sherlock Holmes together and then we did a whole series, a Freddie Raphael series called After the War, which was a really nice series to work on, and we became close friends, family friends, and it was a really nice series to work on. In terms of directing, obviously as a Salfordian, directing Coronation Street stands up there very high up on the list, but also some… What the Papers Say, which was another legendary programme really, and still is, I think. I really enjoyed doing that. But as a football fan and a Man United supporter, doing quite a few OBs from Old Trafford as a director was really… that stands in my mind. This Morning with Richard and Judy, I spent a couple of years doing Richard and Judy, which was good. So many.

It was a great place to be, wasn’t it?

The choice to come to Granada in 1978 from the BBC I think was the right choice. It was a major, major television producer, gave people like myself an opportunity to work on a vast array of projects – and top end projects. You know, Jewel in the Crown was a mega multimillion pound project to work on, so it had everything you needed. If you wanted this, you generally could have it, you know, to make it work.

You described it earlier as a family. The Stable in particular was a great gathering place. So it was rather unique. You had Brideshead and Jewel in the Crown, but you also had World in Action. And within the building, it was a family. How much of that was down to Forman and Plowright?

Well, I would go back even before that. I think a lot of the ethos of the company, Made in the North, was down to the Bernstein family. It was a Bernstein company. I think Sidney obviously had a great insight into the media, and the newly developing television media, he had a great insight. He had cinemas, and saw a great opportunity, and obviously I’m sure there’s some hypocryphal tales that he chose Manchester because it rained so much that people stayed in at watched television, all those sort of tales that I’m sure aren’t quite true, but is a good story. But I’ve got a great deal of respect for the Bernstein family and I was very sad to be there like a lot of us were when they left and sold out to Compass in terms of management. Just to say I think it was a family and I think it best to mention, you know, the Bernsteins, David Plowright, you know, Mike Scott, Denis Forman, obviously Sir Denis Forman, who had a huge influence on me during Jewel in the Crown, and explaining – because he obviously had a great (?? 48:24) just to hark back to (Jewel in the Crown for a second? 48:24), yes – he spent a lot of time on location with us, and you could ask him almost any question you wanted about the Raj and he could tell you why this was so. So great people. But I did one project for Sidney, a personal project. He was working for the Ministry of Information during the latter part of the Second World War. Obviously as a Jewish family, he had great interest when the concentration camps were being discovered, and he himself was one of the first people into Belsen to see the horrors of what had happened there in the extermination camps. And several years later we made a film about his experiences, and I shot it. I spent quite a lot of time in his company in his office in London and I got on very easily with him. It was very interesting to actually meet the man at the top, whose idea, Granada Television, Made in the North, was. So I think the company was brilliant because it had that sort of heart, delivered by that man, who was not only a good businessman, had great foresight into what the industry was going to be, but he also had great insight into art – the whole place was an art gallery. The whole of the Granada building in Manchester was an art gallery. And I think that rubbed off on everybody. You only had to go up to the penthouse, I’ve used the penthouse hundreds of times as a location, run training courses there, and done dozens and dozens of interviews in it, and when you look around at what he bought and put there for our education, it was brilliant. And I also have to say that when I broke my neck, they looked after me like a son, really. David Plowright used to send me bottles of alcohol into hospital to while away the hours, you know, they were very good at looking after the family.

What were the downsides?

Working at Granada is the only time I have ever been on strike, which was the ACTT strike not long after I joined, I think it was 1978 or 1979. I think we were on strike for 11 weeks, and that to me was a bit of a shocker, because it’s the only time in my life I’ve ever been on strike. So I understand the unions, and I was a union member, and I did a bit of rep work for them, in film ops. I think to some extent the unions had a role, and I think the down side of independent television was that it was a closed shop, and there were at times lots of issues with agreements. It became, in the end, a commercial agreement. You had to work… lots of projects had special deals to do it, to make it happen, with short crews… you know, when I started at Granada, my first experience of local news, Granada Reports, the film crew… it was shot on film in those days, and the features area, not just in news gathering, the features, who were doing longer films that were made, the crew was a cameraman, a camera assistant, a sound recordist, a boom swinger, a spark, a driver, a PA, a director and possibly a producer. So there could be eight or nine of you going out to make a little three-minute film. Now, that, today, youngsters today, who work in television, say, “What? How do you do that?” So it was run by the unions in terms of staffing levels, and I think there were an awful lot of management/union disagreements that… not soured, but it made you think twice about how things were doing. And it was a highly paid industry – nobody can deny that we were all very well-paid. And you have to be grateful to the unions for that, you also had to be grateful to independent television’s ethos of, you know, it wasn’t a hen laying golden eggs, but it was pretty close to that. Granada made a handsome profit, but they also ploughed back a lot of money into programme-making that they didn’t need to do. So I think that… so the down sides were very little to me. The union upsets were what upset me most. Sometimes scheduling was a bit of an issue, I mean, it was hard to have a happy family life, because I probably, in film ops, as a lighting cameraman, as a cameraman, spent probably 6-8 months a year away. And you could be in London. We were quite regularly abroad, but a lot of your life was spent away from home.

When you say they more into programme-making than they needed to, what do you mean?

They quite liked, I think, instigating programmes, writers, ideas, concepts, show them that we were like a Hollywood in the north.

So they didn’t just have a bare minimum.

I’m not sure whether they were quotas or between the independent companies… the news was a given, you had to do that, so many documentaries, so much drama, but I think Granada fulfilled and exceeded any annual need for their programme quota.

Is that because they were better than the other companies?

I think they felt that they couldn’t…

They wanted to punch heavier.

Heavier weight, yes. And I think also it showed globally in film sales, in programme sales abroad. But they were very successful – and you have to say, the name Granada still exists – ITV Granada is still there, so it obviously has punched, since 1956, in the main stage.

On the practicalities of working at Granada, and how we all knew each other, and it was a great thing, and people mixed very easily, but you couldn’t call it a diverse set-up, and in our day it was a very male set-up. Would you agree with that?

I would totally agree with that. I don’t think sexism played a massive part, but by natural… I think almost it had something to do with the natural selection of coming out of like a film industry – television evolved out of film, out of cinema, which was almost entirely a male-dominated, technical world, and I think that just… just grew organically. I think it had a lot to do with the history of the film industry and male dominance of quite a lot of the roles from directors and producers, cameramen, lighting and sound men, where ladies were given the roles of PAs, make-up and wardrobe, although wardrobe had a very large smattering of males in it. But a lot of the secretarial jobs were female. In so many way, you’re right, there was a very great imbalance, certainly within… and I think modern television is female-led. Lots of documentary companies these days are full of females, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that at all – but it certainly was a male-dominated industry. I can’t think of a single female film editor I ever met, there was never a female spark, Mandy Moles was the only camerawoman I ever knew in film, that came in to film, though I think there were a couple in the studio later on… the sound in the studio had a few female assistants, editing I think was predominantly male… central areas, the transmission… the one area that was a female place was, I think, commercial make-up, in the days when commercials were on film, they came in and there was a department that used to assemble each individual ad break from film clips, and I think that was a female area, that cemented all the films together. I think David Odd’s wife, Lesley, started in commercial make-up. But apart from the costume are and the make-up area, which have always been traditionally that, vision mixing always seemed to be a traditionally female, and that’s changed, there’s a lot more male vision mixers nowadays than there used to be, Granada was I think absolutely completely female vision mixers. PAs, the directors’ and producers’ assistants, the PAs, and the script supervisors, continuity ladies, that was certainly all female, but I think that was just historic. In independent television, it was… I think true too, at the BBC. I think until the late 90s, early 2000s, I think females were very much in pockets and it was a male-dominated profession.

I remember the old caption From the North on the captions, and that was very much Plowright’s mantra. And the studio tour is evidence of how Granada saw its place in the region.

I think the studio tours was an idea that came out of a will to advertise itself and to let people have a look in at the mystery of what television was. I don’t think anybody really in the 80s and 90s had much of a clue about what was happening from the box in the corner. They watched it but had no real clue about what happened behind it, how it actually arrived on their screen, and I think having Granada looking at all sorts of business venture and branding and expanding the brand and expanding the forward-facing element of Granada out to the country and out to the world, they looked at, I guess, the Disney model, I don’t know, looking at the brand of Disney and making a theme of it, a difficult concept in downtown Manchester/Salford border around the side of the Irwell, is quite a challenge, but it had its roots there. I think it was an interesting concept which was slightly skewed in its delivery – it wasn’t big enough, it didn’t have enough variety, but it tried like mad to show you what was behind the scenes of, you know, a studio, Coronation Street, make-up areas… it was themed. It was a commercial venture, it had shops selling merchandise – I’ve still got a couple of Rovers Return models that came out of the studio tours, so yes, they were trying to expand the brand and attract people, but I think it had a couple of calamities – there was an overhead railway system for a ride, a little ride that went around that never, ever worked properly, and it was probably was too small a site, and also too open a site, so if it rained you were a bit stuck. But I thought it was an interesting concept, though it may have been slightly better if they’d had a bigger site to put it on.

What would you say was the relationship between Granada and the rest of Manchester?

I think in terms of Greater Manchester, I think it was pretty well-respected as a company, you know, flying the flag for the north west in all its ways. The dilemma that Granada faced was with Liverpool – it was second city almost, feeling slightly isolated at the bottom of the M62, and for so many ways, Granada news was placed there for that very reason, in the Exchange building, news went there, and the This Morning concept was put there to give it more presence and to give it a feel to try and put some duality into its presence in the north west. Then also of course, Blackburn had a news centre, Chester had a news centre, Lancaster had a news centre, so they did try to divert away from the hub to give it a branded feel that there was a Granada office in more than one place, it wasn’t just central Manchester.

All those things were good for a licence renewal, of course, but in the end, wasn’t all that just too expensive?

I think television changed, and certainly what we’re really talking about is news. News gathering changed, and not only that, local news was downgraded in terms of national news. ITN and the BBC national news are always at the forefront of the news. Local stories are great, and we still do them, and that will never change – we will always need a news element – but in reality, local news tried to expand its remit, and we were doing all sorts of things, not just the local evening news show, there were festivals… we tried to do so much. And also, when technology changed from film to much more immediate electronics, when we first got into the (pneumatic? 64:46) era of tape, when news changed from film onto tape, and it almost had instant access, and we had those Range Rovers with microwave links, so we could beam a picture back to Winter Hill, or straight back into the tower in the top of the building, you could get stories I, not quite edited, but played into an edit suite into Manchester, or as a live report. So that was when local news was at its best, but most expensive of course.

When did that happen, that switch from film to tape?

I think it happened in the early 80s, somewhere around the time of Jewel in the Crown, I think, early 80s. We came away from… I’m sure it’s just before Jewel in the Crown because I’ve got a very fond memory of Ian Ritchie, who was one of the local’s managers, and I was a film cameraman, and I was assigned to a week of filming mews, and it had just changed from film, so all our (CP? 65:54) film cameras had gone, we had these (??65:55) cameras with a (pneumatic? 65:57) pod that the sound recordist carried, and I had never seen one in my life before, and I (had to sign it? 66:03) on Monday morning, I was sitting in this car, and Ian Ritchie came to me with a handbook and said, “You’re going onto a job now, here’s the handbook, you’ll understand it all by the time you get there.” Of course, I didn’t, but it was an interesting baptism of fire into electronics for me.

That was very Granada.

Very Granada, absolutely. Although I also, on the other hand, think that Granada has been a wonderful training ground for so many people. You know, training me as a director, they were happy to do that, I have trained lots of younger Aps and producers to shoot video myself, so they are quite prepared to pay time and money to do that, so I always thought they were very good in their training schemes, very good indeed, and ran regularly, director training schemes, every year, pretty much, to give new directors both in studio and on film the opportunities.

And you say everything changed after Compass.

I think in the end, they’d probably had enough and they realised things were changing, that the monopoly – which it was – was going to go.

The good times had gone.

They were on the cusp. They hadn’t completely gone, but fiscal control was going to be a much more major part of what we did, and money then started to dictate to the programme how it was going to be done, and what programmes were done, and what you could do, and how many hours you could work. It had an immense… also, I think, it upset a lot of people in Granada, for no other reason than I think it felt like… I use this… it sounds rude, but everybody referred to them as ‘the caterers’ have taken over… and that’s rude, because they were shrewd businessmen, you know, Charles Allen and Jerry Robinson, two superb businessmen, but knew little about television. Well, you may not need to know much about television to run a business except that, but the ethos… it was like one door had closed and a slightly smaller, less important door had opened. And I remember now, sitting in studio 8 or 12, with several hundred other people being talked to by Jerry Robinson and his team with their view of what was going to happen to Granada. And I know it upset quite a lot of people, because it felt like commercialism was going to be the bottom line, that money was going to be the thing that demanded it, as opposed to art – it’s awful saying art for art’s sake – but a lot of what we made was because it was an interesting thing to make, not necessarily a fiscal or commercial thing to make.

Why did you leave Granada?

I left because I think I had probably run my course. By that time, in April 2003, I had been working for about two years in the factual department, Bill Jones’ area, he had said he was happy for me to come as a director/producer, so something I wanted to do in those days was to start to produce. I had done a lot of directing, lots of multi-camera directing. Lots of documentary directing, and I actually would have liked to produced and directed, which Bill kindly gave me the opportunity to do. And I probably was running the end of what I could deliver for them, and obviously money was important, everybody’s job was on the bottom line, and I remember Johnny Hollywood, who was one of Phillips Heard’s HR team based in London. I was doing a lot at Hadfields as well, in the factuals department there, because I had been doing lots of training with them. They had asked me to stay and do documentaries with them, and so I was spending quite a lot of time in London, not in Manchester, even though I was churning out a lot of factuals, because My Favourite Hymns for Sarah Mirch was coming out of there, I was doing a lot of those, I did The Virtual Body out of factuals, the first virtual reality, you know, for Channel 4 Schools, out of the studios there, and shooting lots of behind the scenes. We were trying to make a product which sat on the back of quite a lot of other dramas, like Coronation Street had lots of behind the scenes films, literally there were dozens of different films built about the characters in Coronation Street and what was going on. And I was spending a lot of time away and working for other freelance companies, yourself included!


And it came to the point where they were looking to make savings in factuals, and basically they were looking to take a tier of more senior, more expensive producers out. I had done 25 years so I couldn’t argue, and Johnny Hollywood said to me, “Jon, the writing is coming on the wall for quite a few people – I think you’ve still got a lot of your career ahead of you, why not think about going freelance now?” So that’s what I did.

And it worked out.

It worked out. 12 years ago, that happened, April 2003, and I am still managing to do the od bit, not so much in television, quite a lot more nowadays in corporate work and events, that sort of stuff.

What do you think is the legacy of Granada?

I would like to think that one of the major legacies that Granada has left us is a whole load of people who have worked in television and who are now disseminating their knowledge out to other people, training other people to do it, so I think that family approach and a whole raft of people who are still working in the industry and are giving stuff back, could only really happen for a company who were happy to employ and to train new, because I think that’s the ethos, I quite like giving things back and training people, because I was trained myself. So I think there’s a whole band of brothers that are from Granada, and who feel proud to have done and been worked through Granada, associated with it. In terms of its cultural legacy, it’s there most nights of the week – Coronation Street. It gave the nation Coronation Street and nobody will ever be able to take that away from it. It gave an amazing drama that’s still going on today. I think what it did do was it made London realise – another great asset that Granada did – realise that the world didn’t rotate around them. It has reversed a bit, it is elliptical, and I think when the Bernsteins were just handing over to Compass Caterers, that we had won and that we had pulled so much out of London on terms of production to the network, it was a great legacy, that. And I think as an institution, it’s put the north west, and the north west character, the north west life, and it’s people, it’s humour… you know, Victoria Wood… I’m not going back to Wheeltappers and Shunters, but we’ve put the humour and the character of the people from the north west into everybody’s living room, and I think… it’s a shame, I think, that the building has closed, and that it has moved in two smaller parts to a building on top of Salford University and Salford Quays to be the new centre for Granada, and it’s gone to Salford Quays for a new Coronation Street location and studios, the great thing for me was that it was based in the centre of Manchester. People who walked past it could see it there; you could look down Quay Street and see the word Granada, and now that’s gone it’s a great loss. But it will never be taken away. It was made in the north and it will remain in the north, but everybody will know it.

Tell me about the care you received when you were sick.

They looked after you body and soul, I would say. They were always, always caring about how you were, whether you were well – not many companies had a health centre within the building. Two nurses, a doctor on call, you could go there at any time for anything, from a cut finger to… and you would be dealt with straight away. So that was on site, it was there as well to help studios with audiences, I agree, but any member of staff, we were regularly checked up, they looked after us for every foreign trip, they made sure we had our injections, the right drugs, the right first aid kits, everything was given to you and you were taught what to do, and what drugs to take on certain days in certain countries, so in that respect they looked after you there. Socially, you had a nice pension you paid into, so they were looking after you that way, work in terms of clothing, you were given outdoor clothing allowances, the famous Tenson colours, you had a blue Tenson, a yellow Tenson, a red Tenson… everybody had a Tenson, moon boots, over trousers, hats and gloves – all provided for you to work outdoors. Inside the building, your duty of care almost, the canteen was the fantastic heart of the building, in its very first incarnation the canteen sat as a building that jutted out into the car park at the back of Granada and it was an L-shaped building with sort of banquette type booths that you could sit in, and if you wanted to meet anybody, if you were looking for somebody, you would always find them in the canteen, because nobody really went out to eat because it was totally subsidised. Friday was mad because it was fish and chips day, and it was brilliant – it was well-cooked and it cost you next to nothing! But also, not only that, but you generally saw the Bernsteins in there or David Plowright, or all the exec producers – nobody really ate anywhere else. Of course, there were exec dining rooms which all programmes used for guests and stuff, you know, on sport I spent a lot of my evenings in the exec dining room after shows, having drinks with guests. So that we know was absolutely brilliant. Also in terms of the more social, adult, there were bars. There was the Old Stables, which was a club, because you were a member of Granada you were a member of it, it was supplemented, it was a non profit-making organisation, it turned all its profits from drinks back into providing more drinks cheaper, table tennis tables, jukeboxes, gambling machines… it was certainly a place, if you were ever looking for a film editor you would always find one in there somewhere.

I suppose in the canteen and the stables, there you had the wide-ranging community of all sorts of people who worked to make a television programme, who would all sit together and mingle, from actors to directors, to costume, everyone. You don’t get that any more.

No. I think you said it exactly. It was an absolute core where you could relax with everybody from the lead actor down to the props guy – everybody would be there, everybody knew each other, we knew the bar staff, they knew you, it was almost like your local when you walked in and they would be pouring you whatever you wanted, they knew what it was. But also, most of the Coronation Street staff would be in there.

It was almost too irresistible. Did that become a bit of a problem?

I think as time went on, I think the management thought that it was probably taking the mick a little bit – the lunch time became more than an hour, sometimes more than two hours, and it was different… it was different for myself, because basically as a film cameraman you generally weren’t there during the week, if you were filming, you only had an hour, because basically you had the hour break and that was it – you’re back on set again, whereas editing was a little more laissez-faire. Yes, they worked a bit later in the evening, but it was swings and roundabouts. But generally what you were talking about was the project. If you were sitting together, you weren’t talking about football too much, you were talking about what you were doing, and discussing it in a more relaxed way about what to do. And to be quite honest with you, I don’t blame them to some extent, I’ve spent enough days of my life in dark edit suites to know that it’s quite nice to get out of it for a little while.

Do you think the management was too lax in a way, back in the 70s?

I think it didn’t need to be hard, because it was a very profitable company, and I think yes, they didn’t want to rock the boat with the unions too much, the unions – or certainly the sparks – probably had too much visceral power over them, and they didn’t want to strangle the output they wanted to be made, it needed to be made, and at times you could only make it if you kept the union happy. And it’s wrong, it wasn’t right, but in the end, the negotiation between the union and the company did allow us to be cared for quite well. Me as a film cameraman, I travelled around the world regularly – I probably spent six or seven months of the year out, abroad or out of Manchester, and we used to travel well. Basically we did a lot of travelling in business class, and staying in very nice hotels all over the world, but that wasn’t just luxury, it certainly wasn’t a holiday. If you’ve ever travelled with a film crew, it certainly isn’t a holiday because the cameramen, you know, myself, would have a (??6:46) with all the customs, you’ll have boxes and boxes of kit, it’s not like going with a suitcase, you had your own suitcase and then probably 15-20 boxes of other stuff to get through, clear the customs, get it in, pay the excess, get it on the flight and then go. So flying in business class allowed us also, which was one of the main reasons for doing it, is that you could arrive relaxed and refreshed and start to film almost immediately. Had we been in the back in economy class for much of the journey, you wouldn’t have slept so well, you would have been cramped, you probably wouldn’t have been able to feel quite as energetic once you got off, and regularly I could remember landing in places and literally starting to film almost immediately. You would pick up a hire car, in you go and off you go to use that day – so that, to me, had a justification, that you were bing treated well, the company treated you well in the way they flew you around the place and hotelled you, and you were expected to be able to film for as long as you could on those days.

Nevertheless it was a great dream to stay in 5* hotels and travel business class.

I can remember one story about that – in fact, two stories on the same project. Busman’s Holiday, the quiz show that happened at g, and I did three years of the awards, the prizes of all the competitors, we shot them all off at one go, through November-December, at the end of the series record. I did the first three years of it, and on one occasion I can remember flying into Hong Kong early one morning and being met at the passenger terminal by three Rolls Royces to take us back t the Mandarin Hotel where we were staying, and that was fantastic. And it’s the only time in my life that my kit – actually all of us, there were probably about 10 or 11 of us, dozens of boxes – I never has to touch one box until it ended up in my room, which was fantastic. The other thing you can say, I remember later on that trip, in Australia, flying into Alice Springs, and the plane taxied to under an awning in the foyer of the hotel! So, yes… Busman’s Holiday… the only time in my life I had been in a Lear Jet, shooting the titles in a Lear Jet. The doors it opened, the people…

You were filming the prize-winners?

Yes, all the prizes were filmed in one go, so it was a six-week trip, the first two weeks you shot around Europe, you went to six different centres to make six films, almost film a day, fly a day, film a day, travel a day – that’s how it worked for two weeks. And then off you went around the world, picking up the other six or seven films you had to make as you went around the world.

You’ve had a great career, haven’t you?

It’s been fantastic!

Talk about the overtime.

I was just going to say… what was probably wrong, and I think it probably was rightly wrong, and a bad bit of negotiation that could also have broken the camel’s back, is that we were paid enormously well. I’ve got here, out of my diary, the overtime rates. We were all very well paid but we also got overtime for every hour we worked around the clock. So basically if we worked overtime between 8am and midnight, every hour was time and a half. Between midnight and 1am it was 3 times, 3T. From 1am to 2am you for 3.5T, from 2am – 6am you got 5T, so for a night shoot, you would get 5T for every hour, from 6am – 7am you got 4T and then from 7am-8am you got 3T, but it clicked back in again. So you had an eight hour day, then anything over that was done at those variable rates. It was scandalous, really.

Would that apply when you’re, say, flying through the night?

No. A lot of the flying was dispensated? to the fact that you probably got time and a half. If you had been working during the day and then flew that night you would get time and a half.

I remember a story of someone being on 10T.

There was never a 10T rate, it just accumulated if it went on for 24 to 48 hours – it doubled up as you went through If you didn’t get your 10-hour break, if you didn’t get a 10-hour break it just added up.

So if you were working between 2am and 6am, then if you had to do the same again it was…

If you only had a six-hour break, 10T. I think it stopped at a certain point – there was a maximum – but it was just ridiculous.

Was this negotiated by ACTT?

The ACTT and the company, yes. A lot of it was… we did work long hours, and we didn’t work 9-5 nobody worked 9-5, and we worked lots of weekends, and I think basically, you know, it was trying to stop the company exploiting you too much. It’s the cark side, isn’t it? It’s not the side that anybody should be proud of.

Today, if you were filming around the world as a freelance cameraman, would you be getting overtime rates?

Not at all. I think basically everything now is contractual. It’s a buy-out. You basically negotiate with the production manager for a 10-hour day, 12-hour day, kit, travel – it’s all negotiated and that’s it. It’s a buy-out. Finished. Simple as that.

We’re going to talk about kit. What was it like in the old days and what’s it like today?

It couldn’t be more chalk and cheese – talk about steam-generated television! In the era of film, everything was bigger, heavier, more awkward to use. A typical film cameraman’s kit would be a camera body – Arriflex, Éclair, Arton – with three 400ft magazines to put your film into, a box of lenses – prime lenses, a couple of zoom lenses – a tripod in a big polycarbonate case, you would then have a sound recordist with a (Nagra? 0:54) reel to reel tape recorder, a Nagra 4.2, box of microphones, gun mics, short gun mics, boom pole, boxes and boxes of film Kodak stock, some slow stock, 64 ASA, 7247 I think it was, (Eastman? 1:13) colour 7237. Daylight it was 64 ASA, tungsten it was 100 ASA, boxes of filters, lights, redheads, blondes, battery lights, (hand bashers? 1:28)… so if you were going off to shoot a documentary with one camera body, you basically had eight or nine boxes of kit to carry around. Yourself, a sound recordist, a boom swinger, a camera assistant and possibly a spark, more than likely you would have a spark. So the kit itself could fill an estate car quite easily.

With all this kit, you needed the extra personnel to carry it.

Nowadays, with instant change of media cards, when one runs out you can change to another one instantly. Of course, in the days of film, you used to have someone loading your film – taking out the exposed film, so what the camera assistant used to do was sit down with a black bag, which is like a portable dark room, a metre squared black bad, double-skinned with elasticated arms and Velcro and a zip front. You put the magazine in of the exposed film, you take the tape off a new roll of film, you put it inside the can, you seal it all up, you take the film can out, take the old, exposed film out, put it into the black bag inside – there’s a black paper bag inside the tin – put it down and hold that closed, put the new film in the magazine and lace it into whatever mechanism it was lacing into, seal it closed, open up the black bag, put tape around the exposed tin, put a label on it, and put tape around the lock of the magazine. Paperwork in those days for a camera assistant was quite a challenge, because not only did you have to keep the cameraman supplied with batteries, film, pulling focus, you also had to carry all this kit that he wasn’t using, the tripod, the magazines, the extra film, but also on the back of the clapper board, you had to put the clapper board onto fine sync, so we used clapper boards to synchronise the pictures and sound. On the back of the clapperboard was what we used to call mag cards, and the camera assistant would write down what roll it is, what the slate numbers were, a brief description of what it was, what the filters were, whether it’s interior or exterior, so that bit of information was then used by the camera assistant to fill out lab sheets. Four carbon copies went to costing to be charged for the film, went into the edit suite to tell the editor what they’ve got, to the laboratory, and a copy was kept for the cameraman so he knew what he had shot. So the poor camera assistant probably had an hour’s work every night, cleaning the gear, reloading the magazines, labelling up everything and filling out all these camera lab sheets. Whereas today, in the modern digital medium, where we use compact flashcards or quite similar solid state recording medium, you know, a 32GB compact flashcard can hold 82 minutes of HD 1920, 1080, 25p or 50i film on a card that you could put 100 of them in a matchbox, almost. It is ridiculous how small the cameras have become, but also what has changed, for the worst, I believe, is that so much of it now is single man shooting, so you are responsible for being a director, a cameraman, a sound recordist and a lighting engineer, so yes, we have much lighter kit, the cameras are smaller, the tripods are lighter – thought not necessarily better – the sound kit – radio mics, gun mics – aren’t what they used to be, but it all works through the camera – you can have a little mixer but generally most of it is attached straight to the camera, and lights are usually 1×1 panels now, running off a battery so you’ve got no mains power to worry about at all. It’s lighter, but it’s still cumbersome – it’s still a handful for one person.

Do you think that quality has suffered because of that?

Yes, I think nobody… I think I am fairly experienced after 43 years in the industry, and I have had the luxury of being both a film cameraman and a director/producer, so I think I’ve probably got a lot of the skills you need to do both – and I find it a handful quite a lot of the time. Not necessarily… being a cameraman is a bit like riding a bike. I can frame shots quite quickly, and exposure and colour are second nature. That sort of thing is quite easy. Sound is a bit more complicated because you can’t be reactive to sound, you have to try and keep an eye and try and second guess sounds, because you can only react to it after it happens. Lighting is a skill I’ve got, so I can light, and with more lightweight lights nowadays it’s easier. But trying to put all those three technical things together with being a producer, and asking the right questions, and seeing what’s happening, can be quite a handful. It’s a shame for the younger generation who that’s what it is. That’s the only option. They’re given a Canon 305, a couple of cards, a couple of microphones, a couple of LED lights and told, “Off you go and make a film.”

Do you think programmes have suffered in terms of quality?

Quality in terms of content, certainly. Quality in terms of camera technique, in terms of being a camera operator, making it look good, steady, smooth, well-framed, in focus, has certainly gone. Similarly with sound, it’s not quite as crisp and as good. The hardest thing, I think, what we’ve lost, is really the ability to be a producer/director whilst doing these other things. You can do it if you have time and you’re not too rushed.

So these costs, they are in the end cost savings.

Cost savings, but…

But they have impacted on…

Quality. Yes. And the quality isn’t just a technical quality, it is the art of what you’re saying – the journalism, what you can get in, because it’s a lot to think about in one go.

I remember (Johnny ?? 7:58) saying, when he was doing The Grumbleweeds, “Shoot and cut, shoot and cut.” If you shoot quick and cut quick, you won’t notice the joke isn’t that funny – keep the pace going. One thing I have noticed is that new technology allows you to be lazy and in a way allows you to have a bad day. Not everything is down to that moment of shooting. A) you can overshoot and overshoot…

And that’s the dilemma…

So the programmes are sort of made in the edit suite. “I’ll worry about that later.”

I’ll just machine gun everything that’s in front of me. Yes. Absolutely true. When you think of… a roll of film in the old days, in the days of 16mm film documentary making, a roll of film was nearly £100 for the raw stock, double it by the time you put it through the lab, pull off a rush print. So you’re talking about the best part of £200 for 10 minutes and seven seconds of film making, and nowadays, a CF card I think can cost you £60 for 80 minutes – and it’s reusable. Instantly, once you’ve dug down. Yes, there is a lot of data transfer you’ve got to deal with nowadays, but the old days where you are given a quantity of film, so many rolls of film, to make a documentary on, and that was your budget, your film budget, it made you understand what setting things up, turning the camera