Barry Bowmer Transcript
Interviewer: Stephen Kelly
Interviewee: Barry Bowmer
[Start of Recording]
SK: OK, this is an interview with Barry Bowmer, Bowmer spelt B-O-W-M-E-R and this is 10 September 2015 and it is Steve Kelly doing the interview. Let’s start Barry by how you came to join Granada, how old were you?
BB: Well, I had various jobs going at Localis(?) where I lived in the south. My father who was a tool-maker at the BMI could see that going downhill so he persuaded me not to go into engineering and there were various jobs at London Airport (or Heathrow as it’s now known) and eventually my uncle, who used to be in the film business, was working for Granada and so it was suggested that I got in there and after an interview I joined the mailroom at Golden Square.
SK: This was when?
BB: 1959. August I think. 1959
SK: And your uncle must have been there long before then?
BB: Well I think he’d been there from the off of television. He’d gone from Pinewood to there, you know when Pinewood finished or went quiet. So I joined the mailroom straight from school at 15 1/2 and I was at Golden Square until about ’62.
BB: Yep, 1962, having run around London along with others there in taxis and tubes and all the rest of it.
SK: So what did you do in the mailroom?
BB: Basically it was delivering post within Golden Square building and to 123 Regent Street, 149 Regent Street.
SK: What was that?
BB: 123 Regent Street I think was theatres, coming under the title of theatres and 149 probably the same. I really can’t remember now. So it was that, it was backwards and forwards to Fleet Street, Soho, various film establishments, Regents Park too where Desmond Morris was filming. He did Zoo Time from there. And various other locations in sorting out conference rooms for Sidney, Cecil, the Board etc and certain routines I had to go first thing in the morning to Sidney’s Mount Street flat and pick up the post.
SK: His Mount Street flat? Where was that?
BB: In Mayfair. And pick up the post with the intention of getting it there before his chauffeur picked him up and his secretary could sort it out, you know, as he arrived. It didn’t always work out.
SK: What was his flat like?
BB: Well it was very nice and so was his wife who used to come to the door in a negligee while she gathered the post and sent me on me way!!
SK: You didn’t get invited in for a cup of tea?!
BB: No! No, they wanted the post at Golden Square prior to him arriving. It’s various things like that, you know, general sort of running around.
SK: Was Golden Square at that point the headquarters for the entire Granada Group?
BB: Yeah I’m sure it was 4 storeys and a basement and then whilst I was working there they built another 2 storeys on top but it was taken up wholly by Granada, you know for television etc. Another place that we used to go to was a rehearsal room at the Oval. I think that started off as, it was Poster Print which was a Granada exercise and they made posters for cinemas, you know, for the run of cinemas. That’s about it at Golden Square.
SK: How many of you would have worked in the mailroom?
BB: From memory I would say there was about 8. I couldn’t remember their names but I would guess there were 7 or 8 there so you know, it wasn’t just delivering post within the building, as I say it was nipping up to Fleet Street, picking things up, delivering them, you know press releases, this sort of thing so everyone was fully occupied and obviously at the time I got to know London pretty well or the areas where we went.
SK: And were any of the big Granada stars of the time based in Golden Square?
BB: No, no I mean you used to get occasional ones come in who were possibly meeting the Bernsteins sort of thing but the only one really that I can remember now I think is that Frankie Howard used to come in. I think he possibly was friendly with Victor Peers? Someone like that used to come in.
SK: Who’s Victor Peers?
BB: Well I’m sure he was on the 4th floor, 6th floor, whatever it was, was one of the Directors, the Company Directors but I really can’t remember now but that was about the only ones we saw round there.
SK: So how long were you in the mailroom? What happened next?
BB: From ’59 to 1962 and I felt, you know, I wanted to get into production and as there was a studio at Chelsea I applied and got a job there which started in the mailroom and shortly afterwards I went as callboy which obviously involved all the shows that were put on there. And there were lots of them.
SK: Such as?
BB: Massive productions. Well there was inserts for Granada in the North, I think it was called then, you know Scene at 6.30, that sort of era. Appointment with… which was with Malcolm Muggeridge interviewing well-known people, that was a series that went on for a good while. There was quiz shows, Take a Letter, Bob Holmes, oh there were others there. Chris Trust was another one with Bob Holmes so they were regular. Spot the Tune with Marion Ryan and Ted Ray. Bootsie and Snudge. I think I was call boy just after The Army Game finished and Bootsie and Snudge started with Alfie Bass and Bill Fraser.
SK: That was another army-type programme, wasn’t it?
BB: Yep. There was A Little Big Business, I remember it was a drama series that went on for numerous episodes. Chelsea at Eight and Chelsea at Nine which were massive variety shows which we used to do with an audience, you know, top stars from all over. I mean it was amazing, it was at Chelsea Palace, which was a theatre and it had the stage extended and they did all this more or less in one go! So it was amazing, you know, the amount of space they did it all in. Des O’Connor series. Perhaps I shouldn’t mention it but he was good, certainly had international artists on it and Burt Bacharach, he had a series – trains and boats and planes where he had artists, again international and English, who sang his songs. That went on for half a dozen hours.
SK: That would be a Johnnie Hamp production.
BB: I would guess so. I mean I knew Johnnie Hamp in London but I can’t remember him physically there. And Johnnie Dankworth and Cleo Laine, they had a long series, you know again with international guests. There was a lot came out of there from what appears to be a small space, you know.
SK: I’m slightly confused here. The Chelsea Palace, that was a Granada Theatre, was it, where they did big productions from?
BB: I don’t know if it was, it wasn’t a cinema, it was a theatre so as far as I know Granada had it from possibly ’56, I’m not quite sure about that.
SK: And that was the same as the Chelsea studio was it? That was it? It was a big, old theatre?
BB: Yeah, that was it. Yeah it was all in the confines on the corner of King’s Road and Sidney Street.
SK: So they would do all the sort of Bootsie and Snudge and all the big theatre productions and the Malcolm Muggeridge all from there?
SK: And was it just one studio?
BB: Yeah it was just the stage of the original theatre and from memory it was extended into the seats at the front of the audience.
SK: And they could bring an audience in for the big numbers?
BB: Yeah, it was very popular. People would come and see the shows then. It had most of the popular shows at the time, Chelsea at Eight and Chelsea at Nine and the big variety ones.
SK: And do you know why they were made in London rather than Manchester?
BB: I think at the time – it sounds awful saying it – Manchester seemed to be, to Southerners, the other end of the world! I mean it sounds awful saying it but it seemed such a long way away and I don’t suppose transport and flights, trains possibly weren’t perhaps as good or as frequent as they are today so artists coming over were often in stage shows or interviews in the south and wouldn’t necessarily want to come to Manchester. And I think the Government or commercial television said that Granada couldn’t use Chelsea because they were a northern-based company.
SK: Oh really!
BB: So I think that’s what, as it were, finished it off in the end.
SK: And when did it finish?
BB: Well I finished there in ’65. I think it might have gone through to ’66 but I’m not sure what time or dates they were.
SK: So you were a call boy, knocking on the doors?
SK: All that stuff. So when did you stop being a call boy? What did you do after that?
BB: Well I came to Manchester. It closed down and I was weighing up what I could do or what job I could get.
SK: What closed down? The Chelsea Studio?
BB: When I say it closed down, it was closing down so it was either find a job elsewhere or come to Manchester and I felt the conditions of the company was good and I was earning a reasonable salary for that time and so I thought I would take a chance and move up to Manchester.
SK: Were you a call boy when you left Chelsea?
SK: And you moved up to Manchester to become…?
BB: I went into film ops. Film operations which was under Bill Lloyd and did various parts of jobs there initially. Some film library, again messages to the labs. Humphries Laboratories which used to process film which was quarter of a mile away, used to go backwards and forwards to there and assisting in different things and then I went into commercial make-up which was where the commercials were put together once we’d got a schedule on the day they went out and it was a mechanical process of joining particular commercials together, you know with big black spacing in, there used to be a pause of about a second between each commercial and so we used to put the commercials together. That’s about it in there.
SK: Because they would all be on film?
BB: It was all on 35mm film. You know you used to get a schedule and join them all together so that they could go onto different reels so that they could be transmitted from the telecine at the end of part 1 of a film, you know, etc etc
BB: From there I went into features make-up which again was putting timing and viewing and editing feature films and packages that were brought in from outside. To make them correct for when the breaks needed to come up etc the commercial breaks. I did that for a good while.
SK: So you would actually have to edit the feature film to the right time?
BB: Yes if it was 10, well it could have been anything from 10 minutes to half an hour over, you know, a feature film and you had to cut out the appropriate bits, to get it down to time and to fit the commercial breaks.
SK: Did you ever get it wrong?!
BB: Occasionally! After being doing it for a while you were just comfortable with it, knew to a certain extent, you thought, what you were doing.
SK: You didn’t cut out any crucial moments?
BB: No, that’s happened by other people but I didn’t, you are supposed to report to the office if there were any hangings or, you know, vastly violent things in it depending on what time it was going out etc and the one that I, well didn’t miss but it was such a well-known film, was the African Queen and I can’t remember but I think that was a hanging or the suggestion of a hanging and I didn’t report it but I got away with it because it was classed as a Classic at the time but I think others have been known to cut out a song, you know, a hit song out of a musical or something because it fitted the time, you know it run for 5 minutes or whatever and they lost the song.
But no, that went on for a while and then I went to assisting, Assistant Editor and was doing that for, again a period. I’ve no idea how long a period and eventually I got made up to Editor. So I assisted on numerous things, got made up to Editor and started as usual I suppose with local programmes etc, inserts for various programmes. Scene at 6:30, that sort of thing and then onto bigger things for inserts into other programmes or sections of programmes that were actually on film as opposed to being studio-based.
SK: Can you just go back on that. If they were doing a programme from the old Chelsea Studios was that done live or was it done on film?
BB: It wasn’t on film, no, it was all studio-based.
SK: And would it be done live at that stage?
BB: I couldn’t be sure but at the back of my mind I felt when they were first doing it, I felt that we did plays, you know dramas, straight through but…
SK: Yeah. Because Coronation Street was done live to begin with for a year or so. That started in ’60. Because video editing didn’t come in until the early ’60s I don’t think.
BB: No. I used to do film inserts for Coronation Street which went, you know we edited into the studio scenes.
SK: OK, so you become a film editor, tell us something about the role of the film editor. What does a film editor do?
BB: Well a film editor, director, producer, cameras etc go out and shoot whether it’s a drama or documentary and then it comes back into the film editor who in agreement with the director or producer, either you put it together yourself, you know, an order, or they sit down, as many did, and put it together with you and go through it and well, edit it basically. The Assistant syncs up the picture and sound rushes together and you work from that. Eventually when it’s together and to everyone’s taste or choice you have to then break the sound down and put it on separate rolls and that goes through to the dubbing theatre where they mix the sound together and play music on and sound effects, voiceovers, commentary and the picture is sent off to have the negative cut to match the cutting copy, which is the working copy and that goes to the laboratories where it’s graded and a print made, first print and sometimes they have 2 prints or 3 prints until they’ve got the colour grading correct. And you know in the meantime there are various things like credits, titles, captions which need to be done by Graphics etc and then the whole thing done, sometimes it’s done in-house and then occasionally it went down to London for a press-showing, back to Golden Square. They had a press showing in the theatre there.
SK: So if you were working on a programme like World in Action that end sequence must have taken quite a bit of time so what I am trying to get at is that you would have to finish filming and give yourself 2 or 3 days to get it edited and cut?
BB: Well sometimes you didn’t have 2 or 3 days to cut it and get it finished! Some of the World in Action’s were longer but others may have started one-sided. One of them I think I started Sunday night, Sunday afternoon and some of it was already edited but I had to put it together (and this often happened), it went off for neg. cutting through the night or first thing in the morning, on a Monday morning, with World in Action going out Monday night and through the night we were laying the sound down ready to go to the dubbing theatre on the Monday so that the producer/director could arrange commentary on it and we used to get a print back on probably Monday lunchtime/afternoon which had to go through telecine for them to grade it as the labs hadn’t had that much time and then it used to go out Monday night at, I can’t remember now, 7.30, 8.30.
BB: So it was compressed, you know you had to find ways round to get it together and get it out if it was an urgent subject as such. So the whole process when you had time on other programmes to do things, I don’t mean properly but had more time to do it but often on World in Action it was a race against time which, well as far as I know, usually worked.
SK: And what about the dramas you worked on?
BB: Well the dramas, I was Assistant on various ones from way back – Shabby Tiger, Country Matters, which was a lovely series. Spoils of War, Family at War, Crib(?), Knife Edge and then on Strangers, Bulman.
SK: Did you work with any really well-known directors? People like Mike Newell or Paul Greengrass, Mike Apted?
BB: No. No. It was usually, well obviously Granada directors at the time and probably more freelance came in later on.
SK: Who did Family at War because that was a well-known series, wasn’t it?
BB: Tristan DeVere Cole who was a lovely man. Some of the others, often I worked with Bill Gilmour, a hell of a lot. Tom Clegg who was freelance, Laurence Gordon Clark, Tim Sullivan who was staff and Bill Brayne.
SK: So did you get more time on the drama? Could you be more creative?
BB: Yes you had more time because you needed, as opposed to it being World in Action or that style of programme, which was usually urgent and newsworthy, you needed to put more finesse into it and add music and commentary effects etc etc so you had more time to do it.
SK: Did the directors leave you to get on with it or did they allow you to have an input?
BB: Yes. Often they’d come in and see the rushes and say what takes, you know if they’d done five takes for a particular shot, they’d say which take they wanted. You know, you would go through an arranged and as far as you could you would use that take. And often if they were freelance and say from the south, they would leave and come back, give you a week or whatever to put it together and come back and you’d view it again, make notes and they’d possibly leave you again or if they’d come up you’d do the alterations and I’ll see you tomorrow or the day after.
SK: So you got plenty of leeway to be creative?
BB: Yeah. Others needed to be sat down and involved all the time, you know especially if they were, I guess, away from home or their base they’d want to be in the cutting room altogether. It depended, sometimes it warranted them there other times you were happy to get on with it on your own.
SK: Yeah. And if you were doing a documentary which is largely unscripted, did the directors play more of a role then?
BB: I would say so, yeah, because they had certain ideas. Some of them that didn’t have lots of ideas so I felt that they needed to be in the cutting room to sort of guide themselves and Editor and Assistant so yeah, they were more over your shoulder. But certain scenes they would say, ask for 10 minutes or whatever, “can you put this together?” and then they’d come in, have a look and alter it or say it’s fine or whatever.
SK: What documentaries would you have worked on?
BB: I did lots of documentaries, not complete ones but ones to go into other shows etc. Having said that one of them was So it Goes with Tony Wilson which was a music programme in the seventies, eighties was it.
SK: And did Tony get involved?
BB: Yeah. Oh yeah, once we’d got, again that was a fast turnaround and had that on film and he used to come down about, oh I think it was the same morning as it was going out on transmission and we’d put the film part of the programme together and it was always – as in the usual Tony Wilson style – always a rush but, you know, it worked well.
SK: What was he like to work with?
BB: He was fine, he was fine but I mean we got on well as regards, well I did other programmes for him but we got on well doing that. You know, I think we both knew what was needed and it was sort of instant as opposed to having time to cut it around too much because you had to look after the film as it were. There was other music programmes like with Peter Carr. Dave Edmunds and Nick Lowe which was another nice one to work on – Born Fighters. Living in Styal which is about a women’s prison in Styal in Cheshire and again that was with Peter Carr and that started, from memory, as an hour programme with lots of work and many weeks, months and finished off as four one-hour programmes following the lives of women prison officers and their trials and problems etc etc and that went out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, four one-hours on the trot. Numerous others. There were numerous smaller programmes, inserts into…well I did a film, Carnival, which is probably best not mentioned!! It was about a carnival in Brazil, it was Carlos Versini which was an hour programme and it finished up like a commercial in the end! There were so many cuts in it, kept cutting!
SK: Did some directors tend to overshoot?
BB: Oh yes! Yeah. There were a few I think on that particular programme. The procession didn’t go as well as it should have done in Brazil so the pre-planned ideas for it went out the window. I’ve done others with Tony Bulley who did lots of work at Granada and it was a ballet programme, The Amazing Adventures of Christopher Gable and he was in the Royal Ballet in London and took over the Northern Ballet. I did one about the Velvet Revolution in Prague. Eva…?
BB: Kolochova, yes, which again was, it an exciting time for Prague etc and Eva being Czech she lived it, you know!
SK: So when did you finish at Granada?
BB: 1991. When they were cutting back and a good few others had finished when they were 48 and times were changing there and it wasn’t a good feeling, you know, as people were leaving. I mean we’d had the best times in London, at Golden Square, at Chelsea and then up here I appeared to be in the right place at Granada, and the areas – Carnaby Street was just becoming popular as I left Golden Square; Chelsea I think there was one boutique in it when I was there and then moving to Manchester that was having a revival. So inside Granada and outside it was, you know, it seemed good.
SK: So when you finished did you continue being a freelancer?
BB: No. I don’t think I did anything. I was offered a couple of things but it is not really my style to go out looking for work or being involved that way. I was offered a couple of things but decided I didn’t want to continue it. I enjoyed doing it but I wouldn’t have enjoyed going out looking for work or, you know, keeping in touch, networking and all that.
SK: So up until then was Granada a good company to work for?
BB: Up until?
SK: Well, up until the early nineties.
BB: Oh excellent. I mean when you heard from mates and that in London and Manchester eventually, you know, them changing jobs or things happened at different companies, it sounded very like, you know, cocooned and a nice atmosphere and people were generally, well, overall they were good. And I mean I think lots of times in various jobs in television you’re in a room with an editor or a director, producer, PA or even more than that and you are with them sort of 24 hours or more so you know, you more or less had to get on and 99% of the time you did. But seeing conditions outside in various other industries or jobs Granada up until it started changing it seemed, well, I say it seemed, it certainly was very good I’d say and lots of others would say.
SK: Some people have described it as a family.
BB: Yes. Yes it certainly was. It certainly was. It was comfortable. I don’t mean that you could sit around and not do anything but it was comfortable as a family used to be – perhaps they are not so close these days, families but…no, it certainly was, it was good. They looked after you and hopefully we looked after them.
SK: You got to know the Bernsteins in Golden Square. Did you keep contact with them later on at all? Did you come across them?
BB: No. I got to know them. We knew each other but we weren’t that close, myself being a mail boy, callboy. It was just through frequency of working with them and seeing them that you became friends. Well, I say friends, that you became knowledgeable about each other. I did mix with them quite a bit though. Prior to coming to Manchester I lived three miles north of Heathrow and I came to Manchester at weekends. Used to come to see friends and parents etc and the girls on the travel desk at Manchester were very kind to me and looked after me and used to arrange on a Friday night to make sure that there was a seat going on Granada’s plane which was a Dove which from memory it’s 4-seater, a 4 to 6-seater, I think it was 4, the pilot and co-pilot. So often I was picked up in a chauffeur-driven car and/or a taxi and taken from Granada Manchester to Manchester airport about 5.30 and straight up to the plane and flew down to Heathrow which a) didn’t cost me anything and b) was a super trip. Luckily if it was me or Cecil or whoever else was on the plane you couldn’t talk much because the engines were so loud, you know you just beckoned to each another, you know whether it’s a coffee flask or tea flask and a little wave to say thank you. But that was very convenient, the trips, and occasionally the chauffeur at Heathrow who was picking up Sidney or Cecil (I knew the chauffeurs from when I worked in London) and they insisted on giving me a lift which was north of Heathrow and they were going towards London or Kent and I had to sit in the car with Sidney and Cecil whilst one of the chauffeurs dropped me off at my house which was hilarious at the time because, you know, I was still a bit nervous!
SK: What did the neighbours think of that?!
BB: Well I think they would just have seen this big black limousine, you know, Austin Princess or whatever it was, pull up and me get out with me bag and go indoors and they were away. It really was quite a comedy at the time. But it was good so that I could commute backwards and forwards at weekends and I got a standby flight on the Sunday night, 5 or 6 o’ clock. I think 6 o’ clock was the last flight, BEA, got a standby flight which was cheaper and it got me back to Manchester and Chorlton where I was living at the time off the airport bus or whatever.
SK: Well that’s great. That’s good. Is there anything else you would like to add?
BB: Not that I can think of. I was trying to look…no, I didn’t mention about Private Lives, Denis Mitchell that was the name. I mean I was Assistant on that but that was with Denis Mitchell who was the time’s most well-known programme-maker and his wife, Linda Mitchell, did a good few Private Lives about various people. I can’t think of anything else particularly.
SK: No, that’s great. That’s really good. Thank you very much.
[End of Recording]
[Transcribed by V. Whymant, November 2015]