On your exit from Granada, how did that come about?
Oh, well, it was perfect example. Channel 4 was about to be started, and somebody, I’m afraid I can’t remember who, said to me, “Rather than work for a company like Granada, why don’t you set up your own company and then you can sell to either the BBC or Channel 4? Because there’s a totally new market opening for making programmes?” And come to think of it, yes, by then Anne had started her company, Brook Productions, and they were making something, A Week in Politics, I think. I came in at the start of Channel 4.
And to this day you’re still an independent in the industry making programmes. How does it feel, is it better, is life better out on your own rather than within a large broadcaster?
Well since Granada was the large broadcaster I was in, and since particularly under Denis (Forman) and Sidney (Bernstein) it was such a relaxed and lovely place and I was so encouraged to make things that in my view were not part of the ITV pattern but just what I wanted to make and Denis wanted me to make. No. It wasn’t better being outside. There was a degree of independence; there was a degree of opportunity. And so, when Channel 4 came into existence and people said to me, “Why don’t you set up as an independent?” I did. It’s worked, I’ve had a lot of fun and have managed to carry on making programmes. To my amazement I’m now 81 and we’re still making programmes so it’s pretty freakish. But if you said to me was it better being an independent than working for Granada? No. It’s 50/50. It couldn’t be better than working for Granada. It was for somebody like me the most wonderful place in the world to work.
You were talking about how different it is making programmes now as an independent, you mentioned budgets. Perhaps you could pick that up again?
The sum that we get from the BBC is less than it was. We, of course, continue to be able to get lots from lots and lots of broadcasters around the world because they have shown our programmes. But, they nearly all pay us less than they used to so that the budget for making our current Europe series is less per programme than we have been accustomed to having. And the budget for our Cuba series that we’re working on is less than we’re accustomed to having per programme for such a series. So it’s getting harder, and of course we notice that the traditional broadcasters are being displaced by people doing stuff online, and young people never watching television anymore, not traditional television. And so, I’m feeling I’m jolly glad I’m ageing and getting out of it at about the right time.
Do you intend to retire at some point?
I will retire as soon as there’s no demand for me to carry on doing stuff. I tremendously enjoy being asked to do things and finding that I can still do them. At the age of 81 the fact that my colleagues in Brook Lapping find my rewriting of a script, my writing of a draft letter to President Sarkozy or whoever, helps them, cheers me up. It’s quite nice going into the office and finding people value you, so of course I want to carry on going in. But, I suspect be it next week or next month or next year, they’re going to find, “Oh that’s old fart’s past it” and I’ll have to stop.