Tim Sullivan

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 28 April 2020.

Tim, let’s begin at the beginning. How did you come to join Granada? What was the interviewing process like?

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

What year was this?

That was 1978. Yes. Then I left university and I got a job as… I mean, my way into Granada, it was quite circumvoluted, because I got a job as a chauffeur for an actor called Anthony Andrews. At the time, he was working on this big TV project called Brideshead Revisited. So through him, I met Derek Granger. I was also, at the time, writing a movie script for the director Derek Jarman, which immediately… Derek Granger is one of those incredibly curious people about people, and talent, and encouraging, and so he immediately wanted to know why Anthony’s chauffeur was writing a bloody film script, what was going on. So I met him, and he became a friend and he put me up for ridiculous jobs. I was 22, I think. No experience. He put me up for an associate producer drama job. It was just absurd. Then I’d applied to all the companies, all the broadcasters, and got a flat rebuff. Granger, in his way, he called Steve Morrison, who was head of programmes, local programmes at the time, and said, “Will you see this boy?” And so I got a train to Manchester, and I came up and was greeted by a chap called Steve Hawes, who took me off for coffee whilst I was waiting to see Steve. Then when I went to see Steve, we chatted about what I wanted to do, and this and that. And I kind of, I was a bit of a luvvie, really. I thought, “I want to direct drama, mate. I want to do that Brideshead thing that I just saw that teenager, Charles Sturridge, doing. That’s what I want to do. Why am I looking at something like local news?” Anyway, I was sent away by Steve with a task to go down and watch Nationwide in London, and to read the paper every morning. In the morning, write four items that I would do on an evening show, then tell him what was on the evening show in London, write critiques of all of the things, and how I… so I did that for a week, and then I sent off my A4 Olivetti typed out pages to Manchester, and of course never heard another bloody thing. And that was okay, you know, I was working with Jarman, It was fine. Then in January, I got a call from someone at Granada, I can’t remember who it was. I think it was Jules Burns, who in those days was head of research, saying, “We just wanted to let you know that there’s going to be a board.” Every Monday, there was a media page in The Guardian. Every Monday, you looked, desperate to find a job, and then you applied for them and didn’t get them, in the media page of The Guardian. Anyway, the following Monday, there was going to be an advert for local researchers, six month contract, and I should apply. I then came up to Granada and I had two interviews, two boards, and I got the job. And I’ve always said, absolutely the hand of Derek Granger, how come out of all of these places I couldn’t even get an interview, and then here I was a few months later, at Granada. And I started in March 22 or 23, of 1981.

There’s a bit of a gap, then, from when you left university?

I left university in the summer of 1980.

Okay.

So I guess, yes, nine months?

Yes.

So I came up to Manchester. I knew a couple of people up here already, which didn’t make it any easier. But anyway, so we then went through the induction, then we were put onto Granada Reports, which I just found the most terrifying thing that had ever happened to me. I just couldn’t understand why I would be sent out to Stockport Post Office headquarters when there was a strike, with a cameraman, John Blakely, Mike Blakely’s uncle. Kind of a classic Northern kind of, “Who’s this whippersnapper,” type. I just didn’t get it. I remember going to interview John Bond, who was the new head of Manchester City, and I didn’t really know anything about management. I knew about football. I had my team, but I didn’t know anything about, you know. So off I went to Manchester, it’s at Maine Road, and on the way there I read the Guardian, and there was this long piece about Bond, so I kind of memorised it. Then I asked this absurd question, off-camera, that was about 40 seconds long, this question, to which the answer was, “No.” It was like, “Fuck! What do I do now?” But the great thing about Granada was, you were really thrown in at the deep end. 

Judy Finnegan was there, I was then given Judy Finnegan as my ‘mother’. The first thing we went off to do was a thing about the police in schools, or something. We went along with it for… I was there for about six months. In the end, you look back on it as a thing where, you got into a meeting at eight o’clock in the morning, and you had to come up with a story, or various people came up with stories. Obviously as a researcher, you’re going to either help a presenter or a reporter, or just do something lowly. But you had to come up with a story, write some links, get permission to film, get out and film. In those days, have it back in time to get to the bloody labs over the road. So you had to get it to the labs, and then you had to get it into the editing room, and then you had to deal with this weird thing called stripe film, where the sound was approximate, was a few frames ahead of the picture, because it was running alongside, it was on the film itself. I mean, I know you know all of this. The sound would be six, seven frames, eight frames ahead of the picture. So when you went to make a cut, the first line you made a cut, it went out of sync, and then you learned how to overlap the sound with the pictures, and… anyway, say it was fantastic training, then I finally got fired by Stuart Prebble, because I was kind of in my… I was quite an expressive young man, and I’d cropped my hair and dyed it pink. I also had a dagger through my ear, and I was hauled in to Prebble, who said, “What on earth are you doing?” And I went, “You can’t tell me how to dress, mate. What are you talking about?” And he went, “I can’t have you on the news anymore.” And secretly I said, “That’s fucking great. Thank you, because I’m just a fish out of water here.” And he said, “You know, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes up on a train to Manchester, how am I supposed to send you on behalf of Granada Reports, a serious news programme, to interview him about the economy, looking like that?” So that was my first, you know, that was me starting at Granada.

So Prebble sacked you?

Yes, which he acknowledges to this day. I’m really glad. I often wondered whether it was an apocryphal story. And I met him on a train about 15 years later, and to my delight, he told the assembled audience his pride in having sacked me various years before.

So where did you go? What happened then?

I went on to a show called Live From Two, which was a chat show. Local chat show. Got fired off that as well by someone who’s now a great friend of mine, for ordering the wrong piano for the wonderful Alberto Remedios.

Oh, yes, yes.

I loved him, but it wasn’t so much like I got the wrong piano, because he wanted an upright. The producer wanted a grand, but he was singing a Victorian ballad, so he didn’t want a grand. So I got the upright, got into terrible trouble – it was in Exchange Flags. And there was a bomb scare, IRA bomb scare, right in the middle of the live show, so we all had to run out, and then we were all told to go home. Well, I lived in London at the time. So Alberto then insisted I travelled back to London with him first class. And then when my claim for a first class travel went in I got into really hot water, and I was booted off that to what was considered Siberia at the time, which was a programme called Down to Earth, the local farming programme.

Oh, yes.

Where under the guide of the wonderful, wonderful Arthur Taylor, I had one of the happiest years of my time in Granada. Because here was an opportunity where the brief was farming, which in itself was fascinating to me, but also the countryside. And it meant that on a Monday morning I was allowed to get in a hire car – can you believe I had a hire car? – and drive up to the Lake District where I discovered a self-sufficient farm with two kind of hippies with only two cows, one called Ronald and one called Margaret, you know, Reagan and Thatcher, and then make a film about them. And directors would be assigned, I’d put it together. And it was just completely fabulous. So I had a great year on that, and then I worked in light entertainment for a bit on an aborted programme called Some You Win. But got to meet… the greatest point of that year really was meeting and having lunch with Denis Law, which was just, kind of, for me, it was the first genuine starstruck moment of my year and a half in Granada. It was fabulous. And then I constantly tried to write at Granada, because I was a writer, really. I’d written my first movie, he said precociously, but I had – and I’d been paid some money for it as well, which is pretty amazing, with the glorious, late, lamented Derek Jarman, another fantastic encourager of young talent. It seemed to be a thing in those days for some people. Actually, particularly gay men were fantastic encourages of… they didn’t have this heterosexual, sort of competitive… of course they were competitive, but even that they kind of managed to… They weren’t looking over their shoulder to see what was coming next, for the wrong reasons. They were looking over their shoulder to bring them on. 

So I had gone to see Howard Baker. I’d done a law degree, unfortunately, and I went to see Howard Baker and I said, “I think Crown Court is one of the great shows, I’d love to write for it.” And he was absolutely gobsmacked at the gall of this pink-head, dagger-in-the-ear individual coming into his office. And I was just summarily dismissed, which was very uncharacteristic of Granada actually, in those days. But to be fair, I believe he wasn’t very well at the time. And I called my friend, Jerry Hagan, who I’d met years before, who didn’t seem at all surprised that I’d ended up at Granada. And he had told me to go and see Bill Podmore, and I wrote with a friend of mine who later went on to write for EastEnders. We wrote a trial script for Coronation Street, when I was on Granada Reports. And the response was, the writing was great, but we were too young. And my argument was, “What are you talking about? You’ve got 15-year-olds. You’ve got 20-year-olds. How come the 50-year-old guys writing on this can write for them, and I can’t write for the 50, 60, 70-year-old characters? I’ve got grandparents.” So, that didn’t happen. But Bill, bless him, a couple of years later, at the end of my time on entertainment… oh, I know what happened at the end of entertainment. Some chums of mine from university came up to do a show called Alfresco. And I was the researcher on it, which was very odd because they were a year or so junior to me at Cambridge, but I’d worked with some of them and I knew them all. And here I was suddenly, they were the stars and I was the researcher, but it was a great time.

Was this with Sandy Ross?

Sandy Ross was producing.

Yes. Morrison was in…

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

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

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

Indeed.

But it was much more wonderful than that. Because Scully was already a household name on Liverpool radio. And people forget that. That’s where the show came from. And it’s a comment on The Kop. It’s a beautiful comment on The Kop. A lot of them had heard the show, they knew what it was about. This aspirant boy who wanted to play for Liverpool, all that sort of stuff. And we shot a title sequence of Drew running out with Kenny (Dalglish) and all those legends. I was on the pitch, I couldn’t believe it, with the camera. And I swear to you, I almost started crying, because he ran out, the crowd knew what was going to happen, but suddenly, the crowd started spontaneously chanting, “Scully, Scully.”

“There’s only one Franny Scully, one Franny Scully!” I was there chanting.

But it was spontaneous.

Yes.

How wonderful is that?

Yes.

It’s like when Bleasdale after Boys From the Blackstuff went out and they got chants of “Gizza job”, it’s the same thing. So, sorry, Steve, you can’t take credit for that. I know you want to.

I tell you, he says that he scoured some of the pubs, he and Dennis Mooney went around some of the pubs in Liverpool. And so where fans met and worked out a lot of these songs and they put the word out. No, no, okay.

Well, maybe that’s true, but maybe… I don’t know. I take the fifth. Yes. Then I persuaded Bill Podmore to commission… funny enough, the chap who had written the play that we took to Edinburgh, where I met Jerry – these things always go in circles – persuaded him to let us… on the InterCity train, you’ll remember this, from London to Manchester, there was this wonderful guard back in the early 80’s, who practically told stories. He was, I think, of West Indian descent. And he was just amazing, you know he’d go, “Ladies and gentlemen in carriage number D, the lady there with her daughter, that’s her first granddaughter, congratulations.” Stuff like this. And Plowright had heard him as well. We invented this character called Shakespeare, who was a guard on the InterCity. And we invented a sitcom called The Train Now Leaving that was set in the buffet bar of an InterCity 125, when they used to cook. And it was deemed that technically, they couldn’t deal with the windows in those days. The Chroma key just was too old fashioned. We then transported it to a greasy spoon, but that didn’t really work. But Podmore had commissioned two scripts off us, that was great. But I had to go on unpaid leave to do that, because it was very complicated. You couldn’t do it under a Granada staff contract because of the rights situation. So I was on unpaid leave for most of that year. And then towards the end of the year, just before I came back, I got a phone call from Jules Burns, saying that they were having a director’s board in the next month.

This would be what year?

1984. I applied for the director’s board within about four months of being at Granada and had been told by Margaret Beckett… 

Where were you? Jules had invited you to a board but you’d been fairly precocious and had applied after a couple of months?

Yes. Well, you don’t want to be going into all of that, but yes, the long and the short of it is, I got it, which was great, because I think there was a kind of… if you were ambitious in the way that I, and several other people were at Granada, there was a glass ceiling that you reached. And if you didn’t hit certain landmarks as it were, if you were that ambitious, you had to leave. It was clear to me that if I… the director’s board only came up every two years or so. And I’d now written another movie script with Derek Granger, A Handful of Dust. And what I felt was within Granada, because in a sense, it was quite a small company. That was one of its really good and bad things. It was like a small village. I felt that if you, not me, if you didn’t get that board at a certain point, you weren’t going to get it. It had been decided. They knew you well enough, you know what I mean?

Yes. I think you’re right.

And therefore… so it was a really important board to me, because I knew if I didn’t get it… and listen, I’d just spent nine months in London. I’d been out of the Granada loop. But basically I thought, “If I don’t get this, I’m off, and I’ve now got two years of Granada under my belt, got two movie scripts under my belt, I’ll start again.” But fortunately I got it. And I say fortunately, because it was one of the best training schemes of any company in the country, including the BBC, I think. Because it was ITV, because it was Granada, it was different to the BBC. I know people who came through very successfully through the BBC, but yes, that was then. We had six months with the late great John Slater, the maverick, wonderful John Slater, and the ying and the yang… David Liddiment, who are just being another… I think to get this job in the end, there’s no such thing as a researcher on a drama project, there’s no such thing, as John Temple told me when he took over Alfresco. I didn’t want to do another series of Alfresco. It was like, “I’ve done it.” And the job of researchers like being a… it was great. It’s like being a big assistant. And so, I didn’t work with John Temple. Lovely old John Temple called me and said, “I don’t understand what a researcher does on a show like Alfresco.” I said, “Nor do I John.” And he said, “Well, I won’t be using you.” I went, “That’s okay.” But I did it on that. I did it on Scully, and I did it on There’s Something Wrong in Paradise with Kid Creole. Three of the craziest months of my life ever at Granada. Working with August Darnell and David. August Darnell’s bodyguard had threatened to break a marble table over my head in the Britannia hotel. He was immediately fired and August appointed me as his body guard, which at about seven stone 12, just under six foot… when I worked on a building site once, my nickname was brittle, because I wasn’t… anyway, I had to look after August, that was my job to get him into the shoot every day or rehearsal, every day. And the mad, glorious Karen Black and get them… make sure they’re all right and everything. But after… August, we would get back to the Britannia hotel, where I’d been installed in a room at six o’clock after working and then August would say, “Okay, I’ll see you at 11.” It’s like, “What?” At 11 o’clock he wanted to go out, and we would go out. He didn’t drink very much. We’d go out from 11 till four or five in the morning. And then going to work at nine. After three days of this, I was absolutely shattered. I didn’t… I thought he was a marvel, that he could survive on three hours sleep, until the fourth day when David had some urgent script, which he biked up to the hotel. And I was told to go knock on August’s door, who’d always told me not to disturb him. I thought for other reasons, but I went and knocked on his door and the bugger answered the door. He was asleep. He went back to the hotel at six o’clock every night and slept till half past 10. I had to start doing that, it was the only way to survive. I went through this weird three months of going back to the Britannia at six o’clock, going to bed getting up at half 10, going out till four or five in the morning and then going to bed, maybe for an hour and then getting straight to work. Anyway…

Were you working with David Liddiment as well?

Yes. I was assisting David Liddiment. But basically it entailed running out of the director’s box to go and get cigarettes. That was the long and the… it was great fun and the staff were mature. I helped Morrison with the script. We’d go to script meetings with Mustapha and Morrison and Morrison was another of those who wasn’t blind to the fact that I seemed to be writing as well. A lot of people in television categorise you as what you are. You’re a researcher, you’re make up, you’ve got no other talents. If you’re a writer, you can’t direct, if you’re a director you can’t write, but actually it’s absolute bollocks. Yes, that was great. And Pauline Black from The Specials. She was amazing. And then the Three Degrees, who took me out for dinner one night, just fabulous. One of them, Valerie, wanted to marry me. She was married obviously, but they were just wonderful, flirty, gorgeous, amazing women. So, Granada offered you the opportunity. Who else was going to have dinner with the Three Degrees for fuck’s sake? In the Yang Sing.

Ah, the famous Yang Sing. And okay. So are we beginning to get to the tail end of that Granada career?

No, just the beginning really.

All right then. Go on, carry on. 

Because I became a director. Did the director’s course, which was fabulous. And then Granada were brilliant because you went through everything. You did live TV with Granada Reports, or a chat show, and then we started in children’s TV, both with Spencer Campbell and myself. He was the other director, trainee director. And then we went into light entertainment where I did Busman’s Holiday, flew around the world, worked with a legend that is Johnny Hamp. Wonderful, wonderful man. Another encourager. And eventually got to the pinnacle which was Coronation Street. That’s what you wanted. And Corrie was the greatest training ground for drama directors as is EastEnders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks. But a wonderful, wonderful training ground. I had a year on Corrie which I absolutely loved. And then did Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwick. I did a drama documentary about the three final weeks of Margaret Thatcher’s reign with Ray Fitzwalter, which was a different experience for me.

Why?

Well because it was becoming from a factual, World in Action background. The challenge as a drama director was to make… it had to be true. So we had to make it work within what we were given because Ray and the journalists had to be able to stand up and say, “But this happened. We’re not making it up.” But it was my first lesson in politics where Geoffrey Howe wouldn’t talk to us, but he made sure that, I think it was Peter Harris, or (??34:26) Harris, I can’t remember which, his personal, private secretary spoke to production at length. And there’s a scene where he’s watching the cricket, test match, and writing his speech. That was the ‘slaughtered by lamb’ speech, in the end, slagging Thatcher off. And this came from his assistant who was with him. And the show went out and then on the Late Night Review or Newsnight, Geoffrey Howe just pulled it to pieces and said, “I’ll give you one example. I’ll give you one example. How the hell would they know if I was sitting there watching the cricket, writing that speech?” And I’m like, “What did he just do?” And it was just amazing that he got out his version of the story through his PPS and then just totally disowned it. So yes, and then really my Granada career came to an end. I was very upset because I left sort of unofficially. When you left, there was this great tradition at Granada. Someone in graphics would do a fantastic picture for you and then someone would go around with a tatty brown, internal envelope and collect about three quid, and buy you a box of Quality Street. But it was the thought that counted! 

But I’d been approached by Morrison after I directed various dramas for Sally Head. And I was approached by Morrison, who said, “You’re going to go off and do a movie. And that’s really going to annoy me if you do it with someone else. So I want you to go and see Pippa Cross and see if you’ve got an idea that she wants to make. She’s the new head of film.” So I was sent down to see Pippa and I pitched her the movie Jack and Sarah, which they immediately commissioned. But it then meant when we actually got into production… a year and a half seems so quick now, but it felt like an eternity at the time, a year and a half later, I had been retired from Granada because I couldn’t make a movie, obviously. And all I remember saying to Steve Morrison is, “Where’s the fucking internal envelope? Where’s the picture from graphics? Are you serious? I’ve been here for 10 years. No internal…” Anyway. So yes. So the end of my career at Granada really was making a movie.

And what year was this?

The movie was shot in 1994.

So you left in ‘94?

Yes.

And who actually made the movie? 

PolyGram.

PolyGram. Right, okay. So there was no Granada input in that at all?

Well they produced it, and Morrison’s an executive producer. The classic Granada way. They put as little money into it as possible. That’s the way it was. But I’m hugely grateful because in the end, Granada launched my movie career. That’s what happened. And that was entirely down to Morrison. He’d already made two films, and they just made… three films. They’d just made My Left Foot and spurred on by the success of that. “Don’t go to London and make film. Do it with us.” Which is great.

Did you come across people like the Bernsteins very much? Or the Plowrights and…?

Plowright, very much so. Plowright, yes. I didn’t get the reference at the time, but I realised it was the reference to the painting, the Girl with a Pearl Earring. They used to call me the boy with the diamond earring. And the flat… Plowright used to have these dinners and he wanted to meet people he wouldn’t necessarily meet. And I remember I was summoned up to this dinner with David, and there were drama directors and me. And I’d been at the company for about five months so I think I was in line for him, too, at this stage so I… but Plowright had phoned Derek Granger and said, “Who’s new? Who shall I meet?” And Derek said, “Oh, you should meet Tim Sullivan.” So I was called up to the dinner and I kept very quiet. And I thought Plowright was kind of wonderful, very charismatic. And I remember it really well because Sadat was shot in the middle of dinner. And, as I say, I was horribly ambitious young man and everyone ran out of the room except for Plowright. So I stayed rooted to the spot. So I thought, “Oh, now I can talk to him.” And I’d had this, as I say, I’d met Alan Bennett a few months before, so maybe this was nine months into my time. I can’t remember though. Maybe it was longer. Maybe it was nine months. Maybe I was on the farming programme by now. Anyway, I could easily find out. Just find out when Sadat was shot. And I got to meet Alan Bennett, and we’d become sort of pally through Susan Brooks who lived up in Giggleswick with him. One night I was in my flat in Palatine Rows. Horrible little flat. I lived below Rob Cad, not that that made it horrible. And I had been watching, as you do, was really exhausted watching late night darts and I fell asleep on the bed. It’s a tiny bedsit-type flat. And I woke up about half an hour later, said “I better go to bed.” Went to clean my teeth. Came back into the bedroom, television’s obviously off. Got into bed and then this voice said from the television, “Don’t forget to switch your set off.” I almost jumped through the roof! And I switched my set off. And this was, unbeknownst to me… obviously in those days, there was a close down around about 12:00, 12:30 whenever, until the morning. And this was a safety announcement that went out every night. I knew nothing about it. So I had this mad idea, which I pitched to Plowright that night. And my idea was… do you want to hear this, or…?

Yes, yes. This is good stuff. 

My idea was… it’s more of a reflection on Plowright than me. My idea was that when you heard that announcement, one day, instead of hearing that announcement, because you didn’t want people to turn the TV off, you’d hear the sounds of someone clearing up, and a voice going, “Oh, what a bloody mess.” Then nothing would be said, and then nothing would be said, and then a couple of days later, you’d hear this tap on the microphone. “Hello? Hello?” And this bloke would start to talk. His mate had told him that he was… and he’d go, “Gerard, can you hear me?” The idea was that a cleaner at Granada would take over the continuity booth for about 45 seconds and do a comic monologue, and I’d phoned Alan Bennett, and Alan Bennett agreed to do it. So, I pitched this to Plowright. He absolutely loved it. That was the mark of the man. Here I was farming researcher or whatever, willing to listen. We actually never got around to doing it, but it made a mark on him. Then about a year and a bit later, I turned up and said… Alan was then working with the BBC, and Joan, who’s David’s sister, had just been in a play called Enjoy in the West End. And I’d managed to get Bennett’s latest TV play out of him. I went up to Plowright and said, “How would you feel if you can have Alan Bennett’s next screenplay?” He said, “We’d love to get him from the BBC.” So, I produced it from my briefcase and gave it to him, and Granada bought it and then their politics happened, and then it happened. So David was intrigued by me, I think it would be fair to say. There were a lot of great, encouraging people, and Plowright was one of them.

What about Mike Scott?

Mike didn’t like me. I never knew why.

Probably the pink hair.

I think it was also the relationship with Granada. I hear at some point he’d said to someone, “What’s going on? Is he sleeping with him or what?” Because it was quite a homophobic place in those times, I think. Yes, Scott didn’t like me, he told me he didn’t like me. I didn’t know what I’d done. I hardly had any dealings with him. He fought single-handedly to not give me the director’s job, according to Morrison, who said I had to go and make peace, which I did try to, only to be rebuffed with, “You make one mistake, you’re out of here.” I went, “Oh, okay.” But I don’t know. So, I never really got to the bottom of it. I did get my revenge though, because we did a telethon, one of the first telethons for ITV about a year or two later. I was directing The Street at the time and I had to do a live section in the middle, which was in the middle of the telethon, Doris Speed coming back to The Rovers out of her retirement. I went down to see her in makeup, and I explained to her what I wanted her to do, and was very reassuring, very confident – confident, seducing, all the great skills that a young director has – and she was like putty in my hands. Then after I left makeup, one of the makeup women came up to me and said, “I’m really sorry, Tim, but do you know what Doris said as you left?” I said, “No.” She said, “She said to me, what did that nice man say? I didn’t have my hearing aid in.” Anyway, the introduction to this was Mike Scott on The Street doing a piece to camera, because of course he used to be a presenter. I made him do 23 takes. Second take was absolutely fine, which I said at the end of this. He was getting very frustrated by the end of it. At the end of it, I went, “No, it’s fine, we’ll use take two,” and just walked off. “Gotcha, mate.” Liddiment was appalled.

Because he was a very good presenter.

He was. He worked with Derek Granger on cinema, I think on the cinema, but also Scene At 6:30. Derek said, “The great thing about Mike was he always asked the question that the audience wanted.” He instinctively knew. And so they had the Rothschilds, can you believe, one of the senior Rothschilds, on Scene At 6:30 at one point. Derek says, “And whatever you do, we’ve been told by the PR people, whatever you do, don’t ask them about being rich.” Well, of course, halfway through the interview, “What’s it like having all that money?” Actually, there’s another anecdote I’m going to tell about Derek, because Derek was a legend, as you know, and you’ve interviewed him. So, you know. It’s a story Derek doesn’t tell very often. But Bill Grundy was one of his presenters, and Bill, as we all know, had a terrible drink problem, and used to get howlingly drunk in the Film Exchange, which was a bar near Granada. In the seventies, Derek Granger made a show called Country Matters based on H. Bates short stories. What people don’t know about that programme is it was the first drama worldwide that had been entirely shot on film. All other dramas in America and this country all been shot in studio with film inserts, but Derek managed to persuade foremen to let him make Country Matters entirely on film. Alan Parker, Sir Alan Parker, the filmmaker, told me at a dinner once that he owed his career to Derek Granger because watching Country Matters changed his life in terms of his ambition. So, he was a forward thinker. Brideshead was supposed to be studio and film, and Derek said, “Well, I’m not making it like that.” Anyway, Derek, as everyone knows, is gay, and during the filming of Country Matters, he had the new cast, including the wondrous late Susan Fleetwood, and they went off and corroborated the story. They went off to the Film Exchange to have dinner on their first night. Derek’s not a very tall chap, not particularly camp, but gay. They went up to the Film Exchange, and there at the bar was Bill Grundy, who stood up and proclaimed all his… he obviously didn’t like Derek, I think he was jealous of Derek or something, this terrible homophobic diatribe, which I won’t even repeat. I wouldn’t give it the kind of credence to repeat it, came out from Grundy. I mean, just awful, virulent stuff, in front of, I don’t know, 150 people, lots of Granada people there, and Derek’s new cast. He turned to the cast, who were sort of ashen, and said, “Please, go back to the Midland. We’ll have dinner there,” went up to Bill Grundy, the cast got to the door and then stopped. Derek Granger went up to Bill Grundy. Bill Grundy said, “What have you got to say to me now then, you faggot?” Derek just punched his lights out and decked him on the floor and then just turned around and walked out. It was like, “Derek?!” Cast loved him from that moment. 

There was, as you say, a number of people that talked about the homophobia at Granada at this time, which is probably simply a reflection of what society was like. 

Well, I look back on it and I think I was probably a horrible little shit, but I had and I have, a lot of gay friends. I’m quite camp. I’m not gay, but I’ve always had gay friends. When I went to Granada, before the pink hair, which I guess didn’t help, Derek Granger would frequently come into the newsroom and go, “Tim, darling, do you want to come to the Oldham Theatre tonight?” And I’d go, “Oh, all right, I’ll see you downstairs.” And this happened quite a lot. And Derek was obviously a legend. He was doing this huge production, and here was this boy. Derek had met my girlfriend, he’d been round to my house in London. It obviously upset me, I’m not going to name names, because they will be embarrassed and probably deny it now, but I got a lot of stick in that newsroom for that. To the extent that when my girlfriend paid her first visit to Granada, a couple of months after I’d started – because I always used to go to back to London for the weekend .

Yes. Yes. And bullying?

No, never encountered it. I didn’t.

No, no.

I’ve always been… I worked with producers I did not like working with. But I wouldn’t say I was bullied. I don’t recall anyone… it wasn’t in my experience. But that’s not to say it didn’t happen.

Okay. Do you want to talk a bit about directing Coronation Street?

Oh, wonderful. In the old days there used to be a thing called Weekly Rep, in the theatres. Where they would do a different play every week, with the same cast. They’d learn, before the advent of great television and stuff. And Corrie are the greatest ever weekly repertory company in the world. They’re an amazing bunch, and some really fine actors in there. We had it quite easy in those days, it was more studio based than it is now. But I remember one story that was, amazingly, kept out of the press. In those days we used to film on a Monday morning, block on a Monday afternoon, there was only two episodes, I think. Block the two episodes on a Monday afternoon, and then Tuesday, all day we’d rehearse. Wednesday morning we’d rehearse, Wednesday afternoon we’d have producers’ run, the writers/producers came. Thursday morning was any additional filming or off, then studio Thursday afternoon and Friday. Then edit, we didn’t dub Corrie in those days. Edit on the Monday, into the Tuesday. About halfway through… We used to record on these great big two and a half inch tapes, video tapes, that were in great big box type things. We sat down on the Monday morning, pulled the tape up, and it had to be the wrong tape, there was nothing on it. But it was marked up the right tape. So we pulled up another tape, there was nothing on it. And it was marked up as the right… we had lost all of Thursday, and half of Friday’s studio recording. And it was quite clearly an act of sabotage. It was so serious that within an hour, Plowright, Scott, I can’t remember who else, were in the editing room, double checking that this had happened, talking to the technical people, who, I seem to remember… in those days, if you had a tight tape like that, and you got a great big magnet and you wiped it over the tape, you could wipe it. Something had happened, and it was deliberate, was their opinion. But of course, we now had this problem, because we went out three weeks after the shoot. So, I had to go to the producers’ run on the Wednesday, and announce to the cast that on the Thursday they would be starting in the morning, instead of the afternoon. And then at three o’clock I would take over the cameras till 10 o’clock at night, and redo the previous week. All the cast were fraught. Liz Dawn came up and said, “You don’t understand, I can’t do that. I forget the weeks before, it’s gone, so I can get the new weeks in.” And I was saying to everyone, “Don’t worry. We’ll be…” And you know what, we shot the first scene in one take, and suddenly it was like being in the lifeboats. Everyone was going, “Oh my god they just did…” And we just all rattled through it. And it was just a great, great day. How it never got into the press, I have no idea, because it was a big deal.

Yes. Did you ever find out who sabotaged…

No, it was an absolute mystery. There was an inquiry. It had to be someone technical. Was it someone who had been fired? Was it someone who was leaving? No one knew or, as I always used to say, was it a mistake? And then someone went, “There are checks, you can’t not record the show. It’s not possible.” So the mystery of the missing tapes that to this day has been unrevealed. Actually, the only other thing I did on Corrie, was when Curly lost his virginity. Got a dreadful amount of hate mail for that, because it was with a mixed race girl. It was shocking, absolutely shocking. But, by mistake, on the audio tape, the way we dubbed the titles, it was a copy of the original recording session spilled through, and I found this amazing extra tape that had an extra 40 seconds. It was a cornet solo of the theme, and it just fit Curly losing his virginity so well. So we called up to Plowright and got permission, and it went out and it was wonderful. It must exist somewhere. But yes, great. I was very sorry to leave it. In fact, when I left – again, this is a classic example of Granada, the paternalism of Granada – after my last week on the Street, I was called up to Morrison’s office, who by now was the director of programmes. And sat down, and he said, “Look, I’ve got something really exciting to tell you. Something really interesting. It’s come down from Plowright. I completely agree with it. We’d like you to take over from Bill Podmore, producing The Street.” And I went, “What?” And he said, “Yes.” The Street, eight years earlier, I’d been too young to write it, but now… and I said, “What are you talking about?” And he said to me, “It’s like, this is like giving you the crown jewels. We want…” And I went “But Steve, I’m a director. You’ve invested all this money in me. That’s what I want to do.” “No, but you know, you could go back to it.” I said, “You know very well, that if I produce Coronation Street, I will never be allowed to go back to directing.” And he went, “You don’t understand, David Plowright is saying… this is huge, you’re very young. This is a big thing. This is a big deal.” I went, “I completely appreciate it’s a really big thing. And I’ll phone David, and I’ll say how terribly grateful I am, but I’m not doing it.” And Steve was gobsmacked. He said, “What do you mean you’re not doing it? I’m telling you, you’re doing it.” I went, “I’m not fucking doing it! End of. I’m not doing it. I don’t want to. Thank you, but no.” To which Steve then said, “Well, what do you want to do?” And I said, “I’ve done The Street, now, obviously, I want to direct film drama,” to which he replied, “What if I tell you I’ll never let you direct film drama if you don’t produce The Street?” And I went, “Oh, Steve, you don’t do threats very well. Come on.” Then he laughed and went, “All right, fuck off.” And that was it, I didn’t get it. But it was funny because, between you and me, it got around that I’d been offered it because I was told I couldn’t refuse it in the moment. I had to take few days. And Mervyn Watson desperately wanted to come back to The Street. He was phoning Spencer going, “Is Tim going to do it?” And Spencer’s going, “No. He’s a director, he doesn’t want to do it.” But it was that thing of I had a really good time on The Street. They had really liked me. And it made sense to the way Granada worked. That’s the way Granada worked. “Oh, that went well. He’s brilliant. Let’s get him to produce it.” And of course, it was incredibly flattering. I was very respectful. Those are the decisions that can affect the rest of your career.

Your time on The Street was…

Hilda Ogden leaving.

Oh gosh, did you do that? 

I think Rick Mellis did the actual… but I did the hospital episodes leading up to, I think Rick did the actual episode.

You didn’t do Stan dying?

No.

No.

No. I did a miscarriage. I did a stabbing, I think. Oh, no, I didn’t do stabbing, I did Gail and Brian marrying for about the fifth time.

And you were pre the watershed, when The Street suddenly came into the late 20th century.

Yes. Yes. Yes. I mean, it needed a big overhaul. And then when Brian Park was offered it, because Avery Bryant was a great friend, he was in two minds as to whether to do it. And having been offered it myself, because I’d thought about what it would mean, and I said, “You’re crazy. You have to, have to do it. But you have to make an impact. You can’t just go and do it for a year and just have it on your CV. You’ve got to change it. You’ve got to be seen to have done something. Because it’s there for the taking.” It’s such a brilliant group of writers. The storyline editor was, when I was The Street, was Paul Abbott. And whatever happened to him? Kay Mellor was on it. Bill had a really collegiate sort of way of dealing with the writers. You have people like John Stevenson, Julian Roach, Peter Wally, I mean, these were top, top notch writers, really terrific, terrific stuff. And great cast, Roy Barraclough, I loved Roy. And Thelma Barlow. I went see Thelma acting in the Bristol Old Vic. I went to see Roy do his Death of a Salesman in Nottingham. Really, very talented, very thoughtful. Roy and Julie had a storyline, the characters Bet Lynch and Alec Gilroy. But she got pregnant, which everyone thought was a bit odd because they were quite getting on. And they were uncomfortable with it. Then they had this emotional scene. There was a kind of problem, The Street was commissioned in blocks of writing. And so we encountered a scene where the week before, in an episode I hadn’t done, Bet had lost the baby. And then the week after, there was the same with Roy and Julie, where no mention was made of it. And that was because it was in the break between the writing blocks. So, Bill sorted it out, got a new scene room. But Julia and Roy said, “Look, it’s nicely written, but it’s kind of embarrassing. It’s just like, I just don’t believe this.” And so I said to them, “Well, you know what? Let’s do it that way. Let’s do it that your characters can’t quite believe this. Let’s play the absurdity of it.” And they one take just… they got it straight away. They totally got it. Proper instinctive actors.

Yes. Yes. Just moving on slightly, coming from the south, from London, did you find that role just… I mean, we talked a lot, a lot of people talked about Granada as a northern company, being very much obviously based in Manchester, but being very much about the north. Did that strike you when you came from London? Well, did you see it just as another regional TV company?

No, no, no. I thought I had it great identity. Of course, it had two of the worst football clubs in the world. But aside from that, it took a while to get used to because it’s like going to a new school, isn’t it? Before I made friends, I didn’t really understand it. So I would pootle off to London as soon as I could. As soon as I got the director’s job, I left London, I moved to Manchester and bought a house because I thought, “I could embrace this,” which was great. Another great encourager at Granada, when I’d worked on Granada Reports, I’d struck up a rapport with Tony Wilson. I wasn’t alone there, many, many people did. And so, within a few months, I didn’t have anywhere to live. I ended up living in Tony’s house with him one summer. So, I quickly had the virtues of the north west and Manchester and the endlessly repeated story of driving down to present Nationwide and turning around at Watford Gap station. If I had a pound… but I loved Tony, as did most people. He became a great, great friend, as he did with many people. When I came up to direct Cold Feet, he was one of the first people that got in touch, we went out for dinner. Manchester clearly had a really interesting cultural identity, which Granada was very responsive to. And you had these wonderful filmmakers, like Peter Carr who made City, the documentary, which is like the golden age of documentaries. And then in local television, you had people, all those from the north east, like Tony Bully, making programmes like This England, which were great portraits of the north west by people who were interested in the north west and understood it. Local programmes, I would stick my neck out and go local programmes might have been a chore for other broadcasters in the ITV network, but it was a fundamental of Bernstein’s ethos. And it reflected that, it was a north west company that made really good programmes about and for the north west. My favourite story of Sidney…tell me if Helen McMurray’s told you this. She was working in Globe & Simpson, which was the building opposite Granada, which, colloquially, used to be known as Pearl & Dean. And we were making a show called Reports Action, with Bob Greaves, first of the local kind of telethon. We did them pre-Comic relief, pre all of those things. And Helen was the researcher and she’d been sent over to that big room in Globe & Simpson to set up the office. And she was having a really bad day. The desks hadn’t arrived. She had one desk. She had one phone. None of the whiteboards arrived. There was supposed to be an exchange of about… because they took loads of phone calls to take money. There’s supposed to be a little mini switchboard, yada, yada, yada, yada. She was in a really, really bad mood. And this old man wandered in off the street wearing an overcoat and a little sort of trilby hat. And she thought, “Oh fuck, this is all I need.” 

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

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

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

“Well it raises money for local charities.” 

“Please, could you go?”

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

This conversation went on for about five minutes, at which point he left and she thought, “Oh thank fuck.” Half an hour later, the doors are knocked down. There’s 25 workmen. There are desks flying in, there are phones coming in, switchboards coming in, whiteboards. It all happened. And she turned to the producer and said, “What the fuck happened?” She said, “Well, you told Sidney there was a problem.” And he came into the building and stripped an ear off someone. That was Sidney. I never met him. Derek had a very close relationship with Sidney. They used to holiday together. He was very tight with Sidney and his wife, but then they had a situation and they had this beautiful Oliver Messel design garden and house in Barbados. And they were held up at gunpoint one holiday, and Sidney’s wife refused to go back, but he loved it. So he used to go there regularly and on occasion, Derek will go with him, and meet wonderful people like Claudette Colbert. Has he told you the story?

No.

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

That’s a good story. So a final question, what kind of a company was Granada to work for? Was it a good company, bad company?

It was a really good company. It was an innovative company, but it made its mind up about you in a way. It categorised you.

Yes, it did.

And as I say, rightly or wrongly, I would’ve left Granada after that directors’ board, because what it meant was, it wasn’t that they weren’t giving it to me then, they were probably never going to give it to me, probably. You reached the threshold. And that’s a kind of criticism in a way. I look back on it, a friend of mine went to the RSC at the same time as I went to Granada, he’s become a film director. We both were at school together, we both came out of university together. Well, he’s a bit older than me. And when I was at Granada and he was at the RSC, we didn’t see each other for a few years. And then when we met, we’re still great friends to this day, I said to him, “Talking to you about the RSC, Granada was my RSC.” That’s what it was. And it was an extraordinary company. And that influence of the Bernsteins ran all the way down. It was a very caring company. I remember I was sent off, I was researching Arts Quiz for Nicholas Ferguson. And I was sent to interview Patrick Heron, the great artist, in Chelsea, and I went to meet him to be a guest on the show. Delightful man. Lived mostly in Cornwall, did those big abstracts, and we had one in committee room B.

Yes, yes.

And when I got back to go and look at it, I was appalled to see that on the bottom right hand corner, there was a huge spray of dried coffee. No respect. So I called Plowright. I said, “I’ve just been to see Patrick Heron. I don’t think it’s going to do arse shit, but what do you think he would think?” It’s not a glass in case, this is on the canvas. The coffee’s on the canvas. “What the fuck do you think he’d say if he came up to Granada and saw that painting?” And the painting was gone within a week and restored and was back. That’s what Granada was like. Mind you, by the same token, my friend James Maw, who became a producer and who I used to do stand-up comedy with before he came up to Granada, said that it was appalling that the Bernsteins had this wonderful art collection and no one knew anything about it. The management didn’t care, no one cared. To prove his point, he did an abstract door, had it framed and hung it up next to the lifts in reception. And it stayed there for 10 years!

Is there anything else you want to talk about?

Not really. I think it was an extraordinary time, and I think that a lot of people got opportunities in the north west they would never have got otherwise. Now they came into the world of TV. It was incredibly good at promoting within… studio cameraman going on to become film cameraman, going on to become DOPs. The one thing it wasn’t any good at was women, I think. I’ve written about this actually in this week’s In The Can thing I do, but I think you’ve read it. The great thing about being a training director was you got different crews who would come in. You had a real problem and it was a kind of weirdly in-built issue that you had to deal with. Several people that you worked with, I think it was helped by the fact that Spence and I both had hair beyond our shoulders at this point. Several people that you work with had applied for the same job, maybe more than once, and felt that they were clearly more qualified to have the job than you, which may well have been true. But you had this extraordinary army of misnomered PAs because they weren’t PA’s at all. They were production assistants, but they were a mix of continuity, production management, directing. They were extraordinary knowledgeable, and you would have someone like Sue Wild or Sue Pritchard coming from Brideshead or coming from Jewel in the Crown who would be with you on a local shoot as a trainee with something that wasn’t going to be broadcast, giving you as much respect and help as they would have Jim O’Brien or Charles Sturridge. And that was extraordinary. And now, several of those women have gone on to become executive producers of Coronation Street, producers of Hollyoaks, producers of Coronation Street, heads of Lime Pictures. So things changed in a good way, but Granada didn’t exactly help that right at the beginning. And they should have done. To an extent, it was a male-dominated world. Sign of the times, I guess. The other thing I’d say is there was a certain pattern to when you became a director. If you got Coronation Street, the next thing as to get on to film and drama. And then really, unless you got a break, like Charles did with The Strike, and getting Brideshead, or Patrick Lau getting Game, Set and Match, once you’ve done a few Sherlock Holmeses, there was a decision to be made. In the right way, really. You’ve got to make way for others coming through. And by the time I became a drama director, the idea of having a drama director on staff had already become a bit antiquated. It didn’t really belong in the modern world. So in a sense, that threshold was a kind of natural one. You could only do so many Bulmers, or so many Strangers, or so many Sherlocks. Although Prime Suspect, sometimes there was a thing where… I mean, I was offered… when I was trying to do Jack and Sarah, I almost did Cracker and Prime Suspect, and I really regret… if I knew then what I know now, about the way films are put together, I would have directed both Cracker and Prime Suspect. But then, you can’t hang around in a drama company, waiting for the next big one to come along, because who knows when they are going to be? You’ve got to go. You’ve got to fly the nest. And it was a nest. 

Alastair Mutch on how he came to join Granada

The wife’s godmother rang me one day and said, “Granada are advertising for an accountant.” I said, “Ooh, sounds more interesting than Nasmith, Coutts.” So I applied, got an invitation to go in and met the assistant chief accountant, who was Bill Dickson. 1965, so I must have struggled through that bit of the interview, and I was brought back to see the chief accountant, who was a chap called J C Robinson, JCR, and he was somebody who liked the title but didn’t really like doing much work, and he threw everything onto Bill, particularly if Sidney came around and asked an awkward question. It would be, “Bill!” So Bill would jump and do it.

Anyway, I went into the interview and Robinson looked at me and said, “Play golf, do you?” I said, “A little.” He said “Bramhall?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I thought I recognised you.” I got the job!  He was chief accountant, not finance director. They didn’t really have them in those days, I suppose. Not that he was on the television board, I don’t think, but Joe Wharton was the finance king at Granada group, Sidney’s right hand.

Well, I walked in the accountants department on the seventh floor. I was assigned to a small group on the cost accounting side, but I suppose it must have been 25, 30 people all together. And of course in those days you didn’t have computers as such. You had a whole Hollerith department, as it was called. And everything was punched into cards. Run through the system and it sorted the cards based on the punch holes and produced all the information that you needed. We had no calculators. Different world, really. Everything was spreadsheets written out by hand and so on. So I worked there for nine months.

I have to say, I’ve always been a bit of a drifter. Fred Boud was general manager. Great fellow. He called me down and said, “Would you like to come and work for me?” I said, “okay”. I was not greatly enamoured of accounts really. So I suppose effectively I was a sort of management trainee. I worked in his outer office and he posted me for overall training to Film Ops with Bill Lloyd, Engineering with Keith Fowler, Design and Graphics under Peter Ash and a brief spell on production with Tim Hewitt. As I say, sort of management trainee, really.

Alastair Mutch on programme budgets

A bit later on, I got put on the board. And then as company secretary, you did a legal report every board meeting, once a month, and you did a little piece, and spoke to the board about what was going on. It would be the late 80s by then. It was a fascinating time. I loved the legal cases – I just found the whole thing fascinating. And Plowright, of course, was in charge by then, Denis having retired, and he was a lively, great character, died far too soon. It was very sad.  To them, the only thing that mattered was good programming. If it made a few bob, so be it. And it’s interesting, they got a chap in, a business executive who went through all the management, but first he went to the board. And he said to them, “What’s your objective?” And they said, “To make the best programmes possible, in all categories.” He said, “No, it isn’t. Your job is to make money.” And of course, come the era of Allen and Robinson, that’s what it was all about. So they were pure programme makers, and they were pretty good at it. Programmes like Brideshead, followed by Jewel were fantastic, but the whole portfolio, Coronation Street, World in Action, Disappearing World, drama documentaries, etc. were all leaders in the network.

You’d had frequent discussions with these guys, I suppose?

Yes. And not always pleasurable, in some respects. Bill Dickson, as I say, was very conscious of the company’s money, and of course the Brideshead budget was six episodes, and I think the budget was £3m. And he asked me to keep an eye on it, and I remember once, in a meeting with Plowright and Derek Granger, I said, “Things are not going well. For example, you’ve hired a pen” – which had to be the exact type of pen used in the 1920s, or whatever – “for £250!” So I was brushed aside, and later, Derek was very cross that I’d raised this issue. But they gave up trying to control it, and it went to 12 or 13 episodes, and it cost about £10m. A lot of money in those days.

Alastair Mutch reflects on his Granada years


I think, overall, I was born at the right time. I think I was extremely lucky. Apart from the first few years of bombs, we had a long era of peace.
I ended up at Granada, which was a fabulous place to work. Then three or four years with Ray (Fitzwalter) and Luise (Nandy) (at Ray Fitzwalter Associates), which was also great. It was a time when the pension was much better than it is now, as a final salary pension. I couldn’t have been born at better time or be luckier, really.


And as I say, I’ve tended to drift, but there had been other occasions where I’ve been offered work which would have gone pear shaped. Bill Dickson, for example, said to me, “If you want to go anywhere, laddy, you’ll have to work at one of the operating companies, theatres or wherever.” And I said, “Well, I’m not going off to another part of the world.” I said, “My wife’s got a job teaching. My girls are in good schools. I’m not going to cause any upheaval. I refuse to go.” Then they sent one of the accountants from upstairs, a chap called Jim Whitaker, a very, very good accountant; much better than me, that’s for sure. And of course, they then sold the company. He was cut off. He lost his Granada contact.


Any individuals that we should remember with fondness from the Granada years?


Well, I suppose if you talk about liking, I mean Fred Boud was a great character. He was a charming man, very kind, thoughtful. And Leslie Diamond I mentioned was absolutely fascinating. Denis Forman was a true giant of television. He could be a bit acerbic at times. One of my early meetings was when they were undertaking a programme called World Tonight, which was a sort of follow on from World in Action. The idea was that it would have three locations, New York, London, Tokyo, or wherever, and look at the same story from different international perspectives. I was involved in the initial costing of it. One day I knocked on Forman’s door. His secretary wasn’t sitting outside so I knocked on the door went in, and he was dictating. I said, “Do you mind if I interrupt for a moment?” And he said, “You already have!” I mean, latterly we became really quite good mates. Because Bill Dickson had been his financial advisor and tax man, and when Bill died, at the funeral, Denis said “Would I take over?” So I became quite close to him and his family over the years until 2013, when he died. Then his wife died later the same year.


Perhaps what is not generally known is that when Plowright was going through the mill, and of course sacked, Denis Forman was Group Deputy Chairman. And I think Plowright felt he could’ve done more to save him.And whether he couldn’t or didn’t want to, I don’t know, but at any rate, Plowright had a very, very bitter taste in his mouth; wouldn’t talk to Forman at all. So having been very close over all those years, it all became very sad at the end. So I don’t think they were really ever reconciled.

Plowright was an impressive man to work with, but in some ways, very naive. He always used to say that Ray Fitzwalter was his conscience, keep him on the straight and narrow. But I remember after Steve had that great success with My Left Foot, Plowright thought the future was feature films. And they called me in to do some costings, and they were proposing to start one a month. I mean both of them are sitting there saying, “Yes, we can do this.” I said, “You cannot do this. It is utterly impossible.” “No, no, no, we can do it.” I said, “You cannot do it.” They said, “All right then, one every three months.” I said, “You can’t do one every three months. Just look the teams you’ve got to get together and the work has to be done; utterly impossible.” Anyway, that scheme died.

Alastair Mutch transcript

Interviewed by Geoff Moore, 6 May 2019.

So take us back to your early life and where you grew up and so on.

Early life was a long time ago! I was born in Wembley, right at the beginning of the war, so it was a fairly lively upbringing. Not that it bothered me at the time, but during the blitz you spent many hours in a shelter outside the front door. House at the bottom of the garden was bombed. We had a V-1 land in a school field behind us. Blew all the windows in, doors, but we were in the shelter and so that was okay. And then I started at the local primary school till I was about seven. I can’t say I was a star pupil. My parents transferred me to a prep school in Harrow, which was okay. Stayed there till 13, and then went to what they call a ‘lesser known’ public school. That was Aldenham School.  Careers advice was a bit different in those days. I went and saw the careers master. I can’t think that he was being paid for this job. He said, “What do you want to do, my boy?” And I said, “I was thinking of accountancy.” And that was on the basis that some of my father’s friends were accountants and they  seemed to be fairly comfortably off. So he said, “Good idea. Here’s a leaflet.” And that was it. That was my careers advice. 

So I went to the Institute of Chartered Accountants with my father and they said, “Yes, fine, you can be an accountant.” You only needed five O-levels in those days. So I left before taking A’s, and they said, “Here’s a place.” I said, “It’s in the city, could I work in the West end?” “Most certainly.” Gave me a note to go and see somebody. And so I started work just opposite Baker Street Station, super little office. But then my father was transferred to work in an office in Hyde, in Cheshire. So we headed north, as I was only earning £4 a week, not much chance of staying put! So I joined a company called Nasmith Coutts  & Co in King Street. I can’t say it was the happiest period of my life. The senior partner was not my favourite man in the world. Strong disciplinarian and very tight on exam leave. For example. The minimum, the bare minimum, that the institute recommended for leave before the final was one month, but most people got three months to prep for their exam. So of course, he gave the four weeks, not even a month, four weeks. By that time, I had gone from £4 a week to £5 per week when I had passed the Intermediate. When I passed the Final I was paid £850 per annum. No mean sum. But as I say, I was not very happy there and the wife’s godmother rang me one day and said, “Granada are advertising for an accountant.” I said, “Ooh, sounds more interesting than Nasmith, Coutts.” So I applied, got an invitation to go in and met the assistant chief accountant, who was Bill Dickson. And you remember Bill, I guess.

I do. What year is this?

1965, so I must have struggled through that bit of the interview, and I was brought back to see the chief accountant, who was a chap called J C Robinson. JCR as he was known was probably before your time, I guess. And he was somebody who liked the title but didn’t really like doing much work, and he threw everything onto Bill, particularly if Sidney came around and asked an awkward question. It would be, “Bill!” So Bill would jump and do it. Anyway, I went into the interview and Robinson looked at me and said, “Play golf, do you?” I said, “A little.” He said “Bramhall?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I thought I recognised you.” I got the job!

Mr Robinson was the chief accountant?

He was chief accountant, not finance director. They didn’t really have them in those days, I suppose. Not that he was on the television board, I don’t think, but Joe Wharton was the finance king at Granada group. Sidney’s right hand.

Okay. So you started work in Manchester?

Yes. So I went into accounts department.

In ‘65. Tell us about that department that you worked in, how many people were working there?

Well, I walked in the accountants department on the seventh floor. I was assigned to a small group on the cost accounting side, but I suppose it must have been 25, 30 people all together. And of course in those days you didn’t have computers as such. You had a whole Hollerith department, as it was called.

Hollerith?

And everything was punched into cards. Run through the system and it sorted the cards based on the punch holes and produced all the information that you needed. We had no calculators. Different world, really. Everything was spreadsheets written out by hand and so on. So I worked there for nine months. I have to say, I’ve always been a bit of a drifter. Fred Boud was general manager. Do you remember him?

I don’t. No.

Great fellow. He called me down and said, “Would you like to come and work for me?” I said, “okay”. I was not greatly enamoured of accounts really. So I suppose effectively I was a sort of management trainee. I worked in his outer office and he posted me for overall training to Film Ops with Bill Lloyd, Engineering with Keith Fowler, Design and Graphics under Peter Ash and a brief spell on production with Tim Hewitt

Yes. But the job was accountant.

No, it was just general management.

Management.

As I say, sort of management trainee, really.

Yes.

And so on. So then I came back and worked fulltime with Fred. I had my first meeting with Sidney Bernstein at that point. I was working in, in the outer office, two secretaries and me. Must have been the end of the long hot afternoon. I lent back and stretched. Sidney walked in right on cue. “Did I wake you up?”

And what did you make of him?

Terrifying!

Yes?

He was God, really. And he had an influence in every sphere of every company he ran. But even more terrifying was his secretary, Miss Hazelwood. If she came on the phone, you were going, “What is it now?” I liked Sidney. But I have to say it was quite similar when you think of the latter period with Robinson and Allen, where the hatchet flew in all directions. It flew quite a bit when I was there. The Sales Manager went, my Chief Accountant went, the Chief engineer went the General Manager (before Fred Boud) went, and Fred Boud was later side-tracked down to films. There were others that I can’t remember.

What period are we talking about?

Late ‘60s. 

Through Sidney? Was it his initiative?

I would think it was Sidney. I was not privy to what was going on in the background, but I would think it was Sidney. So the office manager also went, Dennis Pook. Nearly every departmental head was changed. So it was an interesting time. Once Fred Boud went, a chap called Leslie Diamond came in.

Yes.

Leslie was a great guy. Didn’t do a lot of work, I have to say. You walked into his office. “Oh, sit down. Sit down.” And you would sit down and we start talking about his life, which could fill a book. Comfortably.

What do you mean by that?

Well for example, he’d worked in radio before, and he’d been in Cyprus, and he read out the state of emergency announcement on Cypriot radio. I won’t say he knew Archbishop Makarios, but he certainly knew his brother because his brother, obviously also Makarios, conducted his wedding to a very young girl. He’d only been out a few times, chaperoned by two ladies at all times. And they stayed together until he died. He’d been in the war. He’d been shot down. He had been captured by the Germans. He’d escaped on one of these marches at the end of the war. He set up the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria. He was manager there. It was owned a third Granada, a third Northern Nigerian government, and a third EMI. And another interesting insight into Sidney’s technique. Leslie was obviously new to Granada, and he was asked to do a report. And he said, “Yes, certainly, Mr Sidney. When for?” He said, “Tomorrow morning.” He said, “But you know, it’s afternoon now.” So he worked all night, got a secretary, and produced this report, saw Sidney in the morning, Sidney picked it up, tore it in half, and threw it in the bin. Didn’t even look at it.

God.

Now I can only assume it was testing him under quite extreme pressure, having been up all night and producing this report, and seeing it go in the bin.

So he had no intention of reading it? It was just a test?

Yes, it was just a test. Anyway, he passed, obviously. So he got the job in northern Nigeria and again, you see the things that happened to Leslie. He went back some years later, and was caught in the middle of a military coup. He was briefly held with a man called Sir Abubaker Tafawa Balewa, the Nigerian Prime Minister, shortly before was murdered in January 1966. 

Oh, yes?

Not many people know him.

Not many people know him.

So it was quite a close call. Anyway, he looked after me when worked with him. And then at some point I became office manager, which is not the most exciting job in the world. But you know, I drift along. So I did this for a few years. Trouble with that job, you’ve got a huge number of departments under you, and every time the phone goes, it’s somebody wanting something or complaining about something. People like John Birt, who went on to greater things, wanting a huge amount of space for his programme, Nice Time.

Nice Time was my first job.

So you know John well.

I do. I can imagine that, him wanting the biggest and best.

Yes, yes he did, too. He was never satisfied with what he got, but then nobody was, because I mean, you’ve got so many square feet or even square metres now, so many desks, so many chairs, and you do your best.

You do your best.

So I did that for quite a while, and then continuing the theme of drifting. Bill Dickson by now had become first chief accountant and then finance director. So he invited me into his office and said, “Do you want to come work for me?” So I said, “Okay.” So I went and worked for Bill, so I was back in Accounts, and a lot of budgeting. That was the main thing. But Bill was a fairly complex character. He was a very generous man with his own money, and fiendishly concerned about controlling the expenditure that Granada got involved in. And for example, he would have the accountants day by day, go through every single petty cash claim, which I have to say, in those days, were mostly, purely notional. An electrician, for example, would get up in the morning, get into his notional taxi, go to his place at work, and have his notional lunch and his notional tea, get in his notional taxi, and come home again, much richer than he was when he left in the morning. But if course, the unions at that time were fairly strong.

And there were notional overnights, weren’t there? They would have been quite an expenditure.

There certainly were.

But Bill, his secrecy was almost legendary. Of course, he would go to the board meetings, and all the board reports would be handed out to directors, who would be allowed to see them. And at the end of the meeting, he would collect up every written board paper. He didn’t trust the directors, or their secretaries, or assistants or whoever. It was so confidential. And I remember he tried my patience once. I was doing the annual budget. And as I say, there were no computers. And if you were lucky, you could get hold of a calculator but I didn’t have one in the early days. So the budget was hand-written on these spreadsheets, starting with the existing salaries going right across, cost of living increases, annual increase, and whatever else. So there’s a mass of figures down, a mass of figures across, grand total at the end. And it took ages to rejig if there was a change. Any rate, the one outstanding figure was the figure to be agreed with the unions for the year. And I’m going back a long time, but there were some huge increases. And I was driving home that night, and it came on the news that ITV had settled for… I think it was 16%. It was a huge figure. So I thought, “Right, a lot more work tomorrow morning.” So I went in early and started altering all the spreadsheets. And Bill came in and said, “What were you doing?” I said, “I’m altering all the spreadsheets for the increase.” “What increase?” I said, “Well it’s 16%.” “How do you know?”

Oh, god.

I mean it all been confidential discussions at the highest level. And I said, “Well Mr Dickson. It was on six o’clock news last night.” But he was very good-hearted, very generous fellow. Very talented. He was a very good pianist.

Was he?

Used to play in the flat upstairs at Christmas and entertain the elite. But Bill was also Company Secretary, so this was an area that I found more interesting. And that was the first time I came across this chap called Ray Fitzwalter. And Ray was deep into a legal case for some fellows called John Poulson, T. Dan Smith and also Reginald Maudling. So it’s a really, big heavy case, and I was never involved in that because Ray was reporting to Bill and Jeffrey Maunsell, our lawyer at Goodman Derrick. And of course, then Maudling went and died, and that was the end of that case. Gradually, I moved on to the legal side if you like, which was fascinating. And I think my first case, as it were, was quite interesting. It concerned a local chap who lived in Chorlton, and there was a stream running through his garden, and quite a bit of land and he wanted to develop the land, which adjoined a school. He applied twice to the council, Manchester City Council, and twice he was refused. So he sold the house and moved on. The house was bought by a chap called Harold Tucker, who went on to be Lord Mayor of Manchester, Cecil Ellison, a well-known solicitor, and Tucker’s wife. They applied for planning permission, and lo, and behold, they got it, Tucker being on the Council, his wife being on the Schools Committee. So we suggested that perhaps, or it was Richard Bellfield on local programmes, suggested maybe there was a bit of naughtiness going on. So we put the programme out, and they duly sued us for libel.

Which programme was it?

It was a local programme. Granada Reports, I guess. So we were sued, both the former owner of the house and Granada. So we had two counsel; Richard Rampton, who was our regular man, and a young politician called Leon Brittan. And I have to say Brittan, at that point, that’s probably the most impressive brain I’ve ever met. Obviously I knew all about the case and had studied it endlessly. He’d probably only read the papers once, and you’d make a point, and he’d say, “Ah, yes. But if you turn to such a page, you’ll see that it says…” Yes. I mean, he just absorbed information, but I have to say that counsel said, “You’re not going to win this. You’ve got no evidence.” We said, “Well, you know, things speak for themselves”. Anyway, we kept at it, and in the end, they withdrew. So that was one up to Granada, which was good. But I remember going home and saying to my wife, “I’ve met the future prime minister.” He didn’t quite make it. He became Home Secretary, and then it all went a bit pear-shaped, and he became something very big in Europe, and latterly a lord. Sadly, his life ended in the shadow of that suggestion that he was immoral, which was, of course, totally disproved. But he was a clever man.

This was in the what, early 70s, are we talking?

Yes, it would’ve been, Yes.

And you were in the… legal affairs department.

Yes, and then I suppose another very big one was British Steel. But you’ve spoken to David Boltoun about that?

Yes. Steve interviewed David. Yes.

Yes. I have to say, David made a slight mistake. He said that Lord Denning was for Granada. Now Denning was not for Granada. He was in the Court of Appeal and they unanimously found against us. The situation being that they asked for the return of their papers initially and that was ordered by the judge in the court of first instance. So they we returned them with all the identifying names snipped off. They were a bit upset! Then they wanted to know who’d provided us with the papers and Denning said, “You’ve got to give the answer,” and we said, “We can’t. Journalist privilege.” Then it went to the House of Lords. I mean, Denning subsequently, in one of his books, said with hindsight he would have found for Granada, but the fact is he didn’t at the time. When we went to House of Lords, Patrick Neill (later Lord Neill of Bladen) was lead counsel supported by Derry Irvine, who went on to be Lord Chancellor under Tony Blair. The sadness was that Patrick Neill could only represent us for three days in the Lords. I was there, and he faced these five law lords, all sitting in a semicircle, and he was making our case. For every question posed by one of the law lords, he had an answer and a quote as to why he was right. It was like a headmaster with five pupils, but then he had to go off to New Zealand and Irvine took over. Well, he was all bluster and, to be honest, he was not impressive, shall we say. The case went downhill so it became five headmasters and one naughty schoolboy. It was a complete and utter reverse of the previous three days. He lost the case four to one. Lord Salmon was for Granada. Of course we were still not parting with the information. We were going to be held in contempt of court, at which point I think I was made Assistant Company Secretary or something like that because Bill Dickson had been ill. He’d had a heart attack. If anyone was going to go to jail, it ought to be me. Anyway, shortly afterwards, before anything developed, the mole revealed himself for a large lump of money in one of the national newspapers. The mole turned out to be the chap in the shredding department. So all these papers had gone to the shredder. He’d kept them because he thought they looked interesting, and given them to one of our researchers. British Steel themselves were utterly convinced it was somebody at board level who was the mole. But of course it was the lowest of the low. Why they didn’t suspect that, I don’t know. Fairly obvious where all the papers had gone.

It is.

Anyway, that’s where they ended up.

That period, you mentioned the British Steel case and the Maudling and Gozo and Poulson. I was around. I was on World in Action in the ‘70s and there was quite a lot of litigation in the airs.

Yes.

Was there a tension between journalists and management?

No. Management were absolutely supportive of journalists. I know there were the odd strikes and so on, but if the management thought that the journalist was right, they would support him 100%, often at the expense of the Company as insurers would withdraw our libel insurance cover. For example, if our lawyers said, “You should give in,” and we said no, they wouldn’t fund us.

I see.

I think probably the clearest demonstration of that is about a dentist. He was a man, and we’re going back to the 70s, who was earning £250,000 a year on the National Health, not private. Well, that was impossible. I mean, you’d have to work 24 hours a day on very high quality work. You just could not do it. He sued us. His car registration was JAWS 1. Good one for a dentist. It was getting very close to court.

Sorry. What programme was this?

It was a World in Action.

World in Action.

I’m just trying to think who it was that was involved. It’s escaped my mind. Anyway, the lawyers were saying, “You should give in.” Again, it was a bit like the Tucker and Ellison case. There was no documentary evidence. Just that you couldn’t earn that amount of money. We were summoned to go and see Lord Goodman’s, not to his office, but to his flat in London, and had breakfast with him. Stuart Prebble. It’s Stuart. He said, “Well, you know, my advice is that you concede.” We said, “No, we’re not,” and he said, “Well, get me Denis Forman on the phone.” Lord Goodman spoke to Denis and said, “I recommend that you give in on this one.” He said, “What do my team say?” “They want to fight.” Denis said, “We fight.” On the steps of the court, the dentist withdrew. It was set down and then he just pulled out. Had to pay our costs.

That was the support.

That was the support. It was always strong.

Yes. Yes, I remember that period.

Another interesting one was Willy Morgan. I don’t know if you remember Willie Morgan. He was captain of Manchester United. He also played for Scotland. He appeared on a programme with Gerald Sinstadt talking about football. In his career and he said he had been under Tommy Docherty who was the manager of United, who’d taken over from… what’s his name? The Scot.

Busby.

Matt Busby. Willie said, “I like to think I’ve worked under the best manager in the world and the worst manager in the world.” Obviously meaning Docherty. Docherty was not very happy about this, so he sued Morgan and Granada. Quite an amusing story because I travelled down to the hearing. It’s one of the ones that went to court. Very unusual that libel cases actually get to court. I travelled down on Sunday from Wimslow with Willie. The train was pretty quiet and we had lunch and I have to say I’ve never had service like it on British Rail. The girls were in and out with, “Can I help you? Can I do…” I mean, it was amazing. I said to Willie, “I’ve never had service like this,” and he said, “Well, you know.” Like when you’re famous, these things happen. Then right at the end, one of the waitresses came up and said, “You are Kevin Keegan, aren’t you?”

Bless him.

He was a bit deflated. Anyway, we went into court, and we had a chap called John Wilmers representing Willie and Granada, who was absolutely devastating. You wouldn’t like to be opposite him. Anyway, let’s face it, Docherty is a man who had faced the press all his life, and put down footballers, and put down journalists, and he was King Dick, really. But Wilmers started cross-examining him, and said, “Mr Docherty, should football managers have probity?” He hesitated and said, “Yes.” “Mr Docherty, what is probity?” “Erm… er… I don’t know.” So he was on a slippery slope from then onwards. And then he said lots of things, but witnesses like Denis Law contradicted him, and effectively proved that Docherty was lying. So on the third day of the hearing, he withdrew, and he had to pay our costs. But it was interesting to see those great legal minds in action. 

What was your job title at that time? 

I was company secretary. 

So you would be involved in high-level legal cases? 

Yes. A bit later on, I got put on the board. And then as company secretary, you did a legal report every board meeting, once a month, and you did a little piece, and spoke to the board about what was going on. 

So you had a steady rise through Granada. Is that the right way [of putting it]? 

Yes… I drifted. 

And you ended up on the board in the 80s? 

Yes, it would be the late 80s by then. It was a fascinating time. I loved the legal cases – I just found the whole thing fascinating. And Plowright, of course, was in charge by then, Denis having retired, and he was a lively, great character, died far too soon. It was very sad. 

That was kind of the golden era for Granada, wasn’t it? 

Yes. There was Brideshead, and then there was Jewel in the Crown I did have a quote written down, I was going to read it out It was at a budget meeting with Derek Granger and Plowright in the June, on the Brideshead Revisited drama, and Plowright said to Granger, “You proposed a figure for props marginally in excess of what George III spent on Buckingham Palace,” to which Granger replied, “I intend to structure every day with a bit of mischief; there’s going to be a trembling phosphorescence about it.” Different world, these characters. 

Yes. 

Derek is still alive, of course, he should be interviewed. 

He has been, I think. Not by me, but he has been.

I mean, he is brilliant. 

The Bernsteins, of course, were around in that period.

By then it was Alex. 

But Forman and Plowright had become the double act through that period. 

Yes. 

What’s your opinion of these two characters? 

Very impressive. But not in the form that today’s business takes. Both were totally committed programme makers. To them, the only thing that mattered was good programming. If it made a few bob, so be it. And it’s interesting, they got a chap in, a business executive who went through all the management, but first he went to the board. And he said to them, “What’s your objective?” And they said, “To make the best programmes possible, in all categories.” He said, “No, it isn’t. Your job is to make money.” And of course, come the era of Allen and Robinson, that’s what it was all about. So they were pure programme makers, and they were pretty good at it. Programmes like Brideshead, followed by Jewel were fantastic, but the whole portfolio, Coronation Street, World in Action, Disappearing World, drama documentaries, etc were all leaders in the Network.

You’d had frequent discussions with these guys, I suppose? 

Yes. And not always pleasurable, in some respects. Bill Dickson, as I say, was very conscious of the company’s money, and of course the Brideshead budget was six episodes, and I think the budget was £3m. And he asked me to keep an eye on it, and I remember once, in a meeting with Plowright and Derek Granger, I said, “Things are not going well. For example, you’ve hired a pen” – which had to be the exact type of pen used in the 1920s, or whatever – “for £250!” So I was brushed aside, and later, Derek was very cross that I’d raised this issue. But they gave up trying to control it, and it went to 12 or 13 episodes, and it cost about £10m.

Incredible. 

A lot of money in those days. There was another case that we lost, which still rankles.

Go on.

We didn’t generally lose cases, which is a testament to the research. It was a fairground we made a programme about, they call it The Gaff, and we had people on explaining how they short-changed the customers. The trick was that they count, if it’s a pound and somebody gives them a fiver, they count out the four pounds, fair enough, change, but then they palm one pound and put three in their hand. Of course, they’ve seen the four, so they put the three in their pocket, not knowing they’d been done. It was quite neat. Anyway, Silcock popped up and said it was defamatory of his organisation. We just said, “Well, you’re not identified.” He said, “Oh, yes I am.” There was a shot of a Waltzer going round, and if you were incredibly quick and sharp-eyed, you could just see the name ‘Silcock’ as it flashed by. Anyway the defence to libel is the truth. I was Bill’s assistant at that stage, and he said, “Ray’s got a researcher who can come and help. He’s a barrister, name of Jack Straw.” He came and helped, and his help was that we should pay him. I was, and still am, a bit miffed about that because I was sure we had a good defence.

Interesting.

But, of course, the lawyers didn’t go with us either so we had to settle. 

To other things. Let’s move onto the Broadcasting Act in 1990, which shook things up enormously.

Yes.

Were you involved in Granada’s bid?

Oh, to a certain extent, Yes, being company secretary at that point. I was all the board meetings, all the discussions, all the drafts of the documents that went into the submission. And, of course, secrecy around it was enormous. We knew we were under threat from Liverpool. Phil Redmond was pitching. I don’t know if you know about a certain amount of covert intelligence went on in that direction.

I don’t know. Can you reveal all? It’s your opportunity now.

Well, let’s say that our researchers were most impressive! So, we knew pretty well everything that was coming from that direction. Should have used as a shredder, shouldn’t they? And then, of course, we were pitching for Tyne Tees, so we all travelled north and a little plane with one or two of the Coronation Street folks, and tried to impress local councillors and people of note in the northeast, all to no avail because we didn’t win the franchise, but it was worth a try. I mean, it was a forerunner really of everything that happened as ITV amalgamated. But it was a time of great paranoia. We were approached by somebody who said that there was a mole in our hierarchy who was divulging information, and in evidence, he produced some quite telling bits of information. So much so that Plowright certainly believed it to be true. I travelled to meet him in Amsterdam where he was going to reveal all, but he was a scammer. He’d done the same to Phil Redmond, and he’d done it through phone calls to accountants at Granada. And if you’re a good sort of journalist, you can extract more than people intend to give away, so he’d got some facts and figures, but as I say, he was a scammer. But it just showed the sort of paranoia around that time.

Yes. Because Granada won the bid in the end?

Yes. We won with a very low quote. I think it was nine million, which was pretty healthy compared with what other companies were paying – and that was all down to Plowright.

Was it?

Hmm. And his advisors. So it was a good bid, and there was much celebration when the result was announced. I went and had a game of golf with Plowright and Andrew Quinn and Johnny Briggs. Out at Mere, the day after to sort of celebrate. My first drive was an absolute corker, but it was all downhill from there on! It was a great time. Everybody was very happy. Everyone was going out for meals celebrating, and then, of course, shortly afterwards, it all hit the fan. I mean, we’d had Derek Lewis in charge of, chief executive of, group, and Derek was very much an MBA type. He was a businessman, and profit was the key, and all the companies of Granada were kowtowing to his reign, except Plowright, who wanted to go in his own way, making good programmes at whatever the cost. So there was a great deal of toing and froing between Derek Lewis and David Plowright, and of course eventually Plowright won out, and Derek resigned and went on to run the prisons, at which point they brought in Gerry Robinson and Charles Allen. And that was a whole different ball game.

What was that like?

Well, they’re two utterly different characters, but the same objective and that was to make money. They came in on huge salaries compared with Plowright and Denis Forman before him. Gerry was an extremely affable, friendly Irishman. You couldn’t but like him, even though he was perhaps sticking a knife in your back. You’d say, “Thank you, Gerry.” Charles Allen, on the other hand, was his hatchet man. Totally different. Of course, they had their run-in with Plowright, and I think they ordered him to go to a meeting at Golden Square, which was the headquarters. And he said, “Well, I’ve got an appointment to go somewhere else.” And they said, “Well, cancel it.” He said, “No.” So I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but he was sacked, and everybody was staggered, frankly. I think you’ve heard that there was a petition that went around, mostly programme makers, demanding that Plowright be reinstated.  It was a very sad time. And then there was a big ‘do’ for David down in the studios – a farewell party for him. Ray Fitzwalter made a brilliant speech, and with that, he departed. But it became apparent that the technique employed by Charles Allen to bring the unions under complete control was to hack away at the management, snip all the heads off directors. Tony Brill, general manager on the board, he was sacked the same day as I was given my notice. Redundant, early retirement. Redundant. You were not sacked in those days.

Were you’re the first to be given early retirement? Were you the number one on the list when they were clearing out this level of management?

No, there was a group of us. There Vivian Wallace, who was head of Granada Television International, Tony Brill, general manager, a chap called Simon Townley, who was a non-exec, me, and in the end, they went through them one by one, right up to Steve Morrison, David Liddiment, the whole lot went. 

Did they sack Morrison and Liddiment?

Yes. If you look in the accounts, you’ll certainly see Steve’s payoff.

How did you react to your situation?

Well, it took place in Golden Square, and I went home and told my wife the news. We were having friends around for dinner, so we told them. I said, “We’ll open a bottle of champagne now.” So we opened a bottle of champagne and toasted the future. Interestingly, many years later – what, 12, 13, I don’t know when – it was announced on the news that Allen was ‘resigning’ from Granada. So by chance, the same two friends were staying with us in the Lake District. I said, “Right, another bottle of champagne!” 

Yes, what went on at that time with Charles Allen has been described as “brutal”. He went through management.

Oh yes, yes. Well, for example, he sacked Ray Fitzwalter, a brilliant journalist, editor of World in Action, headed documentaries.  That was an insane thing to do.

Why would they take out this kind of talent?

Well, I can only think it was to make sure that the unions realised that management and people like Ray had been sacked. They had no chance against him. And indeed, they didn’t really, but their whole focus was making money. Ray wrote a book on Granada, (The Dream that Died the rise and fall of ITV), which no doubt you’ve read.

Yes.

And I spent a lot of time for Ray going through all the annual reports and accounts and analysing their overall pay. They took home something in the region of 25 million each in pay and bonuses, not to mention very handsome pensions. 

Robinson and Allen?

Yes.

Yes.

I mean, a prodigious amount of money, and they would change the rules. The way the director’s bonuses were calculated used to be based on the share price, but then when the share price wasn’t doing as well as it could do, the system would get changed so that the bonuses continued to roll.

Oh, really?

Got to be a bit careful here with defamation, but he did make a lot of money, of that there is no doubt. They put the pension scheme on a holiday. No doubt advised by, or supported by, the Trustees of the pension scheme. But, of course, a black hole was created, which has never been recouped. There’s still a black hole all those years after. So, that’s a continuing problem for the Trustees and ITV management.

So there’s nothing you can do about any of that, was there? I mean, they were in control of everything.

Yes.

They ran the show.

They ran the group. Gerry was chairman of Granada Group. Took over from Alex. Charles Allen was whatever he was in Group. He was group director, chairman of television. So it was not a very happy period.

Was it a shock to you when you were let go?

No, it wasn’t a shock. As soon as he came in, or the pair of them… Well, really, Allen. I used to get advised by the group company secretary, a man called Graham Parrot, who obviously knew what was going on and what the thinking was, and his words to me were, “Do not underestimate that man.” I’m pretty sure it’s a bit ambiguous, because it could have just meant he’s a brilliant businessman. Or that he was ruthless, which he was. But that was all he ever said. 

There’s a quote in Ray Fitzwalter’s book. And the era that we were talking about, you will remember Ann Clwyd MP who raised this issue what was happening at Granada in the boardroom.

She did. And I wrote to Charles Allen on that topic as I think he thought that it was based on a leak and that, maybe, I was the source.

Well her quote is, “This is a story of boardroom savagery. The likes of which British TV has never seen.”

Yes. It was.

That was in all the papers.

But I think it appeared that she had been, it had been a leak to her and I made it clear to Mr. Allen, that it wasn’t me, as indeed it wasn’t.

Oh, I see. He was not pleased about this?

Not at all. No. Well, nobody was pleased. I mean the IBA who were King Dick at that stage really punished Allen. In the application for the new franchise, I was in charge of due diligence and so on, and keeping programme makers within limits. But there was some serious breach of IBA regulations, I don’t know, product placement or something, which he obviously didn’t take seriously enough, and the Company was fined £500,000.

What show was this?

Well it was soon after I left, you know, a year or two.

I see. And they were just, World In Action was it?

No, I don’t think so. I can’t remember what the programme was. But you see, we took it seriously. I once got a tip off that there was some product placement going on with whisky. You’d find a certain brand was being used by props and it was all set up so that in right in front of the camera was the label. And I had my suspicions as to who it was. And at that stage you could get information. Phone records were becoming more available. And there were these phone calls between Mr X and the product company. Many, many phone calls. So I duly challenged him. He denied the lot. But you know, you did have to keep a track on these things.

What year did you leave Granada?

31st December ‘92. I mean to be fair in the September, Allen said, “When do you want to go?” And I and I said, “Well, year end?” He said, “Yes. Fine.”

Did you have a job to go to?

No, no, no. But interestingly he pinched my secretary / PA , which was a bit galling. Girl I had worked with for 11 years.

Who was it?

Lynn Taylor. Yes. So, she went and worked for him and typed out my final deal. Which was not as good as Mr. Allen’s deal, I have to say!

Not surprised at that one.

Yes. I had an interesting spell in the middle. After Bill Dickson left, a chap called Harry Coe came in, got on very well with Harry, and it was a bit sad because Plowright and Andrew Quinn were still a bit, you know, programme maker-orientated and Harry was a bit more financially orientated. Anyway, there was obviously some meeting with the three of them, which ended in a Harry’s departure rather rapidly, and Andrew came in the next morning and he said, “Look, Harry’s leaving, will you stand in as finance director until we can get somebody? You know, a month or two?” Well I think the month or two stretched to about nine months. And it was a fairly heavy period because financial arrangements with the major companies were changing and Granada’s accounting system was changing. So, it was all quite a heavy period.

You were on the board of Granada?

Yes, latterly.

How long were you on the board?

Do you know, I’m not quite sure when I was appointed. Like all these things, secretaries knew before I did.

Yes. And tell us about the board meetings, this is board of Granada television. They would take place in Manchester?

Well, it was up in room 600. On the sixth floor conference room. They were fairly relaxed affairs. I started going to the meetings when Denis Forman was chairman. In fact, I well remember my first stab at doing the minutes. I was very conscientious and the system was that he always read the minutes before they were released to make sure they accorded with his view! So, I produced what were evidently quite long minutes. And he called me in and he said, “I can see you’ve got aspirations to be an author.” He said, “I’ll let it go this time, but next time, short.” So, “This was discussed. Next item, this was discussed.” They became a very short note. 

Who else was around the table do you remember, at that time?

Well, Joyce Wooller, who was very close to Denis. Barrie Heads, who was in charge of International, Don Harker who was Public Affairs, Andrew Quinn, Harry Coe, who was Finance Director plus non-executive directors. That’s about it.

Mike Scott?

Oh yes. Mike was Head of Programmes.

He was on the board?

Yes. And latterly Tony Brill came on, Steve Morrison, David Liddiment. About it.

After Granada you went to work with Ray Fitzwalter?

Well, I the situation was I was going to be a property millionaire!

Ah!

I’d decided that I was going to create a company called Solo Homes. I was going to rent property to post-graduates, nurses, trainee doctors, certainly not undergraduates.

Right.

My daughter having been an undergraduate I saw what chaos they cause. So, I had a few bob. I’d spoken to venture capitalists who were more than happy to put quite remarkable amounts of money my way. I’d done a business plan, I plotted bus routes, locations, and it was all shaping up. I’d been given the opportunity by two partners, of Peat Marwick who were sympathetic, you know, they would review my plan for nothing if I wanted any help. So, I went to them with my business plan, which I think showed a net profit of 5%, and they looked at it and said, “I think you’re a bit ambitious here. Do you mind if we bring somebody in? One of our colleagues who does this sort of thing?” And it was a girl, she came in, she looked at it and they said, “What do you think?” She said, “Well the profit percentage is wrong.” Yes, I thought so they said. She said, “You’ll make much more than that. At least 10 to 15%.” At which point they thought they were in the wrong business! Anyway, that was what I was doing at that time. Then Ray rang up and said, “Do you want to have a lunch or chat?” So he and Louise came round to our house and had dinner with my wife and me and said, “What do you think about going into business together?” So I said, “Well, okay.” As I said, I’m a drifter, so I dropped the flats idea and went in with Ray.

At Ray Fitzwalter Associates?

Yes.

Yes. And what was that like?

It was fun.

Fun.

It was great. I mean, Ray got all the business in, a lot from Granada, Channel 4, Channel 5. I looked after all the finance and the admin and so on. But you see accountants are very boring people. They’re not allowed to have ideas. And occasionally at Granada I had had ideas of a good programme and of course nobody would even look at it. But with Ray and Louise, they said, “Oh, that’s a good idea. We’ll do that.” So we made a religious series in which Bill Nighy starred in one of the episodes, which was quite good. We made an antiques show, which I’d originated. That was a series that went out on Channel 5, The Antiques Hunter. Brought David Dickinson into the world of television.

Oh, did you? Yes, yes, yes.

I lived next door to his daughter. Yes. And it was her child’s fourth birthday party. And we were invited, and I met David and I thought, “Oh, interesting character.” I said, “Would you like to come in and meet Ray and Louise?” So he did. And took a long time, because at first we took the programme plan to the BBC and they said, “Very interesting, but we’ve got the Antiques Roadshow, so we don’t want to do anything else. Try BBC 2.” And they said, “Oh good, good idea. But we’ve got the Antiques Roadshow, try the ITV Channel 4.” All said exactly the same and then eventually it was Channel 5 that took it on.

What was it called, that show?

I think it was the Antiques Hunter.

The Antiques Hunter.

My wife and I were on it and made a show about acquiring a long case clock at auction.

I remember the time, I think I went to the launch of Ray Fitzwalter Associates.

Oh, right.

On, was it Lloyd Street?

Yes it was, we had a good launch. I think Steve gave a major speech.

He did, yes. I worked with Ray quite a bit.

But Ray kept getting the business. Then after three or four years we were walking down Kendal High Street and my wife said, “I think I’m going to retire from teaching.” I said, “If you’re retiring, I’m retiring.” So, we called it a day and Ray and Luise carried on for a while in the office and then they’d work from home. But I would like to have amalgamated with other independents.

You mean raise the company?

Yes. For example Brian Lapping would have been an ideal man to go in with.

Yes.

And somebody else whose name escapes me, who we did talk to. You see, this is where Jules and Steve and David Liddiment scored. I mean they amalgamated and took over and got bigger and bigger. I don’t know what they sold their business for, but quite a few bob I suspect.

Quite a few bob. Well, I interviewed Jules Burns recently.

Yes.

And of course we didn’t talk numbers, but yes, I’m sure they did.

I mean, I don’t know what shares they owned and how much was the venture capitalists. But at one stage the Press stated that they were looking for £600 million. No mean sum.

Gosh. On the other hand, Alastair, you only live once. 

Well this is it…

You’ve got to have some fun out of it.

We were in Menorca once and I was looking through binoculars at one of these mega yachts, no doubt a Russian oligarch and somebody stopped and chatted. And I said, “Look at that boat.” And he said, “If you owned it, would you be happier?” I said, “Well no.”

That’s it, that’s it.

Interesting to see it, but you know when you put it that way.

Yes. Well I don’t have to worry about that because I haven’t got one. 

Yes, I mean it’s all right you travel around the Mediterranean and take your friends and foreign politicians, and try and influence them a bit. You know, is it that much fun?

It’s nice to have somewhere else to go.

Yes.

You know, like you’ve got, you have a choice.

Yes.

But beyond that.

Yes. Anyway.

So looking back on your Granada years, anything else you would like to say? Any kind of people, or what is your overall… how was it for you?

I think, overall, I was born at the right time. I think I was extremely lucky. Apart from the first few years of bombs, we had a long era of peace. I ended up at Granada, which was a fabulous place to work. Then three or four years with Ray and Louise, which was also great. It was a time when the pension was much better than it is now, as a final salary pension. I couldn’t have been born at better time or be luckier, really. And as I say, I’ve tended to drift, but there had been other occasions where I’ve been offered work which would have gone pear shaped. Bill Dickson, for example, said to me, “If you want to go anywhere, laddy, you’ll have to work at one of the operating companies, theatres or wherever.” And I said, “Well, I’m not going off to another part of the world.” I said, “My wife’s got a job teaching. My girls are in good schools. I’m not going to cause any upheaval. I refuse to go.” Then they sent one of the accountants from upstairs, a chap called Jim Whitaker, a very, very good accountant; much better than me, that’s for sure. And of course, they then sold the company. He was cut off. He lost his Granada contact.

Oh, right.

So I have no idea what happened to him, but it was one offer I refused. Another one I was offered by Southern Television because I knew the finance director there and the managing director. They offered me a position before the franchise renewal and, of course, they lost the franchise. So I’d have been up the creek without a paddle again. Jeremy Wallington offered me some job somewhere down in London. I didn’t want that, so I sort of drifted in the right direction, and have been very fortunate until my wife died, and that was a devastating loss.

Any individuals that we should remember with fondness from the Granada years?

Well, I suppose if you talk about liking, I mean Fred Boud was a great character. He was a charming man, very kind, thoughtful. And Leslie Diamond I mentioned was absolutely fascinating. Denis Forman was a true giant of television. He could be a bit acerbic at times. One of my early meetings was when they were undertaking a programme called World Tonight, which was a sort of follow on from World in Action. The idea was that it would have three locations, New York, London, Tokyo, or wherever, and look at the same story from different international perspectives. I was involved in the initial costing of it. One day I knocked on Forman’s door. His secretary wasn’t sitting outside so I knocked on the door went in, and he was dictating. I said, “Do you mind if I interrupt for a moment?” And he said, “You already have!” I mean, latterly we became really quite good mates. Because Bill Dickson had been his financial advisor and tax man, and when Bill died, at the funeral, Denis said would I take over. So I became quite close to he and his family over the years until 2013, when he died. Then his wife died later the same year.

And Denis was a help to your daughters, was he?

Yes, he was very supportive. 

And Forman’s later relationship to Plowright

Perhaps what is not generally known is that when Plowright was going through the mill, and of course sacked, Denis Forman was group deputy chairman. And I think Plowright felt he could’ve done more to save him.

You mean Forman thought he could do more?

No, Plowright thought that Forman could do more to save him.

Oh, I see. Yes.

And whether he couldn’t or didn’t want to, I don’t know, but at any rate, Plowright had a very, very bitter taste in his mouth; wouldn’t talk to Forman at all. So having been very close over all those years, it all became very sad at the end. So I don’t think they were really ever reconciled.

That is sad, isn’t it?

Yes, but Plowright was an impressive man to work with, but in some ways, very naive. He always used to say that Ray Fitzwalter was his conscience, keep him on the straight and narrow. But I remember after Steve had that great success with My Left Foot, Plowright thought the future was feature films. And they called me in to do some costings, and they were proposing to start one a month. I mean both of them are sitting there saying, “Yes, we can do this.” I said, “You cannot do this. It is utterly impossible.” “No, no, no, we can do it.” I said, “You cannot do it.” They said, “All right then, one every three months.” I said, “You can’t do one every three months. Just look the teams you’ve got to get together and the work has to be done; utterly impossible.” Anyway, that scheme died.

Yes, ambitious.

That was I say he was a bit naive. He seriously thought that was the future and he could do it.

And then there was Granada Studios Tours.

Yes, under John Williams. John was an intake of management trainees the same time as Tony Brill, Bill Tomlinson, one or two others. He was very ambitious, John. Have you interviewed him?

I haven’t. I remember him when he was in the film department.

Yes, that’s right, and he ran Tours very well, but I think he could talk about Charles Allen because he said… Allen said to John, because they had retail outlets for the tourists, “You should you put this item up to whatever.” And John said, “We can’t do that.” He said, “How much does it cost?” John said, “Well I don’t know.” He said, “Well if you don’t know, the punters that come around won’t know. Put it up.”

Oh, I see.

Yes, but it was very popular for a while. I don’t quite know why they closed it down, really. 

But it was Plowright’s dream, wasn’t it?

Yes, well, Plowright’s dream was Media City, and we went to presentations in the boardroom put together by various local architects. It was his dream, and of course, it didn’t happen until after he’d died.

Well, expand on that. His dream was Media City, where it was in Quay Street, and then the site, he wanted that site.

Well I think, really, he wanted it on the site of the Victoria and Albert Warehouse.

Yes, that’s right.

There was another warehouse there which was used for Jewel in the Crown. I don’t know if you remember, but that was burnt down complete with the sets and the props.

Oh, I do remember.

And the producer, whose name I have lost, held the meeting downstairs in one of the conference rooms the next day, and said to all the concerned people that there’d been a bit of a problem. We’d lost everything. So he said, “There’s going to be a break in filming for about a week,” and that was all. So what they did, they moved on to later filming whilst the stuff for the original filming was recreated, and re-filmed it.

Oh, that’s good, Yes.

Morahan…

What, Christopher Morahan?

Chris Morahan.

Yes, that’s right, Jewel in the Crown. Yes. It’s funny how these names disappear and then come back to you. Yes, so he was a brilliant, brilliant producer, but…

Anything else you’d like to say?

Nothing off hand, really. I can claim to have the only million pound jacket in the world! Granada, under Plowright… The trouble is he and Derek Lewis were just a bit ahead of their time. Plowright thought the future lay in cooperation with other countries, and particularly in facilities, and the use of virtual reality. They bought into a company called Pipa Television in Paris. And I used to go to their board meetings, and we invested a million, overall. The only thing that came out of it was a little jacket I’ve got that says Pipa TV on it!

The million pound jacket!

Yes, but it was a good try. And you see Derek Lewis, highly criticised, because BSB didn’t work. Now BSB was going to work, but the government changed the rules, and they allowed Murdoch to have his Sky system operating at the same time. Whereas BSB had been understood to have a 10-year free run, and that all went pear shaped. BSkyB was formed out of BSB and Sky, BSB being British Satellite Broadcasting. And I think it cost 200 million, for which Lewis got not a lot of criticism. But as they probably realised later about it, really, that I think it was quite a fair investment, but he wasn’t around to reap the rewards or benefits or kudos. A funny old world.

It is.

I think the one thing that Granada missed… You see, if you think of Sidney Bernstein, he went into cinemas when cinemas were all the rage. And then he saw television on the horizon, knew it would be a threat to cinemas. Didn’t like television, but bought into it. Then he saw colour television coming, and Granada TV Rental went from black and white to colour, and became a huge company. Derek Lewis saw computers, and then satellite broadcasting. But what they didn’t see was the internet. The internet and all the apps and the games, the X-box type syndrome; that was missed. You feel that had Sidney been around still he would’ve seen that that was another coming thing.

A man of vision.

He was. I always thought it was a bit sad. I went to a Granada Guildhall lecture later on, by which time Sidney really was out of it completely. And he was standing there amongst all these people all on his own. I thought, “Oh,” so I went and chatted to him. It’s funny, once you’re away from the limelight, you really are away, sort of like ex-presidents perhaps.

Yes, absolutely.

But no, it was a great, great company to work for, and I was very lucky.

Andrew Quinn describes how he became managing director of Granada

After the satellite thing, I’d been on the group board for just over a year, with a division called Services to Business, which was a group of companies, one was Computer Field Maintenance, mending people’s computers, and frankly, I wasn’t very thrilled with it.

And then I was approached by head-hunters, on behalf of Central Television, where Andy Allen – did you know Andy Allen? – had been managing director. Great guy. Fed up of being managing director and wanted to go back to being programme controller. So Central were looking for a managing director. So I met the chairman of Central who was also the chairman of Boots, based in Nottingham, very nice man. And we talked. And shortly after, I got a call from the head-hunter, Roy Goddard, to say, they’re going to make you an offer. A few days, you’ll have an offer. So I said, oh, great. And a day later another phone rang, this in 1987 by the way. Another phone rang and it was David Plowright. And he said, “How are you doing?” And I said, “Alright.” And he said, “Denis is going to retire and I’m going to become chairman. Do you want to come and have a talk?” So I went up and met him at his house up there, and we talked, and I agreed to come back to Granada Television as managing director.

Previously your job was with Group?

Yes. And I was still at that point, with the two television directors, on the group board, which was good.

So ‘87, you became managing director?

Yes. The preoccupation was getting the franchise at that point. But in the run-up to the franchise, the independents’ lobby was getting stronger and stronger and stronger. And sense dictated that the old quota system, when the majors do this and I’ll do that and you do the other and we’ll just carve up the production between us, that obviously wasn’t going to last. So I persuaded, with the help of Greg Dyke, the other managing directors, I persuaded them that we had better start dress rehearsing for more access. The independents are going to win. And we can see if something where a certain proportion of the network needs, was separated out, and could be bid for. That meant the majors giving up capacity that could be bid for by any ITV company or any independent. And the franchises were re-awarded. That idea was suggested to the IBA, because the independents thing was… the IBA was very in favour.

And Greg Dyke came to see me and said, “Listen, this is going to have to become real. Will you take it on as the first chief executive of the Network Centre?” And I said, “Yes, probably, let me think about it.” At that point, the ‘David thing’ blew up, and I said to Greg, “Listen, I’ve been with Granada 25 years and I like the place. I really can’t. Count me out.” So I didn’t tell anybody at Granada. The press had a field day with this. They then said to me, “Well, you chair a group of three, Richard Dunnan, somebody else, to look for a chief executive. And so I did. And eventually we thought we’d found a guy. It got right up to details on the contract and his own company offered him a big job and he just pulled out. So Greg said to me, “Will you think again?” So I thought “Yes I will.” So I thought. And I loved every minute I worked at Granada and in television, but I equally decided I was going to retire as early as I could. So I said to Greg, “Look, I’ll do it on a three year fixed term contract, and then I’m off. And in the course of that three years, towards the end, you can start looking for the permanent guy.”

Did you move to London to do it?

Yes. Well, I didn’t sell my house in Manchester. I did a very good deal. I was able to have an apartment in the West End, which was a very nice way to spend three years in London. But of course, the dust had just settled on the David and Gerry Robinson affair when I cleared off as well. And that’s when Gerry asked me for a list of people he might approach in the broadcast world, so I gave him a list of people and he didn’t like any of them. Programme makers. And that’s when he brought in this monster Charles Allen. Terrible man. Terrible man.

Why do you say that?

Because he went around browbeating people. He forced Ray Fitzwalter to resign. Because Ray said he’d rather resign then get sacked, because he knew he was going to be. Because you know Ray, he wasn’t going to compromise. Awful fellow. Firing people left, right and centre.

Jules Burns described what happened in those times as brutal.

Yes.

The culling of staff.

That’s a good word. And not only culling of staff, the stories that got back, no doubt some exaggerated, but he diminished people, he belittled people before he fired them and made silly demands on people.

Daphne Hughes – biography

Daphne Hughes joined Granada in Liverpool in 1980 as a secretary on Granada Reports, based in Exchange Flags before becoming a crew co-ordinator. She subsequently worked on This Morning in both Liverpool and London as programme co-ordinator. She later returned to Manchester to work on Tonight with Trevor McDonald before retiring in 2007.

Daphne Hughes on the lure of the Crooked Billet pub

A lot of life went on in The Crooked Billet. One reason being that it was a shortcut to the car park, but inevitably, you didn’t always make the car park. You just stayed in The Crooked Billet, but for one or two or three and your car stayed in the car park. There was a lot of socialising. Also, I do remember in the early days of the early eighties, I think licencing hours were still in force. The pubs closed at three and they reopened at five. There were various places within that city area of Liverpool where there was a lot of, I don’t know what you call it, but out of hours drinking and if you couldn’t find someone, you had to go ring round all these pubs and clubs and various dens of iniquity to try and find the crew or the staff. Once we were down at the Albert Dock, that didn’t matter because there’s only one pub where they could be, so you could find them quite easily.

Glenda Wood – biography

Glenda Wood joined Granada TV as a make-up artist in 1966 from Tyne Tees Television.  She worked on a wide range of programmes including Coronation Street, Who Bombed Birmingham? and The Sign of Four. Glenda won a BAFTA in 1993 in recognition of her work on Stars in Their Eyes, one of Britain’s most popular entertainment shows had the chance to appear and sing live as a famous singer, with their make-up being an integral part of the make over. She left 1997 but continued to work as a freelance.

You can read an article about Stars in Their Eyes featuring Glenda in the Independent newspaper Stars in their minds.

Glenda Wood describes preparing for a drama

What would be involved in working on a drama?

Well, you get the first script – the first one was the white script, then the pink script came, then you got the blue script, which was the final one, and then you wrote down – they do it on a computer now, I believe – every scene, you know, what was going on in every scene, the date, probably the weather if it was outside, and you broke it down like that. And if they needed wigs and things you took them down to London to get wigs – well, they were probably already in London – and it was prep like that for about three or four weeks first. Principally, it was the PAs (Production Assistants) we worked with at that stage. I always thought that the PAs were never appreciated, because they were the fountain of all the knowledge on the programme!

How would you link in with the PAs?

Well, you would get addresses from them for all the actors, and phone numbers and what we were doing on what day… we didn’t do budgets with them, we did budgets with the producer, but we were told, “This is the budget.” But I never had a problem with budgets.

So when you would meet the actors?

At the read-through.

And assess what they needed?

Yes. In those days we used to use a room behind the Taxi Café in Brixton and we would all sit around… it was funny because the actors used to be so nervous that they would greet you like a long-lost lover. I used to think, “For God’s sake! You’ve only met me once before!” “How are you, dahling? How lovely to see you!” and all that crap. Haha. And then you would arrange, when they were free, to take them to wigs and things. Sometimes they needed prosthetics, but not very often. Yes, that’s how it went.

And if you were doing a period drama, was there ever any research involved?

Oh, yes – always.

How would you go about that?

Well, you would just look through books and things. This was before computers, you know. And you would also talk to the producer and the director and ask them what they wanted, and we worked very closely with the costume people too.

Pete Terry on leaving Granada

I didn’t decide to leave. The writing sadly was on the wall. I took a redundancy, but it was becoming quite evident that finances were playing an important role, and it had become an unrecognisable company in many ways. We were then under the auspicious ruling of, I think, Charles Allen, and I think Gerry Robinson was still involved. But it was all about finances, budgets, and what had been spoken about with this merger of the BBC at Oxford Road. And we did create a fantastic opportunity for a design company within Granada TV called 360 Media and the facilities was second to none. And the BBC designers that came across were excellent designers. And our output, our designer output, was I thought very, very of the highest calibre. But it was all monitored so strictly by budget, and of course we now had to pay very high rates to rent our department within the building at Quay Street. So finances were always there in the background and the number of meetings we would all have as designers with budgets and, “Why are you going over spend?,” etc., etc.. It was becoming more and more evident. So, in the end, I think Granada didn’t feel we were commercially viable and had no energy or enthusiasm to support us anymore. I’ll just take this opportunity to say that the general manager of Grenada, who was head of design services, management head of design services, Michael Taylor, Mike Taylor, was a big supporter and he really pushed us. I’ve got to say that, very much. And although of course Mike is a manager and knew a spreadsheet, but I think without his will and I think an enthusiasm and I think a bit perhaps like Margaret Thatcher’s tunnel under the channel, I think Mike might wanted to have that as a legacy perhaps to a degree to his managerial time. And yes, Mike was a big supporter of the department, the electronic graphics department, and the design services. And of course he went on, as we all know, to become general manager of Granada. But again, Mike then left the company. But yes, sorry, getting back to an earlier point. Yes, the writing was on the wall. And the senior designers, as a head of a department and what’s called a production designer, my level was then production designer, we had a reasonable salary, quite a good salary. And yes, so I was encouraged to take a redundancy while the terms were pretty good, so I took it. And then the department haemorrhaged a number of people over the coming 18 months. And then finally, when they moved to Salford Quays, I think they moved with just two designers. And sadly that’s all gone now.

Yes, yes.

But no, if I had my choice I would happily have stayed on for another probably five years or so I think. But certainly, yes, it was neither the company nor the department that I had started out in all those years previous. Yes, but that’s progress.

Was it a good company to work for in the earlier days?

I think so. I think so. In a way, I can’t compare it to many because I was fortunate enough to work for ITV from leaving college at the age of 22 up until my early 50s. So that’s the only company I’ve ever known, Granada, ITV, ATV for nine months or so previous. And looking back, it’s a bit like I was at college for nearly 30 years, 28 years. It had that slight feeling of a university environment, campus. We’re all there trying to do whatever show you were working on. It was a bit like doing your final show as part of your final qualifications, if that makes sense. It had that slight feel to it. I think, yes, Granada was a good company. I think they looked after us as long as you did your work. Like any company, you’re going to have your run-ins with people and you’re going to have your issues. And the unions were a strong, major part of my early time at ITV. I mean, ironically, I was only working there for about three months when there was the major summer strike where all of ITV went off the air for about three months. So I was actually, at that time, not a member of the union so I had a whole summer of full pay because I wasn’t on strike. I wasn’t a member of the union, I wasn’t on strike, but I couldn’t cross the picket line because there was no work to do. So I had a paid summer. But, excuse me, through that particular summer strike, which I’m sure a number of us will remember, there was a huge percentage increase in wages across the board at ITV. There was a lot of frustration with the unions as well, of course, with the demarcation of jobs when you were filming things or shooting things and strict time breaks and woe betide if you did something you should not do on a film set. So, in many ways, the restrictive practises were very frustrating as a designer when you were trying to get something shot, when you were out filming for a title sequence and time was against you. And then there would be the protected breaks, all the protected jobs, what someone can and can’t do. Or if someone wasn’t on that set that could do that, you’d have to wait for that person to come out to your shoot. So there was an awful lot of frustrations, but the unions I think evolved as well, because they had to. But it was a closed shop. I had to join the union. You were either management or you were a foot soldier I guess. And you had to become part of BECTU whether you wanted to or not. But I think, again, when redundancy was facing a number of us, the unions were supportive. And I can’t remember his surname, Gerry, the very broad Irish gentleman. He always spoke passionately and eloquently in various heated meetings that happened. So I think, on the whole, the unions were good to me and generally supportive. And I think they did modernise within themselves, within the company, because they realised that things had to change as well. And again, as things change and there were certain new job titles and certain new allowances for what people could and couldn’t do.

Luise Fitzwalter describes how Ray Fitzwalter managed World in Action

And then they had an election for the editor of World In Action because there had been trouble – it’s all in Ray’s book. Oh, I don’t think it is, actually. Well, there had been trouble, there had been a rebellion in the ranks about the way they had been treated. So the way to solve this was to have an election for a temporary editor, and he was elected. And they thought they’d got – what did he say – they thought they’d got a short-term replacement, and actually what they got was a long-distance runner. Which, you know, was exactly what happened, and he stayed there of course for years and years. And it was at that point that people like Paul Greengrass came in, and Ray was the editor. I remember World In Action people when I came in 1983, being terrifying. They were very large.

Do you remember that, Steve? Very large.

And it’s all macho as well.

And very macho. I mean, Ray ran this department full of mad dogs, really. And I used to say, “Oh, here’s the mad dogs, and you’re running them on an extremely long leash,” you know? …I mean, the actual team meetings were… haha! I sat in on those team meetings when I was part of the department and I couldn’t believe it! Fortunately, I mean, I think the reason Ray survived so long was because – well, survived until he was kicked out – is because he never got his own ego involved in all that. It was never about him. It was about the programme. And they knew it. So whatever they did to provoke him, he wasn’t provokeable. You know, they’d try; they’d go into his office and smoke, you know, and he’d just say, “Can you put that out please?” knowing that they were doing it deliberately to have a row, but not having one. So that’s how he came to be there.

(It was) Totally competitive. I mean, World In Action, you know, people were pulling everybody else… somebody else’s programme apart. I mean, you had to have nerves of steel.

Dorothy Byrne on working on Granada Reports

Granada Reports… was really, really a good programme, and within a very short number of weeks I was out making 10-minute films myself, and I just thought it was absolutely fantastic, and because we made, in Granada Reports, investigative films. I did a film investigating how bed and breakfasts in Blackpool were taking money from people who were on social security, I did several investigations into housing conditions… it was really a fantastic place to work, with some brilliant people. Tony Wilson was actually a very kind person in my experience, and absolutely brilliant on camera, and he just had ‘it’ – the magic quality. He was really good. I do remember, for the general election, I was sent out with him, and I must have been naïve, because we had to stay up all night for the election, and as the night went on, I got more and more tired, and he became more and more awake. And at about 2am I said to the sound man, “How does he do it? It’s remarkable! Because I’m really flagging, and he’s just got more energy all thee time.” And the sound man laughed and said, “He takes drugs, Dorothy!” So… and I was shocked. I hadn’t come across that before. So yes, there was fantastic journalism that went on. I was a researcher from time to time for Richard and Judy, who were presenters, and they got together while they were on that programme, and I have to say that both of them had… there’s a quality some people have that, when the camera goes on, the camera loves them. And the camera loved them. So I think it was a time of very talented people and really fantastic programming.

Dorothy Byrne on the Channel 4 programme ‘Union World’

Then I went to work on Union World, and I had to pass a test to work on Union World. So I was called in by David Kemp – many people said, “I don’t know why you don’t work on Union World, because you’re Scottish,” and there seemed to be at Granada, as they called it, ‘the mackia’ – but I was called in, and I can’t remember what the questions were, but I had to show a knowledge of obscure trade union leaders of the past, and strangely, I didn’t know who they were, you know, you would name somebody and you had to say, “Oh, yes – he was general secretary of the TGWU in 1973,” or something like that.

And Union World was an extraordinary programme that was made for Channel 4 by Granada, and we only interviewed trade unionists – we didn’t interview the bosses. And every now and then the bosses would ring up, the factory owner or whoever, and say they wanted to be interviewed, and they were told, “We only interview the trade union side,” because this was part of Channel 4’s vision of balancing the way that the media was perceived to be more in favour of the employers. When I think of that now, the lack of due impartiality was extraordinary. But Union World… I mean I worked there during the miners’ strike, and I would say that we had the curse of Union World, a bit like the curse of Hello magazine, about how many people who are interviewed in Hello magazine end up divorced. I can honestly not think of a dispute that I covered for Union World where the workers won. And I used to feel a bit bad if I turned up on their picket line to interview them about their dispute, because I think, “Well, you do now, because I’m here, because there is no dispute that I have covered where the unions have won.” Of course, that was because, when the NUM was smashed, you could just see on Union World all the waves moving out beyond that, which meant dispute after dispute in completely different areas were lost.

Union World was not a good programme to watch, I think I have to be asked about that, and it was really boring. It was great fun to work on and it was really politically interesting, but Arthur Scargill was quoted as saying he would rather watch the test card. No programme like that would ever be allowed now, not just because it wasn’t duly impartial, but it was so boring and it had tiny viewing figures, but it was good practice. I think the lowest viewing figure that we ever had was when the presenter, Gus McDonald, said whatever was the opening headline and then said, “But first I have with me in the studio the industrial organiser of the Communist Party.” And you just think, “Woah! And that’s a lure?” I mean, how many people wanted to hear from the industrial organiser of the Communist Party? We interviewed an awful lot of right-wing Labour Scottish trade unionists, and indeed every now and then I would meet a right-wing Labour Scottish trade union official of some sort – with glasses, they nearly always had glasses on, they were all white, they were all men – and I would say, “Oh, my God! I can’t believe it – you are a white, right-wing Labour Scottish trade unionist with glasses, and you haven’t been on Union World! How did that happen?” We didn’t cover women’s issues nearly enough, and also we saw trade unionism far too much as a programme – I don’t mean I saw this, I mean this is how the programme saw it, I certainly didn’t see it in this way – but the programme saw trade unionism too much from the top downwards, and I think that was also the problem of trade unionism itself, that one of the reasons that unions lost so much power is that they weren’t sufficiently in touch with the every day interests and problems of their members in their lives, and particularly women, whose problems were so much to do with how they would look after their children, were they getting the same pay as men, you know, their basic conditions and health and safety at work.

Who else would have been working on Union World?

Well, Gus was the presenter…

Gus MacDonald?

And he was Scottish, David Kemp was the producer, and he was Scottish, I was Scottish, Denis Mooney worked there as a researcher, he was Scottish, Charlie Rodger worked there as a researcher, he was Scottish… it was bizarre really.

Who was your reporter?

Ann Lester did some reporting, Julie Hall did some reporting, Mike Walsh occasionally did reporting… those are the reporters I can remember. But English people were allowed to work on the programme so long as they passed the test demonstrating that they knew who old trade union leaders were. I don’t think one would say that that was a programme in touch with the spirit of the times, but as I say, it was fun to work on, and I think I learned a lot about going out and making, and setting up 20-minute films on my own, and I think… you know, it’s a programme of a bygone age. I tell people at Channel 4 now where I work now that there used to be a programme on Channel 4 that only interviewed trade unionists, they actually don’t believe me –they just go, “That can’t be right.”

David Bernstein on his father’s ethical and political beliefs

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 old, 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.

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.

Sidney Bernstein’s later 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.

Sidney Bernstein’s legacy

 

One 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.

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 Pierce, 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.

Andrew Serraillier recalls producing This Morning

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. …

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 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. 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?

AS: 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.

Andrew Serraillier on Granada as a company

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 fermented?

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, 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.

Brian Park describes how he came to join Granada

I was at Edinburgh University. I had started a life as a perpetual student; I had done two degrees and was starting a PhD, but then I thought maybe I should try and get a proper job. In those days, the Guardian on a Monday had a strange thing called “Creative & Media Recruitment” and there was a very big notice I think for researchers, and I applied for a researcher’s job. I didn’t get that, and then I applied for something that was called an assistant transmission controller. And I got swept down from Edinburgh to the boardroom at 36 Golden Square, this massive boardroom, and I got interviewed. The chair of the interview board was this magnificent woman looking like the Duchess of Kent, but with very dark hair, and this was Joyce Wooller. And we did a very good interview, I thought, and she said, ‘Why do you want to be a transmission controller?’ and I said ‘X, Y and Z’ not actually understanding what an assistant transmission controller was. Nevertheless, it was a very good interview and then she said at the end, ‘Well that’s a very good interview Brian, but I think there’s one thing I think we’d all agree on in this board that life as an assistant transmission controller is not for you.’ I was a bit disappointed. But she said, so we would recommend that you probably become a promotion scriptwriter.

So I then got boarded by Rod Caird and David Liddiment was certainly on the board, maybe Sandy Ross, I can’t remember. Anyway, I tramped down to Granada, Quay Street, for the interview, I think in February/March 1980. The first thing I always remember is that you sat when you went in, and you looked at Francis Bacon’s Screaming Pope, which was part of the Bernstein art collection, and if there was anything more discouraging than having to look at Francis Bacon’s Screaming Pope, when you were about to do an interview in your ill-fitting suit that you only wore for interviews and weddings and funerals, then I’d like to know. But despite Francis Bacon’s Screaming Pope, I became a promotion scriptwriter in April 1980. That’s when I started.

So were you aiming for the media while you were at university, did you any media-related activities?

If I’m going to be honest, I just didn’t… I wanted to do anything apart from making a sensible living. So while other people went off and became chartered accountants or lawyers, which was of course what my parents wanted me to do, I wanted to do something that was seem as slightly more sexy, more slinging. So I’d applied for jobs as a journalist and/or television or radio. So it was one of those sweeps that you did, not really maybe… no, I didn’t have a huge burning desire from the age 12 to become someone who worked in television. I just thought it had an aura, an air of glamour about it and being a very shallow person, I pursued it.

 

Brian Park on the role of the promotion scriptwriter

So when you went for the Manchester interview for the promotion scriptwriter, what did they ask you and how did that go?

It was very casual. I think in those days they prided themselves on- they wanted to see a sparkle of personality or individuality, someone who’d fit rather than… Because you couldn’t really… you know, you didn’t know what a promotion scriptwriter was, really, apart from you know, you’d looked it up – unlike an assistant transmission controller’s job, I did actually get the job description right, vaguely, and it was making trailers and promotions. Which was, I think, ultimately, because Trish Kinane went through that, Andy Harries went through that, David Liddiment went through that, and it was a great opportunity to understand the nuts and bolts of the television building, in a way, because you had to trail down to the film- you had to work with film editors because you had to edit films in those days. You had to go and see the ATR, the sound guys, and you had to see the tape room, you had to understand how the building worked, and you made many films. You know, you had to condense – you got a drama or a documentary and it was going out tonight on Granada at 8 o’clock, it’s blah blah blah. Therefore you honed a skill of condensing the essence of a programme into a minute, or even 30 seconds. And then you had to work with the transmission controllers, a job I should have had!

So it was a very good discipline for a year or so. Then the progression was that you went for a researcher’s board, and I think I stayed in promotions for about 18 months, and then got a researcher’s board, and got it. I think the first thing I worked on was Trish Kinane producing Live from Two. And so that kicked me off in that world of chat shows.

Brian Park remembers some of the programmes he worked on as a researcher

I was a researcher from 82 I think to 88, when I went up to be a producer at Tyne Tees for two years. So I had a gap in my long career at Granada for two years when I went up to join Trish Kinane and then I came back in 1990 to be a producer in entertainment for David Liddiment.

So in those 80s researcher years, what programmes did you work on?

Well the thing about Granada that was really interesting… there were people that sort of went into World in Action and were stuck at World in Action and that’s all they wanted to do. But if you weren’t of that sort of aptitude or attitude, it was a really wonderful place to work. You know, people like yourself and David Liddiment jumped disciplines and it allowed you do to do that, which I don’t think the BBC would have, you know, because it was such a big behemoth – you went in and you never shifted from that discipline. But you know, I did chat shows, I did political conferences – I was Gus Macdonald’s handmaiden as we say through hours and hours of composite motions. You developed a skill, again, to edit a composite motion down to about two lines that could go across a caption, so that was interesting. I worked in entertainment and then I spent two years in the Middle East, very prescient now, doing an Emmy award-winning documentary called Sword of Islam, so I was based in Egypt, Beirut, Tehran. And again, that’s a bygone era, in that you would have any programme that would devote two years of a producer and a number of researchers to do a programme about Islamic fundamentalism that got transmitted for two hours on ITV from 8 o’clock to 10 o’clock. They shifted the schedule for it.

 

Brian Park on returning to Granada as a Light Entertainment producer

So you’re back in 1990. What did you do then?

I did a number of shows. I did Remote Control, I remember, with Tony Wilson.

I’d forgotten. Well remembered, that, because nobody’s mentioned that show. It’s a forgotten show.

It’s a forgotten show that we did for Channel 4. And it was an American format, and it was commissioned by Stephen Garrett at that point, or he was just about to leave, I can’t remember. No, he was there, he commissioned it and after that series Stephen Garrett left and I took over from him, with his assistant Bill Hilary. So that was one of the shows I did.

We did another show, a pilot that never happened, which was putting real people… it was a slight precursor of quasi-reality television, where you hoodwinked members of the Great British public, and we did it around the now-defunct Granada Tours. But that didn’t see the light of day, I remember.

And then I became head of entertainment for a couple of years, which I stomped around a bit and didn’t achieve much, and probably wasn’t my finest time.

Why was that? Do you feel that you didn’t get the backing from the bosses or what?

No. I inherited a healthy roster of everything from the Krypton Factor to Stars in Their Eyes, Some You Win. It probably was me. I would have thought, I just probably wasn’t really cut out to do that. And the bizarre thing being Granada is I remember discussing it, saying to Andrea Wonfor who was then the programme controller, oh I’d like to try drama. And this is the good thing about Granada, they didn’t go, that’s absolutely stupid! I remember her saying, well you might as well, you’ve tried everything else! And that was around 1993 or 1994.

Brian Park on moving into drama, producing September Song

And so I gave up entertainment and I did a show called September Song with Russ Abbot and Michael Williams. And then, again, the great thing about Granada was – I ended up, because the producer of Prime Suspect, Paul Marcus, also late, wanted to, he got given a chance to direct, so they needed a producer that would sort of keep the show on the road, so I did Prime Suspect. I think that would have been around 1994 or 1995.

I remember I remember you saying to me that you were going to shift to doing drama and that you really fancied doing drama, September Song you mentioned.

I think it’s a great testament to Granada in those days and that it wasn’t too big that they’d go, no if you haven’t been, gone up by being a script editor, which is the BBC way, if you reached a certain point, and there had been precedents in that before. I think people like Brian Armstrong had worked… everybody had worked on World in Action at one point and then they all shifted, and you know, people like Michael Apted cut their teeth as directors doing documentaries, so there was a good history there, and you know, I think I was so lucky that I worked at Granada that they would slightly indulge you.

Did you produce September Song?

Yes.

Within the drama department?

It was a sort of hybrid in a way, if I remember correctly. It came out of David Liddiment had sort of pushed the boundaries. He had done Coronation Street, and Coronation Street had this strange genesis that it was never within, as far as I remember, it was actually outwith the drama department, and by the time we were there, there was a sort of… The drama department went off, but drama serial, as it were… So Liddiment had done that, he had done Watching, which was very successful, and he had done September Song. They evolved out of the entertainment department / drama serial or whatever. So when he took over Coronation Street, he was allowed those areas or those areas evolved but they weren’t part of the drama department. OK. That’s the mid-90s you’re talking about.

Mid coming onto late 90s, yes.

September Song was transmitted over three series between 1993 and 1995.

 

Brian Park describes the ethos of Granada

The canteen was the great democratisation. You would see Denis Forman with his tray looking like one of the doorman. And they would make a point of sitting next to plebs and we would then have indigestion for half an hour! There was a feeling of a slight democracy about it, whether that was true or not. I think in a way it did pride itself in running itself on vague BBC lines, in terms of its self-regard, which I think was very important. And you were also very aware that it was because we are Granada – “how can we do that?” because we were Granada. It had a sort of northern gritty edge to it, which had a slight implication that they didn’t want any of that grubby commercialism. Which was of course a load of nonsense, seeing as Thompson’s license to print money was still there. But somehow, they managed to pull off that there was a higher purpose to Granada in terms of educating. They always had that thing where they loved the fact that they had Coronation Street on one hand but they had World in Action on the other, and then they could do high-quality drama at the same time. They could have their cake and eat it, and it had a northern redoubt. They worked that one really well, I think, into an ethos that we all bought into. And to a large extent it was true, therefore that’s what you enjoyed.

Brian Park on Granada’s legacy

I think Granada’s legacy as a television company… you were very aware of its history and its achievements. ….I think it imbued a certain esprit de corps that… you certainly were proud to have gone through the ranks, and you know, I was there for 18 years, so this was quite a long time. Again, by my time, that idea that you moved on – because when we were there, there were people who had been there like Jim Walker who’d been there for years and years, and certainly from the technical side, people assumed they had jobs for life. When we were there, the influx of that freelance mentality was starting to come in, but I think we were all there at a certain time when there was a huge transition in terms of union practices and the makeup of what was television. ….

And the thing that those seismic shifts that you had where ITV, Granada ate up all the other companies eventually… the fact that nobody expects a job for life anymore. The fact that even within drama, the advent of Netflix and Amazon has just completely changed [things].

It’s a very shifting world that we’ve gone in. And I think it’s an apt thing for us to do this, because I don’t think people will understand that sort of “homo Granadicus” – remember Denis Forman’s title? – I think that era has gone. The BBC still has it to an extent, but Granada always was the BBC of ITV. It’s probably been said before. And the fact that it did give you a label that you were happy to accept, that you were a Granada person, and I do genuinely feel that you were aware of its traditions and its histories, and you were proud to have learnt… it schooled me, it absolutely schooled me. There was no way about it that I learnt something there, some sort of values…

Also, at its worst, it could leaden you, and I suppose like all institutions it could carry people in its day, but if you think of the people who went through it and went on to bigger, greater things, I think everyone has a fond memory of Granada and the fact that you got to experiment and jump around and do things, whether it was in our cases going from entertainment to serious documentaries, and local shows to network shows.

Brian Park’s move to produce Coronation Street

After September Song, I did Prime Suspect. And then I spent a year with Granada Film trying to do strange set-ups. I remember shooting around Australia and Korea of all places. We tried to set up a film, but… and it was in the midst of that that the call came – and I think this was around 1996, and I was in Sydney at the time – saying, would you do Coronation Street? And I turned it down twice as I remember. And then Carolyn (Reynolds) goes, you really should do it, because she was the exec producer at the time. And went, hmm, I haven’t got that many options. Some people say don’t do it, some people say I should do it. It had moved by that point from 3 episodes a week to 4 episodes a week, and what I remember was that I went to some do at LWT – and I had said yes by this time… Do you remember Vernon Laurence? He was at Yorkshire and he had been the head of comedy and drama there or something, and I think he’d moved by that point and was Controller of Drama at Network Centre. I remember him sidling up to me and going, “Congratulations Brian on Coronation Street. Bit of a poisoned chalice.”

So with that poisoned chalice, December 1996, I’ll have to check these, where I sat before I’d formally taken over – Sue Prichard was still then the producer, Carolyn Reynolds was exec producer, and it had been described to me by people, that the writer’s forum was the pantheon of the gods…

Of Coronation Street?

Yes. By the time I was taking over and had hesitations about it, I think if we’re going to be frank, it was in a bit of trouble. It had gone from two episodes a week to three and they’d just introduced the fourth episode. I suppose I was lucky in a way that I’d done quite a bit of stuff by then and I’d worked with some diva-ish actors. But I think when I took over, I was lucky enough to have a certain amount of information in our hands. And I knew that the problem was that it had gone to four episodes a week. The Friday and Sunday episodes were not playing terribly well in London, so that was a problem for LWT.

It was also failing… these crude things, that I think you became aware of, and it stood me in good stead later on, to understand is that there were problems with it. It was a show that was rapidly – it wasn’t a show that you’d watch with your mother anymore, it was probably a show where if you were lucky, you’d be watching with your grandmother. It was losing. It wasn’t attracting young people and it wasn’t attracting a southern audience, so they were quite big things and there were rumours that LWT was going to take it out of the 7.30 slot.

So I had to take a clinical look at it as well. I watched about 100 episodes before I took over. And in December – and I took over in January – the press was always… it was either, EastEnders was up and was the great show that was coming in and thrashed Coronation Street over Christmas, and they’d make a great show about which show got the Christmas audience. And the year I took over, EastEnders had trounced it, so it was, EastEnders is the way forward, Coronation Street’s stuck in the past, old characters… One of the things that was worrying about it was [laughs]I think the median age of the cast when I took over was about 72 or something, and you’re thinking, there might be a slight indication of why no one under 20 is watching the show anymore. That’s a slight exaggeration, but there were trends there that you had to [take into account]… [if you weren’t then] you weren’t doing your job, actually.

I was also minded – I have to watch what I’m saying slightly here – I wasn’t going in with any rosy views. It was a great institution, and yes you had to be slightly careful with it, and there were political ramifications in it which I’ll go into in a second – but I knew it had to be shaken up, and that’s what I was going to do. There was no sense in being cautious with it, because I’d felt that being cautious or over-reverential was probably where it was at that point.

Brian Park recalls the changes he made to Coronation Street

I do remember when I went in December before I took over in January, when I went to the first story conference… now it may be because it was very cold, but having been – this would be quite contentious, but having been told that the story conference was almost like the pantheon of the gods, I was thinking I’d have to be on my mettle. Well, it was a cold December morning and we were going to be meeting in the V&A in one of the big conference suites there or something. These load of people tripped in in anoraks, shuffling in, and I kept thinking to myself that they all looked as if they’d been chucked out of their local library where they’ve been keeping warm on a winter’s day!

It was an interesting dynamic, because there were three or four writers who held the court, and then all the rest were rather subdued. And it went on for two days at that point. It went on forever. And unfortunately on the first day conference at lunchtime, certain members would go over to the Stables and come back, shall we say, slightly looser and more relaxed than they were when they’d shuffled in. And the curious thing was that you could actually see stories getting chucked around and there were some master storytellers there, but then once a drink was taken, it all slightly went a bit woozy again, so stories were talked up, and then they were talked down. And then you’d spend the next day trying to pull it together again. It was a bit of an eye-opener; I was thinking we might have our work cut out here.

Can I just ask, how many people were in the story meeting?

At that time there were about 13 writers, anywhere between 10 and 13, as a pool, if I remember it.

And just to ask, is that the case today?

I don’t know.

No.

No… well. I’ll try and ramble through it and see. There were about 13 writers. Then there was the script editing department, which basically storylined and edited the shows as they came in. There was a story editor and three assistants that worked as script associates.

What I did, which was contentious, but I decided that the power really had to be… while we could have a Cabinet- I mean, I’m very aware of what I’m saying here. It was interesting in 1997, Tony Blair took over as Prime Minister, and the Labour party… There was a feeling that whatever had been said [at the script conference] had to be passed and put through. I slightly moved away from that and I gave the power to basically script editors and story editors, and myself.

Basically, I thought, well, you had to produce, you had to push it through… I cut the story conferences down from two days to one day, and we pushed it through and when we went round the writers as before.

I basically streamlined it, I gave more power to the storyliners and the story editing. So yes, the writers were there and would come up with ideas and we would discuss them. But to push them forward, we had very clear ideas of where it went. I think arguably the story conference was alright when it was two episodes a week in the olden days, when a convivial, almost club-like atmosphere could prevail and when the programme itself didn’t have any competition – in the good and olden days.

But then EastEnders was on the go, and rightly or wrongly, the die was cast that we went from two (episodes a week) to three and three to four, EastEnders went from two to three, except it was a different machine. Writers and actors equally didn’t cope or didn’t want to cope with the pressures that were on there, and it had to become much more disciplined I think, and slightly ruthless and much more of a machine, rather than purely being the whimsy, which often was wonderful, in its day, but I needed to grab younger views and southern views to keep the ratings up. And you know, we put on three million viewers in our time. But we went for big, sensational stories. There was also a slightly, maybe unspoken convention or wisdom that once you’d done one big story you had to rest because viewers would be exhausted. Well, that was palpable crap. So we always went from one big story to the next big story. I looked around and went, well, who’s the happiest family here? It was Kevin and Sally. And I’d say, right, we’ll break them up, so we brought Natalie Horrocks in and exploded that.

I went away on holiday and I came back and we’d had – Deirdre had a new admirer or something, and we decided he was a con-man. And I remember I stupidly went away on holiday and they decided to close that down. Deirdre will go into the corner shop and she’ll find out that he’s a cheat, and that’ll be it. But when I came back, Ann McManus discussing it, she was the script executive by that time [and she went] ‘No, it’s got tons of bloody legs on this, there’s so much more you can do with it.’ And it ended up with the story being that Deirdre went to prison, and the huge publicity surrounding that, and even had Tony Blair’s press office phoning up the Coronation Street press office saying, ‘Could you tell the Prime Minister what’s happening with the Deirdre thing, because it might be mentioned?’ And we thought that was a hoax.

 

Brian Park on ‘shaking up’ Coronation Street

I’ll put it this way. As with all these things, and you learn these things as you go, it’s like, “Oh right Brian, we want you go in and shake it up a bit” and when you start shaking it, they’re like “well we don’t want you to shake it too much though…” So you get this idea that yes, you have to be radical and it needs a good shaking up but then they go, hold on a second! So in some ways it’s likened to, you know… you’ve got this venerable old institution. It’s like running a stately home. You’re only there as a custodian and you’re going to hand it on to future generations, or the next producer, the next sucker that comes on. So you introduce lions, and an adventure park. But at what point does it destroy the original? It’s just one of those things were you make a judgment call. I know that after I left there was talk, “the problem with Brian was that there were too many big stories and they were all coming one after the other” and you go… err, as though you’ve only got a treasure trove of ideas and you can only hand them over to the public. Well, not by that time, I don’t think. The great thing was, we started one story, like say Sally and Kevin’s marriage getting broken up. And then once you’ve stopped that, you know, you brought in Deirdre.

Oh and the other thing – sorry, I should remember – during my time, in the midst of doing all this vamping stuff up and making it relevant to younger people and a southern base. It was the great – “When are we going to have a gay character?” and at that point, I went, oh, God, because at that point EastEnders had had a gay character. We had Brookside, and it just looked as though we’d be slowly sadly filling it… and so we trumped them all by having a transsexual! So Hayley come in and she went on for all those years and when she died, in the really great storyline that they had for her exit, and Julie Hesmondhalgh was a fantastic actress as well. But it was that slight devilment that we had in our day just to go, because… I always remember when, I think it was Ann McManus’ idea – it certainly wasn’t mine – said, we were thinking about it, and should we make a transsexual and I fell off laughing. I always remember the writer, who had introduced Hayley, and she was just introduced as yet another mousy from the garment factory sort of character and there was nothing there. When we announced it to the… What they got at the story conferences was a thing saying the plot of what the next batch of episodes was going to be. I just remember the writer going, her character was X, and we reveal, she’s a transsexual! And she went, “this is a joke, isn’t it?” “No!” So it was interesting. We decided not to go gay, we thought that had been done, so we went transsexual. And it worked.