Interviewed by Stephen Kelly and Judith Jones, 5 November 2015.
How did you come to join Granada television? What had you been doing beforehand?
I’d really done nothing. I’d been at university, dabbled on the student paper but not very much. But I knew that I didn’t want to be a secretary or a teacher, which is all the recommended that you should do at university if you were a girl in those days. I thought I’d like to go into publishing. Did I tell you all this yesterday? Shall I go on with that? I liked reading so I thought, “Oh, publishing. You sit around reading books all day, that sounds jolly nice.” And the trade magazine was called Books and Bookmen and they used to advertise for graduate men. So I would answer these adverts and I’d sign “Claude Milne” and just make my squiggle so that they’d just assume that I was a bloke. And lots of them I didn’t get an interview for because I clearly had no experience and I didn’t have a good degree, I only got a 2:2. I wasn’t a smarty pants. But I did get an interview at two. And neither of them would actually interview me when I turned up at reception because I was a girl. One of the interviewers came down to reception and I said, “It’s not fair, why won’t you interview me?” And he said, “Because you’re just an attractive girl, you’ll go off and get married. We’ll lose you and we’ll have spent all that time on money investing in you.” And I pointed out that a huge percentage of graduate men left their first job within three or four years anyway, so his argument didn’t actually hold water. But anyway, he just said, “Yes, very interesting dear, off you go.”
So I was working in Selfridges in the coordinates department, just literally to earn money. And my mum was a teacher and I had a half day and I was lighting the fire for her before she got home from school, and it was the beginning of November, this time of year, and I was shoving The Guardian into the fireplace and putting a match to it and just as the flames were licking up I saw Granada Television wants researchers. So I pulled it out and answered the ad.
But by then I’d tried so many times to get jobs in various media things that I knew, because I had no experience, not to write to personnel or human resources because you never got anywhere. You would just get rejected. So my brother had been an assistant film editor briefly at Granada, so I phoned him and told him to find out for me what this show was about and who the producer was. And the producer was John Birt. So I wrote, “Dear Mr Birt, I’m sure this is the only application you’ll get from the coordinates department of Selfridges.” And that got me the interview. It was simply that.
And what year was that?
1968. He took it very seriously, Birt, unlike most people. He shortlisted a number of people. I was interviewed in London by Marion Nelson. Those that were shortlisted, there were about 10 or 12 of us, went up to Manchester for two days for sort of being given exercises, research tasks to perform, and interviewing. I was one of the lucky ones.
So a lot of people have talked about the interviewing process and have very distinct memories of things that happened during the interview and questions they were asked. Do you have any?
Yes, I remember that it was a board, it wasn’t just John. They really took it seriously. And I can’t remember who it was but somebody, I think it was Leslie Woodhead actually, said, “So in five years’ time, what would you like to be doing?” The sort of standard question. And I said “Working on World in Action.” Because I loved World in Action. I’d grown up with it. When it started in ’63, I remember it when it started. It was just so completely different from Panorama. And it think that is what really got me the job because they loved World in Action too!
So you joined Granada, came to Manchester, and how did your career then develop?
Well it was a light entertainment programme called Nice Time. It had Kenny Everett and Germaine Greer, and Sandra Gough who was a Coronation Street star, and Jonathan Routh who had done a programme called Candid Camera, I think. It was very popular. It went out on a Sunday afternoon and they were hiring because it had gone onto the network; it had been a local programme before. It went out on a Sunday afternoon at about 5 o’clock as family entertainment. You’d do things like drag 50 sergeant majors into the studio to sing a song, or whatever. So that was how I started, working on that. I thought it was rubbish. I really wasn’t very impressed by it. It was a six month contract, and towards the end of the six months John said to two of us, Geoff Moore and me, and I think there were something like six researchers working on it, “Don’t worry about getting another job, you’ll be alright. Granada wants to keep you.”
Geoff and I sat around not desperately applying for other jobs. All the other researchers were applying for other jobs. I didn’t do anything. Then at the end of the contract, it was, “Bye-bye, sorry, there isn’t anything after all.”
John had then taken over World in Action with Gus and become the joint editor. I was unemployed for about three months. That was over the summer, so it wasn’t too bad. I just went home to my mum’s. Then I came up to Manchester just to spend a weekend with some friends, and somebody told me that Mike Scott was looking for researchers, and that’s how I got back in. That was on a religious programme called Seven Days. It was sort of religious current affairs. And then I worked on locals. Do you know Brian Winston?
I think he’d gone before me.
Well I worked with Brian on a thing called Campaign where we campaigned for things, like we persuaded lots of factories when there were factories to allow their women employees to go out into mobile trucks in the car park to do cervical smears and breast x-rays and things. So we did socially good campaigns of that sort. And that felt sort of important.
And then I went onto World in Action in something like the summer of 1970. Basically I knew that was where I wanted to go, but I thought I hadn’t got a hope yet, that I was still you young and inexperienced. But I thought, what I’ll do is I’ll send Jeremy Wallington who’d become the editor – I knew I wouldn’t have a chance with John Birt because I answered him back too much, but Wallington didn’t know me – I sent him a memo. I sent six programme ideas. One of them was before there was any local radio and they were just debating in parliament I think, about whether or not to have independent radio. One of them was to go to America and look at the bible-thumping stations, not that I knew anything about it because I’d never been to America. So I wrote it out and sent it in.
Wallington called me and said, “Well I like one of your ideas, I’d like to use it, with your permission.”
I said, “You’ve got my permission if you give me a job.”
He said, “How long have you got in your contract?”
And I said, “Six weeks.”
He said, “I’ll give you a trial for six weeks and if you’re no good, you’re out on your ear. And if you are good, you can stay. But local programmes won’t have you back.”
So I said, “Well I’ll try it. I’ll do it!”
And that’s how I got onto World in Action. And I found out afterwards it was because there was only one woman on the team, Vanya Kewley, there was no other woman at that stage. There had been a couple of other women but they’d left in the earlier days. Ingrid Floering was one. They were doing a programme which they called I’m Alright, Jackie, which was about feminism. Have you heard of this programme? It might be worth seeing if you can get it. I think they were so embarrassed by the fact that in the Manchester office World in Action didn’t have a single woman on the production team that it suited them to hire me!
So you were there as a researcher, and stayed from ‘70 until when?
I think I stayed on World in Action till ’77 or ’78. Then I was on locals. I was never a producer on World in Action. I was a researcher and they didn’t have APs in those days. I just thought I’d get promoted. I didn’t understand that you had to lobby for it and ask for it. I didn’t get that at all. I just thought one day they’d say, “Oh, would you like to be a producer? You’re doing very well.” Eventually when John Blake got made a producer and he’d started on World in Action after me, I thought, how come? I don’t understand! I asked David Hart, “Why did they make John Blake a producer and not me?”
And he said, “Well, have you mentioned to anybody you want to be a producer? Have you told Gus?”
I said, “No, it’s obvious surely!”
And he said, “No, it’s not obvious. You have to ask for it. You have to push for it. You Have to say, ‘I want to be a producer. When am I going to be a producer?’”
And that was when they changed the rules and started doing boards. When they started doing the boards they then no longer made people up to producer straight onto World in Action. You had to go to locals and do a stint in producing Granada Reports.
So you went to locals working on Granada Reports. Tell us a bit about Granada Reports. Let’s assume the people who listen to this might not know what it is.
Granada Reports was a 6 o’clock magazine show. Maybe it was at 6:30, I can’t remember. It was linked to the six o’clock network news and it was the regional opt-out so it only went out in Granadaland. It was studio-based but with film inserts. It was a typical magazine, so it had sport every day, local news every day, and then a little mini feature of some sort, then something humorous, and there’d be studio interviews as well. Producing it was quite good fun but I realised I didn’t really like studio. I much preferred doing things on film, because it was so uncontrollable. It was just not so satisfying, really.
I did that for a bit, then I went for a director’s board, which they’d never had… Director’s boards in those days were very much the way that studio camera men, floor managers, people like that, technicians, would become directors. They’d go for a director’s board and they’d become directors. And they’d never had a producer apply for a director’s board. Anyway, I went to this director’s board, I think it was Mike Scott who said to me, “So, Claudia, if you were a director, what would you do about So It Goes?” which was the late night popular music show that Tony Wilson presented. And I’d never even watched it really. I didn’t know what the fuck to say. So I said, “Well, I’d just like to preface my remarks, Mike, by saying that if I was deputy programme controller, I’d take it off the air!” And I got such a great laugh. Plowright was like [Claudia bangs the table] and I never had to answer the question!
So I got the director’s board, or I was one of the trainee directors. So from being a producer, I became a trainee director. That was quite funny because you had to go into Studio 2 and direct Granada Reports, and because it was a live show it was quite hairy. People were always under supervision, there’d always be an experienced director with you. But for me it was an absolute doddle because I’d produced Granada Reports, and I was very popular with the studio crews because they always put sandwiches and tea in committee room A, B or C, and if we didn’t have studio guests I’d pull the key and I’d say, “No studio guests today, anybody who wants tea and sandwiches, go to the committee room!” – whichever one it was. So they really liked me. So when I started directing they looked after me so well that I was taken off supervision really quickly because they thought I could do it. They didn’t realise it was just the crew looking after me because I’d given them sandwiches!
Then I had to move and do something like What’s On, where it was a different studio where I didn’t know the crew. And I fell flat on my face! The vision mixer sorted me out but my god I was a mess. Anyway I knew I didn’t want to do…
When did you become a director?
I worked with you when I’d only ben at Granada a few weeks. I arrived in the summer of ’78 and worked on Granada Reports.
Was I doing Reports Extra?
You were. And I worked with you and Dave Jones on Reports Extra for a few months. We did about half a dozen programmes.
Well I think I was directing on that as well as producing.
You were doing both, yes.
I think I was doing both.
We went to the Conservative party conference.
I was heavily pregnant at the time and we were at the Tory party conference in Blackpool. There was no security in those days. We had to finish shooting by the Wednesday I think because it went out on Thursday night, or was it Friday?
Friday, 10:30 I think.
So we filmed the first few days of the Tory party conference. Dave Jones was huge, he looked like a rugby player and he was very funny. He was form Liverpool. We decided the theme would be him going round and trying to get Thatcher to dance! So we found every ball that was taking place and we filmed at every single one! And at every single one, Dave would go up and say, “Could I have this dance, Mrs Thatcher?” And he ended up saying, “Any chance of a dance, Missus?” It was hilarious. And she was sort of saying, “Oh, not you again!”
She made more remark like, “I suppose you’re one of those comprehensive school boys aren’t you?”
And Dave said, “No, actually I went to a very good grammar school!”
CM: He went to Merchant Taylors’ I think!
I remember that programme well. Then I think we did the Labour Party as well. I don’t remember much about that.
We were so naughty in the Labour Party one. It was just before the winter of discontent. Do you remember this? Callaghan had been doing, “Will I-won’t I go for election?” and it was the last Labour Party conference before an election. And we went to film at Welsh night. Do you remember Welsh night? It was absolutely full of MPs and there was a Welsh choir or something, and a big piss-up, basically. One of those funny things happened where there was a big crowd of people, there was a row of chairs at the end of the hall where this party was taking place, and there was Callaghan the Prime Minister sitting on his own! So I said “Dave! Get over there and ask him for an interview!”
So Dave pushed through all these people to this figure sitting isolated on his own, and just as we get there with the gun mic, you could head Callaghan saying, “No, no, no! Leave me alone! I’m here to enjoy myself!”
So when we were in the cutting room we wrote a line of commentary which went, “I begged him to go back to Downing Street and sort out the country!”
Then says the Prime Minister, “No, no, no! Leave me alone! I’m here to enjoy myself!” [Claudia and Steve laugh] We left this in. God knows what would have happened today. Nobody said a word. Nothing happened. I don’t know whether anybody upstairs ever noticed it because they probably weren’t watching Reports Extra. Great line.
I remember that now, yeah.
You also did another famous programme with Margaret Thatcher didn’t you?
I didn’t. World in Action did; I was on maternity leave. I was the first woman at Granada to get maternity leave on a written-down basis. They had said to a couple of other people, “Come see us when you’ve had the baby, dear, and we’ll see if we’ve got anything for you.” But I wanted to go back onto World in Action. God knows how I thought I was going to do it, but I did. And I went to them and asked. I went to the union. I was London-based. I went to the shop stewards and asked if they would negotiate maternity leave for me, told them what the TUC said, etc. And they said no. It was Gavin MacFadyen and David Hart and they said no, it’s pretty much a side issue.
Judith Jones: So were you ACTT?
I was ACTT, yes.
So I negotiated it myself. I sent a memo to whoever the editor was, Ray or Lapping, and said I wanted maternity leave. And they got somebody called Julian Amis, one of the early directors of Granada, and he was an absolute sweetie pie. He just said, “What do you think is reasonable?”
And I said, “This is what the TUC says, and I’d be very happy with it.”
And they gave me three months on full pay, three months on half pay, no loss of holiday entitlement, and kept my job open for a year. It was fantastic. The only thing they said when they sent me this piece of paper – which I wish I’d kept, but of course I didn’t – was, “This is not a precedent.” Well, of course it was. Within a year, Sue Woodford had a baby and got the same deal, so that was pretty good.
JJ: I tried to go back part-time when I had my child and I should have pushed but they weren’t interested.
Well they were shocking about nurseries. After I had Catherine[sp?], my second baby, I had maternity leave obviously with her, and that’s when I left. That’s it, I went and said, “What am I going to do when I finish?”
And they said, “You’re going onto World in Action.” And I just thought, well I just can’t, not with two. It’s just going to be too difficult. And Mike was a freelance cameraman so he was all over the place. I just thought, I can’t do it. And that’s why I ended up leaving Granada really, because I just thought I didn’t want to go back onto World in Action.
But when I had just given birth, I think Catherine[sp?] was about 6 weeks old, I got a phone call from Steve Morrison. And I’d been sort of campaigning for a day nursery at Granada because I just thought it was really needed. And the management knew that. Catherine[sp?] was six weeks old and I wasn’t due back at work for months. And I was breastfeeding her. And Morrison phoned me up and said that Geoff Moore, who had been producing Granada Reports at that stage…
So Geoff Moore is ill and Morrison says, “Can you come in?”
And I said, “Steve, I’m breastfeeding, I can’t come in!”
He said, “I’m absolutely desperate, can you come in?”
And I honestly don’t think I thought, a-ha, day nursery! I don’t think it honestly crossed my mind. But I said, “Well I’ll do it for a few days, yeah, but I’ll have to bring her with me, she stays with me in the office, I need a room” – you know, one of the rooms they use for artists down near the studios – “so that I can go and feed here there, where I’m going to be comfortable, etc. And when I’m in the studio, somebody, a mother, has to be with Catherine[sp?] all the time I’m in the studio from 4:30pm until the show goes out.”
“Fine.” He said. So I go in with this tiny baby. And Mike Scott saw me and he went absolutely apeshit. I was almost hassled out of the building. They were absolutely convinced it was part of a conspiracy to get a nursery!
JJ: I was going to ask, was there a campaign at the time for a nursery?
We just started talking about it really. What we were talking about was that it should give priority to women but if there were enough places, blokes should be able to use it as well. But I don’t think there was a campaign as such. It was just something we’d just started talking about. And I think it would have been pretty tough in those days to have got it through the union up there because it was so dominated by old style men
SK: It was totally dominated by the technicians
SK: There were very few production staff on.
My experience of being an equality rep in Liverpool is that it was incredibly difficult to get those old style technicians to entertain anything to do with gender equality or any other. So whilst there were very strong unions, they…
JJ: They were very old-fashioned, weren’t they?
SK: Sandy Ross and I had a campaign, because we were on the shop committee back in the eighties. In those days if you died your pension went automatically to your spouse, but if you weren’t married, that was it. The technicians just assumed that everybody was bound to be married. Sandy and I managed to get that changed so that you could nominate someone.
We were on strike a lot of the time. There were a lot of strikes.
SK: There was the big strike in, what was it, ’79?
The big ITV strike, yeah. There was also a film shop strike. Mike by then had started working at Granada on the staff which didn’t work out. Because he was such a good cameraman they said they could give him lots of opportunities to work on dramas and drama documentaries, and asked, “Why don’t you come and join the staff?” He joined the staff for a bit and he hated it. Just hated it. But anyway there was a film shop strike. I can’t remember what it was about. So he was on strike. And I was crossing the picket line and he was on picket duty!
And then there was the big ITV strike when I think Mike appeared on BBC News outside, I think, The Tickled Trout! Where there was a meeting between the management of ITV and the union. Mike was there with a placard shouting, “I can’t manage on fifteen thousand a year!” [laughs] Which was a sort of joke!
SK: They met at The Tickled Trout and sorted it all out, didn’t they? Because I think the TUC were meeting in Blackpool or Preston by the side of the motorway.
It was a long strike, that. I think it was about 12 weeks.
SK: Nine or 12 weeks, yeah.
We had a nanny, and of course with both of us out of strike we were having to pay the bloody nanny, because we never knew when we were going to go back to work.
SK: Yes, a lot of people were in serious financial difficulties.
JJ: You said when you were on locals you tried to do some programmes around women employees and the cervical smears. In World in Action or in other programmes, did you try to bring any women’s issues in? You were one of the few women on World in Action. Or a women’s slant?
I don’t think so. I don’t really remember. But I think that I put up many more ideas about social issues. The one about truancy was an idea I’d had. We did a film about single parents. I objected strenuously because they did a mini series within World in Action called Conversations With. So you’d get one person who would encapsulate a social dilemma of some sort. They had conversations with a working man, conversations with this and that. And they wanted to do conversations with a single parent. They asked me to and producer John Shepherd to find someone. I found this great woman and he found this bloke who was really good but he wanted to do it about him and I was like, “No!” There are so few men, it creates… And they absolutely took the view that it would be better to do it with a man, that more people would watch it. So I didn’t get my way with that at all. The woman never appeared.
I don’t remember doing anything specific. The Equal Pay Act had already happened. I don’t think there was a huge amount – I mean, obviously feminism was really strong at that time but I can’t remember actually pushing for… I remember doing programmes about… I was on the nuclear unit. We had a nuclear unit where we specialised in nuclear issues so that was about the dangers of radiation and those sorts of things, and I don’t know whether the blokes would have been as interested in it as I was. I think I was so keen not to be thought of as a soppy girl. I was often putting in things that were just as hard journalistically as anybody else and I objected if I wasn’t put on the programme.
JJ: Did you ever feel that you were discriminated against?
Not really. No. I mean I think I got a lot of opportunities actually, because I was a woman and they wanted to be seen to be giving opportunities, I think. I mean, I think I was a token woman.
JJ: And presumably you were probably quite unusual being a director, being a woman.
Yes. There were practically none. And when I became a freelancer, which isn’t Granada, obviously, there were absolutely no freelance producer-directors. The reason that the whole Channel 4 thing happened with me was that there were so few women in current affairs anyway, the vast majority of them were still on the staff of whatever company they worked for, and I was about the only one who was making a living as a freelance director. I made an investigation for ATV with Dave Jones about the Salvation Army. We attacked a well-loved national institution. It was jolly good fun!
SK: Did you find there was a macho culture on World in Action?
Yes, very much so. I can remember for instance when I was Manchester based. Do you remember Gerry Dow? He had this company called Green Dow[?]. And their Christmas parties were quite notorious and I didn’t really know why. Everybody on World in Action was invited to this Christmas party, and I went along, and suddenly this strip dancer appeared and started stripping. I was just absolutely appalled. All these what I thought were nice men were standing round leering, jeering and laughing. I said, “You should be ashamed of yourselves. Can’t you see that by her face that she’s not enjoying it? It’s horrible!” And I was told I was a prude and to grow up.
SK: You talked about the campaigning kind of programmes in World in Action. And Granada had this ethos of being an unashamedly left-wing company.
It had this reputation of being a left wing company. In many ways I think that it did have a different sort of culture, and that you felt that your job was, to if not make trouble, then to ask questions. I think that culture pervaded quite a lot of the place, even if you were on Coronation Street. I think Coronation Street was the first soap that ever introduced an Asian family. Things of that sort.
Oh, I’ve just thought of a programme that I did that was an issue programme. It was about arranged marriages. It was the first programme that was ever made about arranged marriages, which was very sensitive in about ’76-’77. We’d found this fantastic girl who had run away rather than be forced into a marriage. I’m sure there were others.
JJ: But if you hadn’t done it, it wouldn’t have been done?
Nobody would have suggested it. No, absolutely not.
Culturally I think we were supposed ask questions, but the senior management seemed to be much more interested in evidence than whether or not you had a left wing stance. If you had evidence for what you were saying then it was alright. We did a film about the rise of the National Party in Blackburn. One of the councillors who was a National Party member had convictions for living off immoral earnings but they were spent under the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. There was no established defence for breaking the rehabilitation of offenders act under law. You couldn’t say it was in the public interest. They were really good in asking how we got the evidence. I can’t remember how we got it but we absolutely proved he had got this conviction, and they just went with it against the lawyers’ advice. They said that it was more important that the people who are voting for this bastard know who they are voting for.
So I think that you had to have evidence. That was the big thing I learned. Which was really good.
SK: As a journalist and a producer, would you get backing from the company?
Yes, if you provided the evidence. It was the big thing that I felt that they would back you if you had the evidence and they wouldn’t if they thought you were just being biased. I remember that I worked on a programme with David Boulton about opposition to the Industrial Relations Act and we filmed miners, dockers and all sorts of people opposed to it. And the management wouldn’t back it. They said, “What about Tory trade unionists?” There are some Tory trade unionists and they made us go and find some and talk to them. It was a better programme because of it. So journalistically I thought they were pretty good. I mean, they were paternalistic.
SK: They were?
Oh yeah. I mean, you must have heard about how women all travelled first class? Sidney had decided that all women were going to travel first class on the train, because if we were going to get raped he wanted us to be raped by an upper class gentleman, a first class passenger, and not by hoi polloi. I was in the ludicrous situation of going down to London with male researchers and I’d have a first class ticket and they’d be in second class. This lasted for ages. Producers all travelled first class but if you weren’t a producer you only travelled first class if you were a woman.
SK: And how else did the paternalistic culture pervade?
I suppose just the way that if you wanted a raise, the way it was handled. In those days they had researcher grades, A, B and C. And I can remember going to see Wallington and wanting to be moved up to from B to A, coming out feeling completely great, but with no extra money!
You mentioned something about pensions. This isn’t paternalistic but, it was great for her, but I’m sure other people they wouldn’t have done the same thing for. Do you remember Colin Richard? Colin and Mike used to work together because Colin had been the sound recordist. They’d worked together for years. When Colin died, Mike Scott arranged for the Granada pension – because Colin had only been on the staff for about three years, something like that – he somehow got the trustees to up the pension, so that Polly had a really good pension. Now on one level that’s really great, but on another level, I’m sure that if you were a second assistant studio cable kicker and that happened, that they wouldn’t have done anything.
SK: Yes. They did that for David Fraser who had actually left the company. He’d left the company a couple of months earlier, before he died.
JJ: Do you think that sort of paternalism came from the Bersteins and Forman?
I think it did. Really when the whole World in Action enquiry and fight happened, do you remember that?
SK: It was before my time.
Okay. Well you must have heard about it. Basically, from my perspective, Gus Macdonald started being pretty tough. Some people were on the staff but most people were freelance. I think I was on the staff. The freelancers were on annual rolling contracts, so they were effectively on staff, but they weren’t technically. But researchers tended to be on the staff and there was a researcher called Richard martin on work in action, a very nice man, and he had wanted to get made to being a producer for years and they just didn’t rate him. He was one of the people that they didn’t rate. They either rated you or they didn’t. And Gus said to Richard, “Well the thing is, because you’re on staff it is very difficult for us to make you up. But if you went onto a contract then it would up your chances massively.”
So he went onto a contact and he did become a producer on What The Papers Say. And they didn’t renew his contract. And we were appalled. He’d worked for the company for years. There were two or three incidents like that where Gus threw his weight around.
So we just got out the old union rule book and we looked up things like time off in lieu. Which nobody had claimed, really. They might have a day of but nobody did it rigorously. And we started going by the letter of it. So if we made two phone calls on a Saturday, we’d claim a day off. And it got more and more entrenched. Gus stuck his heels in. A lot of this happened while I was on maternity leave. Gus accused us of behaving like we were miners and like we were members of the industrial working class. And we accused him of acting like a 19th century coal owner! [laughs] And it got very bitter and nasty.
I gave up on it really. We were thinking we should have workers’ control and all that. And there was talk of us electing the new editor, we thought we should elect the new editor. And when they suggested Mike Becker, who in lots of ways is great, but would be hopeless as an editor, I thought, “You’re just being ridiculous now.” So I opted out of it. But it got very, very bitter.
JJ: Did Plowright step in or anything?
CM: I think Forman did. But I think they were really hurt by it. He couldn’t understand how it had got so nasty. I just thought when I was talking of another way that I thought they were paternalistic. I have forgotten what it is now, it will come back to me.
SK: Did you have much to do with the Bernsteins, Forman and Plowright?
Not a lot. Plowright scared me. I was really frightened of him. He had this reputation. I can remember the first time I went to a team dinner and I was the only women there, unless Vanya was there but I don’t remember her being there, it was probably just Manchester, and it was in one of the dining rooms. And he said, “Oh, well, Claudia, you can sit next to me.” And it was the last thing I wanted to do. And I sat next to him and talked to whoever it was on the other side the whole time, and didn’t say anything to him at all, because he scared me so much.
SK: And the Bernsteins?
Sidney more or less took a back seat. In Manchester I had no real dealing with them. The only dealing I had with Sidney was in Golden Square and I ran in to the lift and was just pressing the button to go up, and the commissionaire shouted, “Hold the lift! Mr Sidney’s coming! Hold the lift!”
And he rushed over and held the lift, and Sidney got in and he looked at me and he said, “Who are you?” And I knew exactly who he was because the commissionaire had said that Mr Sidney was coming. I said, “Claudia Milne, who are you?” [laughs]
And he obviously thought that was quite funny, he was fine about it. And he said, “What do you do?”
I said, “I work on World in Action. What do you do?” [both laugh]
SK: What did he say?
I can’t remember. I think maybe the lift arrived. But he had a twinkle. He thought it was funny.
And that was the thing I thought about Granada, that’s what I was going to say, is they liked you to answer back, but only so much. There was a line and if you crossed that line you were as much not to be trusted as you were not respected if you didn’t answer back at all. Do you see what I mean? That was paternalistic. It was like a father who likes their children to be ‘spirited’ but not too spirited; they mustn’t challenge his authority. So I think they were very like that.
SK: A lot of people talked about the canteen and the bar, the Stables or the Old School, both being areas where people would bond and network.
Well the canteen was certainly a place where people bonded, I think. I made some of my best friends there. When did the stables open? I think it must have been a couple of years after I started.
SK: It must have been about ’77.
No, it was before that, about ’74 or ’73 or something like that. Before I went down to London. Because I used to go there almost every night. The canteen was also somewhere where… It was good that there was no sort of executive dining room where all the ‘big knobs’ used to be. They would always go into the canteen.
SK: And was there that culture of egalitarianism in the company?
I’m not sure there was, really. I mean, I think there was a northern culture, quite rightly, but I don’t think they really thought about egalitarianism, really.
SK: Tell us about that northern culture.
I think that people like Plowright were very proud of its links with the north. I don’t think that came from Forman as much as it did with Plowright. I might be wrong. As far as I know Forman never lived in Manchester and Plowright did live in the North West. I don’t think he lived in Manchester. But I think that they did resent the metropolitan bias of the establishment and I think that was why there was this sort of questioning attitude, and not accepting the status quo attitude.
SK: You mentioned Dave Jones, the Liverpudlian presenter. Were there other presenters from the north?
Oh yes. Bob Greaves, Bob Smithies, they all were, virtually, apart from Sue Woodford who was a presented or Granada Reports. This is interesting as well: in Stewart Pervis’ book, do you know his book When Reporters Cross the Line? He writes about Bernstein and about Granada and he has this fantastic story about how, in 1966 I think it was, before Northern Ireland was on the radar of anyone in Britain, Scene at 6:30 did a major item that they called The Six Counties. They talked about discrimination against Catholics in housing and jobs, they talked about gerrymandering, rigging elections – on Scene at 630! It only went out in the north of England, I can’t remember when they actually lost Yorkshire and became a seven day a week company in the North West. It might have been before that.
SK: I think it was ’68.
I think it was. Anyway, it was extraordinary, and they got their knuckles severely rapped by the IBA. Really severely. I presume they did that, it’s all in the RBA archive in Bournemouth apparently, they did that because of the big Irish population round Liverpool that they thought would be interested in it, I suppose. But I can’t think of another company that would have done something like that.
JJ: My perception of World in Action is that it’s the one programme that did straddle Manchester and London. Was there a tension between essentially Granada being in Manchester and there also being a London office?
Yes, there was a bit, because quite a lot of people in London really resented having to go to Manchester and had never worked in Manchester, so yes, I think there was some tension. Also in terms of the union, because the London shop was dominated by production people and not by technicians, very often the London shop was passing resolutions and doing things which they really objected to in Manchester.
JJ: And did that affect the stories that you did?
No, I don’t think so.
JJ: I suppose you were looking nationally and internationally.
I’m sure that there were more stories rooted in the North West that we could have done anywhere but we decided to do them in the North West. When there was the Liverpool docks thing about stuffing and stripping containers… actually that’s a bad example because it started in Liverpool. But I think with industrial things, we did a lot of programmes and we tended to do those in the North West.
Things like The Village That Quit, the smoking show, that was done in the North West but you could have done that anywhere. You could have gone to a lovely little scenic village in Wiltshire or somewhere. But we went to Longnor. Which was a bizarre place. A lot of the villagers had one of four surnames – so inbred! And there were people there who had never been to Manchester, living in that village, and they’d never been to Manchester, which was 15-20 miles away. It was a different world. Longnor, it was called. I think it was in Derbyshire.
SK: It has that great opening scene, doesn’t it, with the coffins coming out of all the doors?
CM: Oh, that was the bronchitis show. That was a different show. Longnor was where we persuaded this village to give up smoking in order to give you a narrative and bombard them with information about how it affects your health. The first person to crack did so after about 20 minutes.
SK: Meanwhile, all the producers and directors were around the corner smoking!
Is there anything you think we haven’t covered?
CM: Well, sexual harassment we haven’t covered. From the producers and researcher, none. But XXXX (Redact) ,maybe if you do use this you can just say ‘executive’, I can just remember getting into the lift with him and I was about 21, come on. I was alone in the lift with him. This was when I’d first started. And he stood like this, leaning over me, and put his crotch really close to me, and said, “Do I frighten you?”
And one of the things I also remember, which always made me feel very uncomfortable, was that some of the blokes would make you complicit in their naughty behaviour. So one night you’d be sitting in the pub and their wife would be there, and the next night you’d be sitting in the same pub in the same chairs and his arm would be round his girlfriend or his current squeeze. And I hated that because it made me feel complicit in something I didn’t want to be complicit in.
Mike Scott, he was a naughty one. He was always pinching bottoms and things like that. I was friendly with his secretary, Jean Siddall, really nice woman, and Mike was still appearing on the box, this was when I was still on locals, and he’d go down most nights at about 4:30 for rehearsals. And I’d go into Jean’s office and they had a coffee percolator and she made decent coffee, and we’d have a nice cup of coffee and a gossip. And one day I went in and Jean wasn’t there so I was pouring myself a cup of coffee and Mike came in, and he had all his makeup on, and he had on a clean shirt, and he said, “What are you doing in my office?”
And I said, “I’m just helping myself to a cup of coffee. Jean’s not here”. He held the door, I walked out, and as I walked out, he goosed me. So I jumped, and this hot coffee went on my hand. I said, “Don’t do that, that hurt! You made me spill the coffee!”
And he said, “Oh, I’m really sorry, it won’t happen again.” He held the door. I went out. He did it again. And I turned round a chucked it at him. I was so furious.
But he was alright because although he behaved really badly, you’re not supposed to chuck hot coffee all over your boss, and he just said, “I deserved that, didn’t I?”
And I said, “Well, I thought you did, but I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done it.”
And he just said, “Let’s just say no more about it.” And we didn’t. We never said anything about it. But that was horrible and I know a lot of the secretaries had a really bad time from various people.
JJ: I don’t think I was openly sexually harassed but there was a lot of touching. I remember one director used to pat me on the head, and things like that, and it was just okay. If you objected to it, people would wonder why you were making a fuss. I think for me, I know this isn’t meant to be about me, but I think for me as a PA, especially if I went away filming, it would be assumed that I would take on the role of, like, paying for everything and hiding the wine and generally looking after people in a mothing, maternal way. It would be more than the job you were expected to do. You’d have to run around and tidy up after everybody. Not tidy up but I suppose metaphorically tidy up, do all those kinds of tasks.
I can’t think of anything else really.
SK: When did you leave?
I left Granada in ’79 and went freelance. Then I went back and did A Disappearing World in about ’81.
JJ: Did you think the ethos of the company was changing? When you went back did you think there were any changes?
CM: I don’t think then I did but I think certainly when I went back as an independent producer it seemed to be much more corporate and less informal.
SK: Some great stories. Anything you feel you wanted to say but haven’t?
For me it was the thing which formed an ethos that I tried to bring into Twenty Twenty, about being rigorous with journalism and I was always committed to as a programme maker. I always thought that if you believed something to be true then you should be prepared to put the strongest opposition to your particular point of view. So I think about how people like Beckham stuck it out, he did 110 programmes he said yesterday, I mean, extraordinary. I certainly learned a huge amount, and you just met some extraordinary people out on the road. It was fantastic.
World in Action was, I think, very innovative in terms of style. It pioneered a genre of programme making that you see all the time now. So things like The Village That Quit when we persuaded a whole village to give up smoking, and things like observational film making – there was hardly any observational film making. Panorama wouldn’t do observational film making, but you know, World In Action did with things like film that Leslie Woodhead made about the Vietnam demonstration in ’78, things about the democratic convention. Getting access, access documentaries. We did all those sort of thing in World In Action, which was new for current affairs in those days. They didn’t do it. They interviewed people but they didn’t actually observe life as it was happening. So there’s those, and when World in Action moved off its own agenda and moved on to a political agenda I think it lost its way, so when it made things like the Thatcher programme.
I did a film with John Birt called The Man From Number 10. Birt had stopped being joint editor of World In Action and Jeremy Wallington had taken over. Jeremy Wallington came to me one day and said, “Claudia, John Birt’s got this awful idea, but I’ve got to take it seriously because it’s John Birt. He wants to make a film about Ted Heath on Morning Cloud, Ted’s yacht, as a metaphor for Ted Heath being the Prime Minister of the nation.” Ted Heath had appointed this PR man to handle all the press interest in Morning Cloud. So he said, “Phone him up. When you say World In Action he won’t want to touch it with a barge pole.” And to my horror, the guy said yes!
So I was lumbered with doing this bloody film about Ted Heath on the Morning Cloud. Ted Heath was a person who was impossible to get to know anyway because he was so, sort of, I think he probably had Asperger’s or something. He was a weird man. I’m sure he wasn’t a sexual deviant in the way that has been rumoured. I have no evidence of that – about children, I mean. But he was very repressed. But this film was so deferential. It didn’t take the piss out of him at all. We filmed on Morning Cloud frequently and he had a very good crew, all these brawny working class lads from Southampton, and they’d be saying, “Left a bit, Skipper! Right a bit, Skipper!” They didn’t even say port and starboard. I didn’t know anything about sailing then, but he didn’t seem to me to be the man in charge of this boat. You could easily have done a hilarious cut where you actually made him out to be the incompetent idiot that I think he probably was. But oh, no. It was deferential. This man was the Prime Minister. So when they strayed off their own agenda like that, it failed, I think.
SK: It could never cover British politics very well.
No, it was absolutely hopeless as it.
SK: I’ll come back to that when we’ve finished. But the other thing about World in Action was it liked to tell a story, and that was the secret of documentary making, wasn’t it?
Absolutely. And that’s something that John Birt didn’t like, because he did this big thing about the bias [against? 04:12] understanding. He hated that. But at World In Action you were absolutely encouraged to find a story first. Or if you were doing an issue you had to find a story that encapsulated the issue.
There was a tiny piece in The Observer, literally a half-inch piece, I can’t remember why, but just commenting on the fact that there was this man called Ben Hunter who put children who needed adopting on TV in Los Angeles and how this was massively successful in finding homes for hard-to-place kids – mixed-race, disabled or older children. Adoption was becoming a big issue. World In Action had never done adoption really. So I went to Gus and said, “Why don’t we bring Ben Hunter over, and we’ll find some hard-to-place kids who are in care and up for adoption, and see if we can get them a family?”
And he said, “Okay, fine.” And I was pregnant at the time. So we made this show and Sue Woodford produced it and it was really good. It had a huge reaction, and Gus decided that he wanted to set it up in the North West and do a regular adoption show in the North West, and he asked if I would go up to Manchester and set it up. And I said, “Yeah, absolutely! But you know, I’m quite pregnant, so I don’t want to sleep on somebody’s floor, I want to stay in a hotel.”
And he said, “You’ve got the ACTT allowance, you can stay where you like.”
Well the ACTT allowance was, well, you certainly couldn’t stay in The Midland. And I said, “Where do you stay?”
He said, “The Midland.”
I said, “Well, I’d like to stay at the Midland.”
He said, “No, you’ve got the ACTT allowance, you can stay where you like.” So I went immediately to the union booklet and it said ‘reasonable accommodation’. It didn’t say that you had to stay on the ACTT allowance.
So I phoned him up and said, “Gus, it says in the agreement ‘reasonable accommodation’ and I think for somebody who’s over seven months pregnant I need to have access somewhere where I’m going to be safe, just in case. ‘Reasonable accommodation’ I think means The Midland.”
He said, “You can say that. I will go and talk to Plowright. I know what he’ll say,” sort of, “fuck off.” And he put the phone down. Oh yes, and Gus had said, “It will be the first time Granada sacked a pregnant woman.” And this was I think before I even had maternity leave.
So I phoned up David Hart who was then the shop steward in London, and said, “I’ve been threatened with the sack for sticking to the union agreement. I want you to put it into dispute.”
He said, “I’ll put it into dispute.”
I put the phone down from Hart, and Gus phoned back and said, “Claudia, I’m really sorry, I shouldn’t have done that.”
And I said, “Too late, Gus, it’s in dispute.” And he was really furious at me for putting it into dispute. So that was quite unpleasant really. And that was all during the time of the build-up of the World in Action troubles and enquiries and things.
Then, about two years later, I was in, it must have been Blackpool at party conferences – oh no, it was a Christmas party in Golden Square. And Gus said, “Shall we make friends?”
And I said, “Yes.”
And he said, “Shall we have a dance?”
Oh and before that, I was wearing a tight all-in-one jumpsuit and I’d got totally pissed. I went to the loo and wriggled out of this jumpsuit and I wriggled back in and I realised I’d peed on it. Anyway I didn’t have any choice. I wriggled back in. I had very long hair. I went back and he said “Let’s make friends.” We’d hardly spoken for ages. And he said “Let’s have a dance.” So he had his hands on my shoulders and on my neck and he said, “Claudia, why have you got a wet collar?” [laughs] And I didn’t like to tell him the real reason so I said oh it’s just sweat. But actually it was urine!
So anyway, I think that’s it.