Interview with Colin Weston, September 12, 2016.
Let’s begin Colin, with how you came to join Granada.
Well, I lived in south London with my parents and I always wanted to get into television, and I used to regularly watch the ITV stations down in London. And I said, “I’d like to do that job,” which was continuity announcer, station announcer whatever you want to call it. And I sort of looked around for vacancies; there weren’t many, but in 1968 the franchise changes came about and some companies weren’t there to be any more, they didn’t exist any more, so I thought I’d write in to see if there were vacancies around. And there was an advert in The Stage newspaper at Granada for an out of vision trainee announcer, so I applied for that and I left London for the first time, came up to Manchester for an audition. I sent in a reel-to-reel tape – if people remember what a reel-to-reel tape was! – and sent that in, and they liked it and they shortlisted me and they asked me to come up to Manchester and have an interview and do a little audition, and that’s what I did. That’s how it came about, from an advert basically. In 1968.
Yes. Just before the franchise changed when Granada lost the Yorkshire side of the contract. So when I joined, it was actually a seven-day north west company, but a month later they lost that side of the franchise to Yorkshire TV.
Okay, so what happens then?
When you’re taken on as a trainee, obviously you sit in with another person. So there was an announcer from way back called Don Murray-Henderson, you might have heard his name, he was he was an announcer there he used to do the voices on University Challenge and World in Action and things like that. So he actually trained me, I sat with him for four or five months, just sort of doing the job, and he was training me into what you should do, you know. Because basically it was voice over, you know, we weren’t in vision. So it was voice over in a little booth in what they called central control rooms, CCR as it became known. So that was basically it. I was trained by somebody who was already there.
What is a continuity announcer?
A continuity announcer that is a guy or a lady who sits there and provides announcements between programmes, telling you what’s coming on later in the evening or the next day. They’re also there if the programme breaks down or there’s some technical error you have to fill by coming in to apologise and things like that. Also, when I started, we were reading local news, though that was taken away later, but we read the local news bulletin after News at Ten. We also, in the early days when I was around in ‘68, we actually did commercial announcements; slide commercials live on the air, which was a nightmare really because these people paid money to have their products advertised and if you cocked it up by fluffing, they lost money and they had to have the adverts reinserted. And we also did everything – rugby league results, weather forecasts. You basically are there live to cover any problems, but the main job is to promote the company’s programmes at every junction.
And would you know that there was a particular point where you were going to have to introduce a programme?
Oh, yes. Because there’s what they call a DOS – a daily operational schedule – and that tabulates everything that is going to happen on the screen. Your contributions, your announcements – it even lists all the commercials and your bits, like your intro into a programme or promotion, things like that. So you know when you’re actually going to be used, except if there’s a breakdown when you have to jump in.
And those timings are down to the second, are they?
Oh, yes. Yes. It’s very, you know, when you’re meeting network companies from elsewhere in the UK you’ve got to do it to the second, you can’t you can’t be late. If it is late then that’s an error on somebody else’s behalf.
So when you have to introduce a programme, when you’re introducing Granada Reports or whatever, is that scripted for you, do you script it? Does somebody else script it? Do you ad-lib it?
All three, really. I mean, they have a promotions department and those writers do write scripts for the whole day, but you might not like their style, so you have the right to actually change the words to suit your style. So yes, it’s a case of reading a script that’s been written for you or throwing that out and doing your own little script – it’s up to you really, because you’re the live guy, so it’s your job to actually see what you’re comfortable with.
And if you’ve got 15 seconds you know precisely how much you can say?
You can say a lot in five seconds, let alone 15 seconds. It’s amazing, people don’t realise. If you give them a minute… a minute, in some cases, feels more like 10 minutes. It’s actually sort of… it’s amazing what you can say in that time.
But you would know precisely how much you could say?
Oh yes, because you know when the next programme is due in, because you look at a clock… you have what they call a monitor, an auto preview monitor, which shows you the next source coming up. If it’s say for instance it’s a programme coming from LWT, LWT’s clock would be on what we call auto preview. And if it ticks away, you know how long you’ve got before you have to shut up. BUT if they delay the thing you have to fill in a little bit, you have to ad-lib. So for instance, they would make a late roll of 10 seconds, you’ve then got to extend your script by 10 seconds to make sure you meet the programme on time – you can’t make it look as though there’s a gap in between what you were supposed to say and the incoming programme. And you earn your money when that happens.
And would you have rehearsed that in your mind? Would you have said, “Right, if there is an underrun or overrun.”
Oh, yes. They used to give us… apart from the normal script, they used to give us a standby script, which was just a script of every programme that day, so you could sort of lift out of it something, you know, you could ad-lib say, Coronation Street, and the programme is late. You could then talk about Coronation Street because it’s written down on what they call a standby script. So you’ve always got something there, material to fill in, it’s just a case of you don’t know how long you’re going to have to speak. It’s a juggling act, really.
Right. And would you ever ad-lib anything which was cosy and friendly?
Well, yes. I mean, not too cosy though because you’re trying to sell the company’s programmes for that night. No, I don’t think it comes under any category really, you’re just you. You know, you just sort of… every announcer’s different; some so perhaps cosier than others.
But you could be yourself, if you were giving out the weather forecast, which have been for a nice day tomorrow, you might say, “It’s going to be a nice day tomorrow, I’m looking forward to that.”
I think you can only go away with that if you’re in vision, because you’re seen to say that. Over a slide, it doesn’t quite sound the same; it doesn’t sound very factual. So you know, I don’t think… when I first started, Granada didn’t like that sort of cosiness – they wanted you to do the job but not sound too cosy, because you weren’t an in-vision announcer, you were a voice. You were the voice of Granada. So you couldn’t be too cosy, you had to sort of give the information and make it sound as interesting as possible but not too, you know, touchy-feely. Can’t have any of that in the Bernstein days!
Haha. So how many continuity announcers were there?
Well, when I joined there were four men. Because over a seven-day period when Granada had that contract, you need to cover obviously for the whole week, and also some announcers were in… two of them would be in on the same day – one to do transmission and the other one to do voice promotions, trailers, in another studio somewhere else. So there’s always say, two in a day. And normally the early person goes up to six o’clock and then the late person comes in to take over at six o’clock and then in those days when they had a closedown, they would sign off the station then, you know.
Right. And within which department did you come?
Presentation was the name of the department. We had a head of presentation. Are we giving names here?
Well, when I joined the head of presentation was, I don’t know if you know him, Joe Rigby.
Well, Joe was head a presentation and then he left that job and became controller of programme planning, and replacing Joe as presentation head was David Black who, when I joined, was a transmission controller. So they were, you know, some of them were… and so was Joe. Joe was a transmission controller at Tyne Tees Television, came here to Granada and sort of went into the management side.
And he had four or five transmission controllers, and they had assistants as well. You needed two people on the desk on each shift.
Well, apart for anything else, you’ve got to go to the loo now and again, you’ve got to have somebody there all the time. And also they had this thing about… you’ve probably heard of the red telephone, which is the call where all companies get together to discuss things about transmission. Well, you’ve got to have somebody there to answer that if… sod’s law you go to the loo and they ring the call.
Tell me some more about the red telephone.
The red telephone, because that’s the colour of it, was actually a call where every company could speak at the same time on the phone. You just pressed a button, and you could speak, you know, from Granada. It was just to discuss… say for instance there was a big news story, and ITN wanted to do an extra bulletin – that had to be discussed over the phone, and the nominated contractor – which is normally the London company, in those days it was Rediffusion and ATV, then it became Thames and LWT – they actually are the ones that make the decisions about these extra things. If it’s a big news story, you need to tell all the companies that’s what’s going to happen. Or say for instance, somebody discovers in a company that the running time of the last part of a drama isn’t as they’ve been told, so that might underrun, you have got to let people know that they have to fill, you know. So it’s a red phone where all 15 companies can speak at the same time to discuss transmission later on.
And presumably you also never knew if something was going to break down.
Well no, you don’t. I mean, normally the red phone rings in this awful siren noise it made… the company who had an error would apologise to everybody else for what happened. It’s a way of actually communicating with all the companies at the same time really.
And where would you be with within the studio setting? Or were you not within the studio arena?
No, because studios were on the lower ground floor with all the make-up departments. We were on the next level. I suppose it was a mezzanine floor really. It was the floor… the corridor that led out to the main reception, that floor, and what I call CCR, central control room.
Well, you have the TC there, the ATC, the announcer’s booth and you’ve got the engineering department further along – it’s all on that floor. All the technical side are on that side of the floor.
And that was as you came into reception down on the left.
Yes, that’s right. There’s those two swing doors on the left, past the loos, you go all the way down that corridor and you turn right.
Past the post room.
Yes. Turn right and that’s CCR, where the announcer would be.
When they went into vision, the studio was on the lower ground floor. That was much later. You know, when they went in the studio. It was actually a dressing room converted into a studio where make-up is. But that was much later when they went into vision.
Okay. So you continued as a non-vision announcer for how many years?
Well I starred in ‘68 and I think they went into vision in the middle 80s. Granada never liked in-vision continuity. They never followed suit from the other companies who had a lot of in-vision. I mean, you might remember ABC TV up here, who did the weekends up here. So they had their announcers in-vision. I mean a big star I think was David Hamilton, was the big announcer here. So you had Granada out of vision Monday to Friday, and then ABC Saturday and Sunday where there were announcers in vision. And Granada weren’t that keen on that. Actually, when I first [started]you weren’t allowed to give your name out on the air. The closedown, you couldn’t say, “This is Colin Weston signing off.” You could sign off but you couldn’t say what your name was. That’s how strict they were when I first joined. But that was the that was company policy.
So it was only in the mid 1980s that you went in vision.
Yes, we all went into vision, but it was very restricted though, so we did the lunchtime news at about half past one, and then you maybe did an intro in vision into children’s programmes, and then one at seven o’clock to introduce and welcome people for the evening thing, and then closedown – that’s all you were allowed to do. Because they thought it would be popular, but they weren’t that keen on it to be honest with you. They sort of thought, “Well, we’ll try. We’ll dip our toes in the sea and see what happens.” I never felt, you know, I had worked for other companies in vision, and that was the norm. But with Granada it was the exception, it was just… you know, “We’ll do it. We’ll tolerate it, we’ll do it and see how it goes.” But it was popular. We all got lots of fan mail from viewers, all four of us. So it worked, but the company… you see, it’s not the viewers that matter really I’m afraid, in some cases it’s what the management want. It’s a cat and mouse game with them. They used to say you could only do these in vision, by used to add some extra ones now and again and I got into trouble with that. Then I went back, and it was like a cat and mouse game with them actually. But it was popular.
How did you feel about going in vision?
Well, when I left Granada first time around – I was only there a year and a half and then they didn’t renew my contract – and then I went to Anglia Television in Norwich, where they were big on in vision, and I learnt my in vision from there. But strangely enough, Granada had got rid of me, but a year later I was filling in for everybody else who were on holiday breaks. And then eventually we all tried out and given auditions, all four announcers… it was a bit…nobody knows what they’re doing, because you didn’t… you see, all you did was you looked down – now you had to look ahead at the camera and people weren’t used to that. So it was a bit… suck it and see, really. It worked out for some more than others, let’s put it that way!
So let me just get that right, you went from Granada to Anglia…
Yes, but on my holiday from Anglia, I came back to freelance for Granada! So they got rid of me but I filled in on holiday breaks, you know, when the regular announcers… when they took leave I covered for them. Quite a few years as well.
And then you finally came back onto staff at Granada.
Well, I wasn’t on the staff, I was on rolling contracts. I was never on the staff, because until a certain year, and I can’t remember when, announcers and presenters weren’t allowed to be on the staff. I don’t know… they changed the policy later but when I was there you weren’t allowed to sort of… so you couldn’t have a pension, I had to take out my own, you know, you couldn’t have things like that. I don’t know why they did that, but eventually the announcers that were there at the time, later were allowed to actually be on staff, and they did actually join the pension scheme. But I never was. So I had yearly contracts, you know, rolling contracts. That’s how I worked. But then of course, I was in a good position because I was working for other companies as well, so I wasn’t exclusive to Granada, and they knew that. They didn’t like it, but they didn’t like… you know, there is nothing you can do about it unless you put me on the staff. You can’t have it both ways.
Right. But most of your time was being spent at Granada?
Oh, yes. Most of my announcing work was done up here, yes.
You mentioned ‘the four of you’. Who were the others?
Well, if you’re talking about way back, there was Don Murray Henderson, there was Bill Croasdale, Frank Whitby and myself. But latterly, you’ve probably heard of Jim Pope, Jim Pope was much later, but he was there… Charles Foster, who still… sadly Jim’s no longer with us, but Charles is still around, and there were a couple of lady announcers, and lady announcers weren’t used a lot until about the late 70s I think actually. We had Lynette Lythgoe, do you remember her?
Who was murdered.
Tragic, that was. Then we had Beverley Ashworth, Tracey Crawford… I mean, when I left, there was myself, John McKenzie, Pamela Dodd and Beverley… no, Beverley had gone by then. You know, there were two men and two women then.
Was Peter Wheeler continuity?
I don’t think so. If he was, he certainly wasn’t during my time. Peter did mainly, I think, voice overs on programmes more than continuity.
Because Peter I did know.
Yes, I know Peter. I don’t know him well but I remember him when he was doing Crown Court.
Right. And he worked on What the Papers Say.
Yes, that’s right. He did the voices, yes.
Can you remember any difficult moments or amusing moments when you were…
I always remember making errors and things like that. I mean, that’s par for the course isn’t it, really? I mean, you can do a good job but can also cock it up if you get the wrong name in the programme. Yes, I mean, I can’t think of any specifics but there was always a case where, you know, you said the wrong thing, but I didn’t… mainly wrong things in other companies, it didn’t seem to be at Granada, it seemed to be wherever I go elsewhere freelance, I tend to make a mistake somewhere else! But in Manchester, you know, it wasn’t that bad. But it was… it’s sometimes… I know it’s a strange thing to say but I actually quite like that when things go wrong, because you actually sort of… it stretches you a bit. It actually tests you. You can actually sort of do things. I loved it (as it had been easy? 20:46). I mean, we had an autocue which we could use, you know, in the camera, but I mean, now and again I didn’t use it. I just sort of looked down and then looked up and then, you know, hoped it sounded all right!
So you remain doing that until…
Well, I left there. And one has to say, I was made redundant in 1998 when they decided to move everything to Yorkshire TV’s building in Leeds.
Yes. That’s when I left. That was actually the last time… I was the last announcer at Granada, or Manchester. After that all the announcements came from Leeds.
Right, so it was all more centralised.
Yes, and then sadly that that ended in Leeds, and now it’s down, as it is now, in London. The whole thing comes from London. It is all very sad, the way the network’s gone. But that’s show business! Not good.
So what did you think of Granada as a company?
Well, I always thought its programmes were superb. I mean, I suppose more drama and documentaries and current affairs. I didn’t think the comedy was that brilliant. I mean, I know we had (Jonny Hamp? 22:10) there at the conference, and I was amazed at some of the stuff that he was head of, you know, really… some of the… I mean, not the shows I didn’t enjoy, but the drama, World in Action, and Brideshead Revisited, I mean, you can’t knock any of those, they were superb. I wish they were doing stuff like that now. Current affairs, documentaries, drama and schools programmes as well were brilliant, absolutely brilliant.
Was it a good company to work for?
Yes, I… well I worked in quite a few, although Granada mainly, yes, I found it good. I didn’t have any problems there, you know… we had a few union problems much later, but up to that point, no. I enjoyed working there actually, but I had the joy of actually working for other companies as well at the time, and I could compare – and none of them came anywhere near Granada in the sort of output we did. It was good. And I’ve said here, it was the best company I worked for out of the eight I’ve worked for, yes.
And was that because of the output or because of the way you were treated?
Yes, it was a good… presentation was a really good close-knit department. It was really good. Perhaps he was a bit too close-knit, because other people couldn’t sort of understand why we were so close. I mean, we had some great shifts, working shifts, and yes, a some really nice characters working in that department. I think we were treated very well actually, you know, but I don’t know whether the whole of Granada was like that. All I know is that I had a good time at Presentation. It was good. It was good fun, because we not only worked together, we socialised outside as well. So that’s always a good sign that you get on. Yes, it was good.
And were you a regular over the road at The Stables?
Yes, I remember the old Stables, and the old school much later. Yes, I used to go there. I never drank until I came up to Manchester, when I was taken out by the presentation crew to the Post Office Club, which was across the road from the… was it the GPO Club? It’s now Walkabout, it’s an Australian bar now, but that was one of the drink places, and then there was… what was the other one? Well, The Stables obviously, and there was the… what was that pub at the top of Quay Street?
Was it a club?
The Grapes. And there was… I called it drunken alley because you couldn’t you couldn’t walk anywhere without coming to a pub or a drinking hole somewhere.
There was that drinking hole not far from Granada, opposite… literally opposite the Opera House. The Film Exchange.
Oh, yes – The Film Exchange. I remember that. Where they had the barrels hung from the wall, from the ceiling. It was very dark in there. Oh, I used to go in there regularly! I mean, you finished your shift, you didn’t go home, you just staggered along somewhere, some drinking place, you were (waylaid? 25:28), thank God, so… I mean, you couldn’t move for bars. It’s not that like that now. I mean, there were bars at the end, in the middle and the end… it was great.
And did you frequent the canteen.
Oh, yes! The festival café, as it was called. Oh, yes. The food was really good, it was so subsidised, it was so cheap, it was wonderful. Yes, I used to go in there regularly. In fact, when I first joined in 68, I remember walking in there and there was Hilda Baker and Jimmy Jewell who worked in the series at Granada, Nearest and Dearest. They didn’t like each other, they didn’t get on, and she was with her entourage at one end of the café and he was at the other. And I thought, “Wow, I’ve walked into this (star-studded? 26:16) world!” It was wonderful, a wonderful place. Yes, it was good.
And it was almost 24 hours.
It was, yes.
Because there would be a lot of staff working.
Of course, yes. And of course, when we worked on the late shift they always supplied a flask of coffee, tea and sandwiches. So you’d had your meal but you still could look forward to a snack later on if you were there until midnight, one o’clock. It was good. They did look after us.
And the Stables Theatre?
I remember that. I don’t think I went there that often, but I remember the theatre company, because they transferred some of the plays… they made them into telly plays, didn’t they?
They tried them out at The Stables, and then if the audience that were there enjoyed them, they actually put them on telly. They actually recorded them. There were quite a few good actors in the company. Yes.
Did you have an acting background?
No! Before I joined Granada, I worked for ABC TV, you know, as a press cuttings and mailing clerk at the studios in Teddington – no longer there, I’m afraid, they’ve demolished it. ABC obviously operated up here, but I worked… it was ridiculous, because I worked for a company but I could never see the output of the station because I lived in London.
But I did four years in the office there. Yes. I always wanted to get into television, and it was a television company, but it was a bog-standard office job; it could have been in any industry, it just happened to be a TV company, A beautiful place, Teddington.
Which union would you have been in?
Bloody useless! I’m sorry, I have to say, bloody useless. When we all had been made redundant they sort of tried to save our jobs, but they couldn’t save us, I’m afraid. I got no wonderful feelings about Equity.
Are there any other feelings that you have about Granada and the people you worked with?
I think… I worked in a lot of areas and I think Granada had a very strong connection with the north west. I mean, the north west is a big area anyway, and it has a very strong connection. When you when you sort of… and Granada were mavericks in a way, they didn’t follow suit with all the other companies, especially the London-based companies – they considered themselves the northern BBC in many ways in the early days, they thought of themselves as the northern equivalent of the BBC. Whether that’s a good thing or not, I don’t know, but that’s what they thought of themselves. Well, the fact that they were the one company that wasn’t taken over and wasn’t actually… apart from the fact that it’s now ITV1, but I mean, we all know it’s Granada, isn’t it, at the back of it. They’re the only one that survived really.
I mean, you still see Granada captions on the screen. They haven’t got rid of them. So it’s still around, the name’s still there.
The Bernsteins. Did you have much to do with people like Sidney and Cecil Bernstein?
No. Sometimes they would come in to where we worked and, you know, doing a tour with some of the dignitaries and friends, but no, I didn’t have anything to do with them. I remember when the franchise was up for grabs, and Phil Redmond with his Mersey Television was the main opposition up here. I remember obviously Granada won and David Plowright came round the whole of the company to thank everybody, you know, shaking hands. So that’s the only time I’ve ever shook his hand! I didn’t have anything to do with him. My management was at head of presentation level really, it wasn’t any higher than that really.
Mike Scott, no?
I remember having a chat with Mike Scott. He didn’t like the way I was sitting on camera, so I went with David Black to his office and he said, “You always sit like this.” I said, “Well, I just feel more relaxed when I sit like that.” He said, “Well, don’t do it in future.” And that was the end of the meeting. So that’s the only time I met hm.
Because Mike of course himself…
Of course, he was a presenter…
And a good one.
Yes, yes. He was. He saw both sides. I mean, he was a presenter, and he actually saw the other side of the camera. Yes, I remember him doing lots of things, even before I joined Granada, cinema, programmes like that, you know.
Are there any other thoughts that you had to talk about?
Not really, no – I think I’ve covered most of them, unless you’ve got any other… successes and failures. Well, not keeping my job I suppose that’s a failure. But it wasn’t my fault!
Everybody was being made redundant.
Yes, I know. I know. Yes, I can’t think of anything else here. I’m glad I worked… life’s funny. If I had got that job at Granada in the 90s, I wonder what I would have done? I often think that, you know? So I was quite lucky to have been chosen, although they did get rid of me a year and a half later. But I mean, my contact was 30 years, so you know… not on staff, but 30 years of work, so I must’ve done something right for them to keep using me!
And you must have seen the company grow quite significantly between 68 and 98.
Yes, yes. I mean, there was the Granada tours, that was… is that still going now? Is it finished now?
It finished a long time ago.
Yes… so I don’t go down that area very often. I remember all the staff were invited to the first day of it – I’d never seen a make-up room so tidy! I was like, “This isn’t real life, this is just for us…” I don’t know what we were… it was good. I mean, I’m not really into theme parks to be honest with you, but it was good for what it was. But I mean, you’ve got to keep ahead of the competition with theme parks, haven’t you, really? So… yes, it was good. Some of those things they did like the House of Commons set which, if you remember that… also what was the one which was like Gulliver’s Travels where everybody was small? And the set was…
That was… was it something of the antelope? That as good. But people wouldn’t know what that meant now, would they? I mean, the House of Commons, they would recognise that but not that. And the Baker Street set was good as well. I worked as an extra at Granada as well.
Oh, did you? I didn’t know that.
I did work on the Sherlock Holmes thing, walking up and down Baker Street for about 20 million times! I did some of… oh, this is terrible… what’s the name of the guy who was at the conference who did all the drama docs?
Yes. I worked on one of his, Collision Course (corr), which was the one about the air traffic controllers who went on strike and as a result there was a plane crash. I had to walk in and out this hotel room for this actor – it was supposed to be filming in Prague but it was actually in Manchester. So I did Sherlock Holmes, I did quite a few of them, and Corrie as well, worked on that, in the Rovers. So I had a… but the trouble was, being an announcer on screen, I couldn’t be seen in the pub, in the Rovers. Can’t have a continuity announcer near the dartboard, drinking!
And they wouldn’t disguise you?
No, no. So I didn’t get much work after that. I mean, I had left that job several years. I mean, I wasn’t connected, but of course people have long memories, haven’t they? So that’s why I didn’t get any extra work on that. But I did quite a few of the dramas.
How do you become an extra?
Well, you join an agency that specialises in it really, because you can’t get any work unless you are with an agency. There are about three or four, probably still are, agents who specialise in providing background artists. I did quite a few dramas, comedies, docs and Coronation Street, but unfortunately the face was too well-known to be used. I haven’t done any for quite a few years now. Yes. That’s when I left announcing. I couldn’t do both, so I thought I’d try my luck with this, and I did quite a few… but the face catches up with you. I like seeing how a programme is made actually, it’s quite fascinating. Although you’re an extra and you hang about a lot, I quite like to see the studio, you know, and the play being made. I think it’s fascinating to watch. Perhaps I should have gone into that side of things as a director or something. Well, perhaps not now.
Well, that’s great, unless there’s anything else?
No, I can’t think of anything else, no. We seem to have covered most things. It was a paternalistic [company]… I wouldn’t go that far, but it was quite a friendly set up. Yes. Well, it’s the best company I have worked for anyway out of the eight I’ve flitted around the country.
Good, that’s fine.
Yes, that’s terrific thank you very much for that.