Interviewed by Geoff Moore, 18 August 2015.
So, Don, can I just start you off by asking, how did you join Granada? How did you come to join?
In 1980 I was a sports reporter on the Lancashire Evening Post. I’d been there six years. I’d joined them as a junior reporter, straight from school as an 18-year-old. So I had six years under my belt as a journalist on a local paper, and I’d got to a point where I thought I was doing quite well and I was looking to find another job. I felt like I needed to move on from the Lancashire Evening Post, but at 24 I was too young to get a writing job on the nationals, although I was doing shifts as a sub on the Daily Express from time to time. I didn’t want to do that. I was completely baffled as to what I was going to do, because I wanted to stay in newspapers. I loved newspapers.
One day somebody put an advert on my desk in front of me and it was for a researcher in the sports department at Granada. I just completely dismissed it. I didn’t want to work in television, I wanted to be a newspaper man. But I was persuaded that actually, this might be a really good opportunity, and when I looked at the ad it was quite encouraging. So I applied for it, not with any thought that I would get it, and I got an interview and went along and met this really fearsome man called Paul Doherty, who I had actually seen at football matches. I was covering Blackburn Rovers for the Lancashire Evening Post – you know, I was covering quite a decent level of football. It was the old second division, what would be the Championship now, and I’d actually seen this guy in one or two press boxes. You know, in press rooms at half time when you’re having a cup of tea and a cake or something. I kind of knew vaguely who he was, and he was a very imposing character. He was very very tall.
Anyway, I did this interview and then I was called back for another interview, at which I took a whole sheaf of cuttings of things that I’d written over the previous twelve months. So I kind of dumped all this on them and said, this is my output. And apparently he found that impressive, and the fact that I was in the region and knew the football clubs, was a Manchester United supporter, and I was very well up on the lower league clubs as well. To my amazement I got the job.
What year would that be?
That was 1980. And I think I started at Granada right at the start of that year. So I would have been interviewed in 1979 I guess, and then I started in Quay Street in 1980, I think it was February.
So prior to that on the newspapers, were you a sports journalist?
Yeah, I’d become a sports journalist. Right at the start, from the age of 18, I’d covered football. On my first day I was shown round and went in the sports department, and they said, do you like football? And I said, I love football, and they asked me if I wanted to cover a game that week. I covered a Northern Premier League game in my first week as an 18-year-old junior reporter, which was tremendously exciting really. It was Lancaster City vs. somebody – I can’t remember who. But I had to do a running report for the Football Pink, as it was.
So I got up and running, and three years later I’d got into the sports department so I was considered a sports reporter.
So you had to work for the fearsome Mr. Doherty? What was it like? What were your impressions of the first period in Granada?
The first day was really amazing because I was given a desk, and I was told that me and another guy had been taken on at the same time, and one of the lads in the office said I’d been described as the hardworking journalist who would bring some kind of proper sports reporting to the job. And the other guy was an ex-town planner, but quite a quirky character, who would bring some great ideas and have some flair.
And who was that?
That was Spencer Campbell. So we started on the same day – we ended up sitting opposite each other – and Spencer went on to do lots of things including documentaries and then went into drama and ended up producing Cold Feet. So, you know, we came from completely different backgrounds and he had some TV connections I think. But we were two completely different characters but we got on like a house on fire and we had to stick together because it was a really fearsome place to work.
In what way?
Basically, for one thing, we were following in certain footsteps. The previous person who’d sat at my desk was Paul Greengrass, who went from being a researcher in the sports department to working in documentaries and on World in Action, and then subsequently winning Oscars. We were left under no illusions that the guy who preceded us was, you know, a really good operator who was full of great ideas and you know, got things done. I think the key word there was ideas. Because Doherty expected everybody to come up with really great ideas all the time.
Where would the ideas go? What was the output? Was Granada doing live matches, or highlight programmes?
We were doing a football highlights programme on a Sunday afternoon and we were doing things like darts and snooker – there was nothing Doherty wouldn’t take on. If he thought something was going to be popular, he’d take it on. But the flagship programme was Kick Off, which was the Friday evening football preview programme, and Granada was the only region in the country at that time that did a football preview magazine programme. Nobody else did it, but because the North West had so many great football clubs…
There was a wealth of content to go at, and he drove it, like I’d never seen anybody drive anything before or since. He was relentless. And in terms of the type of programmes we did, the type of items we did in those programmes, the guests that were on those programmes, we were getting network guests. We would get the England manager, we would get Brian Clough. It wasn’t a case of, oh we’ll get somebody from Rochdale or Blackburn or Burnley – we were doing big stories. And it was very innovative, so just to give you an example, I remember one day we did a survey of the football grounds in the North West to see who had the best catering. And we actually had an Egon Ronay inspector who stood on the terraces and ate the pies, and then marked them and later came on the studio and discussed how awful some of the catering was at some of these grounds. This was completely ground-breaking stuff for a football programme.
Doherty would just not accept anything that was mundane. The great example of his need to make it different was that, I remember one week on a Thursday one of the items for the following day’s programme had fallen down for some reason – somebody couldn’t do something – and he walked into the office and said, we need another idea for tomorrow. So he went round the room and he just dismissed anything that anybody said and he said it was all crap and we’d done it all before. And he said, nobody leaves this office until I have an idea from one of you that I think is good enough for this programme. And we were still there at midnight. He kept walking into the office and he would lean on the filing cabinet and look at us with total disgust. He’d shake his head and mutter something unrepeatable and go back into his office. And then he’d come out half an hour later and say, has anybody got anything? And someone would offer something, he’d say it was crap and go back in his office. We were still there at midnight and I think then somebody had an idea that he said wasn’t any good for the next day but at least it was an idea, and they let us all go home. [laughs]
How did you react to Doherty? Did you find his behaviour acceptable?
I think there were times when it was… I got the the biggest bollocking that anybody had ever seen for one item that I completely messed up, and it became almost legendary. But what I would say is that everybody left his department a much better operator. And after working for him, everything else was a damn sight easier. But you learnt really good habits. There was attention to detail, there was the need to come up with something different, the need to come up with ideas constantly. And the whole thing was encapsulated in the weekly meeting that was the post-programme meeting, in which he would go round the room and ask everybody what they thought of the programme
This’d be 7pm on a Friday night?
Yeah. And the guests would be there. And he’d tear into people, including the presenters, who were Elton Welsby and Gerald Sinstadt. If he thought they’d done a bad job, he’d tear into them. He’d tear into the researchers. The guests would be sitting there shell-shocked, thinking, what the hell is this? Some of them were highly amused, especially the football managers who were often with us. And then he’d go around and ask everybody for their ideas for the following week, and woe betide you if you didn’t have a couple of decent ideas. It was no good trotting out something that you’d just invented or something we’d done before – you had to have something.
You just got used to this, I suppose, did you?
Yeah, you got used to it, and we were all better for it. Definitely. If you look at the people who worked for him, most people went on and did good things in other parts of television and you won’t find anybody who worked for him that would slag him off. He was just fantastic. At the end of the day, his ideas were better than anybody else’s ideas, so you couldn’t point the finger at him! He always had a good idea.
And that went on beyond Kick Off. If he saw something that was going to be successful as snooker was becoming successful at that time, he’d say, we’re doing snooker. So we did our own tournament in the North West, the Lada Classic, and we were the only region the country at that point doing snooker apart from the BBC, and we got the first 147 break, much to the BBC’s annoyance, because they’d been hoping for one for a long time. We got the first televised 147 break, and Steve Davis won a Lada car for that break. That was quite exciting.
That’s a good story. So you were a researcher in that department. On all the programmes?
Yeah. You were expected to work on the full range of programmes. If there was a lot going on, there were certain things you wouldn’t work on. So there might be a couple of researchers working on darts and someone else working on snooker, and then we started doing crown green bowls. We even did some equestrian stuff. At one point, I think at the behest of David Plowright, we did a croquet tournament, which was quite extraordinary, and nobody really understood.
There were all sorts of things going on. We did network indoor bowls, in what because the Coronation Street indoor set. That was a big arena at one point.
So most of the shows from the department were original, were they?
Some for network?
Most of them were regional. We did some network things and we did some semi-network things as well.
What did you do for the network then?
One of the things was that bowls thing. We also did a marathon. The London Marathon was becoming a huge thing, so Doherty said, we’ll do our own marathon. And to be honest we were ill-equipped to do a marathon. We did it in Bolton, and it was an absolute nightmare and something of a fiasco. We did it twice, actually, so we didn’t give up.
Why was it a fiasco?
I think technically we were just stretching it. If you’re doing a marathon in London there’s loads of plug-in points, and I think even in those days there was enough in place to make it technically easier. Trying to do it around Bolton and Winter Hill was very, very difficult. There was money spent on it, we had two helicopters in the air and celebrity runners, but the whole thing was really really difficult. At one point both helicopters were grounded at the same time, which was a complete fiasco. I’ll never forget, I was in a VT van and Doherty was shouting, “where are the celebrities? Where are the fancy dress people?” He was calling for shots and saying, “where’s Jimmy Saville?” He was on the course somewhere, God knows doing what. But I can remember Doherty saying, where’s this person, where’s that person, where’s Superman, and I said to the VT operator, I don’t think even Superman can help us now!
But you know, this was his tremendous drive and ambition to do something that a lot of people wouldn’t have tackled.
But you also did live football matches from the North West?
For the network?
The way ITV worked at the time was that each region covered its own match and then there was a massive exchange of footage on the Saturday night. When I first started the footage was going out on a Sunday afternoon. It was called different things in different regions, but it was the Big Match. We called it Match Time, I think, for a while in the North West. The Kickoff Match, it was called at one point.
So we used to cover the games, on an OB on a Saturday afternoon-
And would you do that?
Yeah, some of us would go to the OB and we’d be responsible for turning round the replays, the slow-mos. So when the director called for a slow-mo, as the researcher you’d choose which angle you were taking and offer it up. In those days everything was recorded on two-inch tape and I’d sit in this van with these two operators who would physically wind it back. They had spools with handles on and you’d tell them where to stop and when to start.
It wasn’t easy working on these shows because technically it was nothing like what we have today. When I started, Granada had just got is first one-inch machine, which allowed you to see things in vision and make replays. Up until that point, if they wanted a replay of something, they had to send it down the line to London, have it slow-mo’d and have it sent back up, which is unthinkable now. But even when I started, with this one-inch machine, you had to send the clip from the two-inch machine to the one-inch machine, and then take it back and edit it in. But what it meant was that your football logs had to be absolutely spot on, because these two inch machines, you couldn’t spool in vision. You gave the operator a time code and he spooled to it, and if your log wasn’t accurate, you wouldn’t find yourself in the right part of the game. We were editing to cut these games down to a highlights package, and the idea was that it was supposed to be seamless. There were times when things went wrong. We were always working against the clock.
I remember I had a situation once where a winger carried the ball down the wing and crossed it in twice – the same bit of action occurred again – and he gave me a tremendous bollocking because I was in charge of the edit. There was a director there as well, but the director was only there to satisfy a union rule, he didn’t have any knowledge of football. So I’d be sitting there as a 25-year-old researcher and the director would be sitting at the back of the edit suite possibly having a glass of wine or in one case doing her knitting.
Why didn’t they have a director who could direct? Who didn’t have any restriction?
Because cutting the football was considered to be a specialist job, and they didn’t have any directors who had that football knowledge. So they drafted in a director, because the union said there had to be a director there because a researcher couldn’t run the show, if you like.
How long did this period in sport last? From 1980 to when?
For me it lasted three years I think, and then the football contracts changed. And during that time I got to do other things as well, because in the summer sometimes we were loaned out to regional programmes, so you got to work on other types of programmes. And also at this time, Steve Hawes and Bruce Macdonald had decided to make a series called Rod and Line, which was a dramatisation of Arthur Ransome’s angling essays. Arthur Ransome is famous for having written Swallows and Amazons, but he was also a very keen angler and he’d written these beautiful essays that I think first appeared in the Manchester Guardian. Anyway, to cut a long story short, I was the only person in the whole of Granada who knew anything about fishing. So Steve Hawes got to know about this and he asked me if I would work on this series as the researcher, which for me was a dream come true. For Doherty, he considered it to be a complete nuisance but was persuaded to let me out, almost on day release, as it were.
So when I was in the sports department I was also working as a researcher on Rod and Line which turned into a thirteen-part series which featured the actor Michael Hordern. He was quite a famous Shakespearean actor and film actor, but he was also a really expert fly fisherman. So I spent a wonderful time travelling round the country with Bruce Macdonald and Michael Hordern, filming fishing. It was a drama as well – it was a dramatisation and it was set in the 1920s, and it was just a wonderful experience for me. That was an absolute joy. It was quite successful and it went out in the first week of Channel 4 – it was one of their opening programmes in their first week. I’m quite proud to say that in the year 2000 it was released on DVD. So I’ve got the DVD and it’s fantastic to think that something that we made in the early eighties was considered to be relevant in…
That made you very proud.
Yeah. [laughs] I was quite proud, yeah. It was a wonderful thing to work on.
But then at the same time we were getting opportunities to go outside sport and do other local programmes. One of the first people I worked with was Tony Wilson, who I just thought was a fascinating character from day one. I knew who he was, obviously, before I joined Granada, but one of the first times I went out with a crew was with Tony Wilson. I learnt more from him that day than anybody else that I ever worked with, I think, in terms of going out and shooting something. Absolutely fascinating. And I’ll never forget it because I was working for local programmes or Granada Reports probably at the time, and it was a local boat race between Salford and Manchester universities on the Irwell, which obviously would greatly appeal to Wilson in itself.
So I was told to set this up as an item and I’d hardly ever been out with a crew at this point and I was quite scared. I remember Wilson turning and saying, “what have we got?” So I told kind of what the ingredients were, and he thought for what seemed like thirty seconds, and then said, “right, this is what we’ll do. We’ll film this then film that, then I’ll do this piece to camera, get in the boat with those people and we’ll row up and down the river and we’ll shoot that, and then I’ll interview him and do this piece to camera, and then…” And that’s what we did. At the end of it he said, “write this down,” and I got my pen and notebook out and he went: “this is the order it goes in, it’s X Y Z followed by A and B. Give that to the editor and I think you’ll in find everything’s OK.
That’s a good story.
And I went back to the office, and it went together beautifully. I was just astonished, because even when we were doing it, I couldn’t really quite visualise it. And I suddenly realised, this is what filmmaking was all about: working it out, putting it together not necessarily in the sequence it’s going to end up in, but then knowing how the whole thing comes together. I just thought, the guy’s a bloody genius.
That’s a really interesting story and really illustrates the talent of T Wilson. Others had it too but he certainly had it. It’s not ‘shoot and see what happens and think about it later’, you actually envisage a package in your mind that will work on TV.
And then you don’t film in the same order, but…
And he just complete got it. He could picture the thing onscreen from the word go and he knew what he wanted. I did quite a lot of filming with him after that, and he never ceased to amaze me. He always had an angle and a witty line. He brought all sorts of things to it. Also, he had crazes when… he was madly into American football at one point and there was a guy called William Perry who was known as the refrigerator. And we went out and shot this American football piece between two teams in Manchester on some recreation ground somewhere. At one point he said to me, “go and get a box! we need a box! we need a box!” He didn’t even tell me why, he just said “I need a box that somebody can stand on”. And of course he found the biggest, fattest bloke in Salford or wherever they were and turned him into the refrigerator by standing him on a box. [laughs] So when Tony interviewed him, he was up there somewhere.
I did a piece with him in Ski Rossendale once. There was him and Ted Robbins and it was a comedy piece at Ski Rossendale. We all went in a minibus, and as we pulled into the car park, he turned to me – I was the researcher – and said, “we’re going to need a St. Bernard dog”. I remember the crew all smirking and looking at me and going, “good luck with that one then.” And I said, that might take a while. And he went, “don’t worry, we won’t need it in the first hour, but we will need a St. Bernard dog. And it must have a brandy barrel round its neck.” So he’d obviously dreamt this up on the minibus.
So I went into the office at Ski Rossendale. There were no mobile phones or Internet then of course, so I got the Yellow Pages out and found the local vet. I rang him up and said, “do you know anybody with a St. Bernard dog?” and they said “yeah, we do, we know two people”. I said, I’m at Ski Rossendale, is there anybody near Ski Rosendale? And they said, yes, there’s one just round the corner. And I said, do you think it’ll have a brandy barrel? They said, all St. Bernard dogs have brandy barrels, it just goes with the territory.
So they gave me the number and I rang this woman and explained the situation, and she said, well I’m only round the corner. I said, can you walk round now, and ten minutes later, the St. Bernard turned up with the brandy barrel. The crew were astonished – Wilson didn’t bat an eyelid. He just said, can you ask it to wait a while, we’re not ready for that bit yet! [laughs] I think he was secretly quite impressed.
Yes, he would have been. That’s great.
So this was Granada Reports time. So you went from sport to Granada Reports, but there was a bit of toing-and-froing.
Yeah, we were backwards and forwards to some extent.
And you mentioned Rod and Line.
And then after that, ITV lost the football contract, and it all started falling apart. Because without football Doherty couldn’t keep a department of that size together. He tried to keep us together, but after a while it started to break up, and I went off to work on something called Weekend, which was a Friday night regional light entertainment show-
Which I produced.
Which you produced for a while, yeah. And that for me was a fantastic experience. I think at the time I worked on it, Trish Kinane was producing it, I think, with Pat Pearson directing it. Wilson was working on it, Ted Robbins. The presenter in the studio was Paul Jones from Manfred Mann. It started off with Bill Tidy but I don’t think he lasted. That was quite an innovative show as well.
What year would that be?
I think that was maybe 1984, something like that, just guessing. But Wilson did some really interesting stuff on that show and we also used to get a band in every week. We had Frankie Goes to Hollywood on the first… when they went to number one with Relax, and the BBC banned Relax and took it off Radio 1, that day we had them on Weekend in the studio. And another time we had the Boomtown Rats in, who were quite big at the time. We had lots of different bands in and we had some great guests as well.
By this time, you’d really left your sporting background, hadn’t you? How did you take to that?
Yeah. I absolutely loved it. Like I said, anything after Doherty was going to be easier. I never thought I’d be doing this stuff but I loved the LE side of it and I later went on to work on things like Krypton Factor and Busman’s Holiday in Stephen Leahy’s department and that was a great experience as well. A different set of disciplines in a way, but equally inventive and I found LE absolutely fascinating. And I learnt a lot off Stephen Leahy, who was another fantastic ideas man. He had an amazing capacity to come up with something completely different, in terms of programme creation but also in terms of programme promotion. He had so many ideas and so many gimmicks.
He was kind of like Doherty in a way, full of…
Yeah, but almost the opposite of him in terms of the personality and the…
But in terms of the energy.
But in terms of the energy and in terms of having that great innovative creativity, and the passion to drive it through and make it happen, sometimes against all odds. Doherty did some amazing things that really should never have been attempted by a regional sports department. Stephen Leahy did some amazing things that a lot of people wouldn’t have dared to do in terms of the scale of them. He wasn’t scared of anything; he’d say the bigger the better.
In his entertainment department, you were a researcher for a while.
And you worked on Krypton.
So there was Krypton, there was Busman’s. Did you work on Connections?
No, I didn’t. I worked on two series of Busman’s and I worked on one series of Krypton. And then I left Granada.
What year was this?
I think it was about 1987. And when Action Time was set up – Leahy set up Action Time – I’d been for a producer’s board and the irony of it was that at the time I was working on Busman’s with Bill Jones and James Maw, we were the three researchers. It was a fantastic team, all completely different characters. James Maw, wacky, LE, flamboyant. Bill was the factuals guy who was very efficient and he had great ideas as well. And I had this kind of chequered background, I suppose.
Anyway, while we were doing this series, there was a producer’s board and the three of us all got shortlisted. We were the only three I think, or there might have been one other person on the shortlist. The upshot of it was that Bill and James both got given a producer’s job and I didn’t, and I remember I was called into Liddiment’s office and he said, this was a very close-run thing, you shouldn’t be down-hearted about it, because I feel sure that within twelve months you’ll get your producer’s job. So that was OK.
But in the next twelve months, the world changed somewhat, and it became very clear that there would not be any more producer’s boards for the foreseeable future because they’d decided to go down the freelance route. I think they decided they didn’t want any more staff producers. It became apparent that this was the case, and I felt as if I’d just missed the boat, and then Stephen Leahy launched Action Time and said, come and join Action Time. And I went and did another series of Busman’s Holiday, I think, with the title Associate Producer or something. And then on the back of that, I went to the BBC and became a producer on Open Air, which was at the time being run by Sue Woodward, who’d I’d met in Granada Reports. She was the editor of Open Air.
So I got my first producer’s job at the BBC on the back of having a spell at Action Time. So I was then on freelance contracts.
Did you work for Granada after that?
Yeah, I did, I went back and ended up working for Doherty again in the sports department as a freelance producer, which was fantastic and really enjoyable. But I think we’re now starting to get outside and beyond the period of this.
Absolutely, I just-
So I ended up going back and working for the Doc, who took me on as a freelance producer and I remember being guaranteed a minimum of three days a week as a producer at Granada, which was fantastic.
So it was Busman’s Holiday, you probably left 1989 or something like that?
Yeah, that’s probably about right.
Just one other thing. What I didn’t say was that before I went into LE and worked for Steve Leahy, I had a spell working for Rob Caird [00:42:41] in the features department as a researcher. I worked on network documentaries, the main one being Robert Millar – The High Life, which was a documentary about a Tour de France cyclist from Scotland who had been king of the mountains. We followed him for twelve months and covered the Tour De France, the world championships and other events and that was fascinating. Rob Caird [00:43:16] was the executive producer and Peter Carr was the director, and I worked on a couple of other projects with them.
Didn’t you work with Ray Gosling?
I never worked with Ray Gosling. I did get to know him a little bit and I found him quite a fascinating character. He was very entertainment, wasn’t he? But I never actually worked with him. But I got to know him through Peter. I had a really great time working with Peter Carr. Again, a completely different discipline, a different way of working, you know, observational documentary… and he did that in a very traditional way I think, in that he would wait until he got what he wanted and he would film quite long sequences and…
I’m pleased you said that about Peter Carr, who it’s worth giving a mention to in this project. I worked with him quite a lot. He brought a lot of intelligence to his filmmaking.
He did. I knew him by reputation because when I first started at Granada they were making the City film, which he made with Dave Drury [00:44:41].
This is when Manchester City won the FA Cup? No, it was the cup final?
It was before they won the FA cup actually, it was the period when Malcolm Alison had returned to City, Peter Swales was the chairman. Paul Doherty was absolutely integral to this. He negotiated a fantastic access agreement, the like of which had never been known in British football before, and he got Peter Carr and Dave Drury [00:45:24] access to everything – dressing room, before games, after games, and during the period that they filmed, Malcolm Allison got sacked, John Bond was appointed, Malcolm Allison came back to City with his new club Crystal Palace. There was a bit dramatic thing. All sorts of things happened; it was high drama. It was absolutely fascinating.
It was a great film. I watched it as a researcher in the sports department and was really pleased later to go on and work with Peter, who directed that film and deserves great credit for its content. It stands the test of time – it’s worth watching today, it’s a fantastic bit of telly.
Just going back to you and Granada, you left Granada around 1989 and went to Action Time. How did you feel about Granada? Did you feel they’d let you down in any way?
No, I didn’t feel let down. I was disappointed that I hadn’t got a staff producer’s job, but I felt I was up against some really strong candidates. I didn’t feel disappointed that Bill Jones and James Maw [00:47:04] got selected ahead of me because I thought they both had a tremendous amount to offer, which they did, they’re both really talented people. And I liked them both enormously, so I didn’t feel bad about that. I just felt it was a changing world and that I needed to get out and start producing programmes myself rather than… you know, there weren’t APs in those days, you were a researcher or… obviously I was a senior researcher and I was doing network stuff, I’d travelled the bloody world, it was fantastic. But I just felt I needed to move on. I was about thirty and I was thinking, I need to be producing now, and if I couldn’t produce at Granada, there’s opportunities elsewhere. And that proved to be correct. I ended up doing network BBC1 within a year of leaving, so I was ready for it.
OK. So your spell at Granada, as a Granada employee, was about nine years, roughly?
Yeah, probably. And then I had another spell as a Granada employee years later because
I ended up back at Granada in the mid nineties and was a producer on the news, Granada Tonight as it was called then, for a couple of years, including during the coverage of the Manchester Bomb in 1996. Then I ended up head of sport! Which I did for the next six years. So it kind of all came full circle.
How did that happen, becoming head of sport?
I had a really enjoyable time producing the news for a couple of years, and the sports department had gotten to a – I wouldn’t say a mess, but people weren’t happy with the content. Jeff Anderson became head of regional programmes, and they just started making a new programme in sport and he thought it was dreadful and decided that there had to be a change. And he invited me to go into sport as the new sports editor and to try and turn it round. That was just an absolute joy for me. Having started there, to end up being in charge of it was fantastic.
How long did that last?
Six years. And then that ended with basically the breakup of regional programmes as we used to know it, because ITV decided to stop making regional programmes other than the news, which they had to do. That was a great shame because all the ITV sports departments were disbanded and we were one of the biggest and best of them. We were actually making money for the company at the time.
That’s sad, isn’t it? You must have felt that it was a waste of talent.
It was at the time, but you know, things change.
So after that you left Granada again?
Yeah. I was made redundant and started off another freelance career.
So you had two spells at Granada. Looking back at it, which characters there impressed you and would you single out as really having made an impression? You talked about Doherty, obviously.
Yeah, Doherty, Tony Wilson, Sue Woodward, and then I suppose a whole host of other people that I met and worked with at various times – people like Tim Sullivan, who had also started at approximately the same time as me, maybe slightly later. I did things with Tim that were hugely enjoyable, because he would bring a high level of intelligence, but also a great deal of fun to everything that he worked on. It was a great pleasure working with him.
I think there were a lot of very clever people about. That was the think that strikes me, looking back at it. I wasn’t academically very good at school, I scraped through a couple of A-levels to get myself into journalism. I didn’t go to university, and I found that when I arrived at Granada, there were a lot of very intellectual people about, there was a massive range of different characters, and some of them were academically very clever and some of them had come up through, from all different backgrounds, but I don’t know, the place was full of fascinating people. You could go into the Stables bar as it was in the old days and later the Old School, or the canteen, and you could have the most amazing conversations with some of the most interesting people that you’d wish to meet. It was just an absolutely fascinating place to be.
So Granada as a company, then, looking back on your time – what were the good things and what were the bad things?
I think the best things were that Granada let people try things out. Granada would let people experiment, if you like, especially in regional programmes. They’d take quite big risks, I think. These risks wouldn’t be taken today because people would be worried about the money. They’d let people go and do stuff and they’d let producers try things. There were quite risky things happening at times, I thought. But I think people were allowed to make mistakes to a certain extent. And if something didn’t work, it wasn’t necessarily the end of the world but when things did work, it was fantastic.
They also were prepared to spend huge, huge sums of money on great drama. So, you know, you could go down to the canteen and Laurence Olivier might be there, or some Hollywood star. You could just bump into anybody in the food queue. And that was extraordinary. They spent ridiculous sums of money on some of the things that were going on, and it was very exciting, and I think that kind of “let’s make great telly” was the driving force. And if some of it didn’t quite make it, that didn’t really matter so much, I didn’t think. So it was a fantastic place to learn how to make television.
The downside, I suppose… the union situation was difficult because I understand why a lot of the things were put in place, things like the ten-hour break and the rules about when people ate and the hours that people worked, I understood why all that was there. But it was bloody difficult at times, and as a researcher setting up film shoots… people wouldn’t believe it now, some of the hoops you had to jump through to make it work.
Like if the crew didn’t have their feet under the table at one o’clock, it became an NLB, so they could have their lunch and claim a “no lunch break”. And the lunch had to be, strictly speaking, I think I’m right in saying, a choice of three starters, three main courses and three sweets! So you know… there were some people who had prawn cocktail, a medium steak and chips and then a Black Forest gateau virtually every day of their lives, I think.
With a glass of wine and a brandy?
And a glass of wine and a brandy, and a few pints of bitter sometimes as well. Which was all lovely, but bloody hell it was hard work setting it up, and making it happen. Crews would be great, if they were happy and everybody was having a good time, it wasn’t necessarily a problem, but on bad days, they became even worse days, I found. And all that stuff could become very wearing.
There was a classic example – I should say, I was a keen union member. In fact, when I first started at Granada, I was a member of two unions: the NUJ and the ACTT, which later became BECTU. But I nearly fell foul of it – I was working on an obituary. It was somebody from the Royal Exchange who had died, I can’t quite remember who, but quite a famous director. As a researcher I was put on this obituary, I think Robin Kent was producing it, and Rod Caird was the exec. Pete Connor was the other researcher. He used to be a sound man but became a researcher and then a director…
Not Colin Richards?
No. Anyway, me and the other researcher… The whole thing was being put through studio, so he’d shot interviews all day at the Royal Exchange with quite famous actors and actresses and various other people. And then it was being put through studio with links. All the graphics had to be letrasetted in those days, so white letters rubbed onto a black board because there were no computer graphics at this stage, and graphics had done all the supers for the interviewees. And one of them was spelt wrong. And this was an absolute nightmare – Plowright would be watching this obituary, Sir Denis Forman had an interest in it. You could not spell this name wrong, but graphics had all gone home, so me and the other researcher went up and thought, it can’t be that difficult. We’ll find the letraset and we’ll…
So he watched down the corridor and I letrasetted this super. It looked a bit scruffy but I thought we’d get away with it. And we took it to the studio and recorded the show and it went out. I thought we’d got away with it, but somebody in graphics saw it going out and said, that super was a different typeface and it wasn’t straight! And all hell broke loose. They wanted to know who’d done it.
And the shop stewards said that whoever had done this was going to be seriously disciplined by the union. We were all called in front of the shop committee. We’d agreed that we’d all say nothing and say we didn’t know who’d done it. I’d done it. And I just thought, this is an absolute nightmare. At one point they were talking about closing the place down. You couldn’t do somebody else’s job, could you?
This was ACTT?
Yes. Anyway, nobody admitted to it, and Rod Caird [01:03:11] and Robin Kent kind of knew but weren’t saying, so it kind of went away. A few weeks later the head of graphics, I can’t remember his name, sent a memo saying that they’d just started getting the new equipment in and that everybody had to do training on this caption generator, because this was the way forward. And he sent me the memo as well! Saying you need to learn to use the caption generator. [laughs] So that was the upshot of it. But that’s how things were.
That’s a very good illustration.
If we hadn’t have closed ranks, I dread to think what would have happened. But I think the union wanted to make an example of somebody, and it was going to be me.
Here’s another question, we’re coming to the end, unless you’ve got some-
Yeah, there’s something else I wanted to mention which is completely unrelated in some ways to my career. Almost from when I first started at Granada, both my parents were working as extras on Coronation Street and other shows, so I used to meet my mum and dad, or one or the other – sometimes they were both there together – either in the canteen or in the old school, for lunch. And people used to say to me, how did you get your mum and dad into that? And I said, it’s got absolutely nothing to do with me whatsoever. My dad had been a professional singer in his younger days, he’d been in the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company, and my mum was a ballet teacher and a choreographer. So they both had Equity cards, and in those days you couldn’t work as an extra unless you had an Equity card. So they both found this work completely unconnected to what I did, but I used to meet them regularly. They used to work at Yorkshire as well, so I’d sometimes see my parents on television in the Rovers Return and then sometimes I’d see them in the Woolpack or they’d be in the corner shop. So for quite a few years in my Granada time, I’d quite often meet my mum and dad at work, and sometimes I’d meet them in a corridor, and they’d be dressed in period costume, or… I remember when they were shooting King Lear in studio 12, my dad would be around for days on end dressed as some peasant! Or he’d be in Crown Court playing the usher, or he’d be on the jury, or I don’t know… They did lots and lots of stuff, and it had nothing to do with me but it was really nice to meet up with them at work. You know, my mum would ring me and say, we’ve just gone down to the canteen, have you got ten minutes? And we’d go and sit in the canteen. So I used to see this other side to it as well, that was quite interesting.
Granada was important to the North of England?
Yeah. People I knew used to think it was fantastic that I worked at Granada. People thought it was exciting. And it was an exciting place to be, but I think people kind of knew it was quite a fantastic place and it had a certain mystery to it, but it was also very glamorous as well I think. People were fascinated by Coronation Street but they were also fascinated by all the LE things that were going on.
Would you say that Granada as a company have more connection with the people of the North West than the BBC in Manchester did?
I think so, yeah. And I think there was a time when Granada made a lot more regional programmes than the BBC did. That was how I saw it, anyway. And a lot of those programmes really connected with the region. There were programmes that were of their day. So I had a period, for instance, where I worked on a programme called Scramble which came out of Exchange Flags in Liverpool, which was Granada’s original Liverpool base. That was about arming the unemployed, which is kind of a strange thing to consider now, in this day and age, but there was massive unemployment at the time and we made a weekly programme that went out during the day that was all about telling unemployed people how they could improve their lives. And it was anything from how to make a few bob to…
And wasn’t it also like an exchange [missed] [01:09:43] thing, where people could appeal if they needed a new fridge, or…
Yeah, we had a phone-in and people used to ring in and say, has anybody got a washing machine that I could have, because I’m… and people would ring in and say, I’ve got a spare washing machine, I’ll deliver it for you. So somebody would get a washing machine. It was a difficult thing to do because you couldn’t talk down to people, you had to be… Jim Walker was the producer, who had some really wacky ideas! I remember we talked him out of doing some things; we just went, it’s a great idea Jim but it’ll cause chaos.
Was this when… didn’t Emma Fawn [?] [01:10:37] work on it?
No, when I worked on it, the presenters were Bob Greaves and Judy Finnigan.
There was one really funny thing, just going back to my parents being involved in the theatre. Jim had this idea that we’d have a busking competition, so we’d invite loads of buskers from all over the North West to compete in this competition, and then we’d get some top agents to look at them and hopefully one of them would get a big break and they’d make loads of money and no longer be unemployed.
So we did it in Bolton Town Hall Square. We had a little OB, and on the day I was an act short. And Jim said, you’ve got to get another act, we need at least six acts to make it work. I said, what am I going to do? We’re on air in three hours or something. He said, I don’t care, just get somebody else to do something. So I rang my dad who was retired. He was still doing extra work, but he was sitting at home in north Preston. And I said, Dad, what are you doing? He said, I’m just sitting at home reading the paper. I said, would you mind going to Bolton, going to the Town Hall Square, and doing a song and dance or something, I don’t mind what you do. And he said, yeah, what do you want me to do? I said, do whatever you want, I just need somebody to perform, and I explained to him what it was. He said, yeah, when should I go? I said, set off, now get in the car, just go to Bolton.
So I was in the studio in Liverpool when all this is going on, and in the studio we had three judges and some agents. One of the judges was Bernard Manning. So we got to the point where we said, “ladies and gentleman, the next act is Bobby Jones from Preston!” and my Dad got up and did “Get Me to the Church on Time” from My Fair Lady. He did this song and did a bit of a dance, and got a great round of applause from the public. We cut back to studio and Bernard Manning said, he’s got about as much chance as a snowman in hell. [laughs] Which my dad was very unimpressed with when he heard, but you know, it saved the day, and Jim got his busking competition. There were all sorts going on.
It’s like the St. Bernard – quick thinking, you know, just get round it!
Ducking and diving! So that was a bit of fun.
So Scramble, they did, I remember in the nineties, I worked on Century 21 which was a similar idea: making communities better, making society work a bit better, harnessing energies that are there. People who’ve got lots of free time and things they don’t want, if you can pull strands of talent and energy together from a very often indolent population you can create something, and that’s what Scramble did, I remember. But that’s all gone. Now it’s Benefits Street.
I don’t think anybody in television would be interested in making programmes like that anymore anyway. Even if there was a need, they wouldn’t be interested, because there’s no commercial value in it.
It’s not sexy.
It’s was just about doing something that we thought might be good for the region, and the reasons for doing it were genuinely good. You know, some of it was almost misguided, I thought, and it would go off in all sorts of directions, but the basic premise was that you were trying to help people, which is not a starting point in TV anymore.
No, it’s not. Don’t you think we were lucky to be around in a period when such thinking was…
Absolutely. And I don’t think we were cynical about it, actually, I think we thought some of it was a bit daft, but I think we thought the basic premise was good. Charlie Rogers worked on it, it was his first job in TV. I remember explaining the expenses to him and he was saying, no, this can’t be right. I was saying, no, genuinely, you claim these expenses and at the end of the week a man will give it you in cash, and it’s as much as your wages, because we were working in Liverpool and we were Manchester-based. There hangs another tale.
There hangs another tale of Liverpool.
There’s a touch of immorality there, alongside the business of helping the unemployed, we were getting paid a fortune.
Just briefly, let me just ask you something about the Liverpool Manchester thing, since we ought to touch on it. Am I right, it was set up by Plowright as a franchise-winning idea – it looked good to have not just Manchester but Liverpool also contributing to the output of Granada.
I don’t really know about that. The Liverpool thing was all set up before my time so I don’t really know about it, but I do know that it was really nice going over to Liverpool to work because it was a very close-knit group of people. And they were extremely welcoming and friendly and everybody was great mates, from the canteen ladies to the… everybody who worked in the building knew each other really well.
This was the Albert Dock?
No, this was at Exchange Flags, before the Albert Dock. I think that carried on at the Albert Dock. You know, it was a really nice place to be.
And Liverpool had to go for commercial reasons in the end, was it just too expensive?
I don’t know really. The Albert Dock was still up and running when I was last working at Granada. It got closed down after I left, so I don’t really know about all that. I know the Albert Dock was expensive, and in the end they thought, we don’t need it. But it was nice, I really enjoyed working in Liverpool.
And as we end this interview, you really enjoyed your time at Granada then?
Yeah. Really happy memories. It was a great place to work and I don’t think there was ever a point when I didn’t think it was a great place to work. I’m sure we all moaned about all sorts of stuff through different times, but I think the eighties period was just a great time to be there. I’m sure the same applied to the seventies, but my experience in the eighties was just fantastic. Just happy memories, really.