Steve: This is an interview with Eric Harrison. And today’s date is March the… and it’s Judith Jones who will be doing most of the interview.
Starting at the very beginning Eric, can you tell me how did you come to be employed at Granada?
Well, I was working at the BBC in television in the north region, I was a general assistant as they call them, in other words cameraman, sound engineer, general dogsbody – and due to various reasons I got quite upset about the BBC and I saw this advert for Granada. So I applied. And I’ve since found correspondence, I applied in March of ‘55, and in the September of ‘55 I was asked to go to London to talk to them and to be interviewed by Harry Watt, who obviously said the fact they wanted me. Then I got a contract from them; I joined officially on January 2, ‘56. I you went to London with two other people from BBC north region. Gavin (Woodell? 1:53) and George (Catenack? 1:54) who were two engineers there. One of the engineers had already left and gone to Granada, Ron Greenhouse, who became one of the engineers as well. So I joined on January 2 but they didn’t start a training course until the January 9 at the old Viking studios, as they were called, an old film studio in London which was operated by Marconi Demonstration Unit, and after Granada had done all their training and all the rest of it, it became the studio for the BBC Tonight programme if you remember, with Cliff Michelmore. So I turned up there and the first thing I see – because we arrived late, the train was late – to find this rather strange-looking Jewish gentleman sat on a piano, on the top of a piano, with a bent nose, who I eventually discovered was Sidney Bernstein, telling us what his plans were. After a week of helping to train people, I left for Manchester to pick up the outside, two outside broadcast units which Granada had got, and in their great wisdom decided to call ‘travelling eyes’. This was Sidney’s idea from the logo of CBS television in America, because he thought it was… what Americans called outside broadcast, ‘remote’. But he didn’t like the term ‘outside broadcast’, so it was called ‘travelling eye’, which we felt a bit self-conscious about at the time. We were parked first of all at the old tobacco warehouse, which is no longer there, because they knocked it down. It became the college across the way from Granada. And next door to it was a pub called The Balking Donkey where, needless to say we all congregated. In the building we then showed the new cameraman how to operate cameras, because Mike Waller was senior cameraman of one unit, and the unit I was on, we were still waiting for somebody to come from BBC Cardiff, a man called Eric Prytherch, do you remember him? We used to call him pry-therch because that was the way it was spelt, but Prytherch, who was Welsh-speaking with a temper as well, who eventually went on to produce Coronation Street and all the various other things. I mean, that was the thing about Granada. There was no glass ceiling. Anybody, if they felt they could do it, was encouraged to do it. If you fail, you fail. If you didn’t, you went on and so on. So ideas were shown… again, this was the thing which Sidney said sat on the top of this piano. “My door is always open.” And by gosh, it was! I mean, you could literally knock on the door and you know, “I’ve got this idea.” And it would be discussed, and if it was anything reasonable and it didn’t cost too much money and the rest of it, it was done. So that was that. So we arrived in Manchester and as I say it was the old tobacco warehouse, and then because at this time they hadn’t built the garage at the back of Granada, which was still being built, if you remember it was built by Ralph Tubbs who did the Festival of Britain. There was no parking room for the outside broadcast unit, so we were sent out to the Cusson’s soap factory in Salford, and we all began to smell of roses of course, because the whole place was… I mean, at Christmas it was great because you could get discounted soap and things for girlfriends and wives and what have you. And we worked out of that for four or five months at least. Before they went on air, the two outside broadcast units every day went out and did do a job. In other words, we went to a town, we set up, we interviewed the local mayor who could see himself on the monitor, and then rah, rah, rah, we’re Granada television, and that’s what we did, until… until we went on air the first day. Now, when Granada when on the air in May of ’56, was it, one outside broadcast unit went to Liverpool to do boxing, and ours was stripped and put into what was then Studio 1, which became Studio 2, as set dressing, where myself and Eric Prytherch and what have you sat by the side of the wall and watch the opening with the well-known American who got himself stoned out of his tree, and did the introduction to Granada going on the air. And Peter Mullings tells the story of him, walking him up and down the corridor with black coffee trying to get him sober, which eventually near enough got him sober for transmission. Then the following day our unit went out to Barton Bridge to do a programme on how Barton Bridge worked. And every day, each unit had to do at least one programme. The reason for this was money, which we discovered later. We were just filling air time. I mean, we got some interesting programmes out of it, but it was… to make money, to make air time, whereby they could have more time for commercials in the evening. I mean, we did programmes like Mitzi Cunliffe, you know, the who designed the BAFTA thing, LS Lowry and various other things. Cheese making, you name it we did it. And then Granada, in those days, studio… we became Studio 2, Studio 1 was doing all the programmes in the studio, and to interviews and things they had a little cubby hole underneath the stairs kind of thing where they tried to do interviews with cameras while they were setting up in the studio. And they discovered this obviously didn’t work very well. So on the site was an old barn, which they converted, which eventually became what was called Studio 4. You know the fact that the original Studio 1 became studio… the reason for two, four, six, eight on and so on was Sidney thought we didn’t have enough studios, and so therefore operational studios became even numbered and odd numbered ones were rehearsal rooms. And in Manchester we had two, four, six, eight… 10 (was Chelsea? 10:27), which eventually they started off in Chelsea, and then 12. But at the beginning there was Studio 2 and Studio 4 Studio four was where we did all local programmes. We did the original lots of What the Papers say, commercial, the local programme and so on. We also did the Welsh school programme called Dewch i Mewn – Welcome in Welsh. None of us spoke any Welsh at all. It was only after it’d been going for nearly 12 months that Sidney knew; he was then told, did he realise he was putting out Welsh propaganda, and so eventually we got a Welsh PA to translate what was going on. But as far as everybody else was concerned it was shown anywhere, which was quite usual because you learned to cut at the end of sentences and so on. I mean, it was quite useful. For instance in one day in the studio 4, you would do Dewch i Mewn in the morning, you’d do the local programme in the afternoon – i.e. People and Places – and in the evening you would do… not Kick Off… I can’t remember what it’ called now, the football programme where the presenter was Gerry Loftus, who was a football correspondent for The Herald as it was in those days. So you learnt to do everything, which was a good thing because you didn’t become bogged down like you did in the BBC – if you did sport, you did sport and you did nothing else. If you did drama, you did drama and you did nothing else, and so on.
So how many people would have been at work in the studio?
Well, we came about working in a studio because as I say, I as a cameraman had done these local programmes in Studio 4 because they took one OB unit off the road, and didn’t build it into [Studio] 4 because we used to take the equipment out and then we’d put it back in and so on, and then the other unit would come in and so on. So you’d do alternate weeks, you’d do a studio. I’d never been in a studio in my life before! I’d been in outside broadcasts with the BBC. And then Granada decided they would like to drama but it didn’t have a studio big enough. Studio 6 hadn’t been built or anything else like that. So ABC Television had this big studio in Didsbury, the old cinema in Didsbury, and Granada hired that out. Now, the studio crew were busy, so the early lot of Granada dramas were done by the OB crew. I mean, people like (Mike Wooller and Mike Kerry? 14:16) who came from Canada had done studio stuff before but I’d never been in a studio, on a pedestal or not, and all the rest of it. So we started to do drama at Didsbury. We did Rope for instance, the famous one that Hitchcock did as single takes, and things like that, with a Canadian director called Silvio Narizzano, and his former editor as a man called Derek Bennett. Derek went on to direct the first Coronation Streets. So we used to do these once a fortnight from Didsbury, so that was useful experience as well. So we got the experience of drama and so forth, outside broadcasts.
Steve: Can I just interrupt there? They were done live?
All live, one take.
I mean, one take, it obviously had to be one take because it was live! I mean, the days when we got video tape… the first time we saw videotape was 1957-ish when the Americans brought over um a video tape machine to record Kennedy, because we sent a unit to London, and the Americans brought over this (Ampex unit? 15:45), which we’d never seen anything like this before. And the only place we could park it was in the gent’s toilet, and so consequently the recording was done in the gent’s loo. And we saw video tape recording for the first time.
So the technology must have been changing all the time.
Oh, absolutely. I mean for instance, when I was doing drama where we did Death of a Salesman. And the only recording of it was (telerecording? 16:15) on 16mm film, which we didn’t have at that time, which was done by… ABC recorded it. And then after we’d finished, which was a live transmission, they rang up and said, “We had a slight fault on the machine; would you mind doing the last scene again?” So in words of one syllable, no! This was a way it was done, pure telly recording. Videotape as such was this technology which came in but again it was done, there was no editing, it was two-inch wide tape. You could edit it. Granada edited two programmes to my knowledge, one of which I was involved in which was Sir Thomas Beecham in London. The pictures came up to Manchester and needless to say it went over, and we were given permission to edit it. Now, in those days editing literally was cutting the tape, and the only way you could see where the pictures were was a kind of pencil which you rubbed over it, you could see the marks of where the control tracks were. And with a razor blade you carefully cut down this, you joined the two together with a piece of sticky tape and put it through the machine. Now, because of the sensitivity and all the rest of it you could only put it through a machine probably twice before there was a gap formed, which of course disrupted the picture. But everything you did in Granada, oh, for years and years and years and years and years had to be treated as live. So if you made a mistake on What the Papers Say two captions from the end, you went back to the beginning and did it all again. So you learned the hard way, you don’t make mistakes, and so on. Same with University Challenge for instance, you weren’t allowed to edit that, apart from anything else an IPA rule was you couldn’t edit it. not like they do now, which is fairly heavily edited, University Challenge.
So when did you become a director?
I became a director after I’d been in Granada for two years. I’ll have to look it up, hold on a second.
Steve: It would probably be from about 1958, would it?
- 1958. Hold on. No, can’t be. 1960. I’d done one year as a trainee programme director, that was April. Sorry, in other words it would be ’59. 1959.
So you were appointed and then you were trained in the studio.
Yes. Ad the way of training, all they needed to say was the fact that you went… it was like learning to swim – you went in the deep end. My “trainer” – in inverted commas – was a man called Eric Price, who came from New Zealand. He allowed me to do two rehearsals for a local programme before, and on the third day he said, Right, you’re on your own.” And he stood behind me for the rest of the week, and then the following week – this is People and Places – the following week he said, “Right, I’m watching it from the office.” And he watched it on a monitor in the office. And that was my training, basically – it’s what I picked up working with people like Silvio Narizzano and so on. At the other end as a cameraman, because you’re on headphones, the thing you knew, the thing you would not do, is to shout and rave and rant, because it was guaranteed to upset anybody. So that was the way you were taught, and you literally did every type of programme on local programmes. We had musical numbers with Derek Hilton, Derek Hilton’s Quartet, the presenter was Bill Grundy, the… what’s he called… he came from Germany. I can’t remember. And then there was Gordon Burns, who came later, and then of course we had all the various other people. Researchers were a thing people called Mike Parkinson for instance, who came and you had… you did all that kind of thing. So in other words the quality of the researching and producing side was very high because it all came from here, there and everywhere. The producer was David Plowright, who came from Yorkshire. Barry (Heads? 22:20), again, was another newspaper man, and so on. And then of course, as part of the thing I got involved in World in Action with Tim Hewat, I used to do that every week, presenting it from the studio. And then I got involved in filming as well.
So can you remember any memorable World in Actions that you filmed?
We did the one with Margaret Thatcher.
Tell me about that. What was that like?
Well, that started off as a local programme with Gordon Burns, and we went down to London to film it. Eventually Margaret Thatcher turned up and she’d got a cold.
She was Prime Minister at this stage?
Yes, at this stage she was Prime Minister. She’d got a cold and her voice went down and everybody said how marvellous her voice was and all the rest of it. And if you remember her voice dropped, and it was all because of this cold she’d had. Gordon Burns did the interview, which as I say started off as local programmes and finished up as a World in Action.
Steve: So this is Eric Harrison take two.
So where were we?
So you were telling me about interviewing Mrs Thatcher.
Well, I didn’t do the interview!
Or filming it.
Yes, we did it.
What were your impressions of her?
Incredible! The first impression of her was her skin, of all the strange things. She had a magnificent alabaster type skin, and I was fascinated by this, because you were expecting an old harridan etc. etc., but no – she really looked the part. And was very aware. She was aware of the fact of where the plants were and all the rest of it. And we’d got some newspapers in front of her, and the fact it wasn’t the Guardian or whatever it was on the front page, there in front. She was terribly aware of it, you know, of her image. But no problems at all. None at all.
Going back a bit, one of things I had read about you said you were in the studio when John F Kennedy died.
Oh, yes. That was… the story of that is, the fact that we were due to do a local programme, a musical programme for Johnny (Hammond? 1:33), and my wife, as she eventually became, was a vision mixer as well on it. We were due to do a local programme in Studio 6. We we’re all in the canteen when the tannoy went, “Can the production crew please come to six immediately.” So we went to six thinking the place had blown up or something. We were then told that Kennedy had died. And Granada had said the fact they would do a programme every hour, cancel the schedule for transmissions and we’ll do a programme every hour from Studio 6. Now this caused all kinds of problems, one of which is a) getting people in, and getting the material. Being Granada of course, because we weren’t involved in this, we only had one video tape of Kennedy giving one of his speeches, which was in the video tape library. The video tape library, of course, was closed. So the only way I could get into the video tape library was to get a very large screwdriver and wrench, open the door, which we got out, which we used this piece of tape tremendously the whole time. All kinds of people came, they got all kinds of employees from here there and everywhere, sober or otherwise, and we did five 20-minute programmes every hour for the rest of the network. So that’s when Kennedy died.
Steve: Okay, this is interview with Eric Harrison take three!
You talked about… you did that programme with the lady who later became your wife.
I think you also did The Beatles last performance, didn’t you, with her?
You know, funnily enough, she was a vision mixer on that. Yes, again, that came out of Studio 4.
What year was that, do you think?
Oh, God, I can’t remember. It was the last time the Beatles appeared at Granada. We were scheduled to do, in the hour, two Beatle numbers and an interview with Ken Dodd. So needless to say, I don’t know if you know anything about Ken Dodd, apart from the fact the overruns like crazy in the theatre, is his idea of timekeeping is ridiculous. So if you wanted him for 12 o’clock you’d be asking for 10. Anyway, Ken was going to be late, we knew that before we ever started. So we rehearsed and did the two Beatles numbers – again, this was Studio 4 – and the background as such… Ringo sits on a rostrum which is in the shape of a camera. And the reason for this is the fact that we didn’t know what to use as a backing, and I’d just bought a Pentax camera, and the designer said, “Tell you what, we’ll do a camera.” And so that’s how it looks like a camera, with the backing of the Liverpool Echo, which he’d painted in the background. So we did that. So my wife was a vision mixer, and then Ken Dodd eventually arrived and we did an interview with him, and so these were the ones you see as telly recordings these days. But the story really, (which had never become about? 2:04), as I say my wife was a vision mixer, and it was her birthday either before or just after, and she got a pair of red boots. And she wanted the autographs of The Beatles. And so she handed these over to a production trainee called – oh, jeepers – Leslie Woodhead, who eventually went on to other things, and said, “Get these signed.” So these boots came back signed, “Happy Birthday from Ringo,” etc. A couple of years later she said, “I don’t like these,” and threw them in the dustbin. So we lost a lot there. But as I say, somewhere there are two red boots with four Beatles on. (??3:08) at the time.
So a first for you I think was you did the first televised by-election in February 1958 in Rochdale?
I was a cameraman on that, we did that from Rochdale. Rochdale town hall. Everything was improvised because obviously nobody had ever done that kind of thing before. The liberal one was Ludovic Kennedy, and his wife, I don’t know if you know, was Moira Shearer, the ballet dancer. So everybody was waiting to see this lady come along. We did what, two transmissions from there and (??4:06) transmission, and that was the beginning of politics for me, for me at least, because I then went on as a director to do 22 years of political conferences, various other kinds of political programmes, and so on. So this was my first time I’d ever come across politics as such.
Are there any conferences that stand out in your memory?
Conferences, yes. I mean, the first conferences we went to, we weren’t allowed in to televise the conference, and so we built a studio over the top of the pub on the Blackpool prom, and various people came along and did interviews and so on. We were basically working for ITN. It was just a straightforward interview studio really as such. Robin Day was the interviewer who had just joined ITN at the time, and all kinds of people turned up to be interviewed. One of the funny things about it was you did your opening shot of the Blackpool illuminations and so on, but it was just a front with twinkling lights. And I jokingly said, “Wouldn’t it be nice to have the trans come along?” Well, of course the trans don’t come along at your bidding and so on. Anyway, I was talking to the cameraman at the camera which was looking over the thing, and I said, “If you do see a tram, stay with it.” Anyway, just before transmission, the cameraman, (Dougie Ryan? 6:14), said, “I don’t think my red lights were working.” So I punched the mixer to flash the red lights on the top of his camera outside. About two minutes later we go on air, and Dougie’s shot… and lo and behold, three beautifully illuminated trams went by, all on cue. Oh, great. We did the rest of the programme. We’re closing down and then we came out of the scanner and a very irate BBC director was stood there. So he said, “Thank you for ruining my feature.” We said, “What had we done?” So he said, “I set up three trams at the previous tram stop and they were waiting for our signal.” Because they went on air five minutes after us. So I said, “Yes?” and he said, “And you started them off!” So I said, “I didn’t do a thing!” I said, “How were you going to signal them to start?” He said, “Well, my floor manager was going to wave a red light to instruct the driver.” He said, “The driver said he saw the red lights flashing and went.” So we got the BBC’s pictures for nothing! Anyway, that was one of the many things. But you know, conferences, 22 years, and the BBC were there with two outside broadcast units and so on. We had one outside broadcast unit and we worked for everybody – ITN, (Uncle Tom? 8:08).
You also did a lot of sport.
Oh, yes. Every weekend.
So tell me a typical weekend, what you’d do.
A typical weekend, well, you’d do you do a football match. Well, the football actually depended on what you were doing during the week, because the only way you could rig it in was you could rig it in after you’d finished the previous programme. So in other words, if we were doing the conferences, fair enough, Blackpool became Match of the Day. So you would record that on a Saturday, and on a Sunday morning you would edit it. This is when we got into electronic editing; before electronic editing, that was a different thing altogether. And the PA would make a note of where all the action was using the old BBC nomenclature, top left hand corner, as one, two, three or four position on the pitch. And we’d edit that together and it went out on Sunday afternoon.
So was (Paul Doherty? 9:23) in charge of sport?
Paul Doherty came towards the end. Paul Doherty was one of the reasons I left. I shouldn’t be saying this but he was rather an obnoxious gentleman.
So tell me about the snooker.
Snooker, we’d been doing snooker two or three years for the BBC, and we were in Oldham and it was the sponsor was Lada, you know, the Russian car people. Steve Davis, the snooker player, had been on his holidays and he had arrived late at the hall and everybody thought he wouldn’t win anything. Anyway, lo and behold, he proceeded to do a 147 snooker break, the complete break, which was tremendous. This had never been done before on live transmission. So in other words, we ended up in the Guinness Book of Records. The following day, I think I’ve said to you before, my brother worked for the BBC. And the day after, my brother was walking down the corridor in the BBC and a bloke came streaming out of the sports department and said, “Your brother!” So I said, “Why, what’s wrong?” Because he watched it, he said, “Got the first 147 snooker! We’ve been trying to do this for years.” Anyway, the BBC – not the following year, but the year after that – then said, “The first ever televised 147 snooker break from Sheffield,” not the first ever televised snooker break period. So we landed up with that.
And another sport that you don’t see nowadays is wrestling. So tell me about that.
Well, we did wrestling with (Ken Walter? 11:29), we used to do a very… well, every five to six weeks. I mean, they were gentle giants, there’s no other word to describe it, the wrestlers. They became great friends. A lot of it, as you obviously realised, if they did what they appeared to do, there would have been broken bodies all over the place, so it was entertainment, but entertainment I wouldn’t like to participate in! As (Ken Walter? 12:05) used to say, “They earn their money their way, and I earn my money my way, and I’m not going to do it the other.” So, wrestling… how can you describe it without telling various incidents which happened? Um… you used to arrive there and the ladies would sit by the side of the ring and catcall these wrestlers and whatever. One instance, one lady went over and berated this wrestler with her umbrella, thumping him in the corner!
So you were at Granada right from the beginning, so what was it like as a company to work for? Did they look after you?
Yes. We used to say the fact that they didn’t pay you very well but at least you’d have a decent burial. As I said to you earlier, if you’d got a good idea you could go to them. It didn’t matter whether you were a bottle washer or whatever, it was done. So it was very much the old-fashioned Jewish company; they didn’t believe in paying, but at least, you know, you could do things. I mean, the reason why I say that is that the rest of the network were being paid a Christmas bonus and Granada weren’t, and this is where Granada first of all became unionised, because of this. And so people just said, you know, “We’ll stop,” and then Granada paid the Christmas bonus. And then it became very heavily unionised. Both as ACTT and also the electrical union. The electrical union were all very heavy… I mean, we had to, whether we liked it or not, take an electrician whenever we filmed. And I remember doing a schools programme which we did on a big, open beach, and we had to take an electrician for use of a what we called a hand basher – that’s a light which you hold still, just in case we had to use it. So we dutifully took along an electrician. And of course, he never was down on the beach because it was beautiful weather and so on. Anyway, we got back to base, and four days later, five days later, I was hauled in front of the accounts department who said, “What’s this about overtime?” So I said, “Overtime? We didn’t do any! None at all.” Well, so-and-so, the electrician, was claiming an hour’s overtime per day to charge up the hand basher! He was never there! Anyway, they had to pay him. They were very strong, the electricians.
So was there a social side as well to Granada which made it a nice company to work for?
The social side of Granada… Granada was a dry station. There was no bar or anything, there was no club on the station. You were only allowed to give alcohol to MPs and above, which was dispensed in the executive dining room. So there was no club until much, much, much later, then they got The Stables. But the entertainment as such was provided by everybody else. So for instance we had a gardening club where we got stuff for trade price. And the canteen was marvellous, absolutely marvellous. The chef was eventually became the Mayor of Bury! Vic was the Mayor of Bury for a year. The tables in the canteen, and it was under very strict instructions, the tables in the canteen were not allowed to be wiped until half an hour after any meal had been served. The reason being the fact that half the time people would do their planning and things right on the table top, and if they had forgotten what they were doing, they would rush back to the canteen to find out what was written on the top of the table top – so the canteen ladies weren’t allowed to wipe the top of the table until half an hour after everybody had a meal. Miss Longhurst was the lady in charge. And Vic, the chef, if you didn’t feel very well, would say, “What do you fancy?” etc.
And you’d see the Bernsteins there in the canteen?
Yes, every time. I mean, all of a sudden you were suddenly aware of him or Denis or whatever, and they would be talking the whole time, you know, what are we doing wrong. As I say, this glass ceiling didn’t exist. So if Denis sat down by the side of you and you said to him, “I’ve got this idea,” he would listen to you, and you would either hear later, the fact that they decided to do this, that and the other. But they were there, and they queued just like everybody else. And in the canteen, of course, you got all the actors and actresses and so on. And there was no side to anybody at all. Everybody sat down with everybody else and everybody was the same level. Oh jeepers, what’s she called? The actress. Gone with the Wind.
Yes, Vivian Leigh. I’ll never forget Vivian Leigh being in the queue at Granada I her full gear and all the rest of it, with a tray And you know, all the people from Coronation Street.
When it when it started off it must have been quite a young company, then.
Oh, it was very much a young company. Yes.
You all kind of grew together and found…
Yes. The average age was around about 30 I think, something like that. And then, I mean in my day, as a cameraman we did all kinds of programmes like Shadow Squad and The Army Game and so on, which were done out of Studio 2 – I keep using 2, in those days it was 1 – before Chelsea opened, and we used to do these dramas and things like that. And I remember they did a couple of rehearsals for what became Coronation Street, which at the time was labelled Florizel Street, and my wife was a vision mixer on it, and I remember saying to her after I’d seen a lot of these dress rehearsals, “It won’t last more than six weeks, forget it. it won’t last more than six weeks.” And the director was Derek Bennet, who as I say, with Silvio Narizzano, who was a big drama director who came from Canada, a floor manager who we used to do the drams with… but one way or another it was a joy to go to work. It really was a joy to go to work. Like everything else, it had its ups and downs and your rows and so on… the great… one of the other joys was to do Zoo Time at London Zoo with Desmond Morris. We did two a day – one in the morning, one in the afternoon – and you did all kinds of things. For instance, at Whipsnade Zoo, Desmond thought it would be a good idea if we did something with the wolves in the wood, and wouldn’t it be nice to put a camera in it. So I said, “Yes, it would, but crikey, they’re wolves.” He said, “No, don’t worry about that. What we’ll do is we’ll make a hidey hole…” – for want of a better word – “… with wire netting so the wolves couldn’t get in, and because of optics, if you shoot through wire netting you can’t see the wire netting, so you’ll be okay. And we’ll put this in the wood and put the camera in before we let the wolves out, and then we’ll feed the wolves.” So we thought it was a great idea. So we said, “Who’s volunteering?” And Eric Prytherch at the time was a senior cameraman on the unit, and he said, “I’ll do it,” because he was quite small. “I’ll do it in the wood.” So we did. He went into this thing, and we did the wolves, we fed them and all the rest of it so we got all pictures of the wolves. Anyway, we finished, we stopped tape, and I could hear on my talkback Eric saying, “Let me out.” So I went to Desmond and said, “Can we let the cameraman out?” He said, “We can’t do that for another couple of hours – we’ve just fed the wolves and we daren’t take them in.” So Eric Prytherch had to be in the middle of this with his camera while the rest of us went for lunch.
You’d worked at the BBC as well as Granada. Was there a specialness about Granada being in Manchester? Because you worked in London and…
I’d worked in Manchester as well, don’t forget.
Yes. Do you think there was a very strong link between Granada and the north west that….
Well, you know, almost one of the first outside broadcasts we did was from the BBC in Manchester. We actually televised the BBC for an hour. In fact, it was very funny because we were going back to televise people we’d worked with. But the beauty of Granada was the fact that it wasn’t just bureaucratic as the BBC; you didn’t work in levels, and they didn’t have a meeting about a meeting about a meeting of shall we do it. In the case of Granada, if we had a good idea, we did it and we did it an hour later, and so on. So in other words, you didn’t feel as if you were being kept down the whole time. And again, I say I, started off on OBs, I went into studios and did everything. The only thing I never did, I never did Coronation Street, but I did drama, in other words small stuff, but mostly specialised on OBs and sport and politics. I mean, for instance in Studio 4, which was a little tiny studio, we did drama from there as well. And they did… oh, jeepers, what’s it called… Dial M for Murder, and the set, of course, is one leg in a bed. So that was it. And of course, needless to say it was done almost on the hottest day of the year so everybody was sweating like nothing on earth because you had to have the door closed and so on. And you could see where everybody had been because of the marks on the floor where sweat had dripped off everybody and you could see the trails!
So what programme would you say you were proudest of? Is there anything that stands out?
Tell me about Hypotheticals.
We did various programmes, like nuts and bolts of the economy and so on, which we did out in London; we brought MPs across and we talked about politics. And then (Brian Lappin? 25:47) had seen the way the Americans taught law in Harvard, and they all saw… the Americans were doing a programme called Hypotheticals where they posed a case and they talked about it as a hypothetical case and got people who are relevant to the thing to talk about what they would and wouldn’t do and so n. And they thought this programme would probably work in England. So Brian approached (Fred Friendly? 26:40), who was (Edward R Murrow’s? 26:44) producer, who produced this in America, and got permission to do it. The Americans did it in a rather complicated way, but what we did, we got a U-shaped table which we built, around which we put something like 20 people of different professions who had got something to do with a particularly subject. And they brought two moderators in from America.
Steve: (Someone Schmitt? 27:32)
Yes. (??27:36) Schmitt was a later one. Oh, jeepers. Miller. He was a professor of something. And also another one. and they would go around the table and say… so a particularly subject was proposed, so at a particularly time you might have ‘state of the nation’ or ‘Mrs Smith is dying’ and so on, and they would build up and this and say, “What would you do?” and so on. And it was fascinating to watch the way people’s minds worked. And it was a programme that was quite difficult to direct. Well, you didn’t direct it, you just followed it. And I did my own vision mixing on it because it was the only way I could anticipate what was happening. And at the same time, shooting it in such a way that you didn’t see the cameras. Because we were virtually shooting 360 degrees. And also, as you know, the other things, which we called reverse angles, obviously avoiding that as well. And they tried it first of all at Painter’s Hall in London, I can’t remember what the programme was.
Steve: It was about journalism, the first one.
The first one. That was Painter’s Hall?
Steve: Yes, that was a trial one.
That was the trial one, yes. And it worked. We made it work. And from there onwards we went on to do other ones, to such an extent that it was nominated for an Emmy, it got a Royal Television Society award, which I can show you, there’s a silver award from somewhere else. So in other words it was quite highly thought of as well throughout the world. But as I say, the big problem was shooting it whereby you didn’t even see the camera and give the game away. And also it was shot with no editing. The only editing as such was afterwards to shorten it. The Americans came when we were at Warwick Castle, we did one at Warwick Castle, flew in various people from America and so on, and the American network wanted to do it as well. And they then said, “Oh, we do this normally, don’t worry, we’ll send our people.” Well, they sent a Portakabin with 20-odd video tape machines, and they wanted the output from each camera into each of these video tape machines so they could get the separate… so they could edit it together later. I said, well, you know, we don’t do this. You can have the feed and what have you… anyway, we gave them a feed off each camera and they edited from the mixer, my output… anyway, to cut a long story short, they had a meeting that night and decided that they wouldn’t bother doing this, they’d just take our output. And apparently all they simply did was cut off a couple of bits and what have you when they arrived in America, and that was it, instead of spending four weeks editing it like they usually do.
So as a director, you work very closely with a vision mixer, don’t you?
Well, no… this is the whole thing. I got into trouble with vision mixers because I used to vision mix myself. Towards the end I was only allowed to vision mix my own programme, as an outside broadcast, if I got special permission from the union.
That must have been tricky if you were married to a vision mixer.
Well, there was no point really, because in the studio it didn’t matter because it was all on paper and so on. Ad-libbed programmes, i.e. like Hypotheticals, sport in general and so on, you hadn’t the time in which to say ‘stand by and take’ – you took it. And you worked off intuition, in other words off the seat of your pants really. And so you developed an instinct of when somebody was about to speak, and you couldn’t explain why, and you would simply take a camera and the person would open their mouth. Now, that just couldn’t work with a vision mixer, but in the particular programmes we’re talking about, there was no point. And Paul Doherty insisted on one instance of doing bowling, (rink bowling? 33:05) in Manchester, and insisted the fact that I had a vision mixer. It just didn’t work really.
Another sport which I don’t think really went very far was croquet. Tell me about the croquet.
Croquet was an idea of David Plowright’s. He got it into his head that the grass which was in front of Granada which eventually they built a studio on would be nice as a croquet lawn. So everybody was saying, “Yes, great idea, David.” And he said, “And we’re going to televise croquet.” Silence. “And you’re doing it,” he said to me. So I said, “I know nothing about croquet!” he said, “You will – I’m sending you off to Cheltenham, where the Cheltenham ladies’ College has a great croquet lawn, and you’re going to be taught.” So I went off to Cheltenham, where I learnt how to play croquet. So we built a croquet lawn in front of Granada, and televised it – and it was very successful! The commentator, of all people, was a bloke who used to do the horse… bedding odds for racing. Lord… can’t remember. And they were world-class croquet players. But as I say, talk about the… you had to be very careful with commentary, because you can imagine it: “He is about to hit somebody’s red ball,” and so on. But that was an experience and a half. We only ever did it once. They then decided to build a studio on the same piece of grass, and that was it. but that was a great excitement.
So when did you leave Granada?
- I’d done 32, 33 years by then. I left on a Friday, and on a Monday I started my own company and I made videos for British Aerospace.
Did you think Granada had changed? Was that part of the reason you left?
The reason I left, as I said to you, was the fact that one particular person… I went to David Plowright and said, “If I don’t leave, I shall hit him.” Because he was getting quite obnoxious.
Did you think that the company was changing by then?
Yes, it was. The accountants were taking over. The feeling, the fact that… as I said to you, you could go up and bang on a door and what have you. No, it wasn’t… the atmosphere was entirely different. It was becoming a bit… too strict, for want of a better word. The beauty of Granada in the early days was it was flexible. A I say, I didn’t work there in the days of The Grocer, as they called him. And so on. Having said that, we got the Granada shares, they changed into ITV shares and Compass shares, and the Compass shares have done very well, thank you! And so in other words, you take the rough with the smooth, as they say And at that particular time also they then… things became a bit more flexible. They started the old school bar on the other side of the road and so on. They then built the big Coronation Street set, because it was what, the third one or fourth one. The first wall was literally built out of cardboard. That… the one which wouldn’t last more than six weeks, Coronation Street…
You must have been sorry to leave though.
Oh, yes. I was sorry to leave. As I said, the only reason I left was because of one particular person who I couldn’t get by. He was so obnoxious that I just couldn’t work. And I’d been offered this freelance job by British Aerospace, and so I started my own company, and worked for British Aerospace, and still went back to Granada. I was still doing What the Papers Say. Well, I say… I was a cameraman on the first one and I did the… I think it was the 40th or 45th year of What the Papers Say with Brian Armstrong. Yes. I mean, if you look at the telly recording that they did of the first What the Papers Say, and the bit they show has got my bit on it, which is you get the jerking thing going by, we bid you good bye etc. etc.. The telly type thing. And that was my bit, for want of a better word That’s the extract they showed. And that was done from Studio 4. And the voice that says, “Pipers, pipers, pipers,” is Denis Forman.
Steve: Is it?!
Steve: I didn’t know that.
And then that was also the first time we’d ever use teleprompters, as they called it, autocue as it became, which in those days was an enormous device, when everything was typed on paper, which was 12-15 inches wide on a special typewriter, because the typeface was three quarters of an inch tall, and so therefore it had to be curved so it fitted the pattern of the typewriter. And the operator would sit at the feet of the presenter because he got the eye line and so on. It was literally paper with punched holes down the side.
Steve: You know the programme called The Time, The Place, from Moscow.
Yes. Well, The Time, The Place was a (temp programme? 40:46) which Mike Scott presented, and we’d done a The Time, The Place from Strangeways live, in the jail, literally in the jail. We did it from the chapel. And the opening shot as such is we have a camera inside, you see the bars of all the rest of it. And The Time, The Place did a particular subject. And one of them was done with Moscow. In other words, they had a panel in Moscow and a panel in England and they talked, obviously in Russian and English, we had simultaneous translations. And the people they sent over from. Moscow we eventually discovered later were KGB! More so the fact that I was actually offered a job by the man in the KGB to go and direct some programmes in Moscow, which having them find out I’d turned down… but that was that was an interesting programme in the fact that it was the first time we had cooperation live between Moscow and England. Like the first time Granada actually did the first transmission schools programme on early bird. That was the first non-geosynchronous satellite. In other words, you only got pictures for the first 30 minutes because of the curve of the earth. These days all satellites are synchronous – i.e. they stay still. This was non-synchronous, so in other words it was curved. And we did the first transmission for a schools programme, experimental ones, using early bird programmes we were making on computers. And that was the first time I had actually had to work with anything satellite-wise.
If you don’t mind, you don’t have to do it, can you just tell us a little bit about how your wife Meg came to join Granada, and what kind of training she had?
Meg, like me, started off in a bank, a district bank, and then decided to become an air hostess with her sister. And they worked for Cambrian Airways. And she and her sister became air stewardesses for a couple of years. Meg then had to come home because her mother was ill, and she got a job as an assistant air traffic controller at Manchester Airport. And that’s what she did. And then her mother recovered, and Meg was offered a job to go and train as a proper air traffic controller, but she didn’t like the thought of the hours. So she saw an advert for a job at Granada, which was not specified. So she went to Granada and was interviewed by the chief engineer, a man called (Len Holt? 44:56) who said, you know, what did she do. And she said, “Air traffic controller.” Do you know anything about piano? “Yes, I play the piano, my mother is an organist.” Ah – we’d like to offer you a job as a vision mixer. So she got the job as a trainee vision mixer. And her great love was drama, and she used to sit with the vision mixers who used to do drama and watch them. And she did the first dress rehearsals and so on on Florizel Street, i.e. Coronation Street, where I came out with the famous remark, “It’ll never last more than six weeks.” And then we got married. And then she freelanced for ITN (at Harlech? 45:51) and so on. She vision mixed at Granada, before she’d left, the one and only opera Granada did. Orpheus in the Underworld, which took place between studios 2 and 6. Live. And in the commercial breaks she’d move from one control room to the other control room, then they went back into the other control room where they reset. The director was Wendy Toye. Orpheus in the Underworld. (1961). And then she worked for (Harlech? 46:34) and ITN and so on. We met over talk back, in the case of ITN… I mean, well, I was married and all the rest of it, and then we’d had children, and she was invited to ITN to do the interviews during… I can’t remember which election it was. Anyway, I was at Huyton, doing the by-election from Huyton, and of course every outside broadcast unit in the country went into ITN and we were all on the same talkback system. And the person who was directing it was a lady called Diana Edwards-Jones, who I knew extremely well. Now, just before transmission you did a talkback check to ITN. “Hello, ITN, this is Huyton,” right? And Diana said, “Would you like to have a word with the lady you live with?” and the whole of England went (gasp). And then she then said, “It’s all right, it’s his wife.”
Steve: Did you ever find any problems working with your wife in the same company?
No, because I very rarely was in the studio at the same time as her, and she specialised basically in drama. And so consequently, never the twain had met, shall we say, you know. As I say, we got married and had children fairly early, so she didn’t go back to Granada until the children were several years old. And she went back, and they had got a new vision mixer panel. So they invited her back, but she said, “But you’ve got a new panel.” And they said, “Oh, well it’s not incumbent on us to teach you.” And I happened to mention this to Diana, who was at ITN, and she said, “Oh, we’ve got the same panel in ITN, I’ll get the senior vision mixer at ITN to train her.” Obviously they won’t pay her, so she did. So she was trained on the particular vision mixer at ITN before she went back to Granada.
Thanks and goodbyes