Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 5 May 2015.
Let’s begin, Geoff, by how you came to go to Granada and when you joined the company.
I joined Granada in January 1969. I’d just graduated from Liverpool University, did a second degree in Politics there and came out of it after four years at university vaguely wanting to be a journalist. I mean I’d done a lot of politics and I liked writing. I’d come from a left-wing family. We’d always talked politics and then I did politics at university and then of course I liked writing, as I said, and so I thought something in the journalism field so I think I remember writing to newspapers. I did work for the Liverpool Daily Post coming out of the second degree for a few months but I didn’t like it and they didn’t like me. It was a pretty Neanderthal as a place to work. I think of scouts(?) in 1968. Anyway, we parted company and then I was looking for work and I just saw an advert in the Guardian – Granada Television wants researchers for a new comedy programme. So I wrote off and I think the figures of 400 or so applicants, 12 shortlisted and they picked five and I was one of the five. Claudia Milne was also one of the five. The programme was Nice Time, produced by John Birt and starring Kenny Everett, Germaine Greer, Jonathon Routh and Sandra Gough. I’d never been to Manchester before I went for that interview in December ’68. Well basically the interview went very well. John Birt and I hit it off.
Did you remember very much about the interview because a lot of people talked about the ‘interviewing process’?
It was very informal. It was just me and him in an office, which is kind of weird as nowadays you get a team of people I suppose.
There used to always be more of a team of people – didn’t there used to be half a dozen around interviewing you?
Well, this is very early days, December ’68 this would have been. Marian Nelson was also on the Nice Time team. I think you are right, I think there was a pre-John Burt interview with perhaps her and Andy Mayer and I can’t remember really the details of that but I know the one that got me in was me and John Birt. He’s a football fanatic. We just talked about Manchester United for half the time – I remember that – in some detail so, you know, men and football. I suppose there was some bonding there but we were just of the same ilk. Provincial Grammar School boys. A lot of interest in football and I suppose bright and lively enough and then I got the offer after that.
So I found myself going into comedy as the first job, which is not at all my background or my bent. Mind you, I was young and this was great! You know, who cares what it is! You are working in television and you go out filming with Kenny Everett, you travel and they get you hire cars to go places and I just thought it was terrific. Absolutely terrific! And it was probably one of the best six months ever! I mean Nice Time ran for two series and I was in the second series. You remember Roland Atkinson’s, no, not Roland Atkinson’s, I’m thinking of Rowan Atkinson. Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In. It was the UK equivalent of that. Late sixties zany wow-pow! Germaine Greer. Everyone was acting an idiot. And of course that suited Kenny Everett really well, I mean he was kind of the star. It was never a big hit show. Like most of Granada’s attempts at entertainment, it was never a big hit. It was kind of Sundays at 5 o’ clock, something like that, as a TX. Rather like So it Goes which I also produced, it was a cult hit. But it was just, as a first job on telly, Christ, it was amazing! As a kind of Junior Researcher, Kenny Everett wants to lark about on the Liverpool buses. The scriptwriter’s got some gags about him (Kenny on the bus) so I had to go and fix up the Liverpool bus from the local Corporation, arrange for it, get the documents signed, be there, arrange the lunch for the crew.
There was a thing called the Macclesfield to Buxton Backward Walking Race, which is apparently a tradition (I wonder if it is now?) so we filmed it and we actually filmed the whole thing, you know, masses of people walking backwards! From Macclesfield to Buxton! So I had to go and set that up with, again, the local council and you learnt as you went along. You got hired, here’s when you start, you don’t get any training but you learn it as you go. You know, dealing with councils, getting music, liaising with the police if necessary, all these things you pick up as you go along and it was great. It was all on location, what I did was all on location. You’re a fixer really but you travelled a lot and you got to work with celebrities and entertainers and directors and it was just great. And my good fortune was that John Birt went from there to World in Action and he wanted to take me with him so my second show was World in Action.
And how long would that be after…?
There was a gap. I took a year off from the middle of ’69 to ’70, something like that because at the time I wanted to be rock and roll star really. We’re talking about ’69 to ’70 here and I thought this telly was a great laugh but I really wanted to be a rock and roll star! So I took some time off and swanned around with various musicians in Cheltenham.
So you left Granada altogether?
I left altogether in middle ’69 and then I went back again. No, start that section again. My contract was, I think, five or six months from January to the summer then there was only a gap between contracts of one or two months in the summer. By July or August I was in World in Action with John Birt. And in that period, July and August ’69 to the summer of 1970 (it was the summer of 1970 that I left to become a rock and roll star) but the first period of World in Action was late summer ’69 to the middle of 1970 in which time I researched three ‘World in Action’s. Yes, John Birt got me into Granada through Nice Time and he wanted me to do World in Action but they weren’t sure about me, of course, because getting onto World in Action was a big deal. We don’t really know this guy, he did a few months with Kenny Everett so I had to do a probation programme, which was with Mike Beckham and the show was called The Life and Death of James Griffiths. It was about a Glasgow gunman who shot people and was then shot dead by the police. He went on the rampage on the roof tops in Glasgow and the programme was basically a portrait of his life – what makes a killer, what was his background like, what were his relationships like etc etc. And again, it was, I did quite a lot of work in Scunthorpe for some reason. Because this guy lived in Scunthorpe and I happened to be, you’ve got to realise how long ago this is.
Like I said about the Liverpool Daily Post newsroom, as a soft Southerner like me you wouldn’t want to work in the Liverpool Daily Post newsroom, it was like a bloody cattle yard and these people hated Southerners. To the man. I grew up in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. So that was out. Just a soft Southern bastard, you know, simple as that. Just anti. And likewise in Scunthorpe I remember getting the local paper and the crime correspondent was a dreadful old hack, you know, these were guys nearing retirement, they drank too much, they smoked too much and they didn’t give a shit and they hated young people and all that. And I remember being in a snooker hall and I took this guy for a drink and then he went on the phone to his boss and I overheard this conversation, something about this ‘I’ve got this fucking idiot here from Granada, doesn’t know a thing. Doesn’t know a thing. I mean, what am I going to tell him?’ So I had a great boost to my confidence on that World in Action. But I didn’t know anything. I mean we are talking about 1969, I was 23, I didn’t know anything. But I did a good enough job for Mike Beckham to say to John Birt, ‘Yeah, this guy’s OK.’ So then I was up for the longer contract.
And the second show was a story about a hippy called Ken Petty. Charlie Nairn was the producer, probably long forgotten now, that Charlie. But again, remember the time it was, 1969 and people were scared of the hippy thing. The Establishment was. You know it was that time, that era. So again, what makes a hippy tick? ‘Geoff, go and find a hippy.’ So Geoff goes out in all the seedy places to find a hippy and brings them one by one into Gus MacDonald to say, ‘What do you think, Gus? Is he any good? Is she any good?’ So eventually we settle on one.
Gus was Editor?
Yeah, they were joint Editors – Gus and John. And they were both very young indeed. I mean about 24, 25. It was extraordinary how young they were. So anyway we found Ken Petty working for us, a boy from Sunderland, who lived in a council estate in Sunderland. All his mates were straight. Suddenly a boy like that goes in a completely different direction so we profiled him and his Notting Hill lifestyle. It was a good show. That was Charlie Nairn. The third show I did was with David Boulton as producer and it was about farming. And it was called One Down, 100,000 to Go and oh, it was a great trip. Devon. ‘Geoff, find a farmer’ Like that. ‘Find a farmer’. Devon. What a great, you know, staying in nice little hotels, having pints of beer way down in Devon talking to farmers. And I found this farmer and we made the show really around him. It was about the survival of dairy farmers as agriculture was changing – hence the title. Boulton and I had a great time together. I don’t know whether other people are telling you what they think of others in Granada, are they?
They are. They are.
Do you want that?
Well, be careful!
I should move on then. I am an admirer of David Boulton and we had a good time together on the show. And Steve, honestly, World in Action in those days was a treat to work on. You are talking of the time when there was BBC and ITV, there were two channels. ITV had all the commercial advertising revenue. It could make the shows it wanted to. And we were lucky in the sense that there was no, well there were time pressures, of course there were pressures but I suppose not compared to today and the shows I worked on were under more time pressure because they weren’t like Ray Fitzwalter’s Investigations and the serious stuff like Michael Ryan did. If you are going to go for a Cabinet Minister you can take your time, it’s got to be right so these shows weren’t quite in that category but you never felt that time pressure really. But I just want to convey that for a young man what a treat it was.
And few constraints in terms of finances, budgets?
I was a junior researcher. I wasn’t aware of them.
And were you coming up with ideas as well for programmes?
And that was encouraged?
Yes, there was a World in Action team meeting every week and all of us sat down together and everyone wanted your ideas because the show had a big turnover. It turned over once a week for (you’ll have to check this) but how many weeks a year, 35ish? That’s a lot of output and a lot of planning so, yes, I did contribute ideas. I may well have suggested doing something on a hippy or on farming. I had many ideas. They wanted your ideas. I just thought it was a great place to work, coming out of university, everyone was free and easy. It wasn’t like working for Marks and Spencer or Proctor and Gamble as a – the great phrase from our day – graduate trainee. I was a graduate trainee at the Liverpool Daily Post. I just thought it was anarchic as well. I just thought it was brilliant. I had to live in Manchester which I’d never been to, as I said, so it was new territory for me. I lived in a bedsit in Whalley Range.
People were very like-minded?
That first period, January ’69 to middle of 1970 because after that I did leave for a few years to become a rock and roller. I didn’t really think of Granada as Granada. I just thought about the shows that I was on because they were all cut off, I mean World in Action was cut off from the rest of it.
Whatever happened on Coronation Street was nothing to do with us or Entertainment or Sport. And also World in Action had a London office at 36 Golden Square which was really the HQ but you always felt like it was the Manchester branch, there was a batch of us. Brian Blake and others. Richard Martin was in there but the real HQ was London. So you didn’t feel like you were working for Granada so much as World in Action.
Also, there’s a point worth making about the job market. Nobody was worried about getting a job. I don’t remember being worried about getting a job. You kind of thought I’ll go off for a bit and then come back. I’ll come back when I want. It wasn’t quite so easy. But I did leave in the summer of 1970 and I re-entered Granada in March ’74 when I met my future wife and I brought her up to Manchester in 1974. She’s Dutch. God knows what she made of Manchester in 1974. So there’s that period doing music. I had a couple of jobs in the middle there. Granada did a documentary about Keele University for some reason. Carole Wilts was the Producer/Director who did that. But the main thing I did in those years was the Frost programme. Again John Birt (who went to London Weekend) and became head of the Frost programme and recruited me to be a researcher.
At LWT. Which was great, even better. I did two series of the Frost programme. I always liked working with John Birt and I loved working with David Frost. This was even better. You weren’t going from Burton Head(?) in Scunthorpe, you were round the world. I went to Australia with Frost, I went to Beirut. I went to South Wales. But I mean Frost was very much my thing because he’d do serious stuff one minute, like the Miners’ Strike in ’72 and then the next thing he’d do something trivial. But that was Frost as a person, that’s what he always did; which was a mix I always liked – that kind of serious and light stuff. So yes, there were two series of Frost programme with John Birt and I could have stayed on at London Weekend and sometimes I think I probably should have stayed on at London Weekend but I remember in the winter of ’73/’74 I got fed up with music (there was nothing in it for me) and then I knocked on the doors of Gus MacDonald, World in Action again, and John Birt at London Weekend and they both offered me contracts. I took the Granada one. Maybe I should have stayed down south. So then we have a second phase of Granada so back to World in Action from March ’74 to, ooh, summer of ’77 so that was main stint on World in Action so, again, you know, I suppose I didn’t really feel like I was a Granada person so much as a World in Action person. You were cut off from the rest. You were often out of the office of course, travelling. And then I did a lot of shows. I did 20-odd World in Actions.
And World in Action very much was a world in itself. It had different rules for researchers and which was often resented by all the other researchers.
Yes, and I think that became worse as the years went on. They were a bunch of nutters, you know, peculiar people. I don’t know how they got in. I mean people like Michael Gillard, I mean he was fantastic but peculiar! Brian Winston. David Kemp. Ernie Eban.
Ernie Eban. Sorry, Ernie was on Frost. Nutter. But anyway, it was a right mixture of people, World in Action. It was male-dominated in those times. Sue Woodward was on it.
SK: Is this Sue Woodward who was married to…
Sue Woodford. Who’s now Lady Woodford, correct? So in that period of World in Action, the great swathe of World in Action, I got promoted to Producer in 1977 during the World in Action on Japan series because I flew out with Mike Scott and we did three shows in Japan and basically started that episode as Researcher and then finished off as a Producer. My first credit as a Producer was with Leslie Woodhead, as Producer, so I was chuffed. So up till then I did a whole raft of shows as a Researcher – The Rise and Fall of the CIA with Mike Beckham, I went to Washington for ages, three programmes, brilliant. The Nuts and Bolts of the Economy was a series Mike Scott presented. There was an Economic Unit at the time and I was in the Economic Unit along with Ryan and Blake and I went to Denmark with Mark Ryan, to Italy with him and Japan was the final series of programmes within that and we did a programme on the manufacturing in Birmingham with the Kenwicks(?) which I found. I was very good at finding things. I’d always been good at finding things! I remember the first thing about The Nuts and Bolts of the Economy. There was a big fuss in the 1970s about ‘buying British’, which has completely disappeared. “Why are you buying a German car?” you know and “Why are you buying a foreign this?” You know? And even things that were British, if you looked beneath the surface were found to be not really British at all and this was because our imports were too high. That was a payments problem. So how do we illustrate this? Well Geoff found a freezer company in Ayrshire called BW Freezers and they had a marketing campaign about the great British freezer. When you took the freezer apart and 95% was foreign and they bought the nuts and bolts from Sweden and they bought the steel from Korea etc and we dismantled the freezer and laid it out on the floor with little flags on each bit. “You think this is British? Well you should think again” It was great Mike Scott country. It really was and it was a really great show. It won an award. It won the Shell Award for Industry in 1976, as did the CIA series, Mike Beckham, that won a New York Film Festival Award so I think winning the Nuts and Bolts first show on the freezer company was good for me and they were a good series of programmes and the Japanese one was good.
The Japanese have a reputation for scrutinising everything, demanding higher standards than the Brits would and I discovered when the Japanese car people imported Jaguars, brand new Jaguars from Coventry or Solihull wherever it was they came from, they would not go on sale, they would go to a local garage in Tokyo to be scrutinised and basically buffed up and touched up because the Japanese were over there with their magnifying glasses and they were seeing scratches that the blokes in Coventry didn’t see. Because the Japanese consumer is more demanding than the British consumer and Scott did a piece on this and that made a few headlines so that was good. And I developed a relationship with Mike Scott over these years which was very good – he came to my wedding in ’74 – and the company side of my family that were so impressed to see Mike Scott off the telly, they all stood up when he came in the room. I always remember that. But he was great. He was great to work with. And then we ended up on the Japanese thing with Leslie Woodhead and stuff. It was just a great job in those years, you know, you get a lot out of it as well. Team meetings. Oh, endless team meetings, endless. There was also industrial trouble. It was a time of the unions and they were always fighting management.
Do you want to talk about the union situation? I mean, how did you find it? Were you sympathetic or were you angered at times?
I think both. I mean if you want to look for union trouble, go to the 1970s. Whether you like it or not, Thatcher onwards changed things. It wasn’t as bad, there weren’t as many strikes but apart from the strike there was a lot of internal friction that made for unpleasant atmospheres. I remember at one team meeting in Committee Room B – I think there were a lot of Committee Rooms – a World in Action team meeting with Plowright at the head and all the producers and researchers and the World in Action team members decided to, on a policy of non-cooperation with the management over some issue or other. There was always a divide between the editor of World in Action and the team. There was always some grievance or other. You told me to do this but now you’ve changed your story and then there was a meeting about it and it went on and on. But in this particular team meeting, in Committee Room B, the members had decided not to speak to management so Plowright says, “Alright, chaps, alright, good show last week, was it? Now, what are we going to do about this?” Silence. “Is nobody…Mike, what about you?” Silence. Eventually David Hart had to speak to say “We’ve decided on the policy of not speaking at this meeting”. It was the most embarrassing thing I’ve ever seen. I could have died. How idiotic. Then there was an enquiry after that which Stephen Clarke was, I think there was a problem between Boulton and the team. Endless aggravation.
Were you there, incidentally, for the famous coup d’état on the Editor? Gus was involved.
Probably. Remind me.
I can’t remember exactly.
Brian Blake will tell you.
Somebody got thrown off. I think there was a coup d’état. The entire team had a vote of no confidence in the editor.
I think that was Boulton, wasn’t it?
It may well have been. Yes.
Yes. I think a lot of them did have a problem with Boulton. But I couldn’t possibly say. I don’t really know what went on with him.
But they were tough, you know, I mean people like Gillard and Hart, they were tough to deal with, MacFadyen. You are talking heavyweight guys here, you know, they are not easy to negotiate with. But I didn’t really know enough I think. As I say, you are away a lot as well. How lucky we were. I mean you talk to any World in Action person now – I see a lot of Mike Beckham now – how lucky we were.
So you would have left World in Action in…?
May ’77, it was. Because I got promoted to Producer I was taken off World in Action and decided to give some sort of experience of other programmes so I was made a Granada Reports Producer. Boy, was that different. It kind of hit you between the eyes. World in Action was great because you worked in small units, it was two, three or four people and here you are in this room with 30 journalists or whatever it was, every bloody morning, deciding how to fill a half hour show. It was stressful. I think it is a stressful show to do and again you had a lot of conflicting voices. You kind of felt as a…was it Editor of Granada Reports?
Was it what, sorry?
There was Morrison above me. He would have been Head of Local Programmes, I suppose.
And then I suppose I was Editor of Granada Reports.
There was me and Claudia Milne doing it alternate weeks.
Right. And then you would have had a News Editor as well?
Yes, Rod Caird was my News Editor for some of the time. But anyway, I found it a bit terrifying, very much hard work. And of course you are a referee in there. And you are also a foreman because you’ve got Morrison pressurising you from above and you’ve got this baying mob pressurising you from below who all want their pet subjects and stories done and it was quite stressful.
And you’ve got the Presenters as well who’ve got their own agendas?
Yes and they weren’t easy either. I mean Greaves was always a pleasure to work with, absolutely always. Because as Charlie Nairn says to me on the hippy show, “Geoff, it’s only telly.” And you’d keep that in mind all the way through. That’s what Frost taught you. Miners’ Strike or Cabinet reshuffle – it’s only telly, nobody bothers about it.
Yes. It’s not brain surgery.
I saw a programme on Mike Ashley on Sports Direct (did you see that on Channel Four the other day?)
No, I didn’t see that, no.
A one-hour programme taking Mike Ashley apart, you know. I thought, right, this’ll finally do it for Mike Ashley. There is no follow-up, no coverage.
Mike Ashley says to me, “There you go”, just on telly one night and that’s a good way to look at it. But Granada Reports, I think I did a year on the bloody thing or at least to the spring or something of ’78.
Yes, because when I joined Granada Reports in July ’78 you weren’t there.
Is that right?
Yes. I’m not quite sure what you were doing but you weren’t on Granada Reports.
Well I went on to a show called What’s On. For one year this was [interruption]. Yes, my career has always been a curious mixture of heavy and light and I hadn’t really done Entertainment so the World in Action people saw me as too Light and the Light people saw me as too heavy or something like that. But anyway I did What’s On for a year with David Liddiment as Director and Morrison as the boss. It was really, really enjoyable. It was a weekly show and as producer you could do with it what you wanted. I put Margox on the screen for the first time, Margi Clarke, in that series. We had a guy called Mike Riddoch as Presenter. Liddiment was very keen on him. So was I. And we had Dick Witts to do the Arts and Ray Teret to do lighter stuff.
Did Tony not work on that? Tony Wilson?
No. Wilson did the previous series of What’s On the previous year. Mary McMurray produced it, which was a kind of whacky, zany thing. I was always against whacky zany things, you know, sheep wandering in the studio and stuff like that. I wanted to make What’s On a lot straighter, down on the line, mainstream entertainment with a section on film and cabaret. There were a lot of big clubs in those days – Golden Garter and Poco-a-Poco and so on. Mainstream entertainment so me and Liddiment were very very close on all that ‘taste’. Well it’s working-class entertainment, well it was, that’s what Granada could give you. Now it’s completely gone. All you get nowadays is public school boys and the arts in London and Johnnie Hamp, who was running an Entertainment empire, which was kind of, talk about a world of you own. No matter what I’d said about World in Action and being sort of cut off, his empire was completely cut off. Nobody even saw him. It was him and Lucinda in that office and they would just be given slots – Wednesday at 8 for an hour, you know, for 29 weeks or something. Seaside Specials. He could do what he wanted. Liddiment, we both admired Johnnie Hamp (I still do) but it wasn’t, Granada didn’t have an Entertainment Department, it had Johnnie Hamp. Maybe you could say the same about Sports with Paul Doherty.
That’s how it felt to me. Anyway What’s On was great fun. We used to go out to the clubs and discos and all that and get lots of free records and, as I said, we put Margi Clarke on the screen, which was great. She’s great. We got rid of Ray Teret after a couple of months because it wasn’t working. There were four presenters and we didn’t need him and he wasn’t really adding to anything so we did say goodbye at the end of ’78 and then we soldiered on, as I say we made 38 shows; every Thursday night at 10:30. And at that time – I’m sure other people have said this to you, Steve – but at that time we’re talking about ’78ish, what a great place to work. There was no competition. There were lots of regional programmes. There was a commitment to regional programmes, that’s gone. There was a farming programme, Down to Earth. There was Regional Sports. There was Regional Religion. There was Reports Politics, Reports Extra. There were things like Live from Two (a magazine chat show) and other programmes and What’s On was a big commitment to the region. The regional commitment, it was very very strong. So that went on to ’70, oh, I’ve missed a show out! When was What’s On? ’78-’79, yes, very enjoyable. I forgot to say, at the back end of ’77 I did So it Goes. Yes, I went from World in Action to So it Goes.
That’s a big leap!
Yes. It was, wasn’t it?
And that was with Tony?
Yeah. I suppose I’d met other people like Chris Pye and Peter Walker and so on by then. Series 1 of So it Goes was 1976, which I wasn’t involved with. It was the series, which put the Sex Pistols on the screen for the first time and I think it was a Wilson badgering Plowright because it was the time of punk. This is important, let’s do it. It was a show which was kind of half buried by the network. Not every station took it and it was late night. It got horrible press. I’ve got some of the cuttings. But it was important to collect that. Series 1, Steve Hawes worked on that series. Again, I hate zany. They did zany in Series 1 of So it Goes. Obscure little references and things, which is supposed to be funny. But they will tell you, if you ask those people, that So it Goes Series 1 wasn’t a music show although they did have music. My series was a music show, full stop, so we cut out all the zany stuff and my series had on the Clash, Buzzcocks, Penetration, XTC, Mink Deville, loads of really good acts and Steel Pulse who I thought were fantastic. And we did lots of live, lots of OBs from the Electric Circus in Manchester to the Elizabethan Ballroom in Middleton to the Apollo. We did Iggy Pop at the Apollo.
You could say that Wilson and I had different tastes in music but I remember one discussion about the Clash. I thought The Clash was crap but then what do I know? You know, I was listening to the Steeley Dan and I was going to have Graham Parker And The Rumour instead of the Clash and he just, he wore me down. “You’ve got to have the Clash, you’ve got to.” I went, “Alright.” In the end I said ‘Yes’ and of course he was right. And that was a really big deal for Wilson, having The Clash on a Granada programme. So that went on and we became involved in other things. We tried to get a Sex Pistols Christmas Special, which Plowright didn’t want so the thing kind of fizzled out, it was disappointing. That’s right, so that had all come to an end. But then again in the late ’70s we had started a music thing going – I remember Liddiment doing a series (was it On the Road?), a big OB series. Was it from the Apollo in Manchester? With Tina Turner, Earth Wind and Fire, big acts. Bryan Ferry, I think, was there. So there was an interest in music and various producers and directors wanted to do more music. Yes, that’s right, I have to go back on what I said before. I went from World in Action to So it Goes and from So it Goes to Granada Reports and then after Granada Reports was What’s On.
What did I do ’79-80? I did Johnnie Hamp. I did a series of shows called Club Land. I produced one of them for Poco-a-Poco in Stockport with Bernie Clifton. Now Bernie’s great. Bernie does this act, the ostrich thing.
He puts on the costume. He pretends the ostrich is riding away from him, whoa, whoa, whoa and all that stuff. I think it’s great when he does that. So I made him main presenter and I think Steve Leahy did a show and I think Trish Kinane did a show, you know, Hamp was letting go slightly of his empire and was allowing us to dabble a bit. I suppose by 1979, ’80 we were pretty headstrong. We’d been around in the business for a while. I’d done World in Action, I’d done So it Goes and local programmes and we were kind of young bucks. Kinane, Liddiment, we thought we were up there. I remember writing to Paul McCartney and saying I’d put together a programme proposal, which to my amazement he was interested in. “Yeah, your e-mail is great, why don’t you come down and talk about it?” I made a big mistake, I took with me Johnnie Hamp, Trish Kinane and Dave Liddiment to the meeting. I should have gone to it myself but still, you live and learn. It didn’t come to anything in the end. But they were interesting times.
Liddiment and I did a thing, at the height of Disco, within Granada Reports, called GRD, the Granada Reports Disco. And it was a dance competition in various venues and, you know, we were at the time of Saturday Night Fever and all that but what was great about it was how diverse it all was! In Granada Reports we would spend the night by playing up with the Buzzcocks, then on another day you’d see Earth Wind and Fire as a Granada programme. And of course all this was going on with heavyweight drama and World in Action, the diversity not only across Granada but within regional programmes was great. And you did breaking down the barriers. You see, with What’s On there’s no barriers. We had Joy Division on What’s On. We also had Tony Christie. It’s great. It’s kind of like Jools Holland now. If you look at that, it could be anything.
Yeah. And then you also did a Granada 500 in the ’80s, didn’t you?
I did, yes.
I worked on that.
Did you? ’83?
Were you on that bloody train?
I was on that train, drunk and entertaining people!
Were you on the train with Harvey Woolfe?
GM: Brian Park?
Yes. I think we were all in the carriage getting rather drunk…
Oh, not much!
And I remember singing songs from the musicals to you all!
Unbelievable! I’ve got a picture of me from that.
That’s a typical Granada idea, isn’t it?
We’re going to take part in the democratic process; television has a job to do. It’s still a great idea.
Yes. It was a terrific idea. It got watered down over the years a bit but when it began, I think in – no, it didn’t begin in ’79, it began the Election before which would have been ’74.
Yeah. ’74 and ’79 it was still a very strong programme and still held the principles of trying to find an audience that was a reflection on the Bolton West constituency.
The way it averted.
Yes, but that’s the way we thought. Granada’s coverage of regional politics was second to none. You know, every by-election was covered. What a shame it’s just gone. Again, the diversity Steve, one minute you could be doing, you know, the Granada 500 and the next minute you are doing Club Land for Johnnie Hamp! Well I was. Everyone wasn’t in my position, I was lucky I suppose! But I just enjoyed the variety of it.
Did you ever do sport?
No. I gave Elton Welsby a screen test and said, “Yes, you’re on.”
That’s a big claim to fame. No, I never did sport. I used to go and talk to Doherty quite a bit. Always got on. Admired him. I’m a Stockport County fan so used to go there and have a laugh about that and I knew some of the guys, Paul Greengrass and Welsby. Because we were all in the same corridor, weren’t we, which was great. Sharing the same coffee machines. And so I was in Local Programmes. I did a show called Teenage for Mike Scott, which was never transmitted, which was absolutely great and I did have really serious issues with Scott. Morrison would fall for it but Scott just didn’t get it so it remained on the shelf and that took quite a long time, over a year. So there we are. And then what else did I do? And then I did a kind of variety of, I kind of stuck with Entertainment. ’83 I did the Election 500 and I did an art show for Rod Caird. Granada had a very pompous strand. I mean it wasn’t really but if you think of it now. The State of the Nation, they were prone to titles like that or The Shape of Things to Come presented by Gus MacDonald, which was all about the explosion of TV channels that cable was going to bring. This was about ’83 – “the multi-channel future is coming your way” And Brian Park and I used to have a laugh about that because one of Gus’s lines was, “the future of television will be everything from pop to por,”
He was right!
He was right! He was right. Yes, this show for Rod Caird, we staged a mini United Nations featuring school children.
Oh yes, I remember that.
It was called The Great Debate. Fronted by Edward Heath I got to come up for it and if you look carefully you’ll see one of these asleep but still, it was just a fun thing to do. Gus presented that. I also did a show I’m quite proud of called Devil’s Advocate.
Which was previously done by Maxine Baker, was it? It was all about young people. I mean most of my post-Granada years have been all about young people and this was an early version. It was about ’81, you know the riots and unemployment and everything and things were getting tough. So we got a hundred unemployed young people from the North West into Studio Twelve, a big set. It looked terrific. I’ve always been very big on studio presentation and Granada had the studios and the crews to do it justice and it looked terrific and Gus presented it and we got to hear from all these young people and about what their lives were like, what their hopes were and made films about them and I persuaded Fitzwalter to take it as a World in Action so it was eventually called a World in Action Special. So I was pleased with that show and in that show was discovered Terry Christian who I went on to work with for quite some time.
So there were a bunch of different kind of shows in the early ’80s and, oh, I did a show called Square One, an entertainment show, a quiz show. A show called Some You Win, another entertainment show. Square One was with Nick Turnbull presenting, was it? No, it was Joe Brown presenting. Anyway, I thought at the time, and I think Liddiment might tell you this, that the bosses at Granada were really not on top of entertainment. They were trying things out here everywhere but I think they didn’t have the judgement in some cases, or perhaps the finances. They were wanting to crack entertainment, to add to their current affairs and drama but they never could do it and Liddiment tried and Leahy tried and everything else but somehow it didn’t really work. Granada didn’t crack entertainment until Stars in Your Eyes which became a big hit. Now when was that? Late ’80s or something. So anyway, I did a motley collection of entertainment shows.
I also did a year on a show called Weekend. Oh, I did Flying Start in ’85 with Wilson, that’s right. Now Flying Start is a very good example of proper regional telly. It’s a business series, a competition with prizes. You know, it’s like Dragon’s Den, only better. And I soon found that Wilson, Wilson was always a renegade figure at Granada, they never knew what to do with him. They even had him on World in Action for a bit as well as on So it Goes and Granada Reports, of course. But I think I chose Wilson to present Flying Start and it worked in the same way that it worked for David Frost. Frost started as Mr Entertainment and Burt made him Mr Heavy and I kind of did that with Wilson and he was brilliant on it. Wilson was a great presenter as long as you steer him away from being daft and I’m very pleased with that Flying Start, it was just good. I think Bob Smithies was on it, the previous series. I think Jim Walker made a series of Flying Start. ’85 to ’86 I did Weekend for a year, brand new show rather like What’s On and this was Wilson again. It was a one-hour show, 6 till 7 once a week. A lot of time to fill. Wilson, Debbie Greenwood, Susie Mathis, main presenter – that woman from Radio Piccadilly. Oh and Ted Robbins. I worked a lot with Ted Robbins over the years. And it was kind of like What’s On, variety acts, entertainment acts, What’s On in the media. I’m very proud of a film Wilson did with Cynthia Lennon. John Wilson(?) also did a long film (oh, that was later) so that was that, it was OK. Then I got the call from Steve Leahy to do Krypton Factor.
Which involved me for 2 years, ’86 and ’87. That won an award, which I’m proud of, the Spanish TV Festival. I did transform Krypton. They were fed up with Krypton. It started in ’77. They were just bored with it. Scott was bored with it. Leahy said “Do something with it.” really, make it better. But they put a lot more money into it, I have to say, it got a lot of backing and I did re-invent it. Changed the format. Kept Gordon, Buy-me-a-pint Gordon. And it did very well in the ratings and we did a Celebrity Special. 20 million on one of the Celebrity Specials and the regular shows were getting 12, 13 million.
And that was two years and great fun. Touring the country looking for contestants, staying in hotels in Aberdeen and Belfast and Trish Kinane or Adele Emm. Terrific. Spencer Campbell was my first Director in the ’86 series, Rod Blackhill(?) in ’87 and it just took over your life. An office full of people and that’s all you did. It was great fun. I mean the Krypton Factor, I have to say about the Krypton Factor – now here’s a provocative thought – if you could produce the Krypton Factor, you can do anything. Studio-based show, presenter-led so you’ve got Make-up, Wardrobe involved, four contestants that have to be chosen from around the country, you’ve got filming, an observation round, you’ve got OB and the assault course, you’ve got a panel of advisors writing questions and devising puzzles, studio and film so all in all it’s quite a, you know, it covers all basis of telly really, the Krypton. And it was doing the business.
I mean we are in the late ’80s now, later ’80s on, could you sense a change in television at this stage? Were there signs there?
Yes, there were. I mean if you read Ray Fitzwalter’s book which you have, I mean you know he goes over this ground, yes, it was increasing commercial pressure. There was a lot more, when was BBC Two? Well, BBC Two and Channel Four…
Channel Four came in, I think, ’84.
Yeah and there was just more of a commercial pressure to say the things that you used to do in this way we are going to have to tighten up, we are going to have to account for things more clearly. You know, things like the Krypton Factor assault course hospitality bill, putting up all these contestants for a few days up there, which was, you know, did get out of hand – well all that was tightened up. Yes I did notice change. Granada was still intent on cracking entertainment so I did a big, expensive show called My Secret Desire. Cheryl Baker was the star and I think it cost a million over seven one-hour shows. I can’t remember how it did. It just sort of came and went. They were looking for something that even if they’d got it, they probably wouldn’t have recognised it and I think that’s the case with some of those entertainment shows.
And when did you leave?
And what prompted that?
I’d kind of run out of steam with Granada after My Secret Desire. Oh, I also did a couple of other shows in ’88. I did the ITV Telethon, which was a big expensive thing. I also did the BAFTA Craft Awards from Stage One in ’88 because Plowright decided ‘why can’t we have a big awards show out of London?’ And it was a big awards show out of London, staring Shirley Bassey with Princess Anne making an entrance in a limousine with fireworks and everything else so there were some nice specials to do but by the end, well Krypton was great, but by the end of all that I’d kind of felt I’d done it. Granada was offering redundancy packages and slimming down and half the people were leaving and I thought, well can I make it as an Independent, as a new way of life so that’s why I left. My last job at Granada was in Liverpool, Granada Reports again which was great fun.
Let’s talk about Granada as a company. What was its attributes? Was it a good company to work for?
Yes. I mean I’d only worked for London Weekend apart from Granada. It suited us, us provincial grammar school boys. I mean it wasn’t a posh place, it wasn’t a place for public school boys. It wasn’t a culture-vulture place or snobbish. It was quite the opposite of that. It was a Northern ‘muck-in and be made to do it’ kind of job, which you found in the canteen. Everyone was in the canteen. I used to wander through the props area to have a chat with people and then Denis Forman would come to the canteen and it was just a great, there were no barriers. There was a kind of in-built anti-Southern thing, anti-London thing which is why, you know, Plowright’s Craft Awards and also the Studio Tours was a kind of there and it was just all good. You know, that’s where we come from, my Dad’s from Stockport, it’s all good, show it to ’em, stuff ’em, show it to ’em. So the atmosphere as a place to work, great. I suppose the early ’80s with the Brideshead time and, you know, about ’81, it was the bees’ knees. It was the best drama and the best current affairs and the strongest regional programmes and that’s what we believed. We knew what the competition was, which was crap. We saw some of it. BBC Northwest was nothing. We were more adventurous and we had the people to be adventurous. “Let’s try this. Let’s try that” and to their credit we did try lots of things. But by the late ’80s I think also there was network pressure, wasn’t there, from ITV to make a national impression from which they thought you needed to take power away from the regional slots.
Well, the 1990 Broadcasting Bill had been introduced and that began to change it all.
Yes, that’s right. And then you had the ‘caterers’ episode, the major caterer, Charles Allen and all that. I didn’t want to be a time-server and just go through to the bitter end and be heading towards 60 and still there sort-of-thing, as I saw one or two were.
I mean was there anything in the company that you disliked or found difficult? Was there bullying? A number of people have talked a little bit about bullying, aggression.
I wouldn’t single that out. Creative discussions all the time. Very strong-minded people, you know the journalists on Granada Reports, it’s bound to be that way. For a lot of that time I was a Researcher and I became a Producer in ’77, which I think is what I do. You know, it’s what I am really, a TV Producer. And I was just trying to understand it all about the thing that Producers and Directors and Researchers and what their roles were. I never understood what Directors were! In my day, well half the time I thought ‘Well I can do that’! A lot of them were wankers, the Directors, in the ’80s. I had to go to freelance Directors and they were even worse because they came up from London and they thought they were something special. And I honestly didn’t understand why a Director was paid the same as a Producer because the producer is the boss, gets the end credit. I had problems with Directors over the years. I was a pain in the arse producer though, for Directors because I was so insistent in getting my way and doing it right. I remember more than once a Director stormed out the gallery because of my interference! But no, the Director’s thing, that’s really the only thing that sticks in my mind.
Did you have much to do with Plowright and the Bernsteins, Denis Forman?
Yes. Not the Bernsteins. There was meetings all over the place in those days. There was Committee Room A, there was Committee Room B, there was Room 600, there was Dining Room A and Dining Room B – “Sue, can you phone and see if we can get Dining Room…oh, Pat Pearson’s got it, oh shit!” and all that stuff, it was great! And the Silver Service. And Forman, we used to have Regional Programmes once a month and I remember Forman coming down to it and Forman was just great. We never struck a wrong note – ever. And I remember him coming down and basically he came and said, “Don’t be afraid of failure. We all make mistakes. Just don’t worry about it and move on.” And that’s a good lesson.
Because you do worry a lot.
I very much remember Denis Forman saying that to me and admitting that he had turned down Z Cars! “What a mistake!” he said!
Well that’s brilliant but he was something else. I thought Plowright was very very special. He embodied Granada, the man from Scunthorpe. The Northern journalist, gritty, determined, terribly bright. He was what Granada was about, a bit rather like Leslie Woodhead, George Jesse (Turner). Those sum up Granada to me and that’s a good thing to be, to be proud of, Fitzwalter. So I was enormously proud of it. I suppose by the late ’80s I’d probably had enough of it and wanted to do something else. I think also, yeah, things were getting tougher and tougher and the opportunities for the adventurous stuff had gone. It was playing safe. I mean World in Action survived. Briefly. ’98, wasn’t it?
Yeah. ’98, another ten years.
Yeah, but what happened was the commercial pressure. It took away the old spirit of it. I remember David McMahon, a freelance Director I worked with a few times, saying, “Geoff, when they open you up as your post-mortem, they’ll find a big Granada ‘G’ on your heart!”
Who said this?
David McMahon, director. I’d done an awful lot of stuff by that stage. An awful lot of stuff. I see Brian Park quite a bit, from those Entertainment times.
Is there anything else you feel you’d like to talk about? That we haven’t touched.
Let me check my list. No, we’ve done my list. This is really the story of Granada. How long does your story go up to, date-wise?
I’m taking it to about 1990, to when it changes. I don’t want to get into all that. It’s a Golden Era – ’56 to ’90.
Yeah. It was a golden era. I just remember it with great fondness and I have a great love for the company and a lot of its people, which is why I go to the World in Action gathering every month in London to see my heroes. Mike Beckham, Ryan and a few others. That’s where my heart is. If you talk to some people, I remember Steve Hawes saying his heart is in Sport because that’s where he got his grounding. For me it’s World in Action. I suppose the rest was, I don’t know, I’m very proud of where the awards came, for Krypton Factor especially but I think my best memories are of World in Action.
Now Granada had sort of a reputation for being a left-wing company. Is that true?
Yes, it’s true. It was undoubtedly a left-wing company in the ’60s and ’70s especially when feelings were running very high between left and right in this country and it was a given at Granada that you were left-wing. It was unstated but there. I couldn’t think of a single person who wasn’t left-wing in Granada. That’s where you were coming from. You were kind of anti-Establishment and that phrase sort of sums up Granada’s ethos because you would question everything. The old ways of doing things had to be questioned and therefore you came from a left-wing perspective. That’s not to say that they didn’t do over the left or the Wilson government or Callaghan or anything else because anti-establishment came first but yes, if you talk to people they came from the Left, which is still pretty much today although the difference with today is that they say they do and they probably don’t come from the Left. I mean if you ask John Huntley, I met John Huntley. But the industrial relations were so bad in the ’70s all over Britain. There was a man, as John told me, that was on Granada Reports more or less every day. He was TUC’s regional representative and his name was Colin Barnett and he was always on the bloody box. He was on the box more than Bob Greaves. And there was a show called Union World which – was David Kemp…
David Kemp was Producer.
Yes. Can you imagine that today, Union World? And that was a typical Granada statement. Granada liked making statements like, you know, like the Election 500 or the BAFTA Craft Awards from Manchester. This is important and we are going to bloody well do it and Union World was one of those. But yes, definitely, everyone knew it was Left-wing. It was from the gritty North. Granada from the North. Well you wouldn’t find such feelings down in Thames or London Weekend or Southern. Northern and proud and that was Granada. And you could also say not just in current affairs but through its drama output. You know, very similar stuff of the perception of the programme-maker’s coming through. You know, something needs to be done about this.