Jules Burns

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Jules Burns

This is an interview with Jules Burns in London on December 6, 2018 for the Granada project. Before Granada, just tell us a bit about your background.

Starting from when?

Education, and where did you live?

I was born here, emigrated to Canada, my family emigrated to Canada. I came back when I was five. Went to prep school and then to Haberdashers’ school and did very badly. Left at first year of sixth form. I got a place at Brighton art college that I didn’t go to and went to work in a garage. And then four years later I started a rock band which I was in for four and a half years touring minor venues in the UK and in Europe.

 

That was Guggenheim?

No, that was Witches Brew. Guggenheim was before all of that.

 

Witches Brew were quite well known, weren’t they?

Yes, on the sort of club circuit they were known. They weren’t a known band as bands are known now. And I first met Chris Pye when we did the Guggenheim album in the Granada studios in 1970.

 

In the Granada studios?

Yes. On a Sunday in the sound studio. I don’t know if anybody knew we were there.

 

Was Chris already working?

Yes, he was already there. It must have been about ‘71.

 

All right, okay.

And a man called Dave Kent-Watson was one of the sound engineers there who then started up a studio round the corner called Indigo studios, do you remember that?

 

Yes, I do.

Which is where we’d recorded a second album in ‘76. Which was never finished.

 

What were you working as over the 70s, the mid 70s?

I was working in a garage and then I left the garage to form the rock band after we’d recorded the Guggenheim album.

 

Right, right.

And as I said, four years in the rock band. And then when that came to an end, Chris Pye invited me up for the weekend to his house in Saddleworth to try and work out what I should do next, and he said, “There is actually a job going at Granada, would you like to stay on until Monday and come in and meet some people?” So I went in, I met Andrew Quinn. Was offered a job and we moved up four weeks later.

 

Good heavens, what was the job?

It was organiser of local programmes, working for Harry (Urquhart? 3:29).

 

Oh, yes.

The wonderful Harry Urquhart who was my mentor.

 

What year was this? What year did you…?

  1. And on my first day I remember the first person I met when I walked in was Steve Leahy who looked after me wonderfully.

 

You were given a job as organiser of local programmes.

Yes.

 

What did that entail? Was there an interview process or were you just offered the job?

Well the interview was the meeting with Andrew Quinn who was then general manager. Interestingly, I didn’t meet Harry Urquhart. So I was imposed on Harry Urquhart.

 

I see. I remember seeing you on the first floor with Harry.

When did you join?

 

Oh, ‘69.

Oh, right, you were there a long time.

 

But I left one year later to become a rock star, like you, and came back to World in Action in ‘74.

Right.

 

So there you were with Harry Urquhart. Larger than life Harry.

Harry Urquhart. Chris Pye was the… was he actually a producer of local programmes then?

 

Something like that.

And Jeremy Fox was the producer of Granada Reports.

 

Was he?

And they had offices next to each other and they had a sliding window, once side of which, Jeremy Fox’s side, had a picture of Chris on it and Chris’s side had a picture of Jeremy on it.

 

That is great, that is a good story.

And I remember Kay McPherson was the deputy.

 

Yes.

News editor.

 

Yes.

And I can’t remember the name of the news editor.

 

Yes, I did Granada Reports ‘78 so later than that.

Yes. Well I was there ‘76 to the end of ‘78.

 

So organising local programmes… because your background had not been in anything that would lead you to…

I knew nothing about television. I hardly watched it. No, I mean I had management background because in the garage when I worked I started as a petrol pump attendant but I was manager of the garage after a couple of years.

 

Oh right, I see. Okay.

I sort of found I could do it quite naturally.

 

So what was your experience in discovery of local programmes and people?

Well I was shocked by television. I thought these incredibly bright, haphazard people who were living a very high life on expenses. And indeed I was very grateful for Chris Pye’s expense account for the first year when we moved up. I was given a salary… I remember, and enormous salary of 4,500 a year. Which is took me 12 months to discover wasn’t enough to live on. Because we had our first child nine months after we moved up. So I was grateful for the expense accounts.

 

Yes. Because local programmes was a bustling little enterprise at the time.

Oh it was fascinating. And you had Tony Wilson… I was after Mike Parkinson but Brian Truman, there were some wonderfully big people there. It was really exciting. I didn’t quite know where it was going to lead me, this is the first formal job I’d had apart from working in a garage. And I remember Bill Lloyd telling me that he really didn’t think I had a future in television and I should think about moving on. And then I was… Joyce Wooller asked me if I’d like to come and work upstairs on the sixth floor and help her to run programme services. So I think I started as head of researchers.

 

Sixth floor, sure.

Yes. And gradually got involved in negotiating contracts so I think the job evolved into signing directors and researchers and negotiating writers contracts and directors contracts.

 

So by the end of the 70s you were upstairs?

Yes, ‘79 I went upstairs.

 

Right.

Working for Joyce and then increasingly with Mike Scott and David Plowright.

 

Yes.

And that sort of secretariat area.

 

Yes, it was a… Mike Scott was one of my favourites and…

Oh he’s a lovely man.

 

He was. I mean he helped me become a producer because of the time on World in Action we did together. And then there’s that lovely picture that you sent me.

Yes. I thought they were all wonderful people. I thought television was incredibly privileged both financially and in what they were paid to do. I thought it was a… I never really felt part of it but I thought it was a fascinating process. An industry stacked full of interesting people. So it was good.

 

Granada had a real strong reputation at that time in the network. Producing a range of quality output.

Yes. Not always wanted. I mean neither London Weekend or Thames were particularly interested in the Granada output, apart from Coronation Street.

 

Yes.

Which was the one thing that delivered them very significant… or it rather delivered Thames very significant ratings because at that time there was no weekend episode of Coronation Street. And so London Weekend were quite bitter about that.

 

Were you privy to all these battles between the companies at network level. I remember I talked to Joe Rigby about this quite a bit.

Yes, I mean I wasn’t in the middle of it until later. But at that time I was very much aware of it. Certainly Mike Scott’s weekly visit to the programme controllers group and the preparation for that I was quite heavily involved in.

 

Yes, I remember him telling me about that. How fraught it became.

Yes, there was a lot of tension within the companies and a lot of jealousy because Granada seemed to get a great deal of… a great many accolades for what it produced, but I think many of the companies felt that it wasn’t really of much use to them. It was good for Granada’s reputation but not good for ratings.

 

Are you thinking of drama or documentaries?

I’m not thinking of anything in particular but I suppose you could say, you know, both Brideshead and Jewel in the Crown were not massive ratings but fantastically high profile and reputational programming.

 

That’s interesting.

And, you know, I think other companies were jealous of that. Because then, of course, the system was that your franchise was really renewed based on the quality of your programming. It was not really a financial consideration at all at that stage.

 

Yes.

And of course, you know, David Plowright was quite a strong man banging around the network.

 

Yes, he did. Did you get on with Plowright?

Yes. I didn’t have a great deal to do with Plowright. I respected him, I thought he was a very impressive man who I think sadly, over time, rather lost interest in television and became more interested in Granada tours and things like that which was perhaps his undoing.

 

And of course you met Steve Morrison in that period.

I met him in… yes, well he was in World in Action when I arrived in Granada and then he came out of World in Action to run features.

 

Yes, yes.

And then I worked quiet closely with him when he was running features.

 

So as the 80s emerged… so you started the 80s in programme services?

Yes.

 

And how long did that job run?

Well it went… Joyce left in, I don’t know precisely, but the late 80s I think. And I became head of programme services. And that really continued until Charles Allen took over and we went on the acquisition trail. And then Steve was moved down to London to run London Weekend and I was made managing director with Andrea Wonfor of Granada.

 

Yes. This was when? ‘89? ‘90?

Early ‘90s, ‘94 we were joint managing directors.

 

Right. Just going back to the programme services job, did that involve a range of specialties and personnel management as well as legal affairs?

It was responsible for all the contracting. It had HR as it’s now known reporting to it. It had all of the creative functions, so everything from PAs through production managers into producers, directors, researchers, reporting in and scheduled by programme services. The technical ones were dealt with separately, so Bill Lloyd ran film and Tony Brill ran studios. So programme services, that was probably three quarters of what programme and services did and the other quarter was really supporting Mike Scott, David Plowright and Denis Forman.

 

Yes, yes. I’ve been reading Fitzwalter’s book, you’ve obviously read it. And, well, everyone who knew Ray wouldn’t be surprised by his version of events. I remember David Liddiment writing a piece for the Guardian about it. But there was a culture of which I am certain, a programme making culture in the ‘60s and 70s which kind of was anti-business. Granada wasn’t a conventional business company like others out there. Because there was a load of journalists in it I suppose. So the 80s saw a challenge to this culture in that it’s just another business. Perhaps that was Charles Allen, Joe Robinson’s point of view. But I’m being vague about it… just give us your view of that, what happened in the late 80s because there was Thatcher’s act. There were the bids. Were you involved in the bids?

Yes.

 

What was it like?

Well, actually I’d go back one before that because when I first arrived on the sixth floor as part of programme services, or when I was first settled in there, I was surprised that entertainment was regarded as really a bit below the pale. Drama and current affairs, they were the things that Granada did. I remember Paul David as the head of entertainment, taking up from Johnnie Hamp, found it really hard to get attention in the system. So, that was a bit like it’s Granada’s attitude to business as well. Business was something that somebody else did. Our purpose was to make good drama and current affairs. It did change. It changed quite dramatically when Charles Allen arrived, of course. Because, we were in competition. There was a flexy pool to go for. That was a portion of the network budget.

 

Oh, yes.

Do you remember? That’s what fundamentally changed our business. Where we lost our right to, I can’t remember what it was. 11% or 12% of the network output, a whole slice was taken off and created as a flexible pool that people had to bid for. It was at that time that really that Steve Morrison was coming through. He was Mike Scott’s successor, as the programme controller. I can’t remember the sequence of events, but Andrew (Quinn? 16:25) was the managing director then. Steve was the programme controller. Steve, being as competitive as he is fought like hell in the flexy pool, which is what eventually got us to be a huge over supplier of programming to the network by comparison to other companies. We were, by far, and we were the largest single producer on the network, and that was simply by competing on price and, and content. So, I think it’s because of Steve Morrison that we turned into a business, not Charles Allen. Charles Allen arrived, and Charles did something different. Which was, Charles in a very brutal and efficient way, slimmed the company right down. Cut out a lot of the noise and the complexity of the running of the company and the politics of the company. It was brutal but it was quick. Fascinating exercise to watch, and also for you and I, fascinating exercise to be survivors of, rather than victims. Because, a lot of people went. I think, 25% of the workforce and a third of the management were made redundant within four months of his arrival.

 

I know you’ve described it as being brutal or culling.

It was brutal. Yes, it was a cull. So, combination of that. And Steve’s commercial competitiveness really transformed Granada. There was a new management team on top and it was now competing against other companies who’ve gone to get commissions.

 

Can you explain to me how Allen and Robinson came to be in Granada? What was the sequence of events?

I wish I could remember.

 

Was it one single incident?

Well, Robinson was appointed first. I think Alex Bernstein. I think he was the Chief executive of Granada Group at one stage, and then moved to be the chairman, and I think Robinson was brought in.

 

It was a group. Wasn’t it?

Yes. Robinson came into group, and Robinson brought in Charles into group, and then moved him into Granada when fell out with Plowright.

 

That’s right.

Because, Plowright, I think, as I understand it. I wasn’t in the room. Unlike Ray who claims he was in every room on every decision. I wasn’t in every room.

 

I’ve been reading this model about Plowright’s dismissal and according to the book, they just did not get on, these two. Robinson and Plowright.

I think it was simpler than that. They certainly didn’t get on. I think Robinson said, “I want more profit.” And Plowright said, “No.” Believing that he was invulnerable. And, Robinson just chopped his head off.

 

Was there a revolt about Plowright.

There was a lot of noise, but there was never a revolt.

 

What about the letter?

The John Cleese letter?

 

No. Not the John Cleese letter. But signed by various executives of Granada, and you were part of that?

Yes.

 

Did you withdraw your name from that letter?

I don’t think so.

 

As alleged in the book?

I can’t remember. I don’t think so.

 

Because, the book says you took your name out from the letter.

I don’t think that’s true, but I don’t know.

 

Anyway, the revolt wasn’t successful.

It wasn’t really a revolt. It was a cry of anguish. It wasn’t as if people were going to down tools and refuse to work. Jerry just put Charles Allen into the company.

 

Their backgrounds were not TV or broadcasting or anything like that, making programmes. Pure business. Occasion companies…

Yes.

 

What did you make of these two and how they run things?

I didn’t really see much of Jerry. I think that he was very much group rather than television. Charles Allen, it’s hard to… He was a complete alien when he arrived, and he worked very hard, I think with a lot of help from Steve, to quickly understand television and to create relationships with the rest of the network. I’m sure they found him rather strange as well. Because, everybody else sitting around the network table, the chairman’s table, had a television background and he didn’t. But Charles is a very hard worker and works hard to work with people. Both he and Jerry were, I think, quite brutal in a lot of the things that they did, and certainly Charles Allen’s first go at Granada was very brutal. They were business men. Not the sort of people we were used to.

 

But you survived.

Yes. I mean, I owe Charles Allen a lot, personally. He was the one who persuaded me to be the joint managing director of Granada and go on… He saw me through my career at Granada. I’m not sure he was good for everybody, but he was good for me.

 

When did you leave Granada? What year?

2002.

 

During the 90s you were joint managing director?

Well, I was joint managing director of Granada, and then I was joint managing director with Andrea of Granada Group Production. Who was by then we bought London Weekend, we bought Yorkshire Time Tees, and the Southern Franchise and were integrating. If you’ll remember, what we did was we created a production business and broadcasting business, and Steve, essentially, run the production business, and I run the production business with Andrew (Barnfold? 23:22), so that was through the 90s. Then Steve became the Chief Executive of Granada when they separated it from hotels, and all the other bits and pieces and separated it as its own PLC. Steve became the chief executive and I became the managing director of operations of the Group.

 

A demanding job with lots of aspects to it, around the country.

Yes. Lots of sights. Lots of different political environments.

 

Did you enjoy it?

No. I enjoyed running production. I didn’t enjoy running operations across the group.

 

What did that involve, running production? Were you making sure that the…

Essentially Andrea was the creative side of it, of course. She was driving it, and my role was to run the business and the management side of it. So, it was distribution, production, and the studio business.

 

Your career seems to have evolved from… you came from Rock and Roll and (garage? 24:38) services, and you took one step at a time, didn’t you?

Yes.

 

Took it to different places.

I as lucky because I never actually sort any of the jobs. I was always offered the next one. But only because I was pretty good at managing people.

 

Absolutely. Granada had some good managers at that time.

Yes, very good managers.

 

You were around when the Broadcasting Act of 1990 came in. It’s had many critics. What did you make of the process?

I wasn’t really that close to it. I was clearly aware of it, because David Plowright and Joyce and Denis in a distance, because he was then in group and Mike Scott were very much involved in it. It was a tensed time with our friend in Liverpool.

 

Mr. Redmond.

Mr. Redmond. It was a tensed time. But, I wasn’t actually involved in the process. That was dealt with, very directly, by Mike Scott and David Plowright.

 

You were in Granada for 25 years or something.

27 or 28 years. Yes.

 

In a period which saw Granada and the broadcasting landscape change beyond recognition.

I think I’d saw two… it seems to me that there were three generations of Granada. There was the ‘56 to probably the mid 70s, which was probably the most exciting time. Then the mid 70s through to the 90s was probably the fattest time, when you know, everybody got a bit lazy and it was all a bit easy and a bit self-indulgent. Then from the 90s, late 80s through to early 2000 when I left, was the tough competitor time, when it turned itself into a business. I think the first period, it clearly was a business, because it almost went bust. And, I think it was very difficult. The middle was the bit that everybody seems to remember with affection, but I think it was probably the least interesting. Except one or two good programmes were made, but there was also quite a lot of not very good programmes made.

 

That period was a lot of fun, I can tell.

Yes, it was a lot of fun. Everybody had a lot of fun, without much care. I mean, the only thing that ruin one’s day was the relationship with the unions, which was completely terrible in that period.

 

The late 70s?

Yes, 70s.

 

Did you have responsibility for…

Certainly, as far as directors, producers and researchers, the ACTT, one of the people I had relationship with. Malcolm Foster and then Jim, (??27:58).

 

Oh yes. What was he doing?

Jim… I can’t remember his…

 

Transmission controller.

Yes. He was a transmission controller.

 

How did you deal with the unions? I remember Mike Scott telling me that it was totally mad having to deal with the ETU, and others.

Well, some of them used to hijack us every Friday, around about 3:00. I wasn’t really involved in that. It was people like Tony (Brill? 28:30) and Andrew Quinn who really dealt with the tougher issues. I was only dealing with the ACTT, which covered producers, directors, researchers and PAs. We just talked a lot. It was sort of a ride. There was a degree of realism in the ACTT as things started to change and stature rights transformed television. But it’s interesting, that era was really… management’s time was really, largely dominated by its relationship with the union. Then, in the third era, it was dominated by commercial activity, competing with the outside bodies and trying to raise money and get commissions. It was a very different era for management.

 

Looking back on your time in Granada, what are you most proud of?

I think the thing that I’m most proud of is that I believe that I helped, in different ways, a number of people to do what they wanted to do. So, I worked with Steve Morrison for 27 years, and as his right hand person for most of that time. I worked with David Letterman for, almost, the same period, apart from when he went to the BBC. There were individuals like Tim Sullivan. I’m proud of a number of the people that I’ve worked with. I think that’s what I look back on.

 

So you left in 2002?

Yes.

 

I wanted to just ask you, another aspect of the story is the power shifting to London because in the early days, ‘60s and 70s, it was a different climate as the Granada group got more important in the whole picture. Steve Morrison moved to London and so on. Plowright’s obsession was the north, and we speak from the north, programmes were end credited from the North and so on. But London became more and more important. Today you’d hardly notice that it was (??30:50) in a way as a company except the Granada Reports. What’s your view on the shift of power from north to south? Was it a regrettable thing or inevitable?

Well I think it’s regrettable in that it gradually has dismantled the production capability in the north. Is an inevitable consequence of it. When I first arrived, Manchester was completely buzzing. Probably 80, 90% of its production staff, its creative staff were actually based in Manchester. There were some in Upper Jane Street, but that was half the world in action and a few features people. By the time I left, it was a very almost the reverse, I think. Maybe not 90% in London. But I think it’s an inevitable consequence of moving into a competitive environment. You could sit in Manchester and base everything in Manchester for as long as you had an absolute right to make programmes. The minute you lost that right and you had to go and compete, you’ve got to go down to where the decisions are made. You’ve got to be in the building that the people who make the decisions in order to win the commissions. So I think the creation of flexi-pool was one big factor in it. The acquisition of London Weekend was another very big factor. We were always clear that we had to have a seat in London in order to keep our place in the network. So if Carlton had managed to buy London Weekend, which I think probably wouldn’t have been allowed, but if one of the sudden companies had bought London Weekend you would have had a very strong north/south split. The north would have shrunk very badly. So we knew we had to have a place in London, and the only one available was London Weekend. Then use that as our lever to… towards the end we were providing, if you say the network was broadly split between Carlton and Granada, I know there was still Scottish and Northern Ireland and all of that not quite sorted. But we were providing close on 75% of the ITV network from our companies, compared to Carlton’s around about 25%. We were by far and away the biggest producer.

 

Yes, the London Weekend takeover was a key moment, wasn’t it?

Absolutely fundamental, yes.

 

Flexi-pool, London Weekend.

Yes. Then becoming such a dominant producer.

 

Yes. So you wouldn’t go along with Fitzwalter’s sentiment that it’s a kind of sad story, and there was a dream but it died, was allowed to die?

It was the third era. For me it was the third era. Fitzwalter I think, from reading his book, was completely stuck in the second era. He had a great time. It was where all his best moments were.

 

Was that when the satellite broadcasting came in, and the market simply changed?

Well, we had the joint venture with Sky, which was eventually thrown out by Ofcom which resulted in BSkyB.

 

Were you involved with that?

Oh yes.

 

At Granada?

Yes. Absolutely. We set up all kinds of other businesses. We took stakes in football clubs.

 

Yes, you did.

Liverpool, Manchester United and Arsenal. We started a shopping channel with Littlewoods. We were doing all kinds of diversification, trying to get our production into new areas. The joint venture channels with Sky, the five channels that we created.

 

Yes, I remember Men & Motors.

Yes.

 

All that stuff.

Then we were setting up the international businesses, setting up the LA production hub.

 

You should write a book. You’ve seen so many aspects of the business.

Yes, there are plenty of other people who can write better books than me.

 

So you moved from Granada to, did you go straight into All3Media? When did that happen?

Coincidentally Steve, David and I all left Granada in 2002. At slightly different times, but by the end of 2002 we’d all left. David went to work three days a week at the Old Vic, as the producer with our now famous actor, his name has just escaped me.

 

Yes, I’ve forgotten, yes.

You know who I mean, the disgraced man.

 

I think, I’m not sure really.

Steve was insistent that we should start an independent production company, which neither David nor I thought was a particularly good idea. We were in our mid-50s and we thought now is not the time to start a new business. But in 2002 if you remember, the broadcasting act brought about the change in the ownership of copyright. Steve recognised that this was a real opportunity, because if the independent producer could at last keep the copyright to the programme, they had something that could be backed. They had an asset, basically. Recognising that we were too old to actually really do a start-up, we went off in search of some production company. We wanted to try and buy a bunch of production companies to be our starting point. We did a deal with Chrysalis to buy their seven production companies from them. We got a private equity backing from a company called Bridgepoint, who are fantastic. That’s how we started All3Media. So we finally left Granada at the end of 2002, and we started All3Media in September 2003.

 

So you’re still in television, a television business?

Yes. We started with seven production companies, and then the private equity people taught us how to buy and sell companies. Because of course that’s what they do all the time. We grew All3Media by buying up production companies.

 

So the landscape in which All3Media worked and works is obviously totally different from then. How would you describe that change? It’s obviously much more competitive now than in Granada’s heyday. Much more commercial, and it’s more international.

Yes, much more. Do you mean the difference between the beginning of All3Media, because over the period of All3Media the market change has changed dramatically anyway.

 

Yes. In what way?

Well, over the period?

 

All3Media’s time.

Well, when All3Media started, the independent was a protected species. The broadcasting act had just disallowed the broadcasters from keeping the copyright. They could only take a licence in the programming. All3Media was the first independent group to start rolling up companies. We were about nine months ahead of everybody else. We managed to get out of our starting list of six, we managed to buy four of our targets. Many of whom David had known as the head of entertainment to the BBC. But we were a protected species, so the broadcasters were behaving by and large. What then happened was the broadcasters started to reduce their prices, saying if we don’t own the copyright we’re not going to pay the full cost of the programme. Which forced the independent sector to become more international. Which is fine. It was difficult, but it was fine. Gradually over my time in All3Media, and I left in 2014 so I can’t tell you about the last three, four years, but over my time the respect for the terms of trade began to wane. Broadcasters were able to start taking shares of profit streams and things like that. So business became less profitable. Then I suppose the biggest change, which we’re in the middle on now, is that most of the big commissions are now made by people who will not let you keep any rights at all. They’re not subject to terms of trade. Netflix, Amazon, those people. Sky in themselves, they’re not subject to terms of trade. So the independent sector is now struggling to retain rights again. So again we were lucky, we were in the heyday of the independent sector.

 

Indeed. Times have changed. Do you think the law will be crossed by the Americans?

No, I don’t think so. I think what’s interesting, if you look at the commissions that are reviewed in the Sunday papers by the online commissioners, who are spending billions every year, not like ITV’s spending 800 million, they’re spending billions, the amount of English or English related production that is in there is very high. If you turn on Netflix, apart from the feature films, if you look at the television there’s a lot of English production, English actors, English writers.

 

That is true.

They need their business to be international, and gradually they’ll want to make their business more and more local. That will just naturally happen. So I don’t think we’re being crushed. I have to say the quality of the fiction as a viewer that comes out of these commissions is extraordinarily high again. There was a period in the eighties, late eighties, early nineties when I think British fiction was supreme. It was fantastic. If you think of Prime Suspect and Cracker and those sort of things that we produced, it was extraordinary. The Americans were nowhere near it. I think it’s now the reverse, personally. I think the smartest stuff is coming out of American writers than British writers on the whole.

 

Jules, thank you very much.

A pleasure.

 

Anything else you’d like to add?

No.

 

No? Okay. Thank you very much.

Okay.

 

ENDS

 

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