Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 3 February 2015.
Okay, Kathy. Let’s start by talking a little bit about your Granada career. When did you first join the company, and how did you come to join the company?
I joined in May 1957, which was just a year and a few days after the company had gone on the air, and I joined because I wanted to be in the press office, really. I was interested in journalism at that time.
A friend of mine, who was working for the chief accountant, told me there was a vacancy for the assistant chief accountant. So I applied and got it, and instead of doing journalism I spent seven years of my life in the accounts department.
But you hadn’t trained as an accountant?
I couldn’t add up! I didn’t even take maths for O-level. So that was a bit of a hoot. But, of course, I didn’t need to, because there were other people doing the figures; I was just a shorthand typist in those days, as we all were. Granada secretaries, on the whole, had their eyes set upon becoming production assistants. But I didn’t, for some reason.
Then I moved into what would now be called HR — we called it personnel.
How many years were you in accounts?
Seven. Against all the odds! But I began to enjoy it, and they were a lovely bunch. I’d never worked with a big team before, so that was rather an eye-opener for me. And, of course, they were exciting times, because we started off in the old Gallagher tobacco factory, which was across the road.
Where the college is now. If you went out of the main entrance of Granada and crossed over the road, it was over there. Now I’ve completely lost the layout of the streets, because they no longer exist. But there wasn’t enough room in the first build of the TV centre to accommodate the admin staff, so the accounts department and several others — and, in fact, the directors — had an office in that building. I think that was for about three years, because the TV centre, proper, opened in 1961, and we all moved over.
We used to go over to the main block for lunch, because the canteen was over there. We had no facilities in our block, apart from Agnes — and I’m sure everybody’s talked to you about Agnes — who brought the trolley round. It was irresistible in the afternoons: teacakes, buns, biscuits!
She would just go round, office to office?
Yes, with a trolley of tea, coffee and goodies. I mean, you’d never get that happening now; you either go to a machine or you go to a building, don’t you? But that was 1957.
So what do you remember of those very early days of television production?
I had no conception of what went on in the studios, and we never went over there. I can remember going to one production, when Woody Allen did a gig, but that was much later. I think that was in the mid-60s. Just as a member of the audience.
We were all asked to look at the first episode of Coronation Street, of course — that historic night. But we just got on with the figures, and did what had to be done in admin terms.
There was very little contact, really, between, say, the studio floor and us. People like Frank Clarke and Roy Montrose bridged the two, because they were doing the costings. But we really didn’t see — except at lunchtime, in the canteen — anybody who actually made television, and they were like another species!
But gradually, particularly as we moved into the office block, you did get to know more people, because seven floors, instead of two isolated sections, made a big difference.
So after seven years in accounts, you then moved to HR?
Yes. I worked for Derek Roberts, who later went to work for an Oxford college. A very nice man. That, again, was a fairly small department — six or seven of us. That’s when we recruited Andrew Quinn, who went on to bigger and better things.
And what did you recruit Andrew as?
Assistant personnel manager. It’s a joke to say that I recruited him, but Derek Roberts was the kind of man who wanted his department to run smoothly. He said to my colleague and myself that we ought to meet Andrew, and if we thought we couldn’t work with him to say so. But, in fact, we liked him very much, so he owes us his career! His secretary, Betty, who worked for him then, subsequently worked for him in London, when he went down to be whatever it was in ITV.
So how many years in HR?
About three, I think.
So you would be dealing with a whole range of personnel problems and issues?
We did. I didn’t have anything to do with interviewing. There were people to do that. But we did all the contracts and of course they were all done manually in those days. Filed all the contracts. Dealt with meetings for unions and everything else.
There was always a rather strange process of getting a job: getting an interview, and then the interview with this panel of half a dozen people?
Yes. That was rather slightly outside of the main personnel. I think what we were doing was taking on and looking after the core staff, if you like. The creative staff, if we call them that, were always seen by other creative staff, and we only did the paperwork. I mean, Derek probably sat in, but you would find people like Denis and whoever — the general manager, possibly — recruited for the programme makers.
Right. Who then went through his very strange interviewing. It’s been described to me as being a bit like an Oxbridge entrance interview.
I’m sure it was, and out of that probably came the production trainee scheme which was aimed at the top universities. That’s how we got people like Leslie (Woodhead), Mike Apted and Charles Sturridge. Thousands of them applied, and we took on six at a time, and only for a very short time.
Yes, because I think that scheme finished by the mid-70s.
It did finish. A massive amount of work involved, of course. I don’t think they imagined, when they first decided to do it, that there would be that kind of a response. It was massive. Derek Granger masterminded that, if I remember rightly. He’s still alive and kicking, with a vengeance! Living in Brighton, but still top notch.
By this time, we’re now into the seventies?
The sixties. I can’t remember when I left personnel — isn’t it terrible! But I went to Fred Boud, who was then general manager, and, after a very short and enjoyable time working for him, went to Denis Forman. That was 1968.
At this stage, Denis Forman would be programme controller?
He was programme controller and possibly joint managing director. I can’t quite remember if he’d got to that then. He certainly became joint managing director, and then managing director — still keeping on the programme controller, I think — and then David Plowright became programme controller.
So what sort of thing were you doing for Sir Denis?
Well, secretary. Everything. Tea-making, coffee-making, meeting-fixing. Typing, endlessly. And in those days, of course, there was no taking paragraphs from one bit of the computer and putting it into the next. It was all really hard work, and endless drafts. Everything was circulated to at least six people. So it wasn’t easy, in the physical sense.
But he was just fascinating to work for. Scary, in many ways. Certainly to somebody like me, who hadn’t had a university education. But he, and the breadth of his knowledge and interests, was amazing. And during the time I worked for him, he wrote two books — one of which I typed, in my own time! — about Mozart’s piano concertos. I mean, you could not get anything further from day-to-day television.
And as he took on more, of course I had to take on more, because he became chairman of the opera committee at the Royal Opera House and he was chair of many industry committees, which meant London meetings with loads of paperwork. There was the Annan inquiry into the future of television. Masses and masses of paperwork. Things going on all the time, while Granada had to be kept going.
Was he an easy man to work for?
He had very high standards, but I never found him difficult. I used to get cross with him, as you do, and thought I was being put upon, but no. He was fine.
And held in enormous esteem within the building?
Yes, he was, and I think part of that came from the early days, because when the canteen was in the old building and we were still across the road, and later, when the admin block first opened, he and even Sidney Bernstein used to just wander down to the canteen and have their lunch, and go and sit next to anybody where they saw an empty space. So you’d suddenly find yourself talking to the MD. It never happened to me, of course, because we spent too many hours together as it was! But that all bred a sort of feeling. Everybody said it was like a family, and it was in many ways.
There were obviously disagreements. The unions didn’t always give them an easy time. But, even so, I think there was an enormous respect for what would have been called ‘the management’.
Somebody described it to me as a very paternalistic company?
It was, in many ways, with a lot of benefits. I think Sidney was an amazing man and, yes, it wasn’t like the John Lewis ethic, but we did all have that feeling that we were part of something. Which I doubt most companies had, or have — certainly not now.
And also because it was a creative company, as well.
It was a very creative company. The people who ran the organisation knew what it was like to write, direct, produce. Denis had his knowledge from the British film industry. They were all part of a programme-making team where they knew what they were talking about, and many of them had come up. People like Mike Scott, for instance — who rose to be programme controller from being a floor manager.
So there was that feeling that they all knew what they were talking about, in terms of producing something. And once we got to the Brideshead Revisited stage, we were really cracking on then. But there’d been wonderful drama before then. People tend to forget things like Country Matters, which Derek Granger produced. Wonderful pieces of work.
Any others that you remember?
Not offhand. I can think of some series I didn’t enjoy on a personal level. In terms of critical acclaim, I suspect that Country Matters had taken all the accolades before Brideshead.
And were you with Sir Denis when The Jewel in the Crown came?
I certainly was. He was very put out to discover that I’d read the novels before he had, because it was a massive piece of reading. And, unlike the way it was done on television, it’s all in timescales, going back and forth. Quite a difficult read.
He really did want to put that on the screen, and he produced these great pieces of paper, which were rolls of old wallpaper, and laid out the chronology, and would have them pinned on the office wall so that we could see how it was going to be.
Then he started talking to people involved — Ken Taylor, I think, and others — and then Christopher Morahan came in. And it really took off. It was the kind of thing that probably wouldn’t happen today, because it was a project on a very personal level, from one person who wanted to do it.
It went to the programme committee of course, and they all knew it was going to cost a bomb, but they didn’t think: is it going to pay for itself? Are we going to get the advertising? All the things that are now the bottom line. ‘We want to make this. We’re going to make it and put it out.’ And I think that was a wonderful decision.
I’d always got the impression that Sir Denis had read this book many, many years before and always loved it, so that’s not really the case?
Well, he had read it before he started to do that. This is nit-picking, but I had actually read it before he had, because I read it when I was very young. It was lovely, because then we were talking about it and we both knew what was going on in the books. It was an amazing time. But when the crew went out to India, we were in constant touch, but how one wishes there had been mobile phones, because it was all telex and this antiquated machinery. Having to type everything out and send it on this ghastly machine, so that they would pick it up however many hours later — I’m afraid I can’t remember how many hours ahead India is!
Then we’d wait for phone calls, and phone calls were so difficult because you’d have to try and get them in the hotels. It was a nightmare, really.
And did you get to go out at any point?
No. The greatest disappointment of my life, I think, because two of my very good friends were working on it as PAs, and I kept in touch with them by letter, would you believe. I used to write them a weekly bulletin from the TV centre. Amazing, when you think what you can do now!
Who were they?
Millie Preece and Sue Wilde.
Are you still in touch with them?
Yes. They could tell you about Jewel in India.
So Sir Denis had read the book, and thought it was wonderful.
But he had realised, I think, that the way it was written — the flashbacks and the forwards and everything else — would be too confusing, so that’s how they picked out the bones of the storyline and carried it on in a fairly logical, chronological order, which worked.
My one great memory of Sir Denis is he admitted to me once that a man called Elwyn Jones had come to him with a script for a new possible television series about police cars in Liverpool, which he was going to call Z-Cars, and Sir Denis had said no to it and rejected it. But what I always liked about him not being afraid to tell people that was that he was not above himself, or was not ashamed of the fact he made mistakes.
And he did admit to the biggest disaster in Granada’s history, in Judge Dee, which was a massive mistake. It was terrible, and he laughed about it afterwards, but for some reason he wanted to do these Chinese books and they did them. It was awful!
Judge Dee I do not remember. I’ve heard the name come up, but I don’t remember any of that.
I barely remember it, other than thinking: oh, God, I can’t watch this!
And that was his idea?
He wanted to do it, yes. But afterwards, if he was ever making an acceptance speech about how good he’d been, he’d always say, ‘Remember Judge Dee? So he was aware that he wasn’t infallible.
So you were with Sir Denis from ’68 until?
Until he retired from Manchester and went back to London full-time to be a member of the group board, when David Plowright took over as chair. So that was just under 20 years.
That’s a long time to be personal assistant or secretary to someone.
Yes, it was. And of course we kept in touch until he died.
So he went off to London. What happened to you then?
1987-88. I took on the foundation, looking after the collection. Bits and pieces, really.
Tell us about the Granada Foundation, and the work of the foundation — what it does.
The Foundation is actually a separate entity to Granada Television, because Sidney and Cecil Bernstein settled an amount of money in what was then called the Northern Arts and Sciences Foundation. The interest from that capital was to be used to help arts and sciences in the north. I can’t remember when they changed the name to the foundation, but nobody from television was on the advisory council; nobody from television could interfere with the finances. So it was then, and still is, entirely separate from the company.
It’s contracted in that we no longer do the whole of the north — we just do Granada’s region. Granadaland, as it was. Because, for one thing, there isn’t enough money to spread around anywhere else, and we couldn’t possibly cope with the ITV’s area, which is the whole of Britain. So we’ve kept it to the old Granada boundaries.
We give grants to applicants who we think are worthy of support, and they can range from a few hundred pounds to a few hundred thousand pounds. In our guidelines, we try to encourage people not to ask for too much but, inevitably, they do. More and more, we have actually put money into capital projects in institutions like the Royal Northern College of Music, Chetham’s, the library renovation — there is now a Granada room — and various other big projects. Liverpool has benefitted enormously from grants from the foundation, and we hope that will carry on.
But the way the stock market works, of course, sometimes we have less money than others. We’ve drawn a little on our capital. We sometimes talk about going out with a bang, and using the whole of the money to do something really major, but nobody can decide what that is. So at the moment it’s still business as usual.
We meet three times a year and go over the applications. I used to do the admin for the applications — sorting them, bringing them to the meeting, all the follow-up work — but now that is done by Irene Langford, who used to work in the Chester news base. When that closed, they were looking for something for her to do, and I was about to go, so that worked. Now I just sit as a member of the advisory council, which is very nice. I do do some preliminary and follow-up work but, on the whole, it’s just going to the meetings and looking at the applications on the day.
You looked after the art collection, didn’t you? When did Granada start purchasing paintings, and why?
Well, Sidney Bernstein had always bought paintings, and the London offices had them forever. I don’t remember, in my early days at Granada in Manchester, that there were pictures on the walls, but there may well have been and I simply didn’t notice them.
It did become much more obvious in the 70s, probably — I’ve got a book in there I could look at. But Alex Bernstein was deeply interested in paintings, and he started to buy contemporary works, which came to Manchester to be hung.
At one stage, the Granada collection was recognised as probably the third best corporate collection in Britain. We had an exhibition at the Whitworth, where many of the works were seen by thousands of people and then came back to the building.
Gerry Hagan, who was then head of the library and later of the script department, had a brief to buy locally — smaller works, possibly — for Manchester, and used to go to local galleries, local exhibitions and buy things he thought would be good, which is why most offices have one or two paintings on the wall.
That, together with what you might call the official collection — Alex’s works — was very highly regarded. It’s very sad now that it has dispersed.
A lot of people have talked about the art collection. Particularly, people have talked about walking into reception and seeing the wonderful Francis Bacon, and the quote about Granada Television being the best TV company in the world, and feeling a huge sense of pride and awe.
Not everybody liked the Bacon, of course. It was a very acquired taste, but it certainly made an impression. That was Alex’s buy.
And other people have always talked about how they remember paintings, and will tell you precisely where this painting was that took their eye.
It was a very unusual thing, to see people like John Hoyland and Patrick Heron hanging on a corridor which was just a way through to the back door. It wouldn’t have happened anywhere else, I don’t think. And sometimes, as a result, they got a bit damaged, because people would be passing by with food and drink and so on, and they’d get bits of splashes. But on the whole they survived pretty well.
And you could apply for a painting if you were in an office?
Yes. I think Gerry started the scheme by saying to people, ‘Well if you see something you like, you can have it hanging’. And there was a period when he actually bought things that were for sale. They used to hang on a staircase going towards film ops, I think.
In those days, you could pick up a really nice piece of work for fifty pounds. So that was an interesting scheme, but it didn’t go on for all that long, and I can’t remember why not. Probably too time-consuming for Gerry, or whoever else was operating it.
But people did used to say, ‘Oh, I like that. I wish I had it in my office’ and, if it was feasible, we’d move them about. And so many people used to say, ‘When I go, I’m taking this with me’. I think sometimes it did happen, but we’ll gloss over that!
I wonder what happened to the art collection in the end. It was all dispersed?
Are you planning to talk to Jane Luca? Ask Jane what happened to it, because I was told only after the event that it had gone. They apparently had an internal auction, in the building, for the smaller works — what you might call the Manchester works — and people could buy them. Had I known, I’d have gone, because there was one that I left in an office that I would have loved to have bought.
But the main collection slowly was sold off. The Bacon went to New York, even before the change of ownership, shall we say. But the big ones, like Heron, Hoyland and Christopher Le Brun, I’ve no idea where they went, or how.
Some smaller works — there was a group attributed to Constable, but we knew they weren’t, though they were very similar to Constable’s skies — went to Granada’s head office in London, when it went into St. James’. So they could still be there. For all I know, they might be on the South Bank, in the old LWT building.
I don’t know who has got what, if anything. But I suspect that all the major works were just sold at auction. And since I don’t buy an art magazine, of course I didn’t see it happening.
And you’d gone by then?
Yes. It’s fairly recent. Within the last ten years.
I know some were sold off to the staff as well, weren’t they? Some of the lesser paintings.
Yes. I’d have liked to have had the opportunity for that, because there were two on my office wall that I really liked. I can’t remember by whom now. In Globe and Simpson. Is that building still being used now? I don’t know.
Was Globe and Simpson the one across the road?
Yes, the triangular one.
Yes, I worked in that one as well, for quite a while.
Well, obviously they’re not using it, because they’ve gone to MediaCity. But they were, and I had two pictures in there. See, being in charge is nice — you can choose your own!
And we had some cooperation with the Tate in Liverpool, which was very useful, because they had conservation staff who, once or twice, did some work for us to mend a little tear, for instance, and remove a few splats from the corridor works. That was interesting.
Would you have come into much contact with Sidney Bernstein?
I did in the early days, yes, because he came up to Manchester regularly to see how the building was progressing and everything else.
He used to bring a secretary with him from London, but it was never enough, so they had to have somebody else, and I used to get seconded — maybe once a fortnight or something like that — to go and work in his office, which was absolutely terrifying for the first few times! Because he was an astonishing man. The speed at which he did everything. The things he knew. He always looked so fabulous; he was beautifully, impeccably dressed.
But terrifying for a young typist, because you couldn’t afford to make mistakes in those days. Carbon copies and Tippex and all of that — if you made a terrible mistake you had to start again! But he was amazing. He missed nothing. He used to walk round the building, with somebody from the general manager’s staff, and point out the scratches on the paintwork and the fingerprints on the glass, and never missed a trick. Which is why the building was always pretty ship-shape really.
And, again, held in great esteem by the staff?
Yes, I think so. And he would go down into the canteen at lunch in his shirt sleeves, and sit with somebody and quiz them on what they were doing and what should be done.
We had a suggestion scheme at one stage, where you could actually put in ideas, and there was a small prize or a little amount of money if you made a really good suggestion. That seems to me like a Sidney idea, but I could be wrong. I can’t remember the timescale.
As the admin block grew and was then occupied, he came less frequently. But he still kept on eye on absolutely everything, and of course his knowledge of music and art and everything else was as wide as Denis’.
What about David Plowright. Did you come into much contact with him?
Yeah. I knew David very well for a long time. For one thing, at one stage there was a section of three offices, and the secretaries were in the middle and David was on one side, so I used to see him coming and going. But he had his own stuff, of course.
He and Denis worked very closely, so they were always in and out talking to each other. I can’t remember David’s timescale — he was news editor but I can’t remember if he did anything else between that and programme controller.
He did World in Action.
That’s right, he did. I didn’t know him really in those days, but later on.
And who else were you close to, and knew well, at Granada?
I kept up with Andrew Quinn, of course, because his role overlapped, when he was general manager. So I saw quite a lot of him. The accountants people I didn’t know as well later. Inevitably, their department gets bigger and they’re in a different place, and you just don’t see them anymore.
I can’t even remember who the last chief accountant was. But all the programme committee team, and Leslie Woodhead, were pals. They were all really nice, always kind, and it was so interesting listening to them in discussions, because, at one stage, I was actually in Denis’ office — I had my desk in a little corner in the office — and they would come in and be talking about programmes, and the dialogue there was like a programme in itself, if you’d been able to record that.
And you knew all the secrets?
Yeah, I suppose so, but I’ve wiped them all from my memory bank! I made no conscious effort to either write anything down or try to remember, because I think it’s counter-productive in many ways.
But I have enjoyed reading other people’s versions of what went on. Not always accurate, but there we are. There were some really major battles with World in Action and the authority, which went on forever and ever, and produced files this deep.
This is the British Steel papers?
British Steel and, oh, all sorts of things. Because that programme was such a breakthrough. It really was. When you think of the subjects they tackled, and how they tackled them, at a time when nobody was really being what you might call ‘aggressive’ on television. They got into all sorts of scrapes. But it was worth it, because things happened as a result. New laws were changed, and safety precautions brought into factories, and all kinds of things. It was brilliant.
Is there anything else you want to talk about?
No, I don’t think so. I think you can gather that I liked my life at Granada!
Yes. That’s great. Thank you very much for that.