Interviewed by Stephen Kelly and Judith Jones, 3 May 2017.
How did you come to join Granada Television? What was the process of interviewing?
Well, we moved moved to Manchester because my then husband Deepak Nandy became the deputy chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission, which had just been set up. And as a result of him taking on this equal opportunities role, I lost my job in London. So the deal was, have a baby, and so my eldest daughter was born and two years later my next daughter. And so I was desperate to go back to work, and at the time the EOC was getting big companies, especially in the north, saying, “What are you doing about married women returners?” and so on the off chance I wrote Granada and said, “How about me? I’m a married woman returner.” And I got a letter from Chris Carr saying come in for a chat. And I don’t know what happened, and I never found out from Chris, but I arrive for this chat, having great difficulty getting a babysitter for half an hour, and there was a full board with Mike Scott in the chair and one of those long tables that Granada has, I think it was downstairs. And I just looked at this board and thought, “This is completely crazy, I’m not prepared for this. I haven’t done any research, I just literally came in for a chat.” So they asked me a couple of the usual kind of questions that, you know how aggressive it used to be, and so I stood up I said, “Look, gentlemen…” – of course it was gentlemen, there ere no ladies there – I said, “Look, I’m terribly sorry but I think there’s been a misunderstanding here. I came in just to chat, to discuss the possibility of working for you, and I don’t want to waste your time, we’re all busy people,” and I stood up to go. And of course they loved that, absolutely loved it. And I was terribly used to dealing with people with huge egos, because I’d worked in the Commons as my first job. So they said, “Oh, my dear, we’re terribly sorry there’s been this misunderstanding,” glaring at Chris, and then they said, “Have you got any questions?” So I said, “Well, since you’re all here, I’d love to ask you what’s the programme you’re most proud of?” Of course an hour later, when they stopped talking, they invited me back for a second interview. And the second interview, I was prepared for. And I remember the first question was, “What would you really burn to put on World in Action?” And I was only a viewer at that time and didn’t know much about it. I said, and it was the time of the Falklands, and I said, “Well, you know, an uncontroversial little number called ‘Who needs the free press when the government wants war?’” and we carried on from there. So the thing they liked about me of course was that I’d had commons experience and I knew everybody in the House, in both Houses, extremely well. And therefore when I was put on news, I could pick up the phone and say to ministers on their private line, you know, “Can you come talk on Granada Reports?” which was exactly what they wanted.
What year was this?
It was 1983. And I stayed 10 years before I was sacked.
Okay, so you joined in 1983. And how did your career evolve from there?
I made a big pitch at my interview about children’s programmes, because inevitably I was a mother and I sat and watched this ghastly stuff. And I didn’t realise that Steve Leahy was just about to revamp the children’s department. And I was promised that I could work in children’s, but it didn’t happen, of course they put me on local news. And so, as a researcher I did local news, I did children’s and I did hypotheticals. And then my dad died in 1984, so a year after I joined. And suddenly that had a really cathartic affect on me because I thought, “Where am I going, what am I doing? Life is short.” And so I went for a producership and got it, and then they put me on Granada Reports without any training whatsoever, and I didn’t even know what those white sheets were for. I used to do them as a researcher, but I didn’t realise that without them, the camera people didn’t know what was happening. And it was all before the electronics. And there was one ghastly Granada Reports when all that was in view was camera one chasing camera two round the studio. And Bob Greaves came up the gantry, shook me, and I said, “I don’t know how to do this!” Day one! I was put in this box, I had a brilliant PA who ran it for me, she wasn’t here today, “I don’t know how to do it.” And that that point (Rob Gaird? 6:02) actually got somebody to sit in with me for a week. That’s called ‘training’. I did various local programmes, then I went on to Union World, and then I went on to What the Papers Say and What the Papers Say was the first time I worked for Ray. Because the World in Action corridor, Ray was one end and the What the Papers Say office was at the other end. And What the Papers Say, technically came under David Bolton, but I didn’t actually work for Ray, but Ray was there, and very helpful, as he was with Union World, because a lot of the footage we used was World in Action footage. So. And then after that I became editor of regional news, and was there during Hillsborough which was something I’d like to talk about. And I did The TV Village, which is another mega, Thatcher Final Days. We created something called Open House for North West Parliament, which was a brilliant idea where we used the House of Commons set that Granada had and we invited local MPs from the north west, and the retired deputy speaker who lived in the north west, and they debated issues like education, health etc. They absolutely loved it and they brought their constituents, their activists, to the backbenchers. So the atmosphere was totally electric, and they really loved it because they did it all in the parliamentary language. We did it, typical Granada, because the MPs would not allow the House to be filmed. The actual House. And this was one of the reasons why they got it through, because the northwest MPs had found it such fun that they couldn’t see the problem of having it in Parliament, you know. And nowadays we can’t believe that we weren’t allowed to watch those debates. But this was a hugely successful thing, and every MP took part.
And that used the set?
It used the set.
Was it First Among Equals?
Yes, it was, The First Among Equals. I remember when it was being built, I was only a producer then and I went to Plowright. And I said, “This is all wrong because you have nothing below the gangway, and there’s so much of importance below the gangway. You have the rebels…” – this was before the SNP took over and all that – “And you have the Lib Dems.” And it had been like that for 30 years. The big revolution was in the last election when you had the SNP coming in and taking over masses and masses of space. But I said, “You’ve really got to have a bit of below the gangway, otherwise you’ll never be able to do anything with it.” And Plowright backed me up, and they did, they added a bit, which was good, because we couldn’t have done that programme because the Lib Dems wouldn’t have sat anywhere else! And Cyril Smith had to have a specially reinforced bench. So one of the things I’m proud about, and I thank Granada for, is that my whole career at Granada, especially as producer and editor, was about innovation and that was a key Granada thing. You could come up with a bright idea like open house, like the TV village, which is where we took all the new technology up to Waddington in Lancashire, and from all over the world, and then filmed the local’s reaction to it. You know, like satellite, cable, porn channel… children’s television, local television, and it was not only a hugely successful series, but it was mind-blowing, because you saw high-definition for the first time, you know, etc. And so when you had a bright idea, you were backed to the hilt, especially by people like Plowright, who always wanted a bit of mischief, you know, and the next thing that was going to blow everybody’s mind. And certainly, he loved the idea of something like open house for the northwest parliament. I mean, it was classic Granada territory. And again, with Hillsborough, you know, we opened Liverpool to the world. And we had CNN, Japanese television, ITN, BBC – everybody was there because they didn’t have anything else in the northwest. And we did a programme on the Sunday after Hillsborough from the cathedral, the Roman Catholic cathedral, and then we did another one two weeks later from the Church of England cathedral. And it was… again, you know, we were allowed to do… well, I remember standing there and somebody said, “Hold this end,” and the thing went bang! And this was all because, you know, Granada just let you do it. And there was no kind of health and safety or risk assessments or whatever. It was the same when ENG came in – electronic newsgathering. I mean, Tony had me up a lamppost outside, as a researcher, up a lamppost, outside the Midland, holding this satellite thing! I don’t know how he managed to get away with it. But anyway, this was a live link from literally 100 yards down the road from the newsroom, in order to show we could do it. We got a memo from Forman, as we managed to shoot somebody from the knees downwards or something, and he was complaining that wasn’t the way we should treat people. He had no idea how difficult it all was at that point. But it was fun. Really good fun.
Do you want to talk about the Hillsborough programme?
Yes. I mean, what happened to me with Hillsborough was that we…no mobile phones. We had these zapper things, can you remember, they buzzed to tell you to ring somebody. And it so happened that I kept them my children have their first professional haircut at Kendall’s that afternoon and I turned my zapper off. And as we came back to the car park at Granada, I noticed that the car park was full, and people were banging on the windows of the newsroom, and somebody came running out and said, “There’s been this terrible tragedy.” And I went in with the kids and I couldn’t find our nanny, who was off for the weekend. And at about one o’clock in the morning, I managed to find a neighbour, or my secretary did, and my children were asleep under the desks by then. They were eight and 10, I think. And we taxi’s them round to this neighbour, and the next morning I went to Liverpool and we did this programme. It was it was really heart-warming because I had sent teams to Liverpool, and I’d got a producer who was already in Sheffield because he was watching the match, and what happened was that because we were Granada Reports, they would talk to us, but they wouldn’t talk to anybody else. And you know, they were spitting about the press, and everybody came in to Liverpool for this service, to make the service… even tea ladies came back, you know, so we had (hot butties? 14:37) and everything. We had people who’d actually lost relatives on staff. And it was terribly emotional, and it was very, very good. And ITV – this is why ITV were so awful – ITV, and Steve Morrison could not persuade them to lose more than two slots for advertising, and so we had to come out of our own broadcast 15 minutes early, and do a sort of… we had to go to a priest to say something outside while the world took our feed! It was so irritating. I mean, this is where the commercial world and common sense just don’t enter into it. Because they could have run all those afterwards. I mean, there were millions of viewers from all over the world. It was just ridiculous. All that week – I wrote a huge report for Plowright on what happened – and all that week, because of the Sun and everything else, nobody else got interviews, and we got them all. And we promised that we wouldn’t film inside the churches, and we didn’t. We promised that if people broke down we would cut it, and we did, and we got enormous warmth and support. And our reporters of course, people like (Jenny Clark? 16:06) were in tune, you know, and very, very able to talk to the people who had lost people. And it was very obvious that Liverpool particularly felt that we’d come to their city and that we worked in that city. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that with Manchester, but I certainly felt it with Liverpool. And they used this material when they were doing a franchise application because it showed we were local to our our area.
Let’s just continue with your career, to where your career ends at Granada.
Huh. Right, well… I suppose I’m still very angry about it. What happened to Ray particularly. I think two people suffered the most from the whole debacle when Jerry came in, Gerry Robinson and Charles Allen, and one was Plowright and one was Ray, because both of them were absolutely seeped in Granada and therefore were targets, obviously. Plowright went first, and then (Alastair March? 17:29). And we were all shown a PowerPoint thing which showed that the board was divided. And actually that’s absolute rubbish, because up until then the whole ethos of Granada had been robust debate. And fighting your corner, and no hard feelings. You know, you were meant to, from the moment you entered the place, you were meant to fight your corner. And yet I digress, but you know, I’ve been in cutting rooms where I’ve said, you know, “That is absolute rubbish,” in much stronger terms than that. On one occasion I remember David Hart picking me up on Union Row and physically carrying me out over his shoulder and depositing me at the end of the corridor and locking the door, and I was banging on the door as the producer saying, you know, let me in. This kind of thing disappeared overnight. You had to be one of them or you were out. And Alastair said exactly the same thing, and so much happened with the board. Alastair was a company secretary, and when they were discussing how they were going to slash this, slash that and slash t’other, he said, “I don’t think that’s going to work, because we have a pool of talent here which is superb, and what you’re suggesting is getting rid of them and buying in, and it’s counterproductive. We are as good as our talent.” And for that he was sacked. So anyway, they sacked the board, and then they summoned us all – I think you’ll remember this – to three meetings in different studios.
I’d already gone.
You’d already gone, had you? And it was utterly horrendous. That morning they had sent round notes, they had got hold of different people in departments and they had sent around… they had earmarked who they were going to sack, and there was a lot of point scoring going on, and the people who helped to do it – it was just like the Third Reich – the people who helped to do it also got an envelope and got sacked. In many cases. One man had a heart attack and had to be sent off in an ambulance, people were shaking – I mean, they were literally shaking – and I remember going in to the studio where we were being briefed and we already knew that Ray was going to be sacked. And I said to Ray, “You must keep quiet.” I then stood up and yelled at Liddiment, and said, “What has happened to Granada?” I was so angry, I was… you know. I committed suttee actually, I think that’s what I did. But I said, “What has happened to Granada? Until now it has been our duty as senior people in Granada to challenge constructively, and now suddenly anybody who challenges is regarded as a traitor. What are you doing?” And he yelled back at me, “Your job is to incentivise people. This is a disgrace.” And I said, “Look, people are dropping cameras on the floor in the studio because they are shaking so much. We had to stop recording What the Papers Say the other day because the crew were too upset to go on. What are you doing to this company?” We had this terrible row, and then of course I was out too. So basically what they did was they sacked the board, then they sacked anybody who wasn’t going to take the oath of allegiance, or they had earmarked for sacking like Ray, then they sacked anybody who disagreed, and then they sacked a lot of people who shouldn’t have been sacked and they had to bring a lot of them back in again. And it was a destruction of a huge pool of talent. And about three years later, Gerry Robinson did a programme with the BBC where he said, “Look, you see the thing is, I really do think that the BBC is so wonderful because it had staff rather than buys in.” Ha! So having destroyed Granada, he then was a convert. But by that time, of course, it was history.
JJ: Was there (??21:56) put forward their rationale, economic or…?
Well, apparently Charles Allen, when he gave this presentation to the board, said, “What you do,” and this is what they used to do on Granada’s… and this is hearsay, I heard this story – on the (teams up and down the motorway? 22:25) – “What you do is you squeeze the client, as it were, until the pips squeak. And if, when they start complaining that their slice of bread is three times smaller than (??22:38 ), then you make it slightly larger again.” And basically yes, they took the model of Channel 4, and said, “We’ll buy in, it’s much cheaper.” What they didn’t realise was… or what they refused to recognise, although so many people told them, was that you’ve got this pool of talent in the north who were all then going to go south, which they did, until they came back again. And one of the things that Plowright and Ray did was set up this conference, this television from the nations and regions conference, which was responsible in the end for getting the BBC to bring a huge amount of its stuff back up to Salford, which is what they’d always hoped would happen. But basically the sheer nastiness of it all, that’s what I’m angry about. When Ray left, nobody – nobody, apart from people quite low down the food chain – came to say goodbye. We walked out with our BAFTAs under our arm and a sheaf of notes, not one of his executive colleagues came to say goodbye. You know, they’re just ashamed of themselves, and they couldn’t look him in the eye. I then organised a sacked person’s party at (??23:54) which had no furniture. We had 100 there from all over the world who flew in, and Ray met them… Ray made a speech and said, “Some of you are still employed, and we’ve taken a note of this.” Haha. But it was just so nasty, and people were settling old scores, and people were watching their backs… and the rot had set in as soon as Plowright was sacked – there was no reason to sack Plowright. Granada Television was doing very well, it was Granada board that wasn’t. And he stood up to Gerry and they faced it off… it’s all in Ray’s book. And it… but then from then on you could see that the visions, you know, and who was going to win and who wasn’t. Ray came in one day on a Sunday and he saw all these coats and things there. He realised that there was some big meeting going on and then he asked Diane, and Diane said, “You’d better talk to David Liddiment,” and then that was it. We were all sacked. And why?
And we… I mean, Forman, got very upset that Alistair had been sacked, because he had been such a good public servant. And he was also equally upset that Ray was sacked. And he persuaded Gerry and Charles – r maybe it was David Liddiment – to release some money so we could set up (??25:35), which is what we did. But it was the sheer nastiness of it that still sticks in my throat. It was exactly counter to the original culture, which was very in your face, very much so, very tough – but respectful. And that went, and that was horrible. And I think it took them a long time to get it back. Oh, I mean, I came in, I was doing four big major series for Channel 4, and I came in and they had moved the World in Action people out of our corridor, and we didn’t even have… Nick Hayes… it was an ethically cleaned corridor. Nick Hayes, Ray and me, and our secretary, and Joanna, Ray’s secretary, were the only ones left – and we didn’t even have a photocopier. And we were doing four series. I was doing four series, Nick was doing things, Ray was just sitting there, having had his team removed. I mean, it was just unbelievable. Nobody sort of said, “Look, we’re going to do this,” and they were moved to something like the fifth floor, and we were left on the first, or second, wherever it was. Second, I think. And it was just symbolic of the way the whole thing was carried out. It was disgusting.
Do you want to talk about…
JJ: What, being a woman? Well, I don’t know whether you found any challenges as being a woman, a married woman with children, coming into a… not well known for being female-friendly environment.
The worst person was a female news editor. I came in as a married woman returner, and I had been doing various degrees at Bradford, I did an MA and a PhD. And then I came to Granada. They were poisonous. Utterly poisonous. I mean, she was, with her coterie of people. And they would send me off on assignments and there was nobody there, or they sent me to talk to Peter O’Toole and asked me to ask three questions which meant he threw something at me, which was fun because, you know, that’s good telly, but… I mean, basically they were really, really nasty. And I was absolutely saved by Judy Finnegan, who stood up to them and said, “I’m not having this.” You know, if there was an assignment in Barrow at six, they’d send me – or tried to – knowing that I had to get back because my childcare was limited. And Judy just said, “No. Absolutely no.” And Judy was the star, and they couldn’t do anything about it. So I just stood behind her going, “Thank you very much.” And she and Richard were absolutely lovely to me, and they were… Richard was fairly new, and we all sat at one end of the newsroom, and they were fantastic. They taught me a lot and they protected me a lot. And the sort of things like daft things. It’s all so petty. But they really tried to make me give up, and I don’t know why. I presume it’s the bully thing; I was new, they presumed that I didn’t know anything, I would ring a minister and say, “Can you do 10 minutes for us, we’ll come to the Midland while you’re here in Manchester,” and then they would send somebody else to do the interview, and of course the minister was saying, “Where’s Luise?” because we were friend, y, I had worked in the Commons library and I had done stuff for all of them. And it’s that kind of place, the Commons, you know, the staff and the members know each other extremely well. And I was actually the only person in the newsroom when the news came through that those policemen jumped into the sea after a dog, and one by one had been swept away. I think six policemen lost their life in Blackpool. And the reason I was the only person in the newsroom is they’d all gone out to have a drink and they left me, been there five weeks, in charge – because I was not one of them, and so you know, it was fine. I ended up finding Rod Caird and saying, you know, I have to tell you that there’s this big story comes through, and he said, “Well where is everybody?” And I said, “They’re in the pub.” And that’s where they were. But it was a culture, on the first floor, of bullying which wasn’t there in any other place, and it was horrible. But as a woman, I think actually I never suffered promotion-wise. But there weren’t many women – in fact there weren’t any women – Granada was a fiefdom. There were these very, very egocentric people, with Ray being the huge exception, who ran big departments, executive producers. They had massive egos – or most of them, Ray again being the exception – and they were all men. But the mould-breaker I think was Diane Nelmes, because she had this massive success on This Morning and promoted by Rod and David Liddiment. Rightly so. And once she’d done that, I think they realised how competent an executive producer could be who was a woman. And I mean it was superb and broke the mould. But I mean, yes, there was a lot of sexism. But it was really more that it was macho rather than… and of course the other thing was… one of the things you said on your email, there was a culture around drinking in the Old School. And if you weren’t part of that, which I couldn’t and didn’t want to be, that was… you didn’t network. You know, so you didn’t know any of these people. What was great was the canteen, because Forman would come down frequently and join any table and just chat to people. Ray was always in the canteen because he likes puddings, and he always had his lunch in the canteen. It was a magical place to be, I mean, you could be in the queue next to Laurence Olivier in a wig, you know, and Joan Plowright, and all sorts of people. And so the canteen worked very well. And Charles Allen scrapped the canteen and had to put it back. Because that’s where you bumped into people without an appointment and you could just say, “Oh, by the way, I wonder if I could have a word about X, Y or Z.” It was just a very relaxed way of meeting people. But the Old School was different, and I actually didn’t like that culture at all, and I think it led to people who shouldn’t be getting promoted and things like that. That’s why… I was an outsider on that, so obviously I feel like that. But I don’t think for me being a woman was a problem in getting promoted. I was lucky, I was on the cusp of even changing, I think. And once I’d run news successfully, as the editor of new, obviously you prove yourself and then you move on. But I never became an executive, because I didn’t want to.
Do you want to talk at this stage about Ray?
I’ll try. I’d just like to say one more thing, actually. The great thing about Granada, as I said, was the great can-do attitude, and (??34:12) had this phrase, “Let’s do some mischief.” And (??34:17) so that that was hugely exciting and creative. But the biggest thing about Granada was the pool of talent. And you never got trained, but what you did was you worked with the best, the best in the world. So when you went out on Granada Reports, sometimes you went with George Jesse Turner, you know, people… because the camera pools were… and not just the cameras, the editors, the sound recordists, the designers, the make up artists, you could use them whatever you were working on. And when we did Thatcher: The Final Days, they all came out of the woodwork and begged to be on it because they could see this was going to be another biggie, you know? And that is, for me, the thing I miss. I have never worked with such talent. Well, I suppose working in the House of Commons, to a certain extent I did but that is the thing I miss, because it was it was amazing. Of course it applied to actors as well. You know, actors and presenters are top-notch people, and it was a very good time to be there, in that sense. And it’s such a shame that it was disbanded. I am, you know, Coronation Street, World in Action, news, masses of brilliant, brilliant things right across the board, drama of international distinction. And all the people who worked on it were available to you, to teach you what was going on. It was just an amazing time.
JJ: You’ve talked about that ethos and you’ve talked about the change when Charles Allen came along. Did you get a sense of it changing before that, or did it kind of come as a shock? Partly perhaps because of things changing in television outside of Granada, or…?
Well, I think it was all changing, all the way through my time. I was there for a decade and during that decade a lot of things happened, not just in television but outside. For example, the first What the Papers Say awards I ever went to was filmed as a sort of gentlemen’s party with lots of smoke and lots of drink and they just had a camera on it and they thought that was television. And by the time I was doing it, we had a set and the whole culture had changed. Nobody drank. It was fizzy water. I mean, there was drink, and nobody smoked. So, you know, there was a totally different culture. Another thing that of course changed everything was the electronics, both of the way that you could shoot but also the way you could communicate. So you had an intranet, and no longer these people coming back drunk after lunch and pulling out stuff from your typewriter, which you couldn’t replace in time, whereas, you know, once you’re on a computer it’s a different ballgame. All sorts of things were changing. I remember the fuss when they started bringing in full costing, so that you couldn’t just put things below the line, you had to account for everything. And some of the producers that I worked with as an editor were very resistant to this. “Well, I know I can make it work,” you know? What’s not the point, it’s actually got to be detailed out. And so it was becoming a bit less chaotic and a bit more… when I say ‘chaotic’, it was becoming a bit more…
Yes, professional, but I think we were always professional, it’s just the differences…
Business-like, that’s right. Yes, the business thing coming in definitely, and we were all having to slash budgets and be careful and all the rest of it. And on World in Action we’d always doe that, because they’d had people running it, like Ray, who were very conscious of money. But you know, the Charles Allen thing, Charles Allen, Gerry Robinson, was a terrible shock. I wasn’t obviously at g after that, so I can’t say what happened. All I can say is that we made programmes for Granada, for Ray Fitzwalter Associates, but I never felt comfortable there again.
JJ: And the other thing was that you talked a little bit about the importance of Granada in terms of its community with Liverpool etc., and it must have been quite interesting for you as somebody who was initially an outsider, (coming from London? 39:07) to come up to Granada and get a sense of it placed in the community of the north west. Do you feel that Granada was more than just a television company in terms of its cultural identity?
It wanted to be. I had an argument when I was on news with the powers that be because I said that I thought all our reporters should have a northern accent, a north west accent of some kind, of which there are many, because I think it helps. But I never… I mean, although Tony Wilson was always going on about Manchester versus Liverpool and ribbing other people and that, and Roger Blythe was saying, “I’m from Liverpool,” etc., although that went on, I don’t think in Manchester we were that close to it – but we certainly were Liverpool and we were in Lancaster. They were, you know, Bob Smithies was in Lancaster, and he was Mr Lancaster by the time he left. And Carl Hawkins in in Chester, same thing. And so I think that that was inspired to have those outposts, which was probably not economic, but it was a very good idea. And it meant they came to places like Ramsbottom, which they never did otherwise. And it also meant that you could change the news agenda because it’s virtually every night always, Manchester or Liverpool are on the national news agenda one way or another, and the national sports agenda. And so you come after them and you’re following them. Whereas if you can get out more widely you can get more of a sense of region. But of course what Granada did have was it had a non-metropolitan perspective, and that’s why – take an obviously example of Coronation Street – bringing on the northern writers. And when I said that Diane broke the mould, the other person who came to the job slightly after that was Carolyn Reynolds, of course, who did brilliantly on Coronation Street. And when you get women of real talent doing a job they are superb at, who can argue with it? It really is very helpful.
Let’s talk about Ray, then. Can you talk about Ray’s career?
I can tell you about his interview at Granada. He’s told this story many times. He was working… he was on the Bradford Telegraph and Argus, and he had an inspired editor called Peter Harland, who allowed Ray to be everything including the… he was the Bangladeshi correspondent, he was the fishing correspondent, he did the weddings in the funerals, but he also did a lot of investigative stuff, and he had unearthed this scandal about the architect called Poulson and was making connections right the way up to home secretary, Reginald Maudling, who subsequently resigned. And he’d become young journalist of the year. And it was his story, and he went to this interview in Golden Square, Granada rang him up and said, “Would you be interested in working for us?” and he saw on the desk, reading upside down, as good journalists always do, the memo from probably – probably – Scott, but I don’t know who it was from – which said, “We either need a hack, a well-known hack, from the city, from London, or somebody cheap from the provinces.” And he was the cheap from the provinces! And so he went in and he worked on that programme, which subsequently led to the resignation and probably the death of Reginald Maudling, because I think it was Ray’s opinion that he sort of gave up. But then it was taken off because there was so much legal stuff, and he was also writing a book about it, and worked on that for I think a year, and then they had an election for the editor of World in Action because there had been trouble – it’s all in Rays book. Oh, I don’t think it is, actually. Well, there had been trouble, there had been a rebellion in the ranks about the way they had been treated. So the way to solve this was to have an election for a temporary editor, and he was elected. And they thought they’d got – what did he say – they thought they’d got a short-term replacement, and actually what they got was a long-distance runner. Which, you know, was exactly what happened, and he stayed there of course for years and years. And it was at that point that people like Paul Greengrass came in, and Ray was the editor. I remember World in Action people when I came in 1983, being terrifying. They were very large. Do you remember that, Steve? Very large.
And it’s all macho as well.
And very macho. I mean, Ray ran this department full of mad dogs, really. And I used to say, “Oh, here’s the mad dogs, and you’re running them on an extremely long leash,” you know? And just occasionally (??45:00). I mean, the actual team meetings were… haha! I sat in on those team meetings when I was part of the department and I couldn’t believe it! Fortunately, I mean, I think the reason Ray survived so long was because – well, survived until he was kicked out – is because he never got his own ego involved in all that. It was never about him. It was about the programme. And they knew it. So whatever they did to provoke him, he wasn’t provokeable. You know, they’d try; they’d go into his office and smoke, you know, and he’d just say, “Can you put that out please?” knowing that they were doing it deliberately to have a row, but not having one. So that’s how he came to be there.
JJ: It’s quite interesting, thinking about his leadership skills, and managing such a diverse, and like you say, obviously very creative, very intelligent but finally quite competitive environment, to be able to manage that.
Totally competitive. I mean, (??46:14) World in Action, you know, people were pulling everybody else… somebody else’s programme apart. I mean, you had to have nerves of steel. I remember Debbie Christie, the first time she had a World in Action on, she was shaking when she went back into the office, because she just wondered what the chaps would say, and then Dorothy also had, you know… actually, Ray brought omen in, like Dorothy and (??46:42) and Debbie.
There was another woman as well, who died.
Oh, yes! Katie.
No, I wasn’t thinking about Katie Jones.
Actually Katie Jones went (??46:59) after (??).
Anyway, so I think Paul Greengrass hit the nail on the head when he said he made you take ownership of your own programmes. But the other thing was he was always there. And if you… I mean, again, Paul has described how you pick up a payphone in Guatemala and this very reassuring voice on the other end goes, “Hello, Paul. How are you doing?” Absolutely always there for you.
And we have to remember that in those days you didn’t have anything electronic like DVD, or the idea of streaming across. And Ray would have to go in virtually every week at two o’clock in the morning to look at a World in Action because the editing process took so long. It was on film, and so if it was going to go out at eight o’clock at night, having been legalled, having been agreed, it had to start being edited at nine o’clock in the morning. And I had the same problem on Union World; I mean, I frequently came back home and put the kids to bed and then went out again, and was there all night and came back and took them to school, you know, because… and Dorothy said to me, Dorothy Byrne, you know, by the time she had a child, I was head of current affairs at Channel 4, they could either bike round a DVD or they could stream it to her – and that’s such a relief, that you don’t have to go out again, you know? And a lot of people, I think, felt that Ray gave them their head, made them take ownership but supported them to the hilt. And I know he offered his resignation twice when things had gone wrong, and it was turned down. But he wouldn’t let the person who made the programme take the blame – as the editor, it was his job.
JJ: What programmes do you think he was most proud of, or changes that you think that…?
I know he was very proud of the Gozo programme which finally nailed Maudling. I mean, he was very proud of the team, you know? And we left, we took the personal BAFTAs but we left the team ones. And we left the team ones on the second floor because the team had moved! They had to come and find them if they wanted them. I mean, obviously there’s Who Bombed Birmingham? and also he pioneered drama documentary. Lockerbie, Thatcher: The Final Days. He was the first producer to do that – and they were documentaries first and drama second. And the rule of thumb was that you had to have two witnesses to everything he put in, which was quite difficult, especially with Thatcher, because obviously there had been one to one conversations, and Thatcher wasn’t talking. But you could often, as he told me, you could often get it from the person who was outside the door, who the person who came out had talked to first – because people will tell you things when they’re off-guard. And so we had a brilliant researcher on it who found all these people – so every single thing we put in Thatcher: The Final Days, and I presume in all the others, was fully documented. And the other thing about Who Bombed Birmingham? was that wasn’t the only programme – there was a huge number in the run-up, and that meant that the team had to do lots and lots of programmes to make up for the fact that Ian McBride and Charles Tremayne were taken off to work on this for ages. And again, it’s one of those things you can’t imagine happening now. (??51:00 ) doing very well at the moment. But you know, he brought Chris Mullin in for a bit to work on it as well. So you know, it’s about management and encouragement, and also holding the team together so that if you got to do a crash programme because the World in Action on the Birmingham Six couldn’t go out because of legal problems, people would do it and would step into the breach, knowing that their programme wasn’t going to get the kudos that the other people’s programme was. And I think that’s a real skill, because it could have ended up with a bloodbath, given the people who were working on it.
JJ: One of the things I get about May is that he was born in Lancashire…
Born in Bury.
JJ: Yes… his working life was here. Was that really important to him? Because presumably he was a very well-respected journalist who could have worked for the BBC or could have worked somewhere else. Was that northern identity important to him?
Desperately. Yes. Again, Paul Greengrass said at the award, at the luncheon for Ray’s award, you could see the curl of the lip as you came into London on the train with Ray as you approached Euston – and I think this is what gave him as a journalist such – and as head of current affairs at Granada – such strength, because he was utterly uninterested in cosying up to power at any level – which is what finally led to his downfall at Granada, of course – but he didn’t do the smarming in and out, he didn’t try to climb the greasy pole. I mean, you never saw him in the Old School unless it was somebody’s leaving do – far too busy for that. And as regards the whole London bubble, both in television and in the corridors of power, he just wanted to be an outsider, he knew it gave him strength. When he died, I had a service for him, he wanted to be buried in Ramsbottom, and we had this celebration of his life. And it gave me enormous comfort to know that I could say this is where it’s gong to be, in Ramsbottom, and 300 people would turn up! You know? We couldn’t have gone to London, and we couldn’t really have gone to Manchester – it had to be here. And that… and when we were… when he was under such pressure with Who Bombed Birmingham? and Thatcher was calling him out by name (an ?? 54:06) and things, he did a piece for the Manchester Evening News where he said how consoling it was to go back to this peaceful spot on the side of a hill, you know, and I know that’s absolutely what he felt. He’s a working class lad from memory. And that’s what he remained despite the fact that he had many honours and lots of respect and a top job. He knew what his roots were. And he knew who he was. And I think that gives you an enormous strength, both as a journalist of course, but also as a leader, because it wasn’t about him – it was about the job. That’s what was important. And very unusual in television.
And it’s unusual in a way because many working class lads who are actually able to get out of their environments and escape, and in a sense it’s (??55:14) with ay because he went to LSE, didn’t he?
Yes. He was the first of his family to go to university.
And yet he still kind of came back to Bury.
Yes. I mean, they lived in Finchley when he first went to Granada, because he was based in London. When he became editor, he moved back here, and of course his parents are here, and his wife, his then wife, came from here. But yes, I think it just boils down to the fact that he didn’t want to be dragged into the idea of the London model, because it’s… it’s very, very fortunate that Granada fitted him like a glove, you know, in that it also espoused that, and said, “We make programmes to the world from Manchester.” And I think it was really hard on Ray to lose Granada, because he and Granada were so intermeshed. But we made 400 programmes for Ray Fitzwalter Associates before he lost interest. Because we didn’t want to make cookery programmes! But also the whole thing had turned into a London bun fight, you know? And you had to go and network in London, and that didn’t interest us really.
I think the only other question I had was to talk a little bit about Union World, which was quite an unusual programme.
Yes. Were you not take off Union World just as I arrived?
Well, so was everybody else. David Bolton, who was a dear friend of mine, ours, really, really took the cream of people who worked on Union World, exactly at the point that he put me in there to run it, to go into his new news organisation in Liverpool. And therefore I struggled from the start with Union World. It was a very interesting concept, to have a programme speaking for the unions and about the unions, but at the time I didn’t like trade unions. I believed in trade unions utterly, and I’ve always belonged to whatever trade union that was going for me, but the trade unions were very destructive at g at the time, and the trade unions were quite destructive nationally. And the sexism! I mean, the trade union leaders were awful. I mean, awful. And they couldn’t believe that Julie Hall was going to front it and that I was going to produce it! I mean, at one point we had to produce the Union World conference from Channel 4 in London without going to the conference, because our ACCT had forbidden us to go. I mean, there was that kind of nonsense. And so… I mean, probably it was my unhappiest time at Granada, Union World, because I didn’t… the only the only programme I was really proud of was the one where we went to Wapping to watch what was happening, and Brian Blake was producing it. But it was a nightmare, because Gus had gone, you’d gone, I think Dorothy was about to go, all sorts of people who should have been there were gone, and therefore the people on it… and then David put Brian Blake and Mike Walsh in to try and sort of pep things up, which was very helpful because they had good ideas and they could be… Brian especially could be trusted to go off and, you know, come back with a film. But it was really difficult. And I mean, I think it’s glory days finished with Gus, don’t you?
Yes. And at that point they should have pulled the plug. And I was left sort of burying it, which was not good news.
JJ: What year did you leave, Luise?