Michael Ryan

0

Interview transcript

Michael Ryan

By Stephen Kelly, November 5th 2015

 

<start of audio file: Mike Ryan.1.MP3>

Stephen Kelly (Interviewer): This is an interview with Mike Ryan. Do you prefer Mike or Michael?

Michael Ryan (Interviewee): I normally prefer Michael.

SK: Okay, with Michael Ryan; Ryan, spelled R-Y-A-N. It’s Stephen Kelly, Stephen with a P-H. It’s November 5th 2015.

What were you doing before you joined Granada Television?

MR: Working for the BBC as a studio director. I was headhunted, or something, for the BBC 2 start up. Technically I was a BBC 2 trainee from Oxford in 1963, and I spent about nine months on Panorama as a sort of tea boy/researcher. Then I went into a studio directors’ course and I spent about the next between 18 months and two years as a studio director on the lower-budget educational/current affairs strand. I was mainly on the current affairs side.

This is crucial to my coming to Granada: I actually knew what the BBC was like, the good side and the bad side. Particularly the bad side being the bureaucracy. I won’t say it was any worse then than it is now, but it was not a great organisation to work for, thought I thought, and still do, that there are some remarkably talented people there.

This is a minor interest, but my father was a publican in Chelsea, and I met Michael Parkinson, who at that time was a Granada producer, by accident. He was a friend of the late journalist Anthony Howard who lived just round the corner. What was funny about it was that he was going to join 24 Hours [? show name?], this kind of news strand, the equivalent of Newsnight in those days in the BBC. He had no public celebrity at all at that time. He asked me a whole lot of questions and I jokingly said at the end of this, “It sounds to me as though Granada’s a better place than the BBC!” And he said, “Do you want a job? Because they’re desperate to get people. We’re very under-staffed at the moment.” And I said, well, I’d certainly give it a spin.

An interview was arranged with David Plowright, who at that time was running local programmes, and we got on famously. He said the requirements for the job is that you have a sense of humour, and I said I think I have that. Anyway, I made him laugh about a few things. I think Barry [Higgs? 03:36] wandered in at the end of the interview and that was it, I was employed as a researcher on Scene at 6:30 for six months.

SK: This would be what year?

MR: This would be January 1966. I joined in January 1966 and I had a kind of revolving door over the next couple of years with local programmes. In the autumn of that year they revived a series called The World Tomorrow which was a rather muddled view somehow reflecting the obsession with Harold Wilson’s ‘the white heat of technology’. I went on that first as a researcher for a short period and then I was made up as a producer. John Shepherd suggested to me I should have put my foot down and been a director form the word go, but I know perfectly well that the facts are that we were on contract employment and they weren’t taking any chance other than to see whether you were good enough, or what it was they wanted.

SK: So that was a short-term contract to begin with?

MR: To begin with, and then it became by the year. I’ll come back to the contract point, because it’s quite important, later on. So I did films. The best film in that series was the film Mike Apted and I did on the Provos. Apted of course went off to Hollywood and became a superstar director and won the Oscar for The Coal Miner’s Daughter, but he started as a Granada trainee, and working with him was really something.

[06:11]

SK: In what way?

MR: Well, he was a natural director. Unlike some of the people I’d noticed when I’d been on film locations, he knew exactly what he wanted and he wasn’t prepared to go until he got it. Very patient, and he had a very precise sense of time. Filming, as you well remember, is expensive, but it also requires that extra edge of control, and he certainly had that. So I made other films, but we will avoid a shopping list. I’ll just pick out the ones that seem to have a bearing on the organisation or something that says something about the organisation. Then I came back as the co-producer with David Boulton on Scene at 6:30.

Then for about six months in ’67 I produced Cinema with Mike Scott, and that was an amazing experience because, now it seems unbelievable, but it wasn’t unknown to get audiences of 14 million for a few film clips and an interview with the stars. The thing I best remember about that was the interview with James Stewart. He was hilarious. That made two programmes. The executive producer of Cinema was Cecil Bernstein. In retrospect it was quite sensitive for [Dennis] Forman because he was the intermediary but Bernstein would have a habit of ringing me or saying, “we can’t do this”, or, “that wasn’t [bared? 08:39]”. Dennis obviously was uncomfortable with having to be apparently number two after Cecil Bernstein.

Mark [Shivers? 09:07] took over from me, and I’d taken over from Peter Wildeblood who was a very talented writer and involved in the famous Montagu case. He died quite recently. So they sometimes would go outside, and sometimes it was inside. I can’t remember if Mark Shivers was in Granada at that time. He came and then he went. He became quite a famous drama producer at the BBC.

So then I think it was back again to local programmes, and then I went to World in Action as a producer/director in the autumn of 1968 and basically I stayed there for ten years and I didn’t do anything else, with the exceptions of oddities like election programmes. But to all intents and purposes I was on World in Action as a producer.

SK: Can I go back to Scene at 6:30? Who would you have had as presenters on that programme?

MR: Mike Scott, Chris Kelly, Parkinson left just as I was arriving, a man called George Reid, later Bob Greaves. What was interesting about the local programming was that apart from university I hadn’t really lived outside London and being in Manchester was actually quite an education for me. The sixties were the last decade of Manchester as the industrial city. The buses to Old Trafford used to be choked at 6:30 in the morning and you still felt that you were in a kind of LS Lowry town. The local programmes were things that people took very seriously. If you were filming with, say, Scott, he was such a famous local personality you would literally be mobbed. I know it sounds bizarre. It was extraordinary the kind of power the local presenters had. Brian Truman, he was particularly talented.

SK: Most of those presenters were from the North West.

MR: They were. Bill Grundy wasn’t in the local scene much but he was doing other things for Granada.

SK: Do you think that those local presenters helped galvanise that relationship with the North West and the public persona of Granada becoming?

MR: Yes, I do. I think the obvious thing is to point at things like Coronation Street but it was the local programmes five nights a week that really did it. You always had enormous fan mail. I remember Scott and other people would measure their fan mail with rulers and would have fights amongst themselves about who was the star of the week, and all that sort of stuff! A lot of people there were not there for very long, but it was also the world of the ex-journalist. Our generation were the first of the university graduated. I know there are exceptions both ways but the Granada management were not people with degrees, apart from Dennis Forman. They’d worked their way through. They’d been either in Fleet Street or in regional newspapers. And there were some very talented people there. I remember Barry Cockcroft, he died years ago, but he was the one who did those famous Yorkshire documentaries about, Hannah (Hauxwell) on the snow-capped mountains of the Yorkshire Dales, and farming. Very like Dennis Mitchell, that kind of production where you’re not intervening at all, you’re recording the voices of the workers. Malcom Lynch, he was a good writer. You learned quite a lot from those people. How to turn something round quickly. John Slater, much later, he was around for a long time, and he really felt that it was more important than the national programmes. I think there is something to be said for that argument. You were more in touch with the audience in that regional sense, which would include things like football, stating the obvious.

Then I had the long run on World in Action. I’ll mention just a few of them. I think I’ve got something between 30 and 40 programmes under my belt. I’m particularly specialised in the fast turnaround programme. We were exclusively working on film because we didn’t have presenters. We weren’t in the studio at all. I actually did a thing with [Claudia?], Meg Murray, the lady with multiple sclerosis. The film was called Death by Request. That was out on a Tuesday, finished in a couple of days, one overnight edit, and out the following Monday. There were quite a few like that; some of them didn’t work. The simple defence was that you always had to fill the slot. That was a programme that went on for years, in terms of consequences. It was shown in Japan and we had to deal with about six sacks of mail from Japan just on the argument. Somebody with a disease who wants that final assistance which wasn’t possible under the Suicide Act. And that argument has never gone away. That was one.

I did a film with Gavin MacFadyen called The Watergate, he was a researcher in 1973. It eventually led to the collapse of Nixon but at the time he was saying it was all untrue. But what was particularly funny was that the Watergate department actually were owned by the mafia, and we’d managed to reconstruct the raid, to the total horror of the Republican Party when they found out we’d done it. These mafia guys told us we could do what we liked, and turned up with their moles and Cadillacs and gold and it was totally hilarious. They said, “Hey, these British guys are doing this!” That was memorable.

I had a period in ’69… the first person to be editor of something called the ‘investigative bureau’ was one Gus Macdonald. That come out of the appointment of Jeremy Wallington. Wallington was, again, the classic Fleet Street type journalist who wasn’t a graduate but Plowright brought him in I think to assist Lesley Woodhead, they were joint editors of World in Action. Then they set up an investigative unit and Gus was the first one, and I can’t remember the sequence now. I was asked to do it and it faltered in one way, and then they were chronically understaffed and I simply couldn’t do it for about four or five months. Then they decided that the best thing to do was maybe to not have a labelled unit but rather to do investigative programmes. I did a few things with Ray Fitzwalter, for example we brought Reginald Maudling to account over his relationships with John Poulson and the famous fiddles over the hospital in Gozo in Malta. That was front page of The Mirror stuff when it was done.

From a personal point of view, the stand-out success of the seventies was the film I made in Longnor in Derbyshire in 1971, where I persuaded the village to give up smoking for a week. This was at a time, of course, when 75% of the male population was still smoking. It was timed to coincide with the second and definitive report from the BMA on the connection between smoking and cancer and heart disease. Again it was slightly comic because I was on the edge of giving up smoking myself then anyway, and this Fleet Street lot arrived and we were literally on the pages of every tabloid for a week, to the delight of the senior management. But one of the things they were doing was following not just me but the production team around trying to catch us in the act of smoking while we were engaged in this experiment. So it did have one consequence: I never in my life smoked after that. And I got Tom [Gilms?] to stop smoking. When he died at the age of 91, his sons had some memorabilia in the room with the wake, and one thing was a card, and I recognised my own handwriting. I think he left in about ’85, but I think it said something like, “At least I stopped you smoking, Tom, I know you’re going to have a good old age!” Again, that was an example of an idea that worked beautifully. Just occasionally an idea works beautifully in television.

[21:58]

The people were very funny, they were entirely up for it. People were writing poetry and doggerel and making up verses and enjoying the fame. We went back about a year later and needless to say only about between 8 and 10 were genuinely off cigarettes. But I still see that as an important social experiment. I always thought that the main reason people do things they shouldn’t do is because other people are doing it. Now it’s commonplace, but then it wasn’t, people always argued that they didn’t really believe it was true that it caused these terrible diseases, and that defence has gone entirely. There are still people who smoke but they do it guiltily and they don’t attempt to argue the contrary case. That was very enjoyable.

Another one that worked brilliantly was the funeral of Steve Biko. I’d done with David Hart a sort of undercover film in South Africa at the time just after the student riots in Soweto. So I had all the contacts and when Biko was obviously murdered in prison, I knew exactly who I would go to, and persuaded Lapping, who as first was very disinclined to do it, but the actual images, the film that the cameraman Bernie Vince got, were just extraordinary. We stayed near Port Elizabeth, I can’t remember the name of his birthplace. You must remember that in South Africa it was almost impossible for more than a very small number of blacks to meet other than in a church. That was the one concession. As we were driving towards the funeral site you could literally hear thousands of voices singing the anthem Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika and other songs. We got there and it was just a complete mob scene around the coffin. It was just extraordinary. They were there as a group for the first time. Physically, it was a real turning-point moment. Donald Woods, he wrote a book about it afterwards. He was a journalist in Port Elizabeth. He appeared in it. That worked brilliantly. Those are just a few personal highlights.

Although when I came to World in Action I was delighted with the prospect of no presenter, I began to feel that sometimes if you want to handle anything above the level of a simple story, it is very difficult to do it just using the techniques of interview script. Well, it can be very difficult. In the 1970s, I did with Brian Blake, and also Segal was involved, a thing called Nuts and Bolts of the Economy. I actually learned by then that if you want to say, “Why is the British economy underperforming?” you need to do two things. One, that World in Action always did brilliantly, is you take a simple theme, so we break a washing machine down and look at who’s making what, look at the technology and the costs and all the rest of it. At the same time, using white goods as a kind of way in to the argument about low-level semi investment and the simple failures of the British economy, particularly in the mid-seventies. Issues of productivity are still there now. Forman was delighted. Forman, who was very fond of Scott, felt that somehow he hadn’t gotten the best of him. That one won a few awards.

SK: And you produced that, did you?

MR: Brian Blake and I were the producers on that, and then I think Segal did another one, because it became a little mini series. So Scott had a very good – this is where I start talking about personalities – Scott had a good common touch. He knew the art of simple questions. Partially because he never asked himself, “Am I being too simple?” But he was very good at just personal charm and just being pleasant to people. It paid off.

Then I left. I think there was a whole flood of new people and of course new people must be given their own chance. So when I was pushing 40 and I’d done it for 10 years, I basically moved into longer documentary production. I worked with Roger [Dreyfer?]. I did a film called The Shirt off our Backs where we compared the dying clothing business in Britain with Hong Kong which had basically taken the market up, and Sri Lanka where they were beginning to pull themselves away from a peasant economy. We were arguing the pros and cons. That worked very well.

[30:07]

I did a series on the Brandt report [3 1 hours?]. That was a tricky one because the whole political climate suddenly changed with Thatcher and Reagan, so in a way you knew you were banging your head against a brick wall. To put it crudely, it wasn’t going to happen. The Brent report was essentially a Keynesian argument about how to deal with world poverty. Willy Brandt. Heath was on, he was very good actually.

Then I came to What the Papers Say, which I think you’re familiar with. Partially because it coincided with the birth of the twins and it was very useful after quite a lot of travel, and domestic strains of having to deal with constant travel, just to have something that was at least a fixed ritual. We were only away for, whatever it is, one month. I enjoyed that tremendously, again because you were working with talented writers every week, and you were getting the gossip as well, and you could pass any general knowledge test because you’re reading all the papers all the time. I’ve often reflected that, although it’s still on radio, it was a mistake to drop it.

Scott loather University Challenge and when he became the controller he put his foot down and said, “It’s got to go.” There’s nothing wrong with University Challenge. I never produced it but Peter Mullins did and he used to do papers as well. He begged him not to do it. But it was an incredible mistake because it’s still there, Jeremy Paxman is doing it now. Similarly, All Our Yesterdays is arguably something that could still be done. This is long-term programming that trains people and delivers, frankly, cheap programmes. What the Papers Say is a very cheap programme. I think that was one aspect of Granada that was particularly forceful: the ability to come up with long-running cheap programmes. All Our Yesterdays, Zoo Time

SK: Just explain what All Our Yesterdays was.

MR: As I remember it, I stand to be corrected, it was essentially a collection of archive film, cinema, newsreels and photographs from that week, I can’t remember, was it 25 years ago? Brian English did it. He wasn’t the only one. Brian English was the main presenter. What the Papers Say is about 50 years old, isn’t it?

SK: Are there any stand-out journalists you worked with?

MR: Everyone. I mean, Allan Rusbridger went on to become the editor of The Guardian. Peter MacKay was very successful, the gossip columnist person. Richard Ingrams was incredibly witty. Ian Hislop later. Michael Leapman, independent [/The Independent?]. Paul Foot. I think one of my best moments on What the Papers Say was a Paul Foot programme after the Bradford fire and we were talking about the quality of the coverage, and it sounds obvious but we said we weren’t sure the local paper would have been quite so gung-ho. When we got the local paper, the Bradford Argus, it was completely different. It was calm, systematic, everything you would expect about compassionate coverage. And that was one of those really successful scripts, I remember that. He was able to show the exaggeration or the falsehood in the other report by comparing, A, B, A, B. I was probably on What the Papers Say a bit too long actually. It is a ritual.

[36:24]

I did the Aden programme in the End of Empire series for Lapping. That was good. We were lucky in that proper news film was available for Aden, and it wasn’t, say, for the independence of India or most of the African independence stories, or Kenya with the war and Mau Mau. Yes, there was some film. But in Aden it was just different. You had people on the ground filming, frankly quite a lot of army brutality. That worked well. There were two series with Paul Heiney on Europe, trotting around with Peter Swain who was the director. I was quite happy with those. It was early evening but it was quite entertaining. Apart from what you might call the “odds and sods” I think that’s roughly up to the point I leave.

<end of audio file: Mike Ryan.1.MP3>

<start of audio file: Mike Ryan.2.MP3>

Gerry Robinson took over the company, and that was that. One or two individuals stayed but basically they wanted to close the London office and flog it off. So we were made redundant. I think I was there about 27 years. The contract system ended around 1973-4. It partially related to the struggles on World in Action. If you have a situation where the reputation of the company depends on a person getting something right, that person can’t be in the situation of second-guessing whether they’re going to be in employment three months from now. Then the VAT system was a problem. You had to pay VAT on expenses for a short period of time. You’d be travelling with a crew and obviously running quite serious sums of money, all on an American Express card, I seem to remember. And all of which has to be accounted for, which was very time-consuming. Once you were on staff that didn’t happen. They moved to staff employment and the company began to expand at a fair rate of knots, from the small family firm to something quite a lot bigger. It was also the period of Brideshead and Jewel in the Crown.

SK: Did you feel it was a special company to work for?

MR: Yes. What made it exceptional was that the people at the top cared about television. They weren’t necessarily always right but they were always up for an argument. I’m thinking particularly of Forman and Plowright. They liked an argument. You could go from an argument about whether one shot should be in a film, to something quite fundamental, like, are we in danger under the law of contempt if we go now? I remember once I did a film with Richard Belfield on fraud in the building trade and concrete. It’s too boring to go into now but essentially it was a manufacturers’ oligopoly and it was going to come up at some point before the Restrictive Practices court. There was a super-sensitivity about whether this counted as contempt, and eventually after several legal meetings with Lord Goodman they took the risk. It wasn’t a programme they involved me on, the mole in British Steel. To put it in military terms, you felt they’d got your back. They were very good like that.

SK: They’d be supportive?

ML: Absolutely. There was a time I was in Uganda with Gillard after the fall of Amin and there was a union row involving the cameraman George Turner and Phil Taylor the sound man, and they didn’t turn up because the union was fighting over some issue of expenses with the crews. I had to fly back with great difficulty from Kampala and with not much hope of actually rectifying it, but I did rectify it. I persuaded them so eventually we were alright. That time I was entirely on the management’s side, I have to say. There were one or two union problems. I myself was a shop steward in London. My sympathies were generally speaking with the workers. But sometimes I think the actual arrangements that they’d inherited from the film industry were really quite difficult. There is a point where if you have too many people in a room you’re not going to get the quality of the interview you hope for. It wasn’t only an issue of costs. I think the good people were aware of that but there wasn’t an easy way out.

Eventually it resolved itself when the Robinsons of this world took over. Now often you’ll see credits: filmed, written and directed by one person. I think some of it’s gone too far. For example I constantly notice how poor the sound quality is on television because there’s nobody standing there with the mic, because the sound man is operating the equipment. Some of the technical standards leave quite a lot to be desired. Some of this was more than justified but at other times I think it went too far.

SK: When you were working with film, did that present problems in terms of turning a programme around? You had to finish at a particular time in order to get it developed?

ML: Film is very expensive, and if you can do it in two rolls, say 20 minutes of interviewing, it’s better than shooting four rolls. It’s even more the case if you’re in for a weekend edit where you would sometimes do two nights without sleep or crash out maybe for an hour or so. The physical business of editing the film couldn’t be avoided. The business of splicing the stuff and going backwards and forwards. S it put a hug premium on being well organised. But that said, there are times when you have no means of knowing what’s going to happen. For example if you have a demonstration that then turns into a riot. Other things happen. Film gets lost at airports. It’s quite hard.

I know in later years when I’d left Granada, in the new world of electronic recording and computers, it was unrecognisably easier. In fact sometimes that encouraged a certain slackness in interviewing because now you didn’t try to get it in, say, 15 minutes. An hour that rambles round the point but doesn’t actually ask the point was one of those things you really had to stop people from doing. You have to say, “He’s got to be asked why he did this. What are his reasons?” It’s almost like having a GPS system in a car, you don’t have to think. That said, it’s quite obvious, particularly in the area of graphics. I wince when I think how crude our graphics were, but then there was no electronic alternative then.

[09:32]

SK: And you also would have had to finish filming early.

ML: We had to meet certain deadlines. Like, a slash print had to be produced when it left the lab on a Saturday night and be available for cutting three or four hours later. You had to finish it, and somebody had to come and neg-cut it, i.e. align the original negative with the slash print, which again was a process which couldn’t be done very quickly, maybe a couple of hours, it depends how complicated it was. Then you get the transmission print. There are clear moments beyond which you cannot go if you’re aiming for transmission that night.

SK: That, in effect, would mean that if you were finishing filming on the Friday, by the Monday any number of events could have happened in between, so your story was only up-to-date on Friday.

ML: Sometimes there was the kind of rewrite over the opening credits or the last shot: ‘since then we have learned X, Y and Z’. It was one of those consequences of obstacles that come from the process of film. You couldn’t do anything about it. There were some very great cameramen, I mentioned earlier Vince on Biko, George Turner is superb and always was, some of the crews were really good. Kelvin Hendry, who is unfortunately no longer with us, was a great editor on World in Action. If you could do it with him, you tried to, because he was just so clear about his cutting. Someone said of him that you could tell a Kelvin-edited film within about three shots. Maybe that was an overstatement.

What else do I need to talk about here? Granada as a company and maybe Plowright and Forman. I think the important thing at Granada for me personally coming out of the BBC was the unbelievable short chain of command: the editor, Plowright, Forman, and that’s it. Things weren’t allowed to drift. Also when it’s as simple as that it’s not a constant clash of egos because when you get 8 or 10 people round a table you’re going to get a very difficult decision made sometimes. I think they sort of preserved that side of it. As they expanded they obviously had an HR and PR department, and things which people had done on the back of an envelope very quickly were suddenly somebody else’s job. There was a bit of that. But not that much. I don’t think there was much waste there at all. Also, as was once said by Dennis Healey, Forman had “hinterland”. He knew about opera. He had written a book on Mozart’s piano concertos. He was very well connected. I think he was just wise. He’d been in the war and had seen quite stressful things and indeed lost a leg. He just was a wise man. You didn’t always agree with him but you knew it was a respectful argument.

SK: Hugely respected.

ML: He was, and so was Plowright. Plowright was a very good ideas man, a bit less good on the mechanics, like who you get, what the best possibilities are, what the middle level is where you can make the programme but it won’t be as good as it could be unless you do this and this. But he understood the crucial importance of research. What was unusual about them was that they were always interested in the substance of the programme. That may sound a slightly odd thing to say but I’ve known television executives since then who were certainly not interested in the substance of the programme but were interested in where it was going in relations to their own careers.

Partially, it’s a different world. According to the famous phrase, I think by Lord Thompson, it was a licence to print money. They didn’t have to worry about the operational expenses that much because it was in a sense a tax write-off. They didn’t have to worry about the bottom line all the time, whereas I’m sure everyone knows that in an independent production you have a budget and that’s it. In film production it’s a pretty brutal way of doing things because if you haven’t got the money you can’t do it. But there are a lot of things you can’t know, if you’re doing something controversial or sensitive, for example whether you are going to get key interviewee A. Or if you don’t get A, will you get B, and will B do it if A hasn’t? It’s difficult to translate it all into terms of a budget before you set off to make it. Obviously you make an attempt but it’s hard.

SK: People have said to me that Granada was unashamedly left-wing.

MR: Yes, I think that’s true. I wouldn’t say left-wing, I would say anti-establishment. I can think of some individuals who were Conservatives actually. But the broad picture was what you might call the Labour Party consensus of the seventies. I think, in all, honest people who work as journalists, who could easily do something else if they’ve got qualifications, have some feelings that they might try to, if not change the world, then at least draw attention to certain problems. If you think about it, look at Ken Loach making Cathy Come Home in 1966. He hasn’t ever changed his opinions. He’s known for being and he is a radical left-winger. But then there was an explosion of shame and controversy about homelessness and particularly the shortage of housing. Now it’s sort of on page 7 with occasional notes. The mass media is not jumping up and down on the shortage of housing in this country at this very time. I think there has been a hardening of what I would call the public conscience anyway. It may be that there was a certain sentimentality about the way things were when we started but it was after all the sixties.

SK: And a lot of campaigning programmes.

MR: A lot of campaigning programmes, yes. For example, on prison conditions, housing, health, mental health. The late [?????] made a brilliant film. She was trained as a nurse, and she got a job as a nurse at some dreadful hospital in, I think, Staffordshire – not the one that became famous in recent times. But she investigated it. It was called Ward F13. Her combination of her actual nursing skill and her – she was a bit like Sue Lloyd-Roberts who died earlier this year, she was the kind of woman who never took no for an answer.

SK: It is a fantastic film, that.

MR: Wallington was there as the kind of help-mate of Leslie Woodhead. He was a talented writer, his contacts were good and he did have a very good journalistic sense: when things were surfacing, being first, and those kinds of considerations. I had some time for him actually. What he didn’t really know what the mechanics of production, but I suppose up to a point it didn’t matter and he wasn’t paid to do that. Occasionally he would make requests which were daft because he hadn’t understood the technical point, but he was a good man, he did his bit.

SK: Allan Segal?

MR: Allan was a good film director. He held his own. He because co-editor with Ray Fitzwalter, I think just after I left the programme, so I didn’t work with him, but he was fine. He got on very well with Scott, I know that.

John Birt wasn’t there very long. There was a big row about some programme David Frost did, an interview. I can’t remember the details. But John Birt is a very good example of family firm patronage. He’d only done a programme called Nice Time with Germaine Greer and the comedian Kenny Everett. He was very funny. It had been very successful, fair enough. He was made editor of World in Action when he hadn’t really done anything. I think he’d been a researcher on the famous Mick Jagger interview with John Shepherd as the director. His good points were that he was bright in terms of understanding arguments and scripts and making suggestions, but he had no experience of doing it. I’m sure he picked up a bit but Gus did much of that. He’s a rather cold person, John. I’m not surprised that in later years he was rubbished by a lot of people in the BBC. He gave the nation ‘Birt-speak’. They were under-crewed. There is a point below which you cannot go. You need enough people. They started off with a rather short list. And then he suddenly moved on. He became Mr. London Weekend Television very quickly.

SK: Anything else that you’d like to add? You talked a bit about the difference between the BBC and Granada.

MR: The BBC responds to competition, so the BBC in one period will be different to the BBC or Granada in another period. Perhaps I’ve tilted it more in terms of the sixties and seventies, but I do think that the central model is rather like putting on play, you only need a producer, a director and a writer, and a cast. You’ve got to get all those things right, and the design. You’ve got to be there at the time you said you were going to be there. Everything else is small change. These constant labels, you almost can’t invent it, ‘Head of External Relations’. The disastrous pattern in the BBC seems to be that people who should be fired are not fired, but promoted. That becomes very irritating to those who are doing the work. The most famous case recently was the Jimmy Saville business. I don’t think Granada was like that ever, though it started to move a bit in that direction. Who is in charge of this, you know? It’s rather like successful newspapers, really, you need an editor and you need a reported and a columnist. These are clear functions, you fill the paper, that’s it. I think it was really the triumph of Gerry Robinson for all kinds of other reasons, like the rest of the Granada group and taking over all that. There is this nuisance called television. “Well, I suppose we need Coronation Street.” “I suppose we need this and that.”

What I will say is that everybody plays by the same rules, i.e. we’re in a free market where people sign contracts to do things, that’s what we call television now. In a way, that’s the source of the BBC’s difficulties, because they have a structure which in essence is out of date. Remember people who are employed in senior management positions who are not really required are going to be holding meetings. It’s brilliantly satirised in that Hugh Bonneville thing West One [(W1A?)]. So while it’s still the greatest broadcasting organisation in the world and it’s still producing so much good stuff, it’s going to be so easily out-flanked unless they get themselves back to that basic model, which is where we started. Somebody has to be in charge. Somebody has to be there to say, “We’re going to court on this if necessary and we’ll fight it.” That’s the bit the accountants never like because you never know how much it’s going to cost. It particularly affects obviously investigative programmes, but it can affect others. You need rumbustious management. And we certainly had it and I think we were grateful for it.

SK: That’s a great point to end, unless there’s anything else specific?

MR: Thank you. No.

<end of audio file: Mike Ryan.2.MP3>

Share.

Leave A Reply