Mike Beckham

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Interview transcript

Mike Beckham

By Geoff Moore, November 4th 2015

 

Geoff Moore (Interviewer): This is the interview with Mike Beckham, November 4 2015, for the Granada project. So, Mike, when did you join Granada?

Mike Beckham: I joined Granada in 1962. I was picked up at university, | was very lucky. I won the NUS Sunday Times drama competition and by great good luck, Derek Granger happened to be in the audience. I’d done a lot of theatre at university, and he said, would you like to apply for a production trainee scheme at Granada? I knew nothing about it, or about television. We didn’t even have a television set in our house. I turned up in Manchester and was interviewed by Dennis Forman and I realised what an incredible man he was immediately. He was incredibly handsome, erudite, great command of language, huge charm, very polite. He said, as far as I’m concerned, you’ve got the job, but you have to do and be interviewed by Mr Sidney and Mr Cecil, and I hadn’t a clue who they were, I thought they were two benign hairdressers. And I found myself in the presence of Sidney Bernstein, you know, a great patrician, very handsome, broken nose, and I realised he was the important man. And within two minutes I discovered we were talking about the playwright Bertolt Brecht, the Marxist playwright. We got on very well, and I was luckily offered the job.

GM: So you were spotted by Derek Granger?

MB: Yes, I was spotted by Derek Granger, who’s been a friend ever since. He was talent spotting.

GM: And so he invited you to apply for trainee scheme?

MB: That’s right. As production trainees, we were extraordinarily privileged because we were in a position where we knew we were going to be producer-directors. I joined on the same day as Leslie Woodhead. We were the second batch of production trainees. The following year were Mike Apted and Mike Newell, so that was the golden year. And within two years, 18 months, I found myself directing Coronation Street. This was early-mid 60s, and this was the golden time of Coronation Street. It was Pat Phoenix, Violet Carson, Anne Reid, characters like Annie Walker, Jack Walker, Bill Roach, Mr Swindley. Wonderful scripts by northern writing like Jack Rosenthal, Peter Eckersley, and we even got Jim Allen, the Marxist playwright, who wrote some early scripts.

It was quite an exciting time, because there were three directors. We did two shows every three weeks, two half hour shows, all on videotape. No editing. So on the Friday afternoon when you ran the show, you put the captions on, and you ran scene after scene after scene, with no editing. So it was effectively a live show. If an actor fluffed, too bad. If a cameraman made a mistake, too bad. And if a boom was in shot, you lived with it. It was exciting television, great stuff to work on. It was probably one of the most exciting times of my life, because you’re in the deep end.

I got to know Pat Phoenix. She treated Coronation Street, because she was the big star, a bit like Hollywood on the Irwell… I remember once going out to her house, which had a heart-shaped swimming pool. We drank Dom Pérignon and she did treat it a bit like Hollywood.

I joined at the same time as a producer called Tim Aspinall, and he was told to get rid of some members of the cast. And the second show I did, we had to kill off Martha Longhurst, which was very sad, and she simply had a heart attack in the snug and fell over. This was a very actress called Lynne Carol. From then on, Tim and I would treat her with great respect, because we were the great reapers. I used to go to people’s dressing rooms at lunchtime on Friday to give them notes – “oh yes, have a glass of champagne,” you know, “have a bottle of champagne!”

[00:05:54]

GM: So what year are we talking about here?

MB: 1964 I’d say for Coronation Street, or 65.

GM: How long were you on the show?

MB: A year.

GM: So you were doing it as live, half hour, record. But wasn’t it all in one studio?

MB: It was all in studio two. Very occasionally there was a tiny bit of film, that was fed in live, gut it was all done in studio two, which is not a big studio, so you had to move the cameras around from set to set, live, move the booms around. It was very challenging and an incredibly good way to learn live television.

GM: Because a lot of dramas were done that way in those studios, weren’t they?

MB: Yep, but mainly in the bigger studio. Yes, the other dramas were done like that. I think there was some kind of videotape editing with the bigger dramas. I did one or two detective series after that, which were not all that good, and I have a feeling they were done in this semi-live way. I don’t think there was much editing. Because videotape editing then, in the mid-60s, was an incredibly crude process. You had to put iron filings onto this two-inch tape, look at where the line of the speech and the picture was, which would come up with the iron filings, and then cut along this strange line. I still don’t understand it.

GM: Just to go back to when you were at Leeds, what were you studying?

MB: Chemical engineering. I didn’t actually do much chemical engineering because I hated it, so I did a lot of drama.

GM: Did you know then that you wanted to be in drama?

MB: Yes. I’d done a little bit of work at York Rep [?] [00:07:58] and this was just totally fortuitous, that I won the Sunday Times competition. There were a lot of bigwigs in the audience, including somebody from Granada.

GM: And the trainee scheme, you were part of an elite, weren’t you?

MB: We were very much an elite. There were five of us. There was Leslie, myself, Cecil Bernstein’s son Alex Bernstein, a guy called John Bassett who had put together at university beyond the fringe [?] [00:08:41], and a girl called Caroline Seabone, whose father ran Barclay’s bank. Only Leslie and I survived. The others left for various reasons; they wanted to do other things. And you know, it was a major step up in television, because if Derek hadn’t been in the audience… people ask me how do you get in television, well, I don’t know these days, you have to be in the right place at the right time, or know somebody, you know.

GM: Absolutely. I remember the trainee scheme. I remember John Birt was on it, was Gus on it?

MB: No.

GM: Michael Apted

MB: Oh, John Birt was after Michael Apted with Charlie Sturridge I think. I may be wrong about that, I can’t remember now.

[00:09:43]

GM: So take us from Coronation Street, what was your next move?

MB: I then did some not very good detective series that I didn’t like and they weren’t all that good. I asked to start making films. I joined a series called ‘This England’ run by Denis Mitchell and Norman Swallow, who were two very good documentary filmmakers. The key to the series was that there would be no commentary, so these were authored films. So you’d make films about something that you had a passion about. They were very difficult to make because we were kind of babies in this new genre. And portable film cameras had just appeared, the Arton [?] [00:10:40]. And I remember Denis Mitchell didn’t suffer fools gladly. You’d show him a rough cut, and he’d look at it and say, OK, well when you’ve got something to show me, I’ll come again, and he’d walk out of the cutting room.

They were both vey tough, but in the end there were some quite nice films made there. I made a film about Manchester University and found Anna Ford actually, she was one of the people in my… I picked out four students. What else did I make? I made a film about a village in Derbyshire.

Anyway, after that, around 1968, I saw a lot of people like John Sheppard walking around Granada in combat fatigues, and I thought, that looks interesting. He’d just come back from Vietnam. I’d done quite a lot of journalism at university, and I said, can I join World In Action? And within two years, I found myself climbing in helicopters in Vietnam, which was extraordinary. You know, you’d be in Manchester in the stables and a week later you’d be in a battle somewhere in Vietnam.

I made, I think, over 100 World In Actions over twenty years. I was on the series far too long. It became like a drug. I filmed in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Chile, Bangladesh, Brazil, Israel, Uganda. Trouble spots. I did a lot of war films. And there were a lot of very good colleagues on World In Action – John Sheppard, Jo Durden-Smith, very talented people, Leslie Woodhead, Geoff Moore, John Birt. And it was a unique programme. It was the programme to be on, because we did shows that nobody else touched.

GM: Can I just ask you, what year did you start?

MB: 1968 on World In Action.

GM: And you’d been coming out of filmmaking-

MB: Out of This England, yes.

GM: Did you start on World In Action as a director?

MB: I started as a director-producer. The first film I made for World In Action was about a public school, Marlborough, which was letting working-class children in. It was called The Guinea Pigs. The next film I made with Geoff Moore about James Griffiths, which caused a lot of trouble but it was a very strong film. It was about a man who was psychiatrically disturbed, who shot eight people in Glasgow, and we looked into his background and reconstructed it. It caused a lot of trouble, but it was an authored film, and you know, it was good.

GM: In what way did it cause trouble? Just remind me.

MB: It caused trouble in that we had a camera on the streets and a man running round with a rifle, and we didn’t tell the police. The police were very upset about this and they complained to Granada. It was very naïve on my part, but it was a good film in the end.

[00:14:48]

GM: can I just ask, were you Manchester-based throughout?

MB: I was Manchester-based for about two or three years, and then I managed to get down to London where there was an office, because I always wanted to be in London. I was going to talk about other World In Actions later. I then moved onto drama documentaries. These were an offshoot of World In Action. We found, this is Leslie Woodhead and myself, we found various stories behind the Iron Curtain, which we couldn’t get a camera to for obvious reasons, but we could often get, say, a transcript of a trial of dissidents, or an area like that. So what we did, we’d reconstruct the story with actors using the transcripts for the trial, or we’d sneak in to Czechoslovakia with a tape recorder and get a story. And these were new and unique. The name of the game there was that you couldn’t invent characters or scenes, you had to follow a chronological order, so it was still journalism. You could compress time. If someone was interrogated by the police five times, you could reduce that to two. And these were the forerunners of when you see on a screen, “based on a true story”. These really were true stories. We didn’t make up dialogue.

GM: It sounds like you’re very proud of this programme.

MB: Very much so. I made one about some trials in Czechoslovakia. I made one about a man called Jan Kalina, who was a professor of jokes at Bratislava University. And he told underground jokes. So he had an underground cabaret. And these were political jokes against the regime. Czechoslovakia then was a Soviet satellite, much under the thumb of Moscow. And he told these jokes and he was arrested for them. I was going to talk about that later.

I then did a very big drama documentary called Who Bombed Birmingham, which was about the Birmingham Six. It was a two-hour film with John Hurt in it. And we managed to get to the truth of who’d actually bombed Birmingham and reconstructed it. We named, not the Birmingham Six, because they were innocent, but we named five IRA people who had actually planted the bombs, and that helped our six to get out of prison, where they’d been for 16 years.

Then I went back to factual programmes. I did two or three Disappearing Worlds, in Brazil, which was very exciting. This was really exciting, Boys’ Own stuff. A tribe in the middle of nowhere, you’d land on a light plane at a jungle strip, you’d take a canoe for two days upriver, and you’d find yourself in a village of tribesmen with spears, and we’d make a film about them. This was very exciting.

And then, what else do I remember? Before I left, I made some films with Prince Michael of Kent. I made two two-hour films, first of all about the Tsar Nicholas of Russia, who he was related to, and then Queen Victoria, who he was related to. The royal family often get a pretty bad press for being anti-intellectual and against culture, but Prince Michael was a pretty extraordinary guy, cousin of the Queen, spoke many languages – very good Russian, very good French and German. And I would write a link for him for the camera, and he’d say, “yes, dear boy, that’s fine”, and he’d go out in the car and have a look at it, and he’d play around and come up with something much more interesting, which he’d deliver beautifully in a very deep voice. He’d never done any television before and he was absolutely brilliant. And then I left Granada.

GM: What year was that?

MB: 1998.

GM: But the majority of your time was spent on World In Action?

MB: Yeah. And then doing the odd documentary, yeah.

GM: 110+ World In Actions. The record is held by Brain Blake, isn’t it?

MB: That’s right, 120, something like that.

GM: Are you number 2?

MB: I think I am, yeah. I’ve no idea. I must be.

GM: It’s an incredible number.

MB: It was a drug.

GM: You enjoyed it.

MB: I loved it, yeah. I was very lucky because I spent a lot of time getting on and off planes and I did a lot of shows in the States, and I like working in third world countries, I appreciate that very much.

[00:20:45]

GM: When I worked on it, it was a fantastic privilege to be working on an intelligent show amongst talented filmmakers. And of course you had all these slots as well, there was a huge demand for programmes.

MB: Absolutely.

GM: Which World In Actions really stand out as ones you’re most proud of?

MB: It’s extraordinary being in Vietnam because as I say, you’ve been in the stables, and then a week later you’re in a helicopter in a battle zone. You had total access. The Americans allowed crews to go anywhere they wanted to, all you had to do was go to Tan Son Nhut and say, is there a helicopter going to so-and-so and you’d be there.

I made a film called the Siege of Kontum early on. Kontum was a town near the Ho Chi Minh trail. It was surrounded and we were helicoptered into it. It was surrounded by the Vietcong and the North Vietnamese Army. And we watched that town defend itself, which was pretty exciting.

I late made another siege film at Phnom Penh with George Turner and Alan Bale. It was the last town left in Cambodia before it collapsed, and it was surrounded by the murderous Khmer Rouge. We didn’t know how bad they were. We knew a lot of journalists had disappeared and never came back, which certainly didn’t happen in Vietnam. If you were captured, you were taken to Hanoi, but the Khmer Rouge just killed journalists. And this was very exciting because we filmed a convoy coming over from Saigon to supply the town. This was the last month, and we got out, thank goodness.

Five years later I went back with George and Alan to look at the shambles which was left after… this was year zero, and we were the second unit in, and it was just extraordinary. Phnom Penh was a deserted town, and people were coming in, everybody had an extraordinary story to tell about the Khmer Rouge. Amazing stories. The Khmer Rogue had this mad idea to set up a new race. They wanted to reduce all the middle class and kill them. So what they did was, when the emptied the town in ’75, just after we left, first of all they killed all the members of the army. Then they killed all the doctors, and all the university professors. Then they killed anyone wearing glasses. And then they would leave prescriptions for drugs laying around, and if you picked them up, they would kill you. And so what was left was some middle class who managed to hide and pretend to be something else, but mainly a peasant race. And coming back into Phnom Penh was extraordinary, because in 1980, they decided to get rid of all cars, so there was this huge dump of cars. Get rid of all fridges. They wanted to start from zero, that’s why it was called year zero. That was quite moving and quite extraordinary.

I did a three-part series called The Rise and Fall of the CIA with Geoff Moore in Washington. We were there for five weeks, and we charted how the CIA had changed from a benign anti-communist operation to an operation that supported corrupt generals in Latin America and Africa, and suddenly it was no longer a force for good. We caused a bit of a stir in Washington because it became known that there was a British film unit which had the temerity to question the CIA, and at one stage a former director of the CIA, James Angleton, came to our hotel, to find out what we were doing, which was flattery, if you like.

I did a film called The Hunt for Doctor Mengele. Mengele was the doctor at Auschwitz, and this was about 1980. He was one of the most wanted men in the world. We heard he was in Paraguay. We got close to him. We were using a hidden camera. We went to a German community there. We didn’t get him but we talked to people who’d played cards with him the night before. We made an hour-long film. I was unfortunately arrested and thrown out, threatened with being beaten up and tortured, and thrown out, but we made a strong film, which CBS 60 Minutes bought.

[00:27:01]

GM: I just have to ask you – beaten up and tortured?

MB: I was threatened. I was stood against a wall all night and a 16-year old – this was in Paraguay – kept banging me in the back with his rifle butt until I fell over. And then the next day I managed to talk my way out a difficult situation, and the American ambassador got me out of it. We had happened to interview him a week before and he’d heard about this and he was very anti the regime there and he got me out.

GM: Gosh. You must have been in dangerous situations many times. Did you never think to yourself, this isn’t the life for me?

MB: We were stupid and young. We were doing things that I would never do now. We were in battle areas, particularly in South East Asia, and we wanted to get the best film there was. You know, I had very good crew and usually George, now and then, Bale, and they were the most wonderful people because we were all equal on that. If there was a dangerous situation, if somebody didn’t want to go forward to a trench where there was some fighting, or a wood where there was some fighting, they could say no and none of us went forward. The three of us had to agree to do it. And I said, look, we’re going to go to a besieged town, do you want to do it, and they always said yes. We were probably slightly naïve but we got away with it. There are things I did then I certainly wouldn’t do now.

What else am I proud of? Tiny Revolutions, this drama documentary about this professor about of jokes in Czechoslovakia. I saw a five-line Reuters piece saying a man called Jan Kalina had been arrested for telling political jokes. I thought that looked interesting, so I went to Czechoslovakia, which was a Soviet satellite, and talked to his wife. He’d been arrested, but he’d run an underground cabaret of political jokes – anti-communist jokes, anti-Brezhnev jokes, anti-Stalinist jokes. For example, “what’s two hundred yards long and eats cabbage? A meat queue in Czechslovakia”. “Why do Czech secret policemen walk around in threes? One does the reading, one does the writing, and the third one keeps an eye on the other two intellectuals.” It was a wonderful story. Jan Kalina was interrogated by Czech secret police for three months and he told jokes for three months. I got a lot of this stuff from his wife. He was then tried and spent four years in prison, but here was a perfect shape for a drama – the cabaret scripts, a man being arrested, telling jokes to his interrogators, making fun of the them and, the communist party, and then the trial. So it was one of the best scripts and ideas I’ve ever come across. It worked pretty well actually. Liverpool Playhouse said let’s make this into a play, so I rewrote it as a play, which wasn’t quite as successful, but it had all the cabaret stuff in, the drama, the songs, that sort of stuff.

What else am I proud of? The Birmingham Six, 1975. Six men had been arrested in 1975 for blowing up two pubs in Birmingham, killing a lot of people, and they’d been in prison for sixteen years. World In Action did several very good shows, Ian McBride, showing how dubious the Crown evidence was. But it was still getting nowhere. I went over to Ireland and talked to some of the senior IRA members in Belfast, who said, “look, these men are innocent. I’m fed up of their relatives saying, when are we going to get the Birmingham Six out?” And I said, OK, what’s the story? And they said there was a split in the IRA. The people who did the bombing were from Dublin, and “us northerners”, Belfast people, didn’t approve of this. So I was given various pointers, and we actually managed to get to some of the people who had actually done it, and we named them, which caused a huge row. But it was a two-hour film and I think it helped. It really got the six out of prison. That was good.

[00:33:12]

GM: Can I ask you about World In Action again, and the administration of it, and the politics of it? It was a hell of a demanding operation. Did you feel you had the backing of Granada management and the resources and so on?

MB: Yeah. It was one of Granada’s jewels in the crown, as it were. It had the money, it had the backing, and above all it had the talent. There were some fantastic producers on there and some very good editors like Jeremy Wallington and Leslie Woodhead, Gus Macdonald, John Birt. It had the backing and the management, particularly Dennis Forman, would always back us to the hilt. I made several mistakes on the programme and he would always get me out of it. Because it was an important programme, it was an advert for Granada’s guts and radical… and for that reason, we were always supported. I can’t think of any situations where… we were in trouble sometimes with management, but the programme got on the air, and there were bad World In Actions, but also a lot of very good ones. It was a great programme to work on.

The strength of World In Action was the range of programmes which were being touched at the time, which nobody else was touching. Corruption, third world problems, human rights, torture, more corruption. We weren’t just going around interviewing politicians, we were getting to the heart of it. And recently I saw some World In Actions and I thought, these are pretty good, did I actually make this? And what I’ve now realised that what it was all about was that there was no presenter between the subject and the audience, and that makes a heck of a difference. I don’t particularly like presenters. Certainly in current affairs I didn’t quite know what they’d do. We were making authored films, and the strength of the programme was the simple fact that there was no-one there telling the audience what they should hear or believe. They had to look at the facts in the programme, or the images, etc.

[00:36:00]

GM: I wonder if the view knew that it was an authored programme.

MB: I don’t think they did. They accepted World in Action was a kind of dashing programme, and given that we were getting audiences of ten million – OK, there were only three channels at the time – but the regular audience was ten million. You could go to South Africa and talk about the worst things of apartheid, and people would write in. It was Granada’s calling card, like Coronation Street.

GM: Absolutely. I just want to ask you about the London – Manchester thing and the way that… because Granada wasn’t just World In Action, it had drama, I think it was split between-

MB: The casting department.

GM: Did that work OK?

MB: Yes. I loved the smallness of Golden Square. You know, there was World In Action, the lovely girls in the casting department, very talented, and there was the drama department. We all drank together in the various pubs around Soho. And it was still great so go up to Manchester to see all the editors and researchers and camera crews and be in the stables. We were in a very lucky position, we had two bases and it was good.

GM: I remember the rooftop office in 36 Golden Square. It didn’t feel like Granada. I could imagine if you worked there all the time you probably didn’t feel like you worked at Granada, it was so-

MB: No, we didn’t, because there were a lot of wild people-

GM: I remember them.

MB: We used to drink quite a lot at lunchtime and still be back in the office in the afternoon working quite hard and into the evenings. It was a very good setup and we were very lucky.

GM: All the crews and editing were Manchester, weren’t they?

MB: Yeah.

GM: So you always had to make the journey up.

MB: Yep. The worst thing was the journey, but it was good to see old friends up there because Granada had been crated as a kind of benign public school with the very nicest people, and everybody got on, you didn’t have too many rows, and there were some really good friends up there, among the crews. I did mostly film so I didn’t do a lot of studio work after Coronation Street, and all my friends were the film crews and the editing crews. They were good, highly talented people, you know, absolutely the very best.

GM: So why did you leave? Did you leave from World In Action?

MB: I did various… you mean why did I finally leave the company?

GM: Yes.

MB: I retired in 1998. I’d been there for 36 years. I was then age 60. I was told to leave. It was very cold outside, I can tell you. It was not this wonderful benign outfit. Towards the end I hated Granada because it had been taken over by Gerry Robinson and it was no longer the place which it used to be. They made the cardinal mistake of getting rid of David Plowright, and the only thing they were interested in was asset stripping and ratings. There’s nothing wrong with ratings, but if David had been there, he would have still kept some of the great ideas and programmes that we’d all lived on. It was a much tougher time because there were lots and lots of channels, and I realised that, but it was only ratings, and there were a great deal of sackings and asset-stripping going on and I was quite pleased to leave, actually. You know, I’d been making some pretty dim programmes which I’d been asked to make, and I then became freelance and as an outsider slowly clawed my way back into making half-decent programmes again.

GM: So you got in through drama, but never went back to drama. Well, you did drama docs.

MB: Drama docs, that’s the only thing I ever did.

GM: You’re a documentary maker and that’s what you wanted to be.

MB: Yeah. I should have tried to make feature films. I had a tiny offer once but it never came to anything. I should have worked harder at that, because I think I could have made some kind of film. But you know, I look back with great pride and excitement, and mainly it was just working with some very good professionals and some incredibly nice people, you know, people who I really admired. Not just producers and directors, but even electricians who were good at their job and that kind of thing.

[00:41:37]

GM: What do you think is the legacy of Granada as a company?

MB: Well, I think it’s important that interviews like this try and keep it alive, because it was a remarkable company in that ratings weren’t the be all and end all. It was very important that there were good ratings, of course, but it was set up by Sidney and Cecil Bernstein. Cecil did the light entertainment, and it wasn’t trashy quiz programmes, it was Coronation Street, which was brilliant, University Challenge, All Our Yesterdays, which was pop history, and then the more heavyweight stuff like This England and World In Action, which were remarkable. And then of course the huge drama stand. First of all, Philip Mackie, and he had a kind of playhouse of actors, and then things like Brideshead and Jewel In The Crown. And then Laurence Olivier Presents, you know, in the late 80s/early 90s we were doing King Lear. It’s astounding. I remember Philip Mackie doing a stylised War And Peace. Extraordinary. It was the very best of public service broadcasting. ITV was meant to be public service broadcasting and some companies were more so than others. Granada was right at the pinnacle of this, and I remember at the Banff [?] TV festival in the early nineties, it was voted the best television company in the world. OK, take that with a pinch of salt but you know, it was as good as the BBC at one stage.

And it came down to something very simple. There was a very tiny pyramid structure in Granada. I was a producer-director answering to an executive producer or an editor. The next step was the programme controller. I would then be knocking on the door of Dennis Forman or David Plowright being told not to do something, or asking for advice, or help. You go to the BBC now and there’s a huge pyramid structure of all these management and people are upset because they don’t know who these people are, and they make decisions and nobody ever sees them.   Dennis and David ate in the canteen. Not all the time, but they ate in the canteen. And they wanted to talk to the lighting engineers. They wanted to talk to the riggers and the PAs as well as the producers. It was a great company. Unique.

I remember a couple of years ago, just after Dennis had died, there was a bit retrospective at the BAFTAs and a lot of old Granada luminaries were there. And I heard several people say exactly the same thing – we were so lucky. Mike Newell came up to me and said, we were so lucky. Derek Granger said we were so lucky. And Leslie said we were so lucky. We were in the right place at the right time and the important thing at the top of the company were some brilliant people. Dennis Forman was an extraordinary man, so was David Plowright. He learnt on the job. They were rode very hard by Sidney Bernstein who was apparently very difficult to get on with, but Sidney said, look, I’m not going to give the audience what they want, we’re going to lead the audience. The X factor gives the audience what they want. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not my cup of tea. Granada would never have done a programme like that, as commercial as that, they would have had something else going. In fact Johnnie Hamp had much better ideas than that. And I think also, Sidney once said to me, that a northern audience is much more intelligent than a London audience. They understand more, they’re better read. Whether that’s true, I don’t know, but he believed that. And he believed in the Manchester audience.

[00:46:33]

GM: Well, Plowright certainly had that view. They were all champions of the north. I suppose you would be if you’d buy the licence.

MB: Yeah. Maybe you had to be. But Coronation Street clicked with northerners because it was very very good. And This England, all of our shows were done up in the north. David Plowright really believed in the North. He was establishing Granada as part of Manchester, and if he had stayed, he would have been knighted. It was very sad that he went, because the company when I left was a sad place. All the fizz had gone, the light had gone out, you know. It was a sad place.

GM: OK, finally. What do you think of the new world of television, as it were? A, do you think ITV should bring World In Action back?

MB: Yes. World In Action was killed off during the reign of Gerry Robinson because it wasn’t getting enough ratings. OK, fair enough, there were a lot of channels. They were simply killed off, they said it’s just not… OK, it’s much more difficult to make current affairs now because we were doing shows which nobody ever touched. Now people do that kind of thing now, they do corruption. It’s much more expensive to do current affairs now, because we did six month investigations. You can’t afford to do that now. That’s why Channel 4 often links up with the Guardian and Panorama links up with a television channel, because it’s the only way you can afford to do it.

I still think current affairs is simply not good enough now. You can still make authored films. I find that a lot of the films today in current affairs are still looking for an audience. It’s, “OK, what are the problems of changing one bank for another?” Well, OK, fine. All that kind of stuff. It’s not exciting television. Maybe I’m wrong about this and maybe it’s what the audience wants, I don’t know.

[00:49:15]

GM: Any other things you…?

MB: I just want to say that I think World In Action had some extraordinary talent. Leslie Woodhead, Jo Durden-Smith in particular is brilliant, John Sheppard, Gus Macdonald, John Birt, there were very talented people there who did go for pretty wild ideas and they paid off. It was different and it was good. There was a lot of talent there. Why was there talent on there? Because the management put them there.

GM: I remember there were a lot of wild people these. These were crazy guys, especially when I went to London.

MB: Ernie Eban? [?]

GM: Was it Brian Thomas or Richard Thomas? And Eban.

MB: Perhaps we shouldn’t record this. Do you want some soup?

<end of transcript>

 

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