Interviewed by Geoff Moore, 8 December 2019.
So Sita, your early days, your early life. Tell us a bit about that.
Well, the reason I got into television was I grew up in Sri Lanka where there was no television. But I heard about someone, through a friend whose son had joined a television company and I thought, “Oh, that sounds good. I want to do that.” So anyway, I planned my career in a very kind of structured way imagining that I would reach my goal and to my surprise I did. I went to drama school because I wanted to have a theatre background, a drama production background. And then the drama school I went to had an arrangement with the university of Kent, where they took up to six students who’d done three years at drama school. And then you got exempt from the first year and you got a degree at the end of the two years, which was marvellous. So I did a drama school and then English and American literature.
And I applied for the BBC graduate training scheme, which I got on, which was extremely privileged as you know. And there began my career as a trainee at the BBC. I worked in radio and then in television. And what was marvellous was, you really learned your craft because… I know young people do today. We had the protection of the BBC, where you were paid a salary, you were chosen, you had a mentor. My mentor was the controller of BBC too, so they kind of watched your career. And then in television, my first proper job, as not as a trainee, funny enough was with the Michael Parkinson Show. And as you know, Michael did cinema for Granada television. And then after two years, we had to relocate to Manchester. So I wrote to Granada television, to Steve Morrison who was then the head of regional programmes. And I think they asked Michael Parkinson whether they should employ me. And Michael said yes. So I arrived at Granada.
Let me take you back on that a little bit, you had all of BBC graduate trainee course?
When you were how old?
Well, I went into further education later, so I think I was 25.
Did you know what you wanted to do?
Yes, I was going to be this television producer.
Producer, yes. Okay
From the age of 12 and the only organisation I knew growing up in the Commonwealth was the BBC.
Right. How did you get into Granada again?
Well then, we had to relocate as a family to Manchester and I thought, “Well Granada television actually does the best drama I’ve seen.” For example, there was, I remember very clearly Peter Eckersley’s production of Hard Times and I thought, “I’m going to go there.” So, I applied. Steve Morrison encouraged me to apply he and Sandy Ross.
And so I remember very clearly arriving at Piccadilly station because we were still living in London. And I said, “Granada Television.” And this young man said to me, “Oh, can we share a taxi? I’m going to Granada too.” So we got into the taxi together and it was after the strike, the ITV very long strike. And the young man said to me, “What you’re going to do at Granada?” And I said, “I’ve just joined as a producer. I’ve come from the BBC in London.” And I said to him, “And what are you going to be doing?” And he said, “Oh, I’ve just taken over directing a thing called Brideshead Revisited.” And it was Charles Sturridge.
My goodness. So that’s how you came to be in Granada.
The first thing you worked on?
I didn’t really make the connection that what Steve Morrison and Sandy were doing were regional programmes. That was a bit of a shock.
And I did Live From Two, with a wonderful person called Shelley Rohde, and it was a fantastic show. It came from studio two and we had all sorts of wonderful interviewees and Shelley was a journalist as you know, she was originally a journalist. And she was terrific, it was Nick Turnbull and Shelley Rohde And then it was just Shelley. And I took over from Stephen Leahy, who had been the producer of Live From Two.
All right. Now the Parkinson show was before that then?
Yes, Parkinson was at BBC. I was a producer Parkinson at the BBC.
So it was obviously a good fit for me to move into the first kind of live discussion, in Granada. And it was very good. And one of the people I remember we had on the show and I said to Shelley, “I really don’t like him.” And we gave him a hard time, which he was very upset about was Jimmy Savile.
Because we questioned his support of charities and his proselytising Christianity. It didn’t smell right and Shelley was very good at that.
And I don’t suppose they ever kept that interview, but I remember it as a very, very special interview.
It may have been kept.
In front of an audience because Live from Two was done in front of an audience. And then I moved on because Steve Hawes left producing Celebration. And I loved Celebration because I worked with Tony Wilson then and we did extraordinary things in studio two. We did New Order, we did all the bands that he was promoting or he hadn’t started Factory even then, I’m not quite sure.
What year are we talking about?
1981, it was Celebration. And we managed extraordinary things in that Studio Two for Celebration. And we had no editing facilities, nothing. So it was all extraordinary. So it was a great time.
Yes. So you were producer of the series?
And then I thought, “Well, I’ve come to Granada to do drama,” and David Plowright was the managing director. So I got an appointment with him and I said, “Actually David, I only came here in order to do drama.” The arrogance of a young person. “And this is my background, I worked in drama at the BBC before I became a Parkinson producer and that’s what I’d like to do.” And the joy of television in those days, within 48 hours, he rang me and he said, “You can start producing Crown Court next week.”
So that was my first drama job, Crown Court.
So you’ve told me how you got into Granada television. You didn’t come in as a journalist or…?
You didn’t want to be a director, particularly?
You knew what you wanted to do.
Yes, yes, yes. I knew my limitations.
Or a researcher, you were never a researcher?
I was a research obviously at the BBC as part of my training. So I had done a huge amounts of that before I became a producer on Michael Parkinson. So I was at the BBC from ‘76 to ‘80.
I see. So you arrived at Granada as a producer.
Leslie Woodhead was one of the people on my board.
Oh, yes, yes. As he was on mine, in ‘77.
Andy McLaughlin had just been appointed a producer, Max Graesser and Sarah Harding, who is still directing drama in television
Is she really?
Yes, she’s had a renaissance and she’s directing. ….
So tell us about the first impressions of Granada. You’ve been on some regional programmes, Celebration and Live From Two and the people and you were new to Manchester?
I was totally new to Manchester.
What were your feelings about the whole setup?
Of Granada? I thought it was an extraordinary place. Peter Eckersley was still there, but I think he left shortly afterwards because he wasn’t well. And he started Wood and Walters, Victoria Wood and Julie Walters. Howard, he was wonderful. He was doing… I thought all the drama people were extraordinary. Dick Everett and Peter Rogers, I remember him. And all the women, June Wyndham Davis and they were Diana, I’ve forgotten Diana’s name. They were very good women producers as well. And Bill Podmore was in charge of Coronation Street. David Plowright said to me, “I’ll never let you direct Coronation Street because you will put an Asian corner shop in that street.” People could say things like that in those days.
And you never did.
And I never did.
On Crown Court, that was a long running series.
Yes it was. I was the last of the Crown Court producers and it ran over three afternoons a week. And then at that time we had a wonderful head of scripts called Gerry Hagan. And we had a very substantial script research department and with Gerry’s help I decided that we… and of course through his guidance we decided that Crown Court should now be used because it was such a structured format. And you’ve got wonderful actors because they didn’t have to learn their scripts to be prosecution or defence. So you got Anthony Shaw, you know, big name actors. But I wanted to use it as a forum for new writing. And so my series of Crown Court, I’m really proud of that, had new writers, Debra Moggach, who’s now a novelist, Guy Hibbert, who’s well known film script writer who also does drama-doc type films. John Godber who was in Hull. Richard O’Keefe, who died. A number of new writers because they could be supported by a very rigid structure. And they all, every writer has one thing that really wants to write about, so as a new writer they all had fantastic stories. So that was that. And we had a jury as you probably know, of people off the street, to decide on a verdict. And I got very tired of the not guilty verdicts. I thought this was a drama. So I’d go into the jury room and try and sway it a bit because they got enamoured and I would ply their performances. So I did a little manipulation, so we got a change of verdict.
Yes, you can’t leave people themselves to sort it out. I’ve been there myself. And so this was sort of a ground, this was still quite early in your career as a producer.
Very early, yes. As a drama producer, yes.
A drama producer and you could bring in writers who weren’t famous.
But how did a writer get work on the Crown Court?
Well Gerry and his team had either seen like John created and wrote for Hull Truck company. So they were very good at scouting people either in the theatre or they sent in spec scripts, things you can’t do nowadays. And then we would meet with them and take a punt on new writing.
And what about directors?
Was that from Granada’s stable?
Oh, it was always the Granada stable.
Oh, I see.
Yes. I don’t know if David Liddiment didn’t direct a couple, but I can’t remember.
So then you went from Crown Court, tell us your next move.
I think the next move was Bulman, which Dick Everitt had been producing. And that had Don Henderson as a private eye. And Siobhan (Redmond)… oh, I’ve forgotten, she’s still on television, her surname… was his sidekick. And Bulman had a passion for repairing clocks, that was his idiosyncrasy, but he was also a private eye. And I think originally they had Mark McManus who then went on to do his own series. And what was it, I remember I said this to Sarah Harding, who I’ve met recently, that Sarah directed some Bulman and I said, “David…” Production manager.
No, David Meddick.
Dave Meddick some years ago said, “Do you know I’ve got an old Bulman schedule to show you.” And I looked at it, I said, “What? Three scenes a day, is that all?” And he said, “Yes. And you were the producer and Sarah Harding was the director.” That was a whole different ballgame then.
Three scenes in an entire day.
I’ve got your CV here…
Yes. Is that right? You probably know better than me.
… that came before.
Did Bulman right. The Practice, I thought it’s such a shame really that… that David Plowright suggested a set up. I had the idea and it was set in a general practice probably in Hulme, for example. And it was a brilliant idea because we told the stories of individual patients as well as the team from the front of house receptionists to the doctors. And we really didn’t go into the private lives of either the doctor’s homes or the character’s, the patient’s homes. And the first episode got 16 million, which I don’t think they thought was really enough.
Really? What slot did that have?
It had, I think it was 8:00.
Mm-hmm, and it was just half an hour. And of course now the BBC, in the afternoon, have a show that’s run for zillion years…
Called the Practice or Practice or whatever. But then David Liddiment and Camilla came up with an alternative idea that entrance David Plowright called Albion Market. So we were dropped and Albion…
The Market took over that alternative.
How did you fell about that?
Well, oh, I don’t know. I wasn’t that upset, but I thought it was a mistake, because I felt there were endless stories to tell. And without, I mean Kay’s a wonderful writer, but I thought one of the problems with Albion Market where there were too many central characters, like there were 25 central characters, and how did you relate to? I know they took turns and I’m sure all of that. I didn’t think it was as good as The Practice, but there you go. I would wouldn’t. As Mandy Rice-Davies would say she, wouldn’t she?
But you didn’t work on Albion…
No, no, no. Because I went on, I think then. Did I do Bulman after that?
Yes. And the next one I’ve got is After The War.
Yes. Which was a big show.
Yes. It Mike Cox was the first producer on that. It was Gerry Hagan’s pet… very treasured project because he’d managed to persuade Frederick Raphael to write 12 episodes of this. And it was Frederick’s a life story in a way. Mike Cox was the producer of the first four episodes, was it? I’m not sure. And then the whole series transferred to Africa and Mike quite rightly didn’t want to be bothered with that. He’d set it up, he’d cast it, and I took over and I was delighted to take over and go and film in Africa. The director, and he did all of them, was John Madden who went on to do Shakespeare In Love and other big movies shows. So, we went to Africa to do that.
We’re still in the 80s on this one?
In the 80s, because you said that that decade of the ‘80s you were a Granada bod, right through.
Doing series after series…
You never digressed?
You never took a producer of Question of Sport or anything like that?
Around the Houses?
As you mentioned Brideshead and Jewel in the Crown, in the early ‘80s. The reputation of Granada was second to none in many fields. But in terms of the drama department, did you feel it had enough backing…
Were the right people there doing…
Absolutely. No question. Because David was head of drama. Plowright. David Plowright was also the head of drama. He was managing director and head of drama. I remember going in one day to complain that my budget wasn’t enough and he said to me, and it was so wonderful. That was Granada at its best. He said, “I’ll give you what you want. Just go. I want you out of that door now.”
You did it right. How wonderful.
So that was fantastic.
Yes, that came because I think then there was a rather sad moment in the Granada department and I must, I think, talk about that. Mike Cox retired as head of drama and retired from Granada. They appointed Sally Head. Steve Morrison was now in control. David Plowright had left, I think, by then. If I could just tell you that when we heard, and we call them the caterers, you remember? Jeff took over, and I… it still brings tears to my eyes because I thought it was so special. David Plowright sent round a letter saying he was resigning and I cried because I thought, “This company is going to change beyond all recognition.” I think in many ways it did. But maybe it needed to, it had to change, and it wasn’t going to be the place it was ever again. Steve Morrison then became director of programmes. It was Mike Scott before, and Steve brought in Sally Head. She’d won a BAFTA for the Fay Weldon series. I can’t remember what it was called now. She was very much London-based. She really didn’t want any of us there. But because Maigret had been, I think Steve Hawes’ and Mike Cox’s idea, if I’m right, she brought in Mike Cox to be the producer. Mike had an office, I remember this so well, opposite me and he would come in, after a few weeks he would come in, he would lock himself in that office, and then leave at the end of the day. One day he came in, and at the end of the day, he came out and said, “I’m walking out of this building and I’m never coming back.” And I think, as far as I know, it was because we were brought up to be the producers in control of the scripts, the casting. We weren’t overwritten by the head of department. He had been the head of department and I think it was impossible for him to work with Sally Head. Then, as far as I was concerned, Keith Thompson came along and said to me, “I’m very sorry, Sita. I’ve got to give you your P45. You’ve got to go.” I took a deep breath… needless to say, I did not like Sally Head. Max Graesser, I talked to Max about it, and Max said, “You can’t leave.” He talked to David Liddiment. David Liddiment talked to Ian McBride and Ray Fitzwalter, and they appointed me the producer of Hostages. That’s how it happened.
Oh, right. How about that. Mike Cox was head of department…
When I joined.
Sally Head take his job…
Yes. I mean, Mike resigned, but she brought him back as the producer of Maigret.
Yes, that’s right. The producer of Maigret. You had a P45, but not for long.
I never took it up.
You never cashed it in.
That I did not.
In Suspicious Circumstances.
Yes, that was Ian. That was all under the kind of World in Action drama department. Ian McBride was my executive producer because the end was the executive producer of Hostages. Alasdair Palmer was the brilliant researcher, associate producer of that. Then, In Suspicious Circumstances, I continued to work on that with, who is the marvellous presenter of that? Famous actor. Edward Woodward. He was the presenter.
Oh, yes, I remember.
They were all based on true stories. That was fun. The best one I did was a First World War, In Suspicious Circumstances, where deserters were condemned to death. Steve Finneran, who I must mention, was a wonderful production designer. Steve Finneran dug and created, first brilliantly, we had very little money for these shows, a trench in the fields at Arley Hall. Aidan Gillen, who went on to become famous with Queer As Folk that he did. He was the star of that, In Suspicious Circumstances. I was so proud that we recreate the First World War in a muddy field in Arley.
Yes. I know. I work with Steve Finneran quite a lot. That was great.
He was also one of the production designers on After The War. He was a great loss.
Let’s move on to Reckless. That was in the ‘90s wasn’t it?
Yes, yes. That was a very great high point. I then stopped doing drama doc tape. I had also done another drama doc, which was called Goodbye, My Love, about the founder of euthanasia, Derek (Humphry), oh, whose second wife. He wrote a book called Jean’s Way, about euthanasia, and then his second wife was an American, accused him of getting her to commit suicide and we did that. We did them with HBO as co-partners, and Colin Callender was then head of HBO. All the drama docs were co-funded by HBO, which was fantastic because we got a lot of money for casting. Then Reckless was under the, Carolyn Reynolds was the executive producer. She was executive Coronation Street and also Reckless. She had got Paul Abbott to write the script. Nick Elliott was the commissioner of ITV and they wanted a vehicle for Robson Green. Robson Green was cast, but then I cast Francesca Annis and Michael Kitchen. Paul Abbott will tell you, we only had two scripts when we started filming. Then I would look outside his house and throw pebbles at his window to make him answer the door so I could get scripts out of him. David Richards directed that and it was a phenomenal success. It had 11 million viewers and more. And it was the time that people had appointments to view. People would leave their, they told me, they’d leave their classes early or their work early in order to watch Reckless. That was such fun.
I remember that. I remember that. This time Sally Head was still head of dept.?
Was she, then? Or was David Liddiment? I think David Liddiment had taken over. Would that be right, Geoff?
I’m not sure. I’m not sure about that.
Oh, she might have been head of department, but I, of course, had got my P45 from her, so I was never in her department. I was with Ian McBride at World in Action and then Carolyn Reynolds, Coronation Street, Branch, Reckless.
Yes. I’m with you. You never worked on Coronation Street did you?
No. After David Plowright’s threat.
Did you ever want to?
I didn’t want or not want. Mervyn Watson was producer then, and then Brian Park came on as producer. I think it was a phenomenally hard job. I was much happier doing short serials, yes.
Then we have, I’ve got a list of them here. The Last Train.
Yes. That was a wonderful sci-fi series that still runs on the Sci-Fi Channel, directed by Stuart Orme and written by Matthew Graham.
Oh, yes, I remember.
Again, Steven Finneran was the production designer and we had the most phenomenal locations to capture the end of the world and we built three carriages on a huge shifting construction because the opening is a train crash. We set it up in Liverpool at the, who are the big ship builders who also in Belfast?
Harland and Wolff?
Harland and Wolff. We had so much money to make it in those days.
Let’s move on to The Forsyte Saga. It ran in 2002?
How did that come about? Because that…
That was David Liddiment’s idea. He had thought, “Well, it’s a long time since we’ve done The Forsyte Saga.” He asked me if I would produce it, so that’s how that happened.
Wonderful. Wonderful. We had a wonderful writer called Stephen Mallatratt, who had written, I remember, 176 episodes of Coronation Street.
And those Coronation Street writers were very special. They really knew their craft. I mean, Paul Abbott started life at Granada as a storyliner for Coronation Street. Oh, and I also did Children’s Ward with Paul Abbott a long time ago. It was a marvellous, Steve Finneran again, was the designer. We cast the now very famous Damian Lewis as Soames
Okay. Yes. Right. Island at War.
That was written by Stephen Mallatratt and it was about the war in the Channel Islands, with the occupied Nazis there. And we shot that on the Isle of Man. It was beautifully scripted. We were going to do another series and Stephen Mallatratt said, “I’m very tired. I’m very tired. I’m not going to write anymore.” But we persuaded him to write another episode and then he discovered he had cancer so that was it, really. We never made a second series.
We’re into the 2000s, and by now the commissioning system was different to the ‘80s.
We had a central commissioning power. How did you feel about that? Did you feel that you had to, was the system better run that way, or did you have trouble with it?
Well, I think we were over-privileged because David Plowright could dictate how many hours of drama he was going to offer to ITV, and that was no longer the case. It was much more of a you had to persuade ITV. I think by then David had become head of ITV.
Yes. That’s right. He was at that time. Yes.
Yes. And it was Dawn Airey, I think, was there…
It wasn’t where Granada, and we’re making 26 hours of drama whether you like them or not. You had to fight for your space, really.
Yes. Okay. Vincent? I remember, with Ray Winston.
With Ray Winston, yes.
I remember having a chat with you about this because I think you were having trouble getting a recommission on…
Yes. And I think I made a mistake. Because originally, they commissioned 90 minutes. Which is actually probably too long. Ray really loved the show and he wanted to do more. I’ve always been unnecessarily bolshy. I wouldn’t do that again. And Nick Elliott said to me, “We don’t want 90 minutes. We want an hour.” I said, “Oh, we’re not doing that.” So that was that.
That was that. Oh, yes, I remember.
But it should have been an hour, actually, on ITV.
Okay. But I remember you talking about Ray Winston, and to have him as part of your production and not to carry on with him…
That was shocking. Yes.
… to lose him, as it were. You were upset about that.
I was very upset because he was a fantastic asset to ITV, really. But maybe we didn’t
Play the best game. I’m being very honest with you.
You are. Let me have The Street.
Which is Paul Abbott?
No. Jimmy McGovern.
Tell us about The Street.
Well, that was Jimmy’s idea where we had a street in Salford it turned out and each episode you went behind the door and it centred on the story coming out of that door, that family. And so they were self-contained but you also saw other characters in The Street and then we told their story. They were a minor character in one episode and then became a major character in the next episode. And Jimmy wrote it brilliantly. David Blair directed it. And the joy of having single story episodes was we got Bob Hoskins, Jim Broadbent. God, you name them we got them really. One principally because of the quality of the writing and we were up for a BAFTA against Life on Mars which was hugely popular. Written by Matthew Graham who I had worked with. And to our immense surprise, Life on Mars didn’t win the BAFTA.
And we did and there was a wonderful cartoon in The Daily Mirror with Philip Glenister driving the Cortina that had featured in Life on Mars saying, “Some Manchester United supporting girlies from up North have stolen me BAFTA.”
Fabulous. Manchester United.
Okay. Let me have The Accused.
Yes. That was not Granada, that was when I…
Oh, I see.
We had made several series of The Street and won every award in the kingdom.
But then Jimmy, Roxy and I who had created The Street decided that it was time to make some money ourselves. But also, the focus had shifted so much down to London and the drama department was now really only interested in making things coming out of the department, the people in London.
Right. Was this Sally Head’s?
No. By then Forsyte was Andy Harries, and then I really can’t even remember her name. She was appointed from the BBC to head the drama department here. And John Whiston offered all of us redundancy. And for once, I sensibly accepted.
You did? Yes.
What year did you leave Granada?
Gosh, I can’t remember. When was The Street?
The Street says here…
Three series I did of, when did Accused start?
The Street 2006-09.
Right. So, I must have left in 2009, 2010.
Right. Okay. Then you set up your company?
Yes but Granada TV were very nice. I didn’t move office, I just stayed in my office.
Oh, you rented the office back there? I think I did that for a bit.
To be fair they didn’t even charge me any rent.
Yup. Well, I’d been there for so long.
By then, I’d done my 25 years I think.
‘80 to yes.
I’d done 25 years, Jeff.
I thought I did a long time. I’m before you.
You left, yes.
I left in ‘89.
So, you left in just 20 years.
So, you did your 25 years?
I did my 25 years.
And you get a free office for a bit, so.
So what? Exactly. Yes.
And then you entered the world for about 10 years of independent production.
And how has that been?
Well, it was very good but it’s much, much tougher. Caroline Hollick who’s now runs Channel 4 Drama who I knew as a young kid and was scripted to with Yorkshire, and then Red is now head of Channel 4 Drama. She said, “Do you know how many scripted independent companies there are?”
Yes. So, although there’s Netflix and Amazon and Hulu and FX…
And blah, blah, everyone wants to do scripted drama and the landscape has changed enormously. It’s sad really. I find that very hard for new writers. Well known writer, stars attached before you get even a look in the door. Young people will adapt to that and have very wonderful careers but it’s a much tougher world out there. There’s more money but it’s much tougher.
Your company is with Jimmy McGovern?
No. Jimmy has now set up a different company because he wanted to be entirely concentrated on Liverpool subject matter.
So, Roxy, the other two and Simon Bailey who is our accountant, we’ve set up our own company which is called Big Story Pictures. But everything takes so long to make that I’m in the lucky position of having an ITV pension, so.
Yes. Do you have contacts with current drama commissions?
Oh, yes, yes. Polly Hill at ITV, Piers Linger at the BBC. These are all people I’ve known all my life really.
And Caroline Hollick at Channel 4. And Ann Menser, who’s now head of drama at Netflix was the BBC script editor on The Street.
So, you know, one’s paths cross all the time. Yes.
Looking back on your Granada time, what other productions are you most proud of?
Wow. Well of course The Street which we did for ITV. I thought The Forsyte Saga was remarkable. You know, you’re proud of all your children aren’t you?
And then you love them most while you’re making them and then you forget them because you go on to the next child. It’s that really.
It’s hard. But I’m very, very proud of the fact that I went to Granada in 1980.
I had the good fortune to be brought up by a lot of brilliant drama producers and David Plowright and Dennis Forman, Mike Cox. They were all I think really good souls who cared…
And we didn’t have to worry about audiences and all of that. We were lucky.
And directors? Who do you remember as impressing you?
Well, John Madden who did After the War. David Liddiment and I did a lot of Celebration together. And David was obviously enormously talented. I’m trying to think. David Blair who did The Street. Terry McDonough who did The Street. And though I didn’t work with him, I grew up with Julian Farino and Julian Gerald who were fantastic directors.
And are still very successful. Julian Gerald was in promos, that’s where he started. Making promos. And I said to him, I know it’s horrible really. He made a promo for After the War and I said, “Julian, if that’s the best you can do you’re never going to make it as a drama director.” How wrong I was.
Indeed. And again, looking back on those years, any particular difficulties? Anything that you think could have been done better by the company?
No because we had the company of wonderful film editors. I should mention Eddie Mansell who I worked with. And Oral Ottey. I never worked with Kim because he did docs and worked with Leslie but they were fantastically skilled. And you relied on those people like the sound people, the camera men, Jon Wood, Mike… forgotten. But one of the wonderful things of having a core rather than freelance was we all learned our craft together and so there was a real belief in what we were doing and the craft was I think of a tremendously high order.
Yes. Which individuals in the company, management would you remember with fondness?
Well, I have a love/hate relationship with Steve Morrison.
I always did.
David Liddiment, Jules Burns. Of course David Plowright, Dennis Forman. I remember Andrew Quinn but I had less to do with and more to do with Jules.
Wooller. Formidable Joyce Wooller.
Mike Scott. But I think the most impressive person for me and who really changed my career and allowed me to do drama was David Plowright. I thought he was just independent minded, a clever man who took chances with people like me. So, really my career is due to David Plowright. So, he’s the one.
He’s the one?
He’s the one for me.
Just occurred to me on the sheet of productions or that you worked on, a mixture of studio and…
And so on.
Tell us about the difference in your approach to a studio production. Or is there any?
Oh, yes. It’s very different. We did multi camera on part of the studio for After the War. All film gives you much more freedom. More difficult to control because it’s locations and all of that but I think now everything has moved outside of the studio except for things like Coronation Street which is essential to remain in the studio. But they still do location work as well, don’t they? As far as I know.
There was a lot of studio drama around in the 70’s.
When I was there.
Studios 8 and 12 were in constant use.
Yes they were.
Big productions, sometimes Shakespeare in some.
Yes. Yes, King Lear was done there.
What explains this shift out of the studio? Is it finance? Is it the directors don’t want to make shows in that way?
I think it’s a combination of both really. It’s much more restricting from a directorial point of view and I think television is, why are all these film directors working in television because now television is like film and the two genres have merged really. So, we’re now making film drama basically.
Yes. But also on the kind of drama is being made. Now there’s lots of productions which seemed to have to reflect the issues of the day.
And the nature of society has changed. Women are much more prominent in productions on screen and the way they’re betrayed and so on.
Diversity is very important.
Is there a bit too much PC?
Oh, I think so. I shall be very non PC and tell you I think so. And I think I have seen, and I won’t name them, Asian actors on television because, I mean I include women in the phrase actors. And I said to someone, “Oh, if I came out of drama school now, I’d be doing very well. I was a very mediocre actor but I’m half Asian and I would get lots of fantastic roles.”
You would. You think it’s gone too far in that direction?
Yes. I think it all should be on merit. I think I grew up in the age of positive discrimination…
But I still think it doesn’t help if you don’t match your talent to the opportunity, whatever colour, whatever race. I think that’s a mistake.
It’s almost ridiculous now. You have to have it. It’s one of these you must have Asians, blacks, Chinese, Muslims. I don’t know.
It’s gone a bit too far?
I think so, but then I’m of a certain age and you might say I’m old-fashioned.
Yes. And what about the stories that are portrayed? Are we getting the right stories on the box?
I watch less and less television drama. And I was having this conversation about what’s happened to television drama because it’s all thrillers and do this and even if the stories actually don’t make sense, you can just do what you like. I don’t think storytelling, oh, that’s not true of everybody. I mean, Russell T. (Davies), who was my script editor on Children’s Ward, is a brilliant writer. And he did a wonderful series. I think the best I’ve seen on television called Years After Years. Was it? What was the title?
I can’t remember that.
Russell’s last show. He’ll kill me. I can’t remember. Was brilliant, it was political, it was supposedly set in the future but it was so relevant to today and that’s the best thing. And then he did A Very English Scandal, the story of Jeremy Thorpe.
I think his work is remarkable. I think Paul is of course remarkable and Jimmy. But I think if you do everything turns into a thriller and it really doesn’t matter. And I think that’s a pity because I’ve just seen a Korean film called The Parasite and there they’re making things that are political, exciting, beautifully acted with no homage to anything that’s coming out of America.
And I think in a way we’ve lost our voice a little.
Because of the power of American media?
Power of American media and American commissioning.
Yes. Final one then. It was 25 years you were at Granada. Can you just try and sum up your experience there in a few words?
Brilliant, supportive, enormously creative.
Great. Thank you very much.
Does that help?
That’s a great way to end. Thank you Sita.
Thank you Geoff. Nice to see you.