Interview with Stephen Kelly, audio 1.
Q: Tell me your name and how long you worked at Granada
A: My name is Stephen Kelly and I worked at Granada for ten years. I began in July 1978. I had been working on Tribune the Labour left wing newspaper in London, so I had to move from London to Manchester . So, as I say, I worked there for ten years. I worked as a researcher but in the latter part of my career there I was a producer.
Q: And this was ?
A: July 1978 until July 1988. In September 1988 I left and became freelance.
Q: When you were a producer what were you producing ?
A: I worked mainly as a researcher which in BBC terms was a producer. I’ll take you through my entire history if you like. Everybody who worked as a researcher initially worked on the half hour news evening magazine programme which at that time was called Granada Reports and went out at 6.30pm after the main ITN news. Everybody had to start with working on that. I spent not many weeks on it, probably only about four weeks. I then went on to another local programme which was called Reports Extra which was a bit of a quirky half hour that went out on a Friday night. Again it was a local programme and you could do almost anything in on it.
I remember one programme we did, I think I may have worked on two or three, but I certainly remember one because we went to the conservative party conference which was in Blackpool and we did a half hour film about it. Margaret Thatcher was leader of the party then but she was not prime minister. I well remember we did an interview with her. We wanted an interview but we couldn’t get one so we bluffed our way into the Conservative Party ball and she was dancing on the floor with someone, I can’t remember if it was Denis or even Cecil Parkinson. Anyway we were there with our cameras and crew and on the dance floor we went. Our presenter was a guy called David Jones, who was from Liverpool. He was a tall lanky character, a bit of an anarchist as well. Anyway he went up to her and said, ‘I wonder if I could have a dance with you Mrs Thatcher.’ And she said, ‘that’s very rude of you, you’re not even wearing a tie. You must be one of those comprehensive schoolboys.’ And David said, ‘no, actually I went to a grammar school.’ And she said, ‘well it must have been a very bad grammar school.’ And he said, ‘no actually it was one of the best grammar schools in the north west of England.’ And then I think we got ushered very quickly off the floor. I well remember that and sometimes you still see that little piece when they are doing stuff about Margaret Thatcher, you see that little snip.
So, I worked on that for a few weeks and then I joined the local politics programme which was called Reports Politics. You see a similarity here using the work Reports because all the regional programmes had the word reports attached to them, well most of them. So Reports Politics was the Monday night half hour political porgramme which went out at 10.30pm because that was a regional opt out after the ITN news. It was a good programme, it lasted for half an hour and was a mix of film and studio, you could have 26 mins studio, 26 mins film or mostly we would do a bit of both, maybe a 14 or 15 minutes film and then studio. It was produced by two people. One was Gordon Burns who was also the presenter and he also presented the Krypton Factor. 4’50’’
Gordon presented the Krypton Factor but he also produced and presented this programme. His co-producer was a man called David Kemp. Kemp was also Granada’s political correspondent and lived in London. We could have an entire interview about David Kemp but I don’t want to go into too much detail about David Kemp. But he was an alcoholic. When I joined the programme he was dry. I spent a lot of time working for David Kemp. There was a great Granada strike in 1979 and he started drinking again after that. Let’s just leave it by saying that he became very difficult to work for.
I probably spent about a year working on Reports Politics which was good fun; I enjoyed it. There were interesting people who worked on it. One of them was Andy Harries. Andy is now a very famous film producer and won an Oscar; he produced the film The Queen. He also bought and produced the Gary Lineker play, an Evening With Gary Lineker which later became a film. He saw the play and bought it up. We had great fun with Andy, he was a good laugh. And a girl called Clarissa Hyman, Clarissa is now a very well known food writer. I enjoyed it in the main working on that programme. Kemp was a difficult man but he was also a very cultured man; he could be great fun to work with but he could equally be not much fun to work with. He was very cultured, very bright. He had worked with the Labour Party in their press office at one point. He knew politics inside out, he knew the history of the Labour Party and he was the brother of Sir Arnold Kemp who was the editor of the Glasgow Herald and he was the son of George (correction Robert) Kemp, the famous Scottish playwright who had founded the Edinburgh Traverse Theatre and had written a number of famous plays including one called the Three Quaires. I’ll talk no more about Kemp – I’ll leave it there.
So I worked on Reports Politics for about a year and then after that went onto a programme called Hypotheticals. Hypotheticals was a networked programme. Sixteen people sit around a horseshoe table with a moderator and each of these people play a hypotethical role and a story is presented to them. For instance you have somebody – you’re a journalist. The first programme they did was about journalism. An envelope falls on your desk and inside the envelope is the secret minutes of a cabinet meeting – what do you do ? And there would be an editor of a newspaper, a Cabinet Minister, the police and so on. And you work out a story. It had been devised by the Ford Foundation in America in the 1950s and a man called Fred Friendly saw it in action. And Fred Friendly was one of the greatest TV producers of all time. He produced the Ed Murrow Show and produced that very famous one about McCarthy. Fred Friendly was a legend and he saw this and he changed it and devised a scheme for television. So the first one we did was about journalism, the second series was about doctors. The thing was that you confronted an ethical or moral dilemma; it was about decision making. What do you do if a 14-year-old girl comes into your surgery and wants to go on the pill? What decision do you make? Well, I worked on a series about the police and I spent about a year working on it. I have to say that it wasn’t altogether successful, mainly because the police wouldn’t play ball. You try to introduce an element of surprise; you say, for instance, the prisoner has been found in his cell the following morning black and blue, black eyes, bleeding nose. What do you do ? And the police would then say, ‘well that wouldn’t happen. It wouldn’t happen in the police. Sorry.’ The police are a very rigid organization, so it was very, very difficult to get them to face moral dilemmas because it had all been worked out beforehand. So, it wasn’t hugely successful that but I quite enjoyed it and I got a couple of trips to New York because the moderator was a man called Benno Schmidt who was a professor at Columbia University. He’s now quite famous. He became president of Yale University and is now one of the leading academics in America and a great friend of Woody Allen. If you go to see Woody Allen films, Benno nearly always has a walk on part! So I did that for a year. 6’16’’
I think after that I went onto World In Action. I may have done a few programmes in between but, yes, I think it was WIA. One of the problems of WIA – now my expertise was in British politics. Now WIA was not very good at doing British politics. WIA had certain problems; it was not a studio-based programme, so it didn’t have a studio set and it did not have a presenter. Now the problem with British politics is that the kind of programmes I was doing were fast moving. Now WIA at this time was shot on film, this is before video, it was shot on film so you had to start putting you’re film together on a Saturday, you couldn’t film afterwards, couldn’t get it processed.
Things change rapidly so it wasn’t ideal for doing British political programmes. So they didn’t do that many. When they tried to do studio programmed and I worked on a number of studio programmes, every one that I worked on seemed to be a bit of a disaster. It was not my fault.
I worked on one where we did an interview – it was to do with the SDP – and we did a studio interview in London at the Commonwealth Society. The first great mishap was the cameraman – there was this beautiful building with these statuettes on plinths. It was a lovely summer’s day and the windows were wide open. The cameraman turned with his camera and he knocked one of these statuettes off the plinth and it crashed down into the forecourt. The next crisis was that they discovered they didn’t have a vision mixer. There were some appalling trade union rules in those days and you had to have a vision mixer – somebody was going to be reading something into the show. It was an outside broadcast We were going to film the whole thing, 26 minutes, then it would be taken back up to Manchester and put out. But they put in an insert where someone else was going to be involved and it needed a vision mixer and they didn’t have a vision mixer. So, as soon as they finished filming, they said that the film was going to be blacked because we didn’t have a vision mixer. The producer went wild, ‘I didn’t know I had to have a vision mixer, nobody told me.’ So the consequence of this was that – the only way that it could be done was to run the interview through studio and this little extra insert would be done in studio with a vision mixer. So we quickly had to book a studio in Manchester and we had to get a helicopter to fly the presenter and reporter up to Manchester to put it through studio cos with the train times we couldn’t do it. We came back up on the train and I think we arrived just as it was finishing. What an outcome. It was ridiculous. 3’30’’
The culture of Bullying
Q: Was it man against man, man against woman, or general.
A: I think general. There was a culture of bullying. Sometimes you had to shout at people to get anything done. You’d go round to certain departments to get things done – it was their job and it would be a case of ‘ooh I don’t know, difficult’ etc. Some people would shout and scream and it did seem to be more effective. So there was a culture of bullying. Producers were very powerful and again they could bully if they wanted. You are also working in an industry of deadlines. I used to always say that television was the most efficient business of earth cos there was never an instance when a caption went up saying, sorry we can’t bring you Coronation Street cos somebody’s off ill. They always got made. There were very tight deadlines People did get tense and stressed, so yes, there was inevitably a certain amount of bullying.
Q: And affairs ?
A: Yes, the place was a bed of gossip. I was warned very early on, within the first few weeks of joining Granada – ‘don’t go out with anybody in Granada cos it will be all around the building.’ And it would be. People would have affairs, people would – particularly when they went filming and the entire building would know about before they got up for breakfast in the morning. It was bad. Yes, there were lots, lots. Well I mean it was inevitable in a way because it was not a family friendly business to be in, particularly if your partner was not working in television. It must have been very, very difficult because you’d be away from home filming, you would adjourn to the bar at the end of the day, so you might not wander home until 10 o’clock at night, 11.00 o’clock and people spent an awful lot of time drinking and socializing, so it wasn’t conducive to family life. And affairs did happen, it’s a bit inevitable when people are away filming, creeping along corridors and that. It happened.
Q: Did you do that?
A: No, I didn’t actually. No, not at all. I only ever really went out with one girl at Granada and she became my wife. 3’14’’
Q: So, you did go out with someone from Granada. What did she do?
A: Her name was Judith Jones and she was a production assistant who worked on Union World. She was based in Liverpool at the time and she worked on Union World and that’s how we got to know each other. I think we started going out with each other fairly quickly. We kept it quiet for a while although all the other researchers in the office knew. But the producer never knew. We kept it quiet for a little while. She then moved to the Manchester office and went to work on WIA. She spent six months on WIA. Normally a production assistant would spend 12 months working on WIA but I thought that that would be really difficult.
A: Well being a production assistant on World in Action is a real merry go round. I just thought that it would be too long and not easy to have a relationship. Because what happened was that you would go off filming on the Monday, sometimes you would get back on the Saturday, you’d unpack your suitcase, pack another one and you were off again on the Monday. She would spend the entire weekend sleeping, washing clothes, it’s really hard going. And I don’t think its conducive for a relationship. So we agreed that she would do just six months on World In Action.
Q: And then ?
A: I think she did Coronation Street then and various other programmes and then she got married and had a baby, so she packed in then.
Q: Was that because it wasn’t conducive to her, to a woman. Well two things, if a woman got married to somebody in the team were they expected to leave.
A: No, not at all. No, no there were no problems there. There were lots of Granada people who were married to one another, so that was not a problem. The problem was that she asked Granada if she could go part time but they said ‘no’. That was when she was pregnant and they said ‘no’. So that was when she packed it in. It’s just not a job, it’s not a family friendly job, it’s very difficult.
Q: So how long was she at Granada?
A: Oh, I think three or four years, something like that.
Q: How much a part of your life – you were there for ten years and you left 25 years ago – how big a part of your life has it been.
A: Oh, a major part. I had really enjoyable years there. It was a major part. Back in the early eighties when I was there Granada made Brideshead Revisited which was one of the great dramas. And I always remember you would go into reception and there was this big quote that had been reproduced on the wall in reception, it said ‘Granada television is the best TV company in the world’. End quote. New York Times. And it was. You know we were in the best TV company in the world for a number of reasons and you were making wonderful programmes. It was a very paternalistic company but it was also very innovative with programmes like Union World, World in Action, dramas like Brideshead Revisited, Jewel in the Crown, Cracker. They were all wonderful dramas. Money was no expense. They made wonderful and innovative programmes like WIA, Union World, What the Papers Say.
It was also a very northern company, it was proud of its northern roots and it boasted about them. It was also quite left wing. You knew that everybody you worked with was of the same ilk, of the same thought and the company was not ashamed of it. The company had been formed by Sidney Bernstein who later became Lord Bernstein. Bernstein was a Labour Party supporter throughout his life and he took the Labour whip when he became a peer. The entre family supported Labour. That was it; it was a Labour company. Just as the Daily Mirror was a Labour newspaper, so Granada was a Labour company.
I remember they hired a woman once who had worked at the Conservative Party Research department. They felt, ought to – I think there might have been some criticisms – so they thought they ought to branch out, so they hired this woman and she didn’t last six months.
Q: Was that because she couldn’t cope with Granada or Granada couldn’t cope with her.
A: I think a bit of both actually. But you knew that everybody was the same. Everybody was bright. I remember somebody saying to me once about the Labour Party, where are all those bright young people who used to join the Labour Party. Answer, working for Granada Television. And it was true. And after the 1979 general election Margaret Beckett had lost he seat , Jack Straw, Brian Sedgemore who had all lost their seats came to work for Granada. So Granada was full of extremely bright, extremely bright, creative, left wing people,
Q; Was that across the board ?
A: Across the board. Yes, well I’m talking mainly of production people here rather than technicians or crews. But I think a lot of the technicians and crews were of the left. Not all but that was the reputation it had. And it was. It was great to work there, everybody was of the same age. We just had a great time.
- So how much do you miss it ?
A: Well there are some things I miss. But I’m old now and don’t have the kind of energy I had in those days. Your social life evolved around Granada and you couldn’t have much of a social life at times. I worked on a lot of programme which went out on a Monday and seemed to involve working all weekend. I remember once working on World In Action and I got a telephone call at 12.30 at night and I am in bed. It was Friday night and I had an entire weekend organized. I get a phone call, ‘be in London for 11.00am in the morning, we’ve got an emergency programme’. That was it.
- What was the programme?
A: The programme was to do with the Labour Party election, the election for a new leader of the Labour Party. So, that was another bad programme.
Q: Did this have anything to do with you ?
A: No, it had nothing whatsoever to do with me. I’ll tell you what happened. We are doing this programme about – was it Michael Foot – I can’t remember which election it was about, and it was a very close call. Nobody quite knew who was going to win, it was such a close call. And they said what we want you do to do is ring – at this time in the election for Labour leader the trade unions got so many votes, every constituency party had a vote and every MP had a vote. It was a third, third, third. So, they said right I want you to ring every MP and ask them how they’re going to vote, every constituency party and ask them and every trade union. And I said, that’s barmy because it’s too close to call anyhow and who are you going to talk to ? Half the MPs are going to lie to you. If you ring the constituency Labour parties who are you going to ring, some will not have made a decision yet, who are you going to talk to, the constituency secretary, the chairman. If you ring the trade union, some of the trade unions haven’t made a decision yet. It only needs one or two of those to be out and your vote is no good. So, they said ‘do it!’ So I spent an entire weekend sitting in an hotel in London phoning everybody. And, it was predictable. That’s exactly what happened. A lot of people said they didn’t know or whatever and of course at the end of the day we said ‘blah blah blah… and we can reveal in an exclusive World In Action poll that it’s too close to call’. I could have told you that. It was such a waste of time, it was bad journalism.