Interviewed by Judith Jones, February 1, 2021
Can you start off by telling me when you joined Granada?
I was working for the political weekly newspaper, Tribune, at the time. I’d not gone to university until much later in life, because I’d left school when I was 16 to work in the local shipyard, Cammell Laird, and I had become involved in trade union activities. I won a trade union scholarship to Ruskin College, Oxford, and then I went to the London School of Economics, and then on to Tribune, because I’d been writing for Tribune for some years. So I’d been there about five years, and I loved working on Tribune, but the pay was abysmal. So I was looking around, and I was quite interested in telly. I’d had an interview at Weekend World, but didn’t get the job there. I was going out with a girl called Sue, and we were going to the theatre one night, and she suddenly rang up and said, “Oh, my cousin’s just dropped in. He’s driving back from France, and I mentioned that I was going to see you, and he said, ‘Oh, Stephen Kelly, works for Tribune.’ And he said that he’d like to see you.” So she brought him round, and I literally only met him for about 15 minutes. We chatted about various things, and off he went. I thought no more of it. He told me his name was Steve Morrison, and he worked for Granada Television where he produced locals. I just didn’t understand what he meant by locals.
What year was this?
So this is this would be June 1978. Then I got a Monday evening phone call from Sue, who said, “Steve would like to talk to you about a possible job. Can he ring you?” I said yes. So we made contact. And Steve said, “Look, there’s some jobs going at Granada. We’ve had a few problems here, and we desperately need some journalists in. Would you be interested?” I said yes. I mean, I’d never thought about going to Manchester. So he said, “Well come up for a day and see a programme Granada Reports, a magazine programme, see it being put on.” So I went up, saw the programme going through, sat in the studio, sat in the post-production meeting afterwards. And Steve said, “There will be some interview boards.” I’d never anticipated that there were going to be interview boards, but anyhow. A couple of weeks later, I was asked to go in for a board. So I went to Manchester for the board meeting, which I was a bit taken aback by.
Granada referred to their interviews as boards.
They did. I mean, I’ve been very critical of these boards, because you saw it the whole way through the Granada process, is that it’s very Oxbridge. And there was a lot of bullying went on in the board, and people trying to impress other people on the board rather than really focusing on the interviewee sometimes. So there’s half a dozen people in the executive committee room, interviewing me, I can’t remember who they all are. Certainly Steve Morrison was one of them. I think Gus MacDonald might have been one, I don’t know. But another one was Brian Lapping. And then part way through the interview, Brian Lapping asks me, “If you were producing Granada Reports…” By this stage he was making me producer of Granada Reports before I’d even got a job as a researcher! “If you were producing Granada Reports tonight and the Queen died, what would you do? What would you say? What would you put on the programme?” And everybody looked at Brian Lapping and burst out laughing and said, “Sorry, Brian, he wouldn’t have any option, because if that happened it would all go down to network control. Granada wouldn’t be doing anything.” And Brian Lapping said, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” “You didn’t know that!” There was much hilarity about that. Anyhow, I then got a call from someone in Granada to say Mike Scott hadn’t been at the board. “They want you but Mike Scott would like to see you as well.” Fortunately, Mike Scott was in London – he had an office in Golden Square. “So would you go and see Mike Scott and have a chat with him?” So I went to see Mike Scott, had a chat with him. And then, I think a few days later, I got a formal notification from Granada that yes, I had got the job. And I could I start on whatever day it was, in July 1978.
And so that was a job as a researcher?
As a researcher. That’s one of the great confusions at Granada, because the two are basically the same. But there were some people who weren’t on the news desk who were referred to as journalists, and were members of the NUJ. The researchers, who did exactly the same, were members of the ACTT.
What were your impressions of Manchester and the Granada building?
I’d never been in the Granada building, but I had stood on the steps. I went up there with some of my mates to Manchester for a meeting, which we never actually went to the meeting, but we nipped down the road, saw the Granada Television building, stood on the steps and pretended to be famous. On a Sunday afternoon, so the whole place was closed! I didn’t particularly want to go to Manchester. I had a life in London, I was very active in the Labour Party in London, I was chairman of the of the Hendon South Labour Party. I was very active. Things were great. I loved Tribune, but as I say, the pay wasn’t very good. So I’d never envisaged going to Manchester. I’d been once or twice, to actually stop in Manchester, I’d driven through Manchester when we used to go see my grandma in Huddersfield. And we’d get a bus from Liverpool, and it would drive through Manchester. But I’d never really been. But certainly my impression, once I got to Manchester, was of this very dark, gothic city. It was very sombre. And you’d go out on a Friday night or a Saturday night, and there was nothing going on. It was very quiet. And I don’t think things were necessarily going on where I wasn’t looking, but it was just deadly. And it wasn’t a particularly nice city. And it’s not an attractive city really, compared to say, Liverpool, where there are dozens and dozens of wonderful buildings. And I was used to that sort of big music scene in Liverpool, and wonderful Liverpool pubs, and going out and having a great time on a Friday night or Saturday night, things would be happening. It wasn’t like that in Manchester. It was very dark, and I think some of the bands later reflected that darkness of Manchester.
Okay, so you joined Granada. Did they give you any training or a mentor?
Training, none whatsoever. Mentor, for about two days. First day in the office. I went straight on to Granada Reports, which is what everybody does. So Granada Reports is the nightly magazine programme. First day, Rod Caird ( 9:25) said to me, “There’s a picket line outside the Education Office uptown, go and find out what’s going on.” So I went off uptown, found out what was going on, came back and reported it. I didn’t make a film. Second day, Nick Turnbull was my mentor. Second day, Nick was making a film about the discovery of North Sea gas off Blackpool, and we went to made a little film. And that was it! After that it was, “Go off and do whatever you want.” There was no training whatsoever.
Presumably you had to join a union. It was a closed shop.
Yes, yes, it was a closed shop. So I joined the union straightaway, which was not a problem for me. I would normally do that. I didn’t work on Granada Reports for very long. It was suddenly the summer, and in August, nothing happened on Granada Reports, they’d just put out an evening bulletin. It was great fun, because the bulletin would last about 10 minutes. And there wouldn’t be too many of us in there, because a lot of people would be on holiday. So at lunchtime, there was a lot of going out for meals. Dave Jones was acting as news editor, and we went out and had meals in various restaurants, and everybody had long lunches, lots of drinking. It was utterly bizarre. So I was on that for not very long, because I then went on to Reports Extra, I think was the next thing I went on to. Oh, no, I did a What the Papers Say, but I don’t really remember that. Reports Extra was a weekly programme that went out on a Friday night at 10:30, which is a bit of a quirky programme, because you could do anything. And Claudia Milne was the producer/director, and David Jones was the presenter. And I was put onto that because it was that autumn season of political conferences, and they had talked about making some films about political conferences. And me being the guy who knew all about politics, they said, “You go and do that Stephen, help them.” So I did, and we made two films. We made film about the Labour Party conference, and we made a film about the Conservative Party conference. The Conservative Party conference, I vividly remember this because it’s a clip of film that’s been used a lot. Margaret Thatcher had become leader of the Conservative Party. Jim Callaghan was Prime Minister. And we went down to the Conservative Party in Brighton, and we were making a film about the Conservatives. And I don’t know how we managed to get in, but we somehow blundered our way into the Conservative Party ball. Margaret Thatcher is in her evening dress, and Denis is in his bow tie, and we were a little gang of scruffy filmmakers. And David said, “Why don’t we go on the dance floor and have a chat with them?” So we all go on to the dance floor, and Margaret is dancing away. Because David is very tall. He was about six foot three, six foot four, and Margaret Thatcher was actually quite small. So David’s bending down, “I’m wondering if I can have a word with you, Mrs Thatcher?” And she says, “You’re very rude, can’t you see I’m dancing? I suppose you’re one of those horrible comprehensive school boys, aren’t you?” David says, “No, actually, I went to a grammar school.” I’ve seen this clip a number of times on television. So that was my great memory of that. David was a great character. He was from Liverpool, and he was a wonderful character. And Claudia was a very good filmmaker, she was very laid back. She was lovely to work with, and she was very, very good as her job. One of the few women in Granada at that level at the time.
So in other interviews, people have talked about how Granada was a more left-leaning company. Was there a sense that you were more gentle on the Labour Party than you were on the Tories?
I don’t know that I’d say that we were more gentle. I don’t think there’s any doubt that Granada was a left-leaning company. There was no doubt – I mean, Sidney Bernstein took the Labour whip when he became Lord Bernstein. After the 1979 General Election when the Labour Party got wiped out, Granada employed Brian Sedgemore, Labour MP, Jack Straw, who’d been MP for Blackburn, and Margaret Beckett, who had been Labour MP for Lincoln, and Chris Mullin as well, but more on a freelance basis with Chris. Brian, Margaret and Jack were all permanent employees of Granada. So, yes, there’s no doubt everybody was left-wing. They did at one point try to have some balance, and they employed somebody from the Conservative Party research office, a woman. She got hounded out. I mean, she lasted about nine months because there was always a nine-month probationary period for researchers, you had to be on your best behaviour for nine months and really work hard, otherwise you didn’t get offered the full time contract. And she didn’t get offered. She did not get a full-time contract. But yes, it was undoubtedly a left-wing company. We can talk more about that later.
And said about the summer that you spent going out for meals, and obviously the conference, you were staying in fancy hotels, etc. So were you being paid more than you had been at Tribune? And what was it like being introduced to the world of expenses?
Oh, that was wonderful! I mean, I was obviously getting more than them was at Tribune, though surprisingly, not that much more. I was a bit surprised at the level of salary. It didn’t improve until 1979, the big strike. I mean, I discovered expenses, yes, that was a bit of a shock. And staying in very nice hotels. Yes, that was wonderful. I mean, if you were out filming, you got your lunch paid, overnights paid for and so on. So you could make quite a lot of money.
Okay, so 1979 is the strike.
Just before the strike, I went to work on Reports Politics, and worked on that for a year. I’ll talk a little bit about Reports Politics because it was a good programme. It was a weekly, local political programme. It was a half-hour programme which consisted of something like a 10-minute film and one, maybe two studio interviews. It had a great team working on it. David Kemp, who was the political correspondent, was the producer, and the co-producer was Gordon Burns, who also presented the programme. Researchers were Andy Harries, who went on to become a distinguished producer, and Clarissa Hyman, who went on to become a distinguished food writer. So it had a great little team, and we had a great time working on that programme, it was good fun. And it was a very good programme. The kind of programme that no longer gets made. There are no regional political programmes any more. And it’s a great shame, because the whole sense of regional politics has disappeared. And we would do a little local films, you know, about a dispute, maybe Bolton council or something going on at Manchester council or Liverpool, or we would cover the trade unions as well, if there was a dispute somewhere. I do remember that we made a film in the autumn of 1978. Manchester University had made the first microchip, and we did a film about it with people at the university saying, “This is going to revolutionise the world.” And I actually was given a chip which I put somewhere, and I’ve subsequently lost, which is a bit of a shame. But it was ground breaking. And they were right – the chip went into computers and changed the world. So I did about a year on Reports Politics. We did the conferences. And then in the autumn 1979 there was a general election. And Labour lost the election, the Tories won, and I did the coverage for that. We did the actual election coverage itself – and again, this is something that doesn’t happen any more because everything is now done centrally. What happened in 1979 was that, although the programme was done centrally, they had regional opt-outs. So about every hour, you’d go to your regional opt-out for 15 minutes, so that you could report locally about what had been happening. So I would do all that. And of course, it was before Google, it was before computers. So I had little index cards of every constituency, and what the votes had been, and we were doing calculations about the turnout and about the swing and so on. So we did all that. And that was done with Gordon Burns presenting and Jeremy Fox producing. That was great. I mean, it was an amazing programme because I remember going into work on a Thursday morning, I went to vote, and then came into work about 8:30, and didn’t leave until six o’clock in the evening the following day. But it was fantastic. I mean, the adrenaline was just amazing, working on a programme like that.
Tell me about the strike. What was it about?
Yes, the strike was about pay. It was the summer of 1979. It was a strike that lasted for nine weeks. I remember being told about the strike, we were actually having a big lunch somewhere, I think with the Reports Politics team. I remember Gordon was there, and Jeremy Fox came in. Jeremy Fox was the son of Paul Fox, the head of Yorkshire Television. And Jeremy came in and said, “We’re being locked out, lads! Better go back and get all your things. Just spoken to my dad and it’s going to last for nine weeks.” And we all went, “Ha-ha!” And he was right – it did last for exactly nine weeks. So the strike was about money. When we came back, I got a huge pay increase. I mean, massive. My pay went up by thousands. I mean, it probably jumped from something like, I don’t know, £5,000 to £7-8,000. So it was a massive increase. And this was quite bizarre. I finished up getting paid, because nobody else got paid. But I finished up getting paid, because we have something called rest and refreshment. Rest and Refreshment was, if you worked on a Saturday or Sunday, you were entitled to two days off, but you could take it as money. And because I worked on Reports Politics, which went out on a Monday evening, we invariably worked on a Saturday and Sunday. So I had accrued this mass of time off, and just before the strike had begun – and this was purely coincidental – I had put in to have this either as money, I think as money, or maybe simply as time off, and so had Clarissa. And after the strike when they did all the calculations, they said, “Yes, we owe you.” So they actually gave it to me, although Mike Scott was extremely angry and tore a strip off Gordon and David for allowing that amount of rest and refreshment to accrue. And it was just inevitable if your programme is going out on a Monday, because you were setting up the programme on Saturday and Sunday.
As a researcher, did you feel you had any control over the programmes that you worked on? You came from a political background. So did somebody say to you, “Steve, come and work on this programme”?
They tended to. Well, two things tended to happen. I was identified very much as a political person, and although Granada tried to give you a broad range of programmes to work on, I found myself working on political programmes nearly all the time, which suited me. They never thought of saying, “Go and work on sports programmes,” or anything like that. So, yes. But equally, you would network. You would hear rumours or stories that a certain programme was going to be made, say about the Spanish Civil War, so you would discover who the producer was, and you would go and chat to them in the bar and say, “Hey, you’re making a programme about the Spanish Civil War? I’d be very interested in working on that.” So there was that networking which went on. I mean, which programme you worked on wasn’t always fixed, so you could manipulate it a little bit.
Okay, so in January 1980, you started work on Union Power?
Yes, that would probably be about then. Coming up to the general election. Weekend World, which was done by London Weekend Television, was a one-hour lunchtime programme, which went out on the Sunday. And during the summer, they had a break, so Granada was given those six one-hour slots. So Gus had this idea of doing something about trade unions, and David Boulton was executive producer as well. So Gus MacDonald wanted to do something which I certainly didn’t think would make a very good programme. And I came up with the idea of having some kind of inquiry into the unions. The unions had been heavily criticised in 1978 and 1979 because it had been that ‘summer of discontent’ with the bin bags piling up in the streets. So there was a view that trade unions were too strong. So I said, “Let’s have some kind of an inquiry where a committee, a board, of three people, each Sunday, interview a number of people around the trade union movement, and around business, and we have a kind of really close look at trade unions, a serious look.” Gus wasn’t very keen on this idea. But while Gus went on holiday, I persuaded David Boulton that this was a really good idea. And so we kind of usurped Gus, who came back and was very annoyed. We had a board of three people. We had Sir Kenneth Alexander, who was the chairman, who was an academic, and he and two others were the board, and we brought people in to be questioned. So they get a good solid questioning. Barbara Castle came in, because she had tried to introduce the Industrial Relations Bill, and she’d get questioned by the board for 20 minutes. We had Clive Jenkins as well, and Ken Gill, various businessmen came in, and we opened it up as well. We brought Tories in, who said the very opposite. And the final programme, the board summed up everything. And it was a bit like, though many, many years prior to this, something called The Donovan Commission, which had been an investigation into the trade unions, which I think the Labour Party had set up back in the 1960s. So it was very similar to that. And it was all filmed down in London, on the South Bank, what used to be the LCC offices, but is now a big hotel.
You were primarily working in politics but Granada was making a lot of other programmes at this time, like drama and light entertainment. Were those other worlds anything you came into contact with? Or we was your world really just this local programmes/politics?
I think it was really. I didn’t come into contact with drama, I had nothing to do with that. I knew a couple of drama directors, but I didn’t really have anything to do with drama, It was in a separate part of the building. People who worked in light entertainment tended to be slightly within my orbit.
What about the World in Action world? Or did they keep themselves to themselves?
World in Action did keep themselves to themselves. But I did have connections with World in Action. And one of our Reports Politics went out as a World in Action. So yes, that was very much within my sphere, and one was quite regularly writing memos to Ray Fitzwalter or David Boulton, trying to persuade them to do ideas that you’d come up with, usually for World in Action. I hadn’t been at Granada very long, I’d only really been there about a month, and I wrote a memo to David Boulton and Ray Fitzwater saying, “I’ve got this great idea for a programme: a history of the Labour movement, 12 one-hours.” And I detailed it all. And much to my surprise, got called upstairs, and a serious discussion took place about it. And I was kind of, “Wow.” I mean, it never happened, but there was a serious discussion. What I do remember from that discussion was that David Boulton said to me, “Who would you have present it?” And me saying somebody probably fairly obvious. And then David saying, “Anthony Burgess would be good doing this, wouldn’t he? He’s from Manchester, and he’s got opinions.” And you did this all the time at Granada, you were writing, coming up with ideas, and those ideas were taken on board. Very early on in my Granada career, I’d read an article about Second World War deserters, or even post Second World War, people who had deserted from the army, and were still deserted. And I said to Steve, “This would make a good programme, to go and talk to them.” He said, “Yeah, a great programme. Half an hour, local, really good.” And he gave me a budget. “Go off and make it! Put adverts in the paper.” So I put adverts in various papers, including, as Steve said to me, the Racing Post. “Put an advert in the Racing Post! That’s the kind of paper they’ll read.” And I got all these responses. So I started following them up, I remember going to see a guy who lived in the flats down the bottom of Scotland Road in Liverpool. And most of them had very genuine reasons for deserting: wives got pregnant or were having affairs, or they were missing their children. And they deserted for very genuine reasons. And it would have made a great film. But just at that very point, the strike started and it disappeared.
What was the next stage in your career?
So after the six one-offs for Union Power, I was brought onto World in Action. The Labour Party was in the process of introducing selection and deselection of members of parliament. Prior to this, if you were a member of parliament for a constituency, you were there forever. So even if the party fell out with you, they couldn’t shift you. You were there. The only people who could shift you was the electorate. And the Labour Party had this discussion about introducing selection and deselection. And it was a major political issue. I mean, quite bizarrely, even the Tories have introduced it now, and nobody thinks anything about it. But at the time, it was a huge issue. So the idea was, to do a World in Action where we get into a constituency meeting where the discussion takes place about selection, and the candidate is nominated. I thought that would be great TV, but it was difficult. They didn’t want to know. I think I did find one constituency party somewhere in Liverpool, but they were they were never really going to go down that line. So that never happened. So no film was made, but that was the kind of thing they wanted me on, those kind of domestic political programmes. Because all the World in Action people wanted to do was go to Argentina and Africa, Vietnam or wherever. They wanted to do sexy stuff. Unfortunately, in my Granada career, I never did any of that. I always got the, “Let’s drive the car up to Warrington or Hartlepool.” So, yes, that didn’t really come off. One of the problems I encountered with domestic politics was… well, it’s changing all the time. It’s fast moving. And it was difficult to do fast moving films with Granada because of the process of filmmaking, which meant that if the programme was going out on a Monday night, you would be editing on a Saturday and Sunday, dubbing, etc. on the Monday, with the programme being transmitted Monday evening – so you had to finish the filming, in order to get your film processed, on the Thursday. You might be able to get a little bit in on the Friday morning, by which time, after the weekend, the story might have changed, totally. And it’s not like it is now – I mean, it’s very easy now – but because you were using film, it was difficult. So making films about British politics was really, really tricky. So I worked on a couple of studio-based World in Actions. Now, World in Action is not good at doing studio. It rarely does it, it didn’t have a particularly good set, and it didn’t really have a presenter. Gus MacDonald used to do it, but Gus would be coming out of the blue from somewhere and would suddenly present the programme. As we never had that that history of doing studio programmes, because it was a story-based programme. It wasn’t really about those kinds of issues. So although we did a number of studio programmes – we did one about who was going to be elected leader of the Labour Party after Callahan, and a couple of others – but they weren’t very successful at all. Panorama was much better at doing that kind of thing.
And what were your impressions of the culture that existed within World in Action?
It was a very macho culture. I was trying to think of any women who worked on World in Action at the time, but I can’t think of any at all. Claudia might have been there or there abouts, I don’t know. I can’t think of any other women who were on it at the time. So it was very macho. A lot of hard-nosed journalists. People like John Ware, who’d worked for the Sun. Ambitious, a lot of ego, a lot of infighting. Not so much in the time I was there, but in past times, there had been some really nasty infighting. I’m sure there are stories on the Granadaland website about those battles and coup d’états. So it was very macho, and you didn’t have any kind of social life. I never went off abroad on those three-week, four-week trips to Argentina or anything like that, but there would be instances – and this was one of the things generally about Granada – that you were expected to put Granada first and foremost. And I remember one night on World in Action, it was a Friday night, and I’d just gone to bed. I had a nice weekend planned for myself, and I’d got to bed on Friday night and the phone rings. And it was Allan Segal, who at that time was co-editor of World in Action. And Segal said, “I want you in London, my house, tomorrow morning by 10 o’clock.” Okay, Allan. “I’ve got an emergency programme, and I need you and Steve Anderson.” So I’m on the milk train down to London, and I get to Segal’s house, and he was still in bed! So I’m banging on the front door at 10am and he finally comes down in his dressing gown. So it was like that. You just kind of accepted it. It was 24/7.
Steve Morrison had been the person who got you into Granada. Was he somebody who you kept in touch with? Was he a supporter?
Yes, I did keep in touch with Steve. I liked Steve, I got on very well with him. A lot of people didn’t. A lot of people hated him because he was ambitious. He had his faults, but he was very dynamic. And he would be walking down the corridor with about 10 people behind him who all wanted him for two minutes to answer a question. But he injected that dynamism into local programmes, and local programmes was a great empire with all sorts going on. This is Your Right, Granada Reports, Reports Politics, Reports Extra, Aap Kaa Hak, Kick Off, there were loads of local programmes – we were doing about 15 hours of local programming per week. So it was quite a big empire. And Steve was very much that entrepreneurial, dynamic guy doing it. And he did a great job really. And I liked Steve, I got on well with him and never had any fallouts with him. Of course, he disappeared off to do other things. I lost touch a little bit with him at times.
Where did your career go to next? Union World?
Yes, I think probably Union World. I was always doing the party conferences every year when they were in Blackpool, so we would have the TUC, the Labour Party and the Conservative Party. You wouldn’t get all three at the same time, you would get one or two in Blackpool, so I was working on the coverage with that. That was great. Really enjoyed doing that. Because we actually did total coverage. Nowadays they don’t do anything, but we were doing it from when it started at nine o’clock in the morning to when it finished, day after day. When we did Union Power with Gus, we got into discussions about the possibility of doing a current affairs programme devoted to the trade unions. There’d been nothing like it. No programme like that had ever been done. Incidentally, Gus had worked for Tribune as well, and he’d worked in the shipyard like me. So we had similar backgrounds in many ways. And we both felt that trade unions got a bad deal on British television. And we thought maybe we could have a programme that would be devoted to news, stories, etc. to do with trade unions. So it would be their programme. In the same way as you have a programme that deals with the countryside, or a programme that deals with business. I mean, Business World used to go out on the BBC. But this was going to be focused solely on the trade unions, and would not take a critical point of view but would treat them seriously. We kind of worked on this idea, and we had a meeting at the TUC, we met with the general secretary at the time, Len Murray, we had meetings with a number of other TUC people, we got them on our side, and we were invited to the TUC general council to put our ideas over, because we needed their cooperation. That was the big thing. We couldn’t do it without the cooperation of the trade unions. So we had to persuade them that we were good guys, and we wouldn’t be out to get them. So Gus and I had worked on this idea. And it initially went out as a local programme on a trial run. And it went out on a Friday night in the 10:30 slot after ITN News. David Mills produced it, David Mills who was on World in Action, there were a couple of World in Action on it. In a way it was kind of an adjunct of World in Action, because it had all those World in Action people involved. David Boulton was involved as an executive producer, Gus MacDonald was an executive producer, David Mills was producer, and Michael Walsh, who I had worked with at the Tribune as well and was now Granada. So we finished up with all these Tribune people! David Boulton had worked at Tribune, I’d worked at Tribune, Gus had worked at Tribune and Mike Walsh had worked at Tribune. So there were four Tribune people involved. So Mike was a reporter. And the presenters, interestingly, were Gus MacDonald and Anna Ford. Anna had worked for Granada during the 1970s before she had gone off to ITN and become a mega star. And she came and did Union World with us. So it was a half-hour programme. It started in the September of ‘82. We did it to coincide with the week of the TUC conference in Blackpool. And they went out on Friday night as the conference finished. I remember the first programme, I was left in Blackpool on Friday lunchtime by the team and told, “Get us a scoop, Steve.” Which I did manage to do, actually, and I think three of the items we did were all really my items. And we’ve got quite a bit of publicity from them. But… it was okay, it wasn’t bad, it was quite well done. It wasn’t a bad programme.
When did it become a Channel 4 programme?
Well, once Channel Four started up, Gus was heavily involved on the fringes of Channel 4, in setting it up. And Gus presented a right to reply programme on Channel 4. And he’d discussions with Channel 4 about doing a trade union programme. And it fitted into the new ethos of Channel 4, doing things that weren’t normally done in television like a right to reply, like a trade union programme, like Brookside, which was just very, very different to Coronation Street. So it fitted. Channel 4 wanted to be a more democratic channel than the BBC, or even ITV, and do things differently. To look at minorities, do programmes to minority, be that ethnic minorities or disability, there were quite a few disability programmes I did. And Union World was seen as fitting into that category. So I worked on Union World from when it started in October 1982 to the June of 1985. It went through a few different series. I wasn’t supposed to be working on it actually, because I’d been doing a programme called Hypotheticals, which I’ll come back to later. And I was about to do another Hypotheticals on terrorism, which I was very enthusiastic about. Anyhow, there I am, working on the new Hypotheticals about terrorism, when I get a call from David Boulton, “Come and see me.” I went to see David, and he said, “I’m pulling you from Hypotheticals to work on Union World with David Kemp.” I said, “I don’t want to!” He said, “Well, Mike Scott has specifically asked, because there’s a major problem, and it needs rescuing. And you’re the only person who can do it.” Mike Scott was programme control. “The problem is,” he said, “It goes out next week, and they’ve done nothing. They haven’t even got the titles done yet. It’s a mess.” So I had to do it. So I had to go and rescue it. So David Kemp produced it, Gus McDonald presented it, I was a researcher.
Tell me about David Kemp.
He was Granada’s political correspondent. And he’d worked for the Labour Party in their press office at one point, he was quite left wing. He was a very, very bright man. His brother was Arnold Kemp, who later became a very famous editor of the Glasgow Herald. And his father was George Kemp, a playwright who had helped set up the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. David was very bright, very cultured. We had some great times with him. But David also enjoyed a few drinks, let’s say. And at times that was very difficult. There were times when he wasn’t drinking and he was okay, and times when he was drinking, and life was a bit difficult with him. So yes, David was producing. It was a bit of a mess, but we rescued it. And it was a half-hour programme, went out on a Saturday evening at around six o’clock, I think. It was made in Liverpool, at Exchange Flags, on a Friday evening, I suspect because that fitted… well, it was quite good to be using Liverpool because Liverpool had a studio. So it was good to be seen to be using the Liverpool studio. And I suspect it might have been difficult, in terms of studios, in Manchester. It was very similar in many ways to Reports Politics. A 10, 12-minute film, studio interview, maybe two studio interviews. And it worked very well, but we did have some problems, because it was quite difficult to get trade union leaders to come up on a Friday night, simply because there was no way of getting back to London after the programme, because the last train to London was about seven o’clock, and we didn’t finish in the studio till nine o’clock. So there was no way they could get back to London, which meant that they had to have a hotel in Liverpool, which wasn’t a problem. But for them, it meant that they didn’t get home till Saturday lunchtime. And quite rightly, they enjoyed seeing their family and not having another weekend of being away from home. So sometimes it was quite difficult. We did eventually hit upon the idea of having a plane! So we quite quickly had this private plane fly trade union leaders up from London on a Friday afternoon and fly them back Friday evening, usually with Gus MacDonald hitching a lift, and one or two researchers also hitching lifts back to London.
Presumably, at that time, budgets were not a problem.
No. I don’t remember any conversations about budgets at all really, during my days at Granada.
Presumably Granada were making quite a bit of money.
Oh, absolutely. I don’t know what the budget was at all. But there was never any, “Oh, you can’t do that.” If you needed to go to America to do an interview, you went to America. Never any question at all.
Which of your Union World films are you most proud of?
I can’t specifically remember which films I was most proud of. All I know is that I got sexy trips to places like Workington and Warrington, and places like that! Finding hotels in Warrington!
Were there programmes that you were proud to be associated with?
I was pretty proud of Reports Politics, because I thought it did a very important job in reporting local politics. And as I say, that’s not done any more. So that was a great programme to work on. I worked on Hypotheticals also, which was really, really good. And Union World was important. I mean, nobody would even dream of a programme like that any more. But it was important in its time, and it tried to take trade unions seriously. If we were covering a dispute, we didn’t go and interview management to ask what their side was. We focused on the trade unions. It got heavily criticised by the Tories. Norman Tebbit was demanding that it be taken off air. And it was criticised absolutely loads by the Conservative government. I think it did a good, serious job in looking at trade unions, in the way that business programmes looked at businesses and how they functioned.
And did you get a sense that management were behind you? Did you ever get any feedback when you were being criticised by the Tories?
Granada didn’t give a damn [about the criticism]. They backed us all the way. There was never any pressure to be a bit more lenient, or maybe get management onto programmes, etc.. There was never any of that, they didn’t interfere whatsoever. No. That was the great thing about Granada. You’ll hear people talk about the World in Action that was done on the Steel Papers. And it was a case of, “Have we got this right?” Yes. Have our journalists got this right?” Yes, our journalists have got it right. “Fine, we’ll back you.” Backed World in Action to the point where David Boulton was about to be sent to jail for six years.
In 1982, it was the start of smaller production companies setting up. Did you get a sense that Granada was changing at that point?
Yes, I very much got the sense, particularly into the 80s – and this is one of the reasons why I left – but from the mid 80s onwards, Channel 4 had started, and Channel 4 had broken things up and introduced these production companies. And there was the threat of the 1990 Broadcasting Act. And if you looked at the Act and what it was trying to do, you could foresee what was going to happen. And slowly, people were leaving Granada, particularly producers, and setting up their own production companies. Claudia Milne had gone off and set up 2020, but other people were leaving as well. And you could see what was happening. And I vividly remember there was a big meeting in Studio 60 of the entire shop. By this time, I had become quite active in the Union. But the entire shop met to discuss something. And I remember I stood up at this meeting and I said, “I’m going to predict here that everyone in this room, or 90% of the people in this room, in two or three years’ time, will all be freelanced. They’ll have all been made redundant by this company and they’ll all be on freelance contracts.” And I remember Malcolm Foster, who was the shop steward, saying, “Oh, it’s all right, shouting these things out, we don’t know this at all.” I was right. They were. And you could see it was going to happen. The whole thing was beginning to break up. I’d left before Charles Allen and Gerry Robinson came in, but you could see what was going on.
I wanted to talk to you about some of the programmes you worked on. So can you start off by talking about Hypotheticals?
Yes, I worked on Hypotheticals from January 1982 until June 1982, and a series that was to do with the police, called The Police and the Public. Now, Hypotheticals is a really interesting idea that had been devised, I think, in the late 40s, early 50s, in America, at the Ford Foundation, and it had been picked up by American television. I can’t remember the man’s name now, certainly Arthur Miller was involved. Fred Friendly. Fred was the great American producer who had produced the Ed Murrow show in the 1940s, on American TV. I did actually get to meet Fred Friendly, he was a tall, very elegant gentleman. Anyhow, he had devised this programme which had come from the Ford Foundation. It was about trying to get people, in various tasks, to talk about the way decisions were taken. And it had been devised for television. I think the first series had been done in America. But then Granada did it, and the first one they did was about the media, about decision making of journalists. So questions would be posed. You would take people who worked in a specific job, but then you would devise this fictional story. Because you can go to someone and say, “What are you going to do if the Prime Minister says this?” So you create this story. So there are 16 people around the horseshoe table, and there is a moderator who walks around and guides the story. It’s, “Tell me, sir, as leader of such a such a council, what are you going to do if such and such thing happens?” So we did one with the police, which was a tricky one, and in the end, was not hugely successful, I don’t think. We did three programmes. I worked on one, which was to do with the police and the general public, and how they dealt with demonstrations and public disorder. So what we did was we went to the Home Office, met the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office, got his agreement to do it, because we then had to go to the police. So we went to ACPO, the Association of Chief Police Officers, we spoke to them, and they agreed in the end, that they would not necessarily recommend chief constables to go along with the programme, but to say, “If you wish to go along with it and do it, fine.” So we did this series of programmes, and we involved Greater Manchester Police, Merseyside Police and various other police forces. And there were three scenarios. One was a demonstration, and at what point do you demand a demonstration be called off if there was potential danger and disorder. And another one was to do with football hooliganism. And you develop a story about what is happening with a football demonstration, does there come a point where you move in and start arresting lots of people? Do you bring in reinforcements at some point? What’s the response of the football club? And so on. And then there were two other programmes, which were more specifically to deal with the police. One was about criminality. Now, the problem was that you would say to the police, “A prisoner has been taken into custody, and the next morning he’s found dead in his cell.” And the police would say, “I’m sorry, that wouldn’t happen.” And they said, “Well, let’s pretend it happened.” “No, no, no, it wouldn’t happen, it’s impossible. It wouldn’t happen at all.” So it was very difficult to develop the scenarios with them because they were very resistant, and they will not accept anything could go wrong. “No, no, the demonstration would not get out of hand, we would be able to control it. That’s not an issue.” But what if it DID get out of hand?” They refused to play the game. Because it is a game. But we had some good people on the programme. I enjoyed doing it enormously. Andy McLaughlin was my producer, Brian Lapping was the executive producer, Andy and I went to Bramshill College, which was the big police chief training college where police officers shift from, say, assistant superintendent to superintendent, from assistant chief constable to chief constable. They would go there and do their final preparation for the advancement. We were the first outsiders to ever be allowed in, and it was really interesting. So I learned a lot about the police, and spent six months totally concentrating on talking to policemen, and various other people to do with law and order. It was really fascinating. I really, really enjoyed that programme. I was then supposed to go on to do one on international terrorism, which I was really looking forward to. And we were just getting stuck into that when I got called off to go and do Union World. So yes, Hypotheticals was a terrific series, and deserves more of a study. Granada went on and did a whole series of them. They did one on doctors, which was very interesting, about a 15-year-old girl comes into your surgery and asks for the pill. What do you as a doctor do? And they outline stories like that. That was very successful, the medical one, and the one on journalism was very successful. Ours wasn’t quite as successful, but it was a fascinating series. Because you would have a chief constable, and you would try and develop the story around him. But it never quite worked, that series.
Another programme that you worked on, which was one of Granada’s longest running programmes was What the Papers Say. What you would have to do as a researcher on that? Because it was a weekly programme wasn’t it?
It was weekly, it went out on a Friday night. Regarded by many as the best job in British television. It was terrific. I loved What the Papers Say, I had a great time. It wasn’t over demanding to be honest. Lots of interesting people, journalists. But the routine basically was, you came into work on Monday morning and you had to read Saturday’s newspapers, Sunday’s newspapers and Monday’s newspapers. That took up most of the day. And what you did was, you were looking for stories and themes that your journalists might like to develop. And maybe later on Monday, or probably more likely on the Tuesday, you would have conversation with the journalist who was presenting the programme. So on the Tuesday, I would usually go down to London, and I would read Tuesday’s papers on the train. I would get to London, and I would either go and see that week’s presenter and discuss what he might be wanting to do. Or sometimes we would entertain, take out for lunch, a potential new person. I remember that we took out Yvonne Roberts once. And we took out the guy from the Guardian, Sebastian Faulks, he later became a highly successful novelist. We took him out once, he was very entertaining. Generally, you would be looking to talk with that week’s presenter on the Wednesday, your presenter would be working on the story, and might call upon you to do some research. Most of them didn’t, most of them stuck very much to that week’s stories. But there was one in particular, who was the most hard-working and the most demanding journalist of them all, and that was Paul Foot. Paul Foot was terrific. He would suddenly say to you, “Steve, I remember there was a piece in the Hampstead and High paper about 10 years ago about something, do you think you could find it for us?” So I would have to go off to the Ham and High office and attempt to find this article. And he would devise this great script, which made references to what had been said in the past etc., and would be fairly complicated. But golly, it was really great journalism. It was really great investigative journalism that he was doing. He was demanding. And I did actually miss seeing the European Cup final one evening because he was so demanding, when he kept me in the office till about nine o’clock at night! So that would be Wednesday, the script would be coming together. On the Thursday, the journalist would come into the office with his completed script, and we would go through the script. We would then have to find the excerpts in all of those various newspapers. It was very complicated in those days, because they then had to go onto a caption. It doesn’t happen like that now. So I would have to go through all the newspapers and make sure we had it. Because the newspapers changed, as well, you’d suddenly get a London edition which might have had something in, but in the Manchester office, the Manchester edition might not have had it. So that all had to be prepared on Thursday, we would go up, and I would be in very early on Friday morning. I would give it to the graphics people to put the captions up, and talk to the director. And then they’d go to rehearsals on the Friday morning, they would go into studio on the Friday afternoon, and late Friday afternoon’s programme would be recorded and went out on the Friday night. It was a great show to work on. I mean, wonderful, wonderful. presenters, wonderful, wonderful journalists working on it, it was a joy to work on. And when I did it, I was working with Mike Ryan. And Mike Ryan was also a joy to work with. I should also mention the What the Papers Say Awards. Every year, we would have the What the Papers Say Awards, and we’d give awards to the best journalists, the most outstanding journalists of that year, maybe they’d got a scoop. We had various categories: story of the year, columnist of the year, newspaper of the year. And I would be largely responsible for those awards, and I would draw up a list from my own personal point of view, like I would say, “Newspaper of the year: Daily Mirror, Guardian for such and such story, and the Times.” And there would be a big committee meeting, and the great and good of Granada – Sir Denis Forman, Sidney Bernstein might have come forward as well, David Plowright would be there, Mike Scott, Steve Morrison, Mike Ryan, David Boulton was always there as well. Gus MacDonald, and all the great good of Granada, the great journalists of Granada would gather, and they will go through the three that I had presented them and decide who would finally get that award. David Boulton and I used to have a little competition. He would say, “You decide who you think should get it, and I’ll decide who I think should get it. And we’ll see who gets the most right.” I introduced cartoonist of the year as well. There had never been a cartoonist of the year, and I got that going. Once we’d decided this, this would be followed some weeks later by a gathering at the Savoy Hotel in London for the What the Papers Say Awards. This would be televised. And we always had a lunch of Morecambe Bay shrimps followed by Lancashire hotpot, and the awards would be presented. Great occasion.
Let’s talk about World in Action. You actually did do a specific programme for them?
I went back onto World in Action and did a programme about militants in Liverpool. The whole Militant Tendency story been bubbling for a year or so, and I had started doing some work on it for a locals programme. And at the same time, World in Action had also started sniffing around the story, so we decided to combine them. So I went on, and I worked with Steve Boulton, who later became editor of World in Action. And Steve and I worked on it. And it was really the story of Militant Tendency in Liverpool, and Derek Hatton. I was extremely interested in what has happened with Militant Tendency, and their tactics in Liverpool. And I did a lot of work on that, spoke to a lot of people, got one or two former members of Militant Tendency to start talking about the sort of tactics that Militant used on the Liverpool Council, much of which was outrageous, and later led to their expulsion from the Labour Party. I wasn’t altogether happy with the programme, because it focused very much on Derek Hatton. And whilst in a way there was no problem in focusing on Derek Hatton, I felt that it really missed the main story, which was the way Militant Tendency had seized control of Liverpool Council. And there wasn’t enough of that, there should have been more of that. Instead, it was all about, “Derek Hatton, isn’t he an appalling guy?” I mean, I curry no favour with Derek Hatton, but I just felt that the emphasis of the story was wrong. Hatton was livid with what we did. There was a very amusing incident in the programme. We did an interview with Derek Hatton, and we had been to talk to his ex-girlfriend, who was also in Militant. I think she was living in Aberdeen. So we’d done an interview with her about Derek, this former girlfriend, and she hadn’t told us anything really. Derek then says, “Stop the interview. I need to go out, I need to go and talk to people.” So Derek goes out and forgets to take his microphone off. So he walks into another room to see his mates, and he’s still got his microphone on. And it wasn’t until a couple of hours later, he goes into the side room and he says, “Fucking hell! They’ve been talking to her! Get on the phone and find out what the fuck she’s been telling them!” So he comes back, and we continue the interview. But she hadn’t actually said very much at all. And that was one of the problems of the programme, which was that we were never really able to put the piece of paper on the table and say, “There’s the evidence, Dereck.” It will also supposition. And that’s why I think that programme failed. John Ware was the producer, and I had a bit of a run-in with him over the direction of the programme. And when we’d finished all the filming, we were packing all the gear up, and the sound man says, “He forgot to take his mic off, you know.” And we all went, “What?!” And we heard what he’d said to his cronies. There was nothing really further from that. So that went out. It caused a real stink. It was the front page of the Daily Mirror when the programme went out. Front page, massive story. All the newspapers led with it. It was a huge page one story. And as such, it put a lot of pressure on the Labour Party to sort out Derek Hatton, which it did.
This is slightly out of sequence, but I know another programme that you’re particularly proud of was Granada 500.
Yes. Granada 500 was a major general election programme, which I think started with the ‘74 general election. Anyhow, I was there in ‘79 for the general election, and did some work on the Granada 500. It’s a really interesting idea and is, like many TV programmes, deserving of some very serious consideration and reflection. What it was about was, every general election from the year dot had always gone the way of Bolton West. Bolton West was a key marginal. There were two seats in Bolton, Bolton West and Bolton East, and Bolton West was the most marginal. And if Bolton West went conservative, the government went conservative. If it went Labour, the government went Labour. It was always a winning seat. And as such, deserved some serious looking at. So what Granada did was to set up the Bolton 500. We went to the constituency, and with the help of the opinion pollsters MORI, identified 500 key people who were an accurate reflection of the voters in Bolton. So the idea was, if you could plot the way they were thinking about different issues, you could see which way the electron was going to go. So we identified our 500 people. We then polled them about the 10 most important issues of the general election – defence, common market, economy, whatever. And what we then did was to educate these 500 in the various issues. So for the two weeks running up to the election, two and a half weeks, every day, we brought these 500 people into the town hall in Bolton, or wherever we were doing it, and then we, the researchers, would have worked on a paper. So let’s say we were doing defence, defence was the subject we were going to talk about that particular day. So in the afternoon, we would have prepared a paper, 4-6 sheets of paper, about what the issues were to do with defence. Defence expenditure, nuclear expenditure, Polaris submarines, etc.. We would give every one of these 500 a little booklet of all this information. And in the afternoon, an expert would come in, two or three experts, to talk to the audience about the various issues to do with defence. And the audience could talk to them. That wasn’t televised. That was all internal. You can begin to see what a massive operation this was. It was huge. You probably about 8-10 researchers working on it. Two or three producers, big OB crew. It was a huge commitment, cost a lot of money. Plus, also, if these people couldn’t get the time off work we wrote to the companies and said, “Can they have the time off?” And if the company said , “Yes, they can have the time off, but we’re not going to pay them,” then Granada paid them. I mean, it was huge. It cost a fortune. So after they’d had their afternoon of being “educated”, as it were, and then fed, we would bring the politicians in. The politicians would arrive, one from each party. The Secretary of State for defence, the opposition spokesman for defence Labour, and the Liberal. And an hour-long television programme would be done live, in which the audience could speak to the politicians and ask questions of the politicians. And that was presented by Gordon Burns, who did a terrific job in presenting that. And so for 10 days, whatever it was, every night it went out live at nine o’clock on network television. That would never happen today! But it was a great way of educating people in the issues, and spending some time thinking about the issues instead of the sort of rush over the issues that you get these days. Then at the very end of it, the operation gets even bigger. Because we took the 500 down to London, to a theatre that was at the back of the London School of Economics. And in this theatre, the 500 met the three party leaders. So Margaret Thatcher was rolled in, James Callaghan, and David Steel. They came in, and then the audience asked their questions. And by this stage, you kind of knew who the good people were for asking questions, the ones who were articulate and asked interesting questions, so we were always trying to identify all those people. And I remember the one I did in 1979, Jim Callaghan was Prime Minister. It was kind of felt that Callaghan lost the election on his performance. There had been the summer of discontent, a lot of strikes, a lot of demands for more money, bins, litter and rubbish in the streets and so on. And the nurses had been demanding more money. And there’s a nurse sitting in the front row. And she asks Callaghan, “When are you going to give us nurses more money?” And Callaghan had a go at her. He was quite, not bullying, but he didn’t do it very gently. The one thing you don’t do is try to bully or shout down a young female nurse. And it was felt very much that he really lost it with her. It was unlike Callaghan really, because he was a nice old man. I met him many times, and he was he was a very gentle, decent person. But he lost it a bit there. And then, of course, when Margaret Thatcher came in, she just wooed them all. “Nurses are so important,” you know, “You do a wonderful job.” And she won the general election. We had a huge train to take these people down to London from Piccadilly, which had on the front of it ‘The Granada 500’ as it rattled its way through the Midlands to London. What an operation it was! We did the ‘83 general election, and we did one in Warrington, there was a very important by-election in Warrington when Roy Jenkins stood against Doug Hoyle. And that was the Warrington 500. That was when the Social Democratic Party had just been formed. I think it was the first seat that they fought was in Warrington, the SDP, and Roy Jenkins lost it. But yes, we did one there as well.
Okay, so you had come from the shipyards into Granada, which was a closed shop. I wonder if you could talk a little bit about the pros and cons you felt within television of having a strongly unionised workforce.
Yes, I mean, obviously that appealed to me because I was a strong trade unionist. I’d had a trade union scholarship to Ruskin College at Oxford. So I’d been a strong trade unionist all my life, my father was a very strong trade unionist, and have been secretary of his local engineering union branch. So coming to Granada, I mean, yes, it was a closed shop, and I joined the union. In terms of my union activity of Granada, I didn’t do a lot for some years. I always felt that the researchers at Granada didn’t get a very good deal. The producers got a good deal, and I thought the NUJ guys got a good deal. But the researchers didn’t get much of a deal. So one day, I’m talking to Malcolm Foster, I think I was out on a shoot with Malcolm Foster, who was a shop steward. He was chair of the shop committee. And I said, “Can you not help us researchers?” He said, “I can, but he why don’t you get onto the committee?” The shop committee was representative of all the various sections, like camera, sound, producers, directors, and so on. And I said, “Well, there are no researchers on the committee, you don’t have a spot for researchers.” And he said, “I can change that. There’s no reason why you can’t have one.” This is the ACTT. He said, “I’ll sort that, so you can have a rep, and decide amongst yourselves who you want.” So we did that, and of course I got nominated by all the researchers to be the representative of the researchers. So I went onto the shop committee, and was on the shop committee for a couple of years, I think, and managed to improve. If issues came up, I knew that I could go to the ACTT and the company would listen to it. Previous to that, if you had a grudge or problem, the company weren’t bothered about the researchers because they didn’t have the backing of the ACTT. But as soon as Malcolm Foster went with you to the sixth floor with a problem, it was solved. Because they were frightened of ACTT, which was great. So we made quite a few advances for researchers, and almost came to one or two major disputes. But they were eventually resolved. so that was good. I enjoyed being on the shop committee. We met once a week, Tuesday lunchtime, in one of the committee rooms. And there were people like Jim Grant, later to be Lee Child, who was on the shop committee, John Scarratt. Carolyn Reynolds represented the PAs, the production assistants. She went on to dizzy heights. And there was always a producer representative, which a lot of the time was Sandy Ross, again, he went on to become managing director of Scottish Television. We got some good deals. I do remember, there was a turning point on the shop committee where things suddenly changed. There was a lot of freelancing going on anyhow, and the company were making people redundant and freelancing them. But it was to do with the This Morning programme. The network said that they wanted to do a morning magazine programme, which was going to be two and a half hours of morning, live broadcasting. And Granada was really interested in doing this. And they had a plan that they would do it from Liverpool. They thought, “That’ll look really good done from the Albert Dock in Liverpool.” But the problem was that the Union had a rule that if you travelled more than 35 miles, you were entitled to an overnight payment, plus breakfast, plus lunch, plus evening meal, plus rest and refreshment. That requires a lot of money per day. And had that rule be maintained, it would cost the company a fortune. Because we’re talking about everyone going over there – cameramen, PAs, producers, researchers, huge team. So the company had come to Granada and said, “Look, if we get this contract, this guarantees a massive amount of work for the entire duration of the contract for 50, 60 people or whatever.” Two and a half hours of live broadcasting per day was enormous, going out on the network. So the union pondered this and company said, “Look, you’re going to have to relax that rule. Otherwise, it’s just not worth it.” So the union agreed to relax the rule, and in a way they took the finger out of the dam. And the dam soon burst open.
So we’re getting into the stage now of when you left Granada, in the late 80s. I wonder if you can tell me kind of how that came about and why you decided to leave.
In 1986 or 1987, something like that, I wrote a book. A publisher had given me an advance to write the official history of Liverpool Football Club. I was a big Liverpool fan. And they asked me to write a big coffee table book with lots of photographs, the official history of Liverpool Football Club. So I was asked to write that, I did it, enjoyed it, it was hugely successful, sold a lot of copies. Sold thousands and thousands of copies, and every year I would add a new chapter, add some more photographs and a new front cover. And that went on for years and years, and sold an awful lot of copies, made me a lot of money. And they then asked me to do another book on Everton as well. Give gave me a nice big advance. And I had managed to do the Liverpool book, only because I left. I was on Union World, and I knew that Union World was very demanding as a programme in terms of your time. And so I shifted on to a programme called Scramble, I’ll come back to that later, which was a lot more easy going, and I could plan my life. I knew I would be home by six o’clock, and I could go upstairs and write for three hours, and I could write on Saturday and Sunday, which I wouldn’t have been able to do on most other Granada programmes. So I shifted programmes, and that allowed me to do all that writing. But then they asked me to do a second one. And I’m in a pretty ongoing, still, you know, working and doing all that writing. And I was given another big advance for the Everton book. And then another publisher asked me to write a book about Victorian photography in the Lake District. And I’d got an advance of that as well. And I thought, “It’s time to go.”
So Scramble was effectively your last programme?
Yes, it was my last programme. And yes, I’d been married fairly recently, and I had a child. I mean, it’s interesting, during that whole period, I was asked to go and do this major series about Islam, which was going to be based in London, because Granada had the London office. So the producer was in London, and it was really going to be based in London. And I was given the opportunity to go work on this major, major series. And I turned it down. I remember Rod Caird being flabbergasted when I said I didn’t want to do it, saying, “Why?” I said, “I got married six months ago, and I’d like to spend some time with my wife.” They couldn’t believe it. And so anyway, so I didn’t do it. I went on Scramble, which was great fun. The producer of Scramble was a guy called Jim Walker. It was one of those social action programmes which raised money. Scramble didn’t try to raise money, but it went out in the afternoon or lunchtime. Anyhow, it was a daytime programme and it was done from the Liverpool office. And the idea was that we would give things to people – we were in the 80s here, which are difficult times. Thatcherism, unemployment, high inflation. And the idea was to give people things. So we’d ring up tea companies, Cadbury’s or whatever saying, “Can you give us some tea bags?” They’d say, “Okay, yes, we’ll give you 500 packets of tea bags.” And we’d say on the programme, “We’ve got 500 packets of tea bags, first 500 people to come to the office can have them.” All sorts of bizarre things. I went up in a hot air balloon once, made this film in a hot air balloon, and we invited people to write in, and the first three names we picked out of the bag would take off in a hot air balloon. It was a bit naughty, really. We were on the boundaries. But nobody ever said anything. So we were advertising the balloon company, and we were advertising the tea company, and various other companies who were giving us things. And it was under the table bribery! But we didn’t bother. We just spent all of our time dreaming up all these wonderful things. The European Cup final, I got a couple of free tickets to the European Cup final. It was the Heysel one in Brussels. And two free flights, you would ring up the plane company. So we would say, “This company has given us two free tickets for a flight to Brussels, and I have two tickets here given to us by Liverpool Football Club, first people in the office…” And so it went on. It was hilarious. We had a great time. We had Red Rum in the office once. I’m not quite sure why. But Red Rum came along. We must have been advertising for the Grand National and giving away free tickets for the Grand National. “And here is Red Rum!” Although we couldn’t actually bring him into the studio. They wouldn’t let us do that. We have to do him outside, on that concourse area outside Exchange Flags. And we had a great time. Jim Walker is one of the most wonderful producers I ever worked with. He was a genius. But he was a bolshie Geordie. A very working class, very left-wing – he was so left-wing, he hated the union! He was great, was Jim. But he didn’t drive. And he used to come over to Liverpool on the train. And he would pull out an envelope from his pocket, and he would write the script on the back of an envelope, literally on an envelope. And he would come into the office and give the envelope to poor old Val, the production secretary, and she’d be ripping it up to try and put it all together. And that was the script. And they were brilliant scripts. They were just so clever. And the whole programme was just riotous, it was great fun to work on. And I made a lot of money because I got loads of expenses, because, again, it was made in Liverpool and we were all Manchester-based, working in Liverpool. At the same time, Granada had half a dozen researchers and producers who were Liverpool-based working in Manchester. It was crazy. Charlie Rogers worked on it. We would get loads of expenses working on it. And it was just great fun.
So what are your feelings about leaving Granada when you did?
I think I felt like… I had gone to various producer boards and not been made a producer. Though by the end of it, I was producing because that rule became very blurred. I think I knew I’d had my day, and I think I was enjoying the writing, and doing pretty well with it. I was sad to leave in many ways, because it was a great company. And possibly, I’ve realised in hindsight, just how good a company it was. They always say you don’t appreciate things until you haven’t got them, and when you look at the state of British television now, and particularly with its current affairs programming, there are no Granada 500s there. There will never ever be another Granada 500 because the commitment is just too much. And they will never, ever be another Union World, because it’s not deemed as being politically correct. There will never be another World in Action, because it was not a cheap programme. There would be, on some programmes, three, four researchers working on them. The Birmingham six programme had I think about four researchers working on it for getting on for a year. Now that is a huge, huge commitment. So in hindsight, you realise that is never going to happen again, and how wonderful it was that Granada did that. Seven Up was another big commitment. You realise how terrific it was that it did that. And you know, Granada did make some wonderful, wonderful programmes. I mean, the dramas! Brideshead Revisited was the talk. Everybody talked about it at the time, not just inside Granada, but outside Granada. It was in all the papers, it was everything. The Jewel in the Crown, and Coronation Street. I mean, I never worked on Coronation Street, but I would see them around the building. You’d go to the canteen, and there would be Violet Carson, Ena Sharples, and Minnie, sitting there in the canteen. And everybody watched Coronation Street, it got 14, 15 million viewers, every episode. I mean, now, I don’t know what it gets now, but it won’t be much over five million, is my guess. And there was a whole different culture. There was a culture of watching television in those days, which doesn’t exist any more. Slightly exists a bit with Netflix, where people talk about the programmes. But people talked about these programmes all the time during the 70s and 80s. And it was always a culture, that television culture, which as I say doesn’t really exist any more. So Granada was making wonderful, wonderful programmes. And yes, I missed all that.
And what about Granada’s commitment to the north? Is that something that you felt strongly aware of?
Oh, very much. I mean, even when I was living on Merseyside, back in Birkenhead in the 1960s, I distinctly remember programmes like People and Places, and Scene at 6:30, the magazine programmes that preceded Granada Reports. Strong regional identification. And there were also lots of half hour documentaries, which were about the north west, which might be slightly quirky ones. And they would focus, in a half-hour film, maybe about a brass band, or I did one about football, about Tranmere Rovers and its American owner. Bruce Osterman. And I they were great films for documentary makers. The kind of thing a young director would do and have a wonderful time doing it. Slightly quirky. Anything you wanted: pie eating competitions, brass bands, whatever you wanted. And some of them were fronted by people like Ray Gosling. Although Ray wasn’t from the north west, in a way he identified with the north west. And yes, regionalism was really, really important. Granada had a regional output of at least 12 hours per week, specifically local programmes and magazine programmes, Granada Reports, the bulletins, Kick Off, the half hour football programme, Reports Politics, Reports Extra, This Is Your Right, Aap Kaa Hak, and so on. I mean, it was very regional. Although not everybody in the company was from the northwest. Denis Forman wasn’t, David Plowright wasn’t. Mike Scott wasn’t, I don’t think. Bernstein obviously wasn’t. But nonetheless, it identified with the north west, and it heralded the north west as a wonderful area. And I think Sidney Bernstein at one point talked about introducing a Granadaland passport, so strong was the identification with the Northwest.
You’ve got a lot of positive memories. But one of the things that you did after you’d left was to try and address perhaps Granada’s difficulties around recruiting a diverse workforce, with particular reference to black and minority ethnic members of the workforce.
Yes, Granada had an appalling record in terms of diversity. When I worked at Granada, I think we counted six black people in the company. Yes, there was just six, maybe seven out of a workforce of more than 1,000, which is a disgrace. An utter disgrace. A very good friend of mine, Wallen Mattie, who is from the afro-Caribbean community in Moss Side, was in a lot of discussions with the sixth floor, with management, about trying to redress the balance and give opportunities to more black people. Of course, Granada would say, “Well, we advertise, and no black people apply for jobs,” which is probably true. But he decided to try and tackle it from a different angle. So Wallen, and I think Charlie Lauder also was involved in it, they came up with a scheme with the sixth floor, that they would try and set up a scheme, a kind of internship, where specific adverts would be put out to the black community, only the black community could apply, only the black community could be appointed. And the idea was to appoint 12 people, they would come and work at Granada, they would be paid, and they would be trained. And at the end of a number of months, six months or whatever it was, if we felt they were up to it, they would be given a permanent job. I helped with the training. As I say, Wallen was a very good friend of mine. And we trained them up as researchers and journalists, trained them up to learn about how film worked, about how studio worked – how to make a programme, basically. And they all worked on Granada Reports and one or two of the local programmes. And I don’t know how successful it was really, because I think two people were given contracts at the end of the term. Some people just didn’t stick the six months, went off and did other things, or didn’t enjoy it. Fair enough. But it was an attempt to try and redress the balance. I mean, I don’t know what the situation is now, I have no idea whether Granada has really improved it. But we tried. We did get into the black community. Because as Wallen kept saying, “There are stories in the black community that we need to get out.” And it needed people inside the black community to come with those stories.
And of course, Granada had its own challenges.
Oh, gosh, it had. Yes, the Toxteth riots had been appalling for Granada Television. The crews have been literally thrown out of Toxteth, and received a lot of abuse. Because they didn’t cover the black community in Liverpool whatsoever.
When did you leave Granada?
I finally left Granada in September 1988, so I was there for 10 years. I think they were the best 10 years of Granada. They were great fun, lucrative, one has to admit that. But they were great fun, and we made some great programmes, and I enjoyed it. And Granada was a fantastic company. It was a family. Even now, 20 or 30 years on, people still talk about the family. There was still that bonding of having worked for Granada and having worked on wonderful programmes, and a pride in having worked on those programmes, in a way that you don’t get with many companies and many jobs. Now, if you work for an insurance company, there’s nothing tangible to feel proud about. At least if you work in a shipyard you could feel proud of the ships that you helped construct. If you work in a television company, you could feel proud of the programmes you made. But in a lot of companies, a lot of industries, there’s not a lot to feel proud of. But you certainly felt proud of working for Granada.