Wallen Matthie on being one of the few black people working at Granada TV and his input into the company’s policy on BME recruitment

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You were born in Jamaica but grew up in Manchester, how did it feel coming to Granada as a black person – where there many black people on the staff?

No, when I joined Granada I just knew of two people on staff. Actually just one on staff because I was going to mention Oral Ottey who was a film editor but he was working at Granada at the time – he worked for a company called Greendow who did a lot of the editing for Granada. So the only person I knew at the time was Charles Lauder who had been there literally about a year before I joined, I think he must have joined 1979 or 1980 and when I got there, there was Charles who I knew and during that period of the first couple of years there was a black woman – Marilyn Wong Sam – who was there as well. I can’t recall whether she was here just before me or just after. I made some enquiries at the time and I recall being told that Granada Manchester, Granada Exchange Flags in Liverpool and Granada London, and Granada Manchester had something like around 800 staff within that building in Quay Street and out of that 800 staff they had six people on their books who they could claim were ethnic minorities and I was one of them. I think it went up to eight at one stage. And that’s part of the reason that during the latter years of Granada while I was there I was flitting in between making programmes as a producer /director but also assisting the organization in terms of developing policies which were more conducive to attract a more multicultural talent of programme makers.

So we started the Granada Positive Action scheme for example which was again trying to get people from ethnic minorities, from the black and Asian community and the Chinese community to look at broadcasting as a way forward as a career. So we did that for a while. And that went fairly well. The only problem with that, I felt, and I said it at the time was that while we were giving people a taster, we weren’t necessarily giving them full time jobs within Granada. The one or two who did get full time jobs within Granada they’d be gone within six months, if that. So, whilst we were beginning to attract people, we were having problems in terms of retaining them.

How were you treated as a black person? Did you come across much racism?

I came across a lot of ignorance. There’s two sides to this. When you’re in broadcasting you’re going out meeting the public – and you get all sorts and that’s quite interesting. And going out as a filmmaker, as a researcher with a film crew, there was a whole range of things I came up against. Within Granada itself, throughout that period of time, I cannot recall any blatant, in-your-face racism. There were things being said, things being done, you were excluded from certain meetings or you were assigned to a programme and there were little cohorts of people that you weren’t necessarily part of but nobody came up to me – though it may have because of the way I handled myself – but nobody came up to me and made any racist comments or remarks. But what I did find within Granada is that whenever it raised its ugly head – Granada was one of those companies that attracted a lot of leftie people so leftie people were with it and there were people there to support me. There’s no question of that. So I didn’t feel, no time at all did I feel, it’s a part of the company or this thing about institutionalised racism. It was there, I wasn’t getting promoted as fast as others were and you think to yourself why is that? But, as you well know, at the time it’s not necessarily what you know but who you know, knowing all the right producers and the rest of it. I didn’t necessarily know the right people and I didn’t necessarily go out drinking and all of that, so it’s very difficult to assess. But I didn’t come up against any out and out blatant racism at the company at the time.

But I was always conscious of the fact that I was different. Working with producers and fellow researchers was different to working with cameramen. You’d go out with some cameramen and, for instance, they’d say, “We don’t get many darkies here in this company” and you think to yourself (laughs) and that was said to me on one or two occasions. One could say is that racism or sheer ignorance. I’m not sure. But I did get that from time to time.

And did things change later on in the company by the time you left were the number of people from ethnic minorities increasing?

No, no. You see that was the disappointing thing for me. We identified – certainly when I was there in 1981 when I joined – it was very clear to me that one of the things that I wasn’t happy to do was to be the spokesperson for the black community. At the time the company felt that if there was anything to do with the black community ask Wallen. I was saying, “No, I’ve got my own point of view. You should be going out there canvassing a range of opinion from the black community.”

Again it came back to who were the company employing, who were they attracting, was Granada in terms of their social responsibility as a company doing the right thing. So we looked at a whole range of stuff that Granada could do and get involved with whether of not it was about producers being used to mentor people from the BME community, etc. There was a whole range of stuff that we decided Granada should get involved with. But even when they did there was still this issue I felt that we still failed to attract the right people. People were coming to me and saying that it wasn’t the place for them. I remember a young Asian girl who was in the newsroom and she was a Muslim girl and she said that she really felt left out. She was a very clever woman but she felt that she just wasn’t part of it all because she wasn’t a drinker, she was Muslim and wasn’t a drinker. So she wasn’t going out to the Old School at lunchtime and getting all the bevvies down her neck and all the rest of it. And because of her lifestyle, because of her culture, she left eventually. Now that’s disappointing and I felt that Granada, after 20 years couldn’t hold itself up as beacon. You know Channel 4 were, in my opinion, more with it at the time in terms of equalities.

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