Andrew Serraillier on his role as a promotions scriptwriter

Promotions is a bit like a little advertising unit in Granada. Our products were the programmes. So we were there to explain them to people and to hopefully be alluring and encourage people to watch them. So we made trailers. We produced and edited them. They were scheduled throughout the week. “Coronation Street, tonight at 7:30”, with a clip. They were mostly very simple, often consisting of a bit of action where you put 5-10 seconds of introductory words, and then a clip of 20-25 seconds, and then maybe you cut to a slide at the end. They were just reminding you: tomorrow, tonight, next Wednesday, whatever.

The beautiful thing about promotions was you got the play with every tentacle of Granada: the studios, the film crews a bit later on – I’ll come to that – and the continuity announcers, you were writing scripts for them, standby scripts. But you had this great big toy box. I know it’s a cliché. Orson Welles talked about toy boxes and train sets, it’s just a great thing. I honestly feel like Granada was set up for my personal amusement!

It was good fun to be able to play with all these toys but thinking back it was incredibly basic. For example, if you had a line saying ‘Tonight at 7:30’ it was literally Letraset put onto a black board. So one of your jobs would be to commission all of these captions and inevitably they would be spelt wrong so you’d have to check all that. But then you took this great cluster of cards, and they were big, 2’ by 2’6” cards with a tiny bit of Letraset, and you took them to a studio, Studio 2 which was the first studio in Britain specifically built for television, so it’s historically something important. To get the whole studio brought in just to put a caption on the end of your little trailer just seemed ridiculous. But that’s how it was in those days. So these jobs were rotated between the four of us. And we’d do one day in the studio, one day researching our programmes which were allocated to us, one day writing continuity scripts, and it never felt like work.

And would you have been liaising with producers and directors getting some of the film from a programme, if it was available?

Yes, if they were big things like King Lear or whatever you might go and talk to a producer. But I only did that to sort of get my foot in the door and talk to somebody. I don’t think it was actually strictly necessary. I’m sure some of these people would have wanted to make their own trailers. I know I did when I was a producer later on. You had to collect the material. One of the big things in promos was doing an evening’s worth of entertainment that would run as part of a bigger package. That would be edited by us in the most rudimentary fashion, with somebody there to load the cassette machine which would trigger another cassette machine which would trigger another. It wasn’t a cut and done on film; these were little shuttles of video tape, very crude. I remember some of them couldn’t run for less than six seconds. These days, you might want to run a clip for three seconds if it was a run of programmes, and then spend your time on something a bit longer. What was the question? I’ve been rambling!

Whether you liaised that much with producers and directors. What about if it was for a programme like World in Action, which is being edited right up to the final minute?

They did their own and did a dirty feed from the continuity booth. So that wasn’t recorded in advance. But every other programme was. And of course there were things like feature films that would also need to have a trailer. That was a great day when you went and got the six or seven that you were going to do for that week, and you literally went and picked up a 35mm film, which is a big beast. In fact I probably ordered it and somebody else picked it up and delivered it to the projection booth. Because everything was over-manned in those days, or, adequately manned, depending on your position. So I turned up to Alan in the projection booth and he would play Hawaii 5-0 just to me alone in the theatre, and I asked for the sound to be full volume, lay back with my feet on the chair in front of me – it was just fantastic! And then you’d watch for a bit where you didn’t need to make a cut. It was just 30 seconds of something that was happening, with a little bit of room on the front to say, “Jack has the surprise of his life tonight on Hawaii 5-0” and then you upped the sound. There was a little switch in the dubbing theatre or the viewing theatre, and Alan would be listening out for it, and he’d shove a bit of paper into the machine, into the projector, which is where we were going to sync it up to run live into the studio or into the transmissions suite.

That would be run live?

Well, actually I’m gilding the lily. Maybe it would have been in the studio and would be recorded on tape.

So you would edit it?

No. I think it might have been live, you know. Because we knew where the start was because I would write the in cue, and they would roll it back however many seconds it was. No, it would have been live. They would have rolled it back enough to get the machine up to speed, and then transmission, who knew exactly how long the trailer was and exactly when it began, would cut from whatever they’d just done to a cue off the telecine machine – the projector, if you like – and they’d cut it up onto transmission, and there it was! There it was live.

In fact that’s something to think about there, because when you think about programming planning and presentation, how many hours of TV are there in a day? It wasn’t 24 in those days, in 1979, but every single minute and second of the schedule was accounted for. So whilst things may not have started exactly on 7:30 – Coronation Street might have started at 7:30 and 40 seconds – they knew when it was starting. So, to answer your question, if we were rolling in live it wasn’t so frightening because we knew how long the roll up was, we knew how long the voiceover was, we knew how long the trailer was. It was all marked on the script several days in advance. That’s what the presentation department did.

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