Ann Lewis

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 26 January 2014.

Cos it was all on the phones. I do think nonetheless that there was some good stuff. I remember I suggested to him, why don’t you get people with gardens and people without gardens and connect them to people who do have gardens and then they can. And so he did it. It worked really well. It was a very successful strand that in the programme with people matched up. They’d phone in with their details and we’d match tem up. I was matched up – I had a big garden in Sale and there was someone in a terraced house round the corner and they used to come in. It was really nice cos the garden was being used and I’d come home and find tomatoes or carrots or something and I knew that they were getting something from it. There was some good things that were done like that. But I do think that a lot of tv people, and I fell into the trap, of thinking that what we were doing was terribly important. But it wasn’t terribly important. But I got that disease – for a bit.

You’ve talked about some of the characters, some of the stars. I wonder if you have recollections of people like Tony Wilson.

I do, I had a real soft spot for Tony. I know people used to call him but there was something about him. I just liked him in spite of all that. I don’t think he was a bad man, I really don’t. There’s a lot of people with knives in television and some would stick them in your chest and they were the better ones. And Tony hasn’t got a knife cos he wasn’t motivated for those reasons. He was a bit egotistical, I know that. He had an ego but I just don’t think he was a bad man. I remember Tony fondly and had a soft spot for him. I don’t mean in a romantic way but I did just like him. I remember one day – he was an ex catholic and I was. Peter Martin was the producer. He had started as the news editor and then became producer. I can’t remember how it came out but it might have been some time running up to Easter and I said, we shouldn’t be here, we should be fasting or whatever, so they said let’s sing a few hymns, so we started singing, then we did the Latin mass and then the credo – it was mad. Tony was a big force cos he was also doing so much exciting stuff around music, So It Goes, and all that. But they took the piss out of him mercilessly but he just took it, let it wash off him and produced these programmes anyway and did a service to Manchester and Manchester music in general. I remember him well and Bob Greaves was another one. He was funny, he used to call me Mrs Lewis. He would put on this ridiculous Welsh accent, he was really quite a character was Bob. He was a good journalist. David Jones was less of a character known outside television. He’d do a bit on screen but less reporting and he was a great guy and I worked with him later when I became a journalist.

Can I ask you about Anna Ford.

Yes, I never really warmed to Anna. I liked her but I didn’t really feel that she let you in very close. I was closer to Trevor than to Anna. She worked in the newsroom but I never felt that I got behind her persona. Maybe with good reason. I never disliked her, I just felt that I never really got to know her even though I spent a lot of time with her.

Do you think it was difficult for women at that time?

Oh, without a doubt. I remember when they took on Patty Coldwell. I remember thinking, it was Steve Morrison who took her on and I remember saying, Stevie you’re taking on a northern lass with a northern voice and you’re like you’re trying to be radical. But what you’re doing is to make her into a caricature. And she started dressing up in leathers and going on the back of motorbikes, like . You’re ticking boxes for yourself recruiting people in weird ways. He said well do you want to be a presenter and I said, no I don’t want to be in front of camera. And he used to bully me saying I think you should do a screen test. I did in the end but I was surly, I was surly in the studio. He just had some notion that I wanted to be a presenter but I didn’t, I just wanted to be a journalist.

So was the job in the newsroom the last job you did at Granada.

No I moved next door to the producer’s office and I worked for Claudia Milne. Claudia was producer for local programmes, Granada Reports and the rest with Steve Morrison and John Blake. I left there to work in St Helens to become a journalist.

Did you get any encouragement to become a journalist from Granada ?

No. But I remember Mike Scott saying – I was at one of the conferences in Blackpool and he was taking to me and was saying well what do you want to do Ann ? And I said I wanted to be a journalist. And he said well if they won’t let you through the ceiling here then leave and become a journalist. So I did.

Who do you think was the best journalist you worked with cos you must have seen a lot of good journalists.

I did actually. I think Jim Walker was an excellent journalist, great brain and a grasper of issues and I trusted his judgement. I could really see it. I think David Jones was a brilliant journalist, Geoff Seed as well.

What do you think made them a good journalist ?

Well they had a heart and they cared enough to sniff out a story and they were meticulous with facts and digging and not just having a sniff around and if it wasn’t there at first they would still dig. What I liked about them, particularly David Jones, he had integrity. There were some who didn’t have integrity. There were some people like this story about guns into Walton prison. He was very vulnerable this guy who brought this story and we could have ridden roughshod all over him. And I said we have a responsibility to protect him, I don’t know how but we need to look at it. I remember the producer of World In Action not really getting what I was talking about cos he was jut interested in getting the story and that was all he wanted. I remember feeling uncomfortable about that but I never got any of that from any of the programmes I worked with David Jones on. He had integrity and he was a good man.

So were you sorry to leave.

Well I was angry. But I was sorry to leave. I said I’ll take my ball away and I did but nobody noticed. But it didn’t matter, I knew that I had to go. By then I had decided that everything happens for a reason so I went somewhere else and I did well. I started on the Kirby Distorter, as they called it, so it served me well. But no I didn’t hanker, I wasn’t brooding and bitter. I was grateful for them to ignite it in me so I could go somewhere else.

How long were you there ?

Eight years. It taught me a lot. I remember Sir Laurence Olivier opened the door of the café for me. I thought Oh My God. I think he was in there filming Cat On A Hot Tin Roof or something. You’d be standing in the queue and there would be Minnie Caldwell and a seven foot wrestler behind you. I remember once The Who came, they were on tour and they came on this tour bus and they had all this booze on board. So we all went on. Anyhow I typed the script just about, I think I was tangoing in the canteen with Bob Greaves at one point, mad , mad.

On the canteen and the bar a lot of people have said how important they were to the culture of Granada.

We didn’t have the bar when I was there. Do you mean the Stables. Yes we used to go there.

Tell us about the Stables.

Well, Patrick who ran the Stables, some of our behaviour ! I don’t know how he didn’t throw us out. It was Christmas and I think punk was at a premium. I remember me and Claudia went as I was working with Claudia at the time and Mike Short and a couple of others and we all went for this Christmas bash and we said we should be celebrating this in a sort of punk way. So we started snorting these holly berries across the table, down our noses. The other thing was that we all had to have Sambucas that came flaming at the table and we said we all had to drink them without using our hands. It was mad but it was so important but I do think we should have been banned. We’d also go to other bars, like the Film Exchange, that was where Patrick was the manager. But we’d go and find other little pubs where they didn’t know where we where. When I was on the newsdesk I always knew where they were though I wouldn’t tell anyone and I’d make phone calls and say you’d better get your arse over here something’s broken. But these were little pubs like the Pineapple and the Edgerton Arms, little divey pubs, where there was not a lot of media people. Used to like them. 50’

I think one of the surprising things for people who didn’t work at Granada was the fact that everybody used the canteen.

Yes, yes, all the stars were there, Sir Laurence Olivier as I’ve said was in front of me. You were just cheek by jowl amongst all of them. There wasn’t a VIP area. I remember Muriel Young with what were they called, Bay City Rollers. Those girls – I used to come out furious and say ‘go home and get yourself a boyfriend, a proper boyfriend, he doesn’t love you, he doesn’t even know you !’ And they’d be screaming outside. And Muriel Young, I thought I’ll give you a kick if you don’t get these untalented boys out of here cos they didn’t have any talent. They were just, you know, a way to make money and commercialise them. I used to get cross with that phenomena. I was a bit puzzled, why are they that excited. But it was interesting. You’d walk through Granada, I once picked Billy Connelly up from reception and took him to the Green Room, and David Essex as well, all these stars. I remember my sister was a big fan of David Essex and she asked me to get him to sign an album Id bought her for her birthday and he sais said ‘with kisses’ and I said yes and he kissed me. And she said damn you.’ So there was a lot of that going on and seeing people. You got inside access to things you normally wouldn’t. But I wasn’t starstruck in that way. I was a big Billy Connelly fan but I didn’t do the big fan thing. I was just doing my job, being professional with him, making a cup of coffee and things like that.

You mentioned Sidney Bernstein. Did you have much to do with him ?

I didn’t much. The only time I crossed his path was when I was at the conferences. It was at the Labour Party conference and I was in the production room just looking at the monitor and listening to some of the speeches. I was standing there, looking, and this man came up besides me and said ‘what do you think of him then and who is he ?” And I said, ‘its Michael Foot and he’s the leader of the Labour Party, stick around and you might learn a few more things.’ He was quite an old man and he walked away and somebody said ‘that’s Sidney Bernstein !’ Well never mind ! I was always putting my foot in it. I was in the lift once and I’d been out and bought a suit for something that was going on, an event or whatever. Anyrate I’d spent a bit more money that I wanted to. I had it on. I was in the lift coming up from the ground floor to the second floor and this friend of mine got in at the first floor and said, ‘oh that’s nice.’ ‘Yes, I said, it’s very Joyce Wooller don’t you think ?” And her face, she was doing this thing with her face. Anyrate I got out of the lift at the second floor and she came out with me and said ‘Joyce Wooller, she was standing right behind you !’

And who was Joyce Wooller ?

She was head of all the Pas. I had been asked if I’d like to be a PA but I’d said no, I didn’t want to go that way. Though I have to say if that had been me and someone had said ‘that’s very Ann Lewis’ I would have had to say something like ‘not quite my quality dear’ but she didn’t say anything. It was Irene McGlashen who had got in the lift with me and was trying to give me all these clues. Anyate that was Joyce Wooller behind me. At that conference David Plowright used to come. And we always used to have big table tennis tournaments and I was quite good and competitive and I met him in the final and I beat him. Everyone said you should have thrown that game. I said ‘no, it’ll do him good to have a defeat.’ Then a few days later Kay McPherson who was the news editor said, ‘I’ve just seen David Plowright walk past – I think he’s tracking you down !’ But I didn’t have an y dealings with Sidney Bernstein so can’t say anything much.

Did you ever feel that Granada was a political organization. Did you sense in terms of its output or attitude?

Yes I did and that appealed to me. I think it was radical, it would take an anti-establishment view, from the other side. I remember having arguments with people at the BBC about balance. There’s no balance now so what needs to happen is a rebalance to adjust it to subscribe to this view that we need balance when its already massively out of balance. Working people don’t have a voice and World In Action came up with subjects that the BBC wouldn’t have looked at in a million years. And probably wouldn’t have got access to, I don’t know. So I did admire that about them because they were thorough, they were partisan because they knew the playing field was not level to begin with. Lets not talk about some false notion of balance cos its already out of balance. So yes, that came from the roots of it.

And the northern…?

And the northwest, yes. And I think they had a sense of gritty northerness and I’m not going into the clinging idea of the noble working classes but there was a grasp of the issues that the north and the plight of people who didn’t have power – at the beginning anyway although I think it evaporated with the takeover. Rod Caird came in and he had been in some high jinks at Cambridge and it had been the Garden House Affair and some judge had punished the posh boys where normally they just got a tap on the wrist so he was a cause celebre. He came into the newsroom and I thought he’s just a posh Scottish man’s son, that’s all you are. Something came up and he said something and I made some scathing remark about the horny hand, sons of toil or something. And he said something and I was kind of you don’t get in on that ticket in my book, you’re going to have to do a bit more than have a high jinx at Cambridge. It wasn’t high jinx I know what they were doing. It was that his punishment which had been meted out to the working classes and worse for centuries but when it came to the son of a Scottish laird it was news. So I gave him a bit of a hard time over it. Recently on Facebook I apologized I said I was sorry but he said he didn’t remember it.

I think I talked about the desk that was next to me and that was populated, year-in, year-out, by grand-daughters, nieces and nephews of people who were well connected. I think A.A. Milne’s niece came in one time. And they didn’t know a thing. I don’t know where they come from, they’d come straight from uni, I don’t know. But they didn’t know a thing, it was just who they knew. And I remember thinking ‘This is so …’ I saw it first hand and I just thought, you know. And I know I had an axe to grind, I wanted to work in journalism. But it was beyond that. It wasn’t just me. There’s a lot of talent here. What are we doing shipping it up and it’s not even talent. Why are we shipping up these people’s nieces and nephews who don’t know anything to be taught by us. And it was only because, they weren’t particularly bright, some of them. In fact, I met some very bright people. It changed my views actually. I learned that there were good people from all classes and it wasn’t, you know, I changed and learned that there were bright people and nice people who were well born, they weren’t all wankers. But I did see a lot of people who were leap-frogging over talent that was around and I don’t just mean me, I mean bigger talents that were around. And I thought that was really sad when I saw that happening but nepotism rules everywhere, doesn’t it.

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