Ann Lewis describes one of the disputes she was involved in as a shop steward.

So as union rep what kind of issues would you have to deal with?

Oh there were some really interesting ones. In fact, Granada, I don’t know about other companies, but Granada I think it was in about 1975 were looking at getting an in-house crèche and I thought that was really good and we used to have these meetings, joint consultation committee meetings which the union ran, union management meetings, I think they were every month or every fortnight, but I used to go for NATKE and I thought that was really progressive. The only thing was I remember saying ‘It’s a really good idea this but we need to take account of how many personnel there are with children who would be eligible for a nursery place.’ And they said ‘Oh, not personnel, just women really’ and they just thought it was for the children of women. And I went ‘What? That’s mad!’ But it was strangely progressive and not at the same time. But I still thought, let’s build on the positives. Me and who was the one from the NUJ, what was her name, she was a reporter in local programmes, I can’t remember her second name, …. Ruth Elliott, and she was very pushing for this as well. So it was quite progressive in that way.

But one of the issues that came up was health and safety. Well I’m very much of the mind that health and safety is pretty straightforward and commonsense stuff. I can’t bear all this nonsense of where it’s gone and I wasn’t interested in much of that take on health and safety issues but we worked in environments where there were high voltages so you had to be very careful. There was one incident in Studio Two – the camera cables that were carrying very high voltages to the cameras used to have to go under the wooden bridges behind the scenery and one of them had broken and the cables were being walked on. And my members used to have to go behind the scenery to operate whatever had to be done behind the scenes. And they had to stumble around in the dark over these very high voltage cables. And we raised it and nothing was done. After about two weeks at the next JCC came up we were told it would be fixed and it still hadn’t. Anyway one guy phoned me up from Studio Two and said, “I think I just saw a spark. I don’t know, I could be imagining it but it’s just a bit worrying in the dark, you know.’ University Challenge was going out, it was going out live, Bamber was in the chair and I said ‘Right, come out. I’m not taking any risks.’ I said ‘I don’t want you in there’. I remember thinking my dad had died not long before this incident. I remember thinking in my head, what would my dad tell me to do, what do you think I should do, dad? And I thought I know I’m going to get some flack from this but I was more afraid, I was afraid of getting the flack from management summoning me, but I was more afraid of having to go to someone’s house and telling them their husband had been electrocuted. I’m getting a bit upset thinking about it now. I remember thinking I don’t want to have to do that duty and it’s my job. If I’m going to take on the role of shop steward I’ve got to have the balls to carry it through. So I said’ I think they should bring you out, I think they should bring you out of the studio’. So they brought them out and I got this call from Denis Forman, Sir Denis Forman, ‘What the hell’s going on?’ and we were asked to go and explain.

So me and this other guy called Tony went up to the 6th Floor and he was very tall, Denis Forman. He was a nice man, a very nice man actually, but he was very tall, very imposing and he walked with a stiff leg because he was a pilot who had been injured in the war and he stood up a lot because I don’t think he could bend his leg very much. When he went in he asked us to sit down but he was towering above us. I remember saying ‘Either can I stand up and you sit down because it feels really uncomfortable’.   And then he asked me what the hell was going on? And I just told him that story. I just said, you know, I was frightened to make them come out. I don’t want to be here in your office explaining this but more frightened of the alternative, which was I might have to go to someone’s house and tell them their husband had died. So he just looked at me and went ‘Fair enough. Leave it with me and it will be sorted.’ And it was sorted the next day. So that was quite a big union thing really.

Leave a Reply