Interview with Anna Ford on January 12, 2022.
How did you come to join Granada Television?
I was a student at Manchester University between 1963 and 1967. Although I did stay on and do another course after that. And because I was president of the Students’ Union between ‘66 and ‘67, and that was the time that there were a large number of student sit-ins, student marches, various things going on at the LSE, lock-ins and lock-ups and lock-outs and things, people asking for representation on university councils and boards, that Granada Television and Look North constantly said, “Would you come along and explain what’s going on in the student world?” So I spent odd times on both of those channels during 1966-67. And I was interviewed by the dreadful Stuart Hall, and the much nicer Bob Greaves, and we talked about what was going on, and whether we got on with our vice-chancellor, and all the rest of it. So then I graduated in ’67 and was immediately offered three jobs. We were incredibly lucky in those days. There were a very small number of people at university, it was an expanding market. The university said, “Would you stay and run an international student club and raise money for a permanent house?” Granada Television said, “Will you come and work for us as a reporter?” And North said, “Will you come and work for us?” And I was a bit sniffy about television, because having been brought up in a house where we didn’t watch a lot of television, we didn’t have a television in our house until I was at least 16. And in those days, there were very few channels. And so we tended, being a good, middle-class vicarage family, to watch the BBC and not ITV. I didn’t have a lot of experience in television, so I wasn’t immediately grabbed by the idea of working in the media. And so I took the job with the university, and then I stayed on and did a postgraduate in adult education. And then, in 1970, I got married and went to live in Belfast with my husband, who worked in a hospital in Belfast. And I lived in Belfast between ‘70 and ‘74, which were possibly the worst years to be living there, because there were many, many dreadful things happening, like internment, and constant deaths, and shootings, and the British Army changing its original role of protecting the Catholic population and then turning on them and protecting the Unionist population, because of the relationship between the prime minister in Northern Ireland and the prime minister in Britain. On the mainland. And so, I was thrust into the midst of all this, but I’d applied for a job to be a teacher, because when I was doing my adult education course in Manchester in ‘68, ‘69, I signed up to work for the Workers Educational Association, which I always had a love for, and the whole of the philosophy of Albert Mansbridge, wonderful man who set it up, and how in Manchester, there was a tremendous tradition of self-education amongst people who, however working class they might be, or whatever background they came from, were longing to learn things and to improve themselves. So I was given a class in race relations in Bolton, and I used to go to Bolton every night to teach. It wasn’t so much about teaching as discussing race relations with 17 lovely women, all white, and one lovely man who happened to be a West Indian, and then all going to the pub afterwards. And the principle on which they were studying race relations was, “Well, we hadn’t seen it offered before and we thought it looked interesting. And we’ve done philosophy twice, and we’ve done in literature, and we thought we’d do history, then we saw race relations, so we thought we’d have a go at race relations, and go to the pub afterwards.” So they were a fabulous class, I had a wonderful time. So I applied for a job in Belfast teaching in the local college of further education. Because my degree had been in politics and social science, I taught politics in this college of further education in the East End of Belfast, which was the Protestant end, my husband was a Protestant. My father-in-law, who I’d rarely met, was a member of the Orange Order. So I was dumped into circumstances in Belfast where I guess I felt more foreign than I had ever felt before, even though I was a part of the United Kingdom. And it felt very strange to be living in a place. So I arrived at the college and they said, “We want you to teach a new course that we’ve developed, well, we haven’t developed it, because that’s what you’re going to do. But it’s called Community Relations.” And I said, “Well, that sounds wonderful. Who am I going to be teaching community relations to in 1970 in Belfast?” And they said, “Post office boys on day release.” These boys of 16 used to come in, and it was the first time that any of the Protestants had met a Catholic, or any of the Catholics had met a Protestant. So the highlight of their life was delivering telegrams and riding about on little mopeds with crash helmets on. So they would come in to class, and the Protestants would sit this side, as far away from the terrible people which they’d never met, who would sit as far away from them as possible. And it took me a couple of weeks, I think, to get them to take their crash helmets off, frankly. And then I had to devise this course. I was about 26 or 27 at the time. So I said, “Look, I’m English, I don’t know a lot about Northern Ireland, or your history. I think you’ve got to tell me. So what I’d like you to do is tell me who your heroes are. I want you to bring in your songs, and bring in your stories, and bring in anything else you want. But I want you to tell me, what are your heroes, I want you to tell me who your heroes are.” And that got them enlivened, and honestly, the year went on like that, I used to take them to the park, and they picked me a bunch of flowers. I loved that class. But whether it was a class in Community Relations, and thank God that college never asked me to do a report on it. And so it went on, and then the second year I was there I had a great friend who was in the psychology department at Queen’s, and he said, “I have asked why there is no education going on amongst the internees in Long Kesh.” And he said the reply came back that there wasn’t going to be any education either. And so he got Shirley Williams on his side. And he said to 20 people he knew, and he was a wonderful man, I still know him, he lives now in Westmeath. And he said, “Would you volunteer to teach in Long Kesh? So I said, “Yes, I would.” Being, I guess, somewhat naive, and given that the family I married into were Protestant. And so I said to my husband, “Well, I’m a volunteer I’m going up to…” and he said, “You can’t do that, it’s too dangerous.” And I said, “Well, it’s rather dangerous being in there because these guys are locked up, they’ve been hauled out of their houses, they have been tried in a kangaroo court where the evidence has been given behind a sheet by somebody who doesn’t have to give their name. It’s disgraceful.” So anyway, I went, and I went in. Terrible place. Awful, awful place. Dark November night. The British Army drove us around this big, wide, modern, ghastly sky-high barbed wire fences and mud, to compound 17. And they unlocked the door and they said, “We’ll come back for you in an hour and a half.” So I walked in, and there were 40 men sitting there. And I took my coat off and said, “You’ve asked for a teacher. What you want to study?” And there was silence. And then one of them said, “Politics, miss.” I said, “What sort of politics?” “Do you think we’re Marxists, miss?” And I said, “Well, what do you know about Marxism?” And we had a little discussion about Marxism. And then he said, “Do you think we could be like, ladder continuum, (??12:08)?” And I said, “Well, what do you know about ladder continuum?” And we had these sort of… and then one of them said, when I got to know them better, “Do you think I could stop my mother coming in to see me?” I said, “I don’t think I’ve got any sway over your mother at all.” “Could you stop the priest coming in to see us?” So anyway, I went on, teaching in Long Kesh. Horrendous place. Longing to learn, this particular group. I never felt for one instant that I was in danger, even though there was nobody there with me. And whether that was because of Mariolatry and the Catholic community, or whether they just admired teachers, I’ve no idea. But so it went on, and then gradually, I can’t remember why, the group broke up after a bit. One man tried to escape and dressed himself up as one of the people who’d come in to teach with us who looked remarkably like him. So that put a bit of a kibosh on it. And then I was offered a job by the Open University. So I taught for the Open University in social science as staff tutor for a time, but by this time my marriage was coming to an end, and I wanted to get a divorce. So we decided the first one to get a job out of Belfast would leave. And so I left with a suitcase of things, did my divorce in Manchester for £16, it didn’t cost a lot. And rang up Gus Macdonald at Granada Television saying, “Hello. Six years ago…”
Had you already met Gus?
Yes, I’d met Gus, because, oddly enough, although I didn’t accept the job in ’68, they invented a programme, which didn’t wasn’t on air for long, called Octopus. And it was a very peculiar programme with happenings. It was the first Granada programme I was on. It had happenings in it where you’d be interviewing somebody, and a mad couple having a wild argument would rush into the studio and break up the whole thing. And I can remember Lord Hailsham looking extremely shocked at the lack of control of this studio when there were these mad things going on. The other presenters were Clive James and Germaine Greer. And the man who invented… not parallel thinking, logical thinking, something thinking, and wrote books about it. He was a bit grand, a bit up himself, I think. So that got taken off air. But during that time, I met Gus. So I rang up six years later and said, “Do you remember you offered me a job? Do you think it’s still available? Because I’ve been in Belfast and I’m just organising my divorce, and I haven’t got a job, I might go back to the Open University.” And he said, “You’re a bit old now.” I said, “I’m not all that old!” So he said, “Well, I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll give you a three-month contract on World in Action.” I thought, “Fine.” As a researcher. So having no experience in television, or of researching, I ended up, in 1974, at a desk in the World in Action office, sitting next to lovely Polly Bide, who became a lifelong friend, and Jane Cousins, and various other wonderful people, and starting to research programmes for World in Action. And about two or three weeks later, Jeremy Fox came into the room and said, “Oh, the IBA have been on to us, because we don’t have enough women on screen.” He said, “You, you and you, go and make a film. And we might employ you on Granada Reports.” Well, that was Polly, Jane and I. And we were sent out to make films. Well, I knew nothing about television cameras, and I knew nothing about television. I was making it up as I went along. And Polly said, “I don’t want to be on screen.” She’d worked for The Economist Intelligence Unit. Jane Cousins had written a book. I’d been doing other things. And anyway, we were sent out, and I was lucky enough to be given this wonderful cameraman called Mike Popley. He was fabulous. And he said, “What have they asked you to do?” And I said, “They’ve asked me to go to Rochdale and find out why, when this woman died recently in a row of houses, the neighbours didn’t discover that she’d died for six months.” And he said, “There’s a story there somewhere.” So I thought, “Well, maybe she was very unpopular, and they just didn’t like her and hoped she gone away or something.” So Popley said, “Get in the car. We’re going to Rochdale.” So then got the car, went to Rochdale. And he said, “What’s the guts of this story? Write it down, no longer than 30 seconds.” So I wrote it down on a piece of paper. And he said, “Learn it by heart, go back up the street, stop when I tell you to. And then when I give you a shout, walk towards me telling the story. But remember to count three before you set off. Otherwise, the man who is doing the sound won’t be able to get his scissors in.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. But anyway, I walked down the street telling the story, and then he said, “Fine. The next thing you do is you turn and you knock on the door to talk to the neighbour.” So I knocked on the door and interviewed the neighbour. Topped and tailed the story. Took it back, put it in the lab, wrote a script, dubbed it, all totally new. And that was it. That, by the way, is all the training I ever got, ever, to be on television. It was Mike Popley. Anyway, so then Jeremy Fox came in and said, “Right, you’re going to be on Granada Reports next Monday.” And I said, “What am I going to be doing?” And he said, “You’re going to be in the studio.” And I said, “Right…” And he said, “Probably get yourself some clothes.” I didn’t know what to wear. “Nothing that strobes.” So then I went to talk to Bob Greaves and Bob said, “Don’t worry, I’ll be in the studio, I’ll look after you. It’ll be absolutely fine, dear, don’t bother doing all of that, it’ll be fine.” So, within a few weeks of arriving back, I was in the studio on Granada Reports. The editor was John Slater.
It’s before my time.
I think probably a lot of this will be before your time!
I joined in July ‘78.
Well, I’d left by then. Which was sad in a way, when I look back at it. Anyway, so I went into the studio, and I was trembling with fear. I don’t think I could control my bottom lip or my chin to begin with, because it just felt so bright, and so in your face, and I didn’t know what I was doing. I was just making it up as I went along. One of the first interviewees I had was Yehudi Menuhin, because his great friend, David Oistrakh, had died. And Slater said, “You’re doing the Yehudi Menuhin interview. Think about it overnight. I want you to get him to play some jazz.” And I said, but he’s going to be mourning his friend, David Oistrakh,” who was a serious, serious violinist. “I’m not sure they want…” “Go and think about it,” he said. So I went home and I wrote out, because I didn’t know then not to, a list of questions that I was going to ask Yehudi Menuhin, who was a hero of mine. And I went into the studio and sat there, knew that my interview was coming up two ahead, at which point Slater came in and took the paper out of my lap and said, “You’re not going to need that,” and tore it into pieces. So Yehudi Menuhin came in, and I talked to him, but I didn’t ask him to play jazz. I so it went from there. I started being on Granada Reports, and being in the newsroom, which was a fascinating place. Now, in the newsroom, you had to be in there by eight in the morning and you had, in theory, to have three stories that you could suggest to the meeting that hadn’t come from the newspapers. And so they had to have come from you playing snooker in the pub in Salford, to which we used to repair after the programme, or by drinking with policemen, or generally scrabbling around in your Manchester background and finding some interesting story of some kind. And it was either John Slater or Jim Walker, who was a wonderful Geordie, ex-newspaper, funny, tough, ribald, sexy. He was a lovely man, Jim Walker. And you’d put up a story and he’s say, “Done it.” You’d put up a another story and he’d say, “No, don’t like it.” You’d put up another story and he’s say, “Good story, true or not. Do it.” And you got thrown into the deep end. And there was Tony Wilson, and Trevor Hyatt. And who were the others? Oh, Jeff Seed, who worked on… did I write down anybody else’s name?
Oh, Smithies! Yes, absolutely. Yes, he was there. Mike Scott used to float around, Bob Greaves used to sit in the corner. Everybody smoked. So I’d certainly took up smoking for six months. And then gave it up because it made me feel ill. And I was living in digs with somebody at the time, a woman who’d been a lifelong member of the Communist Party, which may have led to other things later in life, like the BBC being told in 1976 by MI5 that I was not to be employed because I was a security risk. But anyway, that didn’t come to me.
Tell me a little bit about Bob Greaves.
I liked Bob Greaves, but he was a bottom-pincher. I mean, he loved women, and had married two or three of them by then, I think. He was absolutely on the nose as far as understanding what was a good story and what wasn’t. He was very friendly and very welcoming. I never understood why women married him, because he seemed to me not somebody who would be the most reliable partner for a woman, or somebody who wanted to have children. But he was a really good sort. You know, I liked him. I really liked him. And I liked him being there. And he added something to the newsroom. And the wonderful thing about Granada was that it was full of characters. People who, in their own way, like Tony Wells, who was brilliant and off the wall, and taking drugs, and doing all sorts of other things he shouldn’t have been doing, coming in late, always humming the latest pop tune to himself. And he was adorable. But when he did put his mind to doing a story, he would do something absolutely brilliantly. And there was Trevor Hyatt, who was another ex-member of the Communist Party, who became a close friend of mine, and still is. And he was going off playing his 12-string at night and going around all the local clubs, and also had some very interesting contacts in the local community. I remember Granada Reports was fun. It was like being in a big family. It was friendly. They expected the best of you. There wasn’t a lot of criticism, but you knew when he’d not done well enough, that Jim would say, “Could have done that differently, couldn’t you?” And you’d think, “Yes.” And you could discuss it with him without feeling, “God, I’ve lost my job,” or, “Something awful has happened.” I did a report on lead once which took me ages to do. It was about how people got lead poisoning from old batteries, and how poorly regulated the whole lead industry was. And I gather together all this stuff, and then the company that I particularly questioned put in a whole complaint to Sidney that I had libelled them, and that looked as though it might be getting a bit hot at one point. But it went away again, and Jim was all, “Don’t worry about it. It’ll be all right.” But then those silly stories as well, like being sent up to Rochdale Moor in November to do a story about a circus that was being sold off. And there were only a few things left. And so I turned up, again, with either Mike Popley or one of the other wonderful cameramen – who were always, as soon as we got to a place, working out where they were going to have lunch and how long it would take to do this particular report and wrap it up, and then they could go to lunch at this nice place on the way back. There was a moth-eaten tiger, there was a clown. There was something else in a cage, might have been a giraffe. And there was a man who threw knives. And Popley said, “How are you going to tell the story?” And I said, “I have no idea. It’s not really interesting, is it?” There’s nothing to show, it’s freezing cold and it doesn’t look like a circus.” He said, “Why didn’t you get the man to throw knives at you while you tell the story?” I thought, “Why not? I’m sure they’re very little knives.” So I went and stood in front of this board, put the old Stetson on, and I said, “This circus is being taken apart today…” THUMP. This knife about this long landed here. I went on to my story and then THUMP, the next knife landed here. And so they went down my side until I slid down this board and ended on the ground, at the floor. So there were those sorts of stories, which were always hard to make up. And then there were serious stories. There was a lovely vicar who Jeremy Fox had heard made train noises and use them in his sermons. So I was sent out to interview this vicar. And he was a lovely Evangelical, God-fearing, decent man. And he said, “I say: ‘Jesus said, “I am the way, I am the truth,”’ and then I do a train noise. And the youngsters love it, and it brings young people into the church.” So he did the train noise, which was brilliant. He could do a goods train going up a steep incline just with his mouth, and he could do motorbikes and helicopters. And he told his story about his own faith, and it was very sweet. And there are little snippets of two-and-a-half-minute pieces for each night of the week. Jeremy saw them and said, “Boring Vicar, take out the pieces, and let’s make fun of him.” So he cut it so that this poor vicar was made a fool of night after night. “Here’s the daft vicar doing this.” I wrote him a letter saying, “I’m appalled, I’m ashamed, I’m really sorry. I was not sent out to do it like that.” So that was… but then there were… I don’t know, it was very much a feeling that you have to get to them. I knew Manchester quite well, because my mother comes from Manchester and she was in Manchester high school. And my grandfather was a doctor in Urmston. And all my grandfather’s brothers were either born in Pendlebury, Wigan or Salford. They were to do with coal mines and Pendlebury. In fact, one of them grew out of the coal mine to become the first ever professor of mining engineering at Manchester University. Another one ended up managing a coal mine, but not very well. And so my whole background was Manchester and Lancashire through my mother’s family. And she was exceedingly proud of being a Lancashire girl and of growing up in Manchester. And grandpa used to say, “I’ll go to London if there’s anything worth going for. But on the whole there isn’t.” Because he’d got the Opera House, which he had a season ticket to, he had the Hallé Orchestra, he had cricket at Old Trafford, which he loved. He had the dogs at Belle Vue which used to bet on, and he had all his friends who had been to medical school with him, none of whom wanted to go south, because that’s what they didn’t do in those days. So it was a very Mancunian background, but it also meant… my mother was born in 1913, she lost a sister from scarlet fever in the 1920s. And therefore, we grew up with a real understanding of what poverty was like in Lancashire when people were really poor. And she was aware of that all her life. She was a true socialist, very committed to the Labour Party. And she used to take me to hear harold Wilson speaker at Carlisle Town Hall when we moved up there, in the days when political meetings were real political meetings, and people could throw things and all the rest of it, but times have changed. And so I had that background. And I felt very wedded to the movements in Manchester, not just the Suffragettes, but the trade union movement and the Workers’ Educational Establishment, and the fact that people were out to make a better life for themselves. And that seemed to be a thread that, despite Sidney Bernstein, ran through the Granada newsroom. It was a very aware, politically aware, group of people who had very good ideas, that were absolutely on the cusp of new things. For instance, one of the programmes we did was called Reports Action, where they actually advertise children for adoption, but they weren’t the obvious babies. These were teenagers who nobody wanted. They were teenagers with difficult backgrounds who had been in multiple homes, who had got all sorts of problems. And what we did was interview the children, the youngsters, and said, “Why do you want a family? What sort of family would you like? What would you expect life to be like in a family?” Because many of them had no memory of what being in a family was like. And I thought that was a fantastic programme to do. There was a hell of a lot of flack from people saying, “How DARE you advertise children on television for adoption. This is absolutely appalling. This is not how it’s done. It will lead to ruin, it will lead to devastation,” and all sorts of other things. But it was a social brave thing that Granada was willing to do. And they did a lot of other good things in Reports Action as well.
And that sense of regionalism, how was that?
Oh, incredibly important. Granada was the first regional television company really that spoke with a regional voice, wasn’t it? You know, the fact that Sidney had bought that franchise, and that somehow he had logged it with its roots in Manchester – I must say, with the help of people like Denis Forman and David Plowright, he wouldn’t have done it without them, and Leslie Woodhead, and Ray Fitzwalter, and people who wanted a regional voice to be heard nationally. Coronation Street was only going to be on air for what, six weeks, and look at it, it’s still there. It was a company which had amazing combination of things like Sidney Bernstein liked works of art on the wall. So you’d go into this company, and there would be the most fabulous real paintings and original sculptures just put about, because that’s what he liked. But on the other hand, he was incredibly mean in that if you overused pencils, you would be liable to get a note on your desk from Sidney the next day saying, “I’ve noted that you’re spending a great deal on notebooks and pencils, please desist.” So there was that feeling that he was both looking after the money, but then there was this burgeoning feeling from the creative people that Britain didn’t have regional voices yet. There was nobody speaking on the BBC with a regional, voice and Wilfred Pickles had been turned down when he was used in Yorkshire. Anybody else with a regional voice. You had to speak with received pronunciation.
And Granada Reports in a way was at the core of that regionalism, wasn’t it?
Absolutely. Absolutely. And reported on local stories, which became national stories sometimes because they were so interesting, and well put. It was a sort of Kathy Come Home syndrome in that one aspect of the human condition could be focused on in the region, but then could become a matter of national discussion.
The politics of Granada was unashamedly left wing.
Yes, exactly. And that is a very odd combination with business. And the Bernsteins were businessman who rented out television sets. And yet, the was this wonderful socialism which, given that we were growing out of the dull fifties where people were still touching their caps, and the establishment was still in charge. And you had McMillan saying, “I don’t know what young people get up to these days,” when Profumo was going… and so we were moving in the 60s, and then in the 70s. And it’s very hard to explain to my daughters, who are in their 30s, and one has turned 40, what it was like then. Because it would be an unknown world to them. It was very chauvinistic, quite misogynistic, racist, sexist, and yet the company was socialist. Your friend Bob Greaves was quite an old sex pot, really. As was Mike Scott, and there were men in the company who used to sit around with their feet on their desk saying, “Well, I’ve had her. Haven’t had her yet, but like her tits. I’d give her five out of 10.” That sort of conversation was normal. And therefore, as a woman, you just thought, “How boring, but that’s what they’re like.” You would never have taken them to court at all.
Did you have personal experiences of harassment and sexism?
On a train going up to Manchester once, yes. Disgusting old man.
No, I didn’t. I didn’t personally at all. And I don’t know why that was. But I do remember somebody saying about my friend, one of my friends who was a woman, “Oh, we employed her because of her tits.” And I thought, “Oh, God, this is so depressing.” Now they wouldn’t have employed me because of my tits, because they weren’t in the same category, so maybe they were thinking of something else. I have no idea. I don’t know. I don’t know. But I didn’t suffer from that. I’m trying to rake out of my brain anything that might have happened in those days.
Not many people have talked about Mike Scott.
Well, I didn’t know him very well. He was an elusive character. He never seemed to be… he seemed to float around. He was incredibly good looking. He was a friend of Bob Greaves. But he never seemed to quite be one of the big heavyweights. Of whom I would say Denis Forman and David Plowright were the two biggest heavies. It wasn’t like a triumvirate, even though he had important jobs. And Gus Macdonald and who was the other one… contemporary of Gus’s.
I know who you mean.
I mean, they were the four big ones. Mike Scott seemed to be this slightly intercalary… was he a presenter, or was he management? And I think that may be the problem that he suffered from, that he fell between those stools, in that Bob Greaves didn’t want to be in management and loved being a presenter. And Mike Scott was a good presenter. And then Gus floated into wanting to present and got his teeth fixed and bought a white suit. And that didn’t suit him either, because he was far better at having ideas and running things. So I can’t tell you more about Mike Scott, because I had very few conversations with him. I didn’t meet him socially very often. We all went to the Film Exchange for drinks after the programme because Granada was dry. Sidney had ordained that there would not be alcohol taken on the premises, you had to go down the road to the Film Exchange, or down the road to the pub in Salford, or around the corner to somewhere else. I’m trying to work out what you want me to say about Mike Scott.
It’s just that everybody talked about Sidney, David Plowright, Ray Fitzwalter, Gus to some extent, and also Denis. Nobody really talks about Mike Scott.
Do you know, I think he was less warm. I think the thing about Denis was, it was partly that he took his jacket off and he had red braces, and he rolled his sleeves up. And also he would always come and sit beside you in the canteen. The canteen was one of the great levellers. And it’s not true of other companies at the time, because the grandees ate in private dining rooms so they wouldn’t be overheard by the likes of us, the workers. And so the wonderful thing about Denis, and Plowright as well, was that they would come down to the canteen and they’d say, “Oh, I saw that film you did. I thought it was a very good try. Could have been a bit better if you’ve done this and this and this.” But there was a warmth of it, and a feeling of acceptance and a feeling of you are accepted as part of the family. And the wonderful thing about Granada was that because it was small, and because it was regional, and because it had people like Denis and David Plowright, you did feel as they were part of a family. I think everybody felt that, however different they were. And there was World in Action going on, of course, the most brilliant investigative journalism, taking off long before other people were doing it. And the Disappearing World Series, which were wonderful semi-anthropological, sociological programmes. Wonderful things. And films. And of course, the drama, and the drama came courtesy of Plowright and Denis; Denis had been involved in films, and Plowright was wedded to the theatre. And this feeling that they, almost like magnets, attracted to them some very, very good writers, and put on exceptionally good dramas, which were using new people, and people who wouldn’t have been able to get their plays on. Jack Rosenthal was one. Fabulous, wonderful writer, and a wonderful man commenting on what Jewish life was like, then, at that time.
And that added to the regionalism, didn’t it? Because you had a lot of regional writers.
And it wasn’t just Coronation Street, there were all those other programmes that were plays that were… was it Brass?
Yes. The Wednesday play – there was always a play on a Wednesday night. And there were plays about trade unions, and plays about women. And plays about girls who got pregnant and were… there were plays about society. Plays about the very bones of what life was like for ordinary people. And that was completely new. The BBC weren’t doing that. Nobody else was doing it. The other companies were beginning to look for profits, whereas Granada was wedded to this idea that they were a cultural institution who were deeply embedded in discovering and revealing aspects of culture – be it music, paintings or religion. Look at A Passage to India, what a brilliant series that was. Or Brideshead or Bamber Gascoigne doing A History of the Christians, with what, 26 programmes on the history of the Christians? And he was doing another one on the history of music with Denis. And Denis, of course, is a great expert on music, because he wrote one of the definitive books, not only on opera but also on Mozart’s Piano Concertos. So you had this input of highly intelligent, active, excited people, you’ve got a toy to play with, and they were cramming it with stuff. And then up comes Laurence Olivier, and appears in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and insists on having a special lavatory seat made for him. He didn’t want to go to the lavatory with anybody else.
I heard that rumour!
And the other wonderful thing for me was sitting in the makeup room – and of course, we had some brilliant makeup artists and some brilliant costumiers – people who were the bearding of the whole industry, and many of them ended up working independently. But these were people who knew not only what you wore in the 17th century, but what you wore underneath it and what it felt like, and how heavy it would be and all the rest of it. They knew what the makeup was like. They were brilliant makeup artists. And one of the loveliest times of my day was before Granada Reports, going into the makeup room, which was long with a bank of lights, and sitting down and finding that I happen to be there when the Coronation Street team were being made up. And so I’d have Ina Sharples sitting next to me, and I’d have Minnie Caldwell sitting next to her. “Do you see what he did there? He stole my line completely. I didn’t know what to do.” Because it was all live then, Coronation Street was filmed with a massive amount of cameras and a great big vast studio. And every little bit of it was cordoned off, do you had the Rovers Return, you had Minnie Caldwell’s house, the shop, and they’d go from bit to bit, but they learned their lines before transmission. They were real, serious actors. It wasn’t like today. So when the drunk one whose name I’ve forgotten…
Len Fairclough. He used to go over the top sometimes and he’d be in a really bad state. But nevertheless, they’d have to go ahead and they’d say, “I couldn’t do what I was supposed to do because he’d taken all my lines!” I would think, “I’m just so lucky, I’m sitting here, listening to this behind-the-scenes conversation. This is bliss! My mother would have loved it.” It was one of the wonderful aspects of being there, that you knew everybody and you belonged.
And you’re right about the canteen, in a way it epitomised the company. Denis Forman, or Plowright, would go and sit next to anybody. “What do you do?” “I’m a researcher.” “Oh, right. What are you working on?” And they were really interested.
Yes. I know. I know. It was wonderful. And they were interested, and they were natural teachers. So they wanted you to be better. And they wanted you to have new ideas. I know Denis, because he told me once, had given John Birt £300 to go and make a film. After three months, Denis said, “John, have you made that film?” He said: “I’m having trouble with it,” or something. “I spent the money,” he said. And Denis said, “Well, I don’t feel like financing you further, but I will give you another £300 if you promise me that you will make the film.”
So was your career mainly on Granada Reports?
Granada Reports, Reports Action and a wonderful programme which I mustn’t forget called Messengers. Messengers was done for schools. And the director-producer of it was a woman of great talent called Pauline Shaw. I don’t know how she started, as a secretary was the usual way, worked her way up, became a director of Coronation Street. I’m sure that’s her name, I don’t know if I remembered that wrong. But Pauline Shaw directed Coronation Street on a large number of occasions and was much loved, But she joined Granada, I think, in the mid to early 50s. Or certainly was doing something in the mid-50s, because I saw a photograph of her somewhere in 1956. She was wonderful. She invented this programme, I think, called Messengers, where, and I presented it, but I didn’t do a lot of work, it was she who did it. She looked at clips from famous films, and she took a thesis for each programme, which might be family, or honesty. They were very down to earth, ordinary themes, but brilliantly illustrated by these clips from films, and they were very popular in secondary schools. And we used to get lots of letters from people saying, “Messengers was wonderful, please repeat all the last ones you’ve had.” And I don’t know where they’ve gone, and I haven’t seen them since. But she was very talented. So Reports Action.
That was would be with Jim Walker?
That was with Jim Walker, directed by Charles Sturridge, went on to direct Brideshead, but he was about 21 or 22 at the time, I think. Very beautiful to look at, and very ambitious, and took some very zany shots in Reports Action. I can’t remember all the other things we did in that. So those were the three things I was doing.
What about trade unions?
Funny about that, I think I joined the National Union of Journalists. One of the things that shocked me after I left was that in order to become a cameraman at Granada Television, you had to be a Freemason. Now, that may have been because Sidney was a Freemason. But that’s how it was. And I just thought, “Golly, I wonder how many people knew that at the time?” Because I’m not an admirer of Freemasonry. In fact, I just bought a book about the whole history of it, because I thought I’d find out why I dislike it. And what it’s been up to.
You know World in Action made a film about the Freemasons. And if it was the only World in Action that the Bernstein’s stopped.
Well, there you are.
I think it was Alex who was the main Freemason. I’m not certain, but I think he was quite big in the Freemasons, Alex. And one of them was very big in the Freemasons.
Well, they always pretend that all they do is look after widows and hospitals, and do all these good things. But of course, it’s that brilliant thing about Freemasons giving each other jobs, and becoming the establishment, and locking out anybody who isn’t part of the brotherhood. Denis wasn’t a Freemason. I don’t know whether Plowright was. Denis was far too much of a socialist. The other thing I liked about Granada was that it was anti-establishment, that you did feel that you were not going to get into trouble, which you might feel at the BBC today, if you dared today to say something that was critical of what appeared to be the establishment of the time, because that’s what they were doing in World in Action, and that’s what they were doing in their drama series. They were constantly questioning the way that society was at the time.
In the mid 1980s you came back as a freelancer to present Union World with Gus Macdonald.
Yes. I kept in touch with Gus through Trevor, because Trevor and Gus were great friends because of Gus’s background in the Clyde shipyards, and selling newspapers and things. And Trevor and he, and Bobby Campbell who worked for the Sunday Times but was also a member of the Communist Party, I think, remain great mates, and gave the best New Year’s Eve party every year. And so I used to go to this New Year’s Eve party long after I’d left Granada, when it was being held in London by Gus and Tina. And there would be a roundup of es-Granada folk and some other various people from Scottish television or people from the BBC or from London Weekend Television. I’d always admired Gus, there was something about him which, although we laughed at him a bit because he became a bit of an establishment figure himself in that he became an advisor to Harold Wilson and would be going in and out of number 10, which was fine, I mean, that was all right. But I was always surprised that he accepted a peerage. I didn’t quite see that hack fitting in, but then maybe he needed to belong more than some of the rest of us need to belong. I don’t know.
I don’t think you mean Harold Wilson. I think Tony Blair.
No, I mean Harold Wilson as well.
That would be in 1960s and early 70s.
Yes, maybe I misremembered. He certainly was an advisor to Tony Blair when John Birt was there doing ‘blue sky thinking’. But I have a feeling Gus had something to do with Wilson. But I don’t know. I can’t remember. I’m misremembering. It was 45 years ago.
I was very friendly with Gus because I came from a similar background. I worked in the shipyards as well for him, at Cammell Laird in Birkenhead.
Oh, really? and
For six years. Then I went to university when I was 22. Then I went to Ruskin College, and then I went to the LSE.
I loved Ruskin college. That was fantastic. It was an amazing place. And the LSE was good.
Yes, between 70 and 73, when it was still a very radical place to be.
It was, wasn’t it? I’m trying to remember the names of the people who were there. I remember getting into trouble in Manchester during my time as president, and having a vote of no confidence from a man called Irving Kaczynski, who was fairly right-wing, and then went to work for the World Bank, on the basis that I had joined up the Students Union to the Radical Student Alliance with the London School of Economics, and given that we were one of the most radical universities, but I talked my way out of it. So that was all right. But I’ve always been a believer in trade unions. I’ve always believed that trade unions are the way in which people organise themselves against those people who own the means of production, or those people who don’t necessarily have all their interests at heart. Although much, much later, when I left the BBC, I joined the board of Sainsbury’s. I was constantly banging on about the fact that we ought to have people on the board who represented people from the shop floor in every way. And Justin King was not against that, but it never actually came to fruition. We did other things. But anyway, so I’ve always believed in trade unions. Grunwick was one of the great battles, wasn’t it? That was of course, we’re now missing Jack Dromey.
I was involved in Grunwick. I worked for Tribune for six years. I covered the Grunwick dispute in depth, every every day going down to Wealsden.
It was a good battle, that, but golly, what a battle it was, wasn’t it? It was fantastic. And I’m still proud of that, and I’m proud of women who have taken part in trade unionism and have fought their battles. Because it’s not easy to be on the wrong side. And it’s like the miners’ strikes during the Thatcher time. You know, the horror of Thatcher’s government simply not understanding communities. The fact that if you went down the mine with a man, you had to be friendly with him on top of the ground, and so did your wives have to be friends. Because your life relied on it, and that strong thread of interconnection. I remember going down a mine with Arthur Scargill, much later, when I was working for the Open University. And Arthur Scargill invited me to go and give a talk to the miners’ summer school on the media and the law, which I was happy to do. And Vanessa Redgrave drew up in her Rolls Royce and gave a speech. But it was a sort of rivers of blood speech. She said, “Well, comrades…” I don’t know. It’s just… she just said, “Mrs Thatcher, she’s building places where we’re all going to be locked up. And it’s not going to be nice. They’re going to be rivers of blood and terrible things are going to happen to all of us.” And she went on and on and on like this in this way that I’m afraid Vanessa did, or does, a bit. And one of these wonderful men, an elderly coal miner sitting in the front row, I was talking to him afterwards. And he said, “I read philosophy, and then I read English literature, and love history. I didn’t understand a word she was saying. Did you?” I said, “Well, I did struggle a bit.” Anyway, I went down a mine with Arthur Scargill. And he told me about how he joined the Communist Party because he wanted to join the Labour Party. And he said he sent them a letter and they never got a reply. So he sent them another letter and he never got a reply. And so then he had a comrade knocking on his door, saying, “Would you like to come to a meeting tonight, comrade?” So he said, “I went, and that was the beginning of my time. And that was why I had such a problem when I was working on…” and he was working, genuinely, on trying to improve the lot of coal miners underground. And he was doing as much as he could. But he was made to work on his own, and all sorts of vile things happened. I got a phone call much later in life from Victor Rothschild, who was a friend of my husband’s, and we’d met, and he became a family friend, was surprisingly socialist in leaning, and financed Spycatcher. He rang up and he said, “It’s Victor.” I said, “Hello, how are you?” And he said, “I’d like to meet Scargill. Can you set it up?” And I said, “Well, I’ll try.” And he said, “But we wouldn’t wish to be seen.” And I said, “Oh, fine.” So I rang up Arthur Scargill and said, “Victor Rothschild would like to meet you.” And he said, “Why?” I said, “He just wants to talk to you. He’s interested in what makes you tick, and who you are.” And he said, “Well, where would we meet?” And I said, “You can meet at my house, if you like. It will only be me and my husband, and nobody else, and you and Victor, and we’ll give you supper, and you can talk.” So I said to Victor, “Will you come?” And he said, “Yes, fine.” So he drove up. Arthur drove up. Mark, my husband was a cartoonist and caricaturist. He could not believe the wonder of the possibility of Victor Rothschild and Arthur Scargill sitting in our kitchen having supper together. And he said, “Can I come?” And I said, “Well, I think they both know you’re going to be here.” He said, “I’ll do the cooking.” So Mark produced some sort of meal for us. Arthur let himself down. He did nothing but tell stories about funerals and about just funny stories. And then his persecution mania came out and he said things like, “Of course my daughter failed her A-levels because of the name on the paper.” And Victor said, “I think I could do something about that, Arthur. Get those papers for me, and I will have them remarked.” And of course, he never heard anything from Arthur. He never got the papers, and he never had them remarked.
When did you get involved with the NUJ?
The only time I got involved with the NUJ was when I joined TVam. You make mistakes in life, and that was one of the biggest mistakes I made, to be persuaded by Peter Jay and David Frost to join this completely new television station with lovely Robert Kee in order to explain the news in a way that it wasn’t being done elsewhere. It felt like a good idea. But I was summarily called in after one programme by Jonathan Aiken’s cousin who said, “You’re fired.” And I said, “I’m sorry, I’ve just come off air.” And he said, “You’re fired.” And I said, “Why?” And he said, “Well, I can’t be bothered to tell you. You can apply to our solicitors, but just leave the building as quickly as possible.” So I felt completely blown over by this, and I had things still in the office. And I walked out – I must have looked ashen, because there was Mike Parkinson outside and he said, “God, what’s happened to you? What’s up?” And I said, “I’ve just been fired.” And he said, “What?” And I said, “I’ve just been fired.” And he said, “Why?” I said, “They won’t tell me.” And so he said, because they fired Angela at the same time, “Well, I’m not having you girls leaving.” So Parky got a job on the board and we didn’t speak about it after that. Frost rang me in the evening and said, “Frosty here, how are you?” And I said, “Well, I’m feeling like I’ve got a bad dose of flu, I don’t understand what happened or why, and I’ve put my life savings into the company, and blah, blah, blah.” And he said, “Well, I’ve got some good news.” And I said, “What is it?” He said, “I went in to see the Aitkens, and they haven’t fired me.” I said, “Good for you.” I got a hydrangea the next day, courtesy of David Frost’s driver. And that was it. That was the end of it. So then I struggled for two years to try and get a bit of compensation, but it was a very bad time. But then I went to the NUJ and said, “Look, I’ve been summarily fired for no reason.” And they said, “I’m afraid because you’re one of the presenters, we don’t really feel we can support you against the people whose jobs are under terrible strain here.” I thought, “You can go off people,” and left the NUJ. I didn’t see the point really. Anyway, presenters were treated differently, because we were paid differently, and all the rest of it.
Is there anything else you want to talk about?
Maybe why I left Granada, given that I loved it so much. I was headhunted by the BBC. It was 1976, and a funny man turned up and said, “Would you have tea with me in the Midland hotel?” And I said, “What four?” And he said, “Well, I want to talk to you about the BBC.” He said, “Desmond Wilcox wants you to be on a programme called Man Alive,” which was a big live current affairs programme. And I was in several minds about it, and I said no to begin with. And then Pauline Shaw said, “You’re mad! This is a massive offer to go to London to be on primetime television for the BBC, you want to take it. This is your career you’re thinking about. Otherwise, you can stay at Granada and you’ll be doing the same thing in 20 years.” So I went to see Denis, who said, “Well, I’d much rather you didn’t leave. If you do, I wish you well.” Then I went to see David Plowright, and he said, “I’d much rather you didn’t leave, but I wish you well, and if you want to come back again, you’d be welcome.” And so off I went to London with people saying, “You’re selling out, how can you go south? You’re doing what everybody has done, what Melvin’s done, and everybody’s done, you’ve gone south.” So I ended up working for the BBC, and then I ended up working for ITN. And there we are.