Anne McGarry on a typical day on Northern Newscast in the 1960’s

At the beginning, it was called Northern Newscast and it was a five-minute… sometimes it was little bit longer, sometimes they might give you six or seven minutes. You just had to take what they scheduled you on. So, my job description was that of secretary to the news editor, but the setup in the newsroom meant that I did all the work a PA (production assistant) did on programmes. The PA that was designated for the Northern Newscast programme only came along with the director, I mean, half an hour before the programme went on the air, and she was there to time the reading of the script and then the timing of the programme during transmission, but everything else that a PA would normally do on a programme, I did. It went out Monday to Friday and I’m sure it was just before, it wasn’t after, I think it was just before the ITN News at six o’clock.

Take me through a typical day.

Yes, well it involved liaising with reporters who worked for local newspapers in the Granada area, because of course you’ve got to get the news from somewhere. When I first started there, I didn’t know anything about news gathering and I suppose like a lot of people, I thought you went out and found the news, but of course it’s not a bit like that. You’re there, and the news comes to you in various ways. One of the ways for the Northern Newscast was that we had people called ‘stringers’, who were local newspaper reporters. Of course, in the Granada area – which was huge, really – there were hundreds of local newspapers. They would ring in with their stories, and these stories would be typed out. We had two copy takers who came in in the afternoon, and the reporters dictated their stories to the copy takers, and of course they were then passed over to the news team.

Of course, any photographs… of course, we had to remember we were on television, so it’s got to be visual, any photographs or filmed news items would also be supplied by these freelancers, working for local newspapers. The most important job in the morning was the checking of the diary. So, that gave us details of important events that would be happening during the day. So, an event that we might want to send a cameraman to, or at least alert a reporter, that we would tell him that we would expect him to write in a story on it. Of course, we didn’t use in-house camera people, they were all people on local newspapers and photographers. Some of them would have bought themselves… I think it was just an 8mm camera on which they would shoot film for us. So that was the first thing we did, we would check the diary, then the editor and the two other journalists working in the newsroom scanned the daily national newspapers, because they were delivered every day to the office. I opened the post, of course there were no emails then.

It was very primitive looking, but if it contained details of something happening that day that people had notified us of in the post, then that was quickly passed to the editor, and any other details, any future events, would be put in the diary. And we received lots of press releases. We also received tip-offs, there was a certain person who listened to messages on the police radio frequency, sometimes led to our reporter or cameraman getting to a dramatic scene before or soon after the emergency services arrived. I think listening to these radio messages was illegal, but police seemed to turn a blind eye, or at most make some sort of caustic comment.

Part of my work was to make sure that these freelance reporters and cameramen were paid for what they did. If I remember correctly, the cameramen were paid a standard rate for the work, I think about £5 or maybe £8, I’m not sure, it’s a long time back now. Every morning, the news editor would write on the previous evening’s script the names of the reporters who’d sent in each news item. I mean, we received… well, I don’t know, there’d be 100 or more stories coming through. Of course, there would only be a small selection of those that were chosen. Their names were written on the script and what the editor thought they should be paid. It was usually about £1.50 or £2.50, that’s in new money of course. Some of the reporters in the bigger towns were paid a retainer, so I had to keep a record of all these payments in a big ledger book and send individual payment forms to the accounts department each month. As I say, there were a staggering number of reporters and all their details and addresses, telephone numbers, we had to keep in a huge address book, at least two copies. And then it was always being changed, it had to be kept up to date.

Oh, and another thing. At the time, it was expected that news film should be accompanied by appropriate music. I don’t know whether you realised this, but if you ever see old newsreel on the television, there’s always music in the background. It’s very old-fashioned. But we were expected to choose the music to go with these little newsreel films that we’d ordered. So, that had to be chosen. I think we were helped with this by a librarian that Granada employed. Granada had a library, and it had a music section. And the Newscast programme, it also had its own distinctive musical introduction. I think it was called Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia Concerta, or something. I don’t know why I seem to remember that, but I think it was. And we had to… there were payments for all this music. It was dealt with, I think, by the librarian, and we just had to send in a little request form for our signature music.

I suppose there was a certain sense of urgency during the day, of course. But the three journalists working on the programme, they seemed to take it in their stride. They didn’t get… the most I can say is that they didn’t get flustered. But we all realised that the timing was important. The programme went out, just say, at five to six, just before the main national news at six o’clock. So, everything had to be ready for the rehearsals, I’d say at about half past five. And if the news item wasn’t written, or a film had arrived too late to be edited, it couldn’t be used.

That reminds me of the times when film went missing. If an event taking place away from Manchester, we would have to ask this camera man, working for a local paper, who had a cine camera to film the event. Well, this was before digital, electronic or satellite communication. And so, this reel of film had to be got to us by train. The cameraman would give it to the guard on the train. And the reel of film would have to be collected from the railway station by a taxi driver. There were many times when we had a phone call from a taxi driver to say, he couldn’t find the guard and the train. And then eventually the guard would be found just be found just wandering around the station with the film in his pocket. So, then there’s a mad scramble to get the film back to studio in time.

And then, of course, there were no smartphones to send photographs. So, the same thing happened to the photographs, they have to be put on the train. Another aspect of the timing, which was less fraught, was the actual length of the script. They have to strictly adhere to the number of minutes allocated. And one of my jobs was to type the script at the end. And at the end of each story, I would type the number of lines. We’d worked out that normal speech is about 200 words a minute and that the average number of words in a line of type was 10. So, 20 lines meant a minute of speech. The programme was usually scheduled for about five minutes. So, if we had 100 lines, we probably had enough. These lines included the script, which was read over the film, the edited film.

The newsroom and office equipment were very basic. We had manual typewriters. No copier machine. I think it was the early to mid-60s, before Granada invested in a Xerox copying machine. We all thought it was the state of the art, queuing up to use it. In 1959, we were still using carbon paper for making copies. If you needed quite a number of copies, you have to use the Gestetner duplicator machine, which wasn’t particularly user friendly.

The room, the newsroom itself wasn’t much bigger than an ordinary living room. And in the middle of the room was a large table. It was made up of four office desks put together. And the news editor and assistant news editor, and the sub-editor sat on three sides of the table and I sat on the fourth side next to the news editor. So, I think that, that might cover a day’s work. It all went very quickly.

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