My real ambition was to write, so the next step was to ask if I could work on the local magazine show, Scene at 6.30. Peter Cuff warned me that researchers on the show came and went like autumn leaves, and that I would need to leave NAATKE and apply to join ACCT, which I did. So, I became a proud researcher B.
There was one woman working on Scene when I joined, Rosemary Hall, a glamorous Leeds graduate who impressed me mightily because she’d worked as a Bunny Girl. Her job was as picture researcher, providing illustrations for the various stories that made up the magazine show. Amongst the men there were writers like Arthur Hopcraft, later known for his dramas, Barry Cockroft, who discovered and wrote about Hannah Hauxwell of the Dales, and Malcolm Lynch, who was never known to submit an expenses claim without the entry ‘to hire of ladder, 10/6d’, plus imaginative explanation.
Everybody on the show, researchers, producers and directors, met at nine thirty in the morning, having read the newspapers and being ready with suggestions for that evening’s edition. We researchers would then go off to the canteen for a coffee whilst the producers of the day decided which stories to include. Around eleven o’clock researchers were given their brief and then required to research and write the piece, complete with any music, film or picture additions, ready for dress rehearsal at 4.30pm and live transmission at 6.30pm.
One of my first assignments was to write a piece about the Greek Civil War. Now I had a classical upbringing and was thinking Athens and Sparta, so it was a surprise to find the war they were on about was fought in the twentieth century. My very first script concerned a famous trumpeter who was making a comeback. Mike Parkinson was the producer that day and it was he who kindly pointed out that I couldn’t include the sentence “He hadn’t touched his instrument for twelve years.” I was very young then.
They were a grand bunch, those producers, and I was lucky to work with such talented men. Brian Armstrong went on to produce notable films for World in Action; Peter Eckersley ran the Comedy department before his sad early death; Mike Scott was a presenter and later programme controller of GTV; Leslie Woodhead made many award-winning documentary films, and has continued to do so until recently.
There was just one producer who was generally disliked because he could be mean and bullying. On one occasion he gave me a story to write, all smiles, assuring me that it wouldn’t be needed for a day or two. That evening as I left the office he said, grim faced, “I want that script first thing tomorrow”. Luckily, I had done the research so was able to borrow a flat mate’s typewriter to write it up that evening. In the morning I was met with a thunderous face: “Where’s the script?” I handed it to him. Surprised, he looked it over and said “Hm, you must have been working”. Then I made a mistake, because I told him ‘of course I was working, I enjoy work’. He gave me two pieces to write that day, then no more work while he remained on the programme, which luckily was not very long. He really was the pits.
As for any sexism, I suppose we took it for granted. Like the day I arrived with my hair drenched from the rain and an outraged chap on the news desk told me to go straight off to the hairdresser to get it fixed. Or the time a boss sent me off to buy him some handkerchiefs. And the occasion when I was persuaded to share a taxi with a fellow researcher, only to have an unwelcome hand shoved up my skirt.
But my memories of Scene are mainly happy ones. There was the time I got some Venus fly trap plants to demonstrate how they snapped shut when they caught an insect – only by show time they were already shut because the stage crew had fed them with bits of paper. And the Valentine’s Day programme when I was delegated to produce two dozen oysters, because they were said to have aphrodisiac properties. At the end of the show I was left with them but when I got them back to my flat, I couldn’t prise them open. So, I boiled them and ate the lot and I can report there were no unusual effects.