You mentioned that sometimes you had to be slightly ruthless. I remember the phase “the axe man” in the papers. Does that apply to both scriptwriters and cast?
The thing that’s probably changed from then to now is that in those days, the huge interest that the papers – particular tabloids, the Sun and the Mirror – had with the casts of Coronation Street and EastEnders. I was very aware of that and I suppose, more than most, I again changed the wisdom. I was quite happy to deal with the press, first because a lot of my friends were journalists and working on the red tops… because what had happened before was that the Granada wisdom was that they didn’t talk to the press and so on. Well, the fact was that there were certain elements among the cast and certain elements among the story process that talked to the press, for money or whatever. Stories were always being leaked and Granada at that time had this slightly hunkered… And I thought, no, let’s go and talk to Piers Morgan and let’s work out things. We’ll give them exclusives.
The term “the axe man” came from the second day that I was there. I’d taken over and we’d had a script story conference where it was known we were going to get rid of quite a few people, dead wood, and it just happened that it started on my watch. So the next day, it said “the axe man”, so I got stuck with that because I had to tell… the first big one was… it had been decided that Thelma Barlow, who played Mavis, had said that she was wanting to leave, and it was going to be leaving Derek Wilton hanging there.
The problem was that there were already a lot of widowed characters in there who had been part of double acts. So there had been Reg Holdsworth and Sherrie Hewson’s character, Maureen. There had been Don Brennan and Ivy Tilsley. She’d gone and now there was going to be… so there were there half double acts, no story generating, nobody was wanting to do any stories for them.
And so we had Peter Baldwin, and we decided to kill him off. Now I could have stopped, but having seen that there were all of these spare pricks at a wedding type of thing, I agreed to it. But that was one of my first acts, having to tell Peter Baldwin that he’d be going. And then it looked as though I’d done that on my very first day, and so the sobriquet “the axe man” came on board. During my career I did kill off five or six characters for the reasons I was saying, that we needed to introduce younger characters. There was inevitably a feeling that some characters had served their time. We also had to renew the writing pool as well so as many writers went as characters. It was a nickname that didn’t leave me.