Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 13 February 2014.
Right Brian. Let’s begin, let’s look at your career chronologically. When did you join Granada TV?
I was there, I started at Granada in 1957 when I would be 25. I’d been, I won’t go into the tormented history of how I got there, but by a series of accidents I started acting in radio just before my 15th Birthday. Acted through school life, and acted through university life and even on a couple of weekends to do a bit of work, mostly radio, whilst I was doing my national service. Came out after 2 years mostly away from the business, I’d done a little television acting, and came out to find that most of the connections that I’d had before, which I wasn’t able to maintain whilst doing service for Queen and Country, albeit only in Regents Park Barracks driving the staff car for the past year, an exciting experience, I don’t think. A lot of them had faded, got some work but coming very slowly, just beginning to pick up more resting than working, beginning to pick up but more gaps than not and at that point I heard from a journalist, well a relation, my brother in law had been a journalist, that Granada were looking for a part time news reader he told me he’d worked with Barrie Heads and David Plowright on the Yorkshire Evening News, Post and kept in touch with Barrie. Do you know anybody?
So one Monday I went in to chat with them. It was in the evening and the news had finished a little time before. I sat on the desk and talked to them. They handed me the news script and said would I like to read it and on Tuesday I was the newsreader in a little tiny studio, which is that front lobby that looks onto Globe & Simpson, or what used to be the Globe & Simpson building. Little window, tiny studio there.
That was actually inside Globe & Simpson?
No, across the road in Granada. New single storey building I think, right on edge of Quay Street by the car park gate. Size of a shoebox.
That would be the original reception?
Yes, that’s right. Very peculiar it was, wearing my makeup which was bright orange in order that I’d look normal with a vivid emerald green shirt which would look white because we were on …. “What did you call those cameras which were very slow …?” Very early black and white, very primitive camera. I read the news quite successfully as they said to me that was great. The only thing is when you look up from your script, no autocue, no monitor for me to look at, no ear piece or anything like that, just a cameraman behind a small camera about three feet away from me.
When you look up from the page, can you raise your head a little more slowly.
They said it smears on the camera and what happens if you come up too quickly your eyes stay behind and come up and join you 1.5 seconds later!
So I started news reading. There was no earpiece so we had an ingenious system, which allowed them to tailor the news to the time available. They didn’t have a P.A. either, you just had the editor running it and the tech. people. On the desk was a little light box that lit up with numbers 1 to 10 and they related to stories 1 to 10 which were of varying lengths, which were, supplemented stories after main stories. So you read the main ones that had to be got through, then they calculated how much time they had left, depending on how much time you had, did a quick calculation, No 3 would come up and you’d read Story 3, put that to one side, and 7 would light up, you’d read 7. All very primitive. It worked all right until they started running pieces of film on it and I was supposed to comment or relate to the film but I couldn’t see the film. There wasn’t a monitor, well there was later, but the camera itself did not have a screen so the cameraman lines it up on a TV monitor on a stand he had next to him and obviously its back was to me so I couldn’t see the damn thing. They couldn’t think. There’s no way we can do so I came up with a brilliant idea of having a mirror low down on the door, immediately behind, tiny room on the door that you came in, screwed to it so I could see the film, albeit in reverse, so I could do a commentary on it as long I didn’t have to say on the left of your picture!
It was left there for years and I heard someone say “I don’t know what it was down there for, perhaps it was a dressing room for dwarfs!”
After that it was then that I started doing film reports with a cameraman called Steve Stephens (Stevens) who weighed … at his lightest must have been 18 stone with a shirt that was too small and a hairy stomach sticking out and he had a Bolex wind up camera initially which he had converted to 16mm Mag Stripe. (Discussion about mag stripes here) He converted it and he applied his own stripe to his own film.
But you could only do a limited length of tape about 2 minutes fully wound after which it wouldn’t keep up to speed. The first thing I ever did was a Voxpop on Crewe Station because Crewe Athlete were going to London to play someone or other, no interest in football I’m afraid so I remember saying to lots of people … so what do you think about Palace’s chances? But they couldn’t afford the time for me to ask the question on film so I had to say I’m going to ask you what you think of Crystal Palaces’ chances, just tell me and I’ll nod my head and then the camera will turn and just say what you think. Ok? Right fine.
Steve would say Right, turn it over and they’d say … what was it I was going to say?
They were a nightmare until we got something exotic like an American camera which Steve carried around, weighed about quarter of a ton and had a transformer that took 2 of us to carry up the steps to anywhere and consumed massive amounts of energy I think because his camera was 110v or something and we could only get 240 so it was an ex USA AF Air force transformer – can’t believe it really. I do know we filmed with the, not the Manchester High School for Girls, but I think the Manchester High School in the middle of Manchester, did some filming there with the kids and Steve plugged into the mains for all this lot and his lights, came back and looked at the fuse box which was outside on a wall and took a look and said … phew! Blow these buggers! So he fished in his pocket and pulled out a 4” nail which he shoved in the box and by the time when we cam out it was distinctly … there was quite a bit of vague steam rising!
It was an absolute nightmare! A very strange man, very strange!
We filmed … I told this story in the book, we filmed … “Granada’s early years” about him on the steps of York Minster when we were doing a piece, say in those days though patently obvious I’m standing on the steps of York Minster and set up for the shot and I started doing my piece to camera about what I don’t know and a figure came out down the steps of the Minster and Steve stopped and said “Hang on! Hey! Oy! Would you mind? We’re filming.”
The bloke said I need to come down the steps.
“Well, we’re filming – I mean do you think you own the bloody place?”
“No, but I’m on very good terms with HIM who does. I am the Dean of the Minster.”
I have to say I was acutely embarrassed and Steve couldn’t have given a damn you know! Very odd experience.
So filming for news then I started doing voice-overs as well as though I was an actor …. Oh! I’d better tell you about who was running newsroom later but because they though he was an actor or something so got me doing voice overs very early for What the Papers Say with Denis Foreman producing and probably Eric Harrison directing. He directed nearly everything. They got me into the news, part time news job which was developed into full time because Bill Grundy was the star of the local show at the time but he was doing more and more shows and the workload was becoming impossible.
They tried a lot of local journalists to do it but they were absolutely hopeless – good journalists but no good at presenting the stuff so I just acted the part of being a journalist, reading the news you see, do everything bar acting actually!
I started getting involved with local magazine programmes – originally as reading the news within the programme, then a bit of the programme presenting and that developed and developed and eventually I suppose I did a late night show that Bill Grundy was doing, I used to finish whatever news it was – on about 11 o’clock. I finished our late Northern news 10.50-11.00pm and then I hurtled downstairs to the Studio, slap makeup on and I became the actor, voices or play characters for him in little thing he’d set up or reading bits, poetry or whatever it was he decided to insert into the night. Interesting life.
That developed and I ended up on Scene at 6.30 with Mike Parkinson and Mike Scott and George Reid….eventually and that went on for quite a number of years. I can’t remember the earlier show, Bill Grundy’s show was called, was it People to People?
People and Places?
People and Places! Yes, that was it! That gave way to Scene I think, very successful and very interesting. I even did bits ..
The Scene, I remember, was distinctly young? I remember you on it, Mike Scott and certainly Mike Parkinson, and then who else?
There was a woman at one stage. A famous Irish talk show host – Gay Byrne might have been on it, not quite sure.
Very distinguished bunch with you.
Well they were, I wasn’t at the time.
Mike wasn’t a journalist, we used to take the mickey. Mike had a problem with his “R”s and we used to write a piece for Mike – we’d do an introduction which we’d done on film and try to put as many “R”s into it as possible.
“You wotten lot! Awound the wagged wocks the wagged wascal wan!”
Nice guy to work with, he was much brighter and much more creative that the journalistic side of the business gave him credit for because they didn’t rate him at all. I think David Plowright was often quite scathing about him and certainly Parky didn’t think much of him because he was a proper journalist!
Whereas Mike was quite a playboy. He was a great favourite of the Bernsteins was Mike, been with them for ages. He’d started off I think as a stagehand or something like that then a cable puller, you know, they assisted the cameraman.
When I arrived at Granada Scotty had just been make Programme Controller – there was still the shock waves from that ….
There would be. I must have been well ahead of that. I was making films with a director when he was appointed. Barry Clayton who was very Barry Von Stroheim, pretty camp, became a very good friend, lovely man, very theatrical. He’d been an actor with Joan Littlewood’s Theatre, Glasgow Citizens Theatre, things like that. Decided he wanted to get into film direction, went to Warsaw Film School, taught himself Polish, came back with a Polish wife. He was very fond of her but I think married her was to get her out of Poland more than anything. She’d had a hard time, family in war, persecuted by Nazis and all that stuff. Anyway he was very outspoken and never took any notice of anyone. I know Mike Scott was appointed from whatever he was to be Head of Local Programmes, Ex Producer Local Programmes and everyone came in to congratulate him and Barry popped his head in, looked at him behind his desk and said “Oh lovey! Why are you going in for all this crap?”
By that time I must have started making documentaries. It must have been when he was made Programme Controller.
I’d made a series of films with Barry Clayton and Peter Walker did a couple as well. When we first started in a series called, much to my irritation, It’s Trueman. It was after Scene at 6.30 finished and they decided instead of doing a magazine programme, Mike Scott decided instead of doing a magazine programme, they’d string shows across the week, art show which Nick Elliott produced on a Monday and we had a documentary, local events, on a Tuesday. 25 minutes, good old Black and White film and I needed a director, researchers for it. Researchers to being with were Diana Bramwell ….(laughs) Quite formidable and Ashley Hill who became the Programme Scheduler for Channel Four and then subsequently for the awful Channel Five. He was the researcher.
We made 32 x 25 minute documentaries in 12 months all over the North West which was wonderful experience with Alan Ringland. The 2 researchers leapt-frogged, 2 film editors Alan Ringland and a London bloke who left, before your time so you won’t remember him. He is now a quite well regarded movie editor.
We leapt frogged those too. Barry and I did everything. Interviews, links, wrote the links, voice overs. We had 2 ½ days per week to shoot, and 2 days to edit so it was quite an effort over the year.
Were those quirky?
Yes! Mostly they were. I was annoyed because I’d gone on holiday just before it started and whilst away Cecil had got … we had a number of titles for it and all related to what matter it was going to be. I got back to find that Cecil had decided it would be called It’s Trueman which I found really irritating because it wasn’t anything but, but I was in the mechanism by which their stuff, one of them was made into a documentary so I wasn’t at all happy but they wouldn’t take any notice. You couldn’t argue with the Bernsteins! If they’d made their minds up though I did have a particular contra temps with Sydney Bernstein which I may come back to. Silly story!
But they were about poets, places, artists, village life, bits of industry, anything but nearly always, inevitably it was the people involved.
We did a nice piece with Norman Nicholson, the poet, the Cumbrian poet. Lovely stuff. A kind of … who’s the Irish poet who’s just died??? Seamus Heaney! He was a kind of Cumbrian Seamus Heaney, very kind, deceptively simple language that he used, about the area he’d lived in all his life and the people. Lovely thing to do. We enjoyed that. It pissed down with rain the whole time – very moody!
Was it a period when Granada seemed to allow people to just go out and make half hour moves because people like Ray Gosling …. And very quirky. Do what you fancy sort of documentaries? Very special?
It was a wonderful atmosphere to work in because the Bernsteins were … it was living with a benevolent despot crossed with a Jewish mother really and they had a great affection for the people they recruited. They put enormous trust in them. They were like the best people … It was like when I was I was writing in the early days of Cosgrove hall, writing for animation films, that you worked for people who believed you could do the job they were asking you to do, and they gave you the go-ahead to do it. They presumably looked at what you’d done and they said to themselves “Yes I was right” and they just left you to get on with it.
An absolute degree of trust between everybody which is so … such an energising, creative situation to be in where you’re not in dread of being snipped at, or the politics or whatever. Yeah. If you think you can, have a go!
I know the money was pouring in so they could probably afford to do that rather better but they were great and the very small detail … Sydney was notorious for living on the premises! You know when they built the new block he had the Penthouse on the roof and begins … Sydney was known as “Fiddler on the Roof”!!
So he would patrol the building – in the evening – but he would patrol the building during the day with poor Mr Pook, Dennis Pook, who was office manager’s side kick something!
He was trailed behind him with a notebook and SLB would say “Cigarette ends in the sand bucket!”, all sorts of minor details, fleck of paint off. Poor chap had a terrible life!
But he’s go around at night as well and secretaries used to come in and find a piece of somewhat created carbon paper on the desk with a little note on it saying “This could be used again. SLB”. So talk about micro-management! … Wasn’t in it! And someone, I can’t remember who – might have been Mike Parkinson or Dennis Pitts – he saw someone in studio wearing socks which had spots on them and he phoned down and said “who was that wearing those socks! Never, never let me see a spotted sock in my studio ever again!” They were out.
On one occasion he came round, he had different approaches to his relationship with Germany. Naturally. No doubt there might have been people in his family who had been persecuted by them, by the Nazis, but it was a bit variable. For instance he came round the studio and said “Very good. Yes, what are these microphones? Whose are these microphones?”
They said, yes, and they really are the best microphones.
He said “Are they German?”
Yes, well yeah!
“Get them out! Get them out! I want British microphones in here. Get them out!”
But, but …. So they went!
They fished around but there weren’t any decent British microphones – there were things like the Clarian, I don’t know what! They stuck these microphones up and about 10 days later there was another angry phone call from SLB, who watched all the programmes going out, saying “What’s the matter with the sound in my studios? Its appalling.”
And they said …. Well, it’s the microphones.
“What’s the matter with them?”
They’re British mics and not very good ….
“What are the best microphones?”
“Well get the damned things!”
And then before you know it, you were staring at a new car in the car park. It was a Mercedes!
He was a bit confused!
There was a newly appointed secretary who’d just come to work, been there about 3-4 months, and her mother got seriously ill and she was desperately worried about her. SLB was going around sometime and she was trying to catch up on her work – she’d been to see her mother in hospital or something and she was typing away in the evening. SLB saw her and asked “Why are you here? Why are you working late?”
“Because my mother’s ill” and she just started weeping. He said “There isn’t a problem. You must look after your mother, forget the job, look after your mother.”
“But I need the money”. He said “We’ll pay you so je just said come back when your mother either unfortunately passed on or better. That’s incredible. You can’t imagine anyone doing that these days but of course he owned the shop. Could do what the hell he liked!
It was a very paternalistic company?
Oh yes, very. Held people to it. It was exciting. The fact that I cold go in as an actor, be a newscaster then do voice-overs and then start presenting news programmes then making documentaries is a most peculiar zigzag route! Actors don’t do that sort of thing! Every now and then I went back to do something … I presented Cinema after Clive James, I think, stopped doing it. I think Mike Parkinson had done it, someone who knew about film had done it …
Did Barry Norman do it?
When I was doing Cinema for Granada people would shout across the street – Barry Norman!!! My wife – and my kids – would think it was hugely amusing! Almost the right programme but wrong bloke!
I did a massive documentary towards the end of my career, which was the energy, an energy house, A House for the Future.
The conversion of a wrecked coach house into an energy conserving Eco house with high levels of insulation, heat pumps, Lord knows what else, with a real local family who sold their house, moved into it and lived in it. And helped to built it. We did 20 x half hours for the network on that, after which by that time we were nearly up to 1976 when I left …. Started in 1957 – 19 years later.
I left really because I didn’t like the input. Gus McDonald had come in, I didn’t like Lord McDonald at all and I didn’t like Steve Morrison at all.
I mean, I met Steve Morrison for the first time in the canteen, introduced to him and he said “Oh hi! I’m Steve Morrison. I’ve got a theory about television.” Oh Christ! Not a theory!!!!
After which we got some bullshit rules about filming. He believed … he’d just come out of Film School I think and one of the first films he’d directed, gone out and directed to show us how to do things was with some Romany’s in a gypsy caravan who were lined up inside the caravan. He didn’t believe in cutting or things like that. You had to do the whole thing so the camera would be panning at one end of the caravan and the bloke would start to talk at the other end and it whipped across to the other end and for the most part, they got there just as he’d finished talking and then whip back and of course it was entirely uneditable! He must have shot 800ft, which was unheard for the time.
He had no idea what he was doing! But he wrote Gus McDonald a very good memo so I thought I don’t like these people, pushy, and nasty and I thought when David Plowright said he’s like you, we need an experienced hand that people know, to go back to fronting the local magazine show which was Granada Reports by then, I thought enough is enough. If I don’t move now I’ll never move, you know.
So I became … I was never on the staff, I became, I had a rolling contract, either one year or two years, forever, and so I went to work for the BBC as a …… I fronted current affairs shows for one year which was awful, a nightmare! So manipulative, so cosy!
People said what’s it like working for the BBC after working for Granada. I said working for Granada laterally was like walking on broken glass, working for the BBC is like being smothered in cotton wool. Its awful. Arm around the shoulders. “Wonderful to have you with us, Brian” all the rest of the stuff, very possessive, clubby and very enormous …
Granada was proud of being Granada but it didn’t mean that it failed to recognise other peoples’ talent or particularly to think you were yourself, a special person. You were lucky, I don’t mean it wasn’t a contractual relationship they weren’t necessarily – no need to be grateful to them – to the company – but you were lucky to be working for a company like that and you liked to think they were lucky to have you.
A fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. Left wing father used to say! Not that that isn’t true.
But the BBC has a feeling, pretty well (34.02 minutes) everyone who works in it has a feeling of working in it … of infinite superiority for an awful lot of time and the way we do things and they pile up bills for Prosecco. Now that they have been stopped, paying for champagne, they paid £20 a bottle of prosecco instead.
Did you come into contact with Denis Forman and David Plowright?
Yes, when I joined the newsroom, Barrie Heads was the Editor, David Plowright was the Assistant Editor and Terry Dobson was the junior (Asst) Editor I think. Those two were fine, Terry Dobson was an awful little what’s it, used to like bullying people. Used to send me out to every interview and he’d say “I’ve got the questions for you”. There would be five questions which were basically some words changed but
- how does your scheme work
- what are the changes of it going through
- how much cost is it going to involve
- have you had any reaction so far
- and what of the future
and he gets very stroppy when I said “Well I think I know, I’m quite capable of asking my own questions.”
Very angry about that and if you shot more than 400 ft of film, about four minutes, you got hauled over and I’ve got a bone to pick with you! So didn’t get on with him. I got my own back because I used to call him at every opportunity the Cub Reporter that turned him absolutely puce!
And Forman, involved with various aspects, What The Papers Says, and used to get me to read poetry now and then. He was interested in voice-overs for possible music programmes and various pieces. Very nice, very dignified person.
David and Barrie were fine to get on with – if you did the job, fine. Negotiated contract with Plowright once every right or two years. He was a lot cleverer than I was – he thought I was clever. He was OK.
And Joyce Wooler?
Yes, briefly. When I joined them I got a one-off – a sort of acting job before I was a newsreader. I had been in the place before I remember, as they needed a continuity announcer for a week. There was an actor guy I’d worked with when I was doing BBC Radio and he was a regular, went away for a fortnight and someone else was ill, so they got me in. Continuity Announcer! It’s a frightening job, having to watch the stopwatch, and getting red lights and saying FROM THE NORTH – THIS IS GRANADA TELEVISION!
You couldn’t hear what was going out and she got cross with me for some reason. They were trailing a show for a London based arts programme which was made in Golden Square and they had a very famous opera singer, Greek … who was it?
As a reminder they said this is the tumultuous. And this was the reception that Maria Callas got at her performance of … something or other and there was a 10 second pause and just carried on. Apparently there was no sound at all and Joyce was …. “Why did you say that? Why did you say that?”
She was very ladylike, wasn’t she? Very lofty. She appeared and Mike Wooler I knew quite well and Nick Elliott and John Hamp.
Johnnie Hamp I knew quite well, done things for show business and voice-overs. I remember the Beatles coming in, first appearing, and the Rolling Stones! They were late!
The local programme – Granada Reports in the early days which was in a very small studio, Studio 4, which is now a store. Well last time I was in, it was a store room, electric cables,e tc.
We packed a lot into it. We would have the magazine programme and they would nightly, most nights I think, they’d have a rock band or a musician or some musical element.
So the Beatles came in on what I think was their first, almost, their first TV appearance and I can’t for the life of me remember what they sang. They were a nice, amicable gangling, cheerful .. “how did we get here? Hello mate!”
I used to run into them from time to time and when I tried to get an interview with them after they’d been to see that Sharman and they were out in Conwy, North Wales – Maharishi something … they went to see for a de-focus weekend and they came out and I was with the other journalists outside trying to get an interview with them. They didn’t give me any but Ringo came past and saw me there and said “Hi Brian. Sorry mate!” That was all I got! I knew the Beatles!!
But the Roling Stones came in and they were late and they were scruffy. They were quite noisy – came in and they smelt a bit as well! Think they’d been in the van driven back from Germany or something and they smelt a bit. They made a fuss and messed up the dressing room and did a piece and after that Plowright said “Right! That’s it. A disgusting bunch. They’re not coming inside this building again!!” Just wrote them off! Much to his chagrin … later!
What about Mike Parkinson? Nobody has talked to me about Mike.
Mike came into local programmes and took on a kind of “I am your leader role” as a proper hard-work experienced journalist. Quite tough, Yorkshire and prepared to say what was wrong with the programme and how it should be reshapes. What we were doing, that we weren’t getting enough resources as we ought to and having arguments with people. So quite useful in that sense. We used to have programme conferences, every now and then, often in an evening in a committee room with food and drink with Denis there.
I sat next to Denis – you know he lost a leg at Anzio?
I sat next to Denis and moved my leg and kicked his left leg and said “Sorry Denis” and he said “What?” Very embarrassing.
Mike was always fighting for something and the more he had to drink the most argumentative he got. He drank a fair amount. More than once he came in looking very rough and saying he’d slept in the garage all night. He’d fallen asleep in the car and Mary had come down and seen him in the garage, closed the door and left him and went back to bed to teach him a lesson! He never learnt!
At one stage, we, he complained bitterly that we didn’t have enough resources, not enough film editors, no access to this, that and other and Denis said “all right, all right. OK. Yep. In that case I will take the show over and I will run it for a week and we’ll see if all this is true.”
So he took over. Needless to say Denis could have as many film editors, as many film crews, as many facilities as he wanted so for a week it ran absolutely smoothly and he said “there you are!” and of course it all went back to normal the week after!
And you think, you must have known Denis, wouldn’t you? Just your clever way around it.
We had one or two funny incidents. Barrie Clayton, the director and I made a documentary about Peterloo. The company said, I can’t remember, I think it was Plowright, we need to make a documentary about Peterloo so I want ideas from lots of people. We came up with this quite theatrical complex idea that Barrie and I had dreamed up which was based on a book that had been written by Joyce someone or other. An historian who took a very, somewhat, unbalanced view in that it was not actually a massacre, but entirely on the side of the people on the ground, which is not unreasonable but took no heed of the pressures that the other side were under, for political or social reasons, or indeed the general atmosphere in the country and community at that time. However we did that we also found the Court Records of some of the people who’d been tried for rioting or whatever it was.
We got an interesting cast; many of whom had worked with Barrie in things like Glasgow Citizens or Joan Littlewood, so obviously on the side of the masses as well and we interviewed the historian and we filmed the events. We filmed the court scene. We re-created galloping horses, banners being carried, cabbages filled with red ink being chopped in two by a sword for heads and all that kind of thing. Cheapo, cheapo, cheapo really. At Plowright’s request we set off filming. Plowright went on holiday and Denis took over and said “All this has to be shot in colour. We can’t do this in black and white. Its ridulous.” So the budget rocketed way way beyond anything that had been conceived.
Plowright came back and was absolutely furious! We edited the thing together, very complicated, so many complex elements to it, so many bits and pieces. We made it into a very interesting but complex piece of film which Plowright looked at and said “This is terrible’ I think what he’d hoped for was a much more journalistic documentary approach to it despite the fact that we’d specified what we were going to do.
SO, Brian Tagg, that was the other editor, we were working with Brian Tagg who knew a thing or two about film editing and it was really beautifully, beautifully knotted.
Plowright looked at and said, “Right, go away the pair of you. Go away! Take a week off! Go fishing!”
“Fishing lovey!! Oh God!!” said Barrie but we went off and left him to it and he spent a lot of the time on it when he should have been administering. I think he was Head of Programmes, with the editor and we came back and saw him the next week and he said “You bastards!” he said, “You bastards! I can’t do anything with it. If I take a bit out, anywhere, the whole bloody thing falls to pieces!” So we said we told you. Oh the hell with it!
So it went out!
This was the editor saying this?
No, this was Plowright telling Barrie and myself that we were bastards!
It subsequently went out and was well received. However it was way over budget so I went to see Denis and we had two parts of the conversation.
He said “Some of the filming was really rather below par. I mean the people who were marching, carrying the banners. You needed far more. We only saw … they seemed to be walking on a moor. We needed to see them marching through the streets. I don’t suppose there was more than two dozen.”
We said “There were 11 actually but we filmed them several times over!”
He said “We needed more horses, more men on horseback wearing the uniforms
Brian: Well the budget ….
Denis: But, but, never mind, well I suppose you did your best. Now the budget! Why did it go so far above?
Brian: Just a minute, two minutes ago you were saying …..
No! Sorry it was the other way round, blimey, I’ve made a complete mess! We had the row about the budget first. “We’re way over budget, we’re far over, I don’t know how you’ve managed to do it. Part II of the conversation was we needed to see far more people marching so that it was the other way around.
So I said “Just a minute! Just now you’ve said we’d spent far too much …
Denis: Brian! I’m not talking about money now
Brian: Right Denis, thanks a lot!
Anyway we got away with it!!
We had a wonderful debacle at Scene at 6.30 – just a silly story where we had to ….
Journalists, as ever, left the script for the evening magazine programme to the last possible minute. The scripts had to be in by about … last minute was about 20 to 6 if … no! we had to rehearse at 6 o’clock so they had to be on the desk for 6 o’clock. They had to be in the Roneo machine being churned off by about 5.35pm.
Then someone came up with a Xerox so that meant you could …. And that was zip zip zip .. the scripts came out so that was a doddle – that gave the journalists the opportunity to shovel the deadline much nearer to the rehearsal time and usually you got the scripts for a quick read thru and a tech. test by 5 past 6 so you didn’t have time for … you got the tops and tails, your in cues and out cues whizzing past, you got your scripts, you read your piece, did the balance, cleared the studio and you were on air.
So the first day of the Xerox and it seemed to have worked all right. As usual, as everybody does you get all the bits of paper, pile your scripts together, get them neatly, bang them on the table and the print slide off the page and ended up as a pile of carbon dust on the desks!!! Leaving a pale shade of what had been there.
So the whole programme was people saying ….ah …. You know …. Bumbling their way through words and getting the wrong one and not knowing where the hell they were going and saying with a great deal of relief “And now to Mike Scott – cut to Mike Scott” and Mike says NO!
Quite a row about that but they didn’t go back to the Roneo!!
How important do you think Granada was to the region?
Hugely. Hugely. I mean it brought …. The BBC was already there, but the BBC somehow kept itself to itself and was obviously an adjunct of the metropolitan BBC, of BBC the Corporation. I don’t think it interacted in quite the same way with the population in the way that Granada did. I mean Granada presented itself as being THE NORTH and SLB was talking about issuing Granada passports. Obviously fake ones that you got stamped as you came over the border of Granadaland!
A Granadaland passport! People would obviously enjoyed having their passport franked as they came past … that that fell through. He had some daft ideas!
But Granada certainly did and apart from anything else it recruited a lot of people locally than the BBC tended to do. Many of whom were émigrés from other areas, I mean they started with, they started generating their own but certainly the Heads of Departments came from other parts of the BBC for the most part. Metropolitan BBC sent out into the wastelands to bring us good news! But Granada wasn’t like that and certainly we were very welcome on the streets. I think because, in part, as the news team, we were on the streets a lot seeking peoples’ opinions on this, that and t’other. We did a lot more Vox Pops than anybody else and people would say to you “You know, you’re great, we like out TV, its our kind of … good programmes, its really smashing, not like the BBC is it” so evidently the more downtrodden in the population felt that the BBC was toffee nosed and not their style and we were reaching more into their lives. And indeed I suppose its true and the documentaries didn’t look for spectacular things at all. It was more kind of domestic and local and about small people than it was about big famous things and huge events and the rest of it.
I think it did that and I think in general and of course through the drama it did on television. It encouraged a lot of interest. It brought good drama to, I think, a wider population and they weren’t afraid of doing adventurous, artistic programmes. They did some Offenbach operas and things like that. Music and talent shows. They were very often admittedly made in London but the artistes they needed to get where in London.
I think they were good and I think for as far as those of us who worked in the business they gave people an enormous opportunity to learn, what to do how to do it, what you were capable of, how to work with other people, in a kind of relatively non-heirarchic team. There were certainly people at the top but you tended to get people with a much more casual and less formally laddered relationship than you do in the BBC. People were easier with the girls who did the typing and the Head of the Typing Pool and everyone. Everybody seemed to mix in, to much in, in a very good way.
There was always the feeling that the SIXTH FLOOR was more remote. The famous Sixth Floor and I suppose to a certain extent they were and they probably had to be but even then it was not that difficult to get to see the man at the top with no problem at all.
Anything on your list that you wanted … tell ou what you would have been at Granada when Coronation Street started. Any memories?
Well I do. Coronation Street had started and amongst other things I’d worked as a child actor in the BBC radio, starting as Tubby the Cook when I was just short of 15 in The Adventures of the Puffer Patrol – jolly good and moving on through life doing all sorts of daft things like working for comedians and the rest.
I worked a lot with Violet Carson and I worked with Tony Simpson who had to change his name to Tony Warren because there was another actor called Tony Simpson but his real name is Tony Simpson.
And Alan Rothwell. In fact my two sponsors when I got my Equity card when I was about 18 were Violet Carson and Ewan MacCall – not bad was it? So she appeared on the scene – I’d acted with her on a television play not that long before really. The last play I did before Granada said you can’t be on television but you can continue doing radio, which I didn’t really cover when I started the job.
But been in a television play with her and acted in a lot of radio and I always seem to be called Jim in the plays we were in and she was always my mother so when we met she would inevitably say “Hello Jim” and I’d say “Hello Mum!: but there were there and that was interesting. I never had anything to do at all to do with it. I knew a number of the people in it, vaguely, a little bit – Bill Roache but Violet and Alan yes. See them quite a bit and got news from the front and I think they were quite bemused by its enormous success.
Oh! And Doris Speed! I’d actually directed Doris Speed in my last year at Uni, Manchester University when I was part of the University Drama Group. I’d produced The Lady’s Not For Burning, Christopher Fry and Doris played something for me – a mother or some senior citizen, something like that. She was very brave about it. It was pretty chaotic I remember but so I knew people like that. We had funny exchanges and we had a nice link. They were curious to know what went on in the rest of the building, you know.
The other story right at the beginning I’d been doing was for …. Only about a week and we were summoned, David Plowright, Terry Dodson and myself, were summoned to a meeting by Sydney Bernstein who had an office in a building on the other side of Water Street. In an old building, big office. The big feature of which was an enormous round table, a central column in the middle and splayed feet. Huge post table and the three of us sat at one end, diametrically opposite Sydney at the top and his big idea was …
He said, amongst other things, his big idea was that he wanted it to be more lively, he wanted more headlines! Man Bites Dog! Train in Crash Drama! To introduce each story. I sat a bit.
I thought this is bloody rubbish, this is not what reading the news is like. You are an individual reading the news. So I said “That’s right. That’s for reading newspapers, isn’t it?
At which my companions, sat on either side of me, said …. Sharp intake of breath,mutter, mutter!
Brian: They’re newspaper headlines. They work on newspapers. I’ve got to ready them and I’d look a right bloody idiot saying things like that.
Their chairs moved appreciably further away.
Sydney said “Not at all. Have you …. Have you …. American Television does it very effectively. Have you ever seen the Walter Cronkite show?”
“No, I haven’t actually got a television set.” I didn’t know that Walter Cronkite was an American, at which he looked totally baffled and I got quite agitated. By this time Terry Dodson and David Plowright were almost out of sight which left me in the beam and rage of Sydney and I lent on the table and said, “Look!” at which point the table tipped up and his papers came rocketing down the desk and landed on me!
That was the end of the interview and I think he gave in at that point!
“Well, think about it!”
And they said “For Christ’s sake, Brian, what do you think you’re doing?”
“Its perfectly ….”
“You don’t argue with Sydney Bernstein!”
“Rubbish!” You know, green as grass! I wasn’t fired and neither were they so it was all right really.
That was an indication of his micro-management but his “in the end it’s your job, get on with it, I may not like it, but all right then” which is big. A big man.