Interviewed by Stephen Kelly and Judith Jones, 19 May 2017.
Let’s start. Chris, at the beginning. Where were you before Granada Television and how did you come to join Granada Television?
I was with Anglia Television in Norwich and I had gone there straight from… not quite straight and leaving Cambridge, but I taught French for a couple of terms at a very bizarre establishment in Sussex. And joined Anglia, got a job as an announcer initially, did that for about three months, moved over to the newsroom and then became kind of an anchor of the evening magazine. Then one day I got a call from Michael Apted, who had been a mate at university, and then at Granada of course, and he said, “Michael Parkinson is leaving and we need somebody to replace him, so why don’t you apply for an interview?” which I did. I went to Golden Square with a little film I’d done. I can’t remember what it was about, I think it was about a greyhound track or something, and I remember (Barry Head? 1:54) said, “We would have interviewed the greyhound.” But anyway, I got the job and that was it. That was the start.
This will be what year?
I’m not very good at years, Steve, but I had been at Anglia about… I came down from university in 1962. I taught for two terms, so that make it 1963, and then I spent a couple of years there… 1965-66, I should think.
So you joined Granada. What was the first programme they put you on? Did they send you into local telly?
Yes, I mean, it was all very rapid. I could not have seemed very grown up after Anglia, which was a delightful but sleepy little station, you know, which was quite keen on farming and horse brasses, and that sort of thing. And I was struck by the fact that it seemed more adult. I mean, people had been in the Army, you know? And they were experienced. A lot came from the Yorkshire Post – David Plowright and Barry Heads, along with Parkinson – and I’d just been a telly hack, really. And within about a week I was doing… I was obviously presenting Scene at 6:30 as it was then called, and within about a week or a fortnight, literally, I was producing a programme called Granada in the North, which went out at 10, 10:30 at night. GIN for short, which turned out to be a rather prescient nickname, because there was a long time in the pub between 6:30 at night and 10:30! And the principal presenter of this was Bill Grundy. And Bill, on his day, was the finest broadcaster in the country, I think. We subsequently presented World in Action together for a season in vision, actually.
But there was one terrible night when the programme was done in a small remote studio, so the director was sitting some doors away in another room, so to change the shot, the camera would kind of judder up robotically and then pan and do whatever you wanted it to eventually. And one night he’s sitting there and he sits in the chair and he says, “So now I’m going to tell you a secret,” Very slurred. And before we knew what the secret was, he disappeared out of the shot completely, and the camera panned around frantically, very slowly, and finally a hand appeared on top of the desk, and he hauled himself into position again, and got fired for about the fourth time. But of course, they always rehired Bill because he was really, you know, he was a brilliant broadcaster. But he was fond of a drink, as they say. Mind you, everybody was – it was an alcoholic culture. It was the same in journalism, wasn’t it, Fleet Street was full of drunks, and yes, he just drank and that was part of the game, really. But it was exciting because it was very… I mean, there’s such a thing as Granada Man, (Peter Eckersley? 5:26) wrote this wonderful Guide to Granada Man (and woman), although there was no brackets in those days. And it was pugnacious, and it was left leaning, of course. It was very confident. I mean, if somebody said to you, “What do you see yourself doing in two years?” they wanted you to say, “I want your job.” I didn’t want their job actually, I was very happy doing the job I was doing. So it was very exciting for me, and there was a talented bunch of people around even among the researchers on Scene at 6:30. People like (Mark Chivers? 6:02), who went on to be a distinguished director, of course. Or rather, a sort of… he ran a film company, apart from anything else. (Barry Cookcroft? 6:15), who is a very talented journalist, again from Yorkshire. I remember the night of the Aberfan disaster. I was presenting the programme, and Barry had written this incredibly moving script, you know, it was quite difficult to get through it, actually. And all sorts of all sorts of very talented people were there. (Arthur Hopcroft? 6:42), brilliant sports journalist and – well, more than that – playwright… so, yes. So it was buzzing. There’s a very interesting quote in a book I’ve read, is it called Granada’s golden Years or something? It’s a sort of collection of interviews with various people.
Was it? Right, yes, that’s right. And (Peter Wildblood? 7:06), writes in that he thought they got the name wrong; he thought it should have been called Camelot. So, yes.
Going back to the Bill Grundy… as producer of that programme, were there not repercussions?
Yes, he got fired. But then he was regularly fired!
By you as producer…
Not by me!
No, were there any repercussions on you?
No, none at all. I mean, this was the other great thing about Granada was a) they had enormous faith in young people. I mean, I remember once, I had read about a Picasso exhibition in Paris, 16 rooms, and he walked into one of them and allegedly said, “I didn’t paint a single canvas in this room.” Mind you, Picasso was known to be a bit naughty and sometimes he had painted then and he said he hadn’t. And then I read another story about (Cologne Cathedral? 8:00) where a couple of artists had been hired to refurbish a very ancient fading wall painting. And so they covered the site with hessian, and in a few weeks later they emerged. And it turned out they were conmen, and they painted the thing, not just restored it! So I went to (Barry Ellison? 8:21 ) and I said, “How about we do a thing about art fakery? And I told him the story and he said, “Yes, let’s do it.” I said, “Well, who’s going to direct it?” He said, “You. You do it.” I’d never directed in my life! It was extraordinary though, the faith they had in you. And also, they were incredibly supportive. I men, I had, as it turned out, a fairly disastrous episode when John Birt was my researcher for a heady six weeks, and I ran a show called X Plus 10 which I’d sort of dreamed up, which was a major guest of the week – one week it was Edward Heath – and 10 bright young people, among them Paul McCartney’s brother Mike McGear, Roger McGough, and Anna Ford, in her first television gig. And this week, between us, John Birt and I had devised a happening, because that was the great word at the time. And what was going to happen was that a woman, played by (Annette Robertson? 9:29) had got a message at home saying, “We want you to come and appear on Granada’s whatever it was, X Plus 10, and talk about life on the breadline,” you know, for a young mother, unmarried to her bloke. And the bloke was to be played by Warren Clarke, who subsequently became a great mate. And John had worked out what we should do was to warn nobody on the set, not even Brian Truman, the presenter, or the 10 people, and he would burst through the fire door half way through the show, because the scenario was he’d gone home and seen the note, she’d gone, left the baby, and he was supposed to be very cross. So what happened was he was through the fire in the middle, a cameraman left his camera to hit him, pandemonium broke loose, and finally Brian managed to get it under control, but it was chaos – and the following morning, five newspapers had the story, all very angry about it, and one of them turned up to take a picture of the baby! And I was hauled up to the sixth floor and I thought, “This is it. It’s back to Norwich now, mate.” And Denis Forman simply said, “They want your head, and they’re not going to get it.” So that was pretty impressive, really. Wouldn’t happen now.
You know, faith in the young producer has gone completely. I mean, I executive produced a little drama, mini-series, last year, a Trollope series, and I got Julian Fellowes to write. And the whole thing was cast before anybody had come on board, you know? Somebody in the boardroom decided they wanted this, that and the other, and Harvey Weinstein chipped in some money, so of course they had a big say, but the power for producers has completely gone. They’re not trusted, and… I don’t know whether you can see a difference in drama, I think you probably can, frankly.
So you’re working on Scene at 6:30 for a while.
Presenting mainly, some producing.
Both. Yes, both at the same time really.
And who else would be presenting?
Brian, (George Reid? 12:04), who I think became I think became a speaker of the Scottish Parliament, actually. He was very into politics even then, and he would sort of tell people in bars when he’d had a couple of drinks that when he was the boss, they could be foreign secretary or whatever. I’m not sure it never worked out for anybody! Mike Scott, who very sadly got early onset Alzheimer’s, didn’t he, in his 50s, I think. Dreadful. And me. I think that was about it, really.
And people like Tony Wilson was little later, wasn’t he?
Tony Wilson came later and I didn’t work with him on Scene. He did a sort of chat show, I think.
And Bob Greaves?
Bob Greaves, yes. Yes. I think he was around. He was certainly around but I can’t remember if he researched or presented at that stage.
I lived on Merseyside, and I always remember seeing you and Mike Scott on Scene at 6:30, you were seminal figures on this programme.
I don’t know about seminal!
It was watched by everyone. I’ll tell you what, can you tell us a little bit about Mike Scott? Because very few people have talked about Mike.
He’d been in the Army and Denis Forman liked him very much, partly on that account, I think. Again, he seemed quite mature, and he did a programme called Granada 100 I think, didn’t he? And he knew his politics, and he… he was good. He was a good, committed broadcaster. Beyond that I can’t really tell you. I think he was quite ambitious.
Okay, so apart from working on local programmes…
Oh, also – sorry – he was also quite vain. Because he was very good looking, our Mike, and he knew it. And Bob Greaves used to talk about driving home with him and Mike would stop at a fish and chip shop, just to be seen, basically! Yes.
So you’re doing various programmes and locals like Scene at 6:30.
But also I was moving into… as I say, I did Zoo Time in succession.
Tell us about Zoo Time.
Well as I say, I think most of the money had gone by the time I got there. So we used to go to Chester Zoo a lot, which I loved, and I used to hold alarming things like pythons and… it was highly enjoyable. It wasn’t very adventurous and it didn’t… it was nothing like today’s animal coverage, you know, but yes, there was Zoo Time, and then Clapper Board started quite early, id 200-odd editions of.
What was Clapperboard? Tell us about that.
Clapperboard was a movie programme that went out… it became a bit of a moveable feast, but it started at about 4:30 in the afternoon. And it was nominally a children’s programme, although, as you know, g took the cinema seriously, and so did we. And I remember doing an hour’s interview with Anthony Quinn, which was horribly sort of children’s stuff, and Jacques Tati, and people like this, wonderful people. And so it got moved about a hell of a lot, but the most satisfying thing about it was it had a large audience for its slot, and a lot of them were adults. And I’ve been told by three or four people who eventually became good film directors, that that kind of was the spark that… we were interested in not so much about being smart arse about reviewing films, which anybody can do to be honest with you – oh, and Billy Wilder, I met, and (??16:23). Anyway, go on… but how the things were done, and I very often found that talking to the people behind the scenes was more rewarding than talking to the actors, because actors are always nice to you for the time you’re with them. But designers and plasterers and chippies and directors… it was hugely enjoyable for me because I’ve always loved cinema, and still do. And what else? Sixth Form Challenge I did, which was the summer filler for University Challenge.
Along the same lines?
Exactly the same lines, only they were sixth formers from schools. That was highly enjoyable. Peter Mullins I think was the director on that. Maybe Eric did some of those, Eric Harrison, too actually. Possibly. Various odds and sods.
And they would be in the children’s department, those programmes?
Yes, they were all in the children’s department, yes.
And then you worked on World in Action.
Yes, I worked on World in Action for years. I was the sort of principal commentator sort of thing… well, for one season, Bill and I did the links live in the studio, which was great – although it can’t have been that great because they dropped it! And I didn’t get a credit to begin with. They were like this. They didn’t like giving you credits unless you were sort of the brains behind the show, or the producer or director or whatever. And I finally thought, “This is not really very fair.” I’m a freelance, and freelancers live or die by people knowing their work. So I wrote to David Bolton, I think, who was the exec at the time, and said, “Not having a credit is like an acrobat having one leg; it doesn’t really work.” And so they luckily saw it my way. I did it for at least 10 years, I think. I lived in Cambridge at the time and I drove up from Cambridge pretty well every Monday and back again. And the M62 wasn’t built in those days. I remember one November when I was driving a fairly clapped out Volvo, the windscreen shattered as I was coming over the top. And it was bloody cold! In those days we wore these silly voile shirts – very trendy but not very practical. So when I got to Granada, I practically had to be chipped out of the seat it was so cold! But that was great, because although my role was tangential, you might say, there were big things we were talking about, And World in Action had an enormous influence in those days. I remember doing a story about (Polson? 19:48) the crooked councillor, or architect, one of the two, in Newcastle, and I remember them saying, the researchers said they went through the details 16 times to get it right. Took months and months; something that would never happen now, of course. And it got Polson his mare (T Dansbeth, was it? 19:54), he was the councillor. Got them both kicked out. So… and I think governments quaked in their boots at World in Action – it was strong. It was very powerful. And that kind of influence has died, and I think that’s to the detriment of all of us, frankly. Because investigative journalism is expensive and we’re not prepared to spend the money on it any more.
Did you actually generate any World in Action programmes of your own?
No. no, I didn’t. I was just the voice.
Did you ever want to do that?
Current affairs wasn’t my bag really. I mean, I was a quick editor of scripts so I could very often see that stuff was either repetitious, or not very clear, or clumsy. And they always responded to that. So that was quite a useful role. But no, that was it.
JJ: When I went on to what you went on to do, there was a lot of drama, there was a lot o involvement in drama. And I wondered if that was something that you did at Granada, or if you didn’t, why did you not take a drama route at Granada.
I’m not quite sure what the answer to that is. I don’t think it had occurred to me. I mean, I felt… oddly enough, when I came to it, it was Central I think, I felt ready for it because I had done a lot of acting at Cambridge. Mike Apted and produced a couple of things. I mean, it was a kind of golden age when I was up there because you had Richard Ayre and Trevor Nunn, and Michael Apted and Stephen Frears, and John Cleese and David Frost, and Ian McCullen and Derek Jacobi – I could go on, you know? So I had done quite a lot of that. And Granada I suppose, I was a bit carried away with what they gave me, and I did it as well as I could. And I had written all the time; even when I was at Granada I was writing plays, trying to. I wrote a couple of things for a satirical programme that Nick Elliot produced called Psst! With John Birt as producer. I remember the sort of suggestions book for Psst! which went out late at night, and somebody had written in the book, “How about an item about walking backwards from Macclesfield?” A stupid, absurd idea. So I wrote a few things for that. And I’ve written a few novels, so it all started then, really. So first thing in the morning or whenever I could, I was scribbling away. So no, I didn’t come at it through Granada. I suppose I sort of wish I had, except that… you know, part of me likes showing off and part of me hates showing off. And so I suppose presenting, I got that out of my system really. Well, not entirely!
Did you come into contact very much with the Bernsteins?
Well, I used to see them around a lot because that was the other great thing about g was they ate in the canteen along with us peasants. And so it was important, that, because you’d see them – and you know, honestly they could fire us if they felt like it – but it felt like Equity in a way. Cecil, I got to know better than Sidney, Sidney was very distant, impressive, great man I think. You know, you’ll have heard all about the Bacon painting in reception, the large screaming pope. I know how he felt sometimes. Cecil was always much more of a sort of down to earth… I don’t mean to be insulting, but more the sort of wheeler-dealer figure, you know? And I think he quite liked what I did and I got on very well with him. Sidney, I hardly dealt to apart from one dinner party, a rather terrifying dinner party. He used to invite a sort of half a dozen of us to get an impression of what we were like I suppose, and that was slightly daunting.
In what way?
Well, I was very inexperienced at the time and this sort of thing, and he asked us one by one who was our favourite film director. Now, the answer you were supposed to give was Alfred Hitchcock of course, because he produced two or three of Hitchcock’s movies. I, slightly unwisely, said I thought Alfred Hitchcock was overrated! A chilly silence descended on the room. So yes, he was slightly forbidding but we always felt that he was… well, he was Granada. His kind of socialist, cultured, mature approach, and his work in the war and so on, made him not quite a God figure, but certainly hugely respected by all of us.
And of course the other great figure was Denis Forman.
Dennis, yes. He was a rather strange character. He came down… I remember Peter Eckersley once said that he’d gone up, it was time to renew his contract so he went up to the sixth floor, and when he got there Forman was playing the piano – because he was a great Mozart authority, as you know, he wrote about it – and he just went on playing and said to Peter, “Help yourself to a drink,” so he did. And he went on playing, and Peter final got up and wandered over to the piano to find that on the music stand was his contract! This is variations on Peter Eckersley’s contract! He was very eccentric. I remember when I did Clapperboard – or maybe it was Sixth Form Challenge – he said, “I think you should wear your tie slightly off-centre.” “And your face,” he said – and I thought, “Hello, it’s the only face I’ve got.” – he said, “Maybe we could sort of slim it.” I could see the surgeon’s knife, glinting in the background! And then he said a very strange thing. About the jacket, he talked about, and said, “I may not know very much about fashion, but I do know something about the cut of a shoulder,” he said. And you know, 40 years later I still don’t know what the hell he was walking about! And then he came down and took charge of local programmes for about three months, I think it was, and we came into our first meeting. And there used to be a big American chat show called The Huntley Brinkley Show on at the time, and he’d had tapes of this sent over so we could all watch and presumably be inspired by it. It had no relevance whatever, of course. And he split us up into teams, and it was a bit of a shambles to be honest with you. I mean, by the end of three months the thing was lying there in ruins! We didn’t know where we were going. There was all sorts of direction. So he wasn’t a great producer, but he was… and he used to be in the pub too. He was the (power in the land? 27:55), and he was… told awesome tales about the way that his artificial leg would chafe and he would bleed and he’d never make a fuss about it. I think Scott had met him during the war actually, I’m not sure. Because Denis was at Montecasino, and… he was a remarkable man. But you didn’t get the feeling he knew an enormous amount about television. But he did know about the cut of his shoulder, evidently, which is essential. (Chuckles)
Was he supportive?
Yes, he was the one who, when I had this terrible, you know, thought I was going to be fired, he said, “No, you’re not. They’re not going to get what they want.” So that was immensely supportive.
And David Plowright.
David was a very… sort of… he had a lovely sort of sardonic humour. I remember when, I think it was the equivalent of comic relief day or something, and I was producing… everything in it was ridiculous. So I sent Brian Truman to a scrap yard to do the Alternative Motor Show, things like this. You know, it had its moments. And the next morning David Plowright, who I think had enjoyed it very much, said, “Not much to laugh at last night…” Erm… they were.. you felt they were on your side, you know? And they were experienced, and… they weren’t assertive, but you felt very much that you wanted to please them.
When you joined Granada, Yorkshire Television was still part of the…
How did that work?
I don’t know. As far as I was concerned… by going out and doing reports in Yorkshire. I remember interviewing Laurence Olivier at the Sheffield Playhouse. One story with Les Woodhead directing, which was a guy who had made a model of Leeds Town Hall out of matchsticks – this was a pretty intellectual stuff we were dealing with, you understand! – and I went to Scarborough and did films… and yes, we just seemed to have a wider brief.
It’s a huge area.
Yes, a huge area. Yes. I don’t know whether Yorkshire felt hard done by us, as everyone thinks of it as being Granadaland, you know? Sidney wanted it to be called Granadaland, didn’t he? He wanted passports at the front here, and… maybe a different language. So yes, it felt broader.
Was there an office there?
I don’t think there was an office there, no, there was in London of course, so in Golden Square there was a office run by a man called (Dennis Pitts? 31:10), he was a charmer of the old school. Dennis used to have to get people in for interview, and they would be inserted into the programme. I think he dragged them off the street half the time! It was all very exciting, but… and that was another thing, I mean there was the London element. You were bigger than just Manchester and Liverpool. Wider horizons.
And how would that show itself?
Well, by stories set in these places and by the feeling that, you know, here’s a man in London who’s talking to somebody else a long way away from, 200 miles away from, Manchester. And different perspectives.
And the celebratory… I mean a lot of people… how do you view Granada now? Do you see Granada as a company that was outstanding and worth working for? Were there problems?
Well, the first part of your question, I regard it as a city on the hill. I mean, it was unique. I mean, it was just… adventurous, progressive, creative, brave – everything you wanted it to be. And you know, you had The Beatles in one studio and Laurence Olivier playing Lear in another. I believe the first – according to the book – the first drama series they made was a Jacobean tragedy. So as well as the streets, it had a foot in both intellectual camps. And famously, Sidney had portraits of PT Barnum in his offices, to remind you that the business was show fundamentally, but it was much more than that. It was intellectually curious, and… what other company can you compare it with? Thames? I don’t think so. It was a powerhouse. And there aren’t any powerhouses now.
And it was northern.
It was northern, yes – but it felt a bit more than northern. It felt universal in a way. As I say, it reached out beyond the north. You know, going to Gibraltar to cover the closing of the frontier.
They sent you there, did they?
Yes, I produced the stuff there, as I say, with James Cameron.
Tell me about that.
Well, as I say James… James could sober up enough to write in half an hour what you’d been thinking all week. So he began his piece – I think it was for the Evening Standard, or whichever paper he worked for the time – by saying, “An international incident over Gibraltar is rather like an international incident over the Edgeway Road.” And I (laughs) I took him up to the top of the rock where all the apes are, and we were all very hung over, to tell you the truth. I was so hung over that I sat on the floor of a lift, and when he got to the top he said, “My brave boy.” And then, having done a few reports on that, Barry had sort of telexed me, or whatever you did in those days, and said, “Stay. Do some more.” So we went to Tangiers to do some stuff there. This is what I mean about big, adventurous and trusting.
This was all done with Cameron?
This was all done with Cameron, yes. On a good day! (Chuckles) Yes.
So Cameron had to get a little drunk?
Well, yes, he was… yes, he did like a drink. But it didn’t matter because he was, as I say, when he went into his work he was the best. And he always had this wonderful sense of humour. He was just wonderful to be around. I remember he won journalist of the decade on What the Papers Say and I rang him to congratulate him, and he said he thought they had got it all wrong and he was really (decayed? 35:56) journalist of the year. You know, looking back they were great days, they were wonderful days, and you never expect to see their like again, honestly. I mean, I did lots of other stuff that I found very fulfilling and satisfying, but never feeling you were part of a really committed, strong, important team.
I’m not sure what year you finished with Granada.
I was there about five years permanently, and then I decided it was time to go on to pastures new, really. But I did a thing called Police File which I used to drive up for once a week. I think I blotted my copybook rather, because the police guy, who was a bit of an old hack, used to bring in this raw material, and one was about a sandwich that had been stolen, so I had a bit of fun with it, and I don’t think that went down very well. And I was doing Clapperboard after I left, and I was asked to do various other things, like I did the last of the Cinema shows.
Cinema was presumably Clapperbard for adults.
Yes, although as I say, Clapperboard also turned out to be for adults. But Cinema took a different approach; Cinema took the kind of Barry Norman approach, which is reviewing stuff, whereas we were much more interested in digging at the how’s and the who’s, in a way.
Were there any problems?
Honestly, I can’t say that there were. I mean, it was full of opportunity, it was up to you to take them. Yes.
Were there trade union difficulties?
I was never aware of them there. I was very aware of them when I went to Thames and did Wish You Were Here, because you had a rather ridiculous situation whereby… I mean, (PA? 38:33), bless them, I’m very happy for them, but they makes what they call 16 T in a weekend, which was 16 times the basic (??38:44). The camera man, if we went beyond something like 2,000 miles, had to fly first class – and not to be too cruel about it, but these guys were not exactly the cream of Hollywood! They were mostly guys who were a little bit over the hill. So I mean, good for them, but the producer had to sit in the back of the bus with all the other workers. So I was never aware of that union problem at Granada, no. Not at all.
Granada was – I think you mentioned this before – very unashamedly left wing.
Did this seem to stem from the Bernsteins?
Yes, I’m sure it did, yes. I think they were all… I think David Plowright was of the left, and Barry (??39:33), and Michael Parkinson, I imagine. Arthur Hopcraft. Yes, that was the prevailing wind.
JJ: I just have a very basic question about the nuts and bolts of putting together the Clapperboard programme. So it was a weekly programme…
A weekly programme.
JJ: Was that Manchester based, or was there a lot of filming in London?
Chiefly Manchester based, but set visits, so we went to Pinewood quite a lot and various other places. We did a spin-off series called Clapperboard North West, in which we went to the places where (??40:13) very, very early movies, then on the Pennines, westerns they were. Very short of course! So what would happen is that Graham Murray, who was the presiding genius really, would pick the material, whatever we were going to deal with that week, and I would then go to London and write the script from notes that they’d prepared, or (??40:42) what was what and who was what. And then we’d record them in Granada, yes.
JJ: So Graham Murray was the producer.
He was the producer, yes. And (Muriel Young? 40:55) was the exec. She was head of children’s programmes.
JJ: And so people were quite happy to come in and do your programme.
Yes, they were big time. Gregory Peck, Robert Altman, directors like that, Jacques Tati – Jacques Tati was a wonderful guy. He was primarily interesting because he wasn’t very interested in his movies really – he had done that. He was more interested in the camera man’s nose, or somebody he had seen on the bus, or… and he told me the wonderful story about… I said to him, “They have just released Mr. Hulot’s Holiday in Paris. Did you do a big publicity campaign?” He said, “No, I’ll tell you what I did. I personally stood at the door of the cinema with red tickets in one hand and blue in the other, and I handed red tickets to the people who wanted to sit in the circle and blue to those who wanted to sit in the stalls. And just before the film began, I said, “There’s been a terrible mistake, ladies and gentlemen, the people with the blue tickets should be sitting [in the circle].” And the headlines the next morning were, “Shambles in Champs-Élysées cinema.” He was just delightful. He was wry and modest, and curious, you know, curious about everything.
JJ: It must have been great to get that insight. The impression I get now is that film promotion is very much managed and controlled.
Very much so, and that’s part of the reason why the show didn’t carry on, I think. Because clips became… they were charging silly money for a show, which was their audience tomorrow. It was so short-sighted. But yes, incredible, Richard Attenborough and… anybody, really. American stars, and as I say, designers like Ken Adam, who’d done the Bonds, anybody we wanted, and they were pleased to do it. And I think they were pleased to do it because it took it seriously, really, although we didn’t wear it, we wore it fairly lightly, and it was… they wanted to know about things.
JJ: Stars with star quality.
You had Fred Astaire.
Fred Astaire, yes. I walked into a room in the Savoy for the first chat with him, and in that room there was Cyd Charisse, Gene Kelly, Fred Astaire, Donald O’Connor from Singin’ in the Rain, Johnny Weissmuller, the first Tarzan, and you thought you’d died and gone to heaven, you know? I remember I was talking to Fred Astaire, and a guy from Time Out came along, and he was wearing a kind of bib – the fashion was to wear a kind of bibby overall thing, for guys like him – and a photographer came along to take a picture of us, and pushed this guy out his way, whereupon he went to the other side of the room. And after the guy had taken the picture, Fred Astaire said, “Excuse me a moment,” and walked all the way across the room and brought the guy back to the group. And I thought that was uncommonly kind of him. I had a further trip, that was to Hollywood. I worked for the BBC World Service for eight years, writing and presenting a current affairs show, and we went to Hollywood, and I met Billy Wilder there, and Rock Hudson, and I had lunch with Walter Matthau.
Tell us about Walter Matthau.
Well, I had lunch in the universal commissary with him and a guy who’d written the Marx Brothers movie with… George something. And Katharine Hepburn was in there.
You’re not namedropping, then.
(Laughs) It was like a sweet shop! And suddenly this big bloke walked in with a guy next to him who looked like a, you know, very much shorter, and this was John Wayne, and every head in the place… even though they were big stars in there, they all turned to see The Duke. Anyway, Walter Matthau, he’s got this wonderful sort of bloodhound face that makes even the most mundane remarks sound funny. And I said, “Where did you first meet Tony Curtis,” and he said, “Well, it was in a Jewish delicatessen, he was eating what he always eats in Jewish delicatessens – fried shrimp and chocolate (frap? 46:05).” Now, that’s not funny but for him, somehow it was. So that was a treat, that was wonderful. So, yes… good people, interesting people. Privilege.
Richard Burton? Did you ever…?
No, I didn’t interview Richard Burton. No, I didn’t.
JJ: Was there anything else you wanted to add?
No, not really. I went on to do a lot of things, and…
Did you see the change coming in television?
No, I think we thought that was the way it would always be, didn’t we? No. maybe I wasn’t very far-seeing.
JJ: I suppose staff would see the changes in terms of budgets or meetings or people…
But they may have come a bit later, and they would have seen changes, no doubt.
Because when I left in 1988 it was because I could see the changes.
Yes, I’m sure it was very evident by then.
They were offering redundancy.
JJ: I think that’s how I went as well.
Well of course, the proliferation of companies came about which changed everything. You know, it was no longer a licence to print money, was it, which was Sidney’s famous line. You know, I think that was… it’s a terrible old cliché, but I think we had the best of it, frankly.