In 1986 Granada had decided to move its Liverpool operation to the Albert Dock to coincide with the Electronic Newsgathering revolution. Mike Short, Sue Woodward, the News Editor, and I spent many weeks interviewing potential staff. I got a call one afternoon from Rod Caird who was screen-testing possible presenters for a political programme; would I come down and be an interviewee? It sounded like fun so down I went and was miked up to be interviewed by the barrister Helena Kennedy. We had a very relaxed conversation about something to do with the arts, she was delightful, and it all went rather well. Then Rod murmured in my ear “We’re going for another take and this time I want you to be as awkward as you can. I want to see how she reacts under pressure.” So we went again and I gave her rather short, rather grumpy answers and was generally unhelpful. I thought she did really well. But she didn’t get the job; I never had a chance to apologise and I’ve always felt guilty about that, although she did go on to have a starry career with the BBC. A few days after that, as we were having a break between interviews, Shorty asked me if Sue had told me about their good idea. This was that I should apply for a job as arts reporter on the new Granada Reports team. Quite a dream! I wondered whether the session with Helen Kennedy had given him the idea. Anyway I did a pretty awful studio screen test and a rather better location report and, in April 1986, I joined the team – back in production after thirteen years!
I was regarded, at least to start with, by some of the team as a management mole. But I had got to know Tony Wilson in his capacity as Father of the Chapel and we had always got on well. As a novice reporter I used to go out with him on stories and he would give me valuable tips about talking to camera, keeping the sentences short and so on. He was unfailingly kind and helpful and I think it helped people to see that I wasn’t a stooge. He was, as everyone knows, a legend – endlessly stimulating, full of good ideas, always questioning, never hidebound. If it doesn’t sound creepy it was a real privilege to be in the same newsroom; we all learned from Tony. Years later he presented a religious discussion series which I was producing and he was the producer’s delight: did his homework, read the research and asked excellent questions.
The first presenters of the new Granada Reports were Tony and a burly Irishman called Tom McGurk. As well as the 6 o’clock show we ran a number of bulletins during the day which were read by the evening presenters or senior reporters like Mark Gorton. When Tom left he was replaced by Richard Madeley who had, I think, been fronting the Manchester end of the show. Like many of the team who still lived in Manchester, Richard had to flog down the M62 every day and often arrived pretty close to the last minute – bad for the nerves of the news editor. One morning, with five minutes to go before the first bulletin, he hadn’t arrived; Shorty pointed at me. “You’d better do it” he said. And so, with a few minutes’ notice, I plugged myself in to talkback, put on an earpiece and away we went. Fortunately it was only a few minutes long and, with the help of the brilliant team in the box: Ian White directing and Bernie Hammond as PA, we finished more or less on time.
So for the next few years I alternated between news reading, occasional presenting with the Bobs, Greaves and Smithies, and reporting, mostly on arts stories – we were able to give a lot of good coverage to the opening on the Tate, across the dock from us, in 1988. Since I spoke some French Shorty also sent me to Brussels a few times to cover the trial of the young Liverpool FC supporters who’d been arrested after the disaster at the Heysel stadium. That was a great experience particularly as I met up again with Harry Livermore who had come out of retirement to defend the boys and who made rather a name for himself for his cheerily outspoken interviews.
When you’ve worked alongside the likes of Tony Wilson and Bob Greaves – and indeed Mark Gorton – it doesn’t take long to realise whether you’ve got it as an on-screener and, after five years or so I asked David Boulton who was then running Factuals if I could move towards production. He gave me a job working on an arts festival under Stuart Prebble and he in turn next allowed me to develop some contacts I’d made at Ashworth Special Hospital (what used to be called a criminal lunatic asylum); with Julian Farino as director we made They Call Us Nutters, an extended insight into life inside – it was the first time a tv crew had ever been allowed to make a documentary there. It was Julian’s first film as a director and mine as a producer.
Stuart later gave me the job of producing religious programmes with the much-loved Canon Frank Wright, and a bit later I ended my time back at Albert Dock as Deputy Editor of Granada News, a kind of glorified studio manager but also able to keep producing. But I could see that things were changing and since I frankly didn’t care for Charles Allen or his style I thought the time had come to jump. The excellent and much-missed David Fraser who had joined Granada shortly after me was now general manager and gave me a generous package and a freelance contract for a couple of years. He died terribly young not long afterwards. Many of my good friends had moved on – and many more were soon to be axed by Mr Allen. I always think that I was lucky to have joined Granada for the last of the really great days and to get out just before it all went wrong.