Claire Lewis on the challenges faced by mothers working in TV

I became news editor. I did a stint on an education programme, again with Gordon Burns, called Chalkface, which was a documentary series. So I swapped backwards and forwards from news to other programmes for three or four years. I then became news editor of Granada in 1981, which was great, working with Stuart Prebble, ran the news for a year. Then, when I then got pregnant and had a baby, and realised that news wasn’t really compatible with having a young baby; it was very difficult and I couldn’t be on call all the time, and it was very demanding, so I decided to ask if I could go into documentaries, which is what I really wanted to do. I mean, my whole reason for going to Granada in the first place is because I wanted to work in World in Action. As a newspaper reporter, I wanted to work on World in Action and I wanted to change the world. I wanted to use filmmaking as a means of changing the world, and I should have said that in the beginning, but that’s what it was. It was only when I got to Granada, because I already had two children, that I realised that the way in which they ran World in Action, it was not possible to be a mum and have children and work in World in Action – it was completely impossible. The way that they worked, the rotas, the shifts, meant that you could not hear a mother and work on that programme at the same time. Only one person had ever done it when I was there, and in subsequent years, who had ever managed to work on World in Action and had children.

Is that a criticism of Granada generally? Could they have been better?
They could have been better, of course they could – but it was how it was at the time. There was no awareness at the time of the fact that there were crèches, the fact that we had kids. You know, if you had a kid, that was up to you. You could go off and have a kid, but you sort it out yourself, you know? And that was the ethos. You had childcare and you didn’t bring your kid problems to work. And that was just the way it was. I think it was tough, very tough, and difficult, but nobody really complained because they didn’t know any different. There were no other examples. The BBC were just beginning to realise about women working and having children, but in ITV there was never any kind of concession to women having children, having kids, and that kind of working.

And in a more general way, Granada and women… were they sympathetic at all, or was it always difficult for women?
I don’t think it was difficult for women at all. I no found any problems, apart from the fact that when you went off on maternity leave and you came back you had to look after your own children and it your own business. I know there was never anything other than lots of opportunities for women at Granada, always. Always. I didn’t find any kind of prejudice. There were no places that women couldn’t go. It was entirely done on merit. It was entirely whether you’re any good at what you were doing, and obviously if your face fitted, but that applied to both men and women. It wasn’t just women thing, you know, people wouldn’t get on and some people wouldn’t understand why. And that happened to both men and women. So I don’t think there was a particularly… in fact there was a pro-women culture when I joined.

So you eventually got onto World in Action?
No. I wanted to go, I realised I couldn’t. I couldn’t possibly be away from home for weeks on end when you have two children of school age, they were only eight and 10, or nine and 11, there was no I could do that. So I went on to the news, had another baby and became a researcher in documentaries.

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