Claire Lewis as an on-screen reporter and Granada’s ethos

I went back to Granada Reports as an on-screen reporter. Yes, that’s right. I went back as an on-screen reporter, which was also fun. I had to do a screen test, and they wanted more women on screen at the time, there were a lot of male reporters who weren’t that good. So there were three of us. We got selected, we did screen tests, and started reporting. And I did that for about a year on Granada Reports, or maybe not quite a year, I don’t remember. But it was quite stressful. I found live television easy and fun, but I found reporting pieces to camera an absolute nightmare. Absolute nightmare. People who act a lot, and I’d acted a lot as a young person, are not very good reporters, and they realise that. The worst presenters are the people who are actors. People who are good on screen are people who are exactly the same on screen as they are off screen, and don’t change. And I found on onscreen reporting quite difficult. I found having to worry about will look like very difficult, get up at 6am and wash your hair and makeup on, it was all quite tricky. And in the end there were three of us on screen, and the head of local programmes summoned me in one day and said, “By the way, we don’t want you on screen any more,” which was kind of a bit sad but actually a great relief.
And I remember I had one famous occasion I was doing an important piece on cervical cancer, in the early days before anyone talked about it, and I was doing it with Julie Goodyear – Bet Lynch on Coronation Street – and we did a whole item about how important it was for women to realise what was going on. And I was quite fashion conscious, and I wore a pair of green corduroy dungarees and some knee length boots to do this piece. Tan leather knee length boots. And I did my piece to camera outside the Christie hospital, along with Julie Goodyear, who was absolutely hilarious. Anyway, I did my piece to camera, did my piece, it went out on Granada Reports, and then immediately after the show I got a call from head of local programmes, Steve Morrison. He said, “I liked your piece, but don’t ever wear anything like that again on Granada Reports if you’re presenting.” And I went, “Sorry?” He said, “The kind of women who we want to get the message of cervical cancer to are not going to be wearing knee length boots and green corduroy dungarees. I want my reporters to look smart, and for people to realise that they’re one of them rather than looking trendy.” And it was interesting because he was actually completely right. He was completely right. And it was an object lesson for me about how, when you work at Granada, the audience comes first. It’s not about what you want to do and what you want to wear on screen, it is about how do you get your message across. And I think, for me, it was a fundamental lesson in the difference between working for ITV and working for the BBC. ITV training teaches you from day one to put the audience first. What’s the audience going to think about this? Who is your audience? Why are you doing it? And that’s really interesting.

Do you think that’s because Granada was northern?
Partly, but I also think it’s was because Granada was set up because ITV, Granada, it was a commercial station. They were set up to make money. You can’t make money if you don’t appeal to your audience, and you have to put your audience first. So I don’t think it was particularly a northern thing. I think it stood out more because I was a southerner, and some of us were middle-class trendy southerners who had been brought up to work in the north. I think maybe people were more conscious of it because of obvious class differences in the north, but I also do think it’s an ITV thing. I mean, one of the things you realised when you worked in ITV in the north is that everybody who worked in TV were just normal people who happened to be working in TV. They weren’t media luvvies. They were just nice normal ordinary people. Whereas people were working in media in the south right from day one were all media luvvies. I really do believe that. And that was why it is such a wonderful thing to work in TV in the north, not in the south.

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