Clarissa Hyman worked for Granada for many years as a researcher and producer and was one of the original launch producers for ITV’s This Morning programme. Now an award winning food and travel writer, she is the Vice-President of the UK Guild of Food Writers.
It was my first job. It must have been the early seventies, I was about 21 or 22. I’d just been a year out of university and this job came up unexpectedly. I wasn’t happy with what I was doing and was at a bit of a cross roads and didn’t know what to do. Because I’d studied psychology I had a vague feeling that I wanted to do something with communication and mistakenly thought television had something to do with that. So I got this job attached to Granada as a POA (production office assistant). It was seen as an entree into television. It was a goffer’s job, nearest equivalent would be an assistant stage manager. I was a runner, fetcher, carries but it was a good way of learning about television production. It was accepted that one would proceed upwards from that job. It was a good scheme in its time. But it was a very junior position. There were about three or four of us at any one time. You got shunted around and put on different productions, mostly drama productions because you could help out with the cast. Everybody had to do a stint on Coronation Street. All you had to do was be on hand in case anyone wanted messages running. But your biggest area of responsibility was to make sure that the right people were in the right place at the right time. So you got a script a breakdown of who was appearing in what scene and you had to keep tabs on everybody and make sure nobody went AWOL, and in the studio at the right time. You didn’t want them in studio too early as they only got in the way. So, you got a call sheet and you worked from that. Mostly on Corros it just ran itself, most people were true professionals, theatrical who had come up the old fashioned way and you didn’t have to worry about them at all. People like Albert Tatlock and Annie Walker. You knew that they would be there. You might have a little flutter wondering ‘where’s Annie?’ But ten out of ten times she would be there. And so would Albert, they were solid true professionals. As a POA I didn’t have much to do. I had to keep the extras in check a bit, make sure they didn’t run riot, mithering everybody. There was a great pecking order among the extras; if someone had a speaking part – maybe just one word, then they were up the pecking order.
It was taped when I was there, not live but they would tape each half of the show for live and only go and do it again if there had been a major mistake. They tried not to stop because it was costly. But sometimes they had to. I remember the corner shop falling to pieces once and they had to stop. It was very carefully plotted.
Anyhow, my worst experience was with Elsie Tanner who was always a bit of a diva. I found her rather scary. I was young, raw and nervous and not sure what I was doing there. I found her absolutely terrifying. I tried not to get in her way. But there was this one occasion. I knew she was wanted on set. I had to knock on her day and say ‘ten minutes please.’ They were still very much rooted in the old theatrical traditions. Then I went back and said ‘five minutes’. I kept knocking on her door and she kept saying okay, okay’. But she never appeared. Time was ticking away and she was not in the studio so they started taping. She wasn’t in the first scene; she was in the second scene. I kept racing between studio and her dressing room and she kept saying she was coming. Finally it got to her point in the script and she wasn’t there. So there was a great business. ‘Where the hell’s Elsie!’ All eyes are on me. I said I had been knocking and knocking and she kept saying she was coming. Then suddenly she swans into the studio, ass cool as a cucumber. God knows what she had been doing in her dressing room but she obviously thought the world stoops for her. And she turns around and says out loud so that the whole studio can hear, ‘Well I’ve been waiting for my call! I’ve been waiting for the POA to come and tell me when I was wanted on set.’
I thought I was going to die. The end of my glorious career in one stroke. Anyhow they had to get on with it, there was not time for an inquest at that point. By the end of studio day of course it was forgotten as so many other things had happened. I was absolutely upset, I felt terrible and humiliated and angry. Then I realised what a cow she was. If she behaved like that with me she must have behaved like that with others. I had a word with the floor manager – who was my immediate boss – and he said ‘don’t worry.’ But it was good experience working on the Street. Just the thrill of leaning on the real Rovers Return bar was unforgettable.