As you started university, what did you want to be?
I wanted to work in television, and I had wanted to work in television since I had been a teenager. I loved the telly – I was born in 1952, I am a child of the television generation in the way that kids born today are children of the digital revolution. So television is a magic box – we didn’t have a television at home, which made it even more magical, until I was 11, so I only got to watch much television when I went to my grandma’s at the weekend. So there was something magical about it, and I wanted to be a part of it. I didn’t know what people did; I’m from a working class home in Huddersfield. It was a mystery, it was a mystery world. I didn’t know how it worked – but something inside me said if possible I would like to do something to do with this thing. And what excited me about it even then was everybody watched it – it was a mass experience. Like every kid, the first thing we did at school break in the morning was to talk about the episode of Mission Impossible that had been on the telly the night before. The phrase is lingua franca, isn’t it? It was the common language we all spoke; it was the common cultural experience, and I wanted to be part of that.
But you didn’t know which area you wanted to work in.
No, I had no idea. At university, I absolutely poured myself into creative things – drama, directing drama, acting – I set up a university radio station and got a show on Radio Merseyside. I mean, I did things at university, I became the arts secretary, I was the film reviewer for the university newspaper, so I used to bunk off lectures twice a week to watch the film previews down in Liverpool.
Which university did you go to?
Liverpool University. So I kind of did everything I could at university to explore the things that were interesting me over and above my English degree, and of course that stood me in good stead I think, when it came to applying for jobs I television, the few that were available. I was able to demonstrate an interest in culture and an interest in communication and so on, but I had no idea what the jobs were and what people did really. I remember applying for a trainee director’s job at ATV because it was advertised in the paper! I mean, in those days, if you saw an ad for a job in telly in a six-month period, that’s as often as you saw jobs advertised – and of course you’re right, the spec letters that never get answered… so I just applied for anything that got you inside television or radio