I loved directing. When I was in it, in the middle of it, I couldn’t envisage doing anything else – but bit by bit I started to get a bit frustrated, because you are… you are inevitably directing other people’s visions, things they want to do rather than things you want to do, and I thought I really ought to start producing, in order to get closer to being able to kind of create my own stuff that I think ought to be on the telly. So I was asked by Mike Scott to take on Albion Market – and that came completely out of the blue, and that that was a turning point in my career, because Albion Market was the great white hope, a new soap from Granada for the weekend, particularly in London where it was created for, London Weekend. And I got a call in the morning from Mike Scott to my flat in Stockport, would I come and see him, 8.30am? So he was the boss, I came to see him, he said, “You’ve been watching Albion Market (1986) – I’d like you to take it over.” And it was another moment, like the drama doc researcher moment, where I thought, “Why Me?” I said, “Mike, I’ve never done any drama. What do I know about drama? I mean, I have a point of view about the soaps and what they should be, I can articulate a vision for this stuff, but I’ve never doe anything remotely like it.”
So Albion Market was invented before you, then?
Oh, it wasn’t me at all – it was invented by Peter Whalley and Andy Lynch, Brookside writer, and produced by Gareth Jones, who had been the director on Brass, and exec produced by Bill Podmore, who had been the producer of Brass. When I took over it had been running for six months. It hadn’t been on the air for six months, but there had been six months of episodes shot. It was on the air, it just wasn’t doing very well – particularly in the south. So I was brought in to sort of try and save it.
We didn’t succeed – but…
What do you feel about that?
I feel it was one of the most extraordinary nine months of my life. I met Key Mellor, who had been recently hired as a script editor, she and I bonded creatively like, I don’t know, more than anyone else as much as Kay at that time, and together, we just worked 18-hour days, we said, “Nothing is going out unless it’s good enough.” We scrapped scripts and started again, we re-shot episodes, we re-shot scenes, we changed stories of stuff that had already been shot, in order to get the show into a better shape. We brought in new writers, we created a different way of story-lining, we brought in new characters, it was completely thrilling, and by the end we had a show we were really, really proud of. But at the end of the day, network politics, it just didn’t do well enough in London to survive, and the cost of keeping it going as a daytime soap, for Granada – these are the days of the guaranteed output – it would have used up too many of Granada’s points to keep it alive as an act of faith.
Was it too northern, then?
Yes. And don’t forget, EastEnders was pretty well-established as the southern soap, and we came back with another northern soap, probably a mistake in hindsight. But it was a modern, multicultural soap, and it was a workplace soap. I mean, it did have its strengths.
I got the impression that you felt it was…
I am very proud of that.
Proud of it?
Yes. But I’m one of those people who, I am very loyal to the shows I’ve worked on, and I’m very loyal to the people who work with me – it doesn’t mean to say that I’m not critical of what I’ve done, and I’m… you know… but I would not have missed the experience of doing that show for the world. It shaped me, it made me capable of doing whatever I have done since.
So you believe that you did the best you could on Albion Market, you believed in the show, and the cast and the talent involved, but that it was taken off because of network politics.
No, it was taken off because it didn’t play well enough in London, and I cannot understand why. Partly it’s a vicious circle – it didn’t play well in London because London started to schedule it out of peak – but it also didn’t play well in London because it didn’t connect authentically enough to the people in London and their experience at the time. So I completely accept that. I’m not saying that Albion Market was the best show, it was the hidden secret, the best show in the world – it wasn’t – but it was a damn sight better when we finished with it than when we took it over. And in the north, it stormed – the figures were fantastic.