Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 28 September 2016.
How did you come to join Granada?
I was a journalist, and I’d been a provincial journalist on the Sussex Daily News and Evening Argus in Brighton. I’d come out of the war, and I’d come out of the Navy where I was a lieutenant (or NVR? 0:46), and I had worked very, very briefly for them for about six or nine months before I was… before I joined up. And of course, all companies then had to take back returning warriors – haha – and so I went back, and had a very good time as a provincial journalist doing almost everything. But I began reviewing a lot. Brighton was a great centre for the opening of plays going to the West End, it was (Dickie ?? 1:26) chief stomping ground for opening big theatrical plays, and everybody was there. Everybody appeared there – John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and so on – and what happened was that I was picked up by the Financial Times, and I learnt later that it was through a recommendation by Laurence Olivier to the then managing director of the FT, who was a man called Lord Garrett Moore, who ultimately became the Earl of Drogheda (corr). And Olivier had told him that I was apparently writing rather good notices, and I was headhunted and seen in Brighton by a nice man from the FT’s advertising department, and eventually passed as being fit and correct – haha – for their very elevated paper. So I joined as the very first drama and film critic of the Financial Times and it was an experiment, because Garrett Moore was very, very anxious that it should turn towards the arts, and they hadn’t had any arts coverage before, and I ultimately recruited the music critic Andrew Porter (corr). And then we recruited another critic, a ballet critic, Clement Crisp (corr), who is still writing there to this day, and we started the famous FT arts page between us. And that’s when I was read by Sidney Bernstein, and I was invited to Granada. I had a personal invitation! The telephone went one night and it was Sidney on the telephone. “Have you ever thought of coming into television? We could offer you a job.” It was as simple and as lovely as that. And that’s how I joined Granada. But what was really interesting was that I was endlessly interviewed, absolutely endlessly. I was interviewed not only by Sidney, but by Denis Forman, the managing director, by Victor Peers, the finance director, and then somebody else, and by the time I’d had seven interviews I was getting a bit worried. So I called Sidney and I said, “Excuse me, but I’m being interviewed a great deal and nothing seems to be happening.” He says, “Ah. Ah. That’s our policy. I just want to see to everybody else really likes you.” And I thought, “What a wonderful way of recruiting a company!” which was very true of Granada.
It was! I had three interviews.
I was very close to Sidney in the end and as I say, I was always (admiring? 4:33), but I thought you can’t really recruit a company better than making it a company of friends, which of course it was in a very profound sense. I worked for another television company – London Weekend Television, which was perfectly all right – and I worked on two occasions for the BBC, but nothing quite came up to the actual atmosphere of working at Granada, which was extraordinary.
So what year are we talking about?
We’re talking about 1958. 1958. And I think I had… I’d gone up to Granada in 1957. I can’t remember when they went on the air, but I went to watch a program being made, which I think was the very first programme Granada aired, which was called Tribute to the BBC and it was directed by Claude Whatham. It was shot within the Manchester BBC studios and offices, and I think that was the very first programme they put out – (a typical Granada wheeze? 5:51), a tribute to the BBC, and almost saying, “We’re going to be as good as you.”
And what would be the first programme that you worked on?
The very first programme I worked on was a programme called Sir Thomas Beecham at Lincoln’s Inn. And it was a programme I think which had been revised by Denis Forman, and Denis was my mentor then because he was teaching me to write for television, and I went in really as a researcher, that was my role. I was called researcher. And I worked on it very closely. It was a very peculiar programme. It was a programme half made up of music and half made up of interviews, really rather eccentric, with a wonderful interview with Thomas Beacham which I think Denis conducted himself. And then a lot about Lincoln’s Inn as well. And I worked on this, that was my first job, and I gradually learnt. And then the second programme I worked on, also as a researcher, was called Insanity or Illness, which was one of Granada’s early pioneering programmes and very representative of the social conscience of the company. It was the time when people were thinking that it was a cruel and wicked to incarcerate mentally ill people in these dreadful prison-like hospitals, and they should be out in the community, and that was the great feeling of the time, and this was a programme specifically about that with a lot of fairly senior psychiatrists and heads of hospitals and so on. And I wrote that with Denis very much at my side. We used to have long sessions together in the evening, when he’d finished in his office, where he really taught me how to write for television actually. And that was good, and then by that time, I was going to say ‘but I didn’t actually work on it’, they made a very another very socially pioneering programme called Homosexuality and the Law, which was fronted by Grimmond, George Grimmond, and unfortunately the BBC were doing a programme commemorating his time in Parliament, and alas I believe the program is lost, which is a terrible shame, actually. And there we are.
So from that from those programmes…
And than I suddenly – ha! – in Granada’s typical way, I was made head of the play department, and rather eccentrically they didn’t call it head of drama which would have been sensible, I became head of the play department. But the interesting thing there was that I was working directly with the proprietor Sidney Bernstein, who really presided over the play department in a totally personal way – and this is the other thing about Granada in those days, it was extraordinary that the two proprietors had this intense intimate relationship with the programmes they made. I mean, Sidney was passionate about drama, and very kind of well versed in it. I mean, he knew his theatre, just as he knew his cinema. And he had a very special taste, and we sometimes rowed about it… I once accused him of losing a rather interesting English play, which was a play by Clive Exton. And I said, “Well, you didn’t want it!” And he said, “You should have opposed me more fiercely! you must oppose me!” So one had a very, very intimate relationship with the proprietors, and it was wonderful in a way because in the early days, Sidney had… after every single programme that went out he would have one post-mortem in his office and all the key people who’d made the programme would rush up to the office. It didn’t matter whether it was a current affairs programme or a news programme, we would go in, and he would have his various obsessions, one of which was women with clanking earrings. He couldn’t bear pendant earrings – he said they swung about and put people off who were watching. So he had this little quirks, but he was wonderfully really… he had this intense interest in everything that Granada did, but from a creative point of view, and in the play department he really played a fundamental role; I sometimes saw that was a bit redundant. But anyway, that’s what I was. As I say, he was very much part of it. He had very, very… we did a lot of Arthur Miller plays. He had a very, very strong case for the social conscience plays of the good American writers like Arthur Miller. He’d liked Tennessee Williams, Tennessee Williams is a bit flamboyant for his rather austere tastes. But Arthur Miller we did a great deal of, including obscure plays like A Memory of two Mondays as well as the main ones. As I say, Sidney had a very, very powerful influence on the development of Granada’s drama.
And when you were doing drama in those days, in the late 50s, it would all be shot in studio?
Yes, unfortunately. It was all very lugubrious. It was these great, trundling television cameras. Can I start that again?
Yes, go on.
Yes. Everything then was shot in the studio and this rather lugubrious way with these great trundling television cameras, and the PA system in the actual control room, having to signal where the next cameras went, it was very curious. The television was set up like theatre in a way with rehearsals, and when it came to the actual shooting time you would have had a dress rehearsal like theatre, and then it cam to shooting time, and everything had been mapped out where each camera went. There would be four cameras to a play, and the shooting had to be very, very exact.
And live, as well.
And live, it was live. I remember a wonderful occasion. Yes, indeed it was live! And I remember a wonderful occasion when the wardrobe mistress got caught on camera, and she tried to flee, but everywhere she fled the camera followed her! So she was popping up under sofas, behind chairs, hiding behind curtains, but it always found her; she couldn’t get away. It was a great moment, and we laughed about it a lot. Of course, you were rather terrified at that time because as I say…
Sidney would be watching!
There were going to be a lot of people watching it and so you would feel rather foolish. But it happened quite a lot, actually.
And that was very much pioneering television.
You were making things up as you went a long.
We were pioneering. And of course this is why Sidney Bernstein and Cecil Bernstein, his brother, who I would certainly like to talk about because he was also a remarkable figure… and this is why there were so many Canadian directors recruited. There were a whole bunch of them came over, not only to Granada but also to the other companies, it included Sylvio Narizzano, Paul Almond, Mario Presek, all came from CBC Toronto, Canadian broadcasting company… and there were many others, too. Hank Kaplan, Henry Kaplan, who was a very fine director who did the big Arthur Miller play, the one about the witches…
The Crucible. And so there was Henry Kaplan, Mario Presek, Sylvio Narizzano, Paul Almond, Ted Conchef, Alvin Reykov, all those working periodically for Granada. And they were highly experienced at television, so they were really teaching the English directors how to do it. And they were also working for ABC and ATV and Thames Television. So it was a great influx. And I was still only in touch with Paul Almond until only the other day when he died.
And I noticed you did a Eugene O’Neill play.
We did. We did Eugene O’Neill, as I say we did a lot of good American drama. And as I say Sidney had this huge personal interest in it. I mean, you know the plays were decided from a debate between us really. So it was extraordinary to have a proprietor like that, taking that kind of completely intimate degree of involvement. And not only Sidney but his brother, Cecil. Cecil was a very, very interesting man. He hadn’t got the huge personality or the grandeur of Sidney, but he had a great integrity, and he had a marvellous nose for comedy and popular entertainment. And that’s what he did. And comedy under Cecil was very, very good. There was a very, very good actual producer, Peter Eadon, but Cecil Bernstein was very much the inspiration of all that, and as I say, there was very good comedy from Granada, Bootsie and Snudge, The Army Game, were enormously successful, and they were entirely Cecil’s babies, as was the light entertainment programmes, the musical stuff, and also in the end, Coronation Street, which became Cecil’s baby. So the brothers rather carefully divided their interests. Sidney’s were more serious, intellectual and artistic, and Cecil’s were much more light entertainment and comedy. And they divided up…
So you stopped being head of plays.
What happened was Coronation Street had just begun. Coronation Street began in on December 1960, and it was going on long very, very well, and then Cecil came to me and said, “Derek, do you mind awfully coming on to Coronation Street?” And the idea was that, although it was going all right, it was rather… it was on a very small scale. The storylines needed a huge amount of souping up. I remember when I watched an episode which Cecil Bernstein directed me to and it was a little story about Lucy Hewitt losing her purse in the mission house. And I thought, “I don’t think they’re very exciting.” So immediately I saw quite a lot of episodes and I thought, “No, we’ve got to have a very strong storylines.” And one of the things I introduced was the kind of continuing storyline over three or four episodes to give it a kind of real narrative bite. And the other thing I introduced was a quite a lot of sex. Nobody seemed to want to go to bed together. So I was the first one to put Linda and (??1:38) in bed together. And also I started to give Elsie Tanner a number of lovers, including I think she had a fear snogging session in telephone booth, as I remember! And when Dennis came down for breakfast he was always finding the remnants of gentlemen callers like there was their naval caps on my kitchen table and things like that. So anyway, it became much sexier and livelier. And then unfortunately, the ITV actors strike occurred – the TV strike generally, I think – and all the actors who were not specifically under contract were withdrawn and we only had the contract artists, so I was left with a tiny little nucleus of actors to play with, including just the odd families within the street and it became an extremely a matter of great ingenuity whether you could devise storylines for them – and that was when I really went out. I was not doing it for very long; from I think April, spring of ‘61 until probably about Christmas time, I did about nine months on Corrie, but it was wonderful. I probably, apart from Brideshead, enjoyed myself more there than I ever enjoyed to my life, because running (a set? 3:21) is the most God-like position; here you are, the master of all these lives, and story conferences are immensely amusing and fun because, as I say, you can do anything with them. We used to put everything in; remnants of Tolstoy and Dickens… I was always rather proud of the fact that we could take no themes from great drama and great novels and work them into Corrie. But it was lovely and I had a marvellous group of writers Jack (Rosenthal? 4:00) (Jeffrey Lancashire? 4:00), a lovely lady whose name I cannot remember now, Rose. And we were very good little team.
No, he wasn’t on in my time. And it was that it was lovely. Adele Rose was the name of the very good woman writer. And Jack was marvellous. And then Peter Eckersley! Peter Eckersley wandered in from the Guardian one day and rather shyly came into my office and said was there any chance that he’d be allowed to write for Coronation Street. I said, “Of course! Come in, welcome.” And Peter became a great Corrie writer.
Did you know him before then?
No, That was our first meeting.
And you just said yes?
If he was good enough for the Guardian, I said, “Yes, you’ll be marvellous!” And that’s how Peter became in telly. And of course I’m forgetting the only begetter. The maker entirely, Tony Warren, who was still not doing very much but we were… I was very close to Tony and we were very good friends there.
Tell me more about Tony.
Tony was wonderful. And I had a huge generation for him. One of the less good things about Granada was the group thing, it always pretended that no individual did anything – it was company. And when Tony produced this absolutely extraordinary piece of work with characters as immortal as any in Dickens…Elsie Tanner, Ena Sharples… you know, they are wonderful characters which endured forever. And the idea is that it had become an joint effort of Granada’s so that it wasn’t really his – that is absurd. He created it entirely. The actual creation, the characters, the setting, the theme, the idea was entirely Tony’s, and including ,as I say, this superb set of characters. Absolutely superb. I mean, unbeaten in the whole of television really. And I think it was very sad actually that Granada did such a rotten deal for him. He was given the choice that he could only have a credit or a royalty, which is extremely mean of them. And I always kicked against this, and I must say I think in the latter years it was David Plowright who also felt a lot like I did and was very much on Tony’s side and I think worked out a better deal for him. So I don’t think he was quite as bereft in the end as he was during the early time. But I think it was Granada’s great marker. I mean it was extraordinary. It was their network bargaining tool, it was everything. It was their biggest rating. I mean, it’s gone on forever. It’s one of the biggest shows, probably the biggest TV serial in the history of the world. And it was, as I say, entirely Tony’s creation. And I always thought a little bit sad that Granada tried to insist that it was a kind of company enterprise rather than his – it wasn’t. It was purely Tony’s.
Am I right in getting the impression that Sydney didn’t particularly like it at first?
Hmm. I think people didn’t understand it. I think people didn’t understand Coronation Street at the beginning. I think… I’d been very much a part of it, but the wonderful man (Harry Elton? 8:30 had fostered Tony. Tony was extraordinarily neurotic. This hardly camp boy from the promotions department. He was camp. He was irritating. He was very full of himself and he used to have temperamental hissy fits he wants. It’s absolutely true! He once sat on the top Harry Elton’s filing cabinet and refused to get down until Harry had made him an offer! But Harry nurtured him. And Harry had great faith in Tony and he knew that he was going to produce something. He had written a little series before. I think it was called Biggins, wasn’t it?
Biggles. He’d written Biggles, and Anthony, as I say, (his escaped fosterer? 9:37) was Harry Elton, and Harry persevered with him. And in the end Tony wrote Coronation Street and I think it went on the air with six or eight of Tony’s episodes complete. And by that time Tony was very exhausted. He was slightly hysterical anyway, and a bit wiped out and couldn’t do any more. And they then got Harry…
No, the next big…
Harry Kershaw. They then got Harry Kershaw in. And Harry rather took over. But as I say, Tony had produced these marvellous early scripts. And Minnie Cauldwell, Ena Sharples, Elsie Tanner, (??10:38)…
And yes, Hilda, and… I mean, what a (??10:54). And how wonderful it was. I was very proud to have done it. I loved doing it. As I say, the best time.
When you did it, was it done live?
Well, I was producing, as I say, from about March, April 1961.
And was it done live in studio?
Oh, yes. Yes. They were all live.
Okay, after Coronation Street.
I was very glad when David took up Tony’s cause. You know, David knew that there was an injustice there. I mean, even you know, I mean, Granada is not unblemished in its benevolence and paternalism. And I think the treatment of Tony is a scar.
So you finished working on Coronation Street in December 61?
To do what? Do you remember?
I can’t remember.
You did some World in Actions, didn’t you?
I did World in Action in the ‘60s, yes. I did. I know Gus McDonald was very sniffy about them because they went too much with the zeitgeist. I kind of caught the spirit of the 60s in more ways than one! And there were a number of World in Actions that I did which was sort of about things like photographers and models and all that sort of Sixties stuff which was beguiling everybody and probably too much. But quite recently I think… I’ve got the names in a second.
Gus! Just quite recently Gus said to me, “I think you were right. I think you really represented that time. I think, looking back, they’re really rather good.” But I wasn’t I wasn’t particularly cut out for World in Action I don’t think, but I quite enjoyed it. I quite enjoyed doing it.
And you were suddenly shifting then, from working in studio with actors to going out filming.
That must have been…
I mean, one of the great things about Granada was that we were doing all this switching. I mean, it would be unthinkable now that one minute you were doing… and also I did a lot of the news programmes. I did People and Places, which I also liked very much, and then Scene at 6:30, as it became, and I did a stint on both of those. People and Places first, and then Scene at 6:30. At Scene at 6:30, I had a very, very good time on, and I had two marvellous presenters in Mike Scott who was superb and the great Michael Parkinson. And also Peter Eckersley, so I had a great, great trio there. And Scott was extremely good, he had a wonderful sort of natural aptitude for talking to the screen. I mean, you didn’t feel there was anything between you and him at all, and Parkinson was wonderful, and the two of them and of course Eckersley as well was very, very good. I had a very good time at that, I really enjoyed that. Even my old newspaper nous came back into force! But, you know, it was it was fun. It became a much more sophisticated show, Scene at 6:30, but they were very, very enjoyable and I loved that kind of switching about. It was brilliant. And it was all very ordinary in Granada for people to jump about.
So as say, I trained as a journalist and because I’ve been a drama reviewer, drama critic, Granada thought I should be a drama producer! So I got to enjoy them too. So there we are.
So then presumably at some point in the 60s you went back to drama.
And you did the Olivier play?
That was much later – that was in the 70s. I had a period when I got discontented with Granada. I felt I wasn’t getting enough real opportunity, and I got kind of lured into London Weekend, the new company which it just started, with Humphrey Burton and a group of quite interesting people, including…
No, not Melvyn. He had a great partner in comedy. Frank Muir. I was with Frank Muir, and as I say, my mentor there was Humphrey Burton. And I did music programmes for the first time. The Sound of Gershwin, George (??17:35), Kurt Weil, interesting things like that, and Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, those were the three big ones, and I did a lot of drama there. I did something like three drama series with another old Granada hand David Cundiff, who had also joined, and we worked together. One was called The Inside Man, and the other rather reckless one I made, which was very successful, was a series about extremely wicked women, poisonous, killers, and it was actually called Wicked Women. And it was sensational, but rather good. With a very successful so… I’m boasting! So I did that. And then, I don’t know how I got a call to go back. Oh no, what happened after London Weekend was, we’d had a rather melodramatic… Michael Peacock was going to be fired by the board, and I think a number of the senior producers like myself and Frank Muir and Humphrey Burton felt this was outrageous. You could really fire somebody as distinguished as that, he’d had very interesting career at the BBC. So we threatened a mass resignation, rather dramatically, and we almost saved him and then something happened which I never quite understood, where they went back to their original idea, and Mike was out and so were we, and so we all resigned. And it was rather dramatic. We were on the news that night, you know, on the evening news, and it was seen by Olivier at the National Theatre, and I got an invitation during the National Theatre as a drama consultant, as the consultant on drama. Literary consultant, that’s the word I’m looking for. And I went to join Larry there, which is where I first got to know him, at the National Theatre in that marvellous period when they were working for an old beat-up office in Aquina Street which was sort of built as offices. And the theatre was then in the Old Vic still, they hadn’t gone over to the South Bank. And it was a wonderful time for me. I don’t think I was immensely good at the job there actually, but I enjoyed it. And then I got a call to go back to Granada, and I was quite glad to. The reason… well, I did enjoy it in a way, it was kind of… I got an insight into a new world because I had never really worked in theatre. But what I found was that as a television producer, you really bag about with a great deal of power and I was used to calling the shots. I wasn’t really used to this rather minor role of being just an advisor, and I find it frustrating actually, so in the end I was glad when I got a call to go back to Granada. And then I did Country Matters, which was lovely, and I did the short stories of H.E. Bates and A.E. Coppard, which was a BAFTA winner.
And that was done on film, was it not?
No, not… it was… we did five all on film and it was lovely. That was my first real experience of making film and I loved it. I didn’t want to get back into the studio after that.
Were they not the first dramas were done on film in television?
No, they were all… Granada were already pioneering through Peter Eckersley, it was Peter Eckersley’s initiative, and a number of 60- minute dramas, they did short, hour-long dramas all on film. Arthur Hopcraft was one of the main writers, and Ready When You Are, Mister was Jack Rosenthal’s. Ready When You Are, Mr McGill, I think, which was a charming little film he made, or written, and Jack had written one or two, Arthur Hopcraft had written one or two, and I think there were five of the Country Matters including Breeze Anstey, The Little Farm, The Black Dog, and another one, Crippled Bloom, I think was another. But there were five of them all on film, which was a great release for me, and I never really looked back. So I went on then to Brighton and I got to love film. After the studio, I mean it was so wonderful, it’s such a much more delicate and precise instrument than… television studio was just hell. I mean, it’s so coarse. It’s coarse to look at, it’s course and… but coming onto film was just marvellous, it’s just so free, and as I say you can get such lovely smooth effects. It’s just so much more subtle and exciting. Everything about it is more inspiring. It’s long-winded, but… now, of course, everything is (??23:59), only news.
Yes, it’s just news. There’s nothing really unless it’s a current affairs…
But yes, you’re absolutely right. Country Matters were… there were 13 of them, and I think five…
That was H.E. Bates?
H.E. Bates, yes. And a very, very good writer of the time, A.E. Coppard, who did the more eccentric stories. But they were very good. The Four Beauties, that was a weird film. But the different is great, and the one I did with (??24:52) is only half and half – half film and half studio.
Okay. Shall we move on to Brideshead?
Yes! And then after that came Brideshead. What a saga that was!
The idea of Brideshead, did that come from Sir Denis?
No, I went to Denis and said, “I want to do this novel.”
Actually, it had been suggested to me by one of the directors on Country Matters, Donald McWhinnie, who was a great old BBC hand, and he directed The Four Beauties. And just casually one day, he said, “Have you thought about doing Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited? And it was a very long time since I’d read it. I read it immediately after the war. A male cousin had given it to me, saying, “You’ll love this,” and I had. So I went back to it and I thought… I thought it was marvellous. And I went to Denis, I think it was, and said, “I think I like to this next.” And it was agreed to do it all on film. And of course it was very highly experimental for the day because nothing like it of that scale had ever been done all on film except Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, which was just a year before, but with nothing like the production (??26:46). There we were with foreign locations, scenes of… hunting scenes, scenes on Atlantic liners… I mean, in very grand houses… I mean, it was enormously spectacular compared to (??27:00), so… I don’t think anybody had quite worked out how it should be done. And of course we were making it. I mean, we started off to do six hours and ended up making 11!
Yes! It was started off as a six-hour project, but we got hopelessly out of phase mainly because we weren’t able to time it – none of us had done film on this scale before. And we should have been controlled like a feature film is controlled, like the way production guarantors with (??27:37)… and guarantees of how much you will shoot a day and so on like that. And we went into it quite blithely, not realising that it would, in fact, expand like this. I mean, we should have been tied down in terms of episodes and in terms of filming, but we weren’t, and in their wisdom had failed to do that. I mean, you know, if that had been a film production, we would have accountants on the set. You know, a feature film is a very strictly controlled affair. But we were just out. I remember David Plowright said… managing director (??28:27), and sending these rather plaintiff… they were telexes in those days, “Do you ever intend to come home to base?” But I mean, anyway, Brideshead met our first catastrophe. Indeed, it turned out not be a catastrophe at all, it turned out to be our saviour. The thing that really saved the show, and that was the strike that hit us when we were filming in Oxford, and we stopped then, and we lost our first director Michael Lindsay-Hogg, and I recruited Charles. Charles has been a protégé of mine because… I recruited him first of all for the Granada training course from Oxford where I first met him, and he was a groupie of the show and he was a Catholic boy, brought up as a Catholic, he’d been a famous Catholic public school, and not only a Catholic public school – Stonyhurst – but also he had been taught by Jesuits, which is no mean thing. And he’s also been to Oxford, and as I say he was an absolute groupie and loved the passion throughout the novel. So when Michael Lindsay-Hogg went, what Granada wanted me to do, quite sensibly, was to take a very, very highly skilled technical director, there was one in the company, (Alan Crick? 30:11), who is… very well shot shows he made marvellously, well photographed shows, and they thought that he could do the technical side and I’d look after the artist side, and I said, “I don’t want that – I want some contention. I want somebody to argue with.” (??30:31) you want a bit of argument. And I chose Charles. And I chose Charles, who had only then ever done Coronation Street.
He was very young.
He was very young. He was only in his 20s, and he’d only done Corrie. He’d done one or two World in Actions, and Granada in the end let me have my way, and he turned out to be incredible. I felt very guilty about putting this enormous strain of this vast enterprise on a such a… a young pair… of young and untried shoulders, but in the end it worked and he was very tough. I worried a bit about the fact that the weight of the whole thing might be bad for his health. There were moments when I was a bit nervous and thought, “Oh God, this is too huge a burden for him,” but in the end he pulled it marvellously through, and he lent so much to it. So it was an extraordinary time, the making of Brideshead, and what was wonderful about Granada then…
So as I say, Charles pulled it through. I mean, you know, it was an enormously lavish show. I mean, for instance the Atlantic liner sequence, which was shot in eight different locations all filmed at different times, including the (ship board scenes? 0:37) on the QE2. We flew to New York and then we came back on the QE2 so that we could get our deck scenes. And so as I say, a huge hunt sequence. The Atlantic liner sequence is very, very elaborate, as I say, filmed in eight different locations in Liverpool, London, Manchester.
And La Belle Epoch, the restaurant in Knutsford?
We never went there! We felt we filmed Anthony Blanches lunch with Charles Ryder in the (Bells of Beaver? 1:29) but as I say it was an extraordinary… and I think if it hadn’t been for the general strike, when we were able to regroup and really rethink what we were doing, we probably would have floundered, and I was very worried that we would go to flounder anyway. I thought the whole project was too enormous and we’d taken on something we might not be able to finally fulfil. And I did warn David. I said, “Look, if we’re going to start again, you should know that we might possibly collapse because it is a very, very big enterprise, this.” And David was very gung-ho, and said, “No, no, no. We like what you’ve done so far, so I think you ought to have a good stab at going on with it.” And we did, and we pulled it off, thank God. So it was a remarkable show, and… but the freedom we had from Granada was absolutely wonderful. And I said to David not long before he died, because I was very close to him, and I said, “Why on earth did you let me get away with it?” And he said, “Oh, we just rather liked what you were doing and thought you ought to get on with it!” A sentiment fairly unlikely to be echoed in this present era. So that was that. I want to get something which Charles wrote to me the other day and I think I can put my hands on it very quickly.
Because we’ve all been up to Castle Howard again to do this shoot for Vanity Fair. As I say, 35 years on, it’s the 35th anniversary of the first transmission, and Vanity Fair are doing a commemorative photo shoot for us, and we got all the cast back, everybody really, except for Claire Bloom as Lady Marchmain and Stéphane Audran as Cara. We all went back to Castle Howard to be photographed, probably for the December or January issue in commemoration of the 35th anniversary. It was a great event really, because a lot of people hadn’t seen each other. Some of us said… a lot of us have stayed together as friends over the period, but there were a few actors that I hadn’t seen for 35 years. So that was fun. And as I say we’ve all been photographed for this Vanity Fair special. And as I say, Brideshead continues to be aired on one of the cable channels, usually. It was leased specially to Sky Art for five years, but it’s back now with Granada, and I think it’s whirling around. It’s always on show somewhere or other.
And does it still look as… I’ve not seen it since.
I don’t know. I’ve only seen it in bits, I haven’t seen it all the way through, but it absolutely holds up. It doesn’t seem to have dated at all. It really does. It doesn’t look like an old show, it’s amazing the way it holds up. And it’s passionate aficionados… I do quite a lot of stints on it. I did one for the V&A about a year ago, we did an evening at the V&A. I did it with Nicholas Grace, who was Anthony Blanche, and Diana Quick, who was Julia Flyte. And we did an evening for an absolutely packed audience, and it was sold out on announcement. I did a talk at the Birley Centre, Eastbourne, and that was sold out. I went to Lancing College to the second Evelyn Waugh lecture, which I talked about Brideshead to (??3:12). And I’ve done another talk for the Evelyn Waugh Society, so it sort of goes on. People who loved it… actually I dislocated my shoulder the other day, and I was in A&E in Brighton and one of the nurses came over to me and said, “I hear you did Brideshead! It’s my favourite show of all time.” Because the doctor had asked me what I did. It was rather sweet. So there was I with a dislocated shoulder in A&E, feeling rather a fool…
And I’m sure the people of my generation would say that it is their favourite TV drama of all time.
It’s very flattering; it does keep on getting these… the Radio Times put it very highly, I think second or third drama. The Guardian put it as the second best after The Sopranos. So it does get this adulation, which is very nice and flattering. There we were, (hanging about? 4:31), not knowing really what we were doing, but…
I mean, it is extraordinary that you were able to suddenly say, “We’re going from six to 11 programmes,” And that the network didn’t say anything about this!
No! I mean, I have friends now who are in television and they tell me of the enormous strictures that are laid upon everybody, and I believe it’s very… and I doubt I could survive a day! But as I say, it was just wonderful. And I’ve got this marvellous piece… I mean, we were given this immense amount of freedom by Granada, which was extraordinary. And as I say, David was particularly understanding of our problems so we had a wonderful easy ride in that way, although it was very, very intensive, the making of it. I mean, I was working every weekend, weekend after weekend. I mean, you know, we were working right through, I was doing seven-day weeks for a long time. But it was so wonderful working on material which was as marvellous as the Waugh novel, and I think that’s what everybody was dedicated to doing as well as they possibly could.
Did you write the script?
Yes. We had to ditch the Mortimer script. We ditched that at the very beginning. But it was a very difficult contractual situation because the estate had made the stipulation… there was a condition that if we had the rights, we had to accept their choice of adaptor. And the first adaptor that they nominated was somebody I like very much, and that was Alan Bennett. Alan and I were having rather a good time, lots of discussions, and then suddenly he came up to me and said would I mind terribly if he slipped away and abandoned it. I said, “No, no – absolutely. Of course I wouldn’t. And I imagine that what had happened to Alan was that he realised the enormous amount of work it would be, and he hadn’t quite faced up to that before. And when he realised the amount work it would entail, I think he just decided to slip away. And he did. And so the estate then nominated the second nomination as John Mortimer, and John came, and John was a very grand writer, he was very well known. And he’d had Rumpole of the Bailey, so that was a very, very big hit and he was much in demand. He was rather grand, I have to say, and a little… I mean, perfectly nice but rather difficult really to have a collaborative conversation wit, I think. And anyway, he went and did his own thing, and he delivered something which was perfectly competent. I mean, it was a perfectly competent series of telly scripts, but we didn’t want that – we wanted something much more delicate, and something much more reflective of the beauty and nostalgia of the book. And indeed, the German investor (name? 8:48) rang me up and said, were rather (unteutonically? 8:51), where are the Proustian overtones you promised us?” And nobody liked the script, so Sidney rang me and said, “I don’t think much of the script,” and when Michael joined, the very first time we met with Michael Lindsay-Hogg, I first met to discuss the whole thing, he said, the first line he said to me was, “What are we going to do about these Mortimer scripts?) And I said, “We’ll do it ourselves.” And that’s what we had to do. But we had to do that clandestinely because there was no way I think, because the agent represented not only the Waugh estate, but also the nominated writers. So it was AD Peters who represented not only Waugh, but also John Mortimer, and there was no way in which I could turn down the Mortimer scripts without the whole project folding – they would simply have pulled it. And they knew that, so we just bit the bullet and decided to do it ourselves.
And did Mortimer get any kind of credit?
Mortimer gets a credit on all of the… he gets (not only his estate but getting all the residual? 10:18) He got the full pay for everything, including the extension. I mean, he got paid for six hours, and when we went to a 11 hours he got paid for the extra five hours. So he did very, very well. We also had rather difficult meetings after that where we gave each other old-fashioned looks. But of course it all came out in his official biography, when the writer of his official biography had to face up to this, and I gave her the scripts, the Mortimer scripts, and our scripts, and she said, “There’s no way that these are even comparable.” So she (came out with it? 11:05), and both the official and the unofficial biographer gave chapter and verse of the fact that he hadn’t wrote them. And also all the papers; The Sunday Times were the first to carry an article about it. Richard Brooks wrote about it.
So when Brideshead was transmitted and became an enormous success, were you surprised or did you really think that you’d got… a little gem on your hands.
One is always surprised. Well, I mean, I was I the cutting room with Charles quite near the end when we were cutting, and Lord Marchmain’s dying scenes, of him dying in bed, and I said to Charles, “Do you think anybody in the world is ever going to watch anything quite as slow as this?” And he says, “Yes, I can name two – our mothers.” (Laughs) So no, one doesn’t know, and it’s absolutely right that one shouldn’t know, I think. One never quite… well, I think we thought it was fairly decent, but we’d no idea. You know, we were trying very hard, but you don’t really know. But you know, one would be impossible if one kind of has an inkling really. But as I say, we had immense freedom, and I got a note from Charles which he wrote to me only the other day, saying that he had never, in the whole of his experience in television, ever worked on something where the only criteria was actually the quality of the work as it related to the novel. There was nothing else that he had to consider. He says he’s never in his life ever worked on anything like that, and he never expected to again after that, where we were all just driven by an idea of trying to do it as well as we possibly could. It was amazing. The freedom, and the fact that we were so geared to that end, to producing something which is incredibly close to the feeling of the novel, and would echo it. And I think in a way, probably the television experience is as good, if not slightly better – but that’s what we wanted to do. We wanted to be true to the Waugh.
Okay, let’s park Brideshead. What about working with Laurence Olivier?
Well, I’ve just done a talk on that! Well, we had a wonderful time really, most of the time, but this was David’s idea, when Olivier… you know, I’d worked with Olivier at the National Theatre as literary consultant, and then I’d gone back to Granada and then when Olivier became terribly, terribly ill with this horrible form of cancer, this sort of muscular wasting cancer, which is a very rare cancer, and he nearly… I mean, it was about his 10 serious illness in a very short time. He’d been ill with prostate cancer, he’d had kidney trouble, he’d had a bad thrombosis, he’d had everything – and then he had this finally, and he was really in very, very bad shape. And David had the idea, who is his brother-in-law, he was the brother of Larry’s wife, Joan Plowright, and the way to get him back to health was to give him, to give him some work, to give him a really good task to… so he asked him what he would like to do, and Olivier came back with the idea that he would like to do a series of plays – they cooked this up between them – a series of plays for television based on the best plays of the… going back through the century, the best plays of the 20th century. And we ended up with six of them. And I was assigned to work with him because David sensibly thought, “You know him from the National Theatre, you’ve been quite close to him, and now you can work with him. And I became very close to him, because he was… you know, I went out… you know, every day, to his little cottage in Sussex, a rather pretty little malt house where he lived. Not so little actually, but charming in a fairly modest… I mean, it was a… sorry, I made a complete bollocks of that. He lived in this old malt house deep in the heart of Sussex, and I was out there every day and in fact used to stay for quite a lot of nights, and almost… I would stay for quite long periods; I would stay over there for two or three days with him while we were picking out the plays, and I got enormously fond of him. He was very, very companionable, funny and very kind of… in an oddly sweet natured… he would have little surprises for me. I remember once I came in and he said, “Look what I’ve got for you (??17:46)! I know you love tea, I went down to (Stenning? 17:49) the other day and I bought these little packets of tea. You know, like orange pekoe… there was just (??18:02) powder… and he would be very nice, and we used to swim together in his pool. Because his other great way of getting back to health was to swim and swim. And he was very funny, and as a say, enormously companionable. And then we had… we made our selection and then we went to America together to work with our American co-producers, who were NBC, the great television network, NBC, who were sponsoring two of the plays, two American plays. And they had the veto on anything he chose. Unfortunately, they had a veto on his favourite play – which was by a man called Paul Osborn, called Morning’s at Seven, a rather charming comedy about old people – but they said it didn’t fit into their demographic requirements. And so that was struck down, much to Larry’s chagrin. So we ended up with Cat on a Hot Tim Roof and Come Back, Little Sheba as our two American works, otherwise it was Pinter’s The Collection, Harold Pinter’s The Collection, James Bridie’s Daphne Laureola, and a lovely Italian play, Saturday, Sunday, Monday, and Houghton’s Hindle Wakes, from one of the old Manchester plays. Wonderful old classic play about a Lancashire mill town. So those were our six plays, and we had a very good time preparing for those. And as I say, he was marvellous in Pinter. He was very funny, Larry, he kind of liked being led to things, and he had never read a book, or even a newspaper, but he loved it when people pointed out things. And I remember him saying to me once, “Isn’t he marvellous, Harold Pinter? Look what he did for the actor, and there are hardly any words on the page!” He was actually stunned by this when he found him, and he made a marvellous… he gave a marvellous performance as the old homosexual couturier, Harry. And it was a very, very good little play, directed by Michael Apted, the great Michael Apted, who was also a Granada trainee, and went on to do two Bond films! So we did that. And the other one I was much concerned… the other side, much concerned with, Daphne Laureola, which was the James Bridie play, which he loved and produced as an actor/manager on the stage in London. So we were very close to that. And then the other one, was of course the big one, was Cat on a Hot Tin Roof where he played Big Daddy. It was very, very odd but something happened to our relationship during the making of the Granada plays. He suddenly… he could be very ferocious, Larry. He had quite a… he could be fairly fierce. His sister used to call him the (??22:15)… biblical illusion. And in his last biography, Philip Ziegler has a wonderful quote of him with a poor young actor Laurence Harvey.
And Laurence Harvey and Larry are having lunch or dinner in Los Angeles, and Harvey, rather intemperedly, criticises a number of Larry’s old contemporaries like Ralph Richardson, and Larry suddenly loses his temper. And he says, “Call yourself an actor? You’re not even a bad actor, you snivelling little cunt-faced arsehole.” And I didn’t get that! What I got was a sudden awful coldness. He would suddenly cut me out, you know, in a rather embarrassing way. And also would be very sneering when I offered any kind of input. I remember once talking about wardrobe and talking like the American… what American hats had looked like. And I suddenly got this, “Oh, we are experts now, are we, on American hatting!” And I got rather fed up with this. I went to David and said, “Look, I can’t take that bastard any more. You’ve got to let me out. It’ no fun and I’m just having a rotten time. And David, who was very wise, said, “Sit down and I’ll explain what’s happened. He cannot bear you having any authority. He is so jealous, he is so absolutely jealous that you have any command over overtime or things like that, or you can talk to wardrobe, you can actually be part of it, where he feels he must be totally in command he can’t take it. He cannot take that. And I said, “Well, now I understand that, absolutely.” And that was Olivier’s besetting sin. And it came from his childhood, he was profoundly jealous. And when I talked to John Mills years later, I said to John, “Did you ever have a bad time with him?” And he said, “No, but then I was never in a position of rivalry.” He absolutely… he was like a child, he had to be the kingpin – and if he wasn’t, or if he felt any kind of slipping shown that way where he wasn’t totally in command, then you got it in the neck. And it was very funny, you know, he would let months of close friendship disappear. But he had no detachment. (Kenneth Tyneman? 25:38) said about him, and very shrewdly really, “If I had one word to describe Larry it would be ‘turbulent’.” He was very turbulent. But mixed up with, as I say, companionability, a real genuineness, sweetness, naturalness when you’re with him in an ordinary relaxed situation. He was absolutely wonderful; terribly funny… I remember him climbing out of his pool and saying, “Just look at me, Boycie, to think this was once a Hollywood sex symbol!” You know, he was lovely. He was very sort of rich, and in many ways very warm. And then the moment – the moment – he sensed that you were kind of stepping on his hallowed territory, you would get this extraordinary reaction. And once I knew, I mean, of course, I just covered up, I mean, the secret there was simply to pretend that you hadn’t any authority, that you know, you would let it seem to all come from him, and then he got happy again. And then what it was, we worked on Brideshead together, and we were back, and I was very embedded really, in the family. And so, you know, I’m great friends with Joan Plowright to this day. As I say, and I help Phillip Zeigler a lot on his book, so I was going to be the official biographer, and that was an idiotic mistake because I was too old – I was nearly 70 – and an absolutely major biography of a life as enormous as that was very, very hard – and I was getting… I was going all right I think but I was getting slower and slower, and ultimately the publishing company I was working for, Orion, was taken over by a very big French company called Hachette, and they said, “Call in all the outstanding contracts, everybody must finish now.” And I had a meeting and they said, “You’ve got 12 months in which the book must be delivered,” and I knew I couldn’t do that – I needed another couple of years. So I said, “Look, I can’t do it, I’m awfully sorry, I can’t do it in 12 months.” As I say I was not always so I thought am just too old. As I say, I was almost 70 so I was just too old, and I reluctantly went out of it. But I’d done an awful lot of research, I’d been through all his papers and put them into some sort of order, and when Philip Ziegler came, it was lovely, because my work didn’t get wasted. I gave him my entire archive, and something like 30 tape recordings of all the people from the National Theatre in his life, and he was very grateful for this, and ultimately got these bought by the British Library. So they bought my little archive and, you know, quite decently, and he got the benefit of this work, and I’m very generously acknowledged in his book and quite a lot quoted, so I was very happy with that because I felt that those years hadn’t been entirely wasted, and I thought Philip Ziegler had written a remarkably good biography, and in a way the best because it’s the closest to him, because Ziegler was at a period of time from him where he would afford not to be totally irreverent. There are two other very good biographies; Anthony Holden’s is very good, which is the one I think before Ziegler’s, but Ziegler really faces up not only to the best of Olivier but also to the worst of him – and it doesn’t diminish him in any way, it makes him even more extraordinary and remarkable, and more heroic in a way, you know, to get to this remarkable position of being probably the greatest actor of the 20th century.
So, after Brideshead… you had nothing to do with Jewel in the Crown, did you?
No. Did you do another drama?
No, that was it. Oh, no, I went to a film company… I joined (Mike Warner? 30:49) and David Putnam at… what was it called… oh, I can’t remember. And Jake Eberts… Anyway, I was there for about a couple of years and my made a little company of my own. And I made… (although I didn’t do features, a handful of dust? 31:15), which introduced Kristin Scott Thomas. That was her first big part – wonderful she was too. And that was Evelyn Waugh, and then we were able to…
And still is. She’s one of my favourites.
Yes, so I did that afterwards for a little film company I was a partner in called Stage Screen. What was the name of this… they may have done…
They did two big things. The Mission with Jeremy Irons…
It’s a bit of David Putnam’s company?
It was… well, it wasn’t David Putnam’s, it was… he was on the board with Dickie Attenborough.
I remember The Mission.
Goldcrest films and television. And I was on the board of that for a…
But you did nothing else for Granada?
No, that was it.
Shall we leave it there, unless you want to talk about Granada as a company, or Sidney…
No, I think I’ve said my bit about Granada.
You used to go on holiday with Sidney, didn’t you?
Yes, I was very lucky. What had happened was Sandra Bernstein, his wife, she was out there shortly after he had built this rather lovely house…
In Barbados. And she was robbed at knifepoint by two black boys, and they were playing cards with… an interior designer, who I knew quite well, who looked after most of Sidney’s design projects and his houses… and another friend, they were playing cards, and these boys burst in and tore her necklace off her, and you know… it was a small robbery, they took what they could in front of them while they held them up, and Sidney was asleep in bed. And Sandra was absolutely outraged by this and said, “I’m never coming back.” And she was a rather strong-minded Canadian woman, and she said, “I’m sorry, Sidney, that’s it – I’m never…” so anyway, it was a ghastly experience. You don’t want a knife (??34:52) threatened like that. And she said that’s it for Barbados, thank you very much. And there he was, he’d built this house and he’d got nobody to go with. I was very… a Sandra Bernstein substitute! And you know, I was quite good out there because I was quite handy in the kitchen, and Sidney (??35:21)… I was very pally with the cook, and I said, “Why don’t we get some lobsters from Martinique,” and things like that, you know? So Sidney… I mean, he had me… I was his companion, but somebody who could work the place and help him entertain and that kind of thing. So you know, I became a kind of fixture, and I went out every year. It was lovely. I had a lovely time there, and I got to know (Claudia Colbert? 35:21) very well… and lovely Ingrid Bergman… both of them were wonderful, Ingrid was adorable, they both were. But I was very fond of Ingrid, and… so you know, I had a very good time. I think he was quite sensible because I could be quite useful out there. I mean, I could look after the shopping and the food and the menus and that kind of thing. So he was… (??36:35), and he had (??36:39), and also I was very good friends of (Oliver Vessel? 36:41), who lived just up the coast. I mean… 10 minutes car ride up the coast, and I knew Oliver, as I say, so it worked pretty well for him, and he had a companion, so… he was a good companion, Sidney, we got on very well. We used to fight over the newspaper! He said, (??37:09) I’m going to have one at least. He said (??37:14) I remember once he said, “We’ve got to talk to each other at least at dinner time.” He said, “We can read papers at breakfast, but we must talk at lunch and dinner time.” And he had very nice people for dinner.
Did you know the children? Did you know David and Jane?
Yes, very well. David and Jane… David was never up when I was there, but Jane was. I know Jane very well, and I see David, though I have rather lost touch. He has got a new girl.
Yes. We interviewed him a couple of weeks ago.
With the girl?
Well, she came in, she came in with…
Absolutely wonderful. Very lucky.
She seemed very nice, very attractive.
Yes am very glad because his wife died, and…
And Jane came to our conference. Both David and Jane. Jane flew in from New York for the conference.
I must get in touch with Jane again – I was very fond of Jane.
She’s living in New York.
She’s back now?
No, she’s still in New York.
They went away for quite a long time, but I think she thought it better for the children, to be brought up in the country. But David I haven’t seen for about a year. I used to see him more when (??38:52)… what’s her name… she’s very grand… she was a member of the…
McMillan family, yes.
She as married to… she was Harold McMillan’s…
She was Harold McMillan’s son’s… I’ll work it out.
She was connected.
A strong connection with the Cavendish’s. So I went to her funeral. They were very grand parties there, full of these (howling aristocrats? 39:30). But David, I was always rather fond of. And it’s high time I saw him again.