Don Jones talks about the difficulties union rules sometimes presented

The downside, I suppose… the union situation was difficult because I understand why a lot of the things were put in place, things like the ten-hour break and the rules about when people ate and the hours that people worked, I understood why all that was there. But it was bloody difficult at times, and as a researcher setting up film shoots… people wouldn’t believe it now, some of the hoops you had to jump through to make it work.

Like what?

Like if the crew didn’t have their feet under the table at one o’clock, it became an NLB, so they could have their lunch and claim a “no lunch break”. And the lunch had to be, strictly speaking, I think I’m right in saying, a choice of three starters, three main courses and three sweets! So you know… there were some people who had prawn cocktail, a medium steak and chips and then a Black Forest gateau virtually every day of their lives, I think.

With a glass of wine and a brandy?

And a glass of wine and a brandy, and a few pints of bitter sometimes as well. Which was all lovely, but bloody hell it was hard work setting it up, and making it happen. Crews would be great, if they were happy and everybody was having a good time, it wasn’t necessarily a problem, but on bad days, they became even worse days, I found. And all that stuff could become very wearing.

There was a classic example – I should say, I was a keen union member. In fact, when I first started at Granada, I was a member of two unions: the NUJ and the ACTT, which later became BECTU. But I nearly fell foul of it – I was working on an obituary. It was somebody from the Royal Exchange who had died, I can’t quite remember who, but quite a famous director. As a researcher I was put on this obituary, I think Robin Kent was producing it, and Rod Caird was the exec. Pete Connor was the other researcher. He used to be a sound man but became a researcher and then a director…

The whole thing was being put through studio, so he’d shot interviews all day at the Royal Exchange with quite famous actors and actresses and various other people. And then it was being put through studio with links. All the graphics had to be letrasetted in those days, so white letters rubbed onto a black board because there were no computer graphics at this stage, and graphics had done all the supers for the interviewees. And one of them was spelt wrong. And this was an absolute nightmare – Plowright would be watching this obituary, Sir Denis Forman had an interest in it. You could not spell this name wrong, but graphics had all gone home, so me and the other researcher went up and thought, it can’t be that difficult. We’ll find the letraset and we’ll…

So he watched down the corridor and I letrasetted this super. It looked a bit scruffy but I thought we’d get away with it. And we took it to the studio and recorded the show and it went out. I thought we’d got away with it, but somebody in graphics saw it going out and said, that super was a different typeface and it wasn’t straight! And all hell broke loose. They wanted to know who’d done it.

And the shop stewards said that whoever had done this was going to be seriously disciplined by the union. We were all called in front of the shop committee. We’d agreed that we’d all say nothing and say we didn’t know who’d done it. I’d done it. And I just thought, this is an absolute nightmare. At one point they were talking about closing the place down. You couldn’t do somebody else’s job, could you?

This was ACTT?

Yes. Anyway, nobody admitted to it, and Rod Caird and Robin Kent kind of knew but weren’t saying, so it kind of went away. A few weeks later the head of graphics, I can’t remember his name, sent a memo saying that they’d just started getting the new equipment in and that everybody had to do training on this caption generator, because this was the way forward. And he sent me the memo as well! Saying you need to learn to use the caption generator. So that was the upshot of it. But that’s how things were.

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