Interview conducted by Stephen Kelly, September 20, 2015.
How did you come to join Granada?
I was working on the Northern Echo and I saw an advert in the Guardian for a researcher. I applied, and I found it very interesting that, when I think back, that this was an advert for the Guardian for a staff job in TV, and how that just doesn’t happen in that way any more, and I think because they advertised, you got a wider range of people going to work there, because it was open advertising. I had applied before to work at the BBC but it was obviously that I wasn’t the BBC’s sort of person. At Granada, it was interesting because I did a jolly good interview on my first round, and I didn’t do a very good interview in the second round because I thought, when I was at the BBC, it was when I started to express my views and ideas that I always found that they didn’t like me and disproved of me. And after my second interview, Rod Caird rang me, who interviewed me, and said, “You were really good in your first interview and you were really boring in your second interview, what happened?” and I said, “I was really worried that if I expressed all my thoughts and ideas, you wouldn’t like them.” And he said, “No – this is not the BBC, this is Granada – we want people with lots of different thoughts and ideas.” So I went back to a third interview…
Who was that with?
I can’t remember. Rod Caird was there, and I can’t remember who else was there, but I think that’s really impressive that they gave me a third interview, because they could work out something went wrong. And I went to work on Granada Reports. I think this was spring 1982. And I think that’s right… we were about to have the first election at which the SDP were going to be putting up candidates. And what I remember is that I’d always heard that Granada was very left-wing, but in the Granada Reports newsroom, they took a vote, and the majority was going to vote SDP, and I was really amazed. I thought, where were all the Trots that I heard were at Granada? And most of the people hadn’t come from a journalistic background like me, I had done the NCTJ training course, and I was at first very intimidated to think that here I am in TV and they’ll all be brilliant and know everything, but actually in fact because they didn’t come from a news journalistic background, I felt it was not as difficult as I feared it was going to be. They had a system where you had a father or a mother in your first week who was supposed to look after you and make you feel good, and my “father” was Brian Park, who went on to found and run Shed, and incredibly successful, and he said to me, “As your father, I’m supposed to help you fit in in television,” or words to that effect, “So let me help you, let me tell you that in TV it’s every man for himself and every woman for herself, so you can look after yourself.” And I still see him now, and whenever I see him I remind him of this, because actually in a way that’s funny, but in another way I did need… it was a nice idea to have somebody to help and support you, because it was such a very different world.
It was a bit ‘sink or swim’?
It was a bit sink or swim, and then my first week I was told that I would go out to film, and to see how filming as done, and I would go out with a particular director, and that he would sexually assault me but I wasn’t to take it personally because he sexually assaulted everybody. And sure enough, at the lunch, he stuck his hand up my skirt, so obviously I took it back down again and I thought, “Oh, my God!” And I have to say that I do think in those days in TV there was a lot of… not a lot, but there was some sexual harassment by men of women and nothing was done about it. One of my friends, her line manager made her cry and then asked her to go to bed with him, and I know another woman… just completely inappropriate.
Let’s come back to that. We’ll continue with the chronology but we’ll come back to women’s issues, that’s very important. You’re on Granada Reports, is that right?
Yes, Granada Reports – and it was really, really a good programme, and within a very short number of weeks I was out making 10-minute films myself, and I just thought it was absolutely fantastic, and because we made, in Granada Reports, investigative films. I did a film investigating how bed and breakfasts in Blackpool were taking money from people who were on social security, I did several investigations into housing conditions… it was really a fantastic place to work, with some brilliant people. Tony Wilson was actually a very kind person in my experience, and absolutely brilliant on camera, and he just had ‘it’ – the magic quality. He was really good. I do remember, for the general election, I was sent out with him, and I must have been naïve, because we had to stay up all night for the election, and as the night went on, I got more and more tired, and he became more and more awake. And at about 2am I said to the sound man, “How does he do it? It’s remarkable! Because I’m really flagging, and he’s just got more energy all thee time.” And the sound man laughed and said, “He takes drugs, Dorothy!” So… and I was shocked. I hadn’t come across that before. So yes, there was fantastic journalism that went on. I was a researcher from time to time for Richard and Judy, who were presenters, and they got together while they were on that programme, and I have to say that both of them had… there’s a quality some people have that, when the camera goes on, the camera loves them. And the camera loved them. So I think it was a time of very talented people and really fantastic programming. Then I went to work on Union World, and I had to pass a test to work on Union World. So I was called in by David Kemp – many people said, “I don’t know why you don’t work on Union World, because you’re Scottish,” and there seemed to be at Granada, as they called it, ‘the mackia’ – but I was called in, and I can’t remember what the questions were, but I had to show a knowledge of obscure trade union leaders of the past, and strangely, I didn’t know who they were, you know, you would name somebody and you had to say, “Oh, yes – he was general secretary of the TGWU in 1973,” or something like that. And Union World was an extraordinary programme that was made for Channel 4 by Granada, and we only interviewed trade unionists – we didn’t interview the bosses. And every now and then the bosses would ring up, the factory owner or whoever, and say they wanted to be interviewed, and they were told, “We only interview the trade union side,” because this was part of Channel 4’s vision of balancing the way that the media was perceived to be more in favour of the employers. When I think of that now, the lack of due impartiality was extraordinary. But Union World… I mean I worked there during the miners’ strike, and I would say that we had the curse of Union World, a bit like the curse of Hello magazine, about how many people who are interviewed in Hello magazine end up divorced. I can honestly not think of a dispute that I covered for Union World where the workers won. And I used to feel a bit bad if I turned up on their picket line to interview them about their dispute, because I think, “Well, you do now, because I’m here, because there is no dispute that I have covered where the unions have won.” Of course, that was because, when the NUM was smashed, you could just see on Union World all the waves moving out beyond that, which meant dispute after dispute in completely different areas were lost. Union World was not a good programme to watch, I think I have to be asked about that, and it was really boring. It was great fun to work on and it was really politically interesting, but Arthur Scargill was quoted as saying he would rather watch the test card. No programme like that would ever be allowed now, not just because it wasn’t duly impartial, but it was so boring and it had tiny viewing figures, but it was good practice. I think the lowest viewing figure that we ever had was when the presenter, Gus McDonald, said whatever was the opening headline and then said, “But first I have with me in the studio the industrial organiser of the Communist Party.” And you just think, “Woah! And that’s a lure?” I mean, how many people wanted to hear from the industrial organiser of the Communist Party? We interviewed an awful lot of right-wing Labour Scottish trade unionists, and indeed every now and then I would meet a right-wing Labour Scottish trade union official of some sort – with glasses, they nearly always had glasses on, they were all white, they were all men – and I would say, “Oh, my God! I can’t believe it – you are a white, right-wing Labour Scottish trade unionist with glasses, and you haven’t been on Union World! How did that happen?” We didn’t cover women’s issues nearly enough, and also we saw trade unionism far too much as a programme – I don’t mean I saw this, I mean this is how the programme saw it, I certainly didn’t see it in this way – but the programme saw trade unionism too much from the top downwards, and I think that was also the problem of trade unionism itself, that one of the reasons that unions lost so much power is that they weren’t sufficiently in touch with the every day interests and problems of their members in their lives, and particularly women, whose problems were so much to do with how they would look after their children, were they getting the same pay as men, you know, their basic conditions and health and safety at work. So I went on from…
Who else would have been working on Union World?
Well, Gus was the presenter…
And he was Scottish, David Kemp was the producer, and he was Scottish, I was Scottish, Dennis Mooney worked there as a researcher, he was Scottish, Charlie Rodger worked there as a researcher, he was Scottish… it was bizarre really.
Who was your reporter?
Ann Lester did some reporting, Julie Hall did some reporting, Mike Walsh occasionally did reporting… those are the reporters I can remember. But English people were allowed to work on the programme so long as they passed the test demonstrating that they knew who old trade union leaders were. I don’t think one would say that that was a programme in touch with the spirit of the times, but as I say, it was fun to work on, and I think I learned a lot about going out and making, and setting up 20-minute films on my own, and I think… you know, it’s a programme of a bygone age. I tell people at Channel 4 now where I work now that there used to be a programme on Channel 4 that only interviewed trade unionists, they actually don’t believe me –they just go, “That can’t be right.”
How long were you on Union World?
I think a couple of years. And then I went to work on World in Action as a researcher, and that was fantastic. Although we were called researchers, anywhere else we would either have been called assistant producers or producers, so it was a bit of a misnomer. Because we were either given an idea or we came up with the idea ourselves, and then we would often go off on your own and try to stand up your story, get all the interviewees, work out the sequences that there might be etc., and then when you though the film was in a good state, quite often it was only then that the producer/director got involved. So obviously on a longer, more complicated thing, you might be with a producer, but you could work entirely on your own for 6-8 weeks maybe, and what was interesting about that was how much freedom you had, but obviously when the story went wrong or you couldn’t work it out, you were very much on your own, But if I think about that now I had extraordinary amounts of autonomy, and that was really exciting. And I can’t now remember how long I was a researcher, because I just loved it. I thought World in Action was the best current affairs programme, I had always wanted to me a current affairs journalist, and I got to do the stories that interested me, and I got to go off and do this fantastic well-funded journalism – I mean, it was a wonderful life. In some ways it wasn’t really World in Action, quite often it was more Accrington in Action. I spent a lot of time in a lot of grotty places, doing things… I loved the fact that some of the programmes were investigative, but some of the programmes were conceptual, and I thought that was, you know, it was just such an exciting programme, and so many ideas about other forms of television arose out of World in Action, I think. The drama documentary, obviously, started there, but features type programmes like can you live without your car, I worked on that… when I was at Channel 4 I made quite a long-running series called Can You Live Without, so… World in Action didn’t have a view as to what a current affairs programme was. Its form was absolutely open. Nowadays, a lot of those other sorts of ideas are now happening in other genres, and I think that current affairs television has been responsible for a lot of the dynamism in form of television generally, but after a bit, I thought… and of course one of the things was, when I got my job on World in Action, I was at that point the only woman on the programme. So it’s not that women hadn’t worked there before, they had, as it happened at that point I was the only woman. And I always remember the first big meeting I attended of the team. They didn’t have big meetings much, we didn’t have meetings in all the things you have in TV now, we didn’t really have that – it was more mavericks going off and doing their own thing, and maybe rightly or wrongly that lack of control wouldn’t be allowed now. But at the first meeting that I ever attended, I went into the room and sat down, and it felt really strange, and I couldn’t work out what it was that felt not right about it – and then I realised, this is how you feel as a woman on the very odd occasion when you actually wander into the gents toilet, where you just think, “Oh, I must be in the wrong place,” because I’m the only woman. And what difference does it make being a woman if they are nearly all men? You just feel less comfortable for a start.
How many women would there be on the wider team?
None! I was the only woman, I was the only woman working on World in Action.
On a team of how many?
Gosh, I don’t know how many there were. Between 20 and 30 I think. So the secretaries were women, but I was the only female producer or director, just at that moment when I started, and then after a bit I thought I… I had visions for my programmes, and then a director comes along and they do it in a different way, World in Action, producer/director as was named, though really, we the researchers were effectively the producers, and they would come along and change my vision for the programme. So I thought, “I think I need to become a producer/director,” but up to that point, only once in the history of World in Action had a woman who was a researcher on the programme been promoted to being a producer/director on the programme, and that woman was Sue Woodford, and people told me that that hadn’t… my likelihood as a woman of ever getting a job as a producer/director on the programme without leaving was very low. So I went off and got a job at the BBC as a producer, and told them I was leaving because I’d got a job as a producer/director at the BBC and they went, “Oh. Well, we actually need a new producer/director, and we’ll hold a board and you can apply for the job.” So there was a board, and I got the job, and I mean… I just couldn’t believe that I, Dorothy Byrne, was a producer/director on World in Action – I had the best job on the best programme in the whole world – it was absolutely marvellous. And I love the fact that one of the men on the programme said I’d only got the job because I was a woman! I thought, “Only got the job because I was a woman? You can really see that women get promoted around here just for being women, can’t you, because there are just so many of us?!” I think by that point there was another female producer/director who had come in from the BBC, Debbie Christie was working there then as a producer/director, and I think there might have been another one or two female researchers, I can’t remember. And the first programme that I produced was about rape in marriage, and I… one of the most senior men on the programme said that that wasn’t a story. I love that. I don’t know what the ‘story’ was if rape in marriage wasn’t a story, and one of the other senior men on the programme said that rape in marriage was a subject more suitable for morning television, which made me laugh. I said, “How could rape be a suitable subject for morning television?” And then I made a programme about children’s safety, so I made quite a number of programmes that some men on the programme weren’t ‘stories’ – but it really meant a lot to me that I was making programmes about the every day lives and concerns of women, and because… certainly when I joined television, the definition of what a story was, was very macho. So a perfect story would be a story for them, as they saw it, macho people, it would be a story about the nuclear industry or a story about the CIA. And they are important stories to do. To a certain extent, I used to think, when I watched programmes about the CIA being involved in a far-off land and making everything worse… well, I’m not really… I mean, tell me a story where the CIA went to a far-off land and made things better! I’m not saying those programmes shouldn’t have been made, they weren’t surprising and I think that programmes that told you stuff about the every day lives and concerns of women, actually that was surprising on TV – and again, you now see that everywhere. You now see that across current affairs and documentaries, the every day lives and concerns of people are seen as proper subject matters for current affairs. The way that we operated in terms of rights to reply and due impartiality was very different then. When I was a researcher I worked on a two-part World in Action special on Kurt Waldheim, who had been accused of war crimes. And after the first programme went out, the Austrian Embassy – he was the president of Austria at the time – rang up and said that they had heard that there had been a World in Action the night before about their president, saying that he was a war criminal, and they missed it – could we send them a VHS? And we said, “Well, if you missed it, your lookout,” and put the phone down. I mean, now, that could just never happen at all. Another time, Mary Whitehouse rang up to say how much she had liked one of my programmes, and I was so mortified… I can’t remember what the programme was now, one of my programmes about women or children, you know, and this woman said, “Oh, hello, it’s Mary Whitehouse, I’m ringing up to say how good I thought that programme was last night,” and I couldn’t actually bear to say to her, “I made it.” So I said, “Thank you very much, madam – I’ll pass on your comment to the producer.” I mean, the idea that I would go out and say to all the macho men, “That Mary Whitehouse just rang up, and she really liked my programme last night!” That wouldn’t have gone down very well.
Did women face difficulties working at Granada?
On the face of it, Granada was a very open place. I mentioned to you that, when I messed up my second interview, they gave me a third interview, and gave me the job – and I’m a woman. So in one way, I would have to say that they seemed to be open, there were women who had good jobs there, but women did suffer sexism and sexual harassment; women were, from time to time, sexually assaulted. Everybody knew who the men were who sexually assaulted women, and you didn’t feel that you could make a complaint about it. I mean, look at what happened to me – in my first week I was actually told, “You will go out with a director and he will sexually assault you, but don’t take it personally, he sexually assaults everybody.” And indeed he did sexually assault me. So I couldn’t then feel that I could go and make a complaint about the sexual assault, because I had been told by somebody more senior than me that I would be sexually assaulted, and that I just had to accept it. And sometimes men would laugh about other men who they knew were terrible. One evening, and only about 6.30pm, a man with a terrible reputation for sexually assaulting women, who was drunk, grabbed by breast, and he did that in front of another man – I mean, it was just a disgusting, hideous instant, and the next day at work, I said to the man who had witnessed this, “That was absolutely appalling,” and the man said, “Oh, no – but he feels really bad about it Dorothy – he said sorry to me.” I had to go, “Hang on, he said sorry to YOU? You, the witness? I, the victim of the sexual assault, he didn’t say sorry to me – and you seem to think that it’s okay, that it somehow condones his action, that a) he was drunk – which is no excuse at all – and b) he apologised to you, another man?” So I think there was that awareness among women that the sexual assaults went on, and people knew about it, and if people above you know about it and nothing is done about it, then that isn’t good. From the fact that, at the time that I went to work in World in Action, I was the only woman, well, you asked me what was it like being a woman. It can’t be right that in the whole of Britain I was the only woman suitable to work on World in Action? How did that… I mean, it’s just wrong to have so few women, and I think you would get more women in certain sorts of programmes, more women in regional programmes, but at the harder edge, that was more male.
Did women tend to be single?
Well… yes, I mean I think that what did happen was that because there was no nursery, there were a couple of campaigns to get a nursery, I led one campaign to get a nursery… I mean, we never got a nursery, so… and women tended, if they had children, to just stay at a certain level, you know, working on local programmes also where they didn’t have to travel, and programmes where they are working… you know, they could go home in the evening, and that was just accepted that… and for me, I thought I would like to have a child, and so I left Granada – that’s the key reason I left. I thought, “I can’t keep travelling as a producer/director and have a child,” so I went to another company where I became deputy editor, and then editor of another programme for ITV.
Is this Channel 4?
No, this was… I made it for Carlton, it was called The Big Story, and a key reason I did that was so that I could have a child. And I think you always felt that everything about your life and career was for you… Brian Park told me on that first day, “In TV you’re on your own,” and really I think it was like that. There was no notion of your boss calling you in saying, “So, how are things going, and how can we help and assist you in your work like balance?” or anything like that, I mean, nothing like that ever happened, and I think that there were odd people every now and then who would break down for whatever reason and disappear for a bit.
A lot of them talked about Granada being a very benevolent company, very paternalistic, described as a family. Would you disagree with that?
It wasn’t a family for me. I think it was a family… I wouldn’t call it a family. I would say it was a really brilliant and vibrant place to work, full of really exciting, interesting people. It felt… we believed in ourselves as a company, we believed we were the best company, and we were the best company – we made the best in everything. Jewel in the Crown was the best, World in Action was the best, Coronation Street was the best – I don’t feel any doubt about that, that in that era, before I worked there and while I was working there, that Granada television made the best programmes in Britain – and we knew that, and we felt incredibly lucky to work there. You were always meeting interesting and exciting people, and you felt you could say and do what you wanted. You could just… you weren’t held back – there weren’t apparatchiks and bureaucrats and politically correct people – but I couldn’t describe it as a family. Because a family wouldn’t have allowed women to be sexually assaulted, and would have cared about how people were going to have children and looked after them. So I wouldn’t agree with that, but it was a fantastic place to work. And actually, that all went and Granada became part of ITV, and that’s the way of the world. There’s no point in crying about it, it had to become more and more commercial. I would say that now, Channel 4 was like Granada used to be, and many of the best things about Dispatches, I took from World in Action. In fact, I even took some of the good ideas and recycled them and did them again, you know, that feeling that you can say anything that you want to say, you can do anything you want, and your boss isn’t controlling your every move. That issue of your boss isn’t controlling your every move… I see nowadays that just is not a possibility in the way it was then – you have to have more control now. I mean, now, in TV, programmes have set budgets. I didn’t know what the budget was for my programme. There was even a discussion, when I worked on World in Action, that producer/directors shouldn’t be told how their programmes rated, because if they knew how their programmes rated – I must say I think this was stupid, as an attitude – then they would just make programmes for ratings. I mean, now, everybody has to care about how programmes rate, and if programmes don’t rate at all, then nobody is watching them, and therefore they probably shouldn’t be made. And also now, companies and organisations are, the minute they even get wind that you’re making a programme about them, they are on you like a ton of bricks, and if you get anything wrong they will complain to Ofcom, they will get all their lawyers… the freedom that journalists had then to go out and make programmes about people and not even seek rights to reply often, that would never happen now – and I must say, I think it is right to get rights of reply, and I think some of the stronger implementation of due impartiality and fairness in television now is good, but those days of freedom were exciting.
But the programmes that didn’t get ratings might still have been very important programmes.
Yes, but that would still be true now of a Dispatches or a Panorama, that if they were a very important programme, they weren’t worried about the rating. It was just the notion that some people had that the producer/director shouldn’t be told the ratings at all and also that we didn’t understand how much our programmes cost – that would never happen now. And when I left World in Action and went to The Big Story as deputy editor, I mean, I knew everything about what programmes cost, and every producer/director would have a good understanding of the budgets of programmes. But I think Granada just had so much money that we weren’t tied down by budgets.
Did you ever work in the Liverpool office?
Just occasional days.
Oh, I worked in Golden Square – for a long time I was the mother of the chapel in Golden Square. I mean, there’s an interesting thing that people used to say, that men watched pornography in the Liverpool office, and that was just sort of accepted – not all men, just one or two – which was extraordinary! I mean, if I found out now where I work that a man was watching pornography, I would immediately report that. I mean, that’s a very, very serious offence, completely undermining to women to think that men are allowed to watch pornography at work, but yes, I worked in Golden Square, and that was… I mean, that was a great place to work, really exciting things going on. I mean, there was a World in Action office there, and then just along the corridor were Brian Lapping and Norma Percy working on their deep, lengthy programmes about huge matters in the world, surrounded by documents and books… and of course, so much about investigation is so much easier now with the internet. I can remember doing an investigation about asbestos in Australia, and having to get the customs officials in Australia to somehow find the right documents for me about where the asbestos from Australia had gone to in England, and so I couldn’t look at those documents online, I had to sort of describe where and what they were, and they had to try and find them, and then they had to fax them to me one by one – now, all their files would be up online and I would be able to access them, and I would probably just order them directly. But yes.
Was networking important? In the bar, in the canteen?
Yes, I think. And probably I wasn’t that good at networking. Yes, people did network, and you could say networking has its good side because people are exchanging… people from different genres and backgrounds are exchanging ideas, but there was also the bad side of networking, which was people smarming up to people to get on – but that probably happens in every industry and every television company. But it was a very friendly place to work, and I thought the bar was fantastic! I couldn’t believe when I first went there that standing outside the toilet were all these women who worked in the factory in Coronation Street – and they would all stand there with their arms folded, talking just the way they did on Coronation Street, going, “Oh, he said to me, and I said to him, and I told him: ‘You can’t talk to me like that!’” and I thought, “My God, they’re just employed to be themselves!” They were fantastic. And then the man who played Mike Baldwin, he would smile in an alluring way, I don’t know what word to use, at women… I’m not saying he was necessarily trying to get off with them, I don’t mean that, I just mean the whole way that he was on the programme and his demeanour is what he was like in real life. I think the one who surprised me was XXXX, who talked to me in the bar, and I think either I asked her for a light, or she asked me for a light, and I thought, “Gosh, this isn’t quite what I thought XXXX would be like.” I was quite surprised. And that was great fun, meeting all the different actors and seeing Hugh Laurie rush past and all that, it was really exciting. And another thing that was fantastic was the wonderful art on the walls. I just couldn’t believe it when I went in and I went, “Oh, isn’t that Francis Bacon there?” Even down in the corridors in the basement there were fantastic pictures, and there was something wonderful about having fantastic contemporary and modern art all around you that did make you feel… you know, I am in a real creative hub here.
A lot of people talk about the canteen.
Yes! Well, you were always seeing the most fantastic people in the canteen, and you would find yourself sitting next to some famous actor munching his grub. What was nice about Granada was… it wasn’t like a family but it was lacking an ‘us and them’ mentality, and I think that was partly because it was based in Manchester. I mean, I don’t feel any doubt that the programmes were better because they came out of a different place, and you felt that people perceived themselves to be equal to each other much more than in a very hierarchical organisation. Like I would get in the lift, and Steve Morrison, the boss of Granada, would say, “Tell me about what programme you’re doing now, that sounds just so exciting.” And there was no idea that he was too high up to speak to me. And again, you didn’t feel because you work in drama, I can’t know you – and I think some of the best ideas came because people in different genres were really relating to each other. And people say it’s wrong for a company to have a bar, and in some ways it is wrong, because you could argue it’s encouraging people to drink alcohol, and why should a company do that. But in another way, having a place where everybody socialises with everybody else was a very important part of the creative spirit of the programmes.
Well, some. Not terrible… no, I mean, you didn’t see people rolling around, no. I mean, I’m sure people did sometimes drink too much, but no – I never saw a fight or anybody get really, really appalling.
You talked about Union World, but how did you find Granada’s own industrial relations?
I went in as an NUJ member, and then I became… I moved over onto an ACTT membership – I was amazed at some of the rules. So when I arrived, I was told that under union rules, the crew had to be guaranteed a choice of two or three starters for their lunch and that my job was to ensure that on the story we went out to do that day, I find a place they could have lunch with a choice of starters. Well, I came from a newspaper! I couldn’t believe this, and I found it utterly demeaning as well. So when I was setting up the story for the day, the key thing that I had to work out for the story of the day was, could I find a pub, restaurant or café where there was a choice of two starters? I mean, some of that was ridiculous. I can remember also going to interview for World in Action an elderly woman who had been mugged, and we went in, and there was a producer, a researcher, a PA, two sound men, two cameramen… I mean, I felt, “This is ridiculous.” I felt like we were mugging this old lady all over again because… you know. Were those people needed? Let’s be frank – of course they weren’t needed. Oh, and an electrician of course, and we were always told that the electrician was absolutely essential for safety. I mean, really? So it was inevitable that those things would go – they were unsustainable, and you couldn’t really argue for crews of that size being needed on a normal story. I became the ACTT equality officer for Granada and I remember the national office asking us to do a survey of the number of people – they didn’t say ethnic minorities in those days, they said ‘black people’ – and I thought I couldn’t do that without doing the survey, because I counted the number of black people in Granada and as far as I could make out there were five. So at our Granada ACTT committee, I said, “We have been asked to do this survey, but it’s really quite easy for me to do it because I have counted them in the canteen and there are five.” At which, a man down the table, a member of the union, said, “And that’s five too many – they should go back home.” And the man next to him said, “Hear, hear!” And I said, “What do you mean, they should go back home? They come from here! What on earth are you talking about? So that was absolutely appalling –and one of the things that surprised me at Granada was that even the cleaners were white. It was so white. So here’s this company that thinks it’s all radical and fantastic and everything but actually in the north west at that time there were hundreds of thousands of people that weren’t white, and it shows how we’ve moved with the times that now in TV we would regard that as absolutely unacceptable. And you know, did the union take up the fact that women felt that men sexually harassed them? Well, no. I mean… and then, near the end of my time at Granada was when there were these waves of redundancies. I mean, that isn’t why I left, but… and then that changed the whole spirit of Granada because it just seemed to be redundancies after redundancies, and the whole issue of budgets and all that came much more to the fore, and then people began to look at why is a programme like World in Action still there? And the idea of what advertisers like is to know how many viewing figures there are going to be for a programme week in, week out, and the trouble with current affairs from an advertiser’s point of view, is you don’t necessarily know that. So it was only a few years after I left that World in Action went the way of all flesh. Although I understand the name still exists, so they could always bring it back.
What year did you leave?
That’s a very interesting question… 1994, I think, maybe 1995, something like that.
You talked about some of the World in Action programmes that you worked on. Are there any that you are particularly proud of or had disasters with?
Of course I never had any disasters with programmes! Because when you realise that the story isn’t turning out you turn it around another way. No… I mean, I worked on a huge range of programmes from a programme about women being scared to go out at night – and that was actually Stuart Prebbles’ idea, that programme, I was researcher on it – it was called Nine out of 10 Women, and it was just about women being scared to go out at night – and I always remember it was the front page of the Daily Express, and I didn’t know if that was good or bad. I mean, was it good that the Daily Express’s male journalists were so shocked that nine out of 10 women were scared to go out at night, so they put it on the front page, or was it bad, because they should have known that anyway. But I thought that was a great programme to work on, because some of the best journalism isn’t some revelation about the CIA and El Salvador, it’s about revealing the truth about every day life that people are suffering. But then there were other fantastic things, I went to South Africa and did a programme about the role of the third force and interviewed Nelson Mandela, and that’s a completely different sort of programme, which was fantastic. I think what I loved about it was you could do anything – you never knew what you might do. And there was no limit to what you could regard as being a programme idea.
Was there anything else you wanted to say that we’ve not covered?
It was great fun. It was really great fun. And lots of those people that I met then are my friends now. And a lot of people are sad that those days are gone, but I think that you have to see it in a different way, and you have to go, “Well, it was great while it lasted,” but lots of the things that grew up there are out there now, on TV, you know… and as I say, lots of the great principles that governed Dispatches, I learned on World in Action.