This is going to be quite a long story! I was always very stage-struck. I was brought up in Manchester. Even during the war I can remember going to the Robert Atkins, the open-air theatre from Regent’s Park coming up to the Whitworth Park. I think I was six and I saw Merchant of Venice and it might have been As You Like It and I was absolutely mesmerised by it. I remember in the tea tent afterwards some of the actors were there, and one of the things I always remember was the lace at the cuffs. For some reason, it stuck in my mind. I used to go to the theatre a lot, especially the Library Theatre where Joan Littlewood was.
I was going to go to Oxford or Cambridge but then I saw you could do drama at Bristol, so I read French and Drama at Bristol University.
But before that I got a job. I went to the Playhouse Theatre in Hulme, next door the Hulme Hippodrome, and went round to the box office, burst into tears and said, could I see the manager, and ask if they could give me a job. They let me come in and I just used to help. But it started everything off.
After I finished at Bristol, the manager had started a company at Croydon. So I went down and he employed me and the stage manager was Howard Baker. I think it was about that time he was applying for trainee directorships at Granada. He was great friends with Caspar Wrede and Michael Elliott. They started a company called the 59 Theatre Company at the Lyric Hammersmith. I didn’t work there very long but I worked there for a bit. And then I didn’t see Howard for ages and I was working rep and acting, stage managing and doing all sorts.
Then I thought perhaps I better start doing something a bit… I wanted to still be creative but I didn’t want to stage manage or anything, so I got a job at one of the costume houses and I’d become friends with a girl, Sue Phillips, who was the costume designer at Granada. At that point Granada hadn’t moved its drama and stuff up to Manchester. She was working at the Chelsea Palace. She’d had one baby and she was expecting another, so she obviously couldn’t go on doing it because it would have meant travelling up to Manchester. So she phoned me up one day and said, “Oh, Esther, write in to Granada.” I didn’t own a television set. I’d never been in a television studio. So I wrote to Granada. I can’t remember who I wrote to. Any rate, it turned out that Howard Baker who I had known was doing inheritance, so I went up there, they interviewed me and I got the job.
That was in ’67. And then I was on a rolling contract for about seven years. I was never not employed. There were always interesting jobs. I didn’t think when I went up that I would carry on working there, but they just kept on offering me interesting work. And eventually after about seven years I thought perhaps I’d better go on not just the payroll but the pension. So I joined the pension scheme. Then I was there till ’89 when there was this big cull of anybody over 50.