By July or August 1969 I was in World in Action with John Birt. In the summer of 1970 I left Granada to become a rock and roll star! But my first period on World in Action was late summer ’69 to the middle of 1970 in which time I researched three World in Action’s. Yes, John Birt got me into Granada through Nice Time and he wanted me to do World in Action, but I had to convince them – getting onto World in Action was a big deal. So I had to do a probation programme, which was with Mike Beckham and the show was called The Life and Death of James Griffiths. It was about a Glasgow gunman who shot and killed some people and was then shot dead by the police. He went on the rampage on the roof tops in Glasgow and the programme was basically a portrait of his life – what makes a killer, what was his background like, what were his relationships like etc etc. I did quite a lot of work in Scunthorpe because this guy lived in Scunthorpe. A lot of time in Glasgow too, where he ended up. You’ve got to realise how long ago this is.
Like I said about the Liverpool Daily Post newsroom, as a soft southerner like me you wouldn’t want to work in the Liverpool Daily Post newsroom, it was like a bloody cattle yard and these people hated southerners. To the man. I grew up in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. So that was out. Just a soft southern bastard, you know, simple as that. Just anti. And likewise in Scunthorpe I remember meeting the crime correspondent from the local paper – a dreadful old hack, you know, met others like him. These were guys nearing retirement, they drank too much, they smoked too much and they didn’t give a shit and they hated young people, probably resented telly people, and all that. And I remember being in a snooker hall and I took this guy for a drink and then he went on the phone to his boss and I overheard this conversation, something like this ‘I’ve got this fucking idiot here from Granada, doesn’t know a thing. Doesn’t know a thing. I mean, what am I going to tell him?’ So I had a great boost to my confidence on that World in Action! But I didn’t know anything. I mean we are talking about 1969, I was 23, I didn’t know anything. But I did a good enough job for Mike Beckham to say to John Birt, ‘Yeah, this guy’s OK.’ So then I was up for the longer contract.
The second show was a story about a hippy called Ken Petty. Charlie Nairn was the producer, It was called Ken Petty: Alas No Longer With Us”. But again, remember the time it was, 1969, and people were scared of the hippy thing. The Establishment was. So it was: what makes a hippy tick? ‘Geoff, go and find a hippy.’ So Geoff goes out in all the seedy places to find a hippy and brings them one by one into Gus MacDonald to say, ‘What do you think, Gus? Is he any good? Is she any good?’ So eventually we settle on one.
Gus was Editor?
Yeah, they were joint editors at that time – Gus and John. And they were both very young indeed. I mean about 24, 25. It was extraordinary how young they were. So anyway we found Ken Petty working for us, a boy from Sunderland, who grew up on a council estate in Sunderland, before he hit the London scene. Suddenly a boy like that goes in a completely different direction in life. Why? So we profiled him and his Notting Hill lifestyle. It was a good show. That was Charlie Nairn. The third show I did was with David Boulton as producer and it was about farming. And it was called One Down, 100,000 to Go and oh, it was a great trip. ‘Geoff, go to Devon, find a farmer’. What a great trip, you know, staying in nice little hotels, having pints of beer way down in Devon talking to farmers. And I found this farmer and we made the show really around him. It was about the survival of dairy farmers as agriculture was changing – hence the title. Boulton and I had a great time together.
World in Action in those days was a treat to work on. You are talking of the time when there was BBC and ITV only. ITV had all the commercial advertising revenue. It could make the shows it wanted to. And we were lucky in the sense that there was no, well there were time pressures, of course there were pressures but I suppose not compared to today and the shows I worked on were under more time pressure because they weren’t like Ray Fitzwalter’s investigations and the serious stuff like Michael Ryan did. If you are going to go for a Cabinet Minister you can take your time, it’s got to be right. So my shows weren’t quite in that category, so you didn’t feel the time pressure really. But I just want to convey that for a young man what a treat it was.