Interviewed by Judith Jones and Stephen Kelly, 4 August 2015.
To start off with, George, can you tell me how you came to work for Granada?
Well I have to go back rather a long time. As a child I lived in Southport and my father, one of the many hobbies he had, was he actually had a cine camera. And I’ve subsequently seen footage that he filmed even before the Second World War. But as a child I was brought up going to the Isle of Man, and I have it here in the house, a film that he made of my sister and myself going round over five years, called Two in Search of Adventure. It’s from Laxey to Douglas and it’s the motorcycling and… but the whole aspect of it. So it’s quite a social film now when I look at it, that I’ve got pictures of myself and my sister as a ten year old and five year old. And my father had quite a successful business selling pushbikes, motorbikes, petrol and things like that, and as a child at school, I’d always spent a lot of time with my father, and he was I think quite interested in the fact that I thought we’d maybe open another shop in Ainsdale, and that’s what I wanted to do. My mother had other ideas and thought that, okay, well maybe, but maybe you should do something else.
And by the early sixties, across the road from where my parents lived in Ainsdale, one of Granada’s newsreaders, the late Peter Wheeler, he lived there, and got to know the family because Peter had four children, and they met socially at various things within the village. And he’d happened to say to my father, you know, because he knew the film camera and all this lot, had I ever thought of having a job in television? Well the answer was no, because, you know, ITV had only been on about five or six years, and BBC probably less than ten. And Southport to Manchester, the only time I ever came to Manchester was either to go to the speedway or to the model railway exhibition that was in the centre of Manchester in the Corn Exchange. Anyway. In about 1961, a film crew was coming to film on Ainsdale beach. And Peter said, “Why don’t you come and have a look?” They were doing something with these Second World War ducks that went out to rescue people and things like that. It’s amazing what kind of stories we made in those days. And it was interesting and I was watching it all around, and David Woods and John Blakeley and Phil Smith and other people…
So I left school and went to work for a computer company in Southport called ICT out at Crossens, which bizarrely was where my father worked during the war when it was Brockhouse, making bits of guns, shells and all kind of things. And after about ten months there I got a call from Peter, or my mum and dad did, saying there was a job going with a company called Mancunian Films, and why didn’t I come and have an interview. So I came over on the Thursday and met the late Bill Lloyd, and John Blakeley, in the Wheatsheaf on Deansgate. I was smartly dressed in my Burton’s suit and all those kind of silly things that you did in those days. And they said, you know, “We’d like you to start.” So they said, “When can you start?”
And I said, “Next Monday.” So that’s what I did. I went back home and said to my mum and dad, “I’ve got a job. Do you know anybody I can stay in digs in Manchester with?” Which they did, and I started on the Monday.
This is about June 1963. Granada at that time did not have any film units at all. They had two freelance crews, one which was Mancunian Films, famous because of the old George Formby films, Frank Randall films, and they’d had film studios at Dickinson Road which subsequently became part of the BBC. They had good credentials to be working for ITV, or working for Granada. And then they had a company called Windsor Films that came up from London, and that was it. They did have a bit of a film unit that worked at London Zoo, but actually in Manchester there was nothing at all. So, you know, those early days, when I look back, it’s quite interesting. I suppose we can all be a bit sentimental but, you know, it’s three days now since Cilla passed away, and in about the October, one weekend we actually filmed in the Cavern Club, the original Cavern Club, and we were actually filming a group called The Big Three, and Cilla was there. I didn’t know that then but I do now. And it’s absolutely true; it was damp, dingy, we had to put these funny little lights up. And we filmed a group called The Big Three, which, again, at the time, was one of the up-and-coming groups in Liverpool.
So we did lots of news stories and it could be everything, you know. Some pretty horrible stories, mine disasters in North Wales. Obviously what we didn’t know was… leading on to things like the ‘Moors murders’, and that was… We did two or three days a week, we’d drive to Leeds on a Wednesday and maybe to Sheffield – no motorways in the days, in a little Bedford van which if you were lucky would do about 45mph downhill and about 25mph uphill. But it was great fun. And I think… I knew very little about professional photography in those days but I think it’s been with me all the way through my life, if I didn’t understand something I’d ask somebody. If I didn’t get it I’d ask again. And by that time Granada decided to have their own film unit, so they’d set up their own – it was a four-man crew in those days: two camera and two sound. It sounds extravagant by today’s standards but when you realise the cameras were American Oricon[?] cameras which weighed about 42lb, wooden tripods, and the power came from a 12 volt car battery and a converter to make the power work so you could go out into the field, it just took four of you to move it all around.
So the film unit grew and grew, and I started to go… they’d ask me to fill in on another crew. So for example when, World in Action, which had been going for about a year, was suddenly coming to the north of England, they’d ask if I would go and be a sound man, help with the boom, whatever it is. But I was beginning to feel that the interests in the change of the magazine and putting the film in, and all of that lot, was hopefully where I would get to. There was then the reorganisation, and it was decided that World in Action’s main base would come from London, because they had to change how it was all going to work, that the main World in Action was going to be based in Manchester and that they would have their own film crew up here. So I then applied to be the camera assistant on World in Action unit, which meant obviously I left… In 1966 I think, or somewhere around the World Cup anyway, the World in Action unit was being set up in Manchester and I got the job as being the camera assistant. And I did that, and that was when we started to travel. I know it sounds daft now but you’d be jumping on prop planes and flying to Amsterdam. Very exciting. Or you’d get on the Granada little Dove plane, they had a sort of prop plane. Captain Walters. And we’d fly to somewhere like Gibraltar or Vienna. It would take forever. Thirteen hours or something like that I think it was to get to Gibraltar. It was a fantastic time. The adventure aspect of it all, and learning as you went along, going to new countries, different kinds of stories than what we’d been doing. Any kind of stories, from Paris fashions through to music things where we’d be in the music programmes that we’d be filming at Abbey Road, when we’d be filming with The Hollies and they were doing it on a carousel being recorded, and next door in the studio was The Beatles. I look back and think, we were there, coming out at about three o’clock in the morning. And so I’ve got some fantastic memories of all of that.
And by about the end of ’67, Granada had started to do some serious drama on film because the cameras were a little bit more portable. And the lenses were a little bit better and the film stock was a little bit better. And it was kind of easier to go and shoot on film rather than a big OB outfit and all the restrictions that we’d have with that. And so for a while I was away from World in Action and worked on some of Granada’s very early dramas. They did a series called City 68, which was sort of quite a gritty programme, and then the Big Breadwinner Hog, which was filmed night after night after night in October, November and December of ’68 down in London, with people like Michael Apted, [Mike and the? 0:10:29] other two directors.
And by that time I’d learned to operate, I’d been sent out on news stories, but actually it was quite a quick progress to go through. But then actually there were lots of things that Granada encouraged people to do. A lot of people had little or no knowledge but if you could turn your hand to it, they’d say “Well done” and you’d do more. So it was a kind of generation thing. One minute you could be a commissionaire, and, not quite, but four weeks later you could be a director. You could get there pretty quickly if you had the ability and the talent, and they would encourage you to do it.
So I got a call just towards the end of December in ’68 when I was still operating on Big Breadwinner Hog and saying that the cameraman who had been on World in Action, which was Ray Goode, had had enough. Because I’d been involved in the Grosvenor Square demonstration, one of six crews, and happened to fortunately be in the right time in Grosvenor Square when the major riot took place, three of the World in Action producers went to Bill Lloyd and said, “We think George should be given the chance.” You, know, he seems to be able to do it.
Bill, god bless him, said to me, “Right, you’ve got three months to prove yourself and if you don’t, you’re back to being a camera assistant” or something like that. So anyway, by January of ’69, by the tender age of not quite 24, I was given the chance to be the main cameraman in the World in Action programme. And the rest of it, they say, is history.
So just going back a little bit; when you were employed I get the impression that you were employed as a kind of general assistant, there wasn’t anything specific, so was there any training? How did you learn your trade?
Okay, well, we’ll do a fairly brief summary of what it was like in ’63-’64.
I’ve already mentioned the type of camera. In those days you had to load the magazines with film which would last ten minutes. That would involve putting the magazine which sat on top of the camera into a changing bag, like a portable darkroom, and in the dark, you learned how to put the film that had been exposed carefully into some black paper, into a tin, because that’s priceless, because, it’s there, and put a new one in, and lace it up, and make sure you did it right, make sure that the lids were on properly, and then take it out and it was ready to put onto the camera.
So far as the sound was concerned, we only really had two net mics, and there were no radio mics in those days, so we had to run cables. We used to try and do people walking to camera, and you’d put a mic on here and you’d have to feed it right down the trouser, under the heel. And you’d see the presenter sort of dragging this cable along. But that’s how you had to do it because you didn’t have the kind of rifle mics that you have today, the much more sensitive microphones.
So you kind of did a bit of everything. Oh, and you had a hand microphone, so if you ever see any of the old footage you’ll see this Oricon[?] microphone, which kind of looks like a tennis ball, practically, on a stick, and they’re kind of doing this… because that’s what it was. So you did a bit of everything really. Sound. There was the odd time that if someone was ill and couldn’t turn up you’d have to go and do the sound. And partly you kind of learned on the job but you kind of… people, as I said, if you wanted to understand, you asked them if you didn’t understand. The world’s much more competitive, today, in some ways, the way it’s gone. In those days we just all mucked in. You know, if the cables got dirty, somebody cleaned them. I’d be on my knees doing it.
There’s a wonderful story I can tell with my enthusiasm which might make people laugh because they know what I’m like. The Moors murder was kind of underway, and we went to the police headquarters in Ashton-under-Lyne and we were doing an interview with some police officer. Anyway, one of the bulbs in the lamps blew, so we had to go back to the Bedford van, and in my enthusiasm, from running, when I’m coming back up the stairs, I slipped and broke the only spare bulb we had. I had to go back very pinkish-faced and say, “I’m sorry but I’ve dropped the bulb.” So then you realise, and you think, I won’t do that again. First of all, make sure we’ve got more than two bulbs in the van. And sometimes it’s better to walk rather than run. I have to walk now, but I still ran for a long time after that.
So I think it was all that kind of era when everything was fresh. You know, if you went to Sheffield – I’d never been to Sheffield in my life! I’d never been to Leeds in my life, never been to Doncaster. I’d been to Liverpool, I’d been to Chester. So, you know, those were the days when it took you a couple of hours to get to Leeds, you know, there were no motorways. It’s quite interesting, in fact, every time I go over on the M62 these days, particularly the big bridge right at the very top, we went up there to do a news story one time where they put a stretch of road and made it a test of how it was going to cope with the weather and whether it was going to get blocked with the snow. So they were having all these devices. This was before the motorway had been built but they’d actually built, just near Ripponden, a stretch of motorway. I remember coming up here through Rochdale and wherever just to get to it. Then there was quarter of a mile of motorway that was going nowhere until it was linked up to the real thing. It was a great excitement.
Can you give me a sense of what a typical week would be like? I’m sure it’s difficult but I’d like to get an idea of the unpredictability of your life.
The way it used to work, certainly in ’63, bearing in mind I’m working with Mancunian Films, as a general rule we used to do stories on a Monday and a Wednesday. News doesn’t really operate like that. But I think obviously in those days there was a bit of a… a money issue or… In those days we’d got People and Places, which came before Scene at 6:30, and there was Freddie Aspen[?] who was one of the presenters that was in Liverpool. Liverpool’s always got great sorties, and you know, I don’t mean just from the pop scene; it was all other kinds of stories as well. So we would go over there, maybe find two stories in the Liverpool area. And then they’d come back and in those days Granada had a little processing plant to process the film actually on the ground floor in the Granada building. And then we’d go back to where Mancunian was based in the Prince’s Cinema in Monton, and if there was some disaster, maybe a mining disaster, we’d maybe go out on the Tuesday, but then on the Wednesday we would go up and it would be maybe Leeds or Sheffield. Had an interview with Barbara Castle who was a minister at one time. We did something with an Olympic swimmer, I can’t remember, she came from Doncaster. Dorothy… I can’t think what her name is any more. So there were always local stories that we would do, and bring them back.
And you’d see in the news that most of the things… there was a little studio and it was all red because they’d only got early tele-cine, not like today where you’ve got instant graphics and all that. So when you look back, I feel like I’m describing an image from 1923, not 1963. It would look so archaic and almost comedy, but that’s the way we did it.
And when you were doing a World in Action programme, how long on average would you film for?
About seven days. Certainly the World in Action period for the first four or five years, maybe ten, but say when I started in 1969. The first programme I did was a programme in Norther Ireland called All Change at Newry. This was before The Troubles had really got going. So we spent a weekend over there with demonstrating and people throwing dustbins, and they weren’t plastic in those days, I think they rather hurt when they threw them. But they seemed to project them a fair way.
But the first real programme I did all by myself was I went to South Korea, and we probably had about ten days there and it was basically, it sounds daft but the Korean War was only ten or twelve years old, all the Americans were still there and you’d still got North Koreans… And we went to where the 49th parallel is, and all that, and I got punched in the face by a North Korean because I’d strayed into North Korea. Challenged some Korean soldiers to survive in the cold, and next minute they’d caught this snake and I could see this soldier put his foot on the snake’s back and bit its head off, or part of it, peeled it, and started to eat it. Alan Bale got this wonderful sound of just a sort of crunching away as he was eating it, and I got the camera really up close. The postscript was that when we came back with out 22 silver boxes at Heathrow Airport, they could see there was a sticker saying we’d come from the Far East and the porter who was moving it, because that’s how it was with all these boxes, said, “Oh! Were you the crew that did that World in Action that went out last week?” So we said yes. And he said, “Oh, the sound of that soldier eating that snake!” But that was in the days probably when 12, 13 million people would watch World in Action because you’d just got two channels, BBC1 and ITV or Granada or whatever you want to call it.
So we would go out there. Because it was so far we’d make two programmes. So we went and make another programme in Hong Kong. We’d be away for three weeks and we’d certainly make two programmes. If we went to America we’d try to be away three weeks and make three programmes. The ideas was to balance up the economics of the cost of flying us out there and the cost of taking the equipment. One thing I remember quite well was when we went to Korea it was nearly £1400 to take the equipment. I had no idea what the air fare was but that’s what it cost to take the equipment. And it probably only cost about £1500 to buy the equipment in the first place! It sounds daft now when you think about it.
But as a general rule, I think it was on average seven days. But then we would make programmes literally in 24 hours, so, the Grosvenor Square demonstration, that programme, it all kicked off on that Sunday afternoon. We’d done a bit of preparation work with it, but at the end of it, the last about 11 minutes of the riot, was almost 11 minutes uncut. The funny thing about it is, I only had a little camera that wasn’t recording any sound. So they had to make a loop of the sound that came from other cameras that were there, erm, to build up the atmosphere. But the actual footage that I took that you see in the programme, there was no actual sound shot with it when I did it. Because the camera was just a little mute camera. [0:22:58]
So what other memorable programmes from your long history at World in Action stay in your mind?
Well I think… I think the answer is, there’s no one favourite programme, and that sounds slightly glib because, you know, the variety of the programmes was so varied from, you know, spending time with ministers through to spending it with people who’d got illnesses, thalidomide being one of the cases, but, you know, people that had struggles in life, I’m thinking mainly programmes in this country. But then you’d go abroad, and World in Action was very good at finding stories that had an international appeal, so it could be a medical story about, you know, breast implants, later on, which we did, which nobody else would have done. Erm, but through to things like people who were having dodgy heart valves put in because they were being made in a country that weren’t making them as good as they should have been, so people were having a new bit put in their heart, but, oh, by the way, it might not work very well, and it’s a bit bad news that we have to say that, but, we want to stop it.
So there’s a number of programmes that I’ve got lots of fond memories with. I think the programme that we made in South Africa with Janice Finch and Dorothy Byrne where we spent a morning with Nelson Mandela, erm, some 15 months after he’d been released, it was very special. Of all the people I interviewed, and it’s easy to be very sentimental, but he for sure, I think, could have made the waves part. I mean, I had great charisma, very humble, and just a great person to spend four or five hours with, which is what we did.
And I think probably the most important part of that is, I think it would be somewhere in the ‘70s, we made a programme about apartheid, and it was called The Dumping Grounds. We went as World in Action did in those days rather cheekily, under the pretence we were going to follow the Archbishop of Canterbury on a tour in South Africa. Well we did a bit but not very much. We wanted to go and see what was happening with these people that were being shoved into the Kalahari Desert, separating them from their loved ones, and it was an awful situation because that’s how it was. And we made the programme and the South Africans were so furious with us. And in fact the four of us that made the programme, we were banned for some 16 years. And so I suppose because of the experience of that and the programme we made and the rumpus that it caused, and then to see what Mandela had been though, and you think, well, he stood up for what he believed was right and he had to suffer awful times, but in the end he did a good job.
So I think that was an important programme, but I think there were other programmes. Obviously, briefly when I first got shot by the Israelis, the famous story where we wanted to go with the Al-Fateh guerrillas across the River Jordan, that was the kind of thing that we did in those days because, we did. And it was on my birthday, and at the end of it we floated across the river on a rubber tube at night, and then walked for about four or five kilometres just near the Allenby Bridge, and somebody tripped over a trip wire, and the next minute this flare went up and it was like sunlight, and we all hit the deck. And after about 40 seconds there’s all this tracer fire that’s going around because that’s the only way they know where the bullets are going. I get hit, and I said to John Sheppard, I said, “I’ve been hit.” And he said, “Where?” And I said, “Up the fucking arse.” And you could hear it on the tape. And what it had done, it had gone through the cheeky bit of my bottom, just missed the battery on my shoulder here, and just missed my head. So I never really thought too much about it; it’s just like somebody’s smacked your bottom really hard. But it did come a bit more in focus in my mind and then about four or five days later we’d gone from the Arab side, we’d had to go back to Cyprus to get into Israel, and we’d got a French doctor, and he had to redo the dressing, and he said to me, “You’re a lucky lad!” So I said, “Why?” And he said, “Ooh, a quarter of an inch lower and you’d probably have been paralysed, could have been killed.” So you know, I think I learned a lesson fairly early on. But it’s kind of- it didn’t deter me. Some might say it’s foolhardy. But you got used to going to programmes for like- if you went to Vietnam, I’ve seen landmines, I’ve seen people mutilated. War is horrible. It’s the innocent victims that always suffer the most because it goes on for a long time, particularly with landmines, because they just don’t melt, they stay there, and I’ve seen lots of children with legs blown off and hands blown off, and I don’t like that particularly because I think it’s awful.
I mean I probably worked on about 800 World in Actions out of the 1500 they made, of which I think I can honestly say I did in excess of 600 of them all myself. That doesn’t sounds much over 30 years but you know, it’s kind of 20 every year out of a run of 40. There’d be some programmes where I might only do half. Some I might do just an interview in. But I think it’s fair to say at least 600 where I did it all. So the subjects were huge. We did things about railway disasters, we did things about thalidomide. I think what it did do, and I’ve often said this, I think I know a lot about different subjects, but not too much. So I’m not an authority about the National Health, I’m not an authority on how MPs behave – although most of them badly – erm, it’s just given me a wonderful insight into how the world was been in probably 35 years of my life.
You were talking about filming in war zones and seeing very traumatic events. Did that take an emotional toll on you? Because obviously, it was probably physically tiring during that, but you recover from that, but seeing those kind of things and having to film them?
Well I think that it’s interesting now when you look at the footage, say for example, when Lee Rigby was murdered, those are pretty horrible scenes that were being shown almost as it happened. And the example I would give is when we went to Vietnam in 1970 and we were waiting for some unfortunate people that had been shelled, and the helicopter landed and the paramedics ran out and got them, and there was this young soldier who was making the most awful sounds of pain. And I know this is very gruesome, but he literally had just lost both legs just below the knee, and all I could see was bits of bone sticking out. Now, in those days, you would never have filmed that because people would have been in absolute bad taste. Now, I’ve got the memory of it because I remember it, but you film the faces. You can hear the sounds, that the man’s distressed, and you might see his face as well. Next minute, it’s all happened so quickly, and he’s into the hospital. Or the field hospital. So as I say, I’ve seen people that have been very badly mutilated, in fact, even so much so that they were set on fire and you could smell this horrible smell of burning flesh. [31:16.5] And I think I was kind of- I’ve never had any nightmares with it or anything like that, but I do have some very graphic memories in my mind, of what I’ve been- I think slightly perversely, have actually filmed. Erm, because I think it’s taught me some real good values about life and how you respect life and, er, it’s not done me any harm at all.
Because the majority of the people that you were working with would be journalists, how much do you think you were responsible for the visual decisions about what you were filming? Because I don’t know whether you actually had a director with you or whether-?
Well we do. You have to remember that in the World in Action days we always had a director/producer, and there was nearly always a researcher. World in Action of course didn’t have presenters. It was one of the things that we didn’t have, not until much later on, but in the period that I remember with most fondness, obviously the sound man, the cameraman, an assistant cameraman and assistant sound man, and most of the time an electrician as well.
I mean today, the cameras are much more sensitive, you don’t need lights most of the time, but when I look back into the days we used to take these great big lights and you know you couldn’t move them around so you’d have to say, well we’ll put the lights in here and we’ll come here next, because you couldn’t walk straight in and do it. When I think of the things we had to light to get an image, it was enormous.
But the relationship that was most important to me was that between the director and the producer. And this is the most important thing which is [from today? 32:59]. The only person that saw the footage was the cameraman because it was on film; we didn’t have any monitors. And it the director said to you, “Was that alright?” you had to make that decision, if it’s alright or not. Now the thing with the kind of documentaries that we made in those days, erm, you usually only got one chance at it. Not always, but most of the times you only got one chance.
So you always had to be anticipating. I’m amazed that I actually was able to look through the camera with one eye and I’d be watching with my other eye what’s going on. Because you were only seeing with the eye through the camera what’s there. So you’ve got to be looking, because there might be something happening here, so you think, alright, that’s alright here, so I’ll come to this person over there. So you had to have this sense of what was going on.
I think the programmes with people like Leslie Woodhead and Mike Beckham and John Sheppard, Charles Denton, Pilger and things like that, it was very much a team game, you know. They get you through the gate into the film where the goodies are, and you know, they more or less say, “Off you go!” And they’d watch you and if you hadn’t done- you’ve got the cutaways or- can we do this? But as a general rule, the camera’s on the shoulder, you’ve got really good sound recordists, Alan Bale, Phil Smith, Phil Taylor, they were just great to have around. And it was a team game so when it came back you might come back with 12,000 feet of film, which is about six hours, and you know that’s going to be edited down into 24 minutes and 15 seconds or whatever the length of World in Action was.
Now of course a lot of that footage might have been taken up with interviews. The great Russel Spare used to sit down to do an interview with somebody, and after three or four minutes, if it wasn’t going the way he wanted it to go, he’d stop rather than just keep going on and on because he didn’t want to waste the footage. He’d rather use it on his visuals. Because, you know, if you’re out in Korea, you can’t go along to the local Boots shop and say, “Oh, can I have six rolls of film? Because they just didn’t have it. So we were very conscious that, you know, you mustn’t waste the footage, and you use the footage in way that you’re going to get the overall effect.
And I think that it was very much a team game and I think that the strength that I was lucky to have was, well, first of all I wanted to do World in Action, and I think the people around the team, from the [day …? 35:33] were obviously quite happy to have this quite young person who’d got a ton of energy who didn’t mind where he went. Because he’d do the best job possible. And I suppose as well, there are lots of cameramen out here now all doing great jobs because we’ve now got multi-channel television. Now I always felt that what I was able to do was if somebody said, well you go and do a bit of something about betting, we’ll go down to the racetrack, I knew what to get. I might not be quite in the right place, but I’d get enough material that was good enough. And if we had to go and do something that was about motor racing, I could do motor racing. I did everything, I think, reasonably well, but not exceptionally well.
But I often say, one minute you could be filming an ant down a microscope, and the following, you had to be filming an antelope that was charging across the desert. So the equipment that we had had to be able to cope with that in those days, in the best way you could. Today there’s lots of very specialised equipment out. Nigh sight. Long lenses. Cameras that you can now conceal in your phone. Now we didn’t have that so the equipment that we had had to be able to do an ant or an antelope.
And presumably as well you had to be mindful of the editor. So what you were shooting had to be pretty straightforward.
Well yes it was. It’s not a formula because if you were doing like a demonstration, for example when the coal miners’ strike was on, you were only going to get so close it because the police weren’t going to let you get too close to it because they just didn’t. There was always a bit of cat-and-mouse, that you would try to do it, so you had to be able to think, well they’re going that way so I’ll go this way.
In Toxteth for example, when the Toxteth riots were on in ’81 I’d been asked to go and do it because there’d been a number of local crews there and I think they were exhausted, and David Plowright said to somebody within the film office, “We want George to go to do the Toxteth riots.” So there I am on the night before Charles and Diana got married, jumping around in Toxteth. And it was pretty hairy. Police vans charging around and things being thrown. Anyway, I got a pretty good street, Parliament Street, and there were some nice metal railings, and some traffic light posts, and I thought, I’m safe here. And I just stood there, and it’s going that way, and it’s going that way, and I got everything. Until somebody grabbed my camera off me. But I got it back.
But I’d learned that in Northern Ireland when we were in the Bogside and people were throwing petrol bombs. Well I thought, if I can get halfway between, if you look that way you see the person throwing it, and if you look that way you see where it’s landing. Well, that’s what I did. And they’d go over you. Well it sounds awfully dramatic but I felt really safe. They weren’t throwing them at me. Because if I got near the police they might be throwing them at me. [38:39] But I got the footage that I needed to. So I think at the end of it, I think it’s very much that you were mindful of the editors. You know, cutaways, sequences, holding the camera as still as possible, not being too ambitious sometimes. Let the subject tell the story. I’ve always felt that- it’s slightly different now; we’ve great big televisions now, we can have 50 inch tellies. Most people in those days, you were lucky you had an 18 inch television, you might have a 20 inch television. So it’s a bit like, you want them to see and be engrossed with what you tell them because they’re only seeing it on a slightly small picture. And yeah of course it was great fun to have some fun with the cameras but the pictures that I took had to tell the story. Because that’s what we tried to do.
So moving on to another programme, another really prestigious programme, you moved on to 21 Up and I wondered if you could tell me a little bit about how you came to be involved in that.
Okay. Yes. We’ve obviously just been talking about the World in Action series which I’m obviously very proud to have been involved with for as long as I was; ’66 to 1998 was a long time. Alright, there were a few little diversions off it for different programmes, one of which was the Up series. It started in 1964 and one of the researchers at the time was Michael Apted who I’d actually worked with as a camera assistant when he did a couple of World in Actions, and then after than I worked with him when he did the Dustbinmen series and also Big Breadwinner Hog. So I’d got to know Michael fairly well. In fact, where we are today, he used to live about a quarter of a mile just up here in a little bungalow in 1966. So they did the first programme and then the second programme that was shot in 1970, that’s when I was in Vietnam. So I didn’t get a chance to do that.
Then in ’77 when the Up series came round to 21 Up, I don’t know how it came about but I came to work with Michael, and that’s been a journey that now’s gone all the way and hopefully a bit longer yet. So I’ve been privileged to do six out of the eight. And for all associated with that project, obviously Michael, Claire, and all the participants, there the key people, but the loyalty that is also in the fact that people like Kim Haughton that does the film editing, Nick Steer who’s been on it since he was a boom operator way back on 21, myself, Jackie, my wife, has been involved with it a little bit – it’s like a family get-together every seven years. We expect everybody to be there. We will be there. Although sadly, one of the participants sadly died, Lynn, a couple of years ago, so we’ve lost one of them. And I know now there’s one or two of them have lost their mums and dads. So it’ll be a fairly different programme we make probably in 2018. I’m not wishing my life away, but as long as I can keep walking and looking through a camera, hopefully I’ll be there.
Why do you think it works so well? Because it is one of those must-see programmes, isn’t it? I remember watching it.
I think it’s quite interesting really. It’s had all kinds of accolades given to it: it’s a fly-on-the-wall, it’s a soap, it’s social history, and all those kinds of things. I think it’s just one of those kind of things that are typical of what Granada was about. They’d find a subject, they’d believe in it, and you know, here we are. I can’t even compare it to Coronation Street but I think you can in some ways, in the fact that the people who are in it, some of them don’t want to be in it, but there’s a loyalty now. Because, you know, they’re finishing up with a fantastic programme about their lives that their children will be able to show their children, how granddad and grandma were when they were seven, fourteen, and so on. And they don’t touch politics in any way. I think its’s a collection of images, really, of how people change. [43:26] And their aspects of life: how they do well, how they might not do well. If you take for example Nick from the Yorkshire Dales, you see him trotting down in his wellington boots, sheep and fields and things like that, and he’s gone on to be a professor in America doing all about energy. Well that’s a million miles away from the Yorkshire Dales. But then you could say the little lad that Southport that would have run a bike shop finishes up achieving what he’s done. And I didn’t know my journey would be like that when I started in 1963. But fate for whatever reason has determined that… I’m quite happy with what’s happened.
I read somewhere that for the 56 Up you insisted on using tapes rather than memory cards.
Why did you?
Well, being slightly old-fashioned and a bit of a dinosaur, I have to admit to that. The reason was mainly at that time, we were doing it on HD, the memory cards had been out for a while, but the Up series has always had this big history file of all the films and the tape somewhere stored away in boxes. And I kind of felt, and I think Michael did as well, bearing in mind that this is 2011, that it would be very easy to lose a little memory card, but it’s very difficult to lose a big box that’s got lots of tapes in. And I think at the time it was the right decision and I kind of stick by it.
What we’ll do it on in 2018 might be completely different. Well, it will be. It will be on a memory card. Because I’ve already used the memory cards now. But it doesn’t feel right that there’s no sound. The cameras are not actually that much smaller but they’re certainly better. I’ve just been recently using a camera made by [Sony? 0:45:21] and it’s about £4,500 and it does things now that a camera that cost £70,000 in 2011 would make look like a Model T Ford. It’s just amazing how technology’s moving along. I just wanted it that we’d got all those boxes somewhere in ITV with 108 tapes in or however many we shot.
Okay. You’ve touched on something that I wanted to ask about here. I wondered how the changes in technology have affected your role. Has it made it easier?
I think it’s a journey that’s taken place over very nearly fifty years. So when I embarked, and talking about cameras that weighed over 42 lb and were powered by 12 volt car batteries and things like that, and you know, now you can have a mobile phone that can do better then what we were able to do 50 years ago, yes. But the Model T Ford car bears no resemblance to the Mini that you buy today. So that’s progress. I think I’m very privileged in that I’ve actually seen that transition because I think we briefly talked about the days when there was the huge trust between directors and producers and you know to have gone through all of that and learned how to do that, so that when you know you’ve only got one change to get it you can say to the director it’s alright, it’s fine.
Today, it’s fantastic all the modern equipment you’ve got around. And I love using most of it. Some of it I don’t quite understand but that’s because I don’t use it enough. Gone are the days now where you would have tripods that would have just a slider on and you would just move the camera like that so you would get this effect, and you’ve now got stills cameras where you can get this minimum depth of focus so you get the background out of focus. Well before we used to have to go half a mile across the park with a very long telephoto lens to get the same effect, but now you can do it in my living room.
So it’s allowed cameramen and directors and all those behind the scenes, colourists, to mess around and change and things like that. It’s a much bigger problem to solve today how you’re going to do it. Yeah, it’s great, and I feel privileged to have gone from that very heavy equipment to something now that just does it better.
But presumably some of the direct effects of that change is that the size of the crew has reduced.
Yes. I mean I think that the size of the crew has changed and I think it would have happened anyway because it does, that’s part of the evolution, if you look back now, we could do things- Things are filmed slightly differently today than how we did them, you know, with the radio mics, when we first got radio mics one of the things that we would first often do was, if I was doing something, he’d get into a corner. Because the cameras were fairly big, people tend to play up to the cameras, and they get more playing up now because the cameras tend to be in their faces. They’re not actors or actresses and they become a bit conscious of it, and they sometimes do some very silly things which they probably will regret. I always felt that one was of the things we tried to do, was to capture things as naturally as possible. So if you get back over there, and like I was saying, you look with one eye through the lens but with the other eye you’re looking at something else. Well I’d be looking and think, well that looks interesting, right. So that’s the slight difference with that.
And just the equipment we’ve got around now. We’ve got cameras now where you can actually see the images. The cameras when we first used them we didn’t have reflect lenses and Dave, bless him, when we wanted to go in for a shot he’d say to me, “Have you got the focus on that television?” And I’d say, “Yes.” “Are you sure?” “Yes.”
Well I’d had to get used to sort of judging, because you couldn’t go out with a tape measure, and to say, oh, that’s 9’ 6” away. And I’d set the lens on 9’ 6”. And you got used to always kind of thinking, oh, that’s 9’ 3”. And we used to laugh about it. We’d sometimes be in a restaurant and Dave would say to me, “How far’s that door away?” And I’d say, “12 foot.” Right, so you had to do it quickly. So I couldn’t think, is it 11 foot? No, is it 14? You’d have to make a decision, so you’d always be testing yourself to do it.
And even cameras when they started to become reflex, and the way the optics would work, in theory, a lot of the time you could check the focus, but there’s nothing worse than if you zoom in and it goes out of focus. Well I got used to learning where, when you put your hand on the focus ring, you know, if you grabbed it there and you knew it was on infinity, and you did that much it was 20 foot away, and if you did that it was 12 foot away, and that was 10 foot away. So you’d be thinking, well that person’s 10 foot away, so get it to there. So then when you’d zoom in, if you wanted to change the shot, most of the times, not always- You don’t need to do that now, you can put it on auto-focus. [50:33] It’ll do it all the time for you if you want to. So it’s changed.
You talked about how early on in your career you did some dramas but you did inevitably mainly do documentaries, and I wondered if that was a conscious choice, or whether you wished you’d done more dramas. Or did you just like the buzz of it?
It was a bit of both really. In the seventies World in Action tended to do about forty weeks of the year so usually around about July to September there was a period where it would be off the air. So I was asked to do a number of dramas. I did a number of episodes of Family at War, Brian Armstrong did a series in southern Ireland called The Sinners, so I went to Bantry Bay and Cork, and I do have the distinction of doing the all on the film episode of Coronation Street for the jubilee street party in 1977. And that was more or less, as far as proper drama was concerned, the last I did. There was obviously, World in Action did a lot of drama reconstructions. Who Bombed Birmingham? Things like that. We’d get actors to portray sequences about what had been happening, particularly about Birmingham. But other things, we did things about asbestos, we did a thing about Mrs Thatcher and the cabinet one time. So it was always on the fringe of drama. And I could have done it but I think at the time Granada had three or four very good drama cameramen and I think it was only fair to people like David Woods, Ken Morgan, Ray Goode and the likes; that’s what they wanted to do and they would get more job satisfaction. And I was just happy to have the variety in my life, not knowing what we’d be doing one week after the next. So yeah, I mean I was left to do it really.
You talked a little bit before about David Plowright asking for you to film and being supportive. I wondered what your relationship was with Plowright or the Bernsteins and Forman or were they people that you never saw?
Well, no no no. I mean I didn’t really have much conversation with Sidney or Cecil. There was one time in the warehouse when I was introduced to Sidney. And Sir Denis was there. David of course I got to know moderately well. I mean he knew more of me than I probably did about him. But that’s only because of course in my early days he was actually the editor of World in Action. And like Denis, these were people at the top of the company that even in the position I was in, I always thought these were good people to work for, and it think that’s why a lot of people stayed with Granada for such a long time. The figureheads at the top, you could respect them. Some people might have a different view, but when I think about most people I knew that were there, you either were there for three or four years or you stayed there for 30 years. And that could be various reasons. Job satisfaction, which is quite important. People need the money. Their family’s there. Schools. There’s lots of reasons why people stayed there. But you know it was a very secure business to be in, because once you got a job in television it more or less was for life. That’s how it was in those days. Today if you get a long term contract for three weeks you think you’ve done well. Zero contracts doesn’t help. And we’ve got some more problems but I’m not going to go into that.
Why do you think they were good people? What was it about them?
Well I think Sir Denis, obviously what he did during the war, he was involved with the Film Units and all that lot. I think they were very visionary people. So for example in my career, today if you said to somebody, “Oh, by the way, you’re going to let somebody do the World in Action programme,” if it still existed, “and he’s 24 years of age and he’s done a bit of drama, he’s done a bit of news, and he’s only been there six years”, it’s pretty dramatic. But that’s what they did. So if you could prove you could do it, they’d push you. So you want to be pushed. It’s a bit like an athlete. You can run the minute mile but we’ll try to do it in fifty seconds. And that’s what we did.
As I’ve said, if I didn’t understand something I’d ask, and I worked with some very good cameramen, as an assistant particularly. I probably worked with seven or eight people. One or two people had actually shot feature films. So there was one guy I worked with called Adrian Consoli[?] and he lit beautifully with the kind of lights we had. Wouldn’t cope today because it would be too slow. But when you saw the care he took. I thought, I like the way he does that. And various other people that I worked with, Mike Dodds, and the likes. So I would think, I like how he works. Norman Langley, I worked with him quite a lot. He’s still alive, Norman. He was very good at hand-held camera. We did a sequence when film would last for ten minutes and he did a thing about sales in Kendall Mills and the idea was that literally the camera, as it opened, he’d follow somebody and he’d go to the perfume counter, and he’d do this then get a natural move and he’d take you to the lift, so the camera just kept on the move. He had rubber legs. You know about Tyler mounts and camera mounts, and somehow it was just perfectly smooth. I think he had double joints or something. So I thought, well I like the way he does that. But it was how he held the camera. And he just had this vision. But I liked the way that Norman did that, and Adrian, how he lit, and David Woods was a great influence on me as well. He was very calm, nothing would have excited David at all. But his end product was what you’d get, so it was perfect. So I think I learned from a lot of very good people who I trusted and valued.
But I think the thing about people like Plowright and Sir Denis, was you’d see them in the canteen and you could be stood in front of them or behind them and they’d be having mash and roast from Irma; they weren’t necessarily up in their ivory towers. [57:12] Maybe there were times when they had to have meetings but you could bet your life that sometime around 1:30 you’d see them in the canteen. They weren’t there at 12 o’clock waiting for it to open but they’d be there. So I think it’s a bit like on a ship. If you see the captain and he’s down with the men, then you feel as though it’s all working well together. And those two people definitely were able to do that.
And how important was it, particularly for you because you’d be away filming for quite a long time, was the kind of social side of it? So it wasn’t necessarily just a job, it was more, you know..?
Alan Bale and people like that, I think we spent more time together than we did with our families. Because it’s eight, nine, ten hours working. Socialising, whatever we were doing. So you could have 14 or 15 hours a day for a month. You don’t spend that with your family. So that in itself is something that you have to kind of live with, which isn’t particularly easy. But it was slightly different in the fact that by the time we got into the seventies or eighties, I could maybe have three or four weeks off in the summer so you could hopefully build a few more bridges that had been knocked down. It got a bit more difficult after that when they wouldn’t let you have more than two weeks off, which was a bit infuriating when you’d given up so many weekends. I mean I’m not a particularly religious person at all, but I always felt that Sunday is particularly sacrosanct, and still do. And I don’t like some of the things that take place on Sundays today. [58:51] I think it’s just made the whole world 24/7, which I think is not particularly good.
I know we said we didn’t really want to get into the 1990s but I wondered if you could just say, when was it that you could pinpoint that Granada started to change, and what were the signs?
You have to look at what was happening with the whole of television. People have different views on this, but Granada had been constantly growing. We’d had no film units in 1964. It was growing from 1956, but when I first got involved with it in 1963-64 we had no film units at all. We certainly progressed, and by the time we got into the mid eighties we almost for sure had four news crews which would be covering Liverpool, Lancaster and wherever it is. There were at least five or six drama crews, with a mixture of documentaries, we had a personnel of about 43-44 people and all specialised in either drama, news or whatever it is. And that had done really very well. There were lots of young people that have gone on to do lots of really good work since then, David Odd, Johnny[?] Prescott who used to be an electrician, he’s done some amazing drama. And they all came in when this growth period was taking place in the seventies and into the eighties. [1:00:26]
And then we go into video, and when I look back at the kind of video cameras we had in the late seventies they were still horribly big bulky things. But you know, the evolution’s taken place, it got smaller and smaller. So by the time you got into the nineties, you could go along to somewhere like Dixons and buy a video camera for sort of £300. A Granada executive was once heard to say, “Why are we spending £36,000 on a video camera when I can go buy one at Dixons for £300?” Well, it’s very difficult to argue with a man that has that perception. That anybody can be a cameraman because you can go any buy one from Dixons.
And I think it’s a discussion we’ve all seen had taken place, that, yes, there’s one or two cameramen who’ve done very well in the last few years, but the real concern I think I have, is that I was, you could say lucky. You could say there could be some people out here who may have the same kind of luck, but there’s very few people who are working in television today who will be lucky enough to say that they’ve been able to have fifty years in this industry. Because I don’t think they will. I think they’ll get burnout. I think they’ll get boredom. I think there just aren’t the same opportunities because you don’t have proper companies out there now. You can form a company to make a programme. You can make 12 programmes and you’re gone. [1:01:57] I watch credits quite a lot on programmes. My name cropped up some might say far too many times. But you don’t seem to see it as much.
Presumably you were always very proud of the programmes that you were associated with.
Yeah. I was very critical of my own work.
But in terms of the content and of the…
Yeah, it was. Somewhere in this house, god bless my mum, she’s got cuttings that were in the TV Times, where we’d made a programme about Olga Korbut or whatever, and of course we all like to see our names on the end of a programme that you’ve just spent the last three weeks of your life doing. Trouble is, there’s that many credits on now you can’t read them, they’re gone that damn quick. But no, it’s a different time. I always think that it was just some kind of formal recognition. People used to say, well how important are credits? Well actually in those days they were quite important because there weren’t that many cameramen or sound recordists, directors or editors out there, and it was a way that you could think, well if you do move, say to LWT, you can say to somebody, “Oh, by the way, I worked on…” whatever series it was. “Here’s a list of my credits.” And people could say, “Oh, yes, I’ve seen that name.” I don’t think it has quite the same impact today.
You started your career at Mancunian Films. How important do you think it was that Granada was based in Manchester? Could Granada have happened somewhere else, or was there something about Manchester’?
I think it’s well-known that the Bernsteins were looking to have a television station in the north of England. I know for a fact they looked in Liverpool as well as in Manchester. And in fact they looked in Manchester out towards the Toast Rack site, but think it’s been documented that they realised, the Bernsteins, that they were going to have it in the North West because basically it rained and that meant that people would be inside, and what will they do inside? Well, they’ll have a television! So I think it was his perception that it was a good area for him to go, rather than going to the Yorkshire Dales where the only people who’d watch it would be sheep if they could come inside. And that was his choice. And I think at the time it had fairly good access, I mean, steam train taking about four hours, I suppose that’s fairly good, and there was an airport. Because they have the little Dove plane to do that. I think it was just basically that he felt that it was the right place to be, Manchester. Because of [Oldham’s? 1:04:36] you know, there were lots of houses around, big population.
Presumably places like Mancunian Films had skills.
Mancunian Films had been making films in the North West from in the thirties. They’d made them actually down in London as well. [1:04:57] I mentioned briefly the very early George Formby films, Frank Randle, I think Dianna Dors had one of her early films up here. They had these studios in Dickinson Road which I was talking about. So they were very much here. There’s lots been thought about whether Mancunian- because Sir Denis and the Bernsteins had known each other after the war, there’s a possibility, I’ve no idea- Mike Blakeley who’s the son of John and Tom Blakeley, Mancunian people, I don’t think Mike knows- but we weren’t particularly challenged really. I think it was just they happened to be in Manchester. They were prepared to buy this Oricon[?] camera and they put their head above the parapet. And that’s what we did.
You’ve been recognised by BAFTA and you’re a fellow of the RTS. I wondered, what does that mean to you, that kind of recognition by your peers?
Special. Um… I think, upon reflection some years later, the BAFTA for one of the Up programmes, when it was presented to me, it was presented to me by Michael Parkinson. Michael had worked for Granada in the sixties and in fact I did quite a lot of work with him all around, in Ireland, in Yorkshire, and even in Manchester. In fact, he nicknamed me Garth because we used to have this bloody great big battery and things and I used to have to carry them. And we talked about the microphone down the trouser leg, and so you’d do backwards walks for a piece to camera, so why my arms aren’t where my feet are, I don’t know, but anyway. So he nicknamed me Garth. And when they were reading it all out, and there were four other people, he opened the envelope and he just went, “Hmm.” And I knew at that moment I’d won. And it was a fantastic experience. I suppose that’s part of how I am. So it meant something very special to me to be recognised because I never thought anything like that would happen.
The fellowship for the RTS, in a different way, is also very special. Because I had no idea at all about that. I didn’t know that I’d been nominated for that, for the RTS one. And I just got an envelope, which again, however that’s come about, is extremely special. Because I’ve done some research since, and there’s a lot of very well-known names that have bene awarded the RTS fellowship, that have been in charge of television stations [and presenters? 1:08:22] and all those kinds of things. And there’s little old humble me, a little lad from Southport. So it’s very special. And I’ve got one each: one for my son and one for my daughter.
JJ: That was the end of my questions. I don’t know if there’s anything, Steve, that you…?
Stephen Kelly: Was it inhibiting filming with a crew of 8-10 people? Because there’d be, what, two cameras…?
Well, it would and wouldn’t be. There was a number of things. First of all obviously not everybody would always be in the room, because as an assistant I spent many an hour outside just loading the magazines. And obviously once you started with things like radio mics that worked, you still had to have – I’m going back to the film days – you’d have a camera, you still had to put a clapper board on, although that got better when we just had a device that you could put on and it’d be a bit like Hollywood, you’d do it a bit more discreetly than that, but that was only because again you didn’t want to disrupt what was happening. Suddenly putting a clapper board in when somebody was talking, when you could just have a quick bip. It was quick because you didn’t have to say, “Slate 276 – take one.” Too much like Hollywood. So things did change.
There were lots of programmes, when we were talking about going to South Africa, and actually when I went to Vietnam for the first time a camera assistant came, Mike Thompson. Because you need somebody to load the magazines, you know, you can’t suddenly stop after ten minutes and say, oh, by the way, I’m going to spend three minutes putting in another magazine. You wanted to keep going. And I suppose tape really brought it down, that you could get crews down to three people.
And I’ve always felt, and even today, I like to have an electrician around me. And hopefully it’ll still be the case when we do it next time. Because you can keep continuous filming going if you need to. Wet weather is another example. You’ve got to try and produce the very best image you possibly can with the equipment you’ve got and the time you’ve got. And I still believe that with something well lit, not like Hollywood and not like a feature film, just how it should be, naturally, you can achieve it. So when I sit and see you sitting here today, I could film you very well. Great picture, nice light. But if I tried to do a two shot, there’s no light on your face. But there’s some nice light on your face. So I’d want to replicate what’s on your face naturally onto your face. Now that sounds a bit old fashioned, but I’m also a perfectionist, because what I’m seeing here this moment isn’t right. But with an electrician, I can make it right. Or I can put you over there. But actually you look more relaxed there. If I put you over there you won’t sit like you are now, because I’ve changed how you want to be. I like to try and capture people in as natural a position as possible.
SK: Tell me about the relationship between the camera person and the producer/director.
Very important. Most of the producers I ever worked with I’ve always – again, it’s a story I’ve mentioned a few times, but not today – when you meet a producer at Los Angeles airport, he’s maybe been over there for two weeks, he’s done all the research, and he says, “Right, we’re off tomorrow morning, 6:30. We’re out with the LAPD police force.” Now what I used to say to them was, “You tell me in two minutes what we’re going to try and achieve.” Because I need to have some feedback what the story’s about. So if he tells me we’re going to be out at midnight and we’re going to be filming drunks, and there might be people trying to stab you, and you’re going to be in the back of a police car, I like to hear all that, so it’s not a shock to me when I turn up the following morning, I’m in the back of a police car. I always wanted to know as quickly as possible the key seven or eight things that that programme was going to do. I always, and even to this day, I just didn’t want to perceive that this was a job where you take some nice pictures, and at the end the programme’s going to be alright. I wanted to get something from it and I liked to feel that I was involved with it.
And I can think of a number of times that just understanding the subject- when we did a thing about Kevin Donnellan, the thalidomide young boy in Liverpool, when we met them, and they were in Bootle, in a little bungalow, and suddenly you’ve got this little boy and he’s scuffling round on his feet. I’d never seen a thalidomide child before. I almost instantly thought, almost everything I’m going to do is down at his level. So forget the tripod. I’m on the floor. And if you look at the programme, everything I did with him was always at his height. And some people said, “Why did you do that?” [1:13:33] And I said, “Well, I just made that decision.” Because it didn’t seem right. I wasn’t as big then as I am now, but I just had to come down to his level.
So I’ve always felt that if you can get yourself understanding the story as best you can, you might not get it always right, but certainly for me, it gave me the job satisfaction, that I think I did more than just think, oh well it’s nicely framed and all of that. I understood the subject a bit better than I did when I first started it. And actually I think some ways you get more out of it because you might film great long interviews, some of which you know are never going to make the screen, for various reasons, one of which is they just aren’t good interviewees, probably like me. But also the subject moves on. So you do it as a bit of research. Then there’s something else comes out that’s better, so that goes in the bin.
But I think when I look back at some of the stories, and I think of all the things that I’ve seen, when you see it edited down to 24 minutes and 15 seconds, you think yeah, well they chose the best bits to tell that story, whether it be oil fires in Kuwait or what Saddam Hussain was doing, or whatever it is. Because you can’t get all of it in. You’ve got to make certain it’s the very best bits that tell the story that the producer wants to tell.
JJ: Thank you very much. Is there anything you want to add that you feel we’ve not touched on?
I always remember we did a story in Eccles, and it was about literacy and numeracy. The director had said to us – and I’m trying to think of his name – he said, “What I want you to do is, we’re all going to go in the room and the lady will want to make you a cup of tea. So we’ll all sit and have a cup of tea. And wherever she sits, we’re going to do the interview.” So I said, “Fine, no problem.” I wish I could think of his name. It will come to me about three o’clock in the morning. So we sit there and we have a cup of tea, and Alan and myself go and get the equipment. So we nip out. Alan gets the [na..? 0:00:45], I get the camera. And I sit on my knee like that, and Alan’s there with the microphone. And he starts to do the interview about the problems she was having with literacy and numeracy. And it was fantastic. She didn’t even know she was being filmed. We didn’t need to put any lights up. All done nice and quietly. Then at the end of it, she sort of said, “Right, I’ll do the interview now.” And he said, “No, we’ve done it.” “Oh! That’s good!” Because of course she didn’t feel that she’d been put under and duress at all, and had just given a really natural interview. And that’s what we have always tried to do. And I think that if I can just capture it in as natural a way as I can, within the constraints of what we’re doing, it suits me down to the ground.
SK: Did you ever feel that we were exploiting people?
Well it depends who they were. Some of them probably deserved to be exploited, I would say! [laughs] No, I mean I think at the end of if you’ve got two ways to look at it. You’ve got obviously the professional people like politicians and things like that, they can talk for blooming Britain, the problem is sorting out what is correct and what’s not. Because if you think, they can talk in two minutes, they’ll talk for two minutes but they could equally talk for ten minutes, and that’s a difference. It’s when you get people who’ve agreed to do the interview, I think you’ve got to do it as professionally as you possibly can.
Exploitation, though, is something slightly different as well. I particularly didn’t like when you would go to somebody’s house and they’d decide that they don’t like the settee there, they want it over there, and you think, that lady’s spent all day cleaning the room, whatever it, is, next minute you move the settee and there’s the kids’ toys or whatever it is behind and it’s not been dusted. They immediately are on their guard because they don’t know what you are going to do next. Right, because they don’t. And that’s when you, I think, you’ve exploited people, in a way that upsets them, and then they don’t do as good as you’d hope they’d do. And I saw that countless times. More so actually with video than with film. And I can think of one particular case where we took somebody’s settee into the hallway. Well that’s not right. If you can’t do it where the settee is, you should just give up. But they wanted it because the walls were dark. Well, for goodness sake. It’s television. It’s what’s being said. Nobody’s bloody interested in the bloody walls.
It’s a true story, that.