Gordon Burns’ special memories of Tony Wilson

I only did Granada Reports, it was about a year and a half when they changed it, they changed every year – they changed the producer, they changed the music, they changed the set – as new guys, thrusting new guys came in to take over, and they decided to go with a single presenter in a strange cockpit situation, where they had a cockpit in the centre with a presenter set, then they had a snake-like desk behind it where the various reporters – or co-presenters, if you like, who didn’t actually present – sat, doing their own special things, and in fact it was recreated in the movie of Tony Wilson’s 24 Hour Party People, that whole set was actually recreated, as Tony Wilson worked for us in those days.

I don’t know what you know about Tony, he was… he became a very close mate of mine at the time, and my family, but he was a brilliant film-maker, and I think they lost a bit of a trick with Tony personally. Tony was obsessed with being a presenter, but his actual forte was making films, and he was the sort of main reporter on Granada Reports when I joined, this new young lad, full of ideas, completely of the wall at times, so much energy, very intellectual – I think he was a Cambridge first – but quite mad as well, he had to be channelled carefully, and I think Granada were a bit worried about giving him presenting roles in politics and things, because they didn’t totally trust what he might say and do. But every night he went out, every night it was the news reporting, e went out and he made a film, and when he came back nobody had a clue what he was doing with it, because he had it in his head, so he used to come back, get the film developed –in those days, down the road, you had to get it developed and back again – and into film editing with an editor, with Tony just barking instructions at him: “Cut this out, take that out, put this out, hang up all these bits… right, put A and C together…” and he just directed the whole thing and left the gaps for commentary, and then nobody… he was always late to the studio, he came flying down to the studio with his piece in place, the director got some basic script with blanks in it, and sort of timings when it would be, but Tony would say, “Don’t worry about any of that, I’ll give you cues.”

And he would sit in his seat in the studio, they would run the film, and he would do all his voiceovers live in the gaps he’d left by waving a finger so they knew he was going to speak, then he would do it until it came out, and then back into the film for something, then to his voiceover, he would throw his finger up in the air again so they knew he was going to speak, and it was just the most car-crash television, but it worked – and his films were brilliant, every single one of them had a great idea of how to present a boring story and make it interesting. And he was phenomenally good, and I always felt that they should have, in the end, seen that in him and pulled him out and said, “You are a modern Alan Whicker – go and make half-hour films.” And I think he would have been absolutely brilliant at that – and obviously he did brilliantly anyway with what he did choose to do. He was a lovely guy, and, well, lost too soon. I think I did the last ever interview with him when I was presenting North West Tonight, and he came in, it was just eight weeks when he died, and it was just very moving and very sad. But a lovely guy, and a great asset to Granada.


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