In memory of Gordon MacGregor
By Lawrence Jones
After attending a film course at Guildford College, Gordon moved back to his home town of Manchester in 1979, and joined Granada Television, and specifically the Film Unit. He was 22 years old. Gordon was one of an intake of four assistant film cameramen at that period with the others being Howard Summers, Tony Caldwell and Lawrence Jones.
At this time, any television production, however large or small, produced outside of the confines of the four studios at Granada’s Quay Street base, was shot on 16 mm film. So the members of the Film Unit (both Sound and Camera) and operating out of a couple of lowly portakabins in a corner of the Quay Street car park, got to work on an amazing spectrum of television programmes.
The Film Unit supplied content to every department at GTV including, Drama single “plays” or Drama Series, Documentary Films (long and short form), Current Affairs including the flag ship show World in Action, Local Programmes, Education, Children’s Television, Arts programming including This England and Celebration, Entertainment and News-gathering. Even exterior Coronation Street scenes that were beyond the confines of Studio 6 were shot on film.
Gordon and the other assistant cameramen were immersed in this hectic world of film camera assisting, and importantly, learning from some of the truly talented cameramen employed in the Film Unit at this time…Ray Goode, George Turner, Mike Thompson, Mike Popley, Mike Blakeley and David Odd as well as the occasional freelance cameraman. The assistants at this time rotated with these different cameramen on all of the productions mentioned above, and were on a sort of unofficial ‘apprenticeship’, absorbing the many different styles and techniques of the cameraman that they were assigned to.
The assistant’s role was to look after the camera kit and lenses, including loading and supplying film magazines and battery power (a magazine held only 10 minutes of 16 mm film, a 12 volt battery would run 4 or 5 magazines) leaving the cameramen to concentrate on what was happening through the eyepiece. Depending on the production, a crew could be filming locally in Salford, or shooting in an exotic location on the other side of the world.
The usual career progression through the Film Unit on the drama route was assistant/clapper loader to Focus Puller ( a much misunderstood exacting role, even today!) onto Camera Operator and finally HOD Lighting Cameraman (Director of Photography). The twin non-Drama route was Assistant Camera, 2nd Camera Operator and onto fully fledged Cameraman (this Grade was called Exterior Cameraman, filming on all genres apart from Drama). Gordon was very popular and proved his worth moving through these grades and working as a camera operator on many of Granada’s most prestigious output.
The Camera Operator’s role is vital in a collaborative effort to bring the director’s vision to the screen. This skill, pressure and responsibility, in the days before video assist when only the operator could see what was being recorded on film, was the main requirement of the job. Gordon loved this challenge and was a very accomplished camera operator – directors and DoPs felt safe in his hands.
As a cameraman it was a great honour to be asked to film for the acclaimed documentary series Disappearing World. In 1988 Gordon filmed with Producer/Director John Blake for the film ‘Across the Tracks’ on the Vlach Gypsies of Hungary, for this award-winning series.
Gordon had attained the grade of exterior cameraman, but because of the changing nature of the industry and Granada Television in the late 90s and the introduction of the policy of ‘Producer Choice’, many of the more prestigious productions were outsourced to freelance cameramen and with their own choice of crew. The Granada Film Unit was somewhat left to “wither on the vine”, and one by one many of the cameramen and sound teams left Granada to join the freelance world.
Gordon followed his former colleagues and left Granada in 2001. He continued to pursue work as a Freelance DoP, on a variety of programmes including Mersey Beat, On the Out, Barking, The Jealous God, Casualty and Waterloo Road.
In more recent years, Gordon turned his hand to stills photography and cataloguing the works of various museums.
Gordon had recently married his long-term partner, Laurie. He also leaves a sister, Pauline.
Some of the many and varied productions that Gordon worked on at Granada included:
Focus Puller, December Flower. 1984
Camera Operator, Return of Sherlock Holmes. 2 x Eps 1988
Camera Operator, Who Bombed Birmingham. Single Drama 1990
Camera Operator, Cluedo. 1990
Camera Operator, Medics. 4 eps 1992
Camera Operator, Hostages. 1992
Camera Operator, Case Book of Sherlock Holmes. 2 eps. 1991 -1993
Camera Operator, Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes. 2 eps 1994
Camera Operator, Trial of Lord Lucan. Single. 1994
Camera Operator, Cater Street Hangman. 1998
Gordon also worked as Cameraman on 4 episodes of the Granada Drama series The Grand and one episode of The Last Train.