Ian Hunton

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 18 February 2014.

Let’s start from when you joined Granada, Ian. Tell us about how you came to join Granada and when you joined.

I did a degree in electrical engineering and electronics at Newcastle University. I was on a scholarship with a company called AEI (Associated Electrical Instruments) and I did what was called a ‘thick sandwich course’. I worked with AEI in Trafford Park for twelve months and then did a standard degree, but they gave me an extra bursary while I was at college, which was very nice. It was only £100 a year, but then that was a lot of money.

Afterwards, I didn’t have to look for a job because they guaranteed me one. They sent me round all the departments until I found a place where I wanted to be.

Eventually, I joined another associated company called Salford Electrical Instruments, as an electronics designer. I was designing gear for American military helicopters. I did that for about twelve months, and it slowly dawned on me that this was not what I wanted to do: sitting at a bench all day, designing and making and testing and so on. And the pay wasn’t that good.

It was serendipity: I was reading a magazine called Wireless World – which doesn’t exist anymore – and I just happened to open it at the adverts at the back, and there it said, ‘Granada Television is looking for trainee audio engineers’. I’d always been interested in high fidelity; in fact, I’d written my dissertation at university on high fidelity.

So I applied, got an interview and then got through to a second interview. They said to me, ‘Why are you applying to be an audio engineer? Why not a video engineer, because that’s much more complicated, much more interesting?’. So I said, ‘OK, I’ll be a video engineer’, and they offered me a job as a trainee video engineer.

In those days, they had a wonderful training scheme. They knew that people like me, who came in with a degree in electronics, would know nothing about television, or very little about television. For nine months, they put you through every department in the building, including make-up, wardrobe and set design. You would only get a week perhaps, but at least you knew how it fitted in to the overall picture of television. Obviously, most of the time was spent in studios in VTR, telecine(?) and outside broadcast and things like that. I have to say, in that nine months as a trainee they paid me £400 a year more than I was earning as a professional designer. Within twelve months, I’d more than doubled my income. This was 1969-70.

Did they have those good training schemes for technical staff, because they never seemed to have them for production staff like me?

I think you were supposed to know what you were doing! You were creative; you were making it up as you went along!

On the seventh floor, they had a training officer and an office that was divided into booths. They had these training machines then, which were microfilm. The training officer had written programmes about the technical aspects like lighting and lenses, and general theory about TV – colour didn’t exist then – and you were expected to do each module and pass each module. You were given a test. When you’d got a spare few minutes, you went up to the training room, pulled out a module and sat and learned it. It was fantastic. So from knowing very little about television, I got a really good grounding in the technical aspects – lighting, portrait lighting and all that kind of stuff. At the end of nine months, they delegated you to somewhere they wanted an engineer – albeit a very junior one.

I worked mainly in studios: maintenance, videotape, telecine, outside broadcast, radio links – getting the signals from outside broadcast in – and then ended up in a videotape department.

There were so many promotions that they started running out of titles. I was a Senior Supervisor Plus, which is a silly title! They should have called us commandants or something!

They had a new machine called an ACL25. It used two-inch wide tape, and they had quite sturdy cassettes of it that would hold no more than six minutes of tape. So you could never get anything more than six minutes onto them. One programme that it did go on was This is Your Right. We used to record that onto six-minute cassettes. The idea was that you had your promotions, all your commercials, and indeed small, short programmes like This is Your Right, on these cassettes.

This machine – even though it was called an ACL25 – had room for just 24 cassettes. We think, perhaps, that they were designing a 25 and realised they couldn’t do it. The machine was very technically advanced, in that you could program it. There were no microprocessors then. It was all individual transistors and integrated circuits. You could program it to play any of the contents of the 24 bins in any order you liked. So you could put your cassettes in, and every commercial break you’d pre-program how you wanted your commercials and your promotions to be transmitted. The beauty of it was that you could change the order in seconds by programming it. Every break, we were cued by the central control room, and the machine transmitted one after the other of perhaps six or seven cassettes’ worth.

It had two vertical tape recorders and operated on vacuum – it made a hell of a noise when it was going. And that was great; it worked really well until the moment it didn’t work very well. Then you, as the engineer, had to sort it out, because we were losing £60,000 a minute at that time. It was a colossal amount of money. Every commercial you lost was tens of thousands of pounds lost. So we had to practice getting these machines back on and trying to recover some of the commercials. The beauty was, if they lost a commercial, they could perhaps get it into the next commercial break, because they were so easy to program. They’d drop a promotion to get a thirty-second promotion in, or something like that.

There were four of us who ran the department – we had engineers with us as well – and I did that for about ten years.

You didn’t do any film editing, though?

No, I never did film editing. All the editing then was called ‘online editing’. It was traditional. Because the online editing suite was so complicated – with videotape machines and the mixers – it was generally accepted that the people who got those jobs were ex-engineers. I decided after I’d had eighteen years doing the engineering bit that I’d like to go and do something on the production side.

I’d already applied a couple of years before, when the job of lighting director came up. I got down to the last four, so I nearly got that one – I’m glad I didn’t – and then I applied for and got an editor’s job. It was online editing; it means that you edit in a linear fashion. Your pictures are on any one of four machines. You can combine them through a mixer and then you record them on a fifth machine. So you’re adding to the recorded, edited tape bit-by-bit, which is great – except if the producer-director says, ‘Will you drop this shot in here, ten minutes ago?’ You can’t do it without dropping down a generation of video, which in those days was fairly serious, because you could actually see the difference.

When DigiBetas came in – the digital machines – you could do it and not see the difference, but, of course, it was time consuming. These days all you do is just press a button and it drops in. Then, you had to actually start another tape, run the tape to where you want the bit to go in, run the bit in, and then run the rest. It was linear editing.

Eventually, with PCs and Macs becoming more powerful – Macs especially – you could put your video onto a computer and store it in the computer. Storage was still expensive. The hard drives were still expensive and you couldn’t get much on them. Nowadays, we take a terabyte of information as standard on a little disk, but then you couldn’t. They used to have stacks of disks. But they realised that Macs or computers could actually do the video editing in a non-linear fashion, so that you could go back, insert stuff or cut stuff out without affecting the quality at all. But the programme you played out at the end was not broadcast quality, because they just didn’t have enough memory. Of course, as memory got better and better, they became broadcast quality.

What they used to do was edit a programme – and generally it was the film editors who took over the offline editing – and they produced EDLs, which were edit decision lists. It was actually a list of the pictures – using time code so they were accurate to a frame – and how they were assembled on the final product. Then they’d bring those into linear editing and we could then take that disk and assemble the programme, but using the original material so that it was the highest quality possible. They also used us to put titles on, closing credits and any effects that they wanted. By that time we could fly pictures and things like that. So all that was done in online editing.

Was it a very creative process?

It could be. If you were working with local programmes and things like that, they would come in with a box of tapes and ideas of what they wanted to do, and we’d edit. And that would be proper editing. But it was still linear editing. Once you’d made your mind up, by and large you didn’t go back and change your mind, because you knew it was going to take time. But, yeah, that was great. That was the bit I used to enjoy the most: when they’d come in and say, ‘These are the ideas I’ve got. I’m going off now, you sort it out.’ That was fabulous.

All of us did offline editing and the PC editing as well. I did several Coronation Streets, I did a gardening programme with Arthur Taylor called Surprise Gardeners. I remember that; that was the first series I did on a Mac. That was my first experience of doing it, and that was great, obviously, because that’s when the creative juices start flowing.

So what other kind of programmes would you have worked on?

World in Action was a regular visitor, once a week. They would come in on Sunday morning.

Once it had left film?

Once it had left film. It would be on various tapes. They had their own offline editors. We’d get a box of tapes and a little edit decision list for the computer. The first part was always the easiest, which was just assembling the programme. But then, of course, the producer-director would come in and we’d go through the entire programme, and he’d make the changes then. He’d say, ‘I want this effect’.

We had to make the graphics up. Some of the things they wanted us to do used to make my hair curl – and it was curly then! I remember the most nervous part of the job was going in on Sunday morning and thinking, please let it be a nice simple one! Please don’t want the Earth.

Sometimes you’d have to do effects that you had to build up over layers and layers. It would take you an hour to do just one kind of shot. Sometimes we had to work into the early hours of the morning, because at nine o’clock the following morning it was in audio dubbing having the sound tweaked. But it was things like that you used to live on, because of the adrenalin. That’s the thing I miss the most.

The other things we did were things like the football – mainly, I think, because they knew I wasn’t particularly interested. They always seemed to choose me to do the football, because I never got involved in, ‘Who’s shooting what?’ and ‘Isn’t that a good goal? There was a football programme on Sunday night with highlights from the main matches, and we’d have to edit them down to packages. The researcher would come in and say, ‘Right, we’re doing the City-Liverpool game. I want four minutes, thirty-two seconds.’ Luckily, the researchers would have sat there looking at the match, had marked where all the goals were and their idea of where the interesting play was, and we’d have to assemble it into a four-minute, thirty-two second package, because the programme had already been planned by then. Again, sometimes you’d have to drop it down a generation because you were running five minutes, thirty-two seconds and you had to do some snips. You’d run right up to the wire on that one. That was an adrenalin junkie’s job as well.

I remember pressing the button in edit five to eject the tape. We did all the voiceovers; we had a voiceover booth and we’d do all the sound. I remember pressing eject, grabbing the tape and running down the corridor into VTO telecine and half-throwing it across the room. This was the transmission. He rammed it in a machine, I remember, and within seconds it was on the air. That’s how close it was.

That happened several times, with the producer coming in and saying, ‘We really have to speed up,’ as if you weren’t speeding up! You couldn’t go any faster, but the producer would always come in and say it. I’m not naming any names, because you’re recording! There was one of the producers who particularly got under my skin one day. We were working as hard as we could. They had three edit suites running and he came and said, ‘We really have to go faster’. He was the only person I’ve ever asked to leave the edit suite. I just couldn’t work with him anymore, because he was making me so nervous that I was starting to make mistakes and, of course, if you make a mistake you’ve got to correct it. So he left, and left me to his researcher, which was alright (laughs).

Would you have worked with Paul Greengrass?

Funny enough, I did, but I can’t remember. Did he work in promotions?

I don’t know. I think he probably started straight as a researcher. He certainly worked on World in Action most of his time.

Yeah, that’s probably where I met him. Boy, he did well, didn’t he?

Any other programmes you might have worked on? Did you work on Union World?

Was that on a Sunday?

No, we recorded it on a Friday night and it went out on the Saturday night. But we recorded in Liverpool.

No. I seem to remember editing political stuff that went out on Sunday morning. We’d have several packages to do. I think there was a thirty-minute programme; I can’t remember what it was called.

I think that was after I’d gone.

In the end, I was the Coronation Street editor. Not the offline editor, but I was the one who assembled all the programmes. Then we were doing four programmes a week and an omnibus edition, which I think took three days a week of my working.

And outside broadcasts?

Yes, I worked on outside broadcasts. I did football matches, boxing, wrestling. I always remember the wrestling. I think it was at Wigan. When we got there, we were rigging the cameras, because the cameras were enormous. It took four people to lift one of the cameras in. The wrestlers were actually rehearsing the matches! I don’t think I had any illusions before that, but that completely blew them away!

So you were at Granada from 1969 to?

I was an engineer until 1987 and then I was an editor from 1987 to 2002.

So you were at Granada during what a lot of people have called its heyday?


What do you feel about that? Is that an accurate description?

Yes. It was fantastic. I have to say, both Linda – my wife, who worked there 36 years, beating me by three years – and I both said we never felt we were going to work.

I enjoyed every minute. Some of them were very tense and full of adrenalin, but you got hooked on that. Linda’s job was the same as well. But I never regretted one single minute. I loved working there. I was so lucky to do a job that I enjoyed every minute of. Sometimes it was long, hard work – working until three in the morning and so on – but it was fabulous. Very rarely boring. In fact, I can’t remember one thing that was particularly boring. Yeah, it was a very great company to work for.

I’ve told you about the training scheme that we had, and then we always had a medical centre. You probably remember the medical centre. Every now and again they’d do some medical screening, and in fact it was the nurse there that actually discovered that I had a slight arrhythmia. I was driving to France the day after, and I was working until midnight. I’d gone in about seven o’clock, because we could all have an ECG done, and she picked up that I ‘d got a very slight arrhythmia. She said, ‘It could be something and nothing. It could be you drink too much black coffee’, which we did. We lived on black coffee. But she said, ‘I’ve got to take it seriously’, and she booked a taxi and packed me off to the MRI. I thought, I’m going to France tomorrow! What are they doing? That picked up that I had a problem, and I’m ever so grateful for that.

The other thing I remember is that you could see an optician. There was always an optician visiting. There was a chiropodist who visited as well. Of course, it was in Granada’s interests, if you could do this without having half a day off or a day off. There was always a doctor there, and I thought it was great.

One of the best aspects of the job was that we had a final salary pension, praise the Lord! We were so lucky. I’ve got three kids and eight grandchildren, and I think my kids didn’t have it as lucky as I did. It was serendipity that I got the job in the first place – purely because I opened a magazine – and it just seemed to fall right. Everything seemed to fall right and it was a great company to work for. The salary was way above what I would have earned if I’d stayed in industry. I thoroughly enjoyed it, and we had such exciting things that you saw all the time, especially when I worked in studios.

When we first got into colour, you’d have to go and line the cameras up, because each camera produced four pictures: three colour pictures and a black and white picture. They all had to be lined up so that they sat over each other, and it was the engineer’s job – as well as the technical tweaks – to get the colour correct. So it meant that we were always in studios when a lot of rehearsing was going on. I’ve seen some fantastic things in studios.

Such as?

To start with, when I first started work, we were in four or five-line black and white; I’ve seen nearly all the changes you can name. We did Coronation Street. They did half and half: they recorded the first half and then they did the second half live. If you were in the studio when they were doing the second half, you had to know exactly what you were doing, because I remember quite a few people got hit by booms. The sound engineers had to get them into position, and if you were in the way, that was your fault.

These are boom mics?

Yes, the big boom mics. They were huge. They’d have one engineer pushing and another actually standing there operating the mics. So that was Coronation Street, half and half: actually live broadcast.

Then we went to 625 lines. I remember that. I was staggered by the difference in quality, going to 625 lines. We take it for granted now – HD and all the rest of it – but then the transition to colour was just amazing. But it meant so much more work for the engineers, because of the precision with which you had to line the cameras up. All the four cameras had to look at the same scene and produce the same colours. It’s no good looking at somebody’s face and one of the pictures is red and one of them is green and one of them is pink. They all have to look the same so that you can cut between them and it’s a seamless tapestry.

You mentioned some of the perks. Did you get Granada shares as well?

Yes, we got the share handouts.

And that would be 1% of your salary or something like that? Do you remember?

I can’t remember. They were quite substantial sums in the end, added up over the years. But you were asking what I saw in the studio. I have various memories. I remember being in studio twelve – the big studio – lining the cameras up. We were in colour then. It was for some Christmas spectacular, I think. They did those in August. I was there with the cameras and I turned around and they had a jazz orchestra on the stage, who were rehearsing and producing fantastic music. It was Johnny Dankworth. I turned round, and there at the big, sliding doors was this vision, which was Cleo Laine, with thigh boots up to her shoulders. I remember her walking her in and I thought, my God, that’s a woman with attitude! It made your jaw drop. Then she just hopped on the stage, had a few words with them, and then they kicked off. What a voice she had. I don’t know if she still sings but it was fantastic music. There were only the performers, a few sound engineers and me. You think, what a job. I’m standing here listening to this music.

I was in studio two, which was the small news studio. Very often when they did the news they had a musical item at the end, and these four guys game on with electric violins. I’d never seen an electric violin before. I was there, lining up the cameras, and they leapt on the stage. They’d just got their ordinary clothes on – they didn’t have costumes on or anything – and two of them picked their violins up and started playing a Bach partita. Absolutely stunning music. It was ELO. It was one of their first broadcasts. I had no idea who they were. Of course, when they actually did the show they did their more poppy stuff. But they were superb musicians, and I remember being in the studio, so close to them, while they did this.

I don’t know if you know the name Carlo Curley. He’s an American classical organist. He was touring Britain with this monster organ, which was electronic, but it was valves – that’s how long ago it was. It must have weighed a tonne. They’d got it in studio two, and this huge guy came on, who was almost as big as the organ himself, and, again, played all sorts of wonderful, wonderful music.

But the thing I remember about that was he decided, after three or four years of doing it, that he’d change sex. So he became this enormous lady who used to play this organ. But, again, incredible music.

I remember major dramas, when they used to do them in studio twelve. They were amazing. I don’t know if you ever saw them set out the sets. They’d have perhaps ten sets in studio twelve, and I used to just walk through and stand in the rooms. They were set dressed, and as long as you didn’t look up it was so realistic. You were in a different place. That was gobsmacking: to see that and be able to walk through it. I loved doing that.

I remember we had some dancers, from a very rural area of India, called Kathakali dancers. I don’t think they’d ever left India before. Kathakali, I think, is either the name of a village or a very small area. They had these very elaborate gold costumes and they’d paint their faces green with very elaborate makeup. They were dancing in studio twelve, but they gave them studio eight to rehearse in and, also, to cook their curries in. I can’t imagine that being allowed now: flames in studio eight! The place reeked of curries, because they had to have their special food. They’d never left India before and fish and chips was alien to them. We gave them a camera and a monitor so they could practice. They did this amazing face pulling – almost like gurning in Lancashire – but it was all part of the dance, and they’d flap their eyes and things like that. Fascinating. I’ve remembered that, but it must have been thirty years ago.

I remember something else that affected me. In studio twelve, we had the English National Ballet in. I was lining cameras up again. They painted the floor white and they had a white sike(?) round. The dancers themselves were head-to-toe in very tight costumes in black. They came on and danced to Bach’s Grosse Fuge. I don’t know if you know it, but it’s the most amazing piece of music. I was gobsmacked. That was the first time I’d heard the music. I’ve heard it many times since, but it is a stunning piece of music and they did this interpretation. I’m not really into ballet but the way that they interpreted it absolutely blew me away.

It was fabulous.

I was talking to Linda about this last night. She always remembers the Christmas specials. They had groups on and things like that. The word would always get upstairs, and people would come down when they were rehearsing and slip in the back of the studios, just to watch different groups. It was fabulous.

What about other aspects? People have talked to me about the canteen and the various bars and stables. Were they important?

Oh, yes. The canteen was the hub. We used to have a tea break every morning and afternoon, and of course you’d go in for lunch, and if you were working late into the night you’d go in for your dinner as well. But it was the place where everybody went.

All the turns went in there. I remember, particularly, when they did all those Lancashire comedians. They used to go in and they’d never sit next to each other, but they’d sit at various strategic points in the canteen. They all had loud voices – from working in the clubs presumably – and one of them would make some wisecrack, which would echo around the place and have us all in fits. One of them would answer and it used to go on for minutes, as they threw insults and things at each other. It was fabulous.

You’d go in and you’d see famous people just sitting there having a cup of tea. I remember going down with some engineers once. The tables would take three on one side and three on the other, I seem to remember Ena Sharples was sitting just on the opposite side. She was on her own, drinking a cup of tea, and she had this awful habit. She’d get her tongue behind her false teeth and drop her top set down, with her mouth wide open, so that was all you could see. That was a conversation stopper! Then she’d flip them back up and drop them back down again (laughs). Good times.

And the canteen would be open for breakfast as well?

Indeed it was. It wasn’t twenty-four hours, but it was as close as you could get. I think the last meal they served was roundabout nine o’clock at night, so if you were working late into the night, like we used to do, you were stuck. You had to buy a sandwich or something.

You were fortunate in that your wife worked there.

She wasn’t my wife at the time.

Right. But it wasn’t always conducive to family life was it?

No, it wasn’t. I remember at the interview, when they made the final offer of the job to me in 1969, they said, ‘You realise that if you join, you will be selling your soul to TV? Are you willing to do that? Because we are seven-day workers. We work Christmas Days, Boxing Days. Are you willing to do that?’ Of course, as I was so desperate to join, I said yes.

It was something we got used to. Linda is my second wife. I had three children. I’d work silly hours for a weekend and then I’d have three or four days off, which was great. It was just different. My wife slotted in extremely well to what was going on. She had a conventional hours job and we worked around it. I don’t think it was ever a problem. It was different when I started editing. There were no fixed hours then. You’d do whatever you needed to do to get the job done. By and large, it was fine.

Any memories of the stables?

I didn’t go in the stables very much.

The old school?

I’ve been in, but I certainly wasn’t one of these who was in every day, or every week, even. But, yeah, we’d go across on Friday sometimes and have a pint.

Were there any other social activities at Granada?

Programmes like Coronation Street used to have Christmas parties, which were always fairly spectacular and worth going to. But very often I was actually on duty when they were going on. We’d try and sneak down for half an hour, but you couldn’t drink very much because you had to go back and work.

Is there anything else that you wanted to talk about?

One of the great memories I have is of Irma, who was German. She always had this phrase when you went for your lunch. She’d say (adopts German accent), ‘Mashed or roast?’ and she’d roll her R. She had this enormous stainless steel teapot, and she’d get twenty cups, all touching, and swish it from side to side, and that was your tea. She’d do twenty cups in one go. There was one person who always riled her and he was called Harry Weimann – a German Jew. They always had this antipathy towards each other, and they’d always be throwing insults at each other. It was never really nasty, but you could just tell there was a hidden tension there between Harry and Irma. They were like an old married couple, really.

It always seemed to me to be chips with everything! It wasn’t the healthiest of food, but it was cheap and it wasn’t bad.

Bacon on toast was always welcome in the morning, I seem to remember. There were other people who took their families in for Sunday lunch, and for one and sixpence or whatever it was, they got a fantastic roast beef dinner. The roast beef on a Sunday was good.

It was good. I was single and I would eat there most evenings, to be honest, because I didn’t want to go home and cook!

Most people who were single did that, yeah. If I was working until six or seven o’clock I’d have my tea, because by that time my wife had fed the kids and she didn’t want to start again. She would have eaten with the kids, so I used to eat at work. 

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