Jacki Turner in studio with Johnnie Hamp and Phil Casson.
Up to 1965 I’d been working as a secretary in an engineering company in Blackburn. I nearly married a colleague but then realised in a panic that I’d done nothing with my life and was not ready to settle down so I took myself off to America and worked as a secretary to a dermatologist on Long Island, New York for a year. As I returned home for Christmas in 1965 I made the decision that unless I found a more interesting job in the UK then I would return to America. I took a shopping trip to Manchester and happened to pass the Granada Television Studios on Quay Street. I thought to myself that it would be a very interesting place to work.
Within a few weeks I’d written to Granada to see if there was a position as a secretary and was invited to attend an interview. Andrew Quinn was the Personnel Manager in those days before rising to dizzy heights in Management. My previous employer in the US, Dr. Lightstone had written a wonderful reference for me, almost too glowing, almost embarrassing, but after a shorthand typing test by the dreaded Mrs Dickson from the typing pool I was offered a job in the pool as a shorthand typist with the possibility of becoming a secretary as and when a position became available. Andrew did say, “if I was good enough then one day I could train to be a PA” (production assistant). I made a decision that this was my career aim.
Within 6 weeks I was appointed as secretary to Barrie Heads, who was Head of Outside Broadcasting and Current Affairs programmes. David Plowright, producer of World in Action was in the next door office and producer Bill Grundy was close by. It was a fascinating time working for Barrie. As an ex journalist his shorthand was faster than mine although I could type much faster than he could. The first experience I had of television production was when he took me to the home of Manny Shinwell, a famous Labour politician of the 1920s. The intention was to record the life experiences of famous people before they died and it was only to be transmitted after their death. The programme was called Granada Historical Records but I’m not certain whether any of this material was ever transmitted. Another person that Barrie interviewed was Alistair Cooke, the famous reporter, who was a friend of Barrie’s before moving to America and creating his famous radio broadcast Letter from America. I was working for Barrie when the Aberfan disaster struck and Barrie went down to Aberfan to coordinate ITV’s coverage. He was in tears when I spoke to him on the phone. One Christmas Eve we’d finished for the day and had enjoyed a glass of wine or two in the office when we got a call from Sidney Bernstein’s office. He had a few questions outstanding about a documentary in production which he wanted answers to before the Christmas break. Both Barrie and I tried to type the memo but failed dismally and in those days it was impossible to erase the type without making a mess. We managed it eventually when we’d sobered up a bit! Another memory I have of Barrie is travelling to London with him 1st class on the train. We were in the breakfast compartment and catering staff were passing through the carriage with food and drinks. Unfortunately we were by the door and it was very cold and draughty. Barrie kept closing the nearby door behind him, which the waiters kept leaving open. Unfortunately, unseen by Barrie, another waiter was coming through the door with a tray full of glasses of fruit juice. Without looking Barrie reached out behind him and half closed the door knocking the tray of drinks all over a poor unfortunately business man sitting across the aisle from him. They took him away to clean him up and he was away ages – all that sticky fruit juice must have been awful! Barrie was very good friends with Joyce Wooller, who was in charge of PAs (amongst other much more important jobs) and she certainly had the power of ‘yes’ or ‘no’ as to whom she took on for training. Joyce had an amazingly posh accent and had attended Roedean Public School so I was very aware of my Lancashire accent, which I had been trying to soften ever since starting work with Granada. I’m sure Barrie put in a good word for me as she offered me PA training just 18 months after I’d joined.