JACQUELINE MAJORIE STOTT/HARDING/TURNER – GRANADA MEMORIES
This is a blog from Jacki
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” 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 ITVs 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 Xmas 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 Rhodean 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.
Ivy Stevens was my trainer and supervisor and the first thing you concentrate on is the use of stop watches in studio and how to cue film and time VT inserts, counting backwards to the end of the insert. I had a large watch to time the overall programme and a smaller watch to time all the inserts within the programme. I learned how to type scripts for people to work to in studio and all the paperwork associated with programme making. Then I spent time in editing which was very primitive in 1968, 2” wide tape which the editor cut and stuck together, during which I had to keep track of the exact running time. My first programme, under supervision, was University Challenge with Bamber Gascoigne. The thrill of announcing 1’00” to music question and 1’00” to picture question then the ultimate thrill of Q GONG before rolling credits and counting out of programme. Peter Mullings was the director and he got carried away when the music question was played – a frustrated conductor he would wave his arms around as if conducting the Halle Orchestra. I learnt to duck if he got too carried away.
In those early days there was a Director called Dave Warwick and he covered a variety of programmes, mainly sport and light entertainment. We covered football matches in Yorkshire as well as Lancashire. We would record a match as an OB in Yorkshire then drive back to Granada to edit the highlights for transmission that evening. The trouble was that we were chauffeured back to base but I had to work on my notes and timings all through the journey so that by the time we got back to Manchester I always felt very sickly. I had to log the matches by dividing the pitch into four quarters so that a goal kick would be logged as landing in one of the numbered squares then we would look further down the notes until we found a similar event and edit out the chunk of game in between. Sometimes if it was an exciting match that had to be decided on penalties I would be so riveted by the goal kicks I’d be in danger of missing one or two!
Dave also loved his pop music and we had lots of singers and groups in studio. Again I worked with stop watches and logged each piece of music where there was vocals/instrumentals, which I then counted to. All music had to be cleared before transmission and I had to make sure I had all the information from the artistes as to composer/publisher etc.
In those early days we did a lot of local films for Scene at 6.30 / Granada Reports. One day I found myself on a steam train heading for Carnforth….and I literally mean “on” as I was sitting on the coal tender with stopwatch and notepad. I really am a fan of steam trains! A certain young cameraman by the name of George Turner was hanging off the front of the engine, only secured by his leather belt, apparently to get action shots of the wheels and steam. What a “b” idiot I thought, never imagining that one day I would marry that “b” idiot!
Another early programme I did was What the Papers Say and we had a wide cross section of journalists who would write the script having selected various articles from current newspapers. We also had at least 3 artistes who read the cuttings which had been mounted on captions. Most weeks it went well but one week we had a very inexperienced director who never seemed to get the correct caption on screen to match the voice overs on the script. Normally this programme never went into editing but on that occasion it was the only way the programme could be transmitted.
Occasionally I worked on Cinema presented by Michael Parkinson. He was quite a character but very likeable. My favourite trip by far was to go with a Granada documentary crew to Pinewood Studios where they were shooting The Slipper and the Rose-a modern version of Cinderella. There were many well known stars in the film such as Margot Fonteyn, Dame Peggy Ashcroft, the very handsome Richard Chamberlain of Dr Kildare fame and my favourite Kenneth Moore. They were all dressed in Elizabethan costumes complete with wigs. It was a really hot day in summer and Kenneth kept taking off his wig and just dropping it; luckily a makeup artiste followed him everywhere and kept retrieving it. I was just dressed in jeans and tee shirt but he suddenly noticed me and said “darling you look ever so hot” and I replied that I couldn’t possibly be as hot as he was in costume and wig.
Another early programme I worked on was All our Yesterdays presented by Brian Inglis. It described by pictures and archive film what happened in Britain and the World 25 years previously. By the time I worked on it we were in the middle of the WW2. I was thrilled to be told that we were going to interview Barnes Wallace the inventor of the famous bouncing bomb. We filmed him at his desk in Weybridge and there was a model of his Swing Wing aircraft that was still in the design stage. What a privilege to meet such a legend. We then incorporated the interview into a programme all about the dam busters. The archive footage in this series was memorable. Sometimes I had to have 2 small stop watches + my large programme watch as we cut between various clips of film.
The first drama that everyone had to cut their teeth on was Coronation Street and I first worked on this iconic programme in 1969. In those days we recorded two black and white episodes a week. This meant that any outside film/VT was recorded on a Monday then everyone rehearsed Tuesday and Wednesday morning in a large rehearsal room that had all the sets taped on the floor with necessary props/furniture. On Wednesday afternoon it was the Tech Run which all crew attended along with the Prducer. My job at the Tech Run was to time each scene with 15″ timings so that cuts could be made if necessary. On the Thursday we went into studio with the first episode. First we staggered through the episode sorting out shots/sound/lighting and practising dropping in the film or VT inserts (my job) Film only had a 5″ roll up which was fairly easy to gauge with whichever artiste was speaking just before the insert. However when we had to drop in a VT insert this was on a 15″ roll and could be very dodgy with some of the older artistes. Bill Roache was best at it as he never forgot his lines. Bill was also very good at speeding up or slowing down a scene if we gave the floor manager a note over studio talkback. Quite often we’d have a noisy scene in the Rovers then we’d Q & Cut to the next scene, possibly next door in Tatlocks and everyone in the Rovers would have to be absolutely quiet. After the first run we had a dress rehearsal. Besides checking the timings, calling shots, repo’ing cameras and booms and keeping an eye on the dialogue I also had to take director’s notes. Between Dress Rehearsal and Recording we all trouped into a committee room where I had to follow the director round to all the individual artistes reading out his notes. If there was a problem with the timing of the ep then the producer would make changes which I had then to pass on to the artistes & crew. This was a nerve-racking time for everyone; almost like a live TX. I remember seeing Vi Carson (Ena) absolutely shaking with nerves. There was no editing in those days, we recorded part one, stopped tape then recorded part two. If anything went wrong we had to start again at the beginning of either part. I had to do 15″ timings on my script throughout the episode so that I could see at any time whether the programme was running over or under. Two minutes before the end of programme, according to my timings, I had to pre fade the music so that the music ended naturally. We had a huge roller operated by a stagehand carrying the credits – this had many settings running at different speeds and in those last 2 minutes to end of programme I had to make the decision as to which roller speed would be required to end credits at the same time as the music. On the Friday we went through everything again with the second episode.
I worked on Coronation Street for at least a year, during which time we went into colour. The first time we saw the sets in colour they looked far too clean and bright so overnight a gang of set painters had to grubby down each set.
I’ve lots of memories of Corrie over the years- whenever you had a gap between finishing one production and starting the next you did a block or two on Corrie. Here are just a few:
Jean Alexander who played Hilda Ogden was brilliant with her continuity. She could hang different items of clothing on her washing line with different coloured pegs and still repeat the actions to correctly match her dialogue.
It was a big secret as to whether Raquel would marry Curly Watts and six weeks before transmission we secretly recorded the wedding ceremony. Brian Mills was the director, we had a lady playing the registrar and a couple of trusted extras to be witnesses. I put on a formal grey suit and played the part of the assistant registrar (with notebook and stopwatch hidden on my lap). When we’d finished we all travelled back in a minibus and Sarah Lancashire rang her mum to tell her she’d “got married” then we drank fizzy wine from paper cups to celebrate.
I worked quite a lot with a lovely director called Nicholas Ferguson and whenever we recorded a wedding on location he would wear a carnation in his lapel and I’d wear the hat I got married in and with a bit of luck there was something fizzy when we’d finished
I was lucky enough to go to Amsterdam when Roy got together with Hayley. That was a lovely shoot as I’d never been there before and we filmed on a houseboat among the lovely canals. One or two of the crew couldn’t resist the wacky backy but at least stayed away from the prostitutes (I think!).
We travelled up to the Lake District to scatter Alma’s ashes. Unfortunately there was quite a strong wind in the middle of the lake and although we recorded most of the scenes we had to postpone the scattering of ashes as everyone was covered in white dust – thank goodness they weren’t real human ashes!
I worked with director Brian Mills on a special Coronation Street for Xmas sale as a video rather than transmission on mainstream TV. It was filmed in Las Vegas, USA but because of their strong unions very few of us were given visas but we managed to convince them that Continuity was essential from England- we only took about 10 Crew, the remainder had to be employed in the US. John Friend Newman was our 1st Assistant Director but his 2nd assistant was a rotund American lady who we christened “The Rottweiller”. One expression she used that I still remember and use occasionally was “Talent on the Move” meaning the artistes were on their way to Set. It was mainly about Jack & Vera Duckworth renewing their wedding vows in the little white chapel and the girls from the Salon turning up on holiday. We did a spoof with the girls based on Thelma and Louise driving down the strip. We had a mustang on a low loader and went up and down the strip for hours. Vera (Liz Dawn) was already struggling with her breathing and she had quite a lot of running to do up and down stairs in the hotel. I volunteered to be her stand-in until we were sure of the shot so that she only had to do it once. We spent a day in the suite on the roof of the Rio Hotel reserved for the high rollers (gamblers), complete with butler and swimming pool. This was on the understanding that if a high roller flew into town we’d have to get out of there. We also had quite a few night shoots in the casino as Vera wrecked Jack’s chances of winning any money, of course. It was incredibly tiring, made worse by me sleeping by the pool instead of in bed. I wangled a few days off after that shoot and managed to see my friend Bluey in San Clemente, California.
My first chance to travel abroad was on a programme called Christians presented by Bamber Gascoigne. I worked on the first of what turned out to be quite a number of documentaries devoted to various religions around the world. This programme was about medieval christianity and we filmed in France, Spain and Italy. We filmed people on pilgrimage to Chartres Cathedral, an amazing medieval building. Then we flew to Verges in Spain to film a re-enactment of Christ dragging his cross to the crucifixion. After that we went to Rome for the Easter Papal blessing and I felt ever so lucky to be with the crew on the balcony pillars surrounding St Peters Square witnessing such an iconic ceremony. We filmed pilgrims as they visited lots of different churches, sometimes on their knees. After Rome we travelled up into the mountains and visited monks in their monasteries’ (sampling their homemade hooch) and wonderful medieval towns like Assisi & Sienna the black death town. We had a smashing crew, George was the cameraman (but we were married to other people at that time) Alan Bale was our sound recordist and it was directed by Michael Houldey who we’ve remained friends with since then. It was at the time of the FA Cup and Michael Houldey was a keen supporter of Fulham who were in the final. So we really tarted our hire car up with “Fulham for the Cup” slogans and on the day of the final the boys found a TV shop in Assisi and persuaded the owner to turn the aerial round towards Switzerland to pick up the signal and they all sat in the shop window viewing the match. Sadly Fulham were the underdogs and lost the match so we missed out on big celebrations but it was good fun. I was responsible for quite a large float and took mainly US Travellers cheques which I then had to change into different currencies as we changed countries. When we got to Italy I went into a bank in Rome and in those days there were masses of lire to the dollar. The guy behind the counter worked out the exchange rate then I took my slip to the cashier and was handed masses of notes. I thought I’d better check that I’d been given the correct number of Lire so I checked and checked and checked again but it just didn’t balance. I spoke again to the cashier and he went through the notes again and threw a couple of large denomination notes in my direction. I felt sick, I’d been short changed by about £30 which in those days was a lot of money. A salutary lesson! Another member of the crew was electrician Bob Webley – a cheerful cockney! One day he had to light a very dark crypt. There were lots of tapestries hanging on the walls and we just noticed in time that a lamp was too close and they were in danger of catching fire.
I loved period drama and in the early 70s Family At War written by John Finch was my first drama series. We would shoot most of each episode in studio and then go to various locations to shoot outdoor sequences and reconstructed events. My most memorable Ep. was filming in Llandudno – David, one of the characters, was shipwrecked at sea (2nd WW). There was an explosion (seen from shore) when his ship exploded and then a lot of sequences of him and his mates in lifeboats. The “explosion” was a bit of a damp squid – we had a special fx guy called Spud Taylor (if I remember correctly he had the odd finger missing!) He’d set up this explosion out at sea and we had a couple of cameras lined up on the prom waiting for nightfall – needless to say quite a lot of people had gathered for this event. Spud and the 1st AD were on walkie talkies and when we heard Action all we saw was a tiny flash of light on the horizon then heard Spud’s voice over talkback saying excitedly “Did you get it? Did you see it?” We were all so embarrassed as this was the limit of his explosives and the public grumbled and drifted away. I think we had to use newsreel footage of a ship being torpedoed in the end. After that we spent 3 days and nights filming all the lifeboat sequences. We stayed at the Grand in Llandudno and climbed down the steps from the pier into various boats. When the tide was in we didn’t have too many steps to climb but some nights it wasn’t easy climbing up slippery wet steps with script and shooting bag. We obviously had to make sure we shot the lifeboat without any land in sight and had a motorised boat pushing us round all day as the tide would very quickly turn us in the wrong direction. I’d recently been on a boat trip round the Greek Islands and knew that I didn’t really suffer from seasickness but the sound guy next to me had a really rough time. He would shout “sound rolling” then heave up over the side. I always remember climbing the pier steps back up to the hotel for dinner and then being faced with greasy fish and chips. Quite a few of the extras in the lifeboats were ill but we didn’t care about them because they had to look the worse for wear having been shipwrecked for days. Props department thought they were being clever and made up some “dead bodies” to float around in the water. They can’t have counted them “in” and “out” as the lifeboat turned out further down the coast to rescue these lifeless dummies!
The second John Finch period drama I worked on in 1973-4 was called Sam, a story about a family living up in Barrow and the hardships they faced around the turn of the century. We made quite a few trips up to that part of the world. One I remember vividly was working with director Bill Gilmour and we had an actor carrying a suitcase across a field. It was very very windy and we had to fill the case with bricks otherwise it was stuck out at right angles to the actor. This was our first setup and Bill had his master shooting script with him. He opened his folder and the wind whipped every page out of the folder and blew them seaward.
He took it very well!
Granada produced quite a few one off plays under the banner of life in a Village Hall. I worked on one which was about the Hall being used as a Polling Station. Ron Moody was the returning officer and Liz Dawn had a small cameo role as a confused woman trying to vote. (This was before she joined Corrie).
I was part of a production team which helped to create a series called Albion Market. There was a special set built at the back of Granada on the banks of the Irwell (now converted to the V&A hotel). It had a smashing cast and everyone enjoyed working on it but sadly it coincided with the start of East Enders which really killed it stone dead.
Another afternoon drama that most people enjoyed working on was Crown Court. This was because it was rehearsed for 3 or 4 days in London and then recorded in studio in Manchester. This meant that we had a lot of really good artistes playing cameo roles who were available to rehearse in London and then only had to be in Manchester for a couple of days. Ordinary members of the public could apply to be on the jury and we had to rehearse both a guilty and not guilty ending. They jury would go to a committee room to come to a decision. On odd occasions when things had gone wrong there wasn’t enough time for this within our studio recording hours so the jury ended up in the corridor outside the court set and it was a matter of “hands up”! Director Peter Plummer was superb on this programme as he planned exactly where each shot relative to each camera would be taken – there was a grid of the studio set and he had it mapped out to a tee. We used to run the rehearsal all the way through without stopping which was unheard of by any other director.
In 1982 I said yes to a Disappearing World documentary in Ghana. It was an all female crew because we were telling the story of a matriarchal society of Asante women living in Kumasi in northern Ghana. They ran the local market and were all powerful. We were going for six weeks and when we landed in Accra we had to go through customs, not just for our equipment but also all our personal luggage. We’d been warned about shortages in the country so we took lots of boxes of wine but when the customs men opened the trunks all they could see were boxes of tampax – 7 ladies for 6 weeks = lots of boxes of tampax. The wine was successfully smuggled in! At the airport we noticed that the large clock in the main foyer said 26.45 – this should have warned us of the current state of the country!
That first night we were booked into a hotel in Accra but when we got there we found it all pretty grim, no running water, just buckets of cold water. No security, no glass in the windows and we felt very vulnerable on the ground floor. Eventually we found a couple of rooms 3 floors up with a couple of big beds in each room and we all camped together for safety. We were due to fly up to Kumasi the following day but although we had air tickets we found out when we arrived the previous day that our flight had been cancelled as Ghana Airways didn’t cover this route any more. So we hired a couple of large minibus’ and spent the whole day driving on unmade roads full of potholes. We were spending the next 6 weeks in quite a nice villa rented from a Swiss company which came with a man who shopped for our food & cooked it. He also did our washing but things got a bit tricky because we were nearly all wearing M&S knickers. We gave up trying to sort these out and just grabbed a few every wash day. The villa had a swimming pool which took 3 days to fill up but was great at the end of a dusty day until we spotted vultures perched on the side pooing into the pool. At least half the filming was spent in the huge market which the woman ran. We boiled the water that we took with us every day but very quickly learnt not to need the toilet as the one and only toilet on the whole market was an oil drum at the top of a tower that very quickly filled to overflowing. The women really wouldn’t tolerate a man in their company and Caroline our camera assistant was gay and dressed very manly with short dark curly hair. The woman were always feeling her chest to make sure she was a woman. George had warned me that we were guaranteed to have a lesbian on the crew and he was right but Caroline turned out to be my best pal. The crew were a mixed bunch; Dianne Tammes was our camerawoman but I didn’t rate her very much. She was very selfish, putting herself before the rest of her crew. We realised what she was up to when as soon as we arrived at the villa she picked the best bedroom for herself. Another Dianne our sound recordist was very much up in the clouds and in love with Africa. I sometimes had to check she was turning over on her Nagra because she’d be away with the fairies. Our researcher was Jane and she was brilliant, not to mention Claudia Milne our producer/director. I had many roles beginning with waking everyone up in a morning and organising our man’s shopping. I had the float in Cedis and US dollars. Jane found a contact who changed money for us at a very good rate. I very soon adapted to a nursing role as Julia the assistant sound recordist collapsed in dreadful pain and we took her to the local hospital. It turned out she had an eptopic pregnancy and that the baby was growing in her fallopian tube. (She didn’t even know she was pregnant as they’d been trying for a baby for a few years without success). The hospital was awful, blood on the sheets of the bed they put her in and no glass in the windows. She begged us not to leave her so we took it in turns to stay with her until we could make arrangements to get her back to Accra where there would be a decent hospital (we hoped). Jane lived up to expectations
and arranged with a French off shore oil rig to take her down to Accra by helicopter. As I was least needed on the shoot I agreed to go with her. I’d only been in a helicopter once before and this was with friends over San Francisco harbour just a 20 minutes flight. This was over an hour, Julia and I in the back and two good looking Frenchmen in the front! We’d already made contact with the UK Embassy in Accra and they’d organised for Julia to be operated on in a police hospital and I would stay with the governor in the British Embassy until we could get her on a flight to England. The hospital was much better than in Kumasi but still very basic but the ambassadors’ wife helped me buy all sorts of things that Julia needed. I stayed at the Embassy 3 days during which time I tried to get a flight home for Julia. We had Ghanian Airways tickets but they wouldn’t take her so I got her on a flight with British Caledonian and arranged for an English nurse to travel with her. I had a company Amex card which was a life saver. BCal needed permission from the UK for her to fly and communications were so bad that they didn’t have the necessary permissions even an hour before we were due to leave. The BCal supervisor made a decision and said if she could walk to the plane rather than by wheelchair then he’d allow her to fly. She was so determined to get home she hung on to me and the nurse as we walked her across the tarmac and up onto the plane. Apparently they had to give her oxygen on the flight but she made it home safely and husband was waiting for her + ambulance at the other end. I do hope she managed to conceive again. After that it was back by bus (no French helicopter for yours truly) and nurse Harding took up more PA duties although not for long as Claudia was struck down with malaria. In those days doctors weren’t as clued up re maleria and they found out later that different pills were needed for different areas of the world. Claudia and Jane had gone out earlier than the rest of the crew and were given different pills from the rest of us. Jane apparently went down with it on her return home. Unfortunately our adventure still wasn’t over because we had to get home before Xmas. Our Ghanian Airways tickets to London were useless as they went on strike a week before we were due to leave. Again our Amex card bought us tickets home with British Caledonian. The only hiccup was that BCal couldn’t say when they would land in Kumasi because of trouble with the strikers. When we’d finished the shoot we packed up all the gear, took it to the airport and took it in turns to look after it in case a flight came in. We finally heard that a BCal plane was on its way so we all charged up to the airport. No checking in!!! The plane landed, engines kept running, we dashed out onto the tarmac wheeling our cases and lots of silver boxes. A man opened the hold and we loaded our gear into it. We then ran up the plane steps and as the last person went through the door it was closed and the plane started to taxi off. We heard later that the striking Ghanian workers were attempting to let the tyres down on the plane. We hopped over the border into Nigeria to refuel etc. then partied all the way back to England as the plane was full of workers from the oil fields going home for Xmas.
In the early 80s Granada planned to shoot Jewel in the Crown, much of it on location in India. Prior to this they decided to make a film based on the book Staying On about life of the English Raj and how they headed for the hills in the heat of the summer. This would give our production staff an idea of the problems to be encountered when filming Jewel. So we were the guinea pigs! Irene Shubick was the producer and Silvio Narizano was the director. We had a formidable lst assistant, Les Davies. Our two main actors were Trevor Howard and Celia Johnson. They hadn’t worked together since Brief Encounters. We knew Trevor was going to be slightly problematic when he got very drunk on the plane – he was upstairs on a Jumbo and lst class passengers were coming downstairs to get away from him – unfortunately he followed them up and down. He and Celia were very keen on the Indian Gin but once we started filming they kept their drinking down to a bottle a night between them which meant they could then handle their words the following day. We flew to Delhi then drove up to Simla in the Himalayas which was to be our base for the next six weeks. It was March when we arrived and the hotel hadn’t had any guests since the previous autumn. The beds weren’t just cold they were also damp. We got dressed in our anoraks to go to bed. Lars Macfarlane our Production Manager managed to get hold of some hot water bottles and after 3 damp nights I finally had a bottle in my bed – when I jumped into bed guess what? The bottle had leaked and my bed was colder and wetter than ever. I then had to sleep in the spare bed in my room dressed again in my outdoor gear. The hotel had at least 4 floors with a quadrangle in the middle which was open to the stars. We had to be careful as monkeys would be swinging about and they were nasty. Also its electrics left a lot to be desired. I saw a man in a room full of wires and whenever the electric went off he’d pull a few wires out and join them to another few wires. Our electricians wouldn’t go near it. My bathroom was huge with a big claw cast iron bath made by Baxendales of Manchester. How lovely I thought that they’d put a big candle on the side of the bath – I soon found out it was for when the lights went out! I was in my room one night when yet again it went dark, I heard one of the electricians in the room next to me knock something over as he rushed to the door, flung it open and shouted in his loudest voice “f…..g India” .I had a lovely red-headed assistant called Vivien Battersby and she was the centre of attention amongst the natives. One day we filmed in a Maharaja’s house on the top of a mountain. As I struggled with my bag of scripts across the front lawn a small Indian guy came racing over to help me. I didn’t know whether to tip him or not but in the end just thanked him gracefully…perhaps as well I did as he was the Maharaja. The caste system was so strict that our porters who were a very low caste weren’t even allowed to walk on the lawn. Every day we had lunch on location which was delivered by the hotel and set out in heated silver tureens. We felt guilty because dozens of pairs of eyes were peering at us through the bushes as we peeped under the tureens to see what delights there were to eat. When we employed Indian locals as extras we were obliged to feed them and they absolutely stuffed themselves in case they weren’t booked again. Some of them joined the food queue again in the hope no-one had noticed. I found it quite difficult continuity wise as many of them looked the same and my poloroid camera worked overtime making sure the right person was in the right place. Almost all the crew suffered from Delhi Belly – the trick was to stick with the hot spicy food and not to go near salads or cold food. One night at the hotel our props boys organised the kitchens to cook hotpot – it was wonderful and as they slopped it onto our plates we were asked “mashed or roast” imitating Irma who was Granada’s canteen assistant at the time. Early in the shoot Irene “sacked” Silvio as they had differences of opinion but Les Davies said if Silvio goes then so would he, then a few others of us said if Les was going then we would go also. Needless to say that whatever the problem was everyone learned to work together. I had a few early starts because they wanted to shoot Celia in a car being driven along mountain roads and the light was much better in the mornings. So yours truly was wigged up and spent quite a while being driven up and down the mountains. The last scene of the play is Celia in her bedroom with the dead Tusker (Trevor H) in bed. Her last speech was how he’d left her alone in this land “amid the alien corn” It was very moving. When we’d finished a few of us returned to Delhi to tidy the loose ends – I’d no idea where George was as he’d been somewhere in the far east shooting End of Empire. Imagine how ecstatic I was to receive a call from him to say he’d got Tom Gill, WIA’s Production Manager to amend his ticket home to take him via Delhi for a couple of days. I went to the airport to wait for him and we had two glorious days in a 5 star hotel in Delhi. We’d both earned it!
George had worked on a WIA programme about the Birmingham 6 who had been imprisoned for bombing a pub in Birmingham and killing a lot of people. Because of the programmes’ investigations they were eventually freed on appeal although one of the six had already died in prison. Granada in 1989/90 decided to produce a drama documentary outlining the investigation and it starred John Hurt and Martin Shaw. It was a very interesting documentary to work on. We filmed the six men on a train playing cards which is how they got explosive residue on their hands, apparently from the playing cards. We then went to Dublin to a very old prison where we filmed the inhumanities the men suffered. Although John Hurt is a very good actor he was not very nice to work with because at that time he was living with a Continuity girl which meant I had to justify every continuity request I made to him. It took us two days to shoot a very long scene between John Hurt & two IRA men. I was determined to make a good job of it and kept very detailed notes of camera positions and eyelines. Halfway through the second day it paid off as I was the only one who knew exactly where to put the camera to get the correct eyeline. I gave John a hard look but his face was expressionless. Martin Shaw on the other hand was delightful to work with and was especially nice to me to make up for John’s rudeness.
I was very fortunate to work for over a year with Sir Lawrence Olivier (instructed to call him Larry). Larry was married to actress Joan Plowright who was the sister of our Managing Director David Plowright. Apparently he had expressed a desire to produce a few plays or films for television and was given a team to work with and a very competent producer, Derek Granger, to help in many different ways. His first play was directed by Michael Apted and starred Helen Mirran who was very glamorous in those days. We were in studio recording Harold Pinter’s The Collection when who should walk into the control room but Pinter and the recent love of his life Lady Antonia Fraser. After that we recorded Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring RJ Wagner and his then wife Natalie Wood, Carrie Fisher later of Star Wars fame and Larry playing Big Daddy. We rehearsed all the plays in London for at least 10 days and it was fascinating listening to Larry talking about his difficult marriage to Vivian Leigh. He usually arrived at the Oval rehearsal rooms by taxi but one day his taxi hadn’t turned up so he came by tube. He caused consternation by telling underground staff that he didn’t have a ticket because he’d put it into the machine and it had “gobbled it up”! Another play we did was Come Back Little Sheba, starring Joanne Woodward. She was lovely to work with but one day I found her busily sewing in the corner of the rehearsal room. When I asked her what she was sewing she replied that it was “a nightshirt for Paul” – I was thrilled to touch Paul Newman’s nightshirt! Another play we did was Saturday Sunday Monday – with Joan Plowright & Edward Woodward. These plays were all studio based but Larry did a film called
Hindle Wakes but my friend Milly Preece was PA on this.
In the mid 80s Sherlock Holmes was a brilliant period drama series to work on. Jeremy Bret was Sherlock and we rehearsed each one hour episode at Granada’s rehearsal rooms at The Oval in London. We rehearsed for two weeks before returning to Manchester to start shooting all on film. Jeremy was meticulous about every line of dialogue and how it affected his solving of the case. He planned every move which made my work of continuity much easier. My favourite episode I worked on was “Man with the twisted lip” – filmed in Kings Lynn where we had to remove TV aerials and cover all the yellow lines with dusty soil. Back in Manchester we turned the V&A warehouse at the back of Granada into an opium den.
In 1989 I worked with a documentary team fronted by Ray Gosling called Forgotten Front – this recalled life 50 years earlier at the beginning of the 2nd World War. It was fascinating incorporating the footage from those days and Ray brought it all to life as he met and interviewed people from the north. There was one memorable shoot where we went up to Barrow and he explained how people grew their own vegetables and reared animals – the fun we all had with Ray and his piglet!
In 1992 I was asked to work on an important project called the UP Series. This was started in 1964 when the World in Action team interviewed a cross section of children at 7 years old. This revolved around the Jesuit saying “show me the boy at seven and I will show you the man”. 7 years later the decision was made to call on these children again and see how they had progressed both morally and physically. Michael Apted had been the WIA researcher on the first 7UP and has directed all the remaining programmes. So it became 14UP and 21UP and it was very successful. I joined at 28UP and was lucky enough to visit Australia as one of the “kids” had settled out there and had a family. Exec Producer Mike Scott made a decision that I could join the crew and in those days we flew Business Class out of Manchester filling almost all the upper deck of a Jumbo. We landed in Melbourne in October and it was like England in the spring with sheep in the fields etc. Mike Apted was horrified as it didn’t look a bit like the Australia we were trying to portray. Our participants had toured the outback in an old mini bus when they first got married and so we decided to recreate their trip. They still had the mini bus so they set off into the wild blue yonder. I used my Granada Amex card and hired a small plane to take us up to join them. It made a smashing sequence especially when Mike put pans pipe music over it. It’s still going strong and the last programme was 56UP but as with lots of other documentaries they now use a minimum crew so my services are no longer needed. However as our production manager was pregnant and unable to fly, I was asked to cover for her on the two shoots to Spain and Portugal. As George and I keep in touch with some of the participants I like to help the shoot on a voluntary basis just to keep the feeling of family and not introduce any strangers to the shoot.
I was always keen to work on music and dance programmes, especially ballet so I was thrilled to be assigned to “A lot of Happiness” which was a new ballet choreographed by Kenneth McMillan and directed by Jack Gold. I was part of a film crew who spent a week in London filming Kenneth creating this new ballet. He had brought over a couple of his favourite dancers from Europe and I was fascinated to watch as he rehearsed with them. He would give them at least five or six sequences which they would then repeat from memory. This was the first time I’d seen a dance notator; she had a musical score with blank lines below the notes where she created various figures in the steps the dancers were learning. This would then form a copyright of Kenneth’s new ballet. When the ballet was complete we took it to Manchester where the artistes performed the completed ballet in studio. Jack Gold then edited the film and studio versions together to show the completed product which won an Emmy award later in the year and I received a thank you note from David Plowright for my contribution to the production. I enjoyed it so much I would have done it for nothing. One thing that amused me was that as soon as Kenneth got to Manchester he wanted to visit the Coronation Street set and had his photo taken with some of the older cast.
After working with Jack Gold on the ballet programme it followed that I stayed with him for a drama called L’Elegance which was one of the All For Love series. Geraldine McEwan took the main lead which was about her imaginary love affair with a very handsome man she’d seen in a magazine called L’Elegance. We filmed part of it in England and then went to the wine region of France to film the romantic sequences. Our handsome man was a model who was famous for modelling suits by Dormieux – he was certainly handsome but had never acted before but all he had to done was look ravishing which he found very easy. On some occasions when Geraldine was getting changed or in makeup I would stand in for her so that lighting and camera could set up their shots (we were about the same size) but the crew teased me when I had to get up close with Mr Handsome! We filmed down in the champagne cellars and I was very nervous in case any of the crew decided to pocket a bottle, thankfully this didn’t happen and we all got a bit light headed at the end of the day when champagne was had by all. I had a lovely assistant working with me during this shoot, she was called Sally Jolley. She had hands full of diamond rings which she’d inherited from her late mother but couldn’t afford to insure them…so she wore them. We didn’t realise until we’d started the shoot how insecure Jack was working with a new team. He tested us all in different ways. My test came when I noticed props not being where I’d noted them on my script – it was all very puzzling and slightly embarrassing because you always blame yourself for being careless. However I started taking extra notes of where everything was and eventually had to make an announcement that whoever was moving the props would they please not do so before checking with me. He came to me in a quiet moment and confessed. Thankfully I’d passed his test and we got on famously after that.
Another All for Love I worked on was shot mainly in the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool. The story was that a pair of lovers met regularly in a very large Victorian hotel bathroom and had hanky panky! This meant that there was a fair bit of nakedness for our two main artistes. They were well aware of this before we started shooting but unfortunately the lady became very annoyed with our sound recordist who would fit a radio mic on her blouse and then pat her breasts on the pretence of checking it was working. She was dreading the nude scene in the bathroom because of the presence of this sound guy so it was decided that he and his record machine should be placed outside the bathroom door with his boom operator on a long lead inside the bathroom. When he complained loudly to a lovely makeup artiste called Glenda Wood she retorted just as loudly that he wasn’t allowed in the bathroom because he was a dirty old man. I had to tell this guy off for getting too touchy feely with my assistant (despite the fact he had a wife and two attractive daughters!)
Another memorable All for Love was shot mainly in the Ritz Hotel in London. Deborah Kerr and Claire Bloom took the two main leads. The Director whom I worked with quite a lot was June Howson and she stayed at the Ritz during the filming whilst the rest of us were in the London White House Hotel as was usual in those days. Claire Bloom had to be filmed driving a convertible Mercedes sports car round the streets of London but when the car arrived it had a manual gearbox and she could only drive an automatic car so they put a wig on me and I very happily drove this icon. (I later bought a 1965 Mercedes sports car and with George’s vital help spent all my overtime money restoring it to its former glory). It was very obvious that Claire tried to upstage Deborah whenever she could but Deborah had been around far too long for it to worry her. As Continuity she made my work very easy. We would sort out all her props and moves relative to her dialogue and by the time we went for a take she had everything worked out which allowed her to concentrate on her performance. A lot of actors could benefit from her example.
Scully was a 6 part series about a Liverpool schoolboy called Scully who was obsessed by Liverpool Football Club and its star Kenny Dalglish. We filmed most of it around Manchester in the middle of winter and one night I was asked to travel with Kenny in his car to make sure he knew how to get to location. We stopped for petrol which was attendant served, he recognised Kenny and then looked at the “bird” with him. As it was a night shoot I was wearing a huge anorak and woolly hat – not very glamorous! We filmed at Liverpool’s ground during the week, firstly inside the dressing room and then the team leaving down the tunnel and touching the famous Cop sign. I made a continuity error, very innocently I plea, because as they raced onto the pitch they were carrying their practice balls. When we picked them on the match day they were carrying different coloured match balls. I’d checked that they came down the tunnel in the same order as we’d shot previously but never realised they’d be carrying differently coloured balls. This sequence formed part of the opening titles so I had to watch this error go out at the beginning of each episode. On the brighter side, I had an amusing time in the dressing room as the players went through the motions of putting on their boots as if for a match. Unfortunately or fortunately they weren’t wearing a box under their shorts and as they lifted their feet to put on their boots their “jewels” were on show. Cut shouted the Director Les Chatfield. Within each episode Scully had images of Kenny in different situations and one day we dressed him up as a fairy godmother. Kenny was such a good sport and went along with everything we threw at him.
In 1986/87 I started a project that would tie me up for a year – it was 13 episodes of three Len Deighton novels, Berlin Game, Mexico Set and London Match. Len had originally planned to call the 3rd book Paris Match which made sense thinking of the famous French magazine, but I suspect Granada executives persuaded him to call it London Match which would make it much easier and cheaper to shoot. It was still the period of the Cold War and the Berlin Wall was still dividing Berlin. The books were about the fight between English and Russian spies. The 13 episodes were divided between two teams of Director, 1st Asst Director, Designer, Lighting Camera, Sound, Continuity, Makeup, Costume & props. I had the joy of working with Director Ken Greive. We worked on 8 episodes and the second crew headed by director Patrick Lau shot the other five episodes. Continuity was very tricky. We would go to one location and shoot all the scenes set in that location over all our 12 episodes. This was especially difficult in the MI6 offices as every episode contained these office scenes. We had two trips to Berlin where a lot of the action took place, one in winter and the other in summer. Whenever we filmed near the Wall East German soldiers would appear over the wall and take photos of everything we did. Very unnerving! We did one scene where a spy was exchanged on one of the bridges between east and west – it all felt very real. We also filmed on a barge sailing down the river which at some points divided east and west and it was awful seeing faces at windows on the east knowing they were trapped and couldn’t leave to see relatives in the west. On our day off a group of us girls on the crew took an organised bus tour to the east. We crossed check-point Charlie passing no-mans land where so many people had died and visited some amazing monuments. Unter Den Linden is a beautiful avenue lined with lime trees leading to the Brandenberg Gate. Communist depression was everywhere and old Trebant cars chugged around. One night our Production Managers Craig McNeil and Lars Macfarlane organised a meal in an East Berlin restaurant which was very famous before the war and very cheap. Needless to say we were very anxious to return to the west before midnight and our vehicle was examined underneath with mirrors to make sure no-one was trying to escape. I really liked West Berlin but the Wall was haunting… we travelled out to a lake that they used like a beach, very pretty, but suddenly you couldn’t go any further because this huge wall crossed the road. Ian Holm played the lead English spy – he’s got really “come to bed eyes!” We are the same height and I was often asked to stand in for him lighting-wise whilst he was in makeup or studying his script. We also had a six week trip to Mexico and arrived in Mexico City only a few weeks after their major earthquake – we had some fascinating locations in the city and then travelled out to the pyramids built by the Aztecs which was perfect for a cast and crew photograph. We then travelled on to Acapulco to film lots of jungle scenes. It was a bit dangerous in the jungle and we had to have armed guards protecting us from bandits. We were staying at a very smart hotel where rich Americans were honeymooning or taking a holiday. Every evening we would return from the jungle dirty and sweaty and head for the pool like a swarm of beetles, goodness knows what everyone thought we were up to.
In the 90s Granada had a new form of OB set-up for drama, possibly called mobile LMVR or lightweight LMVR. I was assigned to director Dick Everitt to work on a play using this kind of shooting/record equipment. The play wasn’t earth shattering in content especially as the action was centered in and around a chicken processing plant. We shot most of the action around the Manchester area but then when we relocated to inside the factory we had to go to Keighley in Yorkshire where we spent 4 days in a factory that processed 20 thousand chickens a day. They were for the Kosher market meaning they were stunned then hung up for the blood to drain out of them. We were surrounded by chickens in various stages of processing. When their insides had been removed one woman spent the whole of her day putting her hand inside the chickens to check it was clear of innards. We used chickens feet as markers on the floor! Nobody except tough electricians could face the food on the butty wagon. In defence there were 6 ministry people there at all times checking the cleanliness etc. We did get to some romantic places!!
If I had to think back on my all time favourite prgrammes it would be a pre Christmas trip to Lapland. Every year when I see youngsters making the trip to see Father Christmas reminds me of a weeks’ trip to Finish Lapland with Jeremy Beadle to shoot a special You’ve Been Framed. It was a magical week, 8 crew + Jeremy had a trip of a life time. We rode on husky dog sleighs; skidoo’d across frozen lakes; rode on sleighs behind reindeer and finally met Father Christmas. I sat on his very large knee like a small child and his long beard was very real. One day we visited a large teppee type tent with a hole in the roof. Inside was a very large pot bubbling away with the smoke going up through the roof. Inside the pot was a fresh salmon soup, massive chunks of salmon and vegetables. A memorable meal! It was very very cold but they dressed us each day in thickly padded ski outfits and very warm boots. Sadly it was dark by 2pm so we were out each day at dawn until we lost the light. Jeremy was happy as long as he was the centre of attention but he kept us entertained on the long dark evenings. I was amused when the first thing he asked me to do was purchase some makeup for him for the shoot – and it had to be Clinique.
I took voluntary redundancy/early retirement at the age of 50 in 1991. The writing was on the wall that things were on the change in ITV. This was proved when in 1992 almost ¾ of script supervisors were made redundant – they only kept on the girls who would act up as Production Managers etc. Vicky Standeven was head of the department at that time and was asked to prepare a list of people she would like to keep and people to let go. It was rather ironic that when the axe fell it also fell on her. She wasn’t my favourite person but I definitely felt some sympathy with her at what had happened. Obviously there were still programmes to be made and work for all these girls but they had to join the freelance market as I had done earlier. At least you could pick and choose if your financial state allowed and didn’t have to work with Directors you couldn’t stand! Sadly the Union was very weak by this time and I was told to negotiate my own rate as the Union couldn’t help me – at this point I resigned. Freelance people are treated very poorly these days – on Coronation Street I’ve been on the same rate for 10 years, not having received even a cost of living rise and was then asked to take a drop of £11 per day to put our rate in line with Emmerdale. For quite a few months I refused to work on the show but then decided to take the odd contract to suit myself not Coros. This is only because I love the cast and especially love the crew. Its’ like reuniting with my family whenever I return.
Everyone who had worked at GTV in the 60s, 70s & 80s always said we had the best of times – it was a very caring Company to work for. You worked hard but played hard. One of the early PAs, Brenda Sultan was given a position in Personnel to help staff with personal problems. This was a brilliant appointment as no-one could have been more caring than Brenda. I don’t think women had the same opportunities in those days that they had later. I applied for a Production Manager’s job and reached the shortlist stage (but I have to admit to losing out to a better guy). By the 90s women were given more chances, in fact sometimes there are too many women on a production…dare I say!