Jane Houston on the people who have influenced her – and the PA’s role

I mean the characters really that influenced me the most, I would say would be Hilda Miller and Sue Wild. Just because I wouldn’t have probably ever known about the job if it wasn’t for Hilda. And then she was just such a big influence in training me. And then we worked together for a long time on This Morning and became great friends, and are still great friends now. So, I think she’s probably the biggest influence on my career. Because even when I went freelance and finally got to do drama, I would still ring Sue for advice. And so they’re the biggest two. But obviously, there’s so many people, producers and directors, that I’ve got to meet and work with, that I feel very honoured to have known and worked with.

One of our interviewees said how invaluable PAs were to a production, and all the work that they did. And I think he was kind of observing that they didn’t necessarily go on to do other things, when actually they could have done because they had skills right through a production. Maybe that’s changed in later years, but certainly at the time when say Hilda and Sue started out, if you’re a PA and if you aspire to be anything else, then that was probably quite difficult.

Yes. I think that was definitely true at Granada. But then, I think there was a whole generation of PAs, and one probably just before me, that did have aspirations to be other things. And most of them did go on to produce or direct. But I never really had that aspiration. I certainly think now in the drama world, outside of Granada, it is quite hard for a script advisor to progress, and quite often get overlooked for jobs. I think a lot of it is because the majority of people who do the job are women, and I think that is part of it and certainly was in the past. I think people saw it as a secretarial role where it wasn’t a lot of it. Yes, there was the secretarial side of it, but there was a lot else involved. 

One of the big shows which I haven’t mentioned, which I worked on, was Children’s Ward, which later came to be The Ward. And Paul Abbott created it with Kay Mellor, and Russell T Davis was the producer when I worked on it, and then Kieran Roberts. I think that was a really good example of young talent being given a chance at Granada. And I suppose, because it was children’s drama, they were. But Paul, and Russell, and Kieran have all gone on, obviously, to do very, very well for themselves, Kay Mellor, obviously. But, there weren’t, I don’t think there were a lot of women. The PA’s did the scheduling on Children’s Ward, did all the location scheduling, the studio scheduling, everything. Which is quite a responsible job, but then that was all taken away from us and given to the floor managers’ first assistants. And I never was quite sure why that happened. And we were sent more down the secretarial role, certainly on soaps. Because even on Coronation Street we used to schedule the film shoots and do all the studio schedules. Which was quite a responsible job and quite a difficult job when you had actors’ availability and other units shooting and things like that. So I never quite understood why that was taken away from PAs, but it was. I think there was this misconception that it was just a secretarial role, when it could be so many other things. I was hopeless at bar counting and music, and that side of it, which is a whole other job really. But at Granada, you were expected to do everything, you were expected to do all the different disciplines, whether you were good at it or not.

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