So your dad, Alastair Houston, worked at Granada. So when you were growing up, was that your memory of your dad always worked there?
Yes, always, and I always wanted to be with my dad. And so one of my very earliest memories is being pushed in my pushchair across the cobbles, which would have been outside the front reception at Granada. I can’t remember the name of the street, but not Vera Street, the next one down. And Dad was rushing, because he always rushed everywhere, and he tipped me up and I fell out, hit my head on the cobbles, and he had to take me to the first aid, the medical centre. So my first memory is the nurse, really, at Granada. But I went with him a lot and just loved everything about it and just knew that’s what I wanted to do. Even though I was quite academic at school, but when I said I wanted to go work in television my teacher, she said, “No, get yourself a proper job,” because I was good at maths and they said computing was the way forward. Go and get a job. And I thought about it, but no. I wanted to be in television. And I wanted to do what I do now. I wanted to do drama, a script supervisor, because my mum used to meet… do you remember Hilda Miller? My mum used to meet her on a Saturday morning and I’d sometimes go with them and I’d listen to all these stories where she’d been and who she’d met, and what she’d worked on. I just thought it sounded like such a glamorous lifestyle. Sometimes when I was standing in the middle of a field in the pouring rain, I remember back to that and think, “Yes, that’s why you’re here. Because it’s glamorous!”
Do you think that was the main reason that you wanted to join? Because it sounded exciting and glamorous?
It was exciting, yes. I’d say fun, and it didn’t seem like it was a regular job, really. I didn’t want to… I was going to say I didn’t want to go to the same place every day, but I did for a long time because we did at Granada. Nowadays I never go to the same place twice, but you did. But it was every show was different. Every sort of job I worked on was different. Even when I was a secretary, every job was different. You met so many people, which was one of the things I liked. So some jobs where you work with the same people every day for 30 years or more, and even at Granada, there was such a big group of people that you were working with. And I think that suited me. I enjoyed that. And I just loved it. I loved everything about it from the moment I started, really.
Thinking about as you were growing up, did you have any involvement in kind of social activities or children’s parties or any other things like that?
Every Christmas, staff would be given a bonus, and the bonus would come on a Friday, and on a Saturday there’d be a children’s party. So the idea was that you could leave your children at the party and then go and spend your bonus, do your Christmas shopping or whatever. And my brother, Andrew and I, always went to the Christmas party. I can remember Therese Meek, vision mixer, she was a year older than me, and she took me under her wing and looked after us at the parties because our dads were very friendly. And so they were great. They’d have, I can remember Sandie Shaw being on in the 60s, when she was a big star, and Lionel Blair. I can’t really remember any other people apart from one thing. The snake keeper at Bellevue Zoo was one of the guests. And I don’t know what he did with that snake. He must have released it, but I can remember standing on a chair screaming, and I’ve been terrified of snakes ever since.
I definitely remember that!
So that’s as a result of one of the children’s parties. But there was quite a good social life in the early days that my dad was quite involved in, because they had a theatre club at the stables. So like an amateur dramatic thing, and they put plays on, and Dad would get involved with that. And Mum would go as well. So Mum and Dad both knew a lot of people and had quite a lot of social activities and there seemed to be an awful lot of parties as well. Well, more than ever is these days!
Because you’re working too hard.
Yes. Yes. It felt very much like a family business in the early days. Of course, the Bernsteins were around a lot as well. Even when I started, because I started as a secretary, a temporary secretary, a floating secretary in 1979, just before the strike. In fact, the strike happened in my probation period, and I could have kept working because I wasn’t a union member or anything. My dad was on the picket line so I didn’t cross the picket line. I went to work at the Palace Theatre instead, join that side. But then went straight back to Granada when the strike finished.
And the Bernsteins were still in Manchester quite a lot then. And because Mrs Wooller, Joyce Wooller, ran the sixth floor, anybody who she knew wanted to be a PA, she tried to get in onto the sixth floor so she could see how they were doing and whether she thought they were suitable to be PAs. And so I quite often went to work for the Bernsteins when they were in Manchester. And I worked for Mike Scott on the sixth floor when his secretary was off as well. So I sort of did quite a few jobs up there, for the high and mighty of Granada.
Yes, and what were your impressions, then, of the Bernsteins? And what’s your kind of working relationship?
Yes, it was very, very much a working relationship. They were perfectly civil. Nice. There was no sort of airs and graces. But I always remember the stories of everybody having to leave their office tidy at night because Mr Bernstein would make a patrol and be up in the corridors at night after everybody’d gone home and have a look at the state of the offices. Whether that was true or not, I don’t know, but I suspect it was.
It was that kind of urban myth, wasn’t it, certainly.
And interestingly, Mike Scott is somebody that not a lot of people have talked about and he was obviously there, but people have talked about the Bernsteins and about David Plowright.
Well I remember Mike Scott from when I was growing up, because my dad was quite friendly with him. I can’t remember, I think he was a director before he went into…
He was a presenter, certainly.
He was a presenter, yes, but I think before that he was… I think he was on the technical side or directorial, something like that, I can’t quite remember. I’ve got some of the original Granada books, I’d have to look at them and see what his job was. But I was always quite impressed with him because I found him good fun. I liked going to work for him as his secretary because he gave you more responsibility you weren’t just typing letters. He gave you more responsibility, but I can’t quite remember what that was because it’s an awfully long time ago now. But he was quite a big character, because obviously he presented, and he was presenter then because he did Cinema, didn’t he? And then he did that show, the morning show. Interview show, didn’t he?
The Time The Place?
The Tim, The Place, yes, that was it, yes. Yes. So I remember him quite well and he would have been general manager or something then? I can’t remember what his title was, but it was something like that. And I worked for him probably two months or something, no great length of time. And then, of course, I went to work for the production managers and was there for four, five years before I got a PA’s job. And that was great.
So what did you do? Presumably fairly soon after you joined you went to work for the production managers. What did that involve?
See, nowadays, they would be called line producers. But then everything was very different and they did all of the scheduling and budgeting and finding locations, all of that. We didn’t have a location manager and a production accountant and a line producer. They did all of it. And there were 10 of them and two secretaries and they did all the dramas that Granada did. All the location dramas. And so my responsibilities were obviously all the typing and the general dealing with the location owners, booking caterers, booking any facility vehicles, coaches, all about the crews. And then I went to work on Brideshead, but not long after I joined the department, I just worked on Brideshead. I went on location with them. So I was at Castle Howard, and in Oxford, and sort of around the production office, really. So we did everything. Secretarial wise, we did everything other than dealing with scripts, because in those days the PAs dealt with the scripts under the producer secretary. So we did all the other administrative roles. And so even dealing with getting rushes back to the labs, all of that. We did all of it and obviously doing Brideshead, it was great. I can remember being in Oxford, I stayed at the Randolph Hotel in Oxford, which is one of the best hotels in Oxford. And I had a suite, because my room was also the production office. So I never really switched off because I couldn’t go to bed until everybody had finished work. And that’s where people watched rushes. I had to look after Aloysius, the teddy bear, because that was the room that was insured. And I can remember Anthony Andrews, who was married to Georgina Simpson. She was coming for the weekend with the family. And so I was rearranging furniture with Anthony Andrews so that the room was suitable for the family. It was ridiculous, really, the things that you had to do. Never get involved in all that these days. But script amendment, there was one script amendment in the whole of Brideshead. And I had to personally go around and knock on the doors and give it to the actors that were involved and apologise for the fact that there was a script amendment, and hand them personally to them. Just a bit different than nowadays where you can get a whole new script first thing in the morning and be expected to shoot it today.
Do you think they had the sense that that time that Brideshead was going to be so successful? It was more than the television programme really, wasn’t it? Now, people refer to it, you just kind of go “Brideshead,” and everybody knows what you’re talking about and have that impression.
It’s such a little book, and yet they made 13 and a half hours of television out of it. Really, it’s quite incredible. And people still watch it nowadays, and say they still enjoy it. So it has stood the test of time. And same with Jewel in the Crown as well, which I also worked on. I got to go to India on that.
What was that like? Because presumably that was working in a different location, in the heat, and working with different people, that would have been interesting.
The biggest thing for me about Jewel in the Crown was communication, because of course there were no mobile phones or computers in those days. And I ran the office in the UK for most of the time when they were in India. So just everything was done really by telex. Of course, there was quite a big time difference as well. And we at Granada basically worked nine-ish until five-thirty. A bit of flexibility. So there was quite a time difference. So I can remember sending long, long telexes and the telex roll with all the dots with the holes cut out. And sometimes they wouldn’t go through. So I had to keep the telex roll and try and send it again. And on Valentine’s Day, the company said that everybody who was in India could send flowers to their loved ones back in the UK. Of course, Muggins has to organise it all. So I got this list and the telex roll was about that wide of all the various requests and messages and that. But I went to Rodgers, the florist in Chorlton.
Oh my. And woe betide if you missed anybody out.
Yes, well, quite, yes!
And then you went out there.
And then I went out there, yes. And it was just incredible, really, because it was… Well, I’d never been abroad before, apart from anything else. That was my first foray abroad, which was quite an eye opener. And my lasting impression of India is the noise, bustle, and colour. That’s what I would always remember. But very different way of working as well. We didn’t have any photocopying, nothing. I remember typing the call sheet on a stencil and having to push down the Gestetner machine and turn the handle, which was so alien. But I was more there on holiday than working. But I did obviously got involved because I’d been working on the show. So, yes, I got involved, but just an incredible experience. And I was very lucky at nearly 21 to go to Kashmir, which of course you can’t go to now. Absolutely beautiful, stunning part of the world.
And was the production manager your main point of contact, then?
Yes, there were two production managers, Bill Shephard and Ian Scaife, and I was their secretary, really. But also, I had quite a lot of dealings with the producer, Christopher Morahan, and just everybody, really. All the crew, because just the job involved the scheduling, and typing the schedules and the call sheets and things like that. So I dealt with everybody. That’s one of the things I’ve liked about being a PA as well, is the fact that it’s one of the few jobs where you deal with every department, which I quite like.
And did it run over, Jewel?
Well, it did because if you remember, they had a fire that the warehouse burned down that they had to move and they lost all lot of continuity photographs and continuity props and costumes. So I think that that extended it a little while. But I didn’t get run over by any great amount of time. They only stopped shooting for about two weeks and found another warehouse and I can’t quite believe they’ve managed to do it. Get sets in there and that, but they did.
And that was a period, really, wasn’t it? When you think back, that was Granada’s great period of drama because they’d had staying on before that, and then Jewel, and…
It’s changed quite after that drama age. Well, whole world changed, really. The whole television world in turn became much more location based. And I don’t think they made any studio drama after that. Yes, I don’t think so anyway. That whole way of working changed and… yes, it did. Very different. I mean, I think it changed more in the 90s, but certainly that was the start of the change.
So how soon after that did you actually become a PA, and did you get a number of boards or did you get it first time?
No, I definitely didn’t get it first time. In fact, I think I applied twice and then the second time I said to them, “Can I have a meeting with you to find out why I’ve not got it?” because it was the only job I ever wanted to do. And they said, “We don’t think you’ll ever make a PA,” which of course was devastating news to me. So I decided to look for another job. And I’d found a job that I wanted to do in Belgium, in Brussels. I was typing my letter of resignation when I got a phone call saying that they decided to take on another PA. They weren’t taking just one, we had to train two, and they’d like to offer me the job. And I said, “Well, you told me I’d never make a PA, I was too shy and all this. So what’s changed?” And they never really told me. But they took two of us on to train at the same time, and half way through training, the other girl who’d got the job in the first place didn’t like it, decided she wasn’t cut out to be a PA and left, whereas I stayed and I’ve done nothing else ever since. So, no, definitely didn’t get it the first time and really thought that I was going to have to find an alternative career at one stage.
That’s quite harsh, isn’t it actually? No, that is completely devastating for somebody who’s always wanted to do it.
Yes. I was. I just didn’t know what to do, because it was the only thing that I ever wanted to do, really. The only other thing I wanted to do, at one time, I wanted to be a sports presenter. And I remember because I did my work experience at Granada as well. And I did some time on a drama and some time in a sports department. I remember Paul Doherty laughing at me and saying “No chance. We’ll never have women sports presenters.” I was just probably about 30 years too early. That’s the thing they won’t tell you those days.
No, definitely not.
So at that stage, then, the head of PAs would be Ivy Stevens?
Ivy Stevens, Yes. Yes.
So she was responsible for kind of recruiting and rotating PAs?
Yes. Well, it was funny because on my interview, I can remember Bob Connell, who was personnel, and I can remember there was a PA on the board, and I can remember who she was, and I’m not going to say who it was because she was the one who said I’d never make it. But I don’t remember Ivy being there, weirdly, but I’m sure she was. And Mrs Wooller would have been there as well, because she was always on the boards.
Yes, certainly. I remember Mrs Wooller because I think it was the one and only time that I met her. I think that was transfixed by her hair. Yes. So tell me a bit about the training. So you’ve got the job, how did the training go?
Well, I was trained at first by Hilda Miller, which was strange because she was really the reason that I wanted to do the job, because she was my mum’s friend. So it was weird to be trained by her. I’d known her all my life. But it was fine, and I took to it like a duck to water, loved it right from the beginning. Then I did things like Picture Box and University Challenge and all the things that we all did and got through all those quite fast. And then it was time to go and do the news and Hilda didn’t like doing live telly. So Sue Wild took me over there. I was trained by Sue doing the news, and just loved it right from the beginning. And it was in the days when it was presented by Bob Greaves and Tony Wilson, Bob Smithies, Richard and Judy. So, they’re quite bit characters presenting the news as well. And so you had to know what you were doing and you had to be confident and that… but just straight away, I loved it. And that was what I loved doing was live telly, live sports as well, but there wasn’t as much of that then.
Were there were two PAs?
Yes. There were two PAs. One would do rolling and cueing. When I was being trained by Sue, I got timings because she didn’t like doing timings, she liked doing rolling and cueing. So she used to sit at the back and let the girls do the timings when it was my turn to do rolling and cueing. But I think it was supposed to be a nine-month training period. And I think I came off supervision after about six months, and I was left to do the news myself. Oh actually, no. The first show I did was a show called Weekend… like a Friday night magazine show presented by Susie Mathis and Ted Robbins. And that was live as well. So that was quite a good thing to start on. I did do a lot of live telly early on, because the news centre at Liverpool opened as well. And I went to train the PAs there, even though I was the newest PA. I think I took to computers quite well. So I went and trained the new PAs that were taken on there. That would be late 1986 when that opened.
Was there a point where you did drama, certainly Coronation Street… would you still want to do drama, that would’ve been your passion and your aim?
I didn’t really at that stage, no. Because I just loved doing live telly, absolutely loved it, more than I ever thought I would.
What was it about live telly that you liked?
I loved the adrenaline, just the fact that once you’ve done it, it was over as well. It was done. It was just… I absolutely loved it. It was exciting, but I knew that I had to do drama as well. But you didn’t train on Coronation Street straight away, you had to do a couple of years doing magazine shows. And what else… LE as well, you had to do LE before…
Did you do World in Action?
I did, but I started on World In Action just before… Because you normally do a year of World In Action. But I started World In Action and then they opened the news centre of Granada at Liverpool, and I went and I was taken off World in Action to actually do that. So I only ever did two or three months, I think, on it. And then, once I finished training the PAs at the Albert Dock, I came back to Manchester to do Coronation Street and started training on that. And I think that’s the way it worked then, you did you sort of general training, and then you did drama training, but I hated Coronation Street, hated everything about it, and then thought again, “Oh my God, I wanted to do drama and now I don’t like this,” but I found the cast hard work. It was a very much an ‘us and them’. It didn’t feel like the cast and crew mixed at all.
Can you take me through what the role of the PA was on Coronation Street?
I think it would have been a three-week turnaround. It was only two episodes a week then. So, your first week was all your prep: your rehearsal scripts, and you break down timings. And then the second week would be rehearsals and camera scripts. And then I think you went into the studio Thursday afternoon and Friday, I remember. It was all on film then as well, you’re filming on a Monday morning. And then the third week would be your edit and your clearing and start the whole turnaround again. And the only bit I really liked about it was the tech run in the studio. I didn’t like anything else. I hated all the paperwork. I quite liked the editing actually. Because I think that… and I always say when I’m training scripting now, I will say that, that it was one of the most important things in learning about continuity, is sitting in the edit suite and seeing mistakes and how… or see what mattered and what didn’t matter. I think that’s one of the most important parts of script supervisor is sitting in an edit suite and learning that. Which nowadays, people don’t have a chance to do. Now, when I’m training people, I always send them to the edit suite.
And did you have particular techniques for doing the continuity or did somebody kind of give you advice? Because you’re very observant aren’t you, I suppose?
That was the part I just liked. I liked that bit the most. And I enjoyed it. And I think it came quite naturally. I mean, I spent a lot of time when I was in the production manager’s office on set, watching the PAs doing continuity and how they worked. So I spent a lot of time talking to Sue Wild and Jackie Turner, people about how they did it. Christine Watt, lots of people. Because everybody did it differently. So there was lots of different ways learning about it. And also the directors were very helpful as well. And if you were interested in it, they would tell you what to look out for, and talked to them about where they wanted to make an edit and that. So you knew what things to look out for. So I think that was something that I loved straight away, but I didn’t like doing it on Coronation Street. I just didn’t enjoy Coronation Street. So as soon as I could get off it, I did.
And where did you go next?
And then I, I think I did a bit of LE. I did the Kate Robbins Show, and then went to back to Liverpool to do This Morning. Because Sue and I started This Morning off and did the first 18 months of This Morning. Which, that was amazing.
Tell me about that.
Well, I can remember when Granada were awarded This Morning, we all thought it would last six weeks. Taking crew every day on a coach to Liverpool, and that it wasn’t going to last. And here we are however many years later, and it’s still going strong. But it felt like it was… the same crew did the show all the time, so it was very much a family. It was hard work for the PAs. It was very hard work. It was only two of us. So we would get on the coach at seven o’clock in the morning, there was a huge mobile phone that you had that you used to get the timing because they’d been editing all the various inserts overnight. The daily producer would ring you on the coach, give you all the timings. So you’d sit on the coach with your running order, working out your timings. And then working out how long you have left for the live interviews and the phone and stuff like that. So by the time you got to Liverpool, you could go to the daily producer and talk them through how long you have left and things have changed. Obviously things change while you’re on air. You get to Liverpool about, I don’t know, just probably just after eight. Have some breakfast, and then… I think we used to go do a bit of rehearsing beforehand, but we also shared the control room with Granada News. So there was this ridiculous sort of shuffle where the This Morning vision mixer director and PA would have to get up out of the seats, stand up, let the news team in, while they did their bulletins twice, every day. A lot of them was while you were actually on air with This Morning. So that was ridiculous. And I used to often say, “Why don’t we just do the news bulletins as well?” but they wouldn’t let us; it was political, that decision. So, then you’d do the live show. So we used to alternate. One PA would do Monday, Wednesday, Friday and the other two would do Tuesday Thursday, and then obviously the next week would alternate. So in the afternoon, you do your clearing for the show you’d just done, while the other PA would be doing typing the running order, putting all the preliminary typing, and typing the script for the next day. And quite often the scripts were coming in really late. So the bus would leave with the crew in the afternoon at three o’clock. I don’t think Sue and I ever got on that bus to go back, because we’d never finished the work. The scripts were never ready. So they used to have to get us taxis back at night, which must have been a ridiculous expense from Liverpool all the way. But we couldn’t drive, because we needed to be on the phone on the way over.
So then they got us a secretary to type the script, which helped a little bit, but we were still there quite often very late at night. And somehow into the role became on the way home, delivering the script to Richard and Judy at home, because they’d gone home. So every night, we’d turn up at their house in Manchester with the script. And one of us would stay in the taxi because Richard and Judy would always invite us in as well. We’d be like, “No, no, no, we’ve got to go.” But quite often they wanted to discuss the script or anything. So we had quite a good relationship with Judy and Richard, but it wasn’t sustainable working like that. We were just working ridiculous hours and the overtime was just… I mean, we earned fortunes.
But I did get to go to Disneyland with This Morning, which was an experience. So we were doing it sort of as live. We flew out to… well, the director and two of the… the director, one of the producers, and two researchers had gone out a few weeks before to get a lot of items together. And then the This Morning editor and I flew out about a week before we were due to do the programmes. And then Richard and Judy flew out on the Friday after the last show, because there was no break, they were doing all the shows. And they brought whole family with them because Disney had said that part of the deal was they wanted it to be a family experience. So the twins, Jackie and Chloe, came too. And the nanny and the hairdresser. Everybody. The whole entourage. But it was just the most surreal experience. Because we started off on the Monday, we were recording the shows, but as live. So we could only stop when we got to commercial break. The first quarter of an hour on the Monday morning we were doing Mickey Mouse’s This is Your Life. And so we sat in an OB scanner, the director and I, and we had an American vision mixer. And behind us were 12 Disney executives sat there and we started out, we started, and they’d all seen the script beforehand. And then doing Mickey Mouse’s This is Your Life, and Judy asked Mickey Mouse, a question and he replied and they were like, “No, no, no, stop, stop, stop. You can’t do that. Mickey Mouse can’t speak.” So, so we had to stop. And of course, every time we stopped, we had to go back to the beginning and that, and it was, it just took a long time to do the programme, and we were eight hours behind the UK.
So by the time we finished recording it, we then have just about enough time to satellite it back for it to go out. But we’d got so far behind because of the Disney execs that literally it was going out, the first part was going out just as we were sending the last part. So we couldn’t send it all in one go, we were sending it in bits, and the PAs had to type a VTR sheet. Do you remember it had carbon copies on it? And I still, I’d taken those to America with me. And I don’t know, I must’ve been faxing them back because I can’t remember, but I didn’t have time to do them. So I was literally on the phone to central control room. Jim Grant, Lee Child, I can remember talking to him and giving him the timing, each part timings over the phone, saying, you know, putting the first part out while I was still giving him the timings, it was, it was horrendous. And one time we got so far behind, we couldn’t get the programme to the airport to be satellited. I think can’t remember why, but we went to LAX to satellite that, but we didn’t have time to get to the airport. And so the Disney exec said to me, because I was in charge of all this technical stuff, because I was the only sort of Granada technical person there, so they said, “Never mind, we’ll, we can get it back for you.” And they took me through one of the attractions and through a door in the back. And there was a full-scale like, control room and TV studio that they had behind the scenes that they’d never shown us. And we satellited it back from there, and that’s what we did then for the rest of the week, thankfully, so there wasn’t a mad dash to the airport afterwards. But it was all pretty scary and pretty last minute.
And there was one time when at five o’clock every night they played the US national anthem, but Judy was in the middle of interviewing Brer Bear. I mean, it’s completely surreal, completely mad, but he had to stop to salute the flag and sing the national anthem and she’s tugging at his sleeve saying, “But I need you to be interviewed!” Crazy, crazy, crazy times.
And that was the point when Richard and Judy, they probably were known kind of on a regional basis, but This Morning really transformed that, didn’t it?
Yes. Really transformed it. And that was when we went and did This Morning from Disneyland, that was, This Morning had been out for a whole year and it was the sort of second October, the second October of its run. So it was the October half term which is how all the children had managed to come with us. So, so yes, but I also, I must be the only person who spent two weeks at Disneyland and never actually saw Mickey Mouse because I’ve ever got outside the OB scanner or the hotel rooms typing scripts.
I don’t think I did This Morning, but I always found them really kind of professional presenters to work with. I mean, what you always wanted as a PA was that your presenter, when something went wrong, could cope with it, that they could, they could manage it and they could take those changes. And I think they were good like that. Bob Greaves, Tony Wilson, in my experience, they could, they could do that. They could respond to that.
Yes. Well, we hadn’t been on air that long with This Morning when Lockerbie happened, and obviously the whole running order went out the window that morning. We used to always go through to central control. We would check the running time each day and the segments. We invariably went on air at 10:40:00 and came off at 12:10:15, I think it was. That day I went through and we all also, we went to the ITN news in the middle, I think at 11 o’clock, something like that. So there was the ITN news and then the local news. So we had a sort of three, four minute break in the middle. And that morning I went, went through to them and they said, “You go on, I have a 10:40:00 and we’ll go to the House of Commons at some point, but we can’t give you an off-air time. You’ve just got to fill.” So they couldn’t, they couldn’t give us a time when we were coming off air. And I think we eventually came off air at about one o’clock in the afternoon. So we had another 50 minutes to fill.
The cartoon that week, because it was the Christmas holidays and there was a cartoon going out and cartoon was called Plane Crazy. And it was about Donald Duck on a plane, we weren’t allowed to show that, so the cartoon had gone. Fred Talbot – there’s another story – had gone to, he’d taken a whole load of kids to Lapland on a plane and that was supposed to go out that morning, that couldn’t go out. And so, the running order really was bare. And we had no idea of how long we had to fill. And we have no idea of how long we were going to go to the House of Commons for, how long that we were going to go to ITN for all of those things. And Richard and Judy were amazing. They just coped with it, whatever, and I’m sure that my voice in their ears was quite panicked at times, where I was saying, “You’ve got five minutes longer to fill,” or something like that, but they just coped with it. There were amazing, really, really professional. And that, that’s how I always found them to be very professional.
So after This Morning, where did you go next?
Well, I didn’t want to leave This Morning, but because I loved doing it and that but Granada were starting a new soap opera called Families. And I was one of the first PAs to work on that, three or four of us. And that was the first soap opera to do four episodes a week. And it was the first one at Granada where we were using a computer to type scripts and do cameras, set camera scripts and things. So it was, quite a different, different thing. And it was also half set in Australia and half set in the UK. And there was a lot of cast coming from Australia. So that was a very interesting experience. Very, very hard work, just doing four episodes a week, because nobody had done it before, so we had to work out a way of working and a sort of a turnaround for it. I think we did a four week turnaround.
I think there were four PAs, but obviously there was just so much typing and just so much prep to do, to get four camera scripts out and, and then also the continuity, because there was, I think, three trips to Australia, certainly after the first two series, which is what I was involved with. And the PA that went to Australia had to do continuity on everybody’s episodes, whether they were ones that she’d worked on in the UK or not. So that was quite challenging. So, all the PAs all had to keep notes, anything that… because all the Australian interiors were shot in the studio in Manchester, and most of the Australia exteriors were shot in Australia. So if had somebody came through a door, if there was a scene outside the house and they came through a door, into the studio, obviously you needed to have continuity notes, and you needed to have all the costume notes and everything like that. So that was quite challenging. It was interesting. It was the first time I’d ever done continuity notes for somebody else to pick up. So that, that’s something else that stood me in good stead over the years for having second units and pick-up days and things. So yes, that was interesting. And I didn’t do the first two trips to Australia, but I did go the third time, and we were doing inserts for a hundred episodes so…
Logistically, it’s a huge operation, isn’t it?
Yes. It’s yes, well, yes. And the only people that went out from the UK other than the cast were the producer, director, and PA, they didn’t take anybody else. And there was a lot of set dressing that needed to go. Like one of the houses had big plate-glass windows, and there were Venetian blinds at the windows, just so obviously when we’re in the studio, you couldn’t see outside. Those Venetian blinds had to go on the plane with us to Australia. So the producer and I had all the costumes, we had things like we had a set of Venetian blinds that was six feet long. It was just bizarre. So yes. So, that was another interesting overseas experience.
What time of day was that transmitted, then?
I think it started out sort of a teatime show, I think, but then it went to late night, went to 10:30, and it ran for, I think, four series, maybe five. I’m not sure, but I was involved in the first two, it had quite a cult following, but I don’t think it did well enough in the viewing figures for Granada to carry it on. But I have to say, I still keep in touch with nearly all the Australian cast; with Facebook and that nowadays it’s amazing. And so many of cast, yes, it was Jude Law’s first job, Jonny Lee Miller’s first job. So, and yes, I mean the Australian cast in particular I’m still in touch with, and it changed my life because that’s what made me, I went to Australia and I loved it there, I loved the way of life and thought I was going, I’d think about going to live there. And I couldn’t, I just could not get to do the big dramas at Granada. It was like a closed shop. There was only certain PAs that got to do that. So I came back. I went out to Australia in, I think, end of August, September. And when I came back, it was end of October. So I’d gone in summer and I came back and it was really basically winter. And about a week or two weeks after I came back, there was a big staff meeting at Granada, because this would be 1990-91, the big staff meeting. And they asked for voluntary redundancies. I applied straight away, which everybody was amazed at because they all thought that I would, like my dad, be at Granada for a long time. And I just thought, “No, I’m going to go freelance and maybe go to Australia.” And so I left about four months after that, which was the best thing I ever did.
I mean, it’s interesting what you’re saying about, because I think what we were talking a bit about rota-ing and how PAs got their role. And I think it was seen that the drama was the kind of ultimate, wasn’t it?
Yes. It was, yes.
And there were some people who were, that’s kind of almost all they did really.
And it was, and I think for somebody like you, it was probably difficult to break into that.
Yes. Well, I was the youngest member of the department as well. So there was no way. But doing Families made me realise that I actually did love doing drama and that’s what I wanted to do. It was just a completely different experience than working on Coronation Street, so when I got the chance to leave, I did. I think only two PAs out of a department of 42 applied for voluntary redundancy and I was the only one that they let go. So, I was lucky then because then of course, less than I think it was probably just over 12 months later, half the department were made redundant.
Did you get a sense at that time that things were starting to change, from a perspective of the company that you’d known for years and years?
Yes. The first time it really got to where it started to change, where I was aware of it, was towards the end at This Morning when the house agreement came into play, and a lot of the rules changed about working practices and overtime and pay and everything. And it really did start to change then. And then, yes, when did they make the first redundancies… 1988, wasn’t it? Because I was when my dad left. He was in the first round. I think, yes, it definitely wasn’t the family company that it had been then, although there was still a lot of family elements, because there were so many people there from the good old days, but it was definitely changing. The management was changing, the whole structure of the company was changing really. And it wasn’t run by programme makers any more.
And that had implications in terms of budget. Things that you’d never really thought to think about before.
Yes. I mean, I was still sort of relatively young and inexperienced, and didn’t really think about it until after I’d left. But yes, it was a very different company than it had been, certainly from when I started, but definitely from when my dad was there. Yes.
And what do you think, because you’ve gone on to work for lots of other kind of organisations, what do you think was distinctive about Granada in the period that you worked for, compared to other companies?
Yes, that’s an interesting question because most of the time since I’ve been freelance, I’ve worked for independent companies. I’ve worked for the BBC on the odd occasion, but you work very much within the production. You don’t get involved in the wider organisation. So Granada’s the only company that I’ve ever had any real sense of the organisation. So that’s the only time I’ve been employed by a corporation really. So, so that’s a difficult question for me to answer.
And did you get a sense, because your dad had always worked there as well, that it was very much in Manchester, wasn’t it? It was very much a kind of regional company with, with, but with worldwide aspirations.
Yes. I mean, my dad had worked at the BBC beforehand. He worked at BBC in London, but Mum hated London, and so that’s why he applied to Granada Manchester, so that they could come up north. But they always had really, quite big aspirations. I think the Bernsteins and people like David Plowright had big aspirations for the company. And when you think of some of the talent that came out of it, people like Derek Granger, Peter Eckersley and David Liddiment, people who’ve had, and are still having, a big influence on the television industry nowadays, I think they always had… and then people like Andy Harries as well, who didn’t have a drama background at Granada, but has gone on to have a very big drama impact. I think it was a very good training ground. Anybody who came out of Granada I think had very good training. I think second only probably to the BBC. I don’t think anybody else trained as well as they did, across the board. I think from programme makers to technical people, probably cast too, started out there as well. Because, they had quite a family of cast members that they used a lot of the time as well, didn’t they?
And just a question I didn’t think I was going to ask you, but, as a PA you were probably at a time when there were technological changes, weren’t there?
I think I left before the computers really started. So, that must have been quite an interesting development?
Yes, and I really enjoyed that. Because, going back to when I’d been at school and my careers teachers had said, because I was very good at maths, “You should be going for a career in computers, get a proper job rather than going into television.” So, I think when computers were introduced, I just embraced it, and was lucky that I could learn it pretty fast. And when we used to do the news, because we were the first computerised newsroom, I found that fascinating. And it was liberating, really. It made life so much easier, but you had to remember that you were only as good as the information that you’ve put in. So, if you haven’t got the information in right, the computer wasn’t going to do it right for you. And that’s what a lot of people didn’t understand and still don’t nowadays. So it certainly changed it. And just in terms of queuing tapes, when we started out, you’d have a 10-second queue. And then by the time I stopped doing ITV, it was all instant. And I think now it’s all automatic, isn’t it? Nobody queues it. So, it’s really, really different. In the way that things were edited, completely different. All the film editors doing the offline edits and… very, very different than it had been when I started. Going into the cutting room and seeing the rolls of film on the Steenbeck, you don’t do that any more. So, yes, very, very different.
And I was in sound as well. Because dad in the music studio, his desk in that music studio was the first 36-track recording desk in the UK. So that’s why so many of the big stars loved coming to Granada to record music, because they could do things that they couldn’t do with other recording studios. Dad was off quite often asked to do certain parts of the track. So I know he did, I think it was the drum track on Ultravox’s Vienna. And so that was a big change for my dad and the way he worked. But, considering that he was really older generation, he also embraced that, and maybe that’s where I got the mathematical brain from! And he really seemed to understand how that desk worked and could work it very, very well. And I think was very good at what he did.
I think there would’ve been some people who would have been kind of scared and resistant to it. And, like you say, it’s going to happen anyway, isn’t it? But it’s how people embrace it really.
Well, I think people were also scared that it was going to do people out of jobs. And undoubtedly, it has probably. It’s certainly changed roles, and there’s probably roles that don’t exist now that used to. We don’t have PAs on news any more, for instance. But I think certainly in the drama world, I think it’s made it less efficient, because it’s meant that scripts can be more last minute. So, there’s not as much planning time as they used to be. You couldn’t change a script on the day before, because it just wasn’t physically possible. Obviously you had to have somebody went ill or something, but that was exceptional. But nowadays it very much is the norm that you can start shooting on a Monday and you probably don’t get the final script until the Friday afternoon. And then it will be amended constantly, constantly. And it doesn’t matter what scale the production is, that can happen.
I did a feature film last year where it was being written literally as we were shooting. It wasn’t a low budget film, that was quite a big budget film. In fact, we were shooting one scene and it had changed three times and the actors started saying words and I prompted with words that were on my script and they were like, “Oh no, it’s changed again since then.” So, I think computers have done a lot of good, I think for PAs doing things like Coronation Street, has probably made life easier. I don’t know, because I haven’t worked on anything like that since the computers came out. But certainly the repetition. When you think, when you used to type the camera script and then you had to type the camera cards separately, and repeat all that typing, and now they’re done automatically. So, it must have helped with that. But, I think certainly in the bigger drama world, then it’s made it less, I would say less efficient and more susceptible to change.
And the call sheets, when I was in the production manager’s office, the stage managers used to ring up at three o’clock in the afternoon, if not earlier, depending on where the location was. From a phone box, take the call sheet, I’d type it, photocopy it and it would go out to location. Nowadays, you quite often don’t get the call until eight, nine o’clock at night. And so you don’t know what time you start the next day, where you’re going, what scenes you’re shooting. I think a lot of it’s down to computers, because it’s down to late scripts, and so therefore it is not as efficient I don’t think.
Right, is there anything else that you feel we’ve not covered?
Not really, no. 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 Sue 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.
No, I was hopeless at drama. But you’re right, and it’s interesting that you’re saying it’s still mainly a female job now, because I can understand initially, because you did have to have keyboard skills and that tended to be people who’d come from a secretarial background. And I still think that’s one of the best skills I ever learnt, but now…
Everybody can type.
Yes. There are a lot more script supervisors in drama that are male these days, there are quite a lot. But, most of them want to go on and direct or produce. And they’re using it as a stepping stone to that. Whereas I think a lot of female script supervisors tend to stay doing the job. So, it’d be interesting to see, because most of the male ones are younger, so it would be interesting to see whether they manage to break through, and whether they do get the chances or not.
And at Granada as well, and I don’t think this is necessarily the case at other places, the vision mixers, in my recollection, were all female as well.
Yes, they were. It was the same at the BBC as well. I did a few things at Television Centre in London after I’d gone freelance, and all the vision mixers there were female as well. I don’t know why.