I did a whole stint for about five years working on network documentaries and I had to work out of London. I worked initially on a programme with Simon Berthon who had worked on ‘World in Action’ and we made this film about desertion amongst airmen in World War Two. That was absolutely fascinating because we were trying to find people who had been branded cowards, or lacking in moral fibre as the term was in the Second World War, and then also airman who had found their way to Switzerland and Sweden during the war. They were neutral countries and it meant that if an aircrew came down in those countries they were effectively out of the war for its duration.
That was my first encounter with Ray Fitzwalter who was the Executive of that programme. He was his own myth, I suppose, within Granada. One heard more stories about him than anybody else. His stock questions whenever someone wanted to work on ‘World in Action’ was ‘Have you thought of moving to Bury’ and ‘Do you play snooker?’ Neither of which I did. I must say he was really impressive because we had been working on this for a while and he saw immediately the line through the film.
What was really difficult about that film, when I think about it now, is that this was trying to find people almost fifty years after the beginning of the war without the internet, with communications that effectively got down to using a phone in the office late at night trying to track down people in America who had been on these air crews and landed in Sweden or Switzerland during the war.
When I think now how the Internet would have made all of that so much simpler. But in those days it was literally a case of phone bashing. Phone bashing was what you did when you joined Granada. I’d never done it before and never done it since as much as I did when I worked there in those first few years.
It was a real privilege to be able to go and find people who had their own stories to tell. What I used to love about my job was that you’d make that first contact and often you were then sent to see somebody and you’d be the representative of Granada as you walked through their door. You could just walk in literally anywhere, from the humblest person to the ministry of foreign affairs in India or somewhere like that. It just opened doors for you. Somebody told me this story that when I became a researcher at Granada my duties would be researching questions about the Prime Minister one day and organising coffee for the crew the next.
That really was it, you had to do everything but that was the glory of the job. We had no such title as assistant producer in those days, it was researcher and producer and that was the designation. It was dead man’s shoes waiting for a producer’s job to come up and then everybody applied and if you were lucky you got the job. Overnight you were expected to become someone who could tell a film crew what to do but that seemed to be the system