Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 12 December 2013.
Let’s talk a little bit about your career at Granada Television, the programmes you worked on and when you joined.
So initially I did a six-month stint on Exchange Flags which, as you know, was a live lunchtime programme done in Liverpool. After that I was asked to go on to Union World, and really for the rest of my career at Granada I worked on current affairs and documentaries.
So my first taste of programmes other than this live Exchange Flags was helping out one weekend on a mammoth documentary Granada was making about the Liverpool-Everton Milk Cup Final in 1984.
That was my first taste of working with a documentary crew and I remember on that occasion there were eight people.
Wherever you went filming, even in people’s living rooms, tiny homes, you had eight people traipsing in. It always struck me how overwhelming it must have been for people doing interviews with so many people around them.
That really was the case for the few years after, once I started working on Union World and then on other documentaries. You would have a crew of that length of time. Obviously in the sixteen years I worked at Granada that went through an enormous transformation because I think about the late 80s that was when Granada moved from using film and moved to tape.
I was working at that point on World in Action, when that huge change came in. I remember that it took a long time for people to understand how tape was going to make life easier for them and that no longer would you have to prime your interviewees to speak in ten minute bites for a film roll.
So when you went out with a film crew, who would be on that film crew?
I would be the researcher and you would have a cameraman, an assitant cameraman, a sound recordist, assistant sound recordist. There would be an electrician, a PA who would be logging material as you went along and there was a director.
All in all there would be about eight people on a crew.
By the time I left you had two, if you were lucky.
Now since I’ve left Granada most of the time you’re lucky to work with one, although on the current project I’m working on the director is even shooting his own stuff.
It’s gone really to the other extreme.
I do think eight people was rather a lot when you were making really small documentaries, and obviously it was quite an expensive process.
Was it necessary to have all those people?
I don’t know, I don’t know enough about film to say whether or not.
The medium of film meant there was no way of making sound and vision with one person but when you moved to tape that was possible.
I also think it was, given the type of intimate films you’d sometimes be working on, it was ridiculously overwhelming to have so many people in a room.
Maybe people who are used to giving interviews to TV, maybe they wouldn’t be put off but the average person who has maybe got some story to tell, or a terrible tragedy to relate and they’ve agreed to be interviewed in their own home, it must have been an ordeal to have eight people squeezed into one little living room to hear your story. It just seemed to me to get in the way.
So we’re talking about the period here from 1984 to 2000.
I left literally at the end of the century. Tape came in the beginning of the 90s across the board. I became a producer on World in Action; my first programme was in 1993 and by that time we were on tape.
Did you work on local programmes at all when you first joined Granada?
I did. I worked on local programmes for six months. I worked on Exchange Flags and then I worked on something that was like a local current affairs programme; I can’t even remember the name of it. Nick Skidmore was the producer, he’d just been promoted to producer.
I don’t even remember its name.
Roger Blith was the presenter and presented it from studio but it was mainly shot on location and that was shot on film; that was 1984.
I did a couple of other local programmes around that time but at that stage I started to work on Union World. From then I worked on an arts strand that they did called Celebration, that was also done locally.
Then I got to work on more network stuff.
Let’s go back to Union World, tell us about Union World.
Union World was a very good grounding if you wanted to work in current affairs. Obviously it was at a time when trade union politics were very important in Britain. In fact I’d barely started working at Granada when the Miner’s strike began. That kind of dominated the time I worked on Union World, which was end of ’84 and through 1985. That was a good grounding; we were given a lot of room to do current affairs but it had to have a trade union slant.
Sometimes it was tricky because there wasn’t always a fresh angle or a union angle to put on a story.
Sometimes I would be quite frustrated by it or disappointed to find that even the trade unionist we were interviewing didn’t even watch the programme.
That was quite disappointing.
I remember one miners guy from Scotland who came down, George ? president of the Scottish NUM (?). He’d been flown down to do some interview and he was quite anxious to get his flight back on the Saturday.
I said, “don’t worry we’ll get you back in time for the programme to go out.”
He said, “I don’t care about the programme, I’m going dancing with my wife!”
That was a bit dispiriting but on the other hand it was a good grounding. We were given a great deal of freedom as researchers.
I also seem to recall that Arthur Scargill had a dispute with Granada television and wouldn’t appear?
Yes that seemed to have pre dated my coming to Granada and I don’t know the specifics of it. I think it had something to do with him being on some debate programme with a live audience and the idea was that his oratorical skills would persuade the audience; so they take a vote before and after each speaker to see whether or not they had been persuaded by the argument.
My understanding is that his supporters had failed to turn up or the coach had broken down or something like that.
That was the myth, it was a myth, a Granada myth ‘can’t speak to Scargill’.
That was a rather difficult thing when you’re making a programme called Union World throughout the miners strike and you can’t speak to the very person who is central to the union side. We got round it, plenty of other miners officials to interview.
So you moved on to World in Action?
No, not initially. 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.
I got my break when I worked on World in Action and went for the job there and became a producer there.
When did you go to work on World in Action?
I went to work for them…
I’d done this programme I was telling you about on airmen and desertion in World War Two, then I’d worked for eighteen months on a series about how the world was mapped called the Shape of the World. That sent me all over the world, amazing to think now, and was sponsored by IBM, so it was well resourced.
When I came back I was asked to help out on World in Action by my friend and colleague Dorothy Bern who said, “you know how you’ve always wanted to work on World in Action.”
So I said, “yeah”
She said, “I’ve got a job for you, we need some help. We’re doing a film about curb crawling, have you got a short skirt? How would you like to walk up and down this street and see what happens?”
I thought, ‘well if this is the way to get on’.
This was at a time when the director of public prosecution had been caught curb crawling somewhere in King’s Cross.
Anyway there was the film that World in Action was going to make about curb crawling.
So my first job was ‘can you walk up and down this street with a short skirt. Let’s just see how many curb crawlers there are there out there, can you do this?’
That resulted in my going out with the producer Jeff Anderson and the cameraman Nick Plowright and we ended up on some street in Norwich.
They said, “this is the street, we want you walk up and down.”
I said, “but I can’t help but notice it’s half past three in the afternoon, surely the curb crawlers don’t come out until it gets dark?”
Nick said “don’t worry, we can’t see you if it’s dark because the camera won’t pick you up. So we have to do it when it’s daylight.”
So I walked up and down, up and down, up and down that street and of course I didn’t get any takers at all, which was a bit humiliating.
But as Nick said ‘you’re just too classy Janice’.
The second thing I had to do for that film was to try and find a curb crawler who would agree to speaking on TV.
That was my baptism of fire when it came to World in Action because I sat and went through lists of people who had been convicted of curb crawling in recent days in Bradford, I think I chose Bradford.
I was ringing people out of the blue and the number of times I’d say “I’m just ringing you…” and they’d say “I didn’t, I was just asking her for directions.”
There was one occasion where I had to leave a message for some guy; I think it must have been his mother who took the message.
She said “oh he’s not in at the moment can I ask him to ring you back?”
So I said “yes can you ask him to ring Janice at Granada television.”
So within about ten minutes I got a call from this guy.
“Hi it’s Gary, I gather you left a message. Is this about my application for Blind Date?”
I said “no it’s about your recent conviction for curb crawling.”
Needless to say he didn’t want to go on TV.
But eventually I did find a guy who was ready to speak about it because he had some crisis in his marriage, his wife had just had a baby and he felt that he wanted to speak about why he had ended up being convicted.
I really really worked hard to get that guy and I think that held me in good stead when I eventually went for the job on World in Action fulltime.
Jeff Anderson had high standards and I know he had gone to see Ray afterwards and backed me up in my attempt to get on the programme full time.
I worked then for about a year as a researcher on World in Action, again doing all sorts of things. I’ve got some stuff with me here to show the breadth of stuff you could be doing.
One minute you would be in the old Yugoslavia; we went to Vuckovar and saw the desolation and destruction there.
I did a film about Le Pen, I went to South Africa, met Nelson Mandela and we filmed him.
It was an amazing time and an amazing project to work on. If Granada opened doors, World in Action opened even more doors although of course you had a lot more doors slammed in your face when you worked at World in Action.
You would say ‘hello, I’m so and so from World in Action’ and you would hear a deep intake of breath on the other end of the phone because it had this reputation.
Tell me about some of the ratings.
Just to give you an idea.
I brought with me, this was when they were looking to promote producers for World in Action. This is the actual application.
It shows you exactly that this was at a time when technology was changing dramatically.
‘A grasp of the latest tape technology available to the World in Action team will be an advantage’.
This was a massive transformation as I said, where before they used to have eight people working on things with film this was now a three-man crew. I should say three person crew but I don’t think there were any camerawomen or
sound recordists at the time I worked at Granada.
It did mean I was there when they were getting used to tape which meant that thigns could be a lot quicker. You could do things and transmit them without all the processing that went into film. There was a whole processing of film that meant everything took time.
With tape it was almost instantaneous.
I think with film, can you verify this, you had to finish at a certain point in order to transmit on the Monday evening.
Yes it had to be neg cut.
When did you have to finish?
I literally only worked on four films for World in Action where they used films.
I think you’re going to have to ask somebody else more about that. I would have thought that you had to leave at least a day before it went out.
When I worked on it once it moved to tape, we were literally finishing films on the Saturday night in offline and then you’d spend Sunday onlining and doing all the graphics.
On the Monday, the day of transmission, you were dubbing. In other words you were laying down the voiceover and that meant that changes could be done almost up until the very last minute.
Often it was the script, the script was the only thing really that changed materially as you got right to reply letters back or you had to incorporate a statement.
That really meant that you could go almost up to the wire and there were times when you would be running down the corridor with the final film straight out of the edit suite.
It just meant that everything got closer and closer to transmission.
It meant you could do more news reactive pieces than you had before.
At the same time the strength of World in Action was that you did long term investigations that didn’t follow a news agenda. So in some respects it didn’t really make a difference to the overall thrust of the programme, but it did mean you could work up to the wire.
Presumably smaller crews meant you could go places you hadn’t been able to before.
Absolutely, and it also meant that the budgets went further. It did mean you could a lot more foreign stories than nowadays.
Tell me something about the viewing figures.
So this is the sheet that I got after the first programme I produced had gone out.
This just gives you an idea of that massive transformation that was taking place in TV in the 1990s because when this programme went out on Monday 1st February 1993 it was about overcharging by the banks. Banking as we know has become a very important subject.
The viewing figures for that night’s World in Action was 10.4 million viewers and it had a 50% share of the audience.
When you look down here at what the opposition was, it’s an era of four channels and the idea of the satellite channels and so on eating into programme share obviously didn’t apply then.
It just shows you what kind of reach the programmes had.
So that’s 1993, I’ve also brought with me a production schedule from World in Action in 1996.
Again, this gives you an idea of the range of films and subjects. Again the viewing figures and audience share, audience share I learnt was always the thing that people were particularly keen on.
I’m just going to run down each week to give you an idea of the viewing figures.
So the first week, which was the famous Marks & Spencer’s film, was 8.6 million, 30% share. The second week, also Marks & Spencer’s was 8.4 million, 30% share.
5.8 million, 5.4 million, 5.3 million, 4.6; that was an interview with Gerry Adams, Ireland did never rate very well.
5.8, 6.2, 5.1, 5.3 so you can just see…
Going down here, June of that year we did a film about neighbours from hell, it got 9.2 million.
Looking through there 5 million, 4 million, 6 million that was the entire year in 1996 and gives you an idea of what kind of viewing figures we got in those days.
Of course what then happened, more and more channels sprouted and it began to eat into the audience and it, to some degree, reduced the power of a programme like World in Action.
But I suppose, I think it is true of current affairs across the board.
Can you talk a little bit about women.
You are a woman working in a large company like Granada television on a very important programme, what were your feelings about women in television? Were the ghettoised?
No I don’t feel that. I guess I’ve never felt that, never ever considered whether or not my gender would hold me back. It never entered into it.
Television, compared with other walks of life, has never felt to me like an area in which women couldn’t get ahead.
In the time I worked there we had a director of programmes, Andrea Montfort, and there were women in senior roles in management; finance.
By the time I worked on World in Action there were a few other women producers working there.
By the time I worked there fulltime I would say 50% of the team were female. I think that had a lot to do with Nick Hayes’ time as editor when he recruited quite a few women.
It was indicative of the way in which television was moving.
There were female presenters; the first person I worked with on screen was Shelley Rhode who was a wonderful professional.
I can’t speak about other television companies but I felt at Granada that being a woman certainly wasn’t going to hold me back.
What kind of company was Granada? What was it like as a company?
I felt incredibly proud to work there, not least because I had grown up in Manchester, so I’d always seen the building and I was familiar with its programmes.
I used to think it made programmes I would want to watch; intelligent programmes.
Yes they did the whole gamut of entertainment and drama and so on but I always felt it was a channel that could hold its own against the BBC.
It didn’t go for the lowest denomination; it never spoke down to the audience. I guess it had this view you could entertain as well as inform.
I’m sure hundreds of people will have told you that in every room at Granada there was a picture of P.T Barnum. That was to remind everybody who was in that building that they were in entertainment and never to forget you were in showbiz.
But it was not at the expense of intelligent programming.
I loved the fact that we were a channel that was not based in London, that there was a degree of sticking two fingers up to the establishment.
I loved all of that.
I had to work on preparing the obituary of Sidney Bernstein at one stage, when I was working at Granada, when he was not well.
Immediately we were asked to go and interview people who had been key in his life.
I had to read up a great deal about him and how the company had started.
I was so impressed that this guy who I had never met, I had heard of him by reputation, had the vision to set up this company.
Again people will have told you, when the franchises were being meted out in the 1950s he had gone for the area of the country that had the highest population and the highest rainfall because he said ‘they’ll all be inside watching TV’.
And he had called it Granada because it had a sunny ring to it and even though it was based in the rainy North West people would always think of sunshine when they saw the name.
All of these things, which you would pay a fortune to go to Harvard Business School now to learn, he had got it.
Then I discovered in doing the obituary that he had this other layer to him; that he had been a beacon of hope for people who had been blacklisted in Hollywood during the McCarthy years.
In fact one of the people I had to go and interview was Lauren Bacall in New York, who couldn’t get to the interview quick enough to tell me what a wonderful man he was and made a marvellous cocktail.
Apparently Sidney Bernstein had helped her and her husband Humphrey Bogart during some really tough times during the McCarthy years.
A remarkable, remarkable man.
Of course we made the obituary and then he revived, it wasn’t put out for another year.
I think he died the very day I was told I was to become a producer on the programme, so I had mixed emotions.
Was it a paternalistic company? Did it look after people?
One heard that. My mother worked for Marks & Spencer’s and that had the same ethos. It was said it was a Jewish company and it looked after people when you were poorly and so on. Happily I never had to test that so I don’t know.
I always felt that it was small enough so people knew who you were. What I also loved, that even before the internet and people sending emails to people left right and centre, you could send notes to those in authority.
The line of command at Granada was really short. So you could see Dennis Foreman sitting in the canteen, never saw David Plowright there, but they were not remote figures.
I remember once I had worked on this film for the local arts programme about a black organist based in Manchester called Wayne Marshall who had played at Glyndebourne for the famous Porgy & Bess production.
I’d come up with the idea, I’d actually seen an interview with him and suggested we did this in the series.
I remember being handed, after the programme had gone out, a little note from Dennis Foreman saying how much he’d enjoyed the programme the night before and how he’d been to see this Glyndebourne production and how marvellous it was we were recognising this figure.
Again, you felt really proud to have worked on something that the boss had seen and had liked.
He was at that point chairman of the company?
He was still chairman of the company.
I think I came across him a couple of times after that but nothing significant.
I remember once, I don’t know why I had the gall, I sent David Plowright a note. I’d worked on a local programme called Flying Start, Flying Fart I think it was known by those who worked on it.
This was at a time when, this must have been towards the end of the 1980s when the Berlin wall was coming down; there was that whole upheaval in Eastern Europe.
I’d sent a note to David Plowright saying had he thought of making a series of Flying Start based in one of the Eastern European countries because this was a time when new entrepreneurs might be coming out of the woodwork.
He wrote back immediately and said it was a ‘great idea and I’m asking Stuart Prebble to get onto this right away’.
So it was a company where I felt if you came up with ideas…you were never intimidated by the place.
Somebody had said to me that there were two key places in Granada television; one was the canteen the other was the old school or the stables, the bar.
The stables had closed by the time I worked there.
I remember standing in the queue at the canteen behind this short bloke and thinking ‘I know you from somewhere’ and as he turned to pay I recognised it was Roger Daltrey. I thought ‘my god, what is he doing here?’
It was the kind of place where you’d be sitting there having your fish and chips on a Friday and you’d look up and see Somes Forsyth because Eric Porter was working there at the time dubbing Jewel in the Crown.
So there were a lot of those actors there.
It was that kind of place.
I forgot to mention that I had of course actually breached the walls of Granada television in 1963 as a nine year old when the Beatles were supposed to be appearing live on their Friday night show.
It was a summer holiday so it must have been August 1963 and I’d gone with a girl in the street who was supposed to be looking after my six year old sister and me that day.
We decided the three of us were going to go to Granada to see if we could see the Beatles.
Of course every other young girl in Manchester had got the same idea so by the time we got outside Granada it was packed with screaming girls, just packed. Every time anyone went in to the front door they got mobbed by people asking for their autograph or “have you seen the Beatles? Are they in there?”
We would look up and you’d see in the windows of the office block there were people peering out looking at this mass of young girls in the street outside.
Finally there was this shout, “they’re in there at the car park!”
We all ran, there was a stampede.
We ran down Quay Street to the car park lodge entrance and we all started climbing over the wall. People would help you up and you’d get over the top.
My sister was with me and my friend was with me, and there were the Beatles in the car park setting up to do this live transmission of ‘twist and shout’.
They were there in their black polo neck sweaters and suddenly they looked up and saw this horde of women running after them and had to run for it.
The performance outdoors was abandoned and they had to do it inside in the studio.
Years later I was working with Phil Taylor, who had those huge dark eyebrows, on a Union World shoot somewhere in the middle of nowhere and we got talking about the Beatles and that particular day.
He said, “Were you one of them? I was out there, we were trying to fix them up to do this performance and it was abandoned. All these bloody women!”
It was such a big deal, the Beatles being there. You did feel, you really did feel at the time that the North and the North West was on its way and Granada was all part of that.
Did you see Granada as being important to the North West?
Yes, you saw that sign, it was so proudly emblazoned over the cityscape of Manchester. You could see it from St Peter’s Square. You looked down Key Street you could see the tower.
Again somebody told me that in fact that tower and radio mast had not been put up in the place where it was more effective as a radio mast but so that it would dominate the street and that people looking down from St Peter’s Square could see Granada and it’s tower.
Apparently it was there for PR not because it was a good radio mast. I don’t know whether that’s true or not.
You really did feel that it was an integral part of the city and the North West. I can only really speak about it from a Manchester perspective.
Also, Coronation Street of course was anchored in that very area too and that was seen all over the world.
Again it was Granada building on its own area and growing out of where it was rather than bringing things in from outside.
It was absolutely key to being in the North West.
The thing I thought about on my way here today was that in the 80s but really in the 90s when I felt it most as a producer that I was there when Granada went through this massive technological change.
When I first went there in 1984 I remember everyone marvelling at this thing called a fax machine, which allowed the newsdesk in Liverpool to actually see the running order sent over from a machine in Manchester.
I remember thinking what magic that was and of course by the time I left everybody had their own computer.
That all made a tremendous difference, not just to the speed with which things were being done, but also the access to information.