So yes, the union situation was super formal, and the committee meetings were all run to Robert’s rules of order, super formal, proper minutes, all of that kind of thing. I was used to that culture from having grown up in Birmingham, but I did love the north west flavour on it. Like I say, it was the old days in Manchester back then. You would have people in brass bands, and you’ve got this very particular Mancunian slant on labour relations, which was subtly different than the Midlands, but fundamentally the same thing. So, I was totally at home with it.
And then I got involved, I was nominated to the union committee, and I became a deputy shop steward, and then eventually shop steward at the end. It was all powerful at the beginning. And then, over 18 years, it suffered such major assaults that it was the end of it. My last two and a half years as shop steward were fun in a way, we won, or I won constant little skirmishes and battles, while always being totally aware I was losing the war. It was a very odd feeling. But I don’t apologise for any of it. It was a very, very profitable and lucrative business, and it purported to have certain values, and those values, in my opinion, should have included a fair share for the workers. Generally speaking, that’s what we got. We got a fair share and we got treated well in the end. In the middle years, it worked like it should.
There were excesses; there were crazy excesses, and that was kind of the problem that you would have. There were many things that stick in my mind. For instance, making Brideshead Revisited for instance. That was a huge expensive show to make. And at one point there were crucial scenes on an ocean liner. So what they did was they… a lot of the interiors, for instance, the dining room, they did at the Adelphi Hotel in Liverpool with the stage manager, standing behind the camera, going like this to indicate the movement of the boat, and all the actors had to go in like that. But the shipboard scenes were done on the QE2 to New York and back. In other words, it was about nine days of location shooting. And the ETU, the electrician’s union, put in a hardship claim because they were going to be away from home on a ship for nine days. And so they were paid hardship money.
To a certain extent… and then, of course, there was around about… in the very early 80s I think there was a car ferry capsized in the English Channel, the Free Enterprise.
And that was a major news story to cover. And of course it dragged on for several days in terms of the actual crisis coverage. And I remember the videotape editors working in London, were on call so much, they were getting just fantastic rates of overtime for it. We stuck out a bit like a sore thumb, and actually wrongly, they were working by the white book, they were claiming what they were owed. Some of them even forwent claiming some of it, because it was getting out of control, but still we ended up with a really bad reputation for it.
And then what happened was Channel 4 started, which was somewhat under the ITV umbrella, somewhat detached. It was the first of the real third party issues that came along because Channel 4 was not us directly, it was not under our direct control, but it was associated with us and we had to deal with it. And so we did, which doubled up on the overtime because now we had two channels to run. So we were working like crazy.
And in the bowels of the white book, which was the ACTT agreement, really, if you read that agreement objectively, you see it as it was about not being exploited in terms of excessive hours. Really that’s what that agreement was about. Getting adequate breaks, not too long shifts and so on. So there were lots of rules that were basically incentives to management to be efficient, in other words, do the job and get the crew out of there. That was what the white book was trying to ensure. And because with Channel 4 being a third party, not under our control, we were still being paid through the white book for something that the management could not control.
And I remember one particular thing… I mean, first of all, the basic rule for getting paid was if you worked into a new hour, even by a very short time, seconds, or minutes, you were paid for the whole hour. If you were working on a bank holiday, you were paid extra. If you were working overtime on a bank holiday, you were getting paid extra. And then there was this fantastic rule that I can remember, it was rule 10J that if you were working overtime on a bank holiday, and that over time was spontaneously extended, your rate of pay became some fantastic multiple.
And I can remember in the 1980s, I was doing an evening shift on the Channel 4 transmission that was completely outside Granada’s control, obviously the content was Channel 4’s, and the programme overran by about 15 seconds. And it took me into a new hour and because I was doing overtime already on a bank holiday, I got paid for that one hour at the end, under rule 10J. And I got £1,000 to that one hour, in the 1980s. So I would argue against that being an abuse, they signed up on it. They agreed, that was their rule. But it wasn’t a good look in the sense, especially not when Thatcher was around. And it was beginning to brew right there.