By about 1993, early in 1993, which is when the Gerry Robinson and Charles Allen takeover really happened, they were getting super serious and super vindictive about the struggle for control, really. It was the old world versus the new world. The old world, where I started, had this assumption that, “Yes, we’re all in this together, we’ll thrash it all out, we’ll come to some kind of equitable agreement.” The bosses didn’t earn outrageous sums, the workers earned decent salaries. It was all good. Then we moved into the new world, where it was really an emotional component to it, where the management and the owners just found it utterly impertinent that ordinary people should demand a say or have a say. And there was this slogan that they promulgated around that time, which was ‘it’s our train set and we’ll play with it how we want’. And so, it was really a declaration of war.
And Malcolm Foster had been ACTT steward for forever, really. He retired. And meanwhile, by that point, ACTT had merged and there was a new, larger, media union called BECTU, and Foster went, and the word was put around that if anybody applied for the steward’s position, that they would be fired within a week on some pretext. And the aim was clearly to have a leaderless union, that would be victory for them, they’ve destroyed the union. So they put about this threat that nobody should apply to be shop steward. Nobody should stand for that position. Otherwise, they’ll be fired. And I was utterly aware that it was going to be a costly move to make, but I just thought “I can’t tolerate that bullshit.” And I’m a Brummie, if you pick a fight with me, I’m going to beat you. It’s just an instinctive thing. If you challenge me, I’ll take it on. So I thought, “Fuck it, I’m going to apply.” So I put my name on the nomination list, the only name. And I saw some manager afterward, who I knew from being deputy steward, and he said, “You’ll be gone in a week.” And I said, “We’ll see about that.” And of course I was elected unopposed, and I was shop steward for two years and three months. It was like 120 weeks rather than just one.
And it really, it really went… me as shop steward went through two phases. At the beginning, I was formal about it in the sense that I was following what we had done in the past, and I was following what I considered to be a respect for acknowledgement of the rules of the game. And very quickly I discovered that this new management were not playing by any rules. They were literally lying and cheating. And in a way that was… it was a shock, you know. Maybe that seems naive now, but it really shocked me that they would get down and dirty like that. So I thought, “Right, if you want to see what down and dirty looks like, I’ll fucking show you.” And that was the most glorious part of me being steward, there was about a year and a half where I was running a completely underhanded war against them. I had a whole bunch of people, the cleaners, who were actually… who were by that point in our union. I got the cleaners, I organised them into SWAT teams, where as soon as management was out of the building in the evening, these women would search every office during their cleaning for anything that looked like a torn up memo in a wastebasket, I trained them to look under the lid of every photocopier, because it’s surprising how many times people leave the original in the photocopier by mistake. Then I developed that into I would have people steam open their mail. I got engineers to hack into their hard drives, which they realised after a while and they started to put locks on the keyboard. And so I had… you know, we were there all night, so I had these engineers unscrew the hard drive, take it home and copy it and then bring it back. So I knew everything. I knew what they were going to do before they did it. I had the drafts of their speeches. I had copies of their memos. Some of them are about me, which was hilarious, looking at somebody else’s secret opinion of yourself. And I had it down to a fine art. I thought, “If you want to fight in the gutter, then… you went to grammar school, I come from Birmingham, I’ll show you what the gutter is like.” And we, we did great for about a year and a half, just constantly stymied everything they wanted to do. Like I say, won every battle.
There was one initiative where they wanted to start charging people to pay to park at work. I just thought, ludicrous in the circumstances. Shift work and so on and bad public transport. So we got a company-wide our position to that. I said, “I don’t care whether you’re one of my members or not. If you’re somebody else’s member or if you are temporary or whatever, join the campaign.” And we absolutely obliterated that. So we had a lot of successes in the short term, all the while aware that we were on this downward slope where it would inevitably end in disaster, which it did, eventually.
I mean, as a separate thing… I remember hearing at the time, doctors complaining that men never admit to feeling stressed or worried or anything like that. And I wanted to go on holiday, and I couldn’t get the leave because somebody else had it. And so I went to the doctor and I said, “Now I know that men are very reluctant to talk about their personal problems, but I’m terribly stressed.” So she signed me off for a week and I went to Spain on holiday. And when I got back from Spain, there was a message on my answering machine, like the third message. And it said, “You’re terminated. Your swipe card no longer works. Do not come back in.” And that was the end of it. And it left me… if you go back to how I felt at the beginning about the family feeling at Granada and the old fashioned generational thing where you expect to work one job all your life, and you’d expect to provide loyalty and receive loyalty, none of that had come true. And so I do remember saying to myself when I left, and it’s a line that made it into my first book, it says, “I’ve tried it their way. Now I’m going to try it my way.” And I do remember that as a watershed, I was never going to work for a company again, I was never going to have a boss. I was never going to be in that corporate situation again. I was going to work for myself, partly because I had to. That final stint as shop steward meant I was blacklisted effectively in the new ITV environment, which was fine because I didn’t want to work in it anyway. I thought it was just a miserable, downward spiral. So I knew I was going to do something for myself. And I thought I’ll give this a try. And my honest expectations at the beginning were it might work for a couple of years before I had to get another job, but happily, it kept onward.