Interview with Stephen Kelly and Jim Hancock, June 18 2020
How did you come to join Granada, and what had you been doing beforehand?
Well, in the run up to that, I’d been president of Manchester University Students’ Union. And in the course of that job, I bumped into a chap called Norman Quick, who ran a big Ford car business in the north west. And he’d been made a director of the soon to go on air commercial radio station, Piccadilly Radio. And he said to me, “What are you doing?” He was of a Conservative persuasion, I think you could say about Norman. “What are you going to do when you stop all this student union politics nonsense?” And I said, “Well, I see you’re a director of this radio station, and I’d quite like to go on the radio, and report on news and politics and stuff like that.”
Anyway, I got a job at Piccadilly Radio, but initially it wasn’t broadcasting because we weren’t on the air. This was the creation of commercial radio; up to that point the BBC had a complete monopoly on radio. I worked for the managing director during the winter of 1973/4, and then I got a chance to broadcast, and this goes to the sort of era which perhaps a lot of people wouldn’t fully appreciate now. There was a more ad hoc approach to getting jobs in broadcasting, whether it be television or radio at that time, and you could, through the route that I’ve just described, actually get a start. I hadn’t professionally trained as a journalist and I was given this chance to go on air. And it was a great opportunity in the late 1970s to do that, because the radio station had to do quite a lot of news and current affairs in those days. And I got a chance to report on Manchester City Council and all that sort of thing.
Then I went down to London, and for two years worked as a lobby correspondent with Independent Radio News with Peter Allen, who went on to be, for a short while, political editor at Granada actually. Famously, because he was slightly short of stature, once during a piece to camera, the cameraman unkindly panned down to a little stool that he was standing on to increases his height, but I digress.
Then I went back to Piccadilly Radio in a more senior position, and at that time began to really focus on trying to get into Granada and made a number of applications, and wasn’t successful. I then tried to get in at Yorkshire to work for Calendar, which was their regional political programme. Eventually in the spring of 1987, I managed to drop on Granada Reports. I mean, there was a sort of recognition that I had some expertise in politics and that sort of thing, Julie Hall I think was the political editor at the time. So I began in April ’87, and Mike Spencer, my dear friend, was my mentor, because immediately we’re into the ‘87 general election, Mrs Thatcher’s last successful election. So I was sort of plunged in the deep end, working out of Quay Street initially.
So were you a political correspondent at this time?
No, Julie Hall was the political correspondent/editor at the time, and of course she then went on to work for Neil Kinnock in the ‘92 election. And when she left, I became political editor. So very soon after I joined Granada, I was re-based over in the Albert Dock because – and there was quite a story behind this – Granada was criticised in Liverpool for being very much Manchester orientated, and as you probably know, Liverpool is a proud city and indeed a very interesting city, both culturally and journalistically. And there was the beginning of a feeling that so Manchester orientated was Granada in terms of its local news. I mean, it didn’t apply obviously to World in Action and drama and all the other programmes, that there was the beginnings of speculation that Granada might be challenged for its franchise because of this, which we may come onto in due course.
So what had happened here before I arrived at Granada, was that David Plowright decided to formally base the newsgathering operation in Albert Dock in 1986. And of course, that whole area of Liverpool had just been revived because Michael Heseltine, the Environment Minister, had gone to Liverpool in the aftermath of the 1981 Toxteth riots, and his version of events was there was virtually nobody running the city, that he didn’t have anyone to deal with. And he began this regeneration scheme, which the first manifestation was a garden festival in 1984, just down the road from the Albert Dock. The most dramatic and initial manifestation of what he was doing was reviving Albert Dock.
And when I first started to work there, it was difficult to believe that only a few years before, all that area which is now a thriving retail, Tate Gallery, all that, was literally filled with sludge. And the buildings were rapidly deteriorating, that’s right next to the city centre of Liverpool, the pre-Victorian heritage of the docks was literally becoming derelict. And it had been done up and he David Plowright) wanted to support the regeneration of Liverpool, but he also wanted to make a statement to try and head off this criticism. If he actually rebased the regional news in the Albert Dock in Liverpool, and so Manchester in a sense became a subsidiary office, that was the statement he was going to make. Also, at the same time we did have bases in Lancaster, where the wonderful Bob Smithies presided over news gathering, if people remember him.
We also had an office in Chester as well, so there were four news gathering centres there. But of course it was a wonderful place to work, the Albert Dock, because the place where Granada had its news was the building right opposite the Pump House pub, which again we might come on to, and you walked in through this classically pillared, porticoed sort of building, and you walked into the ground floor and there was no sign of a television gathering operation at all. There was a beautiful parquet floor where you could hold, they did hold receptions there, the great and the good of Liverpool, and you actually went upstairs, right up to the top, all the newsroom and editing suites were right in the top of there. But you looked out from your office onto this Albert Dock with all the ships and so on. It was a wonderful, wonderful place to work from that point of view. And I’ve got so many memories about those.
What about some of the people who work there? The commissionaires, was it Ian, and was Joanie-oanie still working, Joan in the canteen?
Yes. That’s right, the canteen was downstairs. They were wonderful. Those canteens are going to be a bit of a theme of this story, because certainly in my early years, the canteen both in Liverpool and then particularly in Manchester, were a very important part of the fabric of them all I think. Yes, upstairs we had a chap called Max Graesser, but the main person that I ever met, John Huntley was the presenter of the programme in those days. Occasionally Tony Wilson would do it when he had time, because in the years towards ‘87, ‘88, ‘89, when Tony was presenting he’d be rushing over from Manchester, where he was dealing with the turbulent affairs of Factory Records, which was in a state of collapse, and sometimes Tony arrived with about five minutes to go to the programme, much to the annoyance of the editor who was Mike Short, who was a man I looked back on with tremendous affection. A really burly Scouser, certainly liked to drink, but was really inspirational to his journalists, allowed you to develop things. I never forget, I was describing the geography of the building where you walked in and there was this wonderful boring floor and then up above was this sort of gallery. And often we’d be working the newsroom, and he loved politics quite apart from stories I was working on, he just liked to chat. And we used to circulate round and round and round the gallery, talking about politics before going off to Hartleys. That was Mike’s preference, Hartleys wine bar, which had just opened in the Albert Dock and we had a few beers there. So it was a different era of journalism, and we’re still in the journalistic world of having a few drinks at lunch time, and Mike’s pattern for working the day was to set the journalists off on those stories, and then he would take his generous lunch period. And if you were out on the road doing the story and you wanted some sort of decision, you wouldn’t always be able to get it, you would just have to make your mind up. But it was Ken Daly, John, a number of other people, Trevor Green, big reporters, and Liverpool was a great place to work.
Was David Highet, did he work in the Albert Dock or did he give up? Because I worked in Exchange Flags briefly, and because Judith worked in Exchange Flags as well, I knew all the Exchange Flags. And we did Union World from Exchange Flags, and David Highet ran Exchange Flags, but I don’t know whether he carried over to the Albert Dock?
Yes, he did. And you are reminding me, I should of course have said that the major move was the creation of the Albert Dock and designating that as the regional news centre. But of course, it was before I joined, but obviously Exchange Flags, Mark Gorton worked there. Right behind the town hall, was the original sort of pilot news base. David worked there and yes, he did come on to work at the Albert Dock.
And that was an ENG operation wasn’t it? It was a breakthrough revolutionary news operation.
Yes. That was the electronic news gathering, linking up the computer, bring stories into the running on the computers. That was the breakthrough, that’s what I had to learn, because I had briefly worked for the BBC as a news reporter in 1979-80, and that was still the year of film, where you’d go out and shoot the story and then you’d come home and you’d have to wait for an hour or two while the films developed. And then you’d put it on a great reel and cut and paste it. By the time I returned to television in 1987, that was the new method of news gathering.
So you were commuting from Manchester to Liverpool every day, and covering Liverpool politics. Did you bother with any of the Manchester politics, or just Liverpool?
Yes. I mean my brief was, particularly after Julie left, when I formally became the full-scale political editor, my brief, and it was something that I felt very strongly about, was to report politics in the north west, and that particularly meant local government, as well as what the MPs were doing, but also go to Westminster. I had operated briefly in the BBC under a system where they had a Westminster reporter for the north west, who never came to the north west, and then they have somebody in the north west reporting on north west politics. And I certainly advocated and was supported in trying to do the job. So obviously it involved a lot of travelling around, but in a sense I had three bases. I was formally based in Liverpool, obviously worked out of Manchester to some extent, but then I started to go to Westminster for a couple of days a week to report those as well.
So I did the full round-robin to cover politics at the national and local level. The local government thing was really important to me, I felt that sometimes local government, and I still think that’s the case now, particularly we’re talking in 2020 during this dreadful virus pandemic, and local government is actually going to be absolutely vital in getting us out of this, but you wouldn’t know it from the coverage that they get. MPs don’t ever become councillors, they go straight to parliament. And I always think that MPs sort of generally look down on local councils, even from their own party. If you look at the track record of people, who’ve led major cities – Joe Dean in Leeds, Graham Stringer in Manchester – even when they get to Westminster their careers don’t generally prosper. They certainly don’t become senior officers in the country, or become prime minister. But in fact, they’ve had far more experience with dealing with services and wrestling with problems than members of parliament very often. And I felt that covering what they did was particularly important. And of course, as soon as I got to Granada the major issue was the poll tax, which eventually brought Mrs Thatcher down. So there was huge tension and it revolved around local government and needed to be reported.
So when did you actually become Political Editor?
I think it was about 1989. I remember one of my first interviews was with the great lady, Mrs Thatcher, when she was privatising the water industry. And I said to her, “All they’ll be interested in is making profits,” and she pointed her finger right in my face and said, “Profits? Aren’t Granada Television interested in making profits?” And the press officer, who was a wonderful man who worked for the Press Association, and so he knew life from our side of the fence, said, “She’s had a long day.” I said, “Bill, this is a wonderful clip for Granada Reports, Mrs Thatcher and I having a ding dong.” So I was in post, ready for one of the biggest stories of my life, which was the fall of Margaret Thatcher. And the key thing about that was, and I was fully supported by the Granada, I think Sue Woodward may become editor by then. And I should say, when I became editor, I moved back to Manchester more and there was the beginning of the end for the Albert Dock. Perhaps we’ll come back to that in a moment. But just to finish off on this, I knew that there were a lot of tory MPs in the north west, like David Trippier and people like that. Because I always thought most north west Tories were slightly different from the Shire, reactionary Tories, that they knew they had to sell the Conservative message in a particular way, in order to hold their seats in the north west. And that Mrs Thatcher, particularly towards the end of her time, was becoming unpalatable, and they could see they were going to lose their seats if she carried on. And I knew there was a group of Tories – David Trippier in Rossendale, Ken Hind in Lancashire – who were trying to get her out, but actually getting them to do interviews was extremely difficult.
I should’ve mentioned this before, because it was relevant, at the Granada editorial map, they’d include, to some extent, North Wales. They had a lot of viewers in North Wales because a lot of them were Mancs and Scousers who’d moved out to North Wales. In fact, if you went to Mold and places like that, you meet people who didn’t really watch HTV. Beyond Llandudno it was completely different, the Welsh speaking.
We had one or two big stories in North Wales during my time, the Towyn floods, and then in ‘89, Anthony Meyer, Sir Anthony Meyer, who was the Clwyd MP, ran as a stalking horse against Mrs Thatcher. He obviously was never going to beat her, but it was a sign of the times. And I covered Sir Anthony Meyer in north Wales because that was part of the Granada editorial map. I have to say, I always used to like that. Occasionally I used to go out as far as Meirionnydd, because it was a guy called Dafydd Elis-Thomas, who was a Welsh… very, very good interview. Yes. He was very media-orientated. I think he went on to have a media career. But of course, with no hope of getting back that day. So you go out with the crew, shoot some stuff, have a nice lunch in a Welsh pub and come back. So it was very good to have that north Wales dimension to our editorial map.
Much moved on when I worked for the BBC, which will come on to. I once said to the crew, “I want to go over to Holywell on the Wirral, to do a nice tracking shot, which you can see both of the cathedrals. And it was a lovely day, and by doing a pull-out shot, seeing both the Anglican and the Catholic cathedral, and it was part of the story. It immediately generated a complaint from BBC Wales that the BBC from the north west had come across, Holywell on the West coast, not on the Wirral. Holywell, just on the West coast, overlooking the Wirral. And it generated a complaint that we’d actually gone into that area. And I said, “Well, North Wales had always been my patch. So then we had this massive story of the fall of Margaret Thatcher, which was a really big one.
You touched upon an attitude amongst Tory MPs in parliament that Granada was a bit of a left-wing company. Do you want to talk about that?
Yes. I think that’s probably true. Obviously, World in Action was a programme that was based on a radical and general investigation. And I think that that helped to define the personality of the company. But it was broader than that, I mean, you know, we haven’t talked conceptually about Granada, but I think it was, and its enduring image is of a brave broadcasting company that was prepared to take risks, not conform to what in those days was a rather sort of staid BBC model. Absolutely determined as one of the big five, because in those days there were basically five major ITV companies competing with each other, and particularly Granada was in competition with This Week, which was a current affairs programme. And you know, World in Action was a wonderful programme, a radical programme, and of course, from time to time, led to some confrontations.
I mean, I don’t suppose you want me to go into great detail, and you’ll know this probably better than I will. But if I mentioned the Steel Papers implementation in 1980, or very briefly, World in Action had got hold of confidential documents about the future of the British steel industry. And it came down to the traditional thing of the reporters involved, the Government were trying to find out where the leaks had come from, and the reporters on World in Action declined to say, in the best traditions of journalism. And it then came to a real confrontation, where David Plowright was in some danger of going to prison, because they regarded that he should force his employees to disclose things. And the important point was that there was never any doubt in the minds of any journalist working for Granada that the management would not support them to the hills against the government of any particular colour. So I think that was, journalistically, the image of the programme.
As far as Conservatives were concerned, I don’t think there was misgivings over there as so on, but I think the Conservative government, in many ways, also admired Granada for its entrepreneurial role. Because away from the journalism, you had things like major drama productions and things, which they began to sell around the world and make money from that. And as Mrs Thatcher said, aren’t Granada interested in profits? And of course that was also true. So I think there was a schizophrenic view, but I mean, politicians always regard journalists, whether it’s BBC or ITV, as being ominous. But that’s something we have to live with. That’s my general perception of it.
Did it lead to any difficulties for you, operating as a political journalist, befriending Tories, getting them into Granada programmes?
No, not at all. The trouble is, this is going to be like a self-serving answer. I prided myself in trying to get on with all of them. I know it’s unfashionable to say this, but I actually, although I always hope I gave journalists and politicians a rigorous time in interviews, my perception of politicians, broadly speaking, was that they were not shysters trying to make money and lie to you, that most of them actually went into public life because they wanted to make a difference, whether it be from a left or right-wing point of view. And crucially, that they made huge personal sacrifices. To have a political life, you make huge personal sacrifices. And so I generally liked most of the politicians. I can’t think of many that I seriously fell out with. And one would try to sort of charm them onto the television. I mean I had some rigorous ups and downs.
There was a guy called Barry Porter, who was a Wirral MP…
Ellesmere Port indeed. And there was an early version of an expenses scandal, and he’d been sort of in the frame for it, and he agreed to do an interview. And, you know, he said, “Well, you journalists get expenses.” And I never got blocked, because they said, “Granada shafted me. I’m not going to appear on your programme… and of course, in those days, they quite valued the local, because as well as my Granada Reports work, I used to do a Sunday programme on politics. And they used to value the opportunity to appear and most of them did. So they couldn’t really afford to fall out. I mean we now live in an age where they’ve got many more options. And I think my colleagues nowadays do find sometimes difficulty in getting some regional MPs to appear at the weekends. But not overall, I don’t think so.
I mean, I would concur with all that as well. Granada TV as a company obviously has a very close relationship with the political world, a necessarily relationship. And the sixth floor, certainly when I worked at Granada, was always heavily involved, well maybe not heavily involved, but involved. And there would be dinners organised to which I would get invited and the political correspondent, David Kemp, or one or two others. Certainly a Labour party conference, all of the TUC, Conservative party conferences when they were held in Blackpool. There were a lot of special dinners organised for the likes of David Plowright and whoever. Did you get involved in any of that?
No, I didn’t. I was aware of it, and that this had happened in the past, but, for whatever reason, I wasn’t particularly invited to that. I always felt that David Plowright, occasionally I was asked to sort of step out of my role as political editor, particularly when the franchise round came up in, I think it was ‘89 or ‘90. And trying to find out what the government were going to do when they launched that extraordinary auction of franchises, and to try and get some political intelligence. But I always felt that David Plowright’s political connections made my contribution to some extent superfluous, because he did know most of the major players in politics and conducted that operation himself. And so, I didn’t have much of a much of a role in that. But it was, I think, an important component.
Relating back to what we were just talking about, where you were saying about Granada was sort of beyond the pale as a left-wing organisation. I think Plowright managed to show us and be informed about what was going on, to a large extent. And you’re absolutely right. The sixth floor was the place where the ministers went. I always thought that was a huge contrast with the BBC in the north west, which in those days, when I was at Granada, I always thought the BBC north west was a pale shadow of the Granada operation. But it was very much part of a national BBC operation where all that sort of thing, liaison with government and things like that, was done in London. And that the BBC people in Manchester were relatively impotent compared to the power that Plowright and Denis Forman and people like that had, with back lines into the government. It was quite an interesting contrast. But that was the model, of course, up until, that it was a regionally based, powerful regional companies, having their own PR connections into government, putting in the policy ideas and all that sort of thing on broadcasting policy. Whereas the BBC was much more centralised and therefore the Manchester operation of the BBC then was much less. Of course, things have transformed to some extent now.
And Granada was very much about ‘the region’. It was very much embedded in the culture as well as the politics of the region.
Were you aware that BBC North West wasn’t?
No, no, not really. The BBC, their programmes were largely from London, and the regional programmes were in a sort of niche. They had very good audience figures. It is true, I think, that BBC regional programmes are always beating the commercial companies in that slot.
They certainly have, when Gordon Burns went over to the BBC, that really invigorated BBC North West.
Yes. I mean, just to sort of develop that, because obviously this is much further on, but I mean, that’s been the transformation. Gordon going across, but obviously the major decision the BBC took, that they were not speaking for the whole nation and this huge transformation to bring the BBC to sofa has hugely enhanced the role of the news gathering operation, 5 Live as well. And obviously, ITV has gone in a different direction because the big change, of course, that took place towards the end of my time at Granada was the arrival of Charles Allen. And that wasn’t then a major change because the philosophy, and this is just my opinion, but as you say, that regionally based but powerful structure of ITV was something that Charles Allen did not agree with. He took the view that he wanted to make one ITV. The argument was that sooner or later, if the ITV network remained in that regional pattern, that the individual companies would be no match for American predators and they’d be picked off, and Charles felt that he would need a one ITV, and with, in my opinion serious… the company that now exists is not recognisable in terms of its motivations and so on. That was a major cultural shock when that happened in 1992. One wants to try and not be nostalgic for the past, the old Granada was in a different time where there was huge amounts of money around. I think spending was not cared for that much, and Charles Allen wanting a much more rigorous regime. I think we ended up with soup and bread in the canteen in Manchester rather than the full scale breakfast, lunches, and dinners and it being a great…
Almost 24 hours.
24 hours, but you would sit down on a table and you’d be next to someone from World in Action, and somebody else from Brideshead Revisited. I mean, I said I’d talk about that aspect of it. But no, I just think the Old School, which literally was an old school, it was just across from King Street where you’d go for a drink afterwards. Or you were in the canteen during the working day, you went there for your lunch, and you could well be sitting next to Paul Greengrass, or Andy Harries, people like that. The opportunity to chat to them. You did feel it was all part of the thing, our job was to cover the regional news. Their job was to produce world-class drama, World in Action was doing investigative stuff, and we were all a team. Having these physical places where you could come together and talk, and people developed their careers as a result of it, which was absolutely fantastic.
It’s fairly petty in the great scheme of things, but Charles Allen, I think he was associated with a catering company. In fact, John Cleese of course made a rather salty observation about Charles Allen’s connection with a catering company. But he came in, and Compass Catering came in, and the whole thing was simplified and it was slowly wound down. That was the change in philosophy that he was going to take over the ITV network and change it. Therefore, it is what it is today, with the exception that I still think that people talk about Granada when they refer to ITV in the north west. I don’t think they talk about ITV1 or whatever it’s meant to be called. I still think the name Granada lingers on in the minds of people. It will fade of course, because the younger generation don’t necessarily remember it. But at the moment, when you say to people even of a younger generation, “I worked for Granada,” they still remember that. And the philosophy of having strong regional ITV companies was abolished.
It’s been exactly the same with commercial radio. Obviously, I worked in commercial radio for quite a long time. I mean, Piccadilly Radio took some regional responsibilities really seriously. Now you’ve got conglomerations of commercial radio stations, largely working out of London, largely computerised, with no real reporting of local affairs. That is another subject, it’s not really the subject of this, but the scrutiny of local government and our local institutions, with the collapse of local papers, the absence of local news reporting on commercial radio, leaves it very much to BBC local radio to actually do that. In terms of our democracy, I think it’s quite serious.
When Gerry Robinson and Charles Allen came in, did you have very much to do with them?
Yes. I said to you that I hadn’t enjoyed the sixth floor because David Plowright had all these political connections and didn’t need my services very much. But Charles Allen was not experienced in the political world at all. We’d actually stopped having receptions at party conferences, David Plowright phased them out a bit in my era, much to my annoyance because a lot of the other ITV companies would have receptions there. As soon as Charles came in, he revived them and in that respect I was closer to Charles Allen because he wanted to know about the political world, because he wanted to improve his connections with the world. That fed right the way through to when he was involved with the Commonwealth Games, which was a major thing with new Labour, and he built up his connections through there. I think eventually joined the Labour party. So I was, in that respect, brought back into the fold and he supported the regional programmes, regional political programme, for a while at least before it became a victim of this rationalisation of resources. So in that respect, he didn’t know much about the political people.
And Gerry Robinson, was he the same?
I didn’t have much to do with Gerry Robinson. He was above my pay grade really.
You would have been there then for the night of the long knives, and that having a dramatic effect on the company, with Plowright and others being sacked…
Yes. I mean, I don’t know how personal you want me to get here, but obviously…
Luise Nandy was my producer, and towards the end of my time I used to present specials from the party conferences, and Luise Nandy was my producer. Obviously she was in relationship with Ray Fitzwalter and Luise was in despair, and Ray was as well. They just didn’t feel they had a future under Charles Allen. And when David Plowright was sacked, and I think that’s the word we have to use, there was great turmoil and upset at the way in which that actually happened. After all, these people had founded the company, had built it up to what it was. This change, of course… I don’t think it was completely clear what the project was going to be at that stage, at the time of the long knives it appeared to be personal judgments and soul. On reflection, I imagine that Gerry Robinson would say that he knew that Plowright was not going to be on board for the dismantling of the regional structure, and going for one ITV. I imagine that’s what the politics of it was, but it was an unhappy time.
I don’t know if there’s anything else you want to talk about in that particular area of the new… of Allen and Robinson?
Not really, partly because things were changing and I wasn’t as comfortable under the new regime. I mean, I worked very well with Sue Woodward who was definitely the editor of Granada Reports. Although Sue, she obviously thrived under the Charles Allen regime. I was very happy working for her, but I always had this ambition to be a national correspondent for the BBC. So, I began to look around to do that, and in 1994 I left Granada and became a national correspondent for the BBC. But that was a very brief time because there was always this tug in my career between working at Westminster and my family in the north west. They were very much rooted in the north west, and so I went down to London and worked as a national correspondent for about seven months. The other big thing, apart from the family ties, was that at Granada I’d had great freedom to identify the stories that I thought were important, and editors who supported me. As soon as I got to the BBCs Millbank operation and realised you were just a small cog in the wheel, and a decision was taken about what stories we’re going to cover today. I mean, I should have given it more time really, but it was a tremendous shock. And I thought, how many years is it going to be before I can make a difference here?
I was going to say, there’s many people who’ve commented, the management structure at Granada was very lightweight. You were only two people away from the top on the sixth floor. There was not much of a management structure.
No, I remember Plowright rang me up once, and somebody in the newsroom had made a mistake with a man called Tom Arnold who was the MP for Hazel Grove, I think. They called him Arnold, they thought Arnold was his first name. He rang me up and said, “What the hell’s going on? Sort it out.” So you’re absolutely right, the management structure was the same way as at the BBC. There were great tiers of management. So that was my observation of that.
You wanted to talk about the franchise. I don’t know whether you read Andrew Quinn and Alistair Mutch’s contributions, which are on the website, and which are very, very, revealing. I have to say they’ve been very honest about some of the… well worth a watch, a listen. Very revealing about some of the things that were going on during the franchise. Were you asked to do much work about Phil Redmond?
At the time, I was asked to try… as this was building, obviously the franchise was going to be renewed, but the big issue was how they were going to be awarded. Was it going to be this auction, or was it going to be the previous system, which was some sort of appraisal of your past record, identifying the competitors and doing it on an objective basis? So I was asked to keep an eye on what the government were going to be doing. So I tried to use my contacts at Westminster.
Also was the question of what the map was going to be, because obviously Granada in its early days was spilled right across the north west, from the Scottish border, to Crewe, and right over to Lincolnshire. I mean, Bob Greaves, God rest his soul, used to talk about going off from Manchester with a film crew and going as far as Lincoln covering… obviously the map was changed, but there’s talk about the map changing again. So I was only involved in a minor way in finding out what was actually going to happen. When we realised we were into this auction thing. Stuart Prebble was the person who I liaised with on that at that particular time. Then of course Phil Redmond’s rival company, Mersey TV, based on what we were talking about much earlier in the interview, that there was this huge cultural engine in Liverpool that wasn’t being covered. He made a challenge for the franchise and the rest was history. But he certainly threatened… but I haven’t read these articles you’re referring to, so they’ll obviously know far more about it than I do.
Do you want to talk about any of your colleagues you worked with? Like Greavsie, Bob Greaves, and some of these? Tony?
Well, Tony, I hope it doesn’t sound too schmaltzy and so on, but I miss him every day. I was not a visitor to The Hacienda, that wasn’t my thing. I didn’t know much about Factory Records and all that sort of scene. But I did know about was if anybody encapsulated the north west, anyone should have been Prime Minister of the north west, in some ways it should have been Tony. I identified with him, and long after I left Granada actually, with the idea of devolution to the region, and Tony had this ability to see right across the spectrum from politicians to culture. He advocated for the north west, a bit like Brian Redhead at the BBC. It was just so stimulating to be in Tony’s company. I mean, he probably would have been hopeless if he was ever in a really decision making role, but certainly at my time at Granada… I mean, he encouraged me regularly to apply for Granada. When Peter Allen left, I rang him up. I was at the party conference and I said, “There will be a lot of other people in for this job who will better than me.” And he said, “Name them.” So he constantly encouraged me before I joined Granada. We were friends and it was just incredible, a burst of huge energy, completely disorganised, but very visionary, very warm.
As I say, I worked with him, we formed a little pressure group when the new Labour came in, in 1997, and they were thinking about the governance of the north west, and eventually went along some of the Prescott model of having regional development agencies, and he wanted assemblies to scrutinise them. But the referendum in the North East of England went down, and a young Dominic Cummings ensuring that the north east did not get an assembly. And that was a time of great thought about the north west being very much more for self-government. And we’ve tried other models since. We’ve now got directly elected mayors. And I always sort of think, what would Tony be making of Andy Burnham and Steve Rotherham? So he would be the outstanding person that I miss.
Bob was a great guy to work with. He’d come from a strong journalistic background. He was great fun to work with. The whole gang really. It was Mark Gorton. We used to have a lot of fun.
And going to all those pubs in Liverpool?
Well, the Pump House, yes. I won’t comment on the pubs, but the Pump House was just across the way from Granada. It was so convenient. I mean it was awful. In the summertime, it was full of tourists. It was the centre of a tourist attraction. People were constantly coming to the… you mentioned the commissionaires, the Granada commissionaires with their smart uniforms and so on. Constantly having to push people away and say, you know, they wanted to have the studio tour. I’m not sure whether we ever actually had a studio tour. Of course, that was another thing we haven’t mentioned, as an example of Granada constantly thinking imaginatively. During my time there, the whole Granada Tours thing in Manchester. Baker Street, Coronation Street. A wonderfully visionary thing. It was blindingly obvious if you think about it, something like Coronation Street. Because it was almost at the same time as when I took my young family to all the theme parks in America, where they exploited these sort of franchises and television franchises and had attractions to go along with it. And Plowright did that in Manchester. I think after Charles Allen came in, he closed it down. What it needed was refreshing and investment. They should have revived it, and kept it going. I thought that was a missed opportunity.
Yes. Yes, I agree with that. And it’s been put to me that the very reason why it stopped was because you need to have a turnover. It needs, as you say, to be refreshed with big new sets every so often, and that required investment, and Charles Allen wasn’t interested.
No. I went to Disney in Florida a couple of times, and when you went back, it’s always such and such a ride had gone, because they’d replaced it with a completely new set. Obviously millions of pounds and things like that. And the Granada thing was on a smaller scale, but it was a way of drawing people into the Granada campus, if you like. And it was a great thing.
Yes. I well remember when it first opened and being able to get tickets because I worked in the company, to bring friends who were so excited at going around and seeing Coronation Street and the House of Commons set and Baker Street, and so on. Of course, you’ve also got to have the programmes that are going to fit into those profiles. I mean if you do something like Prime Suspect or Cold Feet, there’s not much you can do really, is there, I suppose.
Yes, you’ve mentioned the House Of Commons set, well that’s where you and I, when I worked on those programmes, it was virtually the time, about ‘89, when the televising of Parliament was coming onboard, and Granada decided to celebrate it by using the House of Commons set where we actually got MPs up to debate. And we got quite a lot of MPs in the set for those recordings. That was another… Granada was always looking at things to innovate, and it had a great tradition. Going back, in 1958, it was the first company to cover a by-election, in Rochdale. Brian Inglis, I think, was the presenter at that time. And maybe Mike Scott was around?
Probably. He would have been.
But there was a lot of resistance to it. You know, the establishment were taking… it’s just quite extraordinary, how it wasn’t appropriate to cover it. And Mike or whoever was in charge said, “No, we’re going to cover this by-election.” And that was the by-election where Ludovic Kennedy stood, I think for the Liberals. So it was a great tradition.
I mean, is there anything else you want to particularly talk about that we haven’t mentioned?
I think on the confessional side, because you had indicated that you might want to talk about my failures as well as my successes?
No, I didn’t. I don’t mean your failures, I meant failures of the company.
Oh well, I mean Cyril Smith is somebody I ought to put on the record, because, as I said to a chap who wrote a book about it a few years ago, the fact of the matter was that during my time there, you always wanted Smith on the programme because he’d be good value. You know, he’d usually be attacking the Liberal leadership, or he’d come out with a great soundbite. And that was the thing. Well, he had an irritable streak as well. I remember in the early days, when I first started, I was told… because the unions at that time were very powerful, and were very keen on the conditions of work. And we were going to interview Cyril Smith, and I had a big crew, it was sound, cameras…
PA, chargehand to deal with the cables. And we were heading off for Rochdale and it was lunchtime, so we had to go into this restaurant and have a three course lunch. But I actually said, “Well, could we forego the desserts because Cyril Smith’s waiting, we’re going to be late.” And, “No, no, no, no.” So we arrived at Smith’s house and, “You’re bloody late.” So he had a bit of a temper on him. But generally speaking, you wanted him on the programmes. And rumbling away in the background… this isn’t particularly covering my Granada period, but he was around all the way through most of my broadcast. Rumbling away in the background were these rumours. And I just wish, one way or the other… I mean, I don’t even think World of Action did it. And I’ve studied this almost forensically since, because it troubles me. What was it? And then the Savile affair was a similar pattern. What was it about these larger than life figures that led to them being able to do what they did for so long without being exposed? And with Smith, there was a close down on it. I can excuse myself on the grounds that the Director of Public Prosecutions in 1969, when it was first drawn to his attention, did nothing. And it went on like that. Lancashire Police pulled the files from them. So there was a lot of pressure there, and if I’d ever really taken it on board and gone to an editor who was at the BBC or Granada, would they have believed me or would they have said, “Well, look, the police say there’s nothing in this. We’re going to take the risk.” And then…
Yes. Well, we were all probably guilty of… well, I knew about the story when I worked on Tribune in the 1970s, because I’d befriended… do you remember the Rochdale Alternative Press?
It was one of those…
They knew the story. They had the story. They had the story, and it was reprinted in Private Eye. So this is what I’m saying, in a sense it was there.
Well, I was going to say, there were two stories which I picked up from them, and I had a lot of contact with them. One was about a firm of dyers in Rochdale. And everybody was getting ill, or the people who worked there were. Very high level of leukaemia, and it was to do with the dyes. And that was one story they gave me, and I did that. I did quite a bit on that story at Tribune. And then there was the story…
Because Smith ran the firm, didn’t he?
No, he had a firm of springs.
Oh right, okay.
You know like springs for beds and things like… I don’t know whether you ever went to his factory, but it was so Dickensian, it was unbelievable. But yes, the Rochdale Alternative Press were nibbling away at that story, and they did tell me about it, but it’s not easy to. You need the evidence.
Yes. Yes. And you know, it’s been a depressing few years because obviously I, later on, worked with Stuart Hall. Well, I worked with Stuart Hall at the BBC up to 1980. And then of course he left and he came to Granada for quite a while.
With Bob Greaves, and they made a big thing of Bob and Stuart working together.
But all those memories now are just besmirched by what happened afterwards. It’s been essential to do it and it’s absolutely right that it’s come out and hopefully measures have been put in place, institutions have been reformed. Because dear old Granada, safeguarding policies and things like that, in our day? Not really. So it’s all been worthwhile in terms of what’s now in place to protect future generations working in broadcasting. But you and I know, Stephen, if you and I had been able to uncover those individuals, and make great programmes in doing so, we’d like to have done so.
But certainly though with Stuart Hall, there was no indications. Because as far as I know, and I know certainly people who worked very closely with him and actually went on trips abroad with him, there was no indication whatsoever. Womaniser, yes, but…
That’s the point. That was the big shock. Stuart Hall, he was a very old-fashioned ladies’ man, and that’s why the rest of it was such a shock. But we’re sort of completing this on a slightly downbeat note.
I think if I was rounding up, what I want to say about Granada was that it was a huge opportunity for me. It was a privilege to work for a company that had such a clear direction about it, and a clear confidence in what it was. Standing up to governments, giving the viewers what they wanted, bringing viewers onside. And within the organisation itself, feeling supported by the management in doing the journalism one did. And also having a good time as well. And the people that went through the Granada machine, if that’s the right word, who were employed by Granada over the years, who then went on to, and who continue to go on to… Andy Harries, Paul Greengrass, and many others, continue to make great programmes.
And it was just a privilege to be able to work for the company.
That’s terrific. And if I may say so, you were an extremely good political correspondent. And they’ve had some good political correspondents, going back to David Kemp, and then who was after Kemp? Well, there was Peter Allen, and there was Vivian White. Peter Allen was good. Vivian White. But all of those three operated out of London. And Julie Hall…
Yes. That was the difference. While all of those were excellent, I mean Kemp was, I think, a bit more north west orientated, but generally speaking, the correspondents worked out of London, and I made the change. I said I can do… I’d like to do both ends of the job. And in that way, you were seen by the MPs all the time. You’d be in their constituencies, but you’d see them at Westminster as well. And being in the Westminster corridors and so on, you’d pick up stories. And I think that model that I introduced was really important for doing that show.
Yes. That’s great. Thank you, Jim.