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.
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.
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 (Highet) worked there and yes, he did come on to work at the Albert Dock.
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.