Joan Riley recalls how Granada covered the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963

They decided they were going to have a new magazine called ‘Scene at 6.30’. So the whole of the newsroom was transported to the fifth floor; it was a large studio there. From the lifts you turned right and it was the whole of the floor, a very large area for the directors and researchers and at the bottom a small office which was Mike Parkinson’s and then the newsroom. Opposite was Johnny Hamp, he had a suite; a rather nice office with Lucinda Bradbury as PA. I don’t know whether it was a sound studio but he used to play demo records and records before they were on the air or popular. We got used to the noise, but Cilla Black singing ‘Anyone who had a heart’ was going on and on. There were two girls; one was an actress who had fallen in love and the other was a secretary who had a bad love affair. Anyway that was where I was working when Granada broke the story about Kennedy.

On Friday 22nd November 1963, it was a Friday night, very quiet and we weren’t expecting much news stories. I was sort of sitting there doodling, there were two big desks placed back to back, and Terry (Dobson, News Editor) was sat facing me. There was a freestanding television that we could both see with the sound turned down. Mike Scott had just started his spiel and I was trying to lip read. Terry was looking through all the stories, looking for a pun, a corny ending to the news because that was a tradition; they would look for the corniest ending to a story.

The direct line phone rang, Terry picked the phone up and he whispered “paper and typewriter quick” which I knew was a late story coming in and then he drew across his throat, Kennedy’s been shot. Apparently Stan Kirby of the Press Association had been listening to a shortwave radio report of Kennedy’s trip to Dallas, Texas when shots were fired. He heard shots and Terry said he could hear the noise in the background. Terry said to him, “I’ll ring back to check.”

As he’s speaking he’s phoning on the direct line to Barry Heads in the control room. He said, “There’s been shots fired at Kennedy” and Barry Heads said “you better be right this time”. Terry said, “I’m checking” and was ringing the PA back on the other phone as he was speaking. Of course you had to check on a story like that in case it was a hoax. I heard him say to Barry “It’s true, shots have been fired, we think an aide has been shot but the President is alright.”

He must have been put through to Mike Scott in the studio because I saw Mike pick the phone up and his face changed. From then on I watched as Mike Scott repeated just what Terry was saying. First of all it was “we think Kennedy’s been shot” and then five minutes later “the President is dead.” Apparently a tannoy had gone out, we didn’t hear it, asking for any suitable people to go to the newsroom immediately. From it being a very, very quiet office with just the two of us, it was heaving.

I was on the copy phone all night taking stories, obits, tributes from the Press Association mainly and on the other phone famous people who were ringing through. Eric Harrison was doing every hour a fifteen-minute programme. I think the station had closed down, it was just these stock press programmes that were going out. As fast as I was typing a story, a director or researcher was grabbing it off the typewriter, taking it to be subbed down. Eric Harrison had a lot of trouble because there was very little on Kennedy. They always have obits for famous people but with Kennedy being a young man there wasn’t very much and it was locked in the archive. So he had to pick the lock and get what was there out to fill in. At 11 o’clock there was a special tribute programme.

Here I’ve got copies, one copy of a memo sent to everyone thanking us and the other from the PA thanking me.

So this is a letter signed by Sidney Bernstein, Cecil Bernstein, Pearce and Dennis Forman. So a special programme went out?

It went out at 11 but there were little programmes every hour. I think the whole of the network closed down and Granada was, as it says in the letter, the first television programme to show it. The Press Association sent that to thank me because it was very hectic, but very exciting. I do hope that the records put straight that it was Terry Dobson that broke the news.


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