John Huntley on working in the Sports Department

I moved on to Kick Off, the football programme, and I was definitely doing that when Red Rum won the Grand National, because Steve Hawes and I had to log the football match – every throw in, every goal kick – you had to log the time so that you could edit a 90-minute programme down to 10 minutes and look seamless. Why on earth we bothered, everybody knew it was only 10 minutes, they weren’t sort of conned into believing somehow 90 became 10, or 10 seemed like 90. ….

There were two programmes – there was Kick Off, which was the Friday night 6.30-7.00 football programme and there was Kick Off Match, which went out on a Sunday afternoon. Kick Off itself was presented by Gerald Sinstadt, who was also the commentator for the Kick Off match on the Saturday. So basically it covered all of the North West clubs, which as everybody knows, particularly in the Premier League – First Division in those days, I guess. I can’t remember when the Premier League began!


Oh, yes. Back then it was the First Division, and all of the North West clubs – obviously based primarily in Liverpool and Manchester, but there are all these other clubs as well, people forget Rochdale, Bury, Oldham, Tranmere etc. And Paul Doherty, who was the son of Peter Doherty, the great footballer himself, was the head of Sport, and he produced Kick Off, so there would be a film with the upcoming big game, you’d go and interview the captain of the opposing teams if it was a local derby. In fact, I do remember one local derby, and Man United and Liverpool, the game was ’77 or ’78, the FA Cup Final…

Oh – it was ’77

Right. And my job was to interview each of the Man United first eleven and each of the Liverpool first eleven about who was marking whom, you know… I remember interviewing Joey Jones, who was marking Steve Coppell, and I said to Joey Jones, “What’s the thing that most worries you about Steve Coppell?” to which he said, “His university degree!” I’ve never forgotten that. So that was for Kick Off on Friday, previewing the game on Saturday, and on Saturday there was an outside broadcast where – we didn’t go to the outside broadcasts, Steve Hawes and I sat in Granada watching the MDS, watching the feed coming through, as I say, logging the game, and then we went into editing, and edited the match for hours because it was 2” tape, it physically took a long time to rewind the damn tape, and what you had to do, as well as editing the game for Sunday’s programme, you also had to edit goals to play out to the rest of the network. So you had to play out Liverpool’s goals, if that was the game, and then they would play back, to us, the games from other teams. So on the Sunday, as well as showing the local game, you also showed all of the goals from the First Division. There was one famous occasion, I won’t tell you who the director was, that we missed a goal. The director pressed the wrong button and cut to the crowd cheering – we never actually saw the ball going into the goal. And Steve and I played this out to the network – it was quite a big score, 4-3 or something like that – waiting for the phone calls, so I thought there were seven goals, we only got six, I’m afraid that’s what they did. So I did that for a while.

Kick Off always had a bit of a reputation of being a law unto itself.

Very much so. And Paul Doherty, really nice bloke, I’m very, very fond of Paul, but he ruled with a rod of iron – and we used to have the most incredibly angry exchanges on the Monday after the programme was transmitted on a Sunday, or the programme on the Friday, we used to have these ‘post mortems’ which were really quite vicious sometimes, but he always said, “When we walk out of this room, we’re all mates, we all defend one another.” But yes, it was a separate fiefdom. It was. And I think people looked down on it actually, I think it was sort of the cheapo end of television – within Granada, I mean. I do think that. People thought, “Oh, you’re working in Sport – so what?” Unless of course, when a big game was coming up and they all wanted tickets.

People said if you really wanted to learn about television, work in sport. Because it’s the sharp end of the technology

That’s definitely true. I mean, certainly you learn a hell of a lot about editing, and fast turnaround as well, which was great as far as I was concerned when I later went into the newsroom at Granada Reports. You were up against the clock. The contacts were absolutely amazing as well, because Paul knew everybody. So I got to meet all of these people, Bill Shankly, all of the footballers, the managers… it was quite interesting actually, Liverpool and Man United, even in those days, were a bit sort of snooty, and they made life a bit more difficult in terms of access, whereas Everton and Man City were sort of, “Come on in, do what you want.” ….

He always had a reputation of being a bit like a football manager; his lads were all given nicknames

His team! Yes, that is true. Later on, Paul Greengrass, he as a researcher on Kick Off, Charlie Lauder and then Elton came along…. You’re right, it was a law unto itself. Although it was a regional programme, it was separate from Granada Reports completely.

Was that because people feared Doherty?

Yes, I think so. But it was funny, as I say, when people,… whenever football tickets were to be had, Paul was in great… but he was very cynical about that whole thing – he was a newspaper man really, Paul, I think, but as I say, incredibly well-connected. Nice fella. I liked him.

After Kick Off, you’ve gone on screen now…

Go on screen, did my stint… and Paul wanted me to stay. We went to the Haymarket pub and he spent about an hour trying to persuade me to stay. He said if I stayed, as Kick Off presenter I could end up presenting World of Sport on ITV on a Saturday afternoon, which I quite fancied actually, but anyway, I’d said no, I don’t want to do it any more, so Elton Welsby came as my successor as the presenter.

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