Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 25 February 2016.
What did you do before Granada and how did you come to join Granada?
I’ve been thinking about that, Steve. I was at York University from ’69 to ’72. Also at York University was Jeremy Fox, who I met, and we used to do TV programmes. It was a collegiate university, so they had a TV station, primarily for science lectures so they could beam them around the various colleges. But in the off time, we had access to the studio. So I presented some programmes – just a laugh, no one ever watched the damn things – but it was quite fun. And then we sort of lost contact. After York, I didn’t quite know what to do [with my career] so I went to Breton Hall and did a teaching postgraduate course in drama and English, and got a job in a secondary modern school near Wakefield, because I thought that was where the need was, and for three years I did that. After about three years, in 1976, I got a… it must have been a phone call, from Jeremy, who by this stage was at Granada producing Granada Reports, and he said, “There are researchers’ jobs, if you fancy applying.” So I did, came for an interview, Gus Macdonald was the interview. I was in the navy before I went to York as a naval officer, Dartmouth, for a couple of years, I actually resigned when I was at York, and I remember the interview with Gus Macdonald began by saying, “So you’re that bastard who used to drive a battleship?” – first thing he said, not even hello – to which I had the wit to say, “Well, actually that’s not true, because there have ben no battleships in the Royal Navy since 1945.” Anyway, that’s how it went, and I got offered the job. There’s one thing I always remember about that. As a teacher, you have to give half a term’s notice to leave as part of your contract. So I got this call saying, “Yes, you’ve got the job,” but that was it, and I thought, “Well, I’m not resigning on the say so of some Scottish bloke I’ve only met once, I need a bit of paper.” And nothing was forthcoming. It was getting nearer and nearer the deadline for this half term’s notice. So I phoned up Granada – it happened to be a Monday evening, as World in Action had just been on – and I got put through to World in Action, and I can’t remember her name, but the person I spoke to I was actually at York with, not a particular friend, but that was great, and what she said I had to do was, and said, “Gus Macdonald will probably be in the film exchange, so phone the film exchange.” No, I thought the film exchange might be a place where ITV companies swapped films! This is true! Eventually got through to Gus Macdonald, bit of paper was coming, gave my notice and started work at Granada on April 12, 1976.
Was Gus the only person on the interview panel?
No, but I can’t remember who else. There must have been more but I honestly can’t remember who the others were. He’s the one I remember because of what he said.
Do you remember anything else about that? A lot of people have talked about the interviewing panels.
He did say… he leant forward and he had either a jumper or a cardigan on with a great sort of home in the elbow. And he said, “Do you think clothes are important in television?” I thought, “This guy is really trying to wrong foot me.” So I took it in the spirit it was given and was meant, but that’s that. I didn’t think I had done particularly well. Oh, I know what I did do, because I lived in Yorkshire TV region, and the only Granada programmes I saw were the network programmes, which at that stage was primarily World in Action, but I did buy a copy of TV Times at that newsagent in Quay Street as I arrived early, and read up on what all the local programmes were, so I was able to say something. In later years, that used to drive me potty when people came up and I interviewed them, and they had no idea what Granada made. Oh, come on. Basic stuff.
So you started as a researcher in 1976?
Yes. They weren’t expecting me; Jeremy Fox said, “Oh, God, oh, yes… I suppose we’d better find somewhere for you to sit.” And what happened in those days was – and Jeremy Fox organised this quite cannily to give himself less work to do, frankly – on Granada Reports, half the programme each night was a special section called Reports, so there was Reports Sport, reports Back, and something else. I was assigned to Reports Back, which was the letters programme, presented by Gordon Burns. So I worked for Gordon Burns, these letters would come in and we would make a little film. I remember the very first thing we did! It was on biorhythms, if they exist and are they important, and how would they affect athletes in the Olympic Games and so on. So that’s what I did. So I did Reports Back, I can’t remember how long, but I think – I’ve been thinking about this – I then gravitated to… what I used to do, because I wasn’t a journalist but I wanted to work in the newsrooms as it seemed to me that’s where all the action was. The news editor at the time was a man called Peter Martin, who was a very, very, very nice man – I think he died, actually – who went off to work for The Economist as one of their correspondents. But I went to see him one lunchtime and said, “Can you teach me how to write a news story?” and I was used to writing essays frankly, and of course they were (blue pencil? 6:13) and so he taught me how to write tight, direct, simple copy and I did that in my spare time. Then, and I can’t remember how long I worked on Reports Back, but I gravitated to… I became Bob Greaves’ researcher. Bob, as well as presenting Granada Reports, presented Reports Sport, which was the Friday part two of Granada Reports, and that was great, so we did all sorts of things, I remember getting footballers in for him to interview, things like that, so I really enjoyed that. And as a result of that, 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 (corr) 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. Anyway, when Red Rum won the Grand National I was in the newsroom that Saturday, running along the desks cheering as I had quite a good bet on. In fact, I had interviewed Ginger McCain as a researcher for the… BBC had the Grand National; we interviewed him on the Friday. And then – I will stop in a moment because I’m probably going on too much – I really wanted to go on screen, and…
Let’s come back to that.
Let’s talk about Kick Off, because nobody has talked about working in sport.
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 (corr), 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 (corr), 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 11 and each of the Liverpool first 11 about who was marking whom, you know… I remember interviewing Joey Jones (corr), who was marking Steve Coppell (corr), 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.”
I remember researchers weren’t allowed to specialise unless they worked on Kick Off. (You quote ‘politics man’ Steve 13:29)
It’s true, it’s true.
So you got on well with Doherty.
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 (Lawler? 14:01) and then Elton came along… what happened to me was I was desperate to get on screen, and again it was Gus that told [me] there was a board which I didn’t get through, and the people who were picked were Charlie (Lawler? 14:18), Paddy (Caldwell? 14:20), Jeremy (Hunter-Coddington? 14:23) and this was (Linda Macdougall? 14:24), who was editor of… (??14:27) Mitchell’s wife, who was editor of the programme at the time, and they had this board and I didn’t get through, but I was very keen, so the next time there was an opportunity the deal was Gus Macdonald said, “Right, okay, you can go on screen but you must go on screen for Kick Off for six months,” or whatever, so that’s what I did as an on-screen reporter, then I began presenting Kick Off as well with Paul. But 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, the likes of (Steve Morris? 14:27) etc, 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, and I went to Granada Reports as a reporter, which is where I wanted to go, and that’s what I did for… another year or something perhaps, and then I move into presenting. Slowly. Yes. So that’s what I did. I loved being a reporter, it was very good. I often say to people today, we’re talking in those days of 16mm film, so the great thing compared to today was unless the film was in Humphrey’s Laboratory by four o’clock in the afternoon it could not be edited. It took an hour to be developed, to be edited for the six o’clock transmission, or you couldn’t get on air – so sometimes, at one minute past four, a great sigh of relief as you went to the pub because that film had to wait until the following day, whereas of course subsequently it could be edited – as I knew to my cost – while the programme is on air, so that’s a huge change. And also, I think the other thing people forget is because 16mm film has a sound head and a picture head, in other words to record the sound and record the picture, there was a gap on the film – I think it’s 28 frames – so you have to edit on sound, you can’t edit on picture. Stripe, it was called. Con mag, the BBC called it, we used to call it stripe film. So the editing was very… you had a shoot with a view to how you were going to edit – you couldn’t just shoot or you would have lots of what you called lip flap, you know, people’s mouths moving and no sound coming out. And the king of stripe was Bob Smithies (corr). He was a genius at making really quite intricate films using this limited technology. It was further limited actually because of the ACTT rule, which was that you could only shoot two magazines of film – which was about 11 minutes, 12 minutes at a push, but say 11 minutes in general, the two together that is – and again, you could not transmit more than three minutes, so you had a maximum ratio of about 4:1. That takes some doing! So you had to sort of plan stuff and being spontaneous was really difficult.
And after stripe?
It went to EMG.
Wasn’t there something in between stripe and EMG? I can’t remember.
See, I’d gone off then, I had gone off to do other stuff by then.
So you were working as a reporter, going out, shooting news stories.
A different story every day. I was more of a feature man than a hard news man, so… you’re going to ask me who else was a reporter, I can’t bloody remember.
Yes – I came in at the end of David Jones. Nik Gowing (corr), David Jones… Michael Engelhart, Ruth Elliot… Geoff Seed… but when I came, several of them had gone. David Jones was wonderful, he even made the most ironic stuff. Tony, of course, he was presenting and reporting, Tony Wilson.
Who was presenting?
Bob and Tony were the sort of… incredible, weird relationship they had. Bob used to get fed up because Tony would always call him his dad and take the mickey out of him for being older. I think there was an (affection there? 19:45), they were both incredibly professional. Tony Wilson was the most extraordinary man. I can’t think of any other regional news presenter anywhere in the country like Tony, because of the many sides to his character that everybody knows about.
Tell me more about Tony.
Tony? (Chuckles) I will never forget producing Tony when I became a producer. It was the dull, doldrum days of August so nothing much was happening. I think it was… he came into the studio – into the building – with about one minute to go to [transmission? 20:31]. I had actually asked for a tie, thinking, “I’ll have to do it!” it was the mid-afternoon news bulletin, not Granada Reports, that’s right. And Tony sort of walked in, “Yeah, man, what’s the problem?!” walked in, sat down, a script he had never seen before – and just did it. He was bloody infuriating. But he got away with it. I don’t think I ever realised at the time quite how significant he was in terms of the Mr Manchester label and everything that one knows subsequently. I spent a lot of time with Tony, I was never a friend of his, I don’t think, I’m not sure many people were within the building.
Why do you think that was?
I don’t know. Partly Tony’s character, I think. I know people like Alan Erasmus quite well, who was one of the founders of the Hacienda, of Factory Records, a very different character, a more sort of open chap. I don’t know, Steve. I really don’t. I’m trying to think of people, when we were there, when he was there and I was there, who… he never would go to the bar for a drink. Perhaps he would do occasionally, but he was never social in that sense. He would do the work then go and do his… and subsequently there was all the other stuff he was doing, all the music stuff.
He was great bloke, Bob. He was absolutely fantastic. One of the reasons I really liked Bob was that he never appeared to show any kind of resentment to the fact that I was becoming a co-presenter with him. I think being… Bob Greaves, Stuart Hall obviously for the BBC, but Bob Greaves was one of these characters… like a guy in the north east, where I’m from, called Mike Neville, who became synonymous with the region, and synonymous with the station – he was Mr Granada. Consummate professional. I think towards the end he got a bit bored, frankly, and that affected his performance, and if he was around today he would probably admit that. But I liked him a lot, I thought he was great, and he was… he used to get all this fan mail, and everybody got a letter back – he was terrific.
Trevor (Hyers? 22:44)
Great guy. He was… Trevor used to walk in going, “Guess how many fucks I give this morning! Not one! I do not give a fuck for this place!” but he left fairly soon after I arrived actually. There was a bit (??23:06) when I was a researcher but he left within a year, maybe two years. He was very frustrated, Trevor, I think. I don’t know why, but anyway… the other interesting guy is Bob Smithies. Bob was very avuncular, he was this award-winning Guardian photographer, big mates with Simon Hoggett for example, so I didn’t realise that until I read a book by Simon Hoggett. But once he came to Granada, which was a completely different career, he never took another photograph. I remember him telling me that. We did a competition years later which he judged, but… I think that’s weird, isn’t it? But he was Mr News Bulletin Man, Bob, and I always think he felt a bit fed up with that, and he wasn’t perhaps given as much opportunity as Bob Greaves, but he was very good. He had this calm air when he was reading the news bulletin. I remember on one occasion for some reason they wired him up with sensors on his heart and his pulse… so this calm, collected man, “(??24:17) small chip pan fire in Oswaldtwistle…” the meter was… he was off the meter! He was clinically dead inside, all this stuff was churning around but he didn’t ever exhibit it.
Would Anna Ford be there?
No. I missed Anna Ford, but not by long. She and Trevor were an item at one stage, I think. So I don’t ever remember… maybe a month or so, Steve, but I don’t remember seeing her.
No, he was doing House for the Future, which was a programme about an eco house, a series, Charlie Kitchen was one of the researchers, Polly Byde was another researcher on that programme. So he had left Granada Reports by the time I joined.
Producers: do you remember Claudia Milne?
Yes, I do. When I was presenting, she produced it. Linda Macdougall, as I say, she was producer…
Well, Steve Hawes and I were contemporaries. He was in the company about a month before. So he produced me, so did (Andy McLaughlin? 25:48), he produced me as well… in fact, because they were friends of mine as well – still are – that’s one of the reasons I got more interested in the production side of things – I was never that satisfied being a presenter. Of course, my biggest claim to fame is I am the person responsible for Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan getting together.
I applied for a producer’s board, didn’t get it, then there was another one, and this would be in January/February 1982. I was presenting Granada Reports with Judy Finnigan – she and I were the main presenters at the time; Bob was off doing other stuff, and he had fallen out with (Stuart Praddle? 26:40), another producer. So Bob was doing that programme for Jim Walker, Reports Action, with Joan Bakewell. Anyway, so Judy Finnigan and I were the presenters, and I had got this producers board, Rob Caird was the editor at the time, so they had to find another presenter because I was becoming a producer. So they got this bloke called Richard Madeley, who was a presenter/reporter for Yorkshire Television at the time. The rest is history! So if it hadn’t been for me they’d never have met. So when they were on This is Your Life I half expected the phone call, but it never came! They’d probably forgotten, but that’s actually what happened.
So after Granada Reports did you present any other programmes?
No, I didn’t, because although I was a producer/presenter in my contract, they were quite keen on me producing – I wanted to produce as well, and what happed is, I produced a programme called Friday Night which Shelley Rohde presented, and we had… it was an hour, live, on a Friday night at 10.30, I think, which was really… I really enjoyed that, we got some fantastic people on. We got the first interview with Jimmy Boyle, the murderer (corr), after he came out of Barlinnie Prison, and I really liked him. We had not serious subjects, with trade union leaders more interested in power than serving their unions… I was a bit pompous, I suppose. But I enjoyed that with Shelley. And then I went to Granada Reports and the presenters were Judy Finnigan and Richard Madeley. And Liverpool had just started then, so Mike Short was starting off the Liverpool bit of it as well, so it was quite interesting balancing the two – obviously Mike wanted as many stories from the Liverpool studio as possible, and Roger Blythe, he was one of the presenters as well. Now, we covered a general election, bill Jones was news editor, which I was really proud of because it was… I remember during the day, doing Granada Reports, taking the team out to Chinatown for some supper, then working through the night with the election, and then doing all of the following day, about 12 programmes, and then ending up with Granada Reports at the end – I was absolutely knackered! But really, really… I found that really thrilling, it was excellent. And then… I can’t remember how long I was producing Granada Reports, I honestly can’t. I could probably work it out… but them Steve Leahy, who ran children’s programmes, said that he wanted me to… Scott, who was the programme controller, said he wanted me to go and work for Leahy in children’s programmes, and what they wanted to do was remake Criss Cross Quiz, which was quite a famous quiz show, an American idea, and they had the board, and I said, “I’m not doing that, that’s tedious.” So I invented a game using this technology called Connections, which I devised – no credit, no bloody money either – but I devised it for teenagers, and it went out five nights a week. There was a programme called Blockbusters, which was very popular, and when Blockbusters rested, on came Connections – they made 200 episodes of it, and it went to America and it went to Sweden etc. so I was quite proud of that as well. Because it was getting…
You were presenting that?
No, I wasn’t – Sue Robbie (corr) was presenting it. I was just producing it. But the logistics were extraordinary. Denis Mooney was on it, a researcher, for a while. Andrew (Surelia? 30:50)… Vanessa Kirkpatrick, and Sue Robbie was the presenter. But because we had to get kids coming from all over the country, it was really quite… the logistics of it, persuading their parents to let them go and stay in the Piccadilly Hotel, and chaperones and all of that. But that was fun, quite good. I made a couple of documentaries there, as a presenter, they weren’t particularly successful, one was called The Time and the Place, which I quite enjoyed, though I think I bit off more than I could chew, trying to produce that and present it, it was a bit selfish, and I think I paid the price. But also in the children’s department then were Martin Day, who was a great kids presenter, he did a lot of children’s programmes, it was in an abandoned warehouse a bit away from the main building. And (Di Branwell? 31:50), she produced programmes fro tots, you know, the pre-school age kids, with Ralph McTell, I remember, hosting one of the programmes she presented. So I did that for two or three years.
And after that?
And then after that, Mike Short, who was also a friend of mine, said, “Do you fancy going on Granada Reports as a presenter?” And I have to say, I had missed presenting a bit, so Ray Fitzwalter was head of regionals at the time, so I went to Liverpool – I wasn’t made very welcome, I think people had their noses put out, and I don’t blame them in a way, because who was I, and there were people who had been doing the job, and obviously some of those had to step aside – but I became the presenter of Granada Reports in 1989. So I had probably three years in the children’s department I think, Steve, so all the Liverpool crew, most of whom I didn’t know, I knew the technical people because I had been there from time to time, but I didn’t know the journalists, they were all new to me, and I didn’t know some of the production staff either, so that was quite a revelation because it was like a different TV station, a separate TV station, and Nick Skidmore was producing, Mike Short was editor, followed by Louise Nandy… so yes, that’s what I did. It meant driving to Liverpool every day, but I didn’t mind that, I did quite a good deal with Ray Fitzwalter, screwed a bit of money out of them, and I did that for a while, then again, I was getting a bit bored, actually…
Was it Ray Fitzwalter who was head of regionals?
Yes, he was. Because he’s the one I negotiated the contract with. Why he was doing that… yes, he was – I still have the memo after my first… sent my first (??34:10)… terribly nervous. Because I hadn’t done it for such a long time, I was very, very nervous, and I think it probably showed. And people like Julie Alexander, she was one of the presenters as well.
And Roger Blythe?
No, roger Blythe had left by this stage. Because there were a number of presenters, quite a big turnover of presenters. Chris Carr was doing it for a little while, Julie Alexander, as I say, me… Vanessa Kirkpatrick came along as well. She tended to do the news bulletins, because all the news came from Liverpool in those days – this was to get the franchise, that was the reason, wasn’t it? – I mean, there was a huge… I think the Bernsteins, right at the beginning, should we go to Manchester, should we go to Liverpool, and they flipped a coin and Manchester came up heads. It was slightly bigger anyway, being the commercial centre, but this was definitely to get the franchise back. And then we opened studios in Lancaster, Chester, Blackburn as well… and then what happened was that Stuart Prebble, who took over as head of regionals, appointed a new editor. Louise Nandy had been the editor, following Mike Short, so another guy came up from Southern Television, and on the Saturday or Sunday, he phoned and said, “I’m not coming.” He was due to stat work on the Monday. So I got a phone call at home from David Fraser, the late, wonderful David Fraser, saying could I come and meet him and Stuart Prebble in a pub in Didsbury because they had something to discuss! So I thought, “I wonder what this is?” I sort of had an inkling. Anyway, I went there and they said, “This bloke isn’t coming, what are we going to do?” and I looked at them, and they looked at me, and so I became the editor and the presenter, which was great – I really did enjoy tat very, very much. It was quite difficult – people like Jeff Anderson and Rob McLoughlin were producing – and I had to try and remember to take off my editor’s hat at six o’clock and be produced, and then at half past six put it back on again, and I didn’t always get that right – I remember one or two times when I was told – quite rightly – to shut up. I was a bit arrogant. But I did that for a couple of years – three years, really, because I left at the end of 1992. It was pretty pressurised some of the time, and I got quite knackered, but I did enjoy it, it was my ideal – a bit of power and a bit of presenting, so just what I wanted, really.
And you left Granada altogether in…?
I left at the end of ’92. What happened was, Granada Reports, having got the franchise, Liverpool became less important – surprise, surprise – so everything was moved back to Manchester. And I was a bit fed up because some people I’d hired were Liverpool-based, and Granada didn’t bay them travelling money to come across to Manchester, so I thought it was a bit unfair. And I was 44 at the time, and I thought, “I either stay as the face of Granada for the next 20 years…” – which is a perfectly reasonable thing to do, and why the hell not? Bob Greaves did it, a great man, why not? But for me, I thought there’s got to be something else. So they were offering a deal – a good deal, and many people took advantage of the redundancy that was being offered. I didn’t think they would let me go actually, I thought they would fight to keep me. But they said, “Yes, you can go.” So I took the money and left. That was technically December 31, 1992. I remember getting this redundancy cheque, the biggest cheque I have ever had in my life, and going to NatWest Bank on King Street in Manchester. And because it was Christmas time they were all wearing Santa Claus outfits. And I remember going to the counter and saying, “This is very important. Please don’t make it into a paper aeroplane!” They did put it into my account, thankfully! So that was it. And after that, I still worked for Granada because I did… there was a programme called Granada Action, which was produced by Andy McLaughlin, and his company, and I presented that for about three years in seven-week segments every year, something like that.
Let’s talk about Granada itself for a little bit. You made a passing reference to the bar and socialising. A number of people have talked about the importance of the ‘old school’ or whatever it was in your time, and the canteen as well.
I remember the canteen, my God. The canteen had Barnum and Bailey photographs or posters, because that was put there by the Bernsteins, to remind everybody that we’re in show business, that’s what we were. And also – which I thought was extraordinary at the time, and I think was pretty rare – was that everybody ate in the canteen, from David Plowright to Mike Scott to Denis Forman. And the fear was you’d be eating your lunch and someone like (??39:55) would sit down and ask you a question! They thought that was excellent. There was also Irma, this wonderful, wonderful woman, who people will remember from those days. “Mashed or roast?” that was her great thing. “Mashed or roast!” and when you went in for breakfast, there was the queue length and she would say, “Do you vant a egg?” Yes please, Irma. So ‘a egg’ and ‘mashed or roast’ – everybody will remember Irma. The other thing, Steve, which is quite interesting, is when I joined Granada there was no bar! It was the only dry television station in the country, because the Bernsteins were anti-alcohol. They then opened The Stables after I had been there for not that long, and I think from their point of view they suddenly realised, “What a bloody good idea!” Because everybody talked about work – in their own time! Not in the (comedy style? 40:53). But it was quite extraordinary. And when you had politicians on, I had Denis Healy on a programme, and taking him for a drink, that sort of… get the back dining room key to open the drinks cabinet because it was a dry company. But yes, so I think The Stables made a big difference, particularly if you’re doing something like Granada Reports – after the programme, into the bar to wind down.
So it was bonding.
And it was networking.
Definitely. Yes, definitely networking. I don’t think people realised quite at the time that it was networking, but you just got to know people. I mean, some people were very, very blatant about it and they were using it for networking, but there was nothing wrong with that. I didn’t do that, but you just got to know people. I thought that was the most extraordinary thing about Granada, one of the most extraordinary things, but you just get to chatting to people like Leslie Woodhead, people like Ray Fitzwalter, not that he was in the bar that often, but you just got to know everybody. One of the reasons, I think, is because the technical crews, particularly the film crews, you would work with a cameraman like David (Olga? 42:06), Mike (Poplar? 42:07) or somebody, who the next minute would be going off and working on Brideshead Revisited. There was all that sort of mix in – it was very… what’s the phrase? ‘Flat management’, I think is the phrase. Though I was told at the time, I don’t know how true this is – I think Bob Greaves told me this – that a memo was sent out by Sidney Bernstein along the lines of: ‘It has come to my attention, as the company has grown, people are no longer referring to one another by their first names. Let me be quite clear, no matter how big the company becomes, no matter how grand the senior positions will be, first names will always be used, whoever is talking to whomever. Signed, The Chairman’
And he sent that to everybody as a memo?
Yes! but signed ‘The Chairman’. (??43:07)
A number of people have made that point about first name terms.
Also I remember on one occasion, I was a new producer, I’d never met Denis Forman, and I was in awe of this man. I remember the day exactly because it was after the Warrington Messenger, the Eddie Shah, all of that kerfuffle, and we had a crew out, waiting for the doors to open and the picket lines to be cast asunder, and we pulled the crew at 4am because at this stage, the computation, I forget how many T they were on, and I was producing, and I kind of resigned at the time, I was absolutely furious, I was up sort of arguing the toss with Mike Scott or Rod (??44:00) or somebody persuaded me not to resign, I was furious. The BBC got the pictures and we didn’t have them. But anyway, it involved being up most of the night, and the following evening I had been invited up to the flat, which I had never been to, to take part in a discussion with Denis Forman about the future of regional arts, and anyway, so I went up with Steve Hawes in the lift – because only one list went up to the flat – and there, coming towards me was Denis Forman who said, “Hello, I’m Denis. If you’re very tired, would you like to stay for the night?” And I thought, “What?! Am I being propositioned?” but what he meant was, he knew I’d been up all night the previous night working on this story, and that I would be shattered and if I wanted to, there were spare beds in the flat. And I thought that was extraordinary, that he had gone to the trouble of finding out a bit about me, I thought that was wonderful. (??44:58) forever more, sort of thing. But that was typical of the company; I always thought that was great.
Was it a good company to work for?
At the time, you don’t really think about these things, do you, Steve? But looking back it was a fantastic company to work for, and I really do think it was. And the people who have gone on to do extraordinary things, I mean, extraordinary things, many of whom started work there. I mean, yes, without a doubt. I’m not too sure towards the end, I think it wasn’t towards the end, and whether David Plowright’s vision if – ironically, media city, there is one now – was sustainable, I don’t know. But yes, I mean… it was great.
A very paternalistic company?
Yes. I can only speak about my own experiences, but I think they were very kind to people. I think they were very understanding. If you had a problem, if you needed time off, certainly in my… I tended to do that in management as well, that was always perfectly okay. I think one of the problems was it wasn’t just Granada, but management entered into these agreements with the trade unions, that were really… I mean, and some of them were shocking – I’m sure we’ve all got stories to tell, you wouldn’t want to bore people with it, but things I wouldn’t dare tell my father, I mean, they were absolutely awful. Having to have electricians when we didn’t need them, all of this – but it was management’s fault. I don’t blame the unions; it takes two to tango. As long as it was a licence to print money. And I think that made life very difficult. And I think one of the things a lot of people didn’t realise was that the ACTT – our union – was making life difficult was making like difficult for members of the ACTT. If you were on the news, for example, there were restrictions on how much you could shoot, the fact that you had to have a choice of hot starters at lunch… I remember as a researcher, and I don’t know if you experienced the same, Steve, as a researcher I was more worried about the lunch for the crew than I was about the story, which is crazy. Now, I think things have swung – I know things have swung far too far in the other direction in terms of people being abused, and that’s wrong as well, but I think in those days, some of that was just crazy. The other thing was, and I don’t know how true it was for other companies, I don’t think it is true actually, having talked to people since I left Granada, I don’t think I knew at the time, but people who started working on Granada Reports would go off and do all sorts of things at the end. There was no management brought in from outside until people like Stephen Reid, David Fraser… what’s her name? Philippa Heard. Steve Morris, David Plowright, all gravitated from Mike Scott, from, you know, from being just members of the production team like you and me. That’s pretty unusual. And some went on to… obviously people like John Burr went on to other companies as well.
As you say there wasn’t a great management structure.
No, there wasn’t. No. I think this must be true of other companies as well, but it was to begin with quite extraordinary, being in the canteen queue with people in costume, because they were taking part in a Lawrence Olivier play, and then the technician, sound recordist, and yourself… it was great. I mean, I think certainly from my point of view, I never questioned how much money I was earning until towards the end when I became a bit, you know, I had a bit of clout. And I never counted the hours I worked – you just did what you did.
You met your wife at Granada.
I did, yes. It was a bit embarrassing, because Maggie was working on the floor above me, Maggie Coombes, she was a production designer, and I asked her out, and we went for a drink in the… I know what we’d done – I’d got tickets to see Victoria Wood in concert at the Royal Exchange, so we went for a drink in the little bar in the midland Hotel, and we went to the Royal Exchange, and we sat there – and Maggie’s quite shy – and looked over, and most of Granada were in the tier above, looking down, thinking, “Oooh, they’re an item!” Embarrassing.
It was always rather difficult, going out with people you worked with.
As you know!
As I know myself, yes. What about characters you met at Granada?
David Kemp, the political editor. You won’t be doing this chronologically, so I’ll say it afresh. April 12, 1976, I was assigned to work for Gordon Burns in this bit of Granada called Reports Fact, and there was a spare desk in his office, (Pat Caffey? 51:00) was the secretary, and said I could sit at this desk, but only until someone called David Kemp would be arriving in a few weeks. So that was fine, that was my desk. And another thing happened that first day, I had been a teacher in a secondary modern school near Wakefield, and I said to Pat Caffey, Gordon Burns’ secretary, I needed to phone my girlfriend in Leeds, where do I put the money? And she looked at me like I was an idiot! Because at school there was one phone in the secretary’s office, and you put your 2p in the tin! Anyway, so that’s what happened. Until one day, I came back after lunch, and my desk, which had up until then had been my desk, was awash with spilt milk with fag ends stubbed out all over the desk! David Kemp had arrived. Gosh, he was extraordinary. A very talented man, but he was a hell of a character. Very good at his job, but…
Did you work with him?
Yes – I worked on his political programme as well with Gordon. I think Gordon Burns was the last man not to be a producer and a presenter, and they took away the producing ticket from him, which he was very upset about. So he was a character. Mike Scott. Mike Scott I thought was a wonderful, wonderful, very talented guy, very wonderful presenter, and a really, really accessible programme controller. I really enjoyed having conversations with him, he’s make time when I was a junior producer. I think he worked so hard, I don’t think it did him any good at all health-wise, but I think he was fantastic. There were lots of people. The other thing, Steve, I think… I don’t know how other people have put this, but with very few exceptions, if any, nobody was grand in their behaviour. No one walked around as if they were cock of the hoop. One or two did, actually, one or two who worked for me, who I sort of put in their place, and when I left Granada – and I met a guy called David Byrne who became (??53:23) who I worked for in Bristol – and I went to see his little company, they were making corporate videos and media training, which I subsequently did, and I arrived at their offices, a small company, they only employed about 10 people, but the door opened, and I was met by Lesley, David’s wife, who introduced herself. I was then introduced to everybody, at their desk, from the secretary to the accountant… and as I walked down, I thought, “This is like Granada. I can work here, because nobody is more important or more superior than anybody else.” I think that’s quite extraordinary, and it was great.
Do you think that was a distinct ethos of Granada?
Definitely. Definitely. Certainly something which I hope has stood me in good stead in terms of since then, I have always tried to work that way myself with people. And that was great, I thought it was absolutely great. But I think people forget. Television was a career in those days that a lot of people aspired to. I’m not so sure it is now, but people really wanted to get in, and a lot of people were given an opportunity. As I say, you could move wherever you wanted. There was one stage where I nearly became a producer on Coronation Street because I’d had a drama background – but the very fact that that was entertained was extraordinary really. And the same for the technical people as well, the editors, the film crews, the PAs – they worked on all of these programmes, from the sort of This is Your Right to Brideshead Revisited. I mean, that must have been extraordinary – well, it was extraordinary. I think the other thing that people forget, Granada Television is the only UK TV station that’s got a name that’s not relevant to the region. The (??55:36) in Spain, which is what they named it after, is hardly anything to do with Blackpool or Barnoldswick. And people called themselves, you would meet people out of the region, where do you come from, where do you live, “I live in Granadaland.” And that’s amazing really. And to be part of that – which we were, at its best – I think is… I suppose hindsight and all of that – but it was extraordinary. Very privileged, really.
Was that important to the region? Helping to give the region an identity?
I think given how much Liverpool and Manchester hate each other… when I was in the Navy, sailors used to hate the navy, but as soon as they were outside the ship, if anybody said a word about the Navy they were ready to have a fight! I think it did define the region, it did. And as I say, people referred to themselves as being from Granadaland, “I’m from Granadaland.” And given how split the region is, I think it did! I’m from the North East and in a way the North East is more cohesive, smaller, although as a Sunderland supporter I can’t tell you what I think of Newcastle United! But as Liverpool and Manchester are these big, big conurbations with, as I said, this great tension across the motorway, but yes, Granada held the whole thing together.