John’s early years at Granada

I started on October 4, 1964. Tom Price was the head of cameras, and I was put on Les Chatfield’s crew. Les, at the time, was still working as a senior cameraman. Shortly afterwards, he had back problems, and he was taken off and he was put on a director’s course, which was really good for him. The other senior cameramen were Bill Podmore, who’d just come up from Chelsea in London, and Andy Hall, and Eric Prytherch, who went on to produce Coronation Street, but Eric was in charge of the OBs. I was a trainee until August 1965 and then I got first year, second year, third year. This was a natural progression, until you got to fifth year cameraman, which is… I think that was the 12th grade. I can’t remember exactly what they were now. So, I got to the top grade in 1970, and it took another 10 years to become senior cameraman with my own crew. There were six people on my crew. 

When I joined Granada in 1964, The Beatles were in Studio 6 doing a TV special produced by Johnnie Hamp, a Granada great. I remember odd little things, like doing Wheeltappers and Shunters. I was given a mobile crane to operate, but you couldn’t move either the crane or yourself for all the pints of beer on the front platform around your feet. But it was a great show.

We were shooting over tables in the foreground to a stage in the background. I don’t know whether you have ever seen Wheeltappers and Shunters, but it was like a working man’s club. So, it was like a small stage with curtains on it, and there was tables in front of it, and I took the wide shot from the back. You could actually, if there were no pints on your thing, turn around and get a shot of the bar, where Bernard Manning was always leaning up against, or you could pan to right and get a shot to Colin Compton in his little booth with his bell, ringing the bell, introducing the acts. Yes, it was all part of… it was a really good Johnnie Hamp show, that was. 

So, I became a proper cameraman in about 1970. Then in 1977, I think it was 1977, I applied for a trainee director’s job. There were four jobs going as trainee directors, and it was part of Denis Forman’s drive to new directors, new young directors. When I thought, “Well, I’m not that old, certainly, so I’ll have a go. I’m 32.” All the successful candidates, though, were researchers, and I’ll tell you what they were because it’s taken me a little bit to find them. It was Julian Jarrold, Mary McMurray, Andre Singer and Paul Greengrass. So, Alan Clayton and myself were deemed to be too technical. We weren’t creative enough. We were two technical people – he was a floor manager and I was a cameraman – and I suspect maybe that we finished up in the final six or four jobs as a sort of, I don’t know, “Let’s just put two people in there that we think are very, very good, but they’ve got no chance of getting the job.” I think it was designed for researchers at the time. I must admit, those people have gone on to do remarkable things, all of them. 

Denis Forman had both me and Alan Clayton in his office at separate times to explain why we didn’t get the job, which I thought was really good of Denis because I was there for nearly an hour I think. But I was a cameraman, and I enjoyed being a cameraman, but what I really wanted to do, by that time, was I wanted to get into lighting, but it was early days.

Leave a Reply