When I first joined Granada in 1978, my first day on film ops was on Coronation Street, doing the location – all the location filming was done on film in those days, before electronics, you know, went lightweight. And Ray Goode was the senior cameraman, and I was his assistant, focus puller, and that was my first job. So it was a fantastic learning curve, and the one thing that I feel sorry, and for now, for young people coming into the industry now, is they can’t learn from people with experience. It was an apprenticeship of sorts – it was a full-time job in terms of the role of a camera operator, assistant cameraman, focus puller, all those sort of combined roles which you did, it was a learning curve, so you watched a man, you asked him questions. Somebody with loads of years experience of lighting, about the grammar of film, about the technique of film making, about how to deal with actors, how to look at lighting and make it work for sound and vision, and to be able to give the director what he wanted in terms of the look and the style of shooting. So it was a great learning curve, and I have nothing but respect for Ray Goode and Dave Wood, who were wonderful at giving you their knowledge.
Basically, unlike the BBC, where an assistant and a cameraman would maybe work together for two or three months at a time, Granada had a much more flexible, almost programmable, change. So if you were working on a drama, say Strangers or The Mallens, or something like that, you would probably work with the cameraman through that particular programme but then you would go onto another cameraman. So working for, you know, a month or six weeks, which was this general thing, to make an hour-long film it was probably a month to six weeks’ shooting on location to shoot it all, it as really using that ability to be able to ask him anything he wanted, to ask him why he was doing this, why had he chosen that lens to shoot it, why were shooting it at this exposure. Always very willing to tell you why, also to drop you in at the deep end and say, “You’re shooting it this morning, I’ll light it and you operate it. You discuss what lens you are going to choose with the director and I’ll join in, but I’m going to leave it with you and the director to sort this out.” So it was a wonderful apprenticeship, a free apprenticeship, to that. So both David Wood and Ray were very happy to tell you why, to shoot what they wanted to shoot, but always to give you the opportunity to get the experience, which I think is a wonderful apprenticeship level which you don’t get nowadays.
Were you very good as an apprentice?
I think all of us… you know, Andy Stevens, you remember Andy Stevens? Mike Lemmon, Mike Rainer; there was quite a few of us in the same sort of grade. Andy Stevens was probably the most senior camera, he’s been there the longest, the camera operator, so he’d… so I wouldn’t say I was Ray’s favourite in any sense at all, we all worked on a variety of different shows. We were just assigned a drama with a cameraman, a sound recordist and a boom swinger, who were just assigned to a show, and it was great to be able to bounce around. Certainly, I’ve done a lot with Ray and David, but Mike Thomson was very generous with his… you know, a newer, younger, cameraman, Mike Popley, Mike and I did lots of things together – The Mallens, which was an ongoing series, where a lot of the interiors were shot in studio one week, and we went out on the road the next week. It was an episodic series that Mike was doing. So you saw different people’s ideas, techniques, the way they dealt with it, and it was a really, really big challenge. Because as a young man, I was 27,28 when I joined Granada on staff, and still had a lot to learn, you know. I’d had a lot of experience, I’d done six or seven years in television, nowadays most people would think they were producers after six or seven years and be able to shoot anything! But film, and the film equipment, is a much more technical based thing than modern-day electronic technologies. It isn’t forgiving; film isn’t a forgiving medium in terms of if you don’t know what you’re doing with it.