Judith Jones transcript

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 29 January 2021.

How did you come to join Granada Television?

Well, in 1980, Granada opened a news base at Exchange Flags in the centre of Liverpool, just behind the town hall. Part of the rationale for doing that was that they wanted to ensure that they still had the franchise in the Granada area; they had been criticised for not really giving sufficient coverage to Liverpool. So this was one of the strategies to demonstrate that they were committed to Liverpool, and they were therefore keen on recruiting people from Liverpool and Merseyside to work at the news base. So I had no experience in anything to do with journalism or television, but I saw an advert that was in the local newspaper, the Liverpool Echo, which was for a newsroom secretary, and you needed to have secretarial skills, which I had, and an interest in news, which I also had. So it seemed interesting, but also I remember the salary. Although I don’t remember exactly what it was, the salary was significantly more than what I was earning at the time. So I applied, and fortunately I was one of the two newsroom secretaries who was taken on early in 1980. 

What exactly was your role as a secretary?

Okay, so I was taken on… I was think there were four of us who joined around about the same time, although there was only myself and Daphne Hughes who were the newsroom secretaries. But the other two people in the foursome was Annie Margetts who at that stage was working on reception, and Gill Hallifax, who was David Highet’s, the manager of Granada in Liverpool, his secretary. So, we became firm friends, and have stayed that way ever since, 40 years on. 

But as a newsroom secretary, and initially, what the Liverpool base was for, was to feed inserts into the local news programme in the evening. So as newsroom secretaries, Daphne and myself, our responsibilities were to type up scripts, take down copy, liaise with the journalists, just generally to offer admin support mainly to journalists, mainly working to the news editor. So we didn’t really have any direct involvement in the programme making, but we were there to do things like type up the scripts and print off the scripts, because everything was done on typewriters and photocopiers at that stage. Although it was only inserts into the programme, it could become very fast paced, so we had to work well together and work well under pressure. But it was also great fun, because we were working at an open plan office, so we weren’t at all tucked away. We were working across from the news editor, the producer, all of the journalists. It was good fun, and fortunately Daphne and I worked really well together.

So you did inserts for Granada Reports?

Yes. Obviously, Liverpool was always a place that had a lot of news going on, but they realised they had extra capacity. probably the first programme that originated from there was a lunchtime magazine programme which was called Exchange Flags, which was a light-hearted, studio-based show with a small audience. It was an entertainment programme really, maybe occasionally have a bit of a news base, but really was a magazine programme. 

In addition to the fact that I was significantly better paid, I was also introduced to the world of expenses as well, which was a novelty, because when I joined Granada in Exchange Flags – and it was essentially an office block which had been repurposed – at that stage, they didn’t have a canteen. And so, because as an employer Granada were not able to provide us with any food, which was something new, we were able to go out for lunch every day and claim expenses for our lunches, and also, I think, for our morning and afternoon breaks. So that was something which was a great incentive as well. But once the canteen opened, which was really good, just across the way from our office, that became a real focus point for everybody working in Granada. It also had very good food, and they also made you bacon sandwiches in the morning and cakes in the afternoon. 

Tell me a bit more about the canteen. 

The canteen was run by a woman called Helen, but I also remember Joanie-onie. Helen was in charge, but Joanie-onie was the person who served you. I remember food being constantly on tap, but also, if you had a special request, or it was somebody’s birthday, or it was Christmas, we would have special food. 

I always say, “When you look back, was it as good as you remember?” But I think, because it’s not just me saying this, I think the spirit in Liverpool in the early days was one of fun, enjoyment. And I think a lot of that came from the relaxed attitude of David Highet as the manager, who had a very light touch in terms of management, but always knew what was going on and was always very personable to people. And was very accessible. And he was supported by Chris Kerr, who was his deputy manager. So, you didn’t feel that it was a kind of hierarchical management, because they were very much around and about, and interested in what was going on. 

In terms of producers, the two main producers that I remember where Marian Nelson, who I think had worked at Granada for some time, but was somebody who came from Liverpool, and Mike Short, who came across. So they were the two main producers, probably quite contrasting in terms of their attitudes, but both good people to work for and both really supportive of definitely me. And then we would have different journalists coming in, some journalists who would work there all the time – people like John Toker – and then news editors who would sometimes come and go. There might be news editors who had been based in Manchester, or the one I remember who stayed probably longest while I was there was somebody called John Flatt, who was the news as most of the time that I was there. 

So we were on the first floor, that’s where the canteen, the management offices and the newsroom was. On the ground floor was the entrance to the building, and then in the basement was the studio, and that was also where makeup, Christina, was based. And that’s where the technical staff were based. It was it was fairly compact, so you would see people all the time going up and down the stairs.

Did you ever get the chance to go over to Manchester?

So what happened in terms of my career was that I was newsroom secretary for a while with Daphne. That was great, and we really enjoyed it. It was really interesting – I think it also – and it’s probably something we’ll come back to in terms of pros and cons – Granada became not only our workplace, but also very much a part of our social lives. But I think I became slightly frustrated and wanted to do something else. When I joined Exchange Flags, there were two production assistants there, Carola Brassey,  and another woman called Lesley Davies. After a while, Lesley moved across to work in Manchester, which opened up a vacancy in Liverpool for a production assistant. So I applied, and was successful. For my training, I had to work in Manchester probably for about six months. The union ruling, I think, was you had to do that for about nine months, but I’m not sure if I did it for that long. So, yes, that was the first time that I actually dipped my toe into the water of the world of Granada in Manchester. 

Tell me about the training and about what a production assistant does. 

So the role as a production assistant, it’s always a problem because it gets shortened to PA, and people always think of it as secretarial. It’s basically the organiser of the programme, and one of the good things about being a production assistant is that you are involved in the programme from the pre-production and the organisation of it, right to the programme itself and then to post-production. So clearing, making sure that everybody is paid after the programme. Obviously, it differs depending on the type of the programme, whether it’s drama, documentary, live programmes, etc. but when you started training, and essentially what I was going to be doing in Liverpool was studio programmes, you start on something called ‘promotions’, and they were 30-second promotion videos that they used to put in between programmes. So it was, “Later tonight, you can see Coronation Street followed by whatever.” So, it was a 30-second script with some short VT (videotape) inserts into it. So, it was very straightforward, but it taught you as a PA about how to count through that 30 seconds and count the presenter into their words and then out, and then count through the VT. So basically taught you how to use your stopwatch, and how to count, and how to communicate with everybody else in the studio. And to know when to talk and when to not talk, and to get to know what the responsibilities of sound racks, director etc., vision mixer.

. So, from promos, you’d move on to very simple programmes, and you always had a mentor or somebody who trained you. So I had people like Ursula Coburn, or Sue Wild, a more senior PA. So then you would work on something simple like This is Your Right, which was a short consumer affairs programme. Fairly straightforward, pre-recorded, a mixture of presenters talking to camera, video or film inserts, and interviews. So it was fairly straightforward. It was kind of like a mini-Granada Reports although it wasn’t live. Another programme that you do would be What the Papers Say. Again, because that was a studio programme, if there were any problems or issues you could stop and start again. And because for both This is Your Right and What the Papers Say, in addition to working in studio, you would also be typing up and preparing the running order and the script, and then you’d be responsible for making sure if you’d used any film that wasn’t Granada, or any photos or any presenters that needed paying, that was the PA’s responsibility. And it was also the PA’s responsibility to make sure that all the exact details of the programme were typed upon to the VT sheet, so that when it was transmitted they knew exactly how long it ran. It had to be precise to the second, because of the schedules and the fact that they sold advertising space. And you also have to make a note, if there was anything that was going to… either if you used somebody who might be in an advert, or if you had something in your programme about, I don’t know, mis-selling pensions and then there was going to be an advert coming up about pensions, it was important that transmission control knew about that. And then the final bit of training for me at that stage was to do Granada Reports. 

Tell me about Granada Reports. 

So Granada Reports was the local half-hour live news programme in the evening, generally had two presenters, usually had at least one interview, and would also have lots of film or VT inserts into it. Because it was a live news programme, and because people were, for example, editing their film right up to the last minute, it was very much… you know, everything was happening in the last hour or so leading up to the programme. And it wasn’t unusual for you to go into the programme not knowing whether a piece of film had been edited, not knowing whether the final running order was the final running order, to be used for things to change, even when you are on air, for items to be dropped or items to be changed around. So you really have to be on the ball in terms of just focus and concentration really, because on the live programmes, the PA was really important. Because you were really guiding it through. In terms of the director, I would say a news programme is fairly straightforward, because there’s not that much room for creativity. But if your PA messes up the timings, or gives the presenter the wrong information, then it really shows on the screen. And that communication between the presenter and the PA was really important. So on Granada Reports, because of the nature of it, you always had to PAs. So one of you would be what was known as the ‘rolling and cueing PA’. So that was the person who was responsible for the running order and the script, who would actually talk to the presenters, talk over feedback, cue in the pieces of film, count through the pieces of film, count through the interviews. So that was the kind of voice person and then do the clearing afterwards. And then the timings was the person who, throughout the programme, would be adjusting the timings for each individual segment of the programme, to see how you needed to adjust the rest of the items to make sure that you came out on time. So there was a lot of adding up, rubbing out with pencils, telling the producer all the way through how you were doing so that the producer could make a decision, for example, to shorten an interview or to lose an item or whatever. And there was absolutely no flexibility in terms of the running time, so it had to be to the second. Because, unlike the BBC, we had sold advertising time. So the worst thing you could do as the timings PA was to get it wrong, and to come out even a second under or over was going to have implications. So for that 30 minutes, it could be nerve-racking. I actually really enjoyed doing live programmes. You just needed to remain calm and focused, and concentrate, and know when you need to say something and when you needed to not say something. Because in the studio control room, and particularly with the presenters, what you didn’t want was lots of voices talking over each other. You needed to know when to speak and to give the person information, and when to keep quiet.

And what information would you be giving the presenter?

Well, I’d be telling the presenter if, for example, item five had some film in it and we knew that the film was not going to be edited until later in the programme, and we were going to move item five to be the last item down, the PA was the person who needed to tell the presenter that, and make sure they understood it, and tell them clearly, and tell everybody else in the studio, that that was the decision of the producer. So you kind of became the producer’s voice. But also, if you had a piece of film, and you were coming back to the presenter in the studio, the presenter was relying on your count to know when to speak, so they didn’t look stupid. Or if you said to them, “You can talk a bit longer in this interview,” then you were the person who was telling them that in fact, they now had two minutes to fill rather than one minute. So they needed to be able to trust you. I mean, I have to say, the presenters I worked with – who were people like Bob Greaves, Tony Wilson, Roger Blythe – were really professional. And you could just say to them, “You need to talk for another minute,” and it wouldn’t faze them, and you wouldn’t see it. As a viewer, you wouldn’t notice any difference. 

So you did your training in Manchester for whatever time it was. Did you then go back to Exchange Flags in Liverpool? 

Yes. So I then went back to Exchange Flags as a PA. In Exchange Flags you were the only PA on it. Because it wasn’t like news, you could do a lot of more preparation. Although Mike Short in particular pushed the boundaries of what we could do in the studio. So for example, we had an item that was about sleeplessness. So he got a four poster bed in, he got Roger Blythe dressed up with a dressing gown or whatever. And then something to do with counting sheep. So he got a researcher to get some sheep in the studio, which I’m sure now wouldn’t be, in terms of health and safety… but the only sheep they could get was from the safari park, and it was some exotic sheep with horns. Anyway, that didn’t go well. 

What happened? 

The sheep ran amok in the studio basically, and added nothing to the item. There was no reason… I don’t know what Mike thought, but Mike had these realms of, I don’t know, fantasy where he… and because we were in Liverpool, we could do a lot more. It’s almost like we were an independent state, and there was nobody there to regulate us. And David Highet and Mike Short had a very good relationship, got on really well. And David had a fairly laid-back approach. So as long as it didn’t offend anybody, David was fairly laid back, you know, and health and safety wasn’t any big deal in those days. So that was one thing. 

Another one I remember was we had a young girl, maybe in her early 20s, who had some record for eating so many… well, as it turned out, we did it with kippers in a short period of time. So that, again, wasn’t a great idea because I think she maybe broke the record, but was promptly sick in the studio. 

Daphne was still working there – she worked for Granada for many years – but Exchange Flags was a studio programme with an audience. So we I always have to have an audience in there at lunchtime, which was not always that easy to do. So I remember Daphne in particular had to go out onto Exchange Flags and try and persuade people to come in and sit in our audience for half an hour. So anybody who was criss-crossing behind the town hall. But Exchange Flags was fine. 

And I also was the studio PA on a programme called Union World, which was a programme that Granada made for Channel 4, when Channel 4 started, about trade union affairs, which was mainly film, but was put together in the studio on a Friday night, and then transmitted on a Saturday evening on Channel 4. So the team would work in Manchester during the week, and then come across to Liverpool on a Friday evening to basically stitch the programme together. I suspect that it was probably a question of capacity really, that they decided to use this, because financially I can’t think that it made any rationale, but presumably it would have meant keeping Studio 2 on in Manchester, so maybe it was easier to do it in Liverpool. So that was that was the other main programme that I was doing.

How long did you do Union World? Were you still Liverpool-based? 

I was still Liverpool based then, so I was probably doing that probably up to about 1983, 1984. But I was frustrated, I think, by the limited programmes that I could do in Liverpool because I’d done that training, and seen what other PAs were doing. And although I enjoyed it, and each day was different, the programmes were fairly straightforward to do from a PA’s point of view and I was keen to do something else. And the woman who was in charge of PAs was a woman called Ivy Stephens. I asked if I could go back to Manchester, and well, she wasn’t particularly responsive. Although when I say she was in charge, it’s not at all like it is today. I can’t remember having a great deal of contact with Ivy. You didn’t have yearly assessments, or discussions about where your career was going, or anything like that. Ivy was mainly the person who would allocate PAs to programmes. 

Anyway, I wanted to go to Manchester and nothing was happening, so I applied to ITN in London to work on the news programme, and actually went for an interview, although I had no intention of going down to London. And I think I just told Ivy directly that they were interested in me, that they were interested in me, and I didn’t really want to go, but it was a great opportunity. And soon after that, I moved over to Manchester. Which was good, because it gave me a whole lot of other programmes and other opportunities.

So you come over to Manchester, what programmes do you work on?

So I continued to do Granada Reports. There was a kind of hierarchy of PAs. Some people didn’t like doing live programmes, and I can understand that if you’ve not done it for a while, it would probably be quite nerve-racking. And some people have skills in different areas. So if you like doing Granada Reports, or you enjoy doing live programmes, you would do them fairly frequently. So I did a lot of local programmes, which included Granada Reports. I also did quite a bit of sport, which again, some PAs didn’t like sport particularly, and because I was interested in football in particular but did other things like, for example, snooker, I tended to do quite a lot of sport as well. The main PA who did sport was a woman called Jean Wallace, but there were probably about half a dozen of us who would also supplement what she did in sport. So, local programmes, again, This is Your Right, things like that. 

I then started doing some documentaries. So there was probably a sequence of them, I think one of the first documentaries that I did was in 1985. And I was given this, I presume, because I could speak French, and I know that there were probably a couple of PAs who probably weren’t that happy that I was given this programme. But anyway, I was given a programme about the cyclist Robert Millar. I already knew the researcher on the programme, Don Jones, because of my links with sports, and it was essentially his idea. So Robert Millar, in the previous year’s Tour de France, I think, had won the King of the Mountain stage. He was a Scottish cyclist. So this was really quite a significant thing in the world of cycling. And Donnie had this idea, along with the director, Peter Carr, who had done the City programme for Granada, decided to focus on doing a programme about Robert Millar. So over the course of the year, we went back on a number of occasions to follow his cycling during 1985, starting with the Tour de France, but then following it up with the World Championships later on. On a documentary, in some ways there’s less for a PA to do. So the main things that you were doing were making a note of the different shots that were being filmed, so doing a shot list to accompany the film. So that when the film editor came to start editing the film, they knew which different slates matched up to which shots, and which were the good interviews to use, etc.. So the main part was the shot list, but also the logistics of the shoot. So I was responsible for anything to do with money on the shoot, so paying for people’s hotels, paying for people’s meals, paying any expenses, helping to sort out with the transport of the luggage, etc.. And because I spoke French, I was relied on in that programme even more for liaising with people on a day-to day-basis.

What was it like to work on that? 

One of the issues with the programme was… well, it was great fun to work on, the crew got on really well, and as a as a filming experience it was really enjoyable. We were inhibited by a few things. One is that because we did it fairly short notice, we didn’t have accreditation to get access to all the areas we’d really want to in terms of the Tour de France, so that inhibited us. Also Robert Millar, although as a crew we became very close to him and went to his wedding, he wasn’t a great interviewee. He was quite quiet and reticent. He also didn’t do as well in the Tour as we had hoped, and there was a point within the filming where we thought about, well I didn’t, but Pete Carr thought about,  changing to a rising Liverpudlian cyclist called Joey McLoughlin. So there was a bit of a switch of focus maybe. And I think because Pete Carr’s City film was very much just ‘film and keep filming’, he was fortunate in that something happened in that film about Manchester City. It wasn’t necessarily the case with the Robert Millar film, The High Life. So we shot a lot of footage, but actually, not a great deal happened. And even when we went back to the World Championships. So looking back, it’s an interesting snapshot, but it was probably just a matter of luck that maybe we chose the wrong person. But as a PA, it was a great opportunity. And yes, that has given me a lifelong interest and insight into the cycling world.

And what other documentaries did you do? 

Well, also on the strength of me speaking French, another film that I did was a Disappearing World, which was about the Basques in the very south of France. Disappearing World, it was quite an unusual one for the Disappearing World series. So Disappearing World usually went off to remote areas, and with a very small crew. They weren’t always places with hotels, etc. and tended to be remote, maybe Africa, South America, etc.. But this was one that would be about the Basques, and the people who may be losing the ability to speak Basque, and about the strength of the Basque community, and the culture and the traditions. So to have a PA on it was quite unusual. And I think there was probably some resistance within Disappearing World to have PAs because it was quite unusual. And again, I suppose the main rationale for me being there was because I could act as informal translator. So again, we went back over a number of months across the year to record what was happening with what were essentially sheep farmers living right down in the south west of France. So working with Leslie Woodhead, who was the director/producer, and David Wason, who was the researcher. Again, really interesting, although there were times when I wasn’t quite sure what my real role was. Obviously in terms of the organisation, that was one thing, but the shot list, because a lot of it was being spoken in French, was quite difficult. There was going to be a translation done. And we also had the anthropologist who spoke Basque and who spoke French. So she was also a strong link. But that was an interesting insight, and a great opportunity for me to work with people like Leslie Woodhead, really respected and esteemed programme makers, and to see how they, how they worked. Leslie had a very low-key approach really, very much one of the crew, very quiet. Obviously in charge, but not somebody who would throw his weight around. He was obviously very well-respected by everybody, but then, equally, would socialise with the crew in the evenings.

And you had a stint on World in Action?

Yes. All the PAs had to do – it varied, so sometimes it was 12 months, and for me it was six months – so you did six months on World in Action. Again, I suppose in later years, as the crew became smaller, I’m not sure that that they always felt the need for PAs. Anyway, it was at a stage when the crews were fairly large. So a crew at this stage would be – and if I say a cameraman, it was because it always was a camera man – and a camera assistant. Sound man, a sound assistant. At least one electrician, a researcher, and a PA. So it was at least six or seven. So World in Action was interesting, quite a hard-nosed journalistic world, kind of separate almost, to the rest of Granada. Quite a number of the people I worked with based themselves in London anyway. It was interesting from the programmes that I did. So I remember we did a programme in New York about drugs, we did a programme in Sicily, we filmed the YouTube concert that Paul Greengrass did. 

I know that the World in Action that the made the biggest impression on me was one that we did about a little girl who had cancer called Jennifer, who was living in Hull. The programme was to show that children can survive cancer. And I think it probably took a lot of negotiation to get the Jennifer’s parents to agree to have a film crew basically follow their journey while she was being treated. I mean, looking back, I’m not sure that if I was in their position, I would have let a crew follow you around what were very traumatic and stressful times, but they agreed. And so over probably a period of months, we went back on different occasions while she was being treated in St James’s Hospital in Leeds. And the film went out. And certainly, I think probably the same crew worked on that, because we got quite close to the family – not so much the producer/director who I had some concerns about his attitude to the whole family and felt that he had slightly exploited them – but certainly I think the researcher, and the rest of the crew, we grew close to the family – and I’m still in touch with Jennifer’s mum to this day. And sadly, I think it was certainly after the film went out, probably a year or so later, Jennifer didn’t survive. She died. And certainly myself, and I would think a number of the crew – camera, sound – went to her funeral. So hopefully, we gave them some support, and it was certainly a film that touched me. But I think it also threw up questions that I felt, particularly on World in Action, sometimes of how television can go into people’s lives, and people allow you in, and at times I felt we were exploiting people, you know? They were wanting to tell their story, but we were going in there, and cutting and editing it, putting it together and leaving them without a second glance. 

And then of course I worked on Union World as well, which was doing the films, as opposed to the studio programme, so less glamorous locations, but interesting stories. Actually, when I think back to fighting for Jennifer, and also Union World, and also, to be honest, Disappearing World and The High Life, they were all programmes that I felt proud to be a small part of. They were programmes that you felt proud to have your name attached to. There were certainly programmes at Granada that I didn’t feel, you know… The Comedians was one which I felt very… maybe less so at the time, but certainly now, I would say, The Comedians was a programme that I would feel uncomfortable having my name attached to, but the rest of the things were great.

And you had a stint on Coronation Street.

Right! Well, as a PA, which was great, you worked across the whole range of programmes. So you’d do live programmes, you’d do documentaries, you’d do light entertainment, and you’d do drama. And I think drama was seen as the crème de la crème, and certainly the most senior PAs would get the really prestigious dramas, but the training ground for dramas was Coronation Street. That’s what we started on. It was a really well-oiled machine, so you could slop PAs in and out of it. So you worked on a three-week turnaround. So you would have a week of preparation, a week when you would do filming on a Monday morning, and then be in the studio Thursday, Friday, and then the third week would be just for editing and clearing. I didn’t particularly enjoy it, and I don’t think I was very good at drama. It was too slow for me, I didn’t like standing in the cold, filming. I was not very good at continuity. So one of the main things that you need to be good at as a PA on drama, is to be able to keep your eye on continuity and make sure it matches. So you would just shoot a scene with one camera, several times from different angles, and you had to make sure that those different angles would edit together. So you couldn’t have somebody, I don’t know… say somebody was going to post a letter, you couldn’t have them putting the letter in the box with their right hand and then do the next shot with them putting it in with their left hand, because that obviously wasn’t going to edit together. So you had to have a very good eye for detail and the minutiae of that. And it was a time before you had automatic cameras, or cameras on your phones, or whatever, so you had to actually make a note of it on the script. I wasn’t I wasn’t good at it, and I didn’t enjoy it. So I had a very brief stint on Coronation Street and didn’t do any more dramas. 

What I did do, and what I would have liked to have done more of, was I did a music programme called Rock Around the Dock in 1986, which was based at the Albert Dock, and it was probably about seven or eight different, high-profile – and I mean not just UK-based, but international music artists – performing. It was a point when Frankie Goes to Hollywood – and I know they came from Liverpool, but they were becoming well known – Chaka Khan, the American singer, Spandau Ballet, and American rap group Run DMC. So a whole variety of artists. And we shot them at different locations around the Albert Dock. And that was with a director who was brought in, he wasn’t a Granada director, called Ken O’Neill. And that was probably my first foray into light entertainment, which was quite different from World in Action. So World in Action was very serious, obviously, and people were quite serious. Whereas light entertainment was incredibly light and fluffy. And it was that stage it was run by Steve Leahy. And I can’t remember if it was based in their offices, but certainly going in it was full of flowers and wine, and people just strolling around gossiping, and it was really quite chilled. And so I really enjoyed that. I mean, music is quite complicated in terms of the rules and regulations, quite rightly, what the Musicians Union put in. So in terms of you had to monitor how long people rehearsed for, how long they actually performed for, you had to clear the music very carefully, and exactly how long was each excerpt of music played for. But I really enjoyed it, and I wish I could have done more music. But really, Granada didn’t do that many music programmes. They did that one, and they had done one, I think, in New Brighton a couple of years before. I suspect it was probably quite expensive; not just the musicians, but the whole logistics of it, and the number of crew you had to have, and the setting up of the lights and the stage, etc.. So I’m not sure whether it was worth it. But I absolutely enjoyed that.

You mentioned at one point that you felt that women PAs weren’t particularly welcome on Disappearing World. What was it like being a woman at Granada?

Okay, so at that time, the production assistant, you have to have secretarial skills, you had to be able to type, and to a lesser extent you had to be able to do shorthand. So, because of that skill set, although that was only a small part of what we had to do – we had to be incredibly well organised, diplomatic, be able to anticipate what might go wrong, be calm under pressure, lots of issues – but it was a gendered role. It was exclusively women. And I think particularly in documentaries, you kind of became the person who looked after the crew. So, in documentaries, for the majority of the time, I would be the only woman in a crew of probably six or seven men, who, in my experience, they were all very pleasant and respectful and I didn’t have any issues with any of them. And they certainly never excluded me, and I very much felt, with them, part of the team. But you were seen as the person who looked after the money, who paid for the meals, who smoothed the way, you anticipated what would go wrong, leaving the boys to get on with the proper job. And so for example, you would go and have a meal. And that was something that people were entitled to, and you as the PA would have the float, and you would have to go and pay for the meal. And that’s fine. But crews always expected that along with their meal, particularly in the evening, that they would have some wine with it, or some alcohol. Now, you were not supposed to have alcohol. So if alcohol appeared on the expenses, you would get recharged for it – I remember once I was recharged with a third of a bottle of wine that appeared on the expenses – so you somehow had to conceal that wine. So you had to go and say to the person who was doing your bill, “I know we’ve had three bottles of wine, but can you somehow make them into six starters so it doesn’t show?” There was a restaurant in Liverpool called The Kebab House on Hardman Street, where they were so used to having Granada crews there that they did that without you asking. But generally, that was what you as the PA had to do, because the money had been taken out in your name. And you had to justify every expense on it. So, in some ways, in documentaries, I think that was an issue. 

I think there were also limited opportunities for progressions for PAs. And I think there were people who had incredible skills, you know, women who’d worked for years, who had worked on dramas, who knew the ins and outs, and without which the programmes couldn’t have got on screen. But there wasn’t a clear progression route for PAs, and I don’t think that their value was necessarily seen and respected. Which is not to say that some PAs didn’t go on to – you know, Carolyn Reynolds as an example – to take on other roles, but it would be unusual for a PA to become a director, for example, when I’m sure they were perfectly capable of doing that. But that’s not just particular to Granada. I subsequently did some study and some research, and we can come on to that. But I think that was across the television industry as a whole. And it was also not easy for women with caring responsibilities to work in television, or certainly to work in television as a production assistant. So to some extent that probably inhibited career progression.

Do you have anything in particular to say about Granada? 

Well, for me, there were some great things about working at Granada, and I still look back on it as a as probably the best job I ever had in terms of my enjoyment of it. I really liked the variety – you never knew what you were going to do. Maybe knew from one day to the next, but you never knew whether in three months’ time, you might be working on World in Action, or you might be doing a documentary, so that, for me, was great. You never got bored. And you were working with some really gifted, entertaining, interesting people. And he had access to worlds that you would never have otherwise. The pay and expenses at a time, we were really well-recompensed. Because I was in the ACTT, it was a closed shop, we were not only paid well, but we had access to expenses – so if we worked overtime, if we worked away from home, as long as you checked with… it was usually the electrician who knew what expenses you’re entitled to so you all paid the same. And as I said, producing great programmes that you are really proud of. Television is a gossipy world, an entertaining world, so everybody had opinions. And I made some really firm friendships that remain to this day. And I didn’t feel that there was any onerous line management, so I didn’t feel that. I kind of almost worked independently as a PA, because you’d get shifted from programme to programme. You know, you didn’t have one boss all the time. And in terms of what wasn’t good, well, we’ve talked a little bit about the gender [bias]. It was perceived as glamorous, which wasn’t always. Certainly there were times when, yes, I think, for example, a U2 concert in Dublin, where I thought, “Gosh, I’m getting paid for this,” or when I went to New York, but the other times when you were standing in the rain in Ebbw Vale or whatever, and you thought, “No, this isn’t glamorous.” 

And there was the expectation that you would give up your life for Granada. So I remember once I was tracked down on holiday in Italy, to see if I’d come back and do a programme. You only had to look around to see the impact that it made on people’s relationships. And I think it could create a distance from your family and your friends. So friends who were working in “normal” jobs, you know, you’d come back from “swanning around” France or wherever, it was difficult to maintain those friendships because your life was unpredictable, and I’m sure they probably got fed up with you talking about it, you know, where you had just come back from New York or whatever. But I think it was also quite difficult to have personal relationships with somebody who didn’t work in television, because they wouldn’t necessarily understand that you… you know, say World in Action, they’d give you a call the night before to say you were going off to Sicily for two weeks. That’s quite difficult. And there wasn’t always a clear line between your work and social life, and that certainly merged, particularly when you were filming away. 

Okay, Judith, we were coming towards the end of your Granada career. You talked about the difficulties of having a social life outside of Granada, and the demands Granada made on you. At what point did you decide to leave and why?

Okay, so I got married in 1986, and wanted to start a family.

And you married someone from Granada! 

I married someone from Granada! So there were two of us juggling our careers at Granada. I was really looking forward to being a mother, and I was finding it difficult to work out how I could continue with the job, which I really enjoyed, and be the kind of mother that I wanted to be. And Granada had a history of not really wanting to support any idea of childcare, a creche etc., and what I wanted to do was to work part time. I thought I could work on something like sport, Granada Reports, something which had a regular pattern to it. And I could work part time, possibly job share. And I was quite happy to kind of restrict my career opportunities, but to still do a job that I’ve enjoyed, and to be able to raise my family. So this was something that really had no history in Granada. So if you looked around, I can’t remember anybody job sharing, and certainly none of the PAs worked part time, even though some of them certainly had children, so I don’t know how they managed to juggle their lives. And I went to see Brenda Smith, who I think was probably the general manager at that time, to say, “Was this an option?” And she wasn’t interested. It certainly wasn’t anything that they were going to entertain. And so I decided to leave. In retrospect, I’m not sure why I didn’t go to the union, to see if they could support me. But certainly, when I was in Liverpool, worked working in Liverpool as a PA, I was the equality rep for the ACTT. And I think I was probably unrealistic, not realising at that time, that whilst the union were very protective of its members, there was some quite right-wing views in there, you know? There were some people who were certainly not very open in terms of… how can I say this? Well, certainly there were some people who had some racist attitudes. And I found that really challenging. So I’m not sure how much support I would have got from the union. And I certainly think it would have been a fight. And subsequently knowing, certainly there was one woman who was a researcher who really wanted to push for job share. That was something that was really difficult for her to do, although she finally achieved it. So I felt that I actually had no option but to leave Granada, and I subsequently went freelance and did go back to Granada and do some work for them, as well as the BBC. And so, yes, I was sorry to leave. But I felt that in terms of what I wanted my life to look like going forward, I really didn’t have any option. And I was fortunate that it then gave me the opportunity to go back into education, including doing a master’s. And what I did for my thesis was to look at the challenges faced by women working in television who were mothers. And not surprisingly, I think, and sadly, I found out that for women across a whole range of roles, and at different stages in their careers, it was really challenging to balance the demands of working in television whilst being a mother. I hope that’s changed. I’m not entirely convinced it necessarily has, but my experience at Granada, and the context that I have, allowed me to reflect on it to get my master’s degree and then to go on to work within initially a college, and then a university. I was lucky, it was a time when Media Studies practical courses were developing, and fortunately, I was perceived to have the practical experience as well as the academic background to allow me to start working as a lecturer. So it was lucky, and it worked out. But yes, in some ways, it was a pity.

And where did you finish up?

I initially worked at a college in Burnley. I also worked at Salford, but then I moved to John Moores University, because they were developing a course called Media Professional Studies, in conjunction with Mersey TV, as it was then, fronted by Phil Redmond, who was very supportive of the course and was offering work experience and input into the course. So I started there as a lecturer, became a senior lecturer, and ultimately, became the director of the of the Screen School, which included media, journalism, creative writing, and drama. Yes, so probably leaving Granada was the best decision at the time, even though, as I say, it was probably the best job I ever had. But it was a job that was all-consuming, and didn’t always allow you to have an outside life. And I think you had to make sacrifices. There were a lot of women who were PAs, whose whole life was Granada, who didn’t necessarily have family, children, partners, because they had given up so much to work for Granada. And it’s not that Granada were a bad employer, but they didn’t necessarily put things in place at the time, you know, to help them. But that was probably as much of the time as it was of Granada, you know? And in a lot of ways, Granada was a great employer, you know, they paid you well, gave you medical support, you know, there was a nurse there. They were not bad employers; that’s probably the nature of the industry.

Leave a Reply