Judith Jones on the importance of the PA to 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. 

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