At that time, on a faintly regular basis, Granada ran this production trainee scheme, during which they would grab half a dozen graduates from around the universities and put them through a nine-month immersion into TV, which I then discovered what this meant. Partly it was because of the very tight union situation at Granada, we couldn’t begin to do actually anything, so we were shipped around the various departments – graphics, technical areas, observing local programmes being made – for nine interminable months, which was really quite kind of stultifying, because it was clear that they thought, “Who are these kids? They’re just time-wasters who are never going to do anything.”
Anyway, the nine months began with a month for each of us in a Granada cinema, because Sidney felt that we should sample the real world. So rather than living in the ivory tower of academia or TV, we should go out and meet the people, as though we hadn’t been doing that already. So I got the Granada Grantham – I always think that Margaret Thatcher must have been growing up around the corner, but that’s what I got – and had a kind of numbing month, tearing tickets and doing whatever one did at the Granada Grantham, before starting as a production trainee in July 1962, going through the routines I have just described, writing little reports on things.
I remember one of Sidney’s ideas was that we would all go… Sidney was convinced that the railways were blighting Manchester, so we had to wander around with cameras and take pictures demonstrating that Manchester was indeed being blighted by the railways, which there was some truth. Manchester in those days, it’s hard to recall. Looking at the sort of glass-spired place that it is now, it was a pretty gloomy place. There were a lot of still uncleared bomb sites in the city centre, everything was soot black and everything was very down at heel, so Sidney wasn’t wrong in thinking that the city could do with a bit of upbeat, and of course Granada were in the business of trying to provide some of that.
Eventually the course came to an end, after the nine months, and on my course there were a number of people, including Cecil Bernstein’s son Alex, who was a fellow trainee, who sadly died not long ago, and the man who, interestingly, is the person I most recall, is a man called Johnny Bassett Johnny Bassett was the man who knew all the people who became Beyond the Fringe . Mostly they didn’t know one another, but John knew them and put them together. So laced through the beginning of being a production trainee, with John Bassett hurtling down to London in his Volkswagen, and coming back, bringing stories of Beyond the Fringe, of how Dudley Moore had disgracefully been conducting himself, and what Jonathan Miller and Alan Bennett were doing, and Peter Cook, and eventually we hurtled off in Johnny’s Volkswagen to one of the early productions of Beyond the Fringe, so that was part of the heady things that were starting to happen there, also The Beatles.
So having come to the end of the production trainee course at last, I got – as we all did – seconded on to working on local programmes.