Life on Granada Reports

I started being on Granada Reports, and being in the newsroom, which was a fascinating place. Now, in the newsroom, you had to be in there by eight in the morning and you had, in theory, to have three stories that you could suggest to the meeting that hadn’t come from the newspapers. And so they had to have come from you playing snooker in the pub in Salford, to which we used to repair after the programme, or by drinking with policemen, or generally scrabbling around in your Manchester background and finding some interesting story of some kind. And it was either John Slater or Jim Walker, who was a wonderful Geordie, ex-newspaper, funny, tough, ribald, sexy. He was a lovely man, Jim Walker. And you’d put up a story and he’s say, “Done it.” You’d put up a another story and he’d say, “No, don’t like it.” You’d put up another story and he’s say, “Good story, true or not. Do it.” And you got thrown into the deep end. And there was Tony Wilson, and Trevor Hyett. And who were the others? Oh, Jeff Seed, Smithies! Yes, absolutely. Yes, he was there. Mike Scott used to float around, Bob Greaves used to sit in the corner. Everybody smoked. So I’d certainly took up smoking for six months. And then gave it up because it made me feel ill. And I was living in digs with somebody at the time, a woman who’d been a lifelong member of the Communist Party, which may have led to other things later in life, like the BBC being told in 1976 by MI5 that I was not to be employed because I was a security risk. But anyway, that didn’t come to me.

I liked Bob Greaves, but he was a bottom-pincher. I mean, he loved women, and had married two or three of them by then, I think. He was absolutely on the nose as far as understanding what was a good story and what wasn’t. He was very friendly and very welcoming. I never understood why women married him, because he seemed to me not somebody who would be the most reliable partner for a woman, or somebody who wanted to have children. But he was a really good sort. You know, I liked him. I really liked him. And I liked him being there. And he added something to the newsroom. And the wonderful thing about Granada was that it was full of characters. People who, in their own way, like Tony Wells, who was brilliant and off the wall, and taking drugs, and doing all sorts of other things he shouldn’t have been doing, coming in late, always humming the latest pop tune to himself. And he was adorable. But when he did put his mind to doing a story, he would do something absolutely brilliantly. And there was Trevor Hyatt, who was another ex-member of the Communist Party, who became a close friend of mine, and still is. And he was going off playing his 12-string at night and going around all the local clubs, and also had some very interesting contacts in the local community. I remember Granada Reports was fun. It was like being in a big family. It was friendly. They expected the best of you. There wasn’t a lot of criticism, but you knew when he’d not done well enough, that Jim would say, “Could have done that differently, couldn’t you?” And you’d think, “Yes.” And you could discuss it with him without feeling, “God, I’ve lost my job,” or, “Something awful has happened.” I did a report on lead once which took me ages to do. It was about how people got lead poisoning from old batteries, and how poorly regulated the whole lead industry was. And I gather together all this stuff, and then the company that I particularly questioned put in a whole complaint to Sidney that I had libelled them, and that looked as though it might be getting a bit hot at one point. But it went away again, and Jim was all, “Don’t worry about it. It’ll be all right.” But then those silly stories as well, like being sent up to Rochdale Moor in November to do a story about a circus that was being sold off. And there were only a few things left. And so I turned up, again, with either Mike Popley or one of the other wonderful cameramen – who were always, as soon as we got to a place, working out where they were going to have lunch and how long it would take to do this particular report and wrap it up, and then they could go to lunch at this nice place on the way back. There was a moth-eaten tiger, there was a clown. There was something else in a cage, might have been a giraffe. And there was a man who threw knives. And Popley said, “How are you going to tell the story?” And I said, “I have no idea. It’s not really interesting, is it?” There’s nothing to show, it’s freezing cold and it doesn’t look like a circus.” He said, “Why didn’t you get the man to throw knives at you while you tell the story?” I thought, “Why not? I’m sure they’re very little knives.” So I went and stood in front of this board, put the old Stetson on, and I said, “This circus is being taken apart today…” THUMP. This knife about this long landed here. I went on to my story and then THUMP, the next knife landed here. And so they went down my side until I slid down this board and ended on the ground, at the floor. So there were those sorts of stories, which were always hard to make up. And then there were serious stories. There was a lovely vicar who Jeremy Fox had heard made train noises and use them in his sermons. So I was sent out to interview this vicar. And he was a lovely Evangelical, God-fearing, decent man. And he said, “I say: ‘Jesus said, “I am the way, I am the truth,”’ and then I do a train noise. And the youngsters love it, and it brings young people into the church.” So he did the train noise, which was brilliant. He could do a goods train going up a steep incline just with his mouth, and he could do motorbikes and helicopters. And he told his story about his own faith, and it was very sweet. And there are little snippets of two-and-a-half-minute pieces for each night of the week. Jeremy saw them and said, “Boring Vicar, take out the pieces, and let’s make fun of him.” So he cut it so that this poor vicar was made a fool of night after night. “Here’s the daft vicar doing this.” I wrote him a letter saying, “I’m appalled, I’m ashamed, I’m really sorry. I was not sent out to do it like that.” So that was.

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