Michael Apted is a well known film director who began his career at Granada Television in the early 1960s. He first directed Coronation Street in 1966. Later became man award-winning films such as The Coalminer’s Daughter, Gorky Park and Nell.
I started working at Granada at the end of 63 on the production training course. I didn’t go on to Coronation Street until 1966 but my impression then was that it was already part of the foundations of the company. It seemed to be a very important part of the company’s agenda and highly thought of, incredibly popular. The stars of it were some of the biggest stars on television. It already had a central part in the franchise and an important place in British television.
Coronation Street was the first drama I did as a director. They were using it as a first step for potential drama directors. It was fantastic because everybody was very helpful. It must have been hard for them having trainee after trainee coming in but also it was great experience because in many ways it ran itself. Technically it was incredibly difficult because when I was on you weren’t allowed to edit. At least it wasn’t live but you had to get through half the programme in one take so technically it was very demanding. I remember we were in a very small studio, Studio 2 as it then was but it was great training because they knew what they were doing. They would respond to what you said and if they didn’t like what you said they’d just get on and do their own thing because they knew what to do. The crew were very expert at it by this time, they’d been going for six years when I went on it. You could offer such stuff up and if you didn’t know what you were doing it ran itself. So it was training and you had such a huge variety of actors. You had big stars like Violet and Pat Phoenix and Peter Adamson and you had some terrific young actors, Graham Haberfield Annie Reid and Bill Roache, and Philip Lowrie. You had those who loved being directed. It was a fantastic training because you simply dealt with different sorts of actors and it would prepare you for everything that would lie ahead. Difficult actors, starry actors, responsive actors, unresponsive actors, the whole thing and yet it was a well-oiled machine so at the back of your mind you thought that there was so much support for it. If you were messing up then still the stuff would get out.
For the train crash we moved into a bigger studio because it was a big event. It was a big deal for me and it came towards the end so I had been there for some time. I was on it for nine months. What happened was I’d always wanted to have a go at drama and Mike Newell went on holiday so I went and asked Julian Amyes if I could do holiday relief. I think he thought it was funny and said ‘Why not?’ which was one of the joys of working at Granada. In a small company and very flexible, it wasn’t like if you trained at the BBC where you’d become compartmentalized in something. So I did his holiday relief and it went well. I said I’d like to do it on a regular basis and they thought that would be a good idea so I had to go back into World in Action and a few months later a place became free and I went on.
I loved directing in the pub, I loved Doris Speed, she was always very sweet to me.
It was a wonderful period for writers when I was on it like Peter Eckersley and Jack Rosenthal and John Finch and Harry Kershaw was around as the executive producer, Geoff Lancashire, John Stevenson. I think it was a vintage time for writing. I don’t the writing on the Street had ever been in better shape than the time that I was on it so I was lucky there. That was a valuable lesson to learn how to make material your own even it is something that’s done twice a week on fairly minimal preparation and rehearsal and shooting but nonetheless you still had to learn to work with writers to get the sort of material you wanted. So that was a big lesson and I was lucky that I had people that I was then to go on and work with in other ways. For me it was the beginning of a very long relationship with Jack Rosenthal and also with John Finch, I did a lot of his stuff later on. Also with Peter who became head of drama so it was, for me, important personal relationships were cemented there which kept me going for the next five or six years or even longer.
I think now soap operas tend to be factory-driven but then there was enough time to give it care and attention. It didn’t have that kind of brilliant rough edge that those early ones had but it was still in pretty good shape. It was still good, funny, potent stuff.