Nick Steer talks about working practices

When you look at the list of programmes, the perception was that when things started to change… I think when we were doing Tale Of Two Cities… Granada, whether there was money problems or whatever, I don’t know, Granada decided… I think it was Thatcherism as well. There had been the TV-am dispute, and all of that. Thatcher had said, “Things can’t go on like this,” because the union has held sway. To be honest, we had amazing deals in terms of expenses, and the electricians had to go on jobs where they didn’t have to put any lights up and things like that. Then in the 80s it was decided that this couldn’t carry on, and Granada came up with something called the House Agreement, which sort of did away with all of those things in one fell swoop. Everyone on the crew said, “Oh, this is the beginning of the end.” Actually when you look at the programmes that we did after that, it wasn’t the beginning of the end, it was just different.

Looking back on it, how was the industrial relations side? Did that affect the way you worked, and did it impact on the productions?

Yes. It’s kind of difficult to explain this really, but there was a very bad… with any change, everyone could see that it was unsustainable to carry on the way we were, and it didn’t make any sense. But the swing from one extreme to the other was too extreme in a way. It should have been sort of cut back, but gone in a middle way and that didn’t happen. It went to a totally other extreme, and we worked for a period where we didn’t have the right to refuse overtime, and the company could put out a schedule where you had no idea what time you’re going to finish work. If they said you had to do overtime, you had to do overtime. For a person’s social life, it was absolutely disastrous because you had no idea what time you were going to get home.

I see, or family life as well.

Family life. So that persisted for a few years, not too long. Then gradually people began to push back against it and say, “No, I’m not doing that unless you pay more money.” Because it was unreasonable, and it’s gradually gone back to a whole different way of working now where everyone is freelance. You do a deal, but the terms are much more strictly laid down. So it’s not all one way, which it was for those few years.

When did the House Agreement come in do you think?

I can’t remember the exact year. But I think it was around ‘88, ‘89.

Do you get paid overtime now, in the industry as a freelancer?

Potentially. But in fact, it’s ever-changing. There’s just been in the last year in agreement with PACT, the Producers Association, where they’ve actually laid down much stricter rules, because there’s been a huge issue with people working excessive hours, people crashing their cars on the way home from work because they’re too tired. So they’ve put some limits onto that, and as part of that to prevent excessive hours they’ve introduced some overtime rates again, which hadn’t happened for a long time.

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