Norma Percy on how she met Brian Lapping and joined Granada

I grew up in New York, and when it came to go to university, I wanted to get as far as possible from my family. So I went to a small college in Ohio called Oberlin, where there was an extremely charismatic Hungarian professor of International Relations. And all we government international relations students actually learned a lot from him. He had been at LSE in the 30s and in love with Harold Laski’s daughter.

So when it came to graduation, he asked me what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go to graduate school – everybody had already gone to graduate school, and what I wanted to get out of it. And I said, “I want to learn about how politics really works, and get as far as possible from my family.” So he enthusiastically suggested LSE, and off I went to do a two-year M-Phil at LSE. The topic of the thesis I put down, not knowing very much in Oberlin Ohio, was to study the Labour Party’s adjunct to European integration. This was 1963, and the McMillan bid had just been finished, it was in the early stage.

I went to LSE, actually I was comparing Labour Party attitude to 1945 with the current day, and I started work on my thesis. But LSE being in the centre of London, had visiting politicians, it also had theatres, and coming from a small town in Ohio, there was a lot of distractions. I went quite slowly. And it was fine, because another good thing about LSE was it was very cheap. But suddenly, the Harold Wilson government put up overseas students fees by a ginormous amount at that time. I think it was the first time, and I realised my money would run out, and I had to get a job.

And I got a job in the House of Commons, where I was absolutely, supremely happy. In those days, the Labour MPs couldn’t afford researchers, but my guy was a wonderful professor called John McIntosh, who had just been elected, and a social science research council grant to write a book. So he had money to pay me for three years. And I really… he sat in his office for all night sittings, while I sort of did intelligence in the Strangers’ Bar, and truly was having a wonderful time, and learning much more about politics than I did in my graduate course at LSE.

Until four years when the research money was obviously coming to an end, and I could see that he was very worried about how he would ever get me off the premises, because I was so happy, at which point Brian Lapping turned up. He had just been commissioned by Granada to do his first big series, a sort of Royal Commission of the air. Sidney Bernstein had asked for Royal Commissions, televised Royal Commissions, on important subjects, and his first one was about parliament. And he turned up to see my guy for a suggestion about someone who knew about parliament, who he could hire as a researcher. And my guy was so delighted because he was someone who would take me off his hands, or his salary, and he gave me a fantastic reference to Brian Lapping.


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