Norman Frisby joined Granada Television in 1959 and became chief press offic er. Much of his time was spent dealing with Coronation Street.
I joined Granada in May 1959. I was there on the opening night as a journalist as the television correspondent of the Liverpool Evening Express, a tabloid newspaper in Liverpool. I used to get invited to BBC events in Manchester and so went Granada came on the scene, I became involved with Granada. I remember receiving an invitation to go the opening night and spend some time in a pub called the Baulking Donkey across the way from the studios, long demolished. Granada’s offices were in the old tobacco warehouse and the studios are where they are now. To get to the office to the studios you had to walk through a lot of little Coronation Streets, little cobbled streets with rows of terraced houses in that site which is now part of St John’s College and the new road. If it was pouring with rain you had to put your mac on and rush across. It used to be a deterrent from going to the studios. The general manager was the only person who worked in the studio building, the rest of us, production people, accounts, admin they were all in the building on the other side.
The first night was an absolute shambles because nobody seemed to know what they were doing. It was all cobbled together. Quentin Lawrence was drunk who presented the first programme . But it was so new and different and exciting that everybody thought it was wonderful. I was a newspaper man and I’d become interested in television. I left the Evening Express and joined the Daily Express in Manchester, again to do television. Television was the new thing and all the newspaper were getting excited about it so I got myself a job on the Daily Express. I used to write two reviews a night, one had to be in the office at nine o’clock for the early editions and the other one in the office for eleven o’clock for the later editions. Sometimes I wouldn’t change it if there was something good in the early part of the evening but if it was a play or something I had to review it and do a change.
Then the Daily Express seriously fell out with ITV. I’m not too sure of all the facts here but Beaverbrook fell out with Sidney. One of the stories was that the Express tried to buy the Granada Organisation and Sidney wouldn’t have it so they said ‘Right the knives are out’. I got a message from London saying we were going to abandon our routine coverage of television. We’ll still do knocking stories but we don’t need a full-time person so I was switched to the newsdesk. My career has just been one stroke of luck after another and luckily Derek Meakin who was then running the TV Times northern editions in Manchester, the girl that worked for him left and Derek rang me up and said ‘Would you like to come to the TV Times so I joined as a feature writer. They had to put a notice up on the noticeboards of Granada saying that ‘Norman Frisby was no longer persona grata, you could actually speak to him now because he worked for the TV Times and not the Daily Express’.
I had about a year and a half with Derek. We had wonderful times. It was such a change for somebody going from a national newspaper to work for a programme genre(?) where everybody you went to see wanted to welcome you and get their names and pictures in the magazine whereas at the Express I was spending my time in the middle of the night ringing up clergymen saying ‘Did you know you daughter had run away with a black man’ and that sort of thing. So that was a very agreeable change.
My predecessor at Granada, Ray Davies left. I’m not sure what the circumstances were, you didn’t enquire too closely in those days. I was stopped in the corridor one day by the chap who ran the PR operation, Tony Iverson, who said ‘Ray Davies has left, would you like the job?’ and that was it. I was offered the job and then they said you must see the Personnel Department. I went to see a man called Norman Price who was then the Personnel Manager. We were discussing terms and he told me what he thought I was worth and I said ‘Actually Mr Price, I do also earn another £7 10s working day shifts for the Sunday Express on Saturdays’ and I remember him saying ‘you won’t be able to do that, of course’ and I said ‘No but I thought I might be recompensed for loss of earnings’.
All the programmes that we did were new ‘My Wife’s Sister’ and ‘Skyport’, lots of attempts at doing series, not serials necessarily, but maybe thirteen part series involving a close community. Then Tony Warren who worked in the Promotions Department apparently came up with this idea and went to see Harry Elton, the then Programme Controller. We didn’t have titles in those days so it was difficult to pin down who was who. Tony sold him the idea of this and we had rehearsals, dry runs and it was thought that we perhaps ought to show this ambitious new idea which I think was going to be thirteen parts, we ought to show this to the staff and see what they made of it. I think there was a bit of nervousness upstairs that people like Sidney and some of the metropolitan people who were then working on drama were a bit nervous that it was too northern, that people wouldn’t understand the Lancashire dialect. So television sets were installed in the canteen and around the building and we all had to sit down and watch it and then write a piece on what we thought, whether the accents were too strong or whatever. I think probably as a result of that it was a bit watered down, I think it was more Lancashire and some of the cast were changed as well. The woman that played Ena Sharples was changed, Violet Carson was brought in.
We used to interview all the artistes looking for stories for the newspapers and we had never been confronted before with a cast of 15, 16 maybe 20 all working together on one thing and all of equal prominence. It was stressed to us that there wasn’t going to be a star of this show, they were all a team. We actually produced a form which was circulated to all these actors asking for their names, addresses, phone numbers, previous jobs, likes and dislikes, hobbies and holidays, things that Press Officers are looking for. We used to jealously guard these things as the years went on because it was wonderful to have Violet Carson’s biography written in her own hand and details like where it said AGE and she wrote ‘What, really?’ or something. We also got together that wonderful photograph which is still used in books of the whole cast sitting together. We had to doctor it because two of the people in the photograph were actually dropped between the taking of the photograph and going into the studio so we had to paint out two people. I think they were only extras but they rather spoiled the photo.
Then this dry run was made and we all viewed it and I think Joyce Wooller said she thought it was an absolute disaster. There were a lot of Canadian and Australian production people in those days and they were completely baffled by all these Lancashire expressions. That caught up with me later because in 1971 we had somebody over from WNET in New York, the channel 13 public broadcast station to look at some of the things we were making and we tried to interest them in Coronation Street and Denis actually gave them the first 50 episodes. I think he gave them to them in the hope that they might be intrigues enough to actually buy and I was dispatched to the States to sell this programme to Manhattan. One of the first things I had to do was to get out the first 50 scripts and quickly go through them and lift out all the Lancashire expression like ‘By heck’ and I remember there was a reference to ‘panda cars’ in one of them. I compiled a glossary of Lancashire expressions, a kind of dictionary of Lancashire phrases which could be printed in their programme magazine called 13. You had to watch Coronation Street with this little dictionary at your elbow so that you could understand when Len Fairclough said that he was going out for a fag, it didn’t mean what the Americans thought it meant. It was not a huge success. I had a fortnight there and I stayed for its early transmission and the American press were very intrigued by it all. We got a few fan letters from the States but they all had a common denominator, the father of the family had served in the U.S. Airforce at Burtonwood and so he knew Manchester and he would watch it and say to the family ‘That’s what I remember it was like’.
There were only three of us in the Press Office, a secretary who typed the press releases, me who virtually did everything single handed and I had an assistant, Glyn Standford, a young lad who’d been a messenger boy, virtually a school leaver who was at the beginning of a great career for him too. Cecil Bernstein was the great power behind Light Entertainment in Granada and he took Coronation Street under his wing. He decreed that we were not to publicise it very heavily because we were a bit nervous about it and we didn’t want to make a big song and dance about the programme if it was not going to succeed. So we didn’t have any billings in the TV Times for it for the first few weeks and we certainly didn’t have any press releases or a press launch. We didn’t push the boat out with the publicity, far from it, we kept it under wraps and of course the newspapers themselves in those days were not all that interested in television, so they didn’t pursue us in the way that they did subsequently. So it got off to a fairly quiet start. It was reviewed and there was this famous review in the Mirror where they said that this thing is never going to take off, it’s dreary and nasty and sordid and it’s a great disaster and Granada don’t know what they’re doing. On the other hand there were people like Mary Crozier of the Guardian who said this sounds as though it could be good. It crept onto the screen and of course it was only screened in the Granada area. It was virtually a local programme. ATV didn’t take it in the Midlands and I remember companies like Tyne Tees coming in after a while when they were sure it was good and worth taking. It was quite a while before it was seen in London. It crept onto the network in that way and we had to make special episodes for people that joined after it had been established to fill in the background to it. It started in December 1960 so it didn’t got into the Top Ten until March 1961, by the time it got down to London. The first episode went out on a Friday and then they telerecorded the episode which I think was for the following Wednesday and I know that we changed the schedule of it to fit in with other companies on the network to make it more acceptable to them.
The Street was just one of many programmes. I couldn’t be assigned exclusively to it, we just did the whole thing a whole range of programmes. I would write six or seven press releases a week and that would be the complete range of the output. There’d be ‘On the Game’, ‘Criss Cross Quiz’ and something on one of the sports programmes and there’d be ‘Coronation Street’. There was a bigger press operation in London and slowly but surely Sidney with his obsession for everything being concentrated in Manchester had the people moved up so the department was gradually reinforced but the people from London didn’t stay very long, they wanted to be back in London and we would probably replace them with a local recruit. So the department expanded and in the end there was just Don Harker in London looking after the group PR side and I ran the Manchester operation. Eventually we did have a couple of people in London.
I used to find difficulty in selling Coronation Street stories. The newspapers didn’t seem to want to know and there is a very good example of that. When I took three of the cast to Australia in 1966 for a personal appearance tour of those stations in Australia who showed the programme, I had great difficulty in interesting Fleet Street in it. I virtually had to bully the representatives of the Fleet Street papers in Australia to do something about it. It was very hard to persuade Fleet Street that this was interesting. If 16 million people watched the programme they might buy their newspaper. We didn’t get a lot of publicity. I can just imagine what would happen if they were to go to Australia now, it would be a front page splash on these tabloids. I think it was really in the early eighties that it suddenly dawned on them, the point that I’d been trying to make for all those years, that if millions and millions of people watch the programme and you write about it, millions and millions might buy your newspapers and so it became a kind of circulation war lead thing. The newspapers in Manchester assigned one particular reporter to handle Coronation Street and he had to get a story a day which was the beginning of the made-up stories because there wasn’t a story a day out of Coronation Street. I wish that there had been. But that would mean that they would come on in desperation saying ‘Norman have you got anything for tomorrow, I’ve got the news editor breathing down my neck. Is somebody leaving or somebody new coming?’ It became an absolute obsession and the material wasn’t there. There were classic made-up stories. They used to hang around in the pubs and there were plenty of people behind the scenes at Granada who were happy to flog them a tip-off on what was going on. Harry Kershaw used to be apoplectic about them blowing the storyline, the number of times I’ve had to mop the tears of Harry Kershaw because his story’s been blown the Star or Sketch or something. What used to intrigue me was that you tell that the tip-off that they’d got from behind the scenes was accurate but it was the way it was dressed up in the newspaper office that garbled. It became laughable really. I would say to Harry ‘Look it isn’t true’ and he’d say ‘There’s a bit of truth in it’. ‘Yes there’s a bit of truth in it but the reader of the newspaper doesn’t know that until they’ve watched the programme to see how true it is’. In many cases they were so wildly inaccurate that I though it did the programme a service rather than a disservice.
I remember a guy ringing up one day from the News of the World and saying ‘Norman I’ve had a tip-off about Coronation Street’. Our attitude was that we would always say we would neither confirm or deny any rumour about Coronation Street because to tell you the truth would in effect spoil the enjoyment of the programme for millions of viewers. That was the stuff we churned out every time. This chap rang and said ‘We’ve had this tip-off. I know it’s true, our source is impeccable. Gail Tilsley who was pregnant at the time is going to fall downstairs, she’s going to carted off to hospital and she is going to lose the baby but she is going to be re-united with her wandering husband.’ And I said to the fellow ‘Well it doesn’t sound quite right to me.’ ‘Oh I’m absolutely sure, the source is faultless.’ I said ‘I would be a bit careful if I were you. I don’t think it’s quite as right as it should be.’ Anyway I couldn’t stop them from doing it. The News of the World came out on Sunday with a story saying Gail’s going to fall downstairs, have a miscarriage, lose the baby etc and of course it was not at all true. They didn’t care about that and that was curious because it meant that did they really stop and think what their readers would make of it. If you read the News of the World and told your family and your friends and it didn’t actually happen in the programme, you’d feel a bit miffed. I suppose you could say ‘oh well they changed it after it had been in the paper.’ But there were no end of these sort of stories which just had no basis in truth at all.
Another very good one which led to me taking the Sun to the Press Council which was an interesting exercise. I only did it really to see what would happen. Liz Dawn used to do some fund-raising work for a school for the dear in Moss Side and they were having some event . She said to some of the cast ‘Will you come with me and help entertain these children. It’s good PR.’ The two that went were Sally Whittaker who plays Sally Webster and Kevin Kennedy, Curly Watts. Of course there were some photographers there. Sally and Kevin were sitting pretty close together but newspaper don’t like white space in pictures so the photographers said ‘Would you mind getting a bit closer’ so he put his arm round her should and said ‘Come on Sally let’s get together’ so they were actually closer together, flash. And that was the end of it nothing appeared in the paper. It was not the kind of story that was going to make the paper, nothing went wrong, they did turn up, they didn’t get drunk, they didn’t fight with anybody so there wasn’t a story in it. About a month went by and suddenly I picked up the Sun one morning and there is this picture with a totally fabricated story that these two were having an affair, that their behaviour was such that the producer had had them in and warned them they were not to behave like this in the Rehearsal Room, their colleagues were complaining about the way they were canoodling when they should be rehearsing and learning their lines. They were out nightclubbing all over Manchester together night after night, they were item. I thought ‘There’s not a word of truth in that.’ In fact the embarrassing thing was was that she had got a regular boyfriend who didn’t much approve of her mixing with other actors so that was very difficult for her. He was very upset about it and they came to me in floods of tears and said ‘This is terrible. What are you going to do? Let’s sue them.’ I said ‘Let’s sit down and think it through first of all’. In the end to pacify them really I thought there was no point in suing the Sun over a think like that because the damages would be negligible. It would cost you a fortune so it wouldn’t be worth it really. Plus all the excitement of discovering all the other things that would come out. I said I’ll take it up with the Press Council so I wrote to the Legal Department at the Sun and told them ‘We’re going to take you to the Press Council over this totally inaccurate and damaging story’. We did get an apology in the end but it took months to extract from them. There was a great exchange of letters, including letters from the Legal Department of the Sun saying ‘We are absolutely certain that this story is true. Our source is absolutely water-tight.’
They were always wanting to sue the newspapers in those days and I was always a bit opposed to it. On the Express it was part of the style book that if anybody threatened to sue you were never to actually argue with them. I remember Peter Adamson wrote a nasty series for the News of the World before he was sacked, it was why he was scalded in the end, and he described a scene in the Rehearsal Room where there had been some horseplay between one of the actors and actresses. It was one sequence where they were supposed to be sleeping in a tent and there was some fooling about in the Rehearsal Room. Peter Adamson wrote about this but he got the wrong actors. His memory failed him or he wasn’t there and somebody had told him about it. Peter Baldwin was named and of course he was a very serious actor and didn’t like any suggestion that he fooled about in the Rehearsal Room.
He came to me and said he would like to sue the News of the World for this because he thought it was damaging. I said ‘I don’t think it’s the kind of thing that Granada would actually encourage you to do but if you want to go and see a lawyer yourself, we would support you.’ I think he went to see his solicitor who said if you put £1,000 down on the table we could talk about this and he decided not to bother. That was such a glaring libel that they did in fact correct it the next week so we were happy about that.
It was this obsession with finding a Coronation Street story that was rather pathetic, I used to think. I used to consider myself something of a professional and I didn’t like to see newspaper men reduced to such a level. Newspapers have changed so dramatically over the years. In my day if you got a tip-off for a story and you made a few inquiries and it was clear that there was absolutely no truth in this story, you would spike it. They don’t now, they run the story and make it into a row and then the next day they do a follow-up saying ‘It’s died this story’. It’s just creating stories when they’re actually not there.
Some true stories would come out and it might be necessary to wriggle around it and maybe call the newspapers in and have a press conference and see if we could retrieve some of the damage. Many of the actors in Coronation Street are rather quiet, retiring people who don’t necessarily seek publicity, people like Eileen Derbyshire, who’s just a hard-working actress who is not one for taking her clothes off and appearing in the Sun. At the other end of the spectrum we had someone like Pat Phoenix who was kind of Hollywood style actress. She was wonderful but she got into some terrible, terrible scrapes. One of my favourite funny stories is when the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry had chosen her as their pin-up girl. They were going to Borneo and they asked us if Pat Phoenix would go and say ‘goodbye’ to the boys in the NAAFI the night before they set off on the troop ship. I said ‘Do you want to do it?’ and she said ‘It will be fun, will you take me?’ so off we went to Pontefract. There was a complete battalion about seven to eight hundred men in the NAAFI having a big booze-up on their last night in the UK. Pat Phoenix gave them a wonderful show dressed to the nines. She leapt up onto a table and she shouted ‘Boys, the drinks are on me!’ I said to the adjutant ‘She can’t afford it and I certainly can’t so you’d better send the bill to Granada.’ So the bill came through and it wasn’t an astronomical sum and I thought there’s only one person who can ‘okay’ this and that’s going to be Cecil Bernstein. So I assembled all the splendid cuttings that we’d got and these wonderful photographs of this glamorous person with her arms outstretched on the table in the barracks and I took this sheaf of cuttings saying what a wonderful show this was. Then I said ‘By the way, it’s cost us £80 or what ever it was to buy drinks all around 700 soldiers.’
Cecil was an extremely honest man for being behind film exhibition and film making. I remember when Pat Phoenix, Doris Speed and Arthur Leslie went to Australia, it had to be three of the longest serving ones as a kind of perk for them because they had to have a month out to do it. Harry Kershaw went with them and I went. We were guests of the Channel Nine organisation in Australia who were in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney but we actually only went to Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide and we had a week in each place. There was a bit of a wrangle over the air fares because the Channel Nine people had tried to do something kind of contra-deal with Quantas to fly us out for nothing. I do remember that I was summoned to the Quantas London’s offices with the cuttings and I was given to understand by their PR personnel that they were not going to pay because they hadn’t got as much publicity for Quantas as they’d thought they would get. I said ‘Well you’ve got the front cover of the TV Times of the three artistes with one of your planes in the background, the tail with the Quantas symbol on it.’ Anyway I left in the middle of the negotiations saying ‘I’ll have to go and speak to my superiors’. I went up to see Cecil and said ‘We’re having a bit of difficulty here with this.’ And instantly he said, he used to stutter Cecil, ‘D-d-don’t get involved with it Norman, we’ll pay.’ It was several thousand quid. I think Sidney might well have said ‘We’ll sue them’ but he was a great litigant.
On the trip to Australia I went out a week before to get things sorted out like where the toilets were when they went on PAs, all those essential things that you had to do and check the timetable and the rest of the arrangements. We started in Sydney. I learnt a lot on that. I hadn’t realised how corrupt Australian journalism was. The Channel Nine station who had bought Coronation Street was organising this, they also owned newspapers. I think they were part of the Packer group. They would therefore not allow photographers and reporters from rival newspapers to come to press conferences so the whole thing was very incestuous. I would say ‘Well you can’t stop them can you?’ In fact the other papers did cover it because they couldn’t avoid it. They did a few shows appearing in the equivalent of Granada Reports, that sort of thing, and they used to put them in the quiz programmes. I remember I had to meet Doris Speed and Arthur Leslie when they flew from Sydney to Melbourne, I’d gone a couple of days before. I had to go out to the airport and meet them and explain to them in the car between the airport and the television station how they had to play this game that they were going to be in. It was quite a complicated contestant game and they were the star performers. I was rehearsing them in the car all the way down to the station. Harry Kershaw had done a little sketch for them to do on these occasions. They also did a lot of PAs, opening shops, motor showrooms. They got a huge reception, quite frightening on some occasions. I couldn’t believe it. We were quite used to crowds turning out at bingo halls in Salford and so on when Elsie Tanner went to a PA but to go to Australia. I used to say afterwards ‘If anybody had told me about this, I wouldn’t have believed it but because I was there and saw it, I had to believe it.’ We did a visit to the Town Hall in Adelaide to meet the State Governor and they actually closed down the centre of Adelaide because people were actually ten-deep on the pavement either side of the road. There were motor cycle outriders and police to keep people back and when they actually got into the Town Hall, the massive gates had to be shut to stop people actually virtually storming in. I had had to go and get some more film for my camera and when I got back, I couldn’t get in because the gates were closed. I missed the reception by the State Governor of South Australia. Wherever we went there were hundreds and hundreds of people.
We went to a place called Elizabeth which is a suburb of Adelaide which is mainly English immigrants and it was to do a PA at a supermarket. We went up on the roof because there were so many people. People couldn’t get into the shop, they were just on the lawns outside, thousands and thousands of them. And when we left on the Sunday night from Adelaide at about six in the evening to drive to the airport the entire route was lined by people, five or six miles, kids in pyjamas. People had driven hundreds of miles to bring their kids to watch this procession, this open car with Elsie Tanner and Jack Walker and Annie Walker making its way to the airport. I personally was so concerned, I thought we were going to miss the plane because we had to drive so slowly because of the people. It was really totally extraordinary. They actually held the plane up and they let us drive onto the tarmac and straight out of the cars and onto the plane.
I remember landing at Adelaide and as we taxied along in front of the airport building it was absolutely covered with people who were standing on balconies and on the canopy over the doors and on the roof and so on and Doris Speed looked out of the window and said ‘Who are they waiting for, darling?’ I said ‘Doris, they’re waiting for you.’ They couldn’t believe it either.
Amazing. If you went to Salford you’d get a few hundred people out and stop the traffic for a minute or two but they actually too the whole place over.
I think the worst excesses of the press came when Graham Haberfield who played Gerry Booth -died very suddenly. He lived near Knutsford and the funeral was going to be in Knutsford Parish church and one or two of the cast went. When we arrived – I’d always go early at events like this just to get the lie of the land – the press were beginning to assemble. There were scores of photographers there. Graham had two little boys and I thought it was absolutely nasty because the photographers were fighting among themselves to get near the gravestones to photograph these two little boys at their father’s funeral. But there’s not much you can about it. That kind of thing tended to happen. I remember Bernard Youens funeral was pretty much the same except even Granada reports turned up for that one. My most difficult decision ever that I had to make on Coronation Street. Pat Phoenix married Alan Browning who played opposite her for a time, then they parted. Anyhow browning died and Pat was on holiday in Cornwall. I had to ring her to tell her and she said ‘Norman do you think I should go ?’ Well I knew he had been married before and had a family. Anyhow I established that that wife was going to be responsible for the funeral arrangements and obviously she and her family would be there. So I said to Pat Phoenix, ‘no I don’t think you should go because Alan’s first wife and family are definitely going to be there and the press will just turn it into a circus and it will be very unpleasant. So, she didn’t go. I did spend a lot of time afterwards wondering if I had made the right decision. But I think I did because it would have been beastly. I suppose Pat caused me the most problems in a way. She was a superb publicist herself. If she went to open a bingo hall in Wigan she would get an outfit from that place near Kendals and she would dress up to the nines. She’d have a limousine laid on and she would be a star ! She would give her money’s worth, she was absolutely superb.
The actors when they started were unknown, they may have done small bits but they were not famous and so were able to . It used to infuriate them that they were always known by their Coronation Street names. I had to stop myself sometimes calling them by their cast name rather than their real name. I think they grew into the parts. Sometimes newcomers would come in and you’d watch them the first few times and you’d think I’m not sure they are right,’ and then they would slowly but surely become right. Coronation Street has some magic ingredient.
I used to think it has survived because it is so true to life. But then I know that it isn’t. My mother used to live in a tiny village in the Sherwood Forest and she was a great Coronation Street fan and I used to ask her what she saw in Coronation Street and she would say it was so life like and real. But I said it bears no resemblance to the kind of life you live here. And she would say but they talk about the things we talk about. And I think that is it. The common touch, it has a kind of real life, real things about it. I is real even though it is not true to life. I think that is its secret. Then I look at EastEnders and the others, and I say ‘no,’ I can’t get interested in them.
It’s got through various phases, During the Susi Hush phase when it became almost like the Archers and it was full of all kinds of feminist arguments – that was a disastrous time when he audience did slump. Bill Podmore was dragged away from a comedy series and told to try and get some humour in Coronation Street .Cos it’s quite funny Coronation Street. I think I am now part of the Roy Hattersley school,. I think there is now too much in the way of marriage breakups, although I have got into the current drug story, but it’s never been a programme for proselytizing. Harry Kershaw was dead against anybody wanting to push any kind of message. There’s rarely any mention of politics. Interestingly Doris Speed was a shining light in the Labour Party whereas Annie Walker could not have been any more of a true blue Conservative. One of my personal highlights with Coronation Street was when Number Ten rang up and said that the Prime Minister Harold Wilson was having one of his soirées and wondered if Doris Speed would like to come. I said she’s in the studio but I’ll pop down and ring you back. I went down and knocked on the dressing room. I said Doris this is absolutely wonderful Harold Wilson would like you to go to Ten Downing Street, they’re having a reception for Pierre Trudeau the Prime Minister of Canada. Its in a fortnight’s time, I’ve checked upstairs, you’re not actually working that week, would you like to go. ‘Ooh I’d love to darling , oh yes. I said you can actually take a guest. She said ‘oh well I’ll take you as you’ve brought me the good news 1’ So I had a good night at 10 Downing Street with Doris. On of the great occasions. Doris and Harold had met before. When we went to Australia one cringe making stunt had been to take them to Downing Street before we went to the airport and we met Jim Callaghan who was then Chancellor and Harold who was PM. So he did know her. I think it was really Lady Wilson who was more taken by her, she was a huge fan.
I got on very well with Vi. She was not the most popular person in the press office because she didn’t have much time for the newspapers. She didn’t want to do interviews. But we became quite pally. It was rather sad – when Vi died I went over to the funeral. She had no family except her sister Nell, and in fact myself and a friend of ours were almost the only family mourners. There were others there but no actual family. I don’ think any of the cast were there but there must have been some reason for that. She had been left quite a while by then. She also didn’t get on very well with Pat Phoenix, they suffered each other but they were a bit rude about each other.
Pat’s funeral was the other end of the scale. Tony Booth rang me and said that Pat wanted this, this and this for her funeral. So I said sure if you want a jazz band in the church and so. It was a huge production at the Holy Naïve ?? in Oxford Road. We stopped the traffic, thousands and thousands turned out. Huge.
Cs at that time was kind of family and they were all very supportive of each other.Aslrightmaybe? they didn’t like each other – but families don’t always like each other – but if there was a problem there was a great rallying together. Dear Arthur Leslie was always a kind of godfather figure. He was the person they would go to if they had any problems. He had had a great career as an actor manager. So he was used to tackling young actors and their problems.
11The cast were pretty mature people, the criticism was that they were too elderly. That’s why they brought in a lot of younger people. I think that offended a lot of the older viewers. A low point in my career was the Peter Adamson affair, that was very grizzly but it had wider repercussions. I was rung up at two o clock in the morning by the Sunday People saying did I know that Peter Adamson was in the cells. No, I said, I DIDN’T thank you for telling me. So I got up and got dressed, made a few inquiries. I wasn’t altogether surprised. I followed it through his interviews with the police, magistrates court, committal, crown court and his three days or whatever it was in the Crown Court at Burnley ending in his not quite an acquittal, it was a funny business. I think Reg Lockett who was the judge found himself being addressed by George Carmen and the case was thrown out on an evidential issue which I wasn’t all that clear about myself, some talk about whether the two police officers who had taken the statement should have made the entry in the same notebook, it was a bit complicated. But the time in-between all these things Adamson came to me and said ‘Will Granada help me with this, it’s going to cost me an awful lot of money. My solicitor wants me to have George Carman.’ Granada wanted to keep as distant as we could decently. Anyway he came down with his solicitor. I went to see Bill Dixon and I persuaded Granada, Dixon and Denis to advance Adamson £10,000 towards his defence. The cheque was there, I think it was on Alistair Mutch’s desk, and Adamson came in with his solicitor and we talked a bit about it. I’d said to Adamson ‘I think we’re going to be able to help you here, I’m not saying how much’ and amazingly Adamson said ‘Well I think I ought to tell you I have been asked to write a series of articles for the News of the World about my life in Coronation Street and I don’t think you’re going to like it’ so we didn’t give him the money. And he was sacked, not because of the case but because of the piece he wrote for the News of the World. He was in breach of his contract. The piece that he wrote was extremely damaging to the programme we thought. We were more sensitive about it than the average reader of the News of the World was. perhaps in retrospect it was not all that harmful but it caused a lot of trouble among the cast. He wrote some very unkind things about them so wesacked him. We didn’t renew his contract and he didn’t get the £10,000.
He was heard of in Canada where he’d be able to make a bit of progress on his Coronation Street background because it was very popular in Canada but I don’t know where he is now. Whenever I’ve talked to anybody who might have known, they’ve said ‘Quite frankly I haven’t heard of him for so long and I don’t know where he is.’ Talking of his popularity overseas, we had a letter from one of the New Zealand television stations saying that they had a tie-up with a travel agency and they were trying to put together something that they were calling the Coronation Street tour and it would be led by a television personality from New Zealand called Selwyn Toogood who was a comedian-type person. And he would bring these 30,40,50 people whatever they were and it would be a world tour and they would stop off in Hawaii and San Francisco and New York and then fly across to London. But the highlight of the thing would be their day in Coronation Street and they would come up and spend a day in Granada and have tea with the cast. They used to do it on a Thursday which was convenient with the cast, they could break a bit early and the first time they came up we decided we would push the boat out and we decorated the Grape Street set as it was then down at the bottom end. We did all kind of back-breaking things. We had special picture postcards printed and rubber stamped ‘Posted in Coronation Street’, we had the letter box put up in the Street so that they could write their postcards and post them. At three o’clock a little mail van came down from Newton Street and collected the post and the postman was applauded as he emptied the box and took the postcards away and photographed them. Then we took them across into Committee Room A and they had tea with the cast of Coronation Street. Then they used to have a dinner in the evening and asked a few of them to go along to that at the Piccadilly Hotel. It was quite touching really. They were going on then to Rome and Athens and these people would write back to us afterwards and say ‘We had a wonderful time, the highlight was the afternoon we spent in Coronation Street.’ They were mainly retired, elderly people, the backbone of your Coronation Street audience as it was then.
Coronation Street was an extremely moral show in the early days and Harry Kershaw would never allow anybody to swear. I’m not sure there’s a great deal of swearing now but certainly adultery was hinted at but it was never openly there. Elsie Tanner always married her lovers, she didn’t just live with somebody, she actually married them. This is always been one that the newspapers have nagged us about and that is the fact that there’s never been a coloured family in Coronation Street. Harry Kershaw gave me his explanation, it was his decision. He said he really, really daren’t because how would the people in Coronation Street react, how would Hilda and Stan Ogden react to a coloured family living next door. The kind of people they were they would not welcome a coloured family and so it would destroy the credibility of the characters if they had to behave in a politically correct way. That really was his argument always for not having a coloured family. There was some sort of compromise having coloured bus-conductors when Harry Hewitt was a bus driver and we had Indian doctors and so on. Of course now we’ve got the corner shop and that’s slightly different but we still don’t have a coloured family. It would lose some of its authenticity and Hilda Ogden and Stan Ogden would start to behave out of character. If they behaved in character there would be absolute uproar.
The most enormous highlight was in 1992, the day the Queen came. We had moved into the set near the Granada Tours. I thought that was it. I could not believe my eyes that here was the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh walking down Coronation Street.
I did find this morning a cutting which illustrates the desperation of the tabloids to get a story. This is the front page of the Star newspaper. It was when they heard, accurately in that case, that the Rovers Return was going to be burned down that they ran a campaign to save the Rovers. They rang me and I spoke quite openly to the guy that however millions of viewers of the Star want us not to burn down the Rovers Return, believe me, it has to go ahead because that’s the way the story goes. They dressed that up and made it a front page splash for their newspaper, how desperate can you be to link yourself with Coronation Street. The other interesting spin-off of that incident was in the storyline Bet Lynch was overcome by smoke in an upstairs room and an ambulance had to cart her off to hospital. That appeared in the next day’s morning papers as ‘Julie Goodyear being taken to hospital after being overcome by smoke in the filming of Coronation Street.’
There was also an absolutely wonderful cutting that we got, I think it was from the Sun. There was an actor called Fred Feast who played Fred Gee, the barman in the Rovers Return. Fred lived in Scarborough and he was involved in some incident with his car, a collision of some kind, and there was a great story in the Sun about Fred Gee, the barman of the Rovers Return being involved in a motor accident in Scarborough and the whole story was written as though it was the character that had been involved. The readers surely must have thought ‘how come the man who’s the barman in the Rovers Return in Weatherfield lives in Scarborough, it’s crazy.
I wasn’t very much involved in the Queen’s visit, it was out of my hands. That was organised by Plowright’s office. It was just absolutely extraordinary that the Queen should come to Coronation Street. I know she was also going to the museum next door. Obviously she knew who the characters were because she was well briefed but I shouldn’t think she’s time to watch Coronation Street. No doubt the Sun and the Mirror would think that she would watch Coronation Street.
Cecil Bernstein was very involved in Coronation Street. If there was ever any sign of a dispute with the cast over their pay or working conditions, if it was clear the temperature was rising, they were going to be asked to work an extra a day or week or we weren’t going to give them the increase in contract salary that they’d expected then Cecil would be wheeled out into the Green Room to have a cup of tea with them and charm them, convince them of the error of their ways. He always took a huge interest in it. I’m not sure that Sidney would necessarily have been all that familiar with some of the characters. One of my favourite anti-Melvyn Bragg stories is that Sidney was given an international Emmy award for his lifetime’s contribution to television by the National Academy? of Arts and Sciences in the States and he went over. I went with him to hold because he was getting a bit doddery by then and we went into the Sheraton Hotel in Fifth Avenue where this presentation was going to be. This brash young man rushed over and seized Sidney by the hand and greeted very warmly and Sidney made a bit of small talk. Eventually this person went away and Sidney turned to me and said ‘Who was Norman?’ and said ‘That was Melvyn Bragg’. He didn’t even recognise poor Melvyn Bragg. Sidney had many friends in the States, Lauren Bacall was a great friend of the Bernstein family. She was the foulest mouthed woman I’ve ever come across in my career. Margot Bryant was a mistress of the four letter word. Little Minnie Caldwell. Butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth in the show but she’d been a chorus girl in her day and she certainly knew how to toss around the four letter words.