I can remember when I joined. I joined in October ’77, and I was at university. I don’t think I was alone, I think, going into television was the sort of popular thing to do at that time, I think, particularly if you had a sense of the world. I always loved World in Action. I watched it as a student and a sixth former, and it had a sort of glamour attached to it, I think. I loved that idea of breaking the story, and I loved the filmic quality of it. I was pretty obsessed with films as a kid, growing up. I really was, and of course it’s funny how it all seems so remote to me. The idea of getting jobs in these worlds, you know? And at school I loved the art room. I liked printmaking, and I loved photography, and I made my first film at school too. I was very lucky; the art teacher was a film nut. So, I had a deep desire to do it, and when I went to university, although I enjoyed university, I couldn’t wait to go to work. You know what I mean? By then it had crystallised out into work in television. Because that seemed possible.
I suppose it was when I graduated, which would have been the summer of ‘77, that I really set out to try and do it. And, of course I faced the classic conundrum in those days that you couldn’t get a job unless you are a member of the ACTT, the union, and you couldn’t be a member of the ACTT unless you had a job. That was the kind of conundrum that I think most people faced. I solved it by going to the ACTT head office, which then from memory was in Wardour Street. Certainly, it was either Wardour or Dean, I can’t remember exactly which. It was upstairs. Alan Sapper ran it, from memory.
And they had a bulletin outside which advertised jobs, and they just weren’t advertised really in the newspapers. I mean, how did you get in? I actually have a file still somewhere of all of the letters that I wrote. I wrote dozens and dozens and dozens of letters all the way around the industry. Dear Mr So-and-so – because they always were Misters in those days – I’d love to work for whatever, whatever, whatever, and then you’d always get a letter back, “Dear Mr. Grassgreen, sorry, no vacancies. Yours,” and it’d just be a squiggle. Fifth assistant to the third assistant to the sixth assistant of the mediocrity that you’d written to. That’s a bit unkind, but you know what I mean.
And then I saw this sports researcher job on the ACTT board advertised at Granada, and I wrote. And I’d already written to Granada. I’d already written to World in Action. My goal was to work for World in Action. That’s where I wanted to work. I travelled a bit by then. I was quite worldly for a young student. I wasn’t much interested in being a student. I’d travelled quite extensively by that time in my life, and I’d written little bits of journalism here and there. I was obviously more interested in work when I look back, but there were no jobs going at World in Action, because I’d applied. Either not got a reply or had a brush off. So, sports researcher sounded like at least a job, and I was invited up for a board. In those days you used to have a board. Do you remember that?
Very well. I mean, when I look back now, tremendously well organised and benevolent to young people in its way. And, it was a little bit like an academic board. I can’t remember. I remember Mike Scott was on it, and Paul Doherty. Poor late departed, Paul Doherty was on it. Joyce Wooller was on it. And, it was very formal.
It was quite a funny story, because I of course had written an application that went, “Dear Mr Whoever…” I think you actually wrote to Joyce Wooller in those days, didn’t you? Or maybe Mike Scott. I can’t remember. “Dear Mr Granada, all my life has been but a preparation for being a sports researcher in your sports department, blah, blah, blah. I’d love to do it.” So I get in there, in this board in Manchester and it was quite nerved. I remember being very nerved right. I walked in and I remember Mike Scott holding up two pieces of paper. One was my letter saying ‘All my life has been but a preparation for a sports researcher’s job’, and then saying, “But you appear to have written this one three months ago, ‘all my life has been but a preparation for a World in Action job.’ Kindly explain.” All I could say was, “Well, times are tough. You’ve got everything you can to get in.” You know?
You wanted really to do exposés of sport, didn’t you?
Exactly! And Paul Doherty, I remember being quite amused. Anyway, and I didn’t know any of these people. Anyway, I can’t remember. It felt like it was a day or two, within a day or two anyway. Because I was then living in Cambridge, because I’d only just graduated. Did I get a phone call or a letter, I don’t know, saying could I come on Friday. They wanted me to start that day or that week. And it was very strange, because at the same time – again, I either got a phone call or a letter – from John Birt, who was then at London Weekend, who had seen me. I think he had seen me. And I think Barry Cox, I think he and Barry Cox did together from memory, some weeks before, as part of the… I mean, when you look back, people were very good at responding. It shows you what a benevolent… it was a tough world in one sense, but it was very benevolent towards young people in another. And John Birt said, “Well, we now have a job on…” I want to say it was The London Programme.
Not Weekend World?
No, it wasn’t Weekend World. It was the local programme, which I think was called The London Programme, wasn’t it? And Granada had just been in touch, and I remember John Birt was… oddly, I got to know him a little bit over the years. I haven’t seen him for many years now, but he was always a benevolent person, I thought. Not at all like the caricature that people gave. I remember it vividly. I said, “Oh, I’ve got a dilemma.” Because I was only 21, I was a young kid. He said, “If I were you, I’d go to Granada.” He said, “I started at Granada.” Because, I told him I’d seen him, I wanted to work at World in Action, blah, blah. He said, “Go to Granada. You will get the best start in the industry that you possibly can get. Not that London Weekend isn’t a wonderful place. You can always come here later. But if you get a chance to start at Granada, I would do that.” I’ve never forgotten it. Amazing thing. And he was right.