Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 5 May 2020.
Let’s start at the beginning. Where were you before Granada? How did you come to join Granada? And when? Dates are quite important.
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.
And so, I literally travelled up in the next day from memory, and I was put up in a pub, I’m sure it doesn’t exist now, it was down at the back of… If Quay Street was one side, then you got at the bottom of the old Granada Studios. As you looked at the Granada Studios, it was at the back, off to the left where they subsequently built the Rovers Return, all that. There used to be a grotty pub there, I can’t remember the name of it now. And I was put up in there, it was an absolute shithole, and told to report for duty the next day, which was a Saturday. So I came up on the Friday, came into the office in the morning, met Paul Doherty there. How can I forget, he said, “Okay, we’re covering…” I want to say it was an Oldham game. He said, “We’re covering, it’s the Granada Match this weekend, it’s Oldham versus so-and-so.” It helped that I was a football nut, you know. “And you’re going to be editing back at base,” I went, “Oh, really?” Okay, how does that go? And he said, “Bye.” And off he went in his big Granada car, Ford Granada, not Granada, Granada. And I was left to find my way down to VT where all the blokes who were into football were, and you had to watch and create a log of the game. You were just given this pad and you logged it up. And talk about full immersion, I loved it.
Was there anyone there to help you in VT?
No! I was completely alone. I mean, there were VT engineers who were there, absolutely super fellas, but talk about being thrown into the deep end. And so I did a year on Kick Off and related sports programmes. And when I look back, it was the most tremendous start in life and work and television, and actually in film, generally. And I owe a tremendous debt to Granada, I owe an unbelievable debt, and all the people there. But Paul Doherty, I owe a special debt. Because I was a young student, I’d gone to a good university, I had the advantages and the naiveties that that bestows upon you, and probably the arrogances too. And I was, I think, in many ways, unprepared for the world of work, what work was really about. And Paul gave me a crash course of all of that in a matter of weeks. He was always in the office at 7:30, always. And he would not leave before late. And then you’d go to a game, more than likely. So it was straight into, I think the most important lesson that everybody has to learn in this business, which is that it is a full immersion, leave your life and run away to the circus type of a life. It’s not a life if you want nine to five or a structured life; you give yourself to it wholly. And that’s the only way it can work, and everything else, your life comes second to it. And he demanded that, and he was a larger than life… so in many ways, he was a sort of ‘proto Alex Ferguson’ type figure. He had a tremendous temper, which he would deploy at all times. And he had this dream that he was going to build a sports department at Granada, and the sports comprised of me, as I discovered on the Monday, another young researcher called Charles Lauder, who was very talented chap. An old Granada studio director, who’d been sort of put out to grass and wasn’t really wanted anywhere else, a guy called Mike Becker, who was actually a very sweet man. And he sort of did the live OBs, you know, not very well. So, Paul Doherty. And that was the sports department. And Margaret Foy who was the secretary, who actually ran Paul’s life brilliantly.
And he ran it like he was running a football team. And he rode me incredibly hard, because I remember him saying on the first day, “I’m not interested in World in Action, by the way. You’ve come here, I want somebody to do sport and that’s what you’re going to do. Do you understand?” I went, “Yes. Oh yes boss.” “Because I’m fucking not having effing and blinding no one, fucking not having anybody fucking doing it, that fucking World in Action shit. We’re here to do football and sport, and this company doesn’t take it seriously. And the north west is the heartbeat of sports in this country.” All of which I agreed with by the way. So he was preaching to the converted, and he had this tremendous sense of sport being, you know… all the namby-pamby intellectuals in the corridor look down on it, but actually it was what people out there really wanted to watch. Again, he was totally right about that. And he went to bat, and I was an absolute disciple. But life with Doc was fantastic, because you’d work like a demon, and then you’d go out in the evening to Blinkers nightclub, and suddenly there’d be all these footballers in there. And you’d be going, “Fucking hell, that’s George Best,” or, “Fucking hell, there’s…” you know? It was just unbelievable. It was like, I couldn’t believe the life I was leading.
Were you a Crystal Palace fan? Is that right?
Yes. Which of course only exacerbated Doc’s contempt for them.
But Wallen Matthie always tells me the story of you being bawled out by Doherty.
Oh my god, about slides?
You’d made a film, and Doherty had a go at you and said, “This film’s fucking shit. You want to be a film director? No fucking way, man.” He gave you a roasting.
Who tells this story?
Oh really? Oh, I’m sure that’s true. The worst row we ever had, funnily enough was about the slides, which I often tell it to my kids when they go out to work, because it’s an abject lesson in what not to do. Which is that I’d been there a few weeks, and Doc came in one day. He was a great bloke, he’d come in, but he’d have ideas, he’d be fizzing with ideas. “This week, we’re going to do such and such, and such and such. “Go and phone such,” or, “Go and phone Alf Ramsey,” and you’d go, “Huh? How does that work?” And then he had the contacts, he has house numbers. He was amazing.
Anyway, he said, “I’m not having this Granada Reports when we do our sports coverage. They never do proper sports coverage, they never do the football team news, and I’m sick of seeing Joe Jordan’s face.” I don’t think Joe Jordan was there at that time, but anyway, whoever. “I’m sick of seeing the faces of sort of head and shoulders. I want action shots.” So lo and behold, he commissioned a bloke called Eddie Booth, who was a cameraman, I think he worked for Granada. He must’ve been well into 60s, if not, 70s. Chain smoked, not the best snapper it has to be said, but a lovely, lovely fellow. And he’d go out, and he was deputed to go around all the grounds in the north west, and photograph action shots of all the players, right? And my job, especially given to me by Doc, was I had to process these slides, and put them in those little things where you put in a slide, and I’d mark them up. So when he wanted a one of Joe Jordan, he’d see a row of Joe Jordan action slides, or if he wanted one of Brian Kidd, who I think was then playing for Man City, not United, there’d be lots of Brian Kidd, and so on and so forth. Okay, fine. Great idea Doc, yes, but boss I’m there, I’m there, I’m there.
So Eddie B goes out, day one I get 70 slides from Manchester United’s game against whoever, right? Fine. And I go through them because I can recognise that’s Brian Greenhoff, that’s Stevie Coppell. Day two, I get Rochdale versus so-and-so, Bury versus so-and-so. Day three, I would get Preston versus so-and-so, Skelmersdale versus so-and-so, Tranmere versus so-and-so. And of course being basically not far off a student, I’d come in, work hard go out with Doc, probably drink too much, have a hangover, get up the next morning, “Oh fuck, I can’t do it. I’ll just do a few of the slides.” And so I do a few, and the ones I couldn’t do, I’d put in a drawer. Well by about day 10, all my drawers were filled with these fucking sides. I had to bring a bag in from home, that was filled with slides, I had more at home. It became a total nightmare, because I’d let the thing get out of control. And if I stopped there for like three days solid non-stop, I still wouldn’t have done it. So of course in classic fashion, I put my head in the sand and hoped it would go away. Anyway, a few days later I was up the end of the corridor, the sports department was then on next to Granada Reports on the third floor, was it? I can’t remember.
First floor, that’s right, yes. And I was talking to Andy Harries, as I recall, who’s just started around about the same time. And I saw Doc come out, down the middle of the corridor, shouting. And I said to Andy, “Oh fucking hell, he’s not happy with someone.” Then I saw him turn and look at me. “Oo-er, it’s me.” He absolutely… I mean, talk about tearing a strip off. “You ever fucking do that again, you’ll never…” “You namby-pamby southern fucking…” I mean, these days it would be unacceptable, the words he was using, but basically I was a student arse, not fit to wipe his shoes, cradle marks on my ass, etc. etc. and I couldn’t disagree. But it was good for me. He taught me how to work, and I loved him, and I think actually he had a soft spot for me, too. We all stayed in touch right to the end of his life.
He loved the fact that I… he loved that I ripped it out of the Scousers. Of course, the famous ‘It’s all over’ or whatever that song was that I put on the end of a programme after Liverpool got knocked out. What was that song? It got everybody into a tremendous amount of trouble, because Liverpool didn’t see the funny side of it in those days, rather arrogant ways. But he thought it was very funny. But it was a great year. I learned so much. One of the beauties about working in sports television, which you saw everything that there was, you did it all. You made films with a crew, you mounted items in a studio. We did Kick Off on a Friday night. You did OB work. You edited OBs on your own. When I think back when we did the Wednesday live match, if it was a European match, which we fed out to the network, you’d be editing the second half of the football while the first half was actually playing out live. That’s how tight it was. It taught you… all those skills were just the most fantastic skills for our business. Because it taught you how to work quickly and accurately under pressure in all regards. It was all about taking responsibility. You believed in giving… like Fergie, you believed in giving young people their break and letting them do it for better or worse. He’d back you up, and he’d critique what you did brutally, but you knew that he was on your side. He would have taken the view that what was in the dressing room stayed in the dressing room. He was that sort of a bloke.
In a way, he kept that team together, didn’t he? Unlike other departments where there was much more of people coming in, shifting after two years.
I went after a year, because I started what became that World in Action about Manchester United, which he very much approved of, though he couldn’t be seen to be helping. But he built that. He got Pat Pearson in to direct, and she was brilliant. I don’t want to decry Mike Beckett. He was a very sweet man. He was very kind to me as a young kid. When Doc would rip it out of me, he’d always be nice. But you know, Pat Pearson was a quality OB director and in many ways a trailblazer. A woman in what was then a wholly man’s world of football.
And a really nice person as well.
Yes. Great fun. He got Elton Welsby in, got Ian St John in. He got a whole bunch of, he built a team. It’s what he said he would do. He built a team and they were… I loved Saint. He was fantastically funny, even though he and I used to clash a bit. I remember being in a train going down to Wembley, I think we were, to see the Liverpool-Bruges European Final.
Yes, ‘78. That would have been towards the end of my time there. We had a tremendous row about football. I can’t remember what it was about but I just remember Saint getting the right up and going, “You know fuck all about football! Fuck all.” Fair enough. But it was just tremendous fun. Just tremendous fun and an unbelievable education, as I say, in television. But most of all, in life. The laughter was hilarious.
I remember very early on having to phone up Jack Charlton, who was then the manager of Sheffield Wednesday. Because one of the things I had to do on the Friday was phone up for the team news. I’d have to write it down in my notebook, and come back to him and give Doc the team news. I can’t even remember who the star player was at Sheffield Wednesday at that time, but was so and so playing. And Jack Charlton went… I can’t do the accent, the Geordie accent… but “No, he wasn’t playing. He’s picked up a groin strain in a nightclub.” I, of course, didn’t see the joke at all and just wrote it down. Picked up a groin strain in a nightclub, went into Doc and said, “Oh, no.” He said, “It sounds so plain.” He’d obviously set it up between the pair of them. I said, “No, no. He’s out. No.” He said, “Are you sure about that?” I said, “No, definitely. He picked up a groin strain in the nightclub.” He went, “You fucking knob.” He said, “You absolute arse. Do you not listen to what people are saying to you?”
Funny days. Great days. But as I said, I stayed in touch with Doc. He always took an interest in what I did. Towards the end, not long before he went into a hospice, we went up and we had lunch at a restaurant in Manchester together. It was a lovely, we had an absolutely wonderful day. We reminisced. He brought this scrapbook that he had from his Granada days. He was very sick then. He knew he didn’t have long to go. Funnily enough, I just saw, he gave me the page or a copy of the page, and there was a picture of me and him and in his handwriting what he’d written underneath, because all of my records are going to the BFI. I’ve got a young person out there preparing it all for them. She found this stuff and showed it to me just literally an hour ago. Just the sweetest note in his handwriting about me, and how proud he was and so on and so forth. That was really, it brought a tear to my eye. He was a wonderful man and loyal, competitive, chippy, brilliant, a great leader, brilliant sense of humour…
Was he a person you had to stand up to? Because every time I would wander into the sports department for whatever reason, you’d feel Doc was there growling at you, and you’d timidly scamper out.
Yes. That’s why I think he liked me. Because I somewhat exasperated him, because I would give it back to him, being quite a rebellious person. But I loved him and I was very loyal to him. He was my guy. He was the boss. He was the gaffer. I would have run through a brick wall for him. I genuinely would have done. When it was time for me to go, which was really after about a year, he knew it. He knew that I was always going to want to go and do World in Action and follow my dreams. He knew that. He knew I’d had a good year for him. I’d done some pretty good pieces of work for him. I wasn’t going to be part of what he was building, but he helped me and he encouraged me. In many ways, he was an archetypal Granada figure. He was a perfect expression of what Granada was about in those days. That’s the Doc.
The Louis Edward story, did that come to you while you are working on Kick Off?
Yes. The only way you could get on, it seemed to me, was to find your own story. Obviously, I was up there doing football 24/7. At that time, the Edwards family, what they did was they brought forward, essentially, a rights issue in the shares. That had never been done in football clubs, because bear in mind, there wasn’t a market for football club shares because clubs didn’t pay dividends. They were essentially, there was no market in them because there was no value seen in the clubs, astonishingly, at that time. It was sort of, I noticed this, it was like a financial story in the Manchester Evening News. Why would they be doing this? It didn’t really attract much attention, but I thought that was odd. I took the view then that Manchester United was obviously a great sporting institution, for sure. You could not live in the north west and not be aware of it as a great sporting institution. But it had fallen behind Liverpool by a good long way, and was obviously not being particularly well-rounded at the time, but the more I was there, and the more I was around football, the more you could see there was sort of an alternative history of the club that lay behind the club.
The way in was through the rights issue. Because I remember going to Paul, I used to go out on my own account, I’d tell Paul, “I’m not doing it in your time. I’ll just go out on my own. And yes, he was great about it. He knew what I was doing. As long as I was there to do what he needed done, he was up for it. And basically… it was strange. It was the brainchild of a man called Professor Roland Smith, who was a Professor of Business I think, at Manchester University. And he knew Louis Edwards. And he cooked up the scheme… at the time, you couldn’t quite work out what it was that they were trying to do. Now, of course it was obvious what they were… what Roland Smith had seen was that these clubs were going to be worth a fortune. And what you had to do was grab the maximum value you can, the maximum shareholder you can, and that you stood a better chance if you created this potential. Rather than there being a thousand shares, if you could create a million shares, you could hoover them up quicker and easier. There was more to the story than that, but that was basically what it looked like.
And some of the supporters kicked off. A man called John Fletcher, I want to say his name was. He was sort of a more United fan. He ran a sort of supporters campaign against it. Anyway, I got into it, and I took that to Claudia Milne, who was then running Reports Extra, which was the sort of local programmes World in Action, basically.
Yes, I worked on it a few times.
Late Friday night.
Exactly, late on Friday night. And I think the football season had come to an end. I think they were going to do summer sport. They did. Steve Hawes. That was the sort of summer sport thing. I may have got the chronology slightly wrong. The football season ended. That was when Liverpool beat Bruges. So that we’d now be May, June ‘78. I joined in October ‘77. That segued into summer sport. And Steve Hawes was on local programmes. I want to say maybe it was… I can’t remember, but he was an up-and-coming man in local programmes, or in… I liked Steve. He was a good guy. Anyway, he got the summer sport. And I absolutely loved it because he let me go make little films. When I look back, I could start to express… you know, put music on films and things like that. It might be things like, I don’t know, whatever they were, rock climbing or paragliding or something. You could do things that you couldn’t do in the hurly-burly of a football programme. It was all tactics and personalities, and so on and so forth. So I loved that. I was looking to get out for sure. I remember I had a fantastic thing that I did with Steve. Steve Morrison must’ve been running local programmes.
Steve was running locals.
And I remember…
I joined at this point. I joined in July ‘78.
Right. Well, July ‘78 must’ve been when I did the Poulton-le-Fylde World Cup, which I remember was just a gorgeous day. The idea, I pitched to Steve Morrison, which was… Because one of the things I… I had to do the sports diary. Because there’d be all sorts of people sending things in. There’s going to be a such-and-such a competition in Stoke or a such, such a competition in Cheshire. And I’d have to keep the diary, and then we’d have the Monday morning meeting or whatever meeting, and you’d have to know what was… there’d be all sorts of nonsensical stuff. Anyway, one of the things that came in was Poulton-le-Fylde, which I think is up near Preston, isn’t it?
Yes. It’s Blackpool way, yes.
Blackpool, that’s right. Blackpool. “We’re going to run a world cup tournament for kids, under-11 kids, with all the nations represented.” Which sounded just… Doc would have gone to Argentina, because he would have been in Argentina. That’s right.
Oh yes, indeed. Yep, yes.
During the world cup coverage with Saint. That’s why I’d have been on my own. Anyway, I remember pitching this to Steve Morrison, who had a very agile, brilliant television mind. He immediately went, “Oh, that’s great. Love it. Let’s do it. We’ll do it. We’ll have OBs and we’ll get all the Kick Off sort of… I can’t remember who their sort of half-time people were. The footballers who do the summarising and the thing. And we’d all go up there and we’d do like a fake World Cup. But instead of it being the football stars, it would be these little kids. It was absolutely… I had a fantastic day. He just ran with it and made it brilliant, and it was a really… And it was one of those things where you were filled with wonder at how quickly an idea could be run with and turned into something fantastic. It was witty and communal and just brilliant. And it was a golden sunny day, as I recall. I just remember it as being one of the most fun days of television. And summer sport with Steve.
And then somewhere around about then I must have gone to Claudia Milne and said, “Look, I’ve got this story I want to get the rights to shoot.” And she was an old World in Action hand, of course, and she knew that I wanted to get in. And she said, “Come and do this.” And I did that. And I worked with Claudia and Michael…
Dave Jones was presenter.
Dave Jones? Was he… oh, yes, he must have been the presenter…
Yes, because I worked on Reports Extra in the September, October. Because we did the party conferences together.
Right. Well who was the woman? Really nice person who was the other researcher? I want to say Sophie, but it wasn’t Sophie. What was her name?
I can’t remember.
No, no. I can’t remember her name at all.
Come to me. It’ll come to me. Because you were Reports Politics, weren’t you, mainly?
I was, yes. I went on to Reports Politics after Reports Extra. I only did a month or so, two months of Reports Extra.
And I stayed on there for a few months doing various bits and pieces. And then, I kept on at World in Action. Or, I kept on that United idea after the Reports Extra. Because inevitably you do a little thing, and then more people come forward. And then I remember in the end… I think Claudia probably encouraged me, because she was very… she said, “Do a memo and send it to Ray.” Which I did. And then he said, “We’ll transfer you across.” This would have been, I think probably early ‘79, late ‘78, early… about Christmas, early January ‘79. I must have been on Reports Extra for the autumn season. Because I remember I did a few programmes, one of which was a drug programme. I can’t remember what the drug was called. But I remember it was like a winter’s evening that went out. So, I want to say it would have been January that I went across to World in Action. And actually, it was like a temporary secondment.
No, January ‘79.
Oh, right. Sorry, yes.
And I’d written the proposal, which I still have, out there. And I was put to work with Geoff Seed. And the other researcher was a lovely chap by the name of Mike Short , who died quite a few years ago. He was a lovely chap. Very nice man. Liverpudlian. He and I teamed up, Mike and I, and it was my first introduction to the world of World in Action, really.
And it made a big splash.
It did. Did I enjoy it as a programme? I suppose I must have done.
But it had difficult repercussions.
Well, it was interesting in the sense that there were those moments when you find things out that you didn’t know to be true and you go, “Bloody hell, that’s a proper secret.” I remember that was when I realised, or we got to the bottom of what Louis Edwards had actually been doing. What they had been doing was, they came up with this concept of the rights issue, which they knew was going to enable them to liberate the value of the club. But before they brought the scheme forward, but whilst they were discussing it with Kleinwort Benson, he went around to all the small shareholders to hoover up the shares without telling them of course what he was doing. It was particularly cynical because it meant going to a lot of people. For instance, the former secretary I mentioned was a man called Walter Crickmer who died in the…
Munich disaster, yes.
I remember going down to Bristol to inspect the share register. Somebody must have told me to do that. I remember I was talking to some people who knew about finance. They knew you had to check the share register, and that was when I realised that his shareholding had gone up, because those days – I’m sure it’s the same now – but you were allowed to inspect the share records.
Still can. Companies House.
And what was interesting was they had, they obviously didn’t expect anybody to ever come and inspect. Because it was only a small, there were only like a thousand shares, or maybe 2000. And it was just a book like this. They’d put in pencil the amount that these share transactions have been paid, and you could see very clearly that the holding had gone from whatever percent, right up to about 75% in a very short period of time. Somebody had put in pencil next to it, all the sums that he’d paid for these shares. So it was absolutely in black and white, and I knew now how much he paid.
So, then I went around to see all these people. One of whom was Walter Crickmer’s daughter. I want to say her name was Beryl, but I could be wrong. I think her name was Beryl. And she had a bunch of shares that she’d inherited from her father. And Mike and I visited all these people, and it was always the same thing. A chat called James Smart would come and knock on the door, make an approach, literally knock on the door, and say, “I work for Louis Edwards,” he worked for the meat company, but he was obviously Louis Edwards, his right hand man, smooth talking bloke. Oh, Mr Louis, it was always Mr Louis, Mr Louis is looking to make some share purchase. He’d like to look after people who’ve got the small shares. He’s always prepared to pay a little bit of a premium because they’re really essentially valueless. This was all the schtick. And what he would do is he would offer them cash – sorry, a figure, and then some cash. And you knew already, this was all totally wrong. And he’d done the same to the Crickmers. And we went round, and I remember explaining to the son, it must have been the grandson, I suppose it would be, he’s conned you out of a lot of money actually, because his shares were worth… imagine having a chunk of Manchester United today, a substantial bit. Even one share, even one thousandth of it would have been worth a fortune. Anyway, the essence of it was that he then… we recorded him phoning up Louis Edwards and saying we’ve had an approach from Granada, is it right that you’ve offered cash? “Oh no, that’s just from my safe, oh, the tax man won’t know about that. Just don’t say anything.” But it was, you pulled it out and it was…
And by the way, I think the story that we told about Manchester United you could have told about probably every big club in the country, these clubs were significantly… they had rules that they didn’t adhere to. For instance, classically, the paying of schoolboy footballers. And of course it was the creation of a false market to entirely benefit the football clubs, so that they would have the pick of the best young players. And for the sake of a few pounds in cash to the families, they’d have the choice as to whether to throw these boys on the scrap heap. And that would be it. So what you had was for every George Best, there’s a hundred boys whose lives are destroyed and they have nothing. And the club, I’ve no obligation to them. And then there was the Edwards company, which was operating a significant… it was like the T Dan Smith and the Poulson thing, it was cash payments for contracts. It was a nexus of unappealing activity behind the glamour of the badge. And it ran through, I’m afraid, Louis Edwards and his brother Douglas, who was former Lord Mayor of Manchester. Anyway, the programme went out and caused a bit of a stink at the time.
Did you get any hassle from the top of the building?
Never, never ever. Remarkable, when I look back, I remember David Plowright saying one day, very early on after I started, saying, “Your job is to cause trouble. If you’re not causing trouble, you’re not doing your job.” Amazing thing. People wouldn’t be told that sort of thing today.
The very opposite.
Yes, I agree. There was no trouble. Geoff was a very diligent… he was very experienced he worked for the Daily Mail. He understood a good story and knew how to marshal it.
Louis Edwards died?
Yes, and that was a shock. And I felt rather ashamed, if I’m honest. I think, not that I probably would have said so at the time, but how could you not… you spent some months investigating what was a pretty tawdry confection of grubby illegality and fraud and bad dealing at what was one of our premier national institutions. So I don’t doubt for a second that it was a well-judged and necessary piece of journalism, and in World in Action’s grand tradition. And I admire them for doing it, but on a personal level, it did sit uncomfortably with me as a young man to feel that a man, through an essence I had crawled over his life and found him wanting then died some… I mean, only a matter of days afterwards, I did feel that was difficult, and I think… I didn’t know that then, but I think in a way there was a large and concealed piece of me that never wholly bought the World in Action TV investigator thing. Even though I would have thought that I did at the time and would have voiced it as such, the truth is that wasn’t ultimately me. If that makes sense.
Explain that a bit more.
Well, I suppose it really goes to my upbringing and what sort of person I was. And you know, I was, well, I mean, I did all this when I did that BAFTA lecture, but…
You did a lot more investigative programmes, didn’t you?
I did, but my point is that my teenage years, which were pretty troubled when I look back now on a personal level, and I was sort of lucky to escape out of my teenage years intact and go to a good university. What got me through those years, really, was a love of films and a love of the art room at school, and a hugely benevolent art teacher who I admire an enormous amount, and a wonderful school that got me through. And I was always pointed towards self-expression. When I went to Granada, which I was very lucky to do… and I owe Granada an equal debt, but World in Action… so I’m not decrying it in any way, but World in Action as the years… I knew none of this then, by the way. This is wisdom that came to me much, much later in life. I realised at the time I was trying to be someone who I actually really in the end wasn’t. In other words, the hard-bitten investigative television journalist. But really, the person that I was meant to be, was the person that I have become. I have made my own films in my own ways about subjects that… and that’s just one colour of it, but it’s not the all, if that makes sense.
Did you find it a macho culture?
Yes, very. And I would have been part of that too. But I think that not so deep down, it wasn’t really me. I was almost… playing a role is not quite right… because I did it, and I enjoyed it, and I was pretty good at it. But as the, I mean, the way I was… I was on World in Action for about six, seven years, something like that. They were formative years in so many ways because they taught me how to write at a shoot, at a cut, how to tell a story. How to be at eye level with an audience. Economy of style and storytelling. How important is to create emotional connection in your storytelling. They wouldn’t have expressed it like that, but I think that’s what made it a popular programme, as opposed to the more Panorama, which talked down to people, at the BBC.
Telling a story.
Yes. And of course it was a hugely benevolent culture, right? Fitzwalter, wasn’t it. A man who was always under pressure from us oiks, poor chap. But he was such a decent person really, in his eccentric way. He gave everybody their head in a lovely… he had his faults of course, but I owe him an enormous debt. But as the years went by, I think I got less interested in programmes that were about doing down. Even though I really admire them and still do. It’s not that I don’t approve of that kind of journalism. I really, really do.
I mean, John Ware, for instance, who I became a good friend of and remains a very good friend all these years later, his work I utterly admire, because he has a calling for it, and he’s one of the very, very best in the business. And he believes in telling a story well and judiciously and brilliantly, but I suppose I was always looking to the world beyond that. To a wider world. A wider world of filmmaking, I suppose. But I didn’t know that then. But I can look back now and see… I’m getting well ahead of the story… but, those first years would have been all about… I mean, all about making programmes that created a noise and the pride and thrill of that. Of the sort of drama of it with, “Are you going to get your legal opinion?” And all of the stuff that came with it. I loved all that. It excited me tremendously. And I was that person. I’m not denying that for a second. I love the fact that you saw the world. You travelled, you saw the world. Saw amazing things. I love the culture of the place. It was very macho. It was very male. It was very insular. But it was… it had its aristocratic mean about it. Do you know what I mean?
It was on its own. It was a bit like the sports department.
It was untouched. Nobody could touch it. It had its own rules, its own…
Correct! We all bought into that. It bred arrogance and insularity and exclusivity, and a lack of collegiality, and it also bred paranoia and had done before my time and did again. I think it also bred some carelessness on a personal level. I think and some rivalrousness. I think that’s normal in those things, but those are small things. It also bred tremendous creative excellence, tremendous esprit de corps, tremendously good programmes of all kinds. A wonderful history. I think we – and by ‘we’, I mean, the generation of people who were there when I was there – wrote a really good page in a pretty damn fine television book. If you can call World in Action from 62 to whatever. I thought that period in the eighties was a rich period. I thought we gave a good account of ourselves. And you know, great sense of humour, great solidarity weirdly. So it’s a mixed bag, as these things are, these organisations.
And I’m sure that’s true of Granada as a whole, incidentally. I think one of the interesting things as we sit and talk today is that these kinds of cultural organisations are now few and far between. Organisations where you and I would have come in as young men, and matured and become men, as opposed to young men, during a period of… I don’t know how long you were there, but you know, seven, eight, nine, ten years, whatever… some people stayed for life, some people moved… but they marked you, and you grew up with people and the bonds… you and I didn’t know each other that well, but we still knew each other. We still know each other today. Those bonds, I think, are formed very powerfully in Granada, and that was one of its tremendous strengths as a company and that echoed and was synthesised also in World in Action. So it was a great place to work. As I say, benevolently run. Always both certain of its identity, and constantly questioning of it.
What was the point of a half-hour film on a Monday night? Because it wasn’t the news, and it wasn’t Panorama. It was World in Action, because it swaggered, and it was profane, and it had some brilliant journalism, and some frankly pretty duff stuff along the way, too. But it had its eclectic mix of filmmaking culture, which was always very important. It wasn’t just an investigative reporting programme. It had that strength too. And it also, let us be frank, had a sort of left-wing politics strand. Those were the three things. That was the ‘secret sauce’ of it. The mixture of those three things.
The filmmaking thing is often misunderstood. It spoke to me very highly. I remember when I first joined, so this would be ’79, Ray saying to me, “You need to go down to the screening room.” Which I want to say was away down where all the mixing theatres… or was it somewhere else? I can’t remember. They had a theatre, anyway. He gave me a list of World in Actions from the past, and I was to watch them, and I absolutely loved them. And they spoke to me. I remember watching Biko’s funeral, Mike Ryan’s film which was just a film about Steve Biko’s funeral. That’s all it was. It was just a beautiful observational film.
I remember watching John Sheppard’s film about asbestosis, which was a most beautiful film. I can’t remember the time period, but it was… I can remember watching his first ‘Dumping Grounds’ film in South Africa. That was a beautiful lot. These were films. I didn’t know it then, but of course it goes back to Denis Forman. It goes back to the birth of World in Action. It goes back to John Grierson who sold the title to Dennis Forman for a pound. Or was it a penny?
Did he really? I didn’t know that.
Oh yes. Denis Forman wanted World in Action to have a film identity, and that’s why it didn’t have reporters. That’s why it’s shot on film. That’s why it morphed as it started to live into the sort of agitprop thing, which served it well. Right back to the very early stage when they brought the coffins out of Salford.
I was going to say that. Now that was just a fantastic, when they all came out of the terraced houses.
Yes, but it’s…
Still a piece of film…
It’s an agitprop, isn’t it?
But brilliant. And those three strands, pure filmmaking, pure observational, a certain sort of filmmaking. It was observational. You stood back on a long lens and you observed. It goes to the heart of British documentary film making. That comes from John Grierson.
And the agitprop thing, which is actually not as simple as saying, “They’re a bunch of lefties.” It’s not as simple as that, that was comprised of Granada being a non-metropolitan company, being based in the north west, not being part of the metropolitan London thing gave it attitude, and that attitude in the 60s was really important, I never lost it, you know? And it obviously morphed in the 70s towards having a more sort of political hue. But I don’t think that ever was as important as the anti-establishment hue that the programme had, and that the company had. I think it made it a congenial place if your politics were to the left, but I don’t think it would be simple as to say that it was a left wing, I don’t think it was, it was just… it had a great sense of attitude. So these are all the great things about it.
I mean, it almost seemed to me it wasn’t so much the way they told the story in political term, but the very fact that they chose that story – and that story, which might be about homelessness, which might be about drug addiction, which might be about social deprivation or whatever… it was the very choice of those subjects…
Rather than the internalising and the politics of it.
Yes. It was, yes. So it was a profound education for me in so many ways. I saw things that I never believed I would, travel around the world and saw… when I look back, anybody working on World in Action, you were seeing the history of the 80s written, whether it was the miners’ strikes, or conflict in Beirut, or apartheid, South Africa or Central America, or the Reagan White House, it was happening and you felt you were seeing it, and that was a tremendous privilege. And, as I say, although I probably wouldn’t have come across that way, I actually was a very shy, unconfident person presenting as the reverse. …
Well, it was towards, I suppose, the mid 80s, that’s when I started to feel like I wanted to go. I was starting to write then, on my own, I wanted to write a film. I started, it would have been ‘85 actually, in fact, I can pinpoint it.
Did our paths cross on World in Action?
No, I think I’d gone by… I think what happened was that, as I say, the me that was the me of my teenage years, which was always wanting to head towards writing and making my own things, and self-expression, began to collide with the World in Action that was about exposing – and not that I didn’t love those programmes, I did – but I started to feel like I had more to say and more to give. And I remember vividly, it would have been about ‘85, I suppose, but also bear in mind, I was growing up too. I was getting towards my 30s by then, late 20s, you know, you’re not 21, 22, suddenly you’re 27, 28, you’re maturing, you’ve got kids of your own, all that stuff’s happening in your life. I’d moved to London. That was a tremendous battle between a lot of us and Ray, because they quite rightly wanted people to live in Manchester, but I came from London. It wasn’t… I couldn’t see myself staying there forever. But most importantly, it was the creative thing.
I remember suggesting doing a programme about Live Aid, which would have been July ‘85. And that was sort of an unusual programme for me. And I wanted to do, you know, as I like music and so forth, I ended up following Geldof around. And it was an observational film. It didn’t have any story other than it was observational, and from memory, it was cut by Eddie Mansell, I want to say. And I remember… now, was it Eddie Mansell? There were two editors. Tony Hamm, was he one?
Tony Hamm was a VT editor, wasn’t he, I think?
Oh, was he? No, I think he was a film editor.
A film editor? You might be right.
Anyway, I remember, I think it was Eddie Mansell. I remember cutting this film with him and suddenly film becoming fluid, storytelling on film. You know, you’re always trying to make it fluid and one thing moves to the next, and it’s not driven by commentary. It’s just got its own life and you can tell your story that way and you enter a different timeframe, the timeframe of film. And I remember feeling, “Oh, this is me.” I just remember that very vividly. And music on it. And then that spilled over. And really, when I mark the moment when it was obvious to me that I was moving on, it took a couple of years perhaps from that point, but it was that time that I wrote what became the first film that I made, the Film4 film, Resurrected, that I started that summer, I want to say.
Did you do the U2 film?
Yes, that was the last one I did.
That was yours.
Basically, it was that, then I went off to do Spycatcher and so I took leave of absence. Ray was very good at giving it to me. I went and did Spycatcher, and then that became a huge hullabaloo, and then I came back to do the U2 thing, and then that was it. I just felt…
as I say, I date it to that sort of summer of Live Aid, summer ‘85.
It would be something like that.
And the U2 thing would have been a… then Spycatcher would have been autumn ‘86 would have been the trial. And then I think I came back to do that U2 film in the spring of ‘87. I think I technically left, but I think I came back on a freelance basis to do that. And I remember that… I feel (Phil) Craig was the researcher for that. I think he was a bit appalled because I remember saying, “Do you know what? This is going to be the last one I’m ever going to do, and I actually want to do a film that’s about good news stories.” Which was a bit heretical in the World in Action sphere, and didn’t make it an altogether successful film. But I knew what I meant, what I wanted to make was a film – and that’s how I felt, by the way in life, at that time, I felt like change was coming for me, personally, but also in the world. I felt that the darker days of the 80s, we were… there was some hope in the air. You know, people were… and U2 definitely expressed that that summer with that tour. And I wanted to find people who were finding that same inspiration. So it became young kids in Ballymun who were making their music, going to the concert and some kids from a monastery up north coming down and so forth. And it was clunky in its way, but it was what I wanted to do. I wanted to sign off by doing something that was good news, if that makes sense. And young. But by then I knew I was going off to do what became my first film, Resurrected. So, towards the end, I became a bit semi-detached, I was not in the office very much.
I shared an office with Ian McBride, who was a superb, lovely person to share an office with, he was absolutely… he was very patient with me. I was always rather more emotional about everything. He was very calm, you know? Who else do I remember? Ray, we’ve talked about him, haven’t we?
We have. Segal, Allan Segal.
Allan Segal was joint editor, yes. He was a sort of irascible… I mean, he and Ray sort of pretended to coexist, but really it was always Ray, you know, there was a triumvirate, wasn’t there? He and Ray were… and David Boulton was the head of current affairs. David was a very gifted man, highly intelligent, thoughtful. I think probably one of their very best executives, but he wasn’t very popular. I don’t really know why.
Well, he said to me…I know David very well, and we see each other quite frequently. But when I did an interview with him, he had two periods being involved with World in Action.
The first one was very unhappy, wasn’t it?
It was. And he said, he recognises that his problem was that he was a bit overpowering, and he was very hands-on and didn’t let people have their say enough. Instead of delegating fully and saying, “Right, it’s your programme. go off and do it,” he was always clinging onto the programme and trying to… they were always programmes that he really wanted to make.
Right, I genuinely had very… but he wasn’t popular with the troops, I think because there were people around…now I’m guessing, because the first time he was obviously before my time, but I think the second time around he’d learned his lesson and was much more laid back. I think he had, I don’t know because, I think the problem was that he became a boss amongst first month equals with a generation of people who were his age. And I think there was a lot of paranoia, left-wing agitation and basically frankly, ‘we’re not having a boss, we’ll do it ourselves’ kind of thing. I think it was pretty anarchic, is my sense of it. But I didn’t… I think the problem with David was that there were people around who’d been through that thing with him. And so younger people like me got that sense, and he struck me as a man who was trying to be correct, but basically did have a point of view. I’ve subsequently read a couple of his books. His book about Jesus, I thought was a very good book.
The one he wrote about Jesus, I thought it was extremely good.
Yes, right. He’s a Quaker.
Yes. If you speak to him, will you send him my very best? I had a respect for him, because I knew that he, now, I don’t think I knew this then, but now I look back, I think I recognise that he understood what writing was about, because he’d written. And I was interested in writing and…But I wouldn’t say I knew him. I would have just been one of the soldiers, probably quite bolshy and not particularly easy to manage probably, but Ray was really always the person. He was the sort of golden thread through it.
And Gus MacDonald?
Yes, I knew him. I mean, I knew them all. I mean, afterwards, quite many years afterwards, well not that many, but some years afterwards, when World in Action was about to be got rid of… I think no, just as Ray was about to be got rid of, when the Robinsons took over, whenever that was, I wrote a long piece about the history of World in Action for GQ, and I went and interviewed them all. Gus, Denis Forman. I remember Denis Forman giving me a memo he’d written to the team at the time of what they called ‘The Troubles’, which would have been the first day of Boulton’s troubles. And I fell out, I saw it just how it was part of that pile of papers I was just looking at. And it was the most beautiful and elegant expression of liberal mindedness in the workplace. And it was basically saying there have to be shared bonds of trust that we all accept. I’m paraphrasing, but this was the thesis of the paper. This was at a time when the workers were rebelling. The World in Action team were rebelling against the bosses, and there were manifold grievances, god knows what they were, some of which I’m sure were right. Some of them probably weren’t, but the point is what they were saying was the end of the day, there has to be some buy-in of shared trust in the workplace. Otherwise nothing can ever get done. And it’s true, if the workplace is a true society. And as I looked at it now I thought, “God, that was a prescient document, given where we are today.”
They were all these people, Denis Forman, David Plowright. I went around them all actually, and it left me with an abiding sense of Granada as one of Britain’s great liberal institutions, like a great university, like the BBC and very different in character. One of those precious cultural institutions that, when you set aside all the bolshiness inside, actually they, as an institution, had an ability to mark those of us who grew up in it. You, me, I’m sure everybody that you interviewed, it was a defining factor. And the years that you spent there, whether they were small in number or many, marked you. That’s the measure of it as an organisation. You can look back and tell a rose-tinted history of it all, and it definitely did love its own mythology, but that said, the exemplary values, both creatively in terms of broadcasting but also as a company, it was benevolent. The fact that it enabled somebody as bolshy and insecure as me, to find myself and then go off and become the person that I wanted to be, because of my time there.
And it looked after people, paternalistic.
They did, they did. So I have happy memories of it. Later I went back, made films there, later in its time, but it was a different company by then. It’s sort of just become a lot of ITV.
A kind of almost had a cut-off point of about 1990-92, because it changes completely.
So, I joined World in Action, so I think this would go after the sort of United programme. So World in Action in that period was very much a closed world. The offices were up there on the third floor I want to say, off to an annexe at the back of the street. They were sort of their own space, weren’t they?
I’m not sure, actually, that was the very best thing for World in Action if I’m honest, because I think it fed the sense of separateness. Do you know what I mean?
Absolutely know what you mean.
And built walls where they would have been better taken down, so that World in Action was much more part of the overall output of the company. And there was cross-fertilisation and creative pollination between, I think it would have been good for World in Action, good for the people there, particularly myself, and good the other way round too. Because I think at that stage I, and most people on World in Action were rather…well, at its worse arrogant, but it’s perhaps best, kind of into what we were doing. And not really team players. It was a lovely space that third floor, the corridor and Ray at the end, dear old Tom Gill, who arranged all the crews and everything. And there were cutting rooms there with Kim Fletcher, I recall. And Roly Coburn, who did many, many years’ service. Yes. So it was a lovely community. Margaret, Marion I think it was, in the office, and the office is each side of the corridor. There was a great sense of esprit de corps balanced against the separateness of it. And it was fun.
You know, you’d kind of leave at the drop of a hat. I remember the day the Falklands war broke out, we sort of all heard on the radio that they were about to invade. And literally, I hadn’t even left the house yet to go into work, when suddenly Tom Gill phoned and said, “You’re going to Argentina.” You’d get your bag and go and go off for months. Then you come back and it was like you’d never been away. Of course, it was a bifurcated office, because you also had 3 Upper James Street, where there was a World in Action bunker on the top floor, which also was quite remote. It was smaller and there were always tensions between the London-based World of Action operation and the Manchester-based one, because lots of people, like me, wanted to be in London. That was a strange but rather magical place. It was right up high and quite bunker like. There weren’t very many windows. And Michael Gillard had his own sort of super locked, fortress-like office. He was a very secretive, romantic kind of figure. You sort of never really knew what he was doing. Nobody did. His telephone number was never on the team sheet. It was hilarious when I think back, it used to send Ray Fitzwalter demented.
If you weren’t hard at work on a film, you’d end up having lunch together in some place somewhere, and the conversation would always be about what was going to happen to the World in Action and how it could be made better. And generally that involved deposing Ray and installing somebody else. It was all ludicrous when I look back at it, it’s stupid politics, but then that would also… the sort of student politics side of it also was hard up against a really dedicated, serious journalistic and filmmaking side. And also the hilarity of it. It was very male, but that of course played into its insularity. And some of the women who work there like Jenny Rathbone were not treated… I think it would be, it was tough to be a woman in that environment, as it was in television at that time. And I think in many ways that generation of women generally were tenacious in fighting for their space, actually. I rather admired them. It was hard to get an airing for programmes that were about issues actually that were very, very important to people’s everyday lives.
Particularly women’s everyday lives.
Definitely. They were considered less important.
And of course, World in Action was relentlessly white…white and predominantly male…which right there shows clearly the problems of UK television at that time and of wider society then.
To be honest, I can’t recall the lack of diversity ever being remarked upon, or seen as an issue that needed to be addressed, which, let’s be honest is a shaming recollection.
And even today, white dominance remains a massive problem in our industry. Ten years or so ago I was part of a film council review of diversity where we asked why was it that if you looked at the industries closest to film and television, which would be sport on one side and music on the other, that each of these industries were so much more diverse. The answer was, when we did the research, that both sport and music were seen by young kids as industries that were accessible, where they felt they could enter and prosper. But the citadels of broadcasting and film – as Granada was back in the day – were seen as remote and conspired to lock outsiders out. It’s getting better, but there’s still a very very long way to go, and when we look back at the golden Granada years, we should always remember they were years of our privilege and that we were part of the diversity problem, and not its solution.
I think that was part of the broader culture at the time, and television culture, and certainly World in Action culture. What was prized with a sort of CIA investigations, that sort of thing. I think actually Ray was rather good at trying to get those things going. Although he was more comfortable in the sort of harder-edged, journalistic side. He was, I think always trying to open the programme up to different sorts of programmes. Sorts of types of World in Action. I think he was rather good at that, and probably rather underestimated in his commitment to it. One of the good things about the culture was it was very much, you got thrown in the deep end, but there was a sort of, well, that was a hard school. It wasn’t without its sort of older male benevolence actually.
I mean, I think of somebody like Brian Blake, who was very, very good to me, a very experienced producer on World in Action, and actually he’d been there many, many years and worked in Northern Ireland. Stephen Clark would be another one, Michael Beckham, Mike Beckham, people who’d been around many, many years that done it for many… and from the outset, when I first came in, they looked rather scary. But actually they were all in their various ways, extremely good to me and other young people. If you gave your all for them, as the researcher to the producers, as I was at the beginning, you’d be looked after and you would learn in the best way that you could.
I remember Brian very early on; I can’t remember when it would be. About 1980, I suppose, ‘81. I suggested a programme which will be about Alexander Haig, who’d just been nominated to be Secretary of State in the Reagan administration. So it would be early ‘81, I guess. I remember the sort of headline in the Guardian being, “Alexander Haig, nomination hearings in front of the Senate expected to be explosive revelations about Korea, Chile, Watergate, etc.” I remember saying to him, “Can’t we go and do a film about the nomination hearings?” “Oh yes, absolutely,” he said. Next minute, Brian’s coming down the corridor coming in to the office, we hadn’t even met really. He said, “Oh, you know, we’re going to Washington?” I said, “Oh, really?” He said “Yes, I’ll see you in the morning. We’re leaving tomorrow morning.” So we turn up at Manchester Airport and I go and get the papers. And I open the papers, and the headline in the Guardian, I’m making it up, but it was something like, “Alexander Haig hearings now expected to be damp squib.” I handed this over to Brian. And I remember him saying, “Don’t worry, old boy. Never abort a story at the airport.” And that was very much the atmosphere there.
And there were a lot of extremely interesting, able people. I mean, Michael Gillard. Laurie Flynn was another very interesting man who’d done a lot in his life, and of course did the British Steel case. And there was an example, I think, of a golden page in the World in Action story, but also a golden page in the Granada story. Because there was a man, Laurie, who had got these papers and who knew who the source was. And obviously the injunction came down that he had to reveal his source, and the company stood behind him. And at great risk, too. They were amazing like that. There was a ballsiness there.
I remember doing ‘The Untouchable’, I think it was called. It was a police corruption story that I did with Andrew Jennings about a man called Roy Garner and his corrupt relationships with the Metropolitan Police, and a man called Lundy who was a very corrupt Met detective. And we got a robust legal opinion when we came to it. But there’s always a risk when you take on the Metropolitan Police. You know that the individual officers are going to sue, and they’re going to be provided with the money by the Fed, and so on and so forth. I remember Plowright being in there when we reviewed… he had to read the opinion, and Ray was in there, I think. And I remember Plowright just saying… he looked at me quite steelily. This is towards the end of my time there, but I knew what he meant. He said, “Okay, I’ve got it.” He’d read it. He’d seen the programme. He had the opinion. He’s looked at me, and he said, “Is it true?” Looking at me deadly, right in the eyes. “Is it true? Is this true?” I said, “Yes, it really is.” He said, “Good. We’ll do it, then.” It’s proper, proper stuff.
There was a camaraderie there, as I say. It was tough for women. It was probably a little too prone to its own mythology. It certainly was prone to a bit of infighting. Much less than there had been in the 70s, I think, but it still was. And I’m sure I was as bad as the next person. But there was, as I said earlier, a great esprit de corps. A great sense of camaraderie. To be with John Ware on a story, or Ed Vulliamy of course was there, or Mike Beckham. Simon Berthon. To be in tight spots, in difficult places, and feel that your back was covered by the producer you were working with. Or conversely, when I became a producer, the researcher you were working with. And you’d be backed by your editor, and your company. So, for all the Hollywood-on-the-Irwell fantasies of it all, there was a core of real integrity and accomplishment.
And I remember it, like you do with people that you were young with once, they’re always young in your mind. I remember them all with fondness. I’m sure I was a pain in the arse, and I’m sure I was certainly very insecure. I was a young man growing up. I had an old World in Action team list. And I looked at it, with all the phone numbers in it. It gave me a warm feeling that never leaves you. That sense of being marked by that programme, marked by that company. And I owe it just a boundless debt, and all the people that I worked with there.
I’ve referenced a lot of people. I felt I hadn’t referenced people and my debt to them.
I would totally agree with you, certainly about the macho culture, and also particularly about the fact that you were there on the third floor, away from everybody else. It wasn’t good, that, because…
It wasn’t, no.
World in Action researchers, producers, had certain generous benefits, like refreshments, and I think you got extra holidays as well. And there was a slight resentment in the rest of the building.
Really? I’m sure that’s true. You’re telling me, I didn’t realise we had extra special benefits, but…
But definitely it was a Praetorian Guard feeling, wasn’t it?
And I’m sure that we were all, me included, careless, when I look back now, at our responsibilities to our fellow colleagues in other areas.
Everybody else aspired to be on World in Action. Everybody wanted to work on it.
In a weird way, it would have been much better if it had been right in the heart of everything. With all these other programmes. So It Goes, Granada Reports, Reports Politics, so that all these programmes were cross-fertilising off each other. It would have been to its benefit.
We mentioned people like Simon Berthon and Mike Gillard. I never got to know those people really, when I was working in the other part of the building. It wasn’t until I came up onto the third floor that I got to know who these people were. A lot of them were stuck in London. So again, there was that barrier.
Yes, yes, exactly. And you didn’t go up. I mean, I distinctly remember, because I was very young, I would have only been 21 or 22 perhaps when I joined. And so I was very young, I was a pup, and wet behind the ears for sure. And these people were like gods to me, really. They really were. And I viewed them as very, very unapproachable. Actually, oddly, when you did get to know them, when you were put on a film with somebody like Brian… well, Brian Blake was a very friendly man actually. But when you did get put… Mike Beckham I remember being a very remote figure, and then I was put on a programme with him, and we went to Hong Kong together. And he was absolutely delightful. Because of course you got on the plane together, you spent time together, you were in each other’s pockets for six, seven weeks, and then you went through the cutting and all that. So of course, you got to know them, and all the boundaries and anxieties faded away, and strong bonds would be created. But in a way that process never occurred across the company. I think Ray probably quite liked that. I could be doing a disservice to him, but I think he rather liked the fact that it was a bit of a Praetorian.
And he was very protective of his little gang and the empire.
And it was protected inside the company too, it was sort of seen as a special programme. I think it… rather like Granada, its time came and went. But it was a shame when it did, it was a shame when Granada’s went too. I think it stayed there a bit in ITV. There’s still a little bit of it there, but I certainly felt it was still around in the later years when Granada was no longer Granada, it was part of ITV, it still sort of, I mean, I did… a Stephen Lawrence film for Granada and I did ‘Bloody Sunday’ for Granada Films. You know it felt to me, although they were different pieces in a different genre, as it were, there were dramatic pieces. They still had a relationship to World in Action in my mind. And by the way, a relationship that in my mind has continued through some of the films that I’ve made later in life. United 93 being one, and 22 July that I made in Norway, a few years ago, which were down the road. In those films, although they were sort of theatrical films in that sense, but they still had, I practiced all of the things that I’d learnt and was taught at Granada on World in Action, lessons that I was taught by that cadre of older people.
Well, United 93 and the Norwegian film are very World in Action.
Yes they were. They had different things in them, but yes, that’s what I mean. There’s a root there.
That style, yes.
Bloody Sunday, 93, 22 July… on a few other things as well, I hope.
I thought United 93, I’m not just saying it, but I thought it was a fabulous film. I really thought you should have got the Oscar for that.
Really great movie.
Was great fun to do. Lots of other places are good though. That’s as I’ve found. It’s been interesting. One of the interesting things is I started at Granada when there were only three channels. And by the end I had worked at ITV… well, I’d worked at Granada, I’d worked at London Weekend. I’d made films at the BBC, at Channel 4, Film4, and I made some small British films, then I worked at a number of the studios and then that 22 July film I made at Netflix. So I sort of feel I’ve seen the spectrum really, of film and television. Most places are good in my experience. I wouldn’t say that Granada was the only place that I found benevolence and a strong creative environment. Universal in the States is quite like Granada like that. They’ve been very good to me in that Granada-y way, of supporting me when I’ve wanted to do something less commercial whilst also liking it when I do the more commercial ones. But always wanting to protect the creative process. So it’s interesting. But Granada definitely was special for that, I think, and of course, I can see some of the inspiration for those kinds of films came from the work that Leslie Woodhead and David Boulton did at Granada, with the drama documentary form in films like Strike and Invasion.
And also, Granada was locked into the north west.
Profoundly important, I think. Non-metropolitan. The whole world view. You could feel, and Ray of course, profoundly a man of the north west. But I think the company having its roots there was central, I think, to what it was.
Oh, one person I should mention of course, was George Jesse Turner, and Phil Taylor of course. Put that back in the bit, right?
And then of course the best, George Jesse Turner and Phil Taylor were always shooting wherever you went. It’d be sometimes Alan Bale on sound. Phil Taylor. And we went to many, many places around the world. God, I remember being in Beirut with George Jesse Turner in ‘82, it must’ve been. With George Jesse Turner, Simon Berthon was producing. I was a researcher, George and Alan Bale, and it was a proper war zone. You know, we were in west Beirut. The Israeli army was just on the other side of the airport, and it was dangerous as fuck. And I remember very early on, probably the first day, we went to get our passes at a PLO building. And I was again, very young, and I’d never been. I worked quite a bit in Northern Ireland, but it was my first proper war zone. And all of a sudden there was an Israeli air attack and the whole place went bananas. everybody started running all over. We were in a sort of, from memory, like a hallway with a staircase down and up. And George had his hands in the day bag, changing film. In those day bags that you used to… and suddenly you heard all the noise and this sort of unbelievable pressure when these jets come in. Everybody was running around. I jumped down the stairs and I was absolutely, fuck me, you think you’re inside the PLO. Anyway, there was a tremendous amount of banging what went on for about five minutes and then it all seemed to be over. It didn’t seem to last very long, five minutes maybe. There’d obviously been an air strike nearby. Anyway, I came up. I’ll never forget it, I pissed myself! So my jeans were wet. Very heroic, it was. And George was still there with his hands in the day bag, with Alan Bale next to him. George said, “Where did you go?” I said, “I fucking jumped down the stairs.” And I remember Alan Bale saying, “Oh, no, don’t do that.” He said, “Listen, don’t worry. The only time to get worried is when you see us running.” It was quite true. Because he’d served in the army in his early years…..
Yes. But I saw George Jesse Turner, funnily enough, not so long ago. Two or three months ago. In Suffolk. And we had a lovely cup of tea and he was still as boyish, and….
A great cameraman. And taught me such a tremendous amount.
I remember the first time I started directing and producing, as they called it. And of course, you’ve been the bag carrier, the researcher for so many years. And obviously, you’re integral to the process. But you can sit next to somebody driving and think you can drive. It’s wholly different when you’re in the driver’s seat. And I can’t even remember what my first programme was that I actually made myself. But anyway, I remember a couple of things about it. I remember that first day of shooting, and it was like an interview, I think. And I remember George saying to me, “So where do you want this?” And I remember feeling utterly panicked. “Oh my God! What do I do? What do I do?” Inside. You’re literally in brain freeze. And George being so nice and saying, “Look. Just look for the depth. There’s a nice corner. We’ll shoot towards that.” And slowly but surely like a jackdaw you pick up the tips. Shoot towards the light. Back on a long lens. All the basic language of filmmaking, he would impart to me as a young man with great generosity.
We were in the Philippines, we were shooting. We were doing a thing about following Cory Aquino, when she took on Marcos in the revolution. And we were with some soldiers from the army. It was hilly country. And I wanted them to walk across this hill. So we got this nice shot of them silhouetted. And for some reason I couldn’t work out, the commander of this little platoon was very, very unhappy about it. And I said, “I don’t understand what’s the problem.” George turned to me and said, “It might be a very nice shot, but let’s face it, which soldier would walk against the sunlight on the ridge of a hill?” Brilliant! But I can’t remember what damn film it was, but I remember I had to… because sometimes for World in Action’s, you’d get your rushes back on a Friday or a Saturday morning. And the transcripts would be typed up, and you’d have to cut and paste and assemble the film. And then you’d have to go off to net cutter Sunday night. You’d have to put the film together in 24 hours, which taught you phenomenal skills of get it done, get it done, get it done, move it forward.
All night sessions on a Saturday night.
Definitely. And I remember this Saturday night was the first film, I got it there, and I literally froze. It was like my brain didn’t work. And I’d always been, as a researcher, I think, pretty good in the cutting room. I always kind of felt I knew what to do. As I say, sitting in the passenger seat is different to the driver’s seat. I literally froze. And I remember wading through treacle. I can’t remember who was cutting it. Might’ve been Roland. Might’ve been Kim. Might’ve been Clive Maltby. I can’t remember. About two o’clock in the morning, it was two or three in the morning, and I had got absolutely nowhere. I was like drowning. Didn’t know which piece to put where. What the start was. It was just like, “Oh, my god.” And Simon Berthon, I’d been his research on quite a few films, was up in Manchester doing another World in Action. Don’t know which one it was. And I knew he was asleep in the Midland Hotel. And this is when I talk about the bonds of friendship, and that way people could be, although I’m sure they were arrogant and Praetorian, godlike, people actually inside could be very kind. I phoned him up at three in the morning. Woke him up, and said, “Simon, I’m drowning.” He said, “I’ll come in.” And he came in, looked at the film at three in the morning, spent about an hour and a half there to listen to us doing it. It was like putting a kid back up on the bike. Do you know what I mean? He said, “That piece. Just start there. Then get to there. And then you’re….” And then suddenly it’s like, “Oh, I get it. No. I’m okay now.” And then he said, “Can I leave you now, and go back to bed?” And I was fine. But I’ve never forgotten that. That’s a mate, isn’t it?