Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 8 September 2016.
Let’s start with how you came to work for Granada.
My first job after university was at Piccadilly radio when commercial radio was just getting some its early evolution.
Put some years to all these.
Yes, of course. In 1974 Piccadilly radio was the second independent station outside London. BRMB was the first. So in April, April 2 – not April 1 – Piccadilly radio opened in Manchester – 261 – and I worked there for four years, until 1978. And one or two of my friends and colleagues from Piccadilly Radio had already crossed Deansgate and made their way down Quay Street, and I followed in 78 and took up my role as a really piss poor researcher in regionals, as you probably know. Never on Granada Reports or Granada Tonight, I’m pleased to say, I don’t mean that in a disparaging way, but… never a terrific journalist never nose for a particularly good news story, didn’t work like that. So sort of gravitated towards the arts, then schools programmes, which I absolutely loved. I spent a long time with delightful Jack Smith and a long time that the delightful Muriel Young as well, doing kids programmes, and trucked up and down in my beloved Pullman several times, sometimes twice a week, to London, so it was fantastic times, and some terrific programmes that I particularly enjoyed working on, and I spent a good period of time on Crown Court which I loved, which evolved into an interest in drama, and so I moved through Granada for 11 years, never particularly well, usually in regional programmes, and usually drunk in the afternoons, which I suppose was de rigueur. But Granada was a very important part of my life and formed the very largest part of me. I had wanted to work at Granada for years and years, and largely because of the Francis Bacon in reception which had taken my eye. I had I’d been going to Granada, going to the Granada campus before then, because something that I’m very interested in at the moment and probably will write about, I was a member, and therefore an audience member, at the Stables Theatre Club, which was quite an extraordinary establishment in the early 1970s, unique in fact, and sadly short-lived. So from having gone to the Stables Theatre Club before I went to university, and then coming to work at Granada, and drinking in the staff bar at the Stables, to then having my wedding reception at the Stables was quite a nice kind of circular thing. But I was very conscious… anybody I think who was around in Manchester in the late 60s, early 70s and through the 70s and into the 80s, just couldn’t avoid the place. The cultural imprint that Granada had particularly on Manchester, and more broadly in the northwest, has no equivalence. When the Manchester Guardian dropped ‘Manchester’ from its banner, which was in 1959, obviously Granada sort of stepped up; and the unity between both of those institutions is quite remarkable, because a fair number of Guardian employees migrated down Quay Street and took up their positions there. And in a way the kind of intellectual core of Manchester shifted from the Guardian to Granada almost automatically, and for them, 15, 20 years until the mid 80s, Granada had a massively significant role to play within Manchester, but by the same token, as Michael Parkinson was very quick to point out, in the 1960s it wasn’t just that Granada was kind of opinionated and cutting edge and televisually the place to be, that was significant enough in itself, but of almost greater significance was the fact that Granada was in Manchester, and serendipitous though that might be, I think the significance was huge. I think that Granada went on to form the largest part of what came in the 90s to be known as Manchester attitude, and I think a lot of that began with the broken-nosed Jewish labour peer and his brother, who found themselves in Manchester and were determined to make a difference. So that whole turnaround… of all the local licenses franchises, none had the impact in their region that that Granada had in Manchester, and continues to have. It’s very worrying to me that ITV, having abdicated and moved down the Irwell, that nobody really has any ownership of the legacy any more, which to be honest, I’m trying to do something about, I think we should have ownership of the legacy in all sorts of ways. It’s very difficult to describe to people how virtual Granadaland – basically that which you can see from Winter Hill to the level telescope – became something far more temporal than virtual; it became something real. And I think a lot of it has to do with the legacy of the 1950s. I don’t believe people knew what the North West looked like until they looked at the weather map. Certainly my father didn’t, he didn’t actually know what he was looking at until one said, “Well, that’s the Wirral and that’s Liverpool and that’s Cumbria.” And the Granadaland… Granadaland as a label stuck far more effectively than ‘Northern Powerhouse’ is likely to do, slightly less than Brexit I might say, but no, it became something fantastically relevant fantastically quickly, and was actually destroyed by the obvious Manchester/Liverpool rivalry; that was always something that was very current and very niggling, and very problematic for Granada, even through the transition through Exchange Flags to go to the docks, it was still very difficult. Though I think what eased that slightly was the fact that there were new technologies entering into television at the time of establishing the studio and news gathering centre in Albert Dock, because (E.N.G.? 9:12) was coming in and the whole climate of television was about to change, so it wasn’t perceived as such at that stage but it became all too apparent not very long thereafter. So in a curious way, Liverpool’s contribution to Granadaland had its kind of root in technology in one way or another, and maybe the balance started to swing a little more evenly. And then of course it all changed entirely.
So you would certainly say, would you, that Granada soul was more than just Manchester? Did it stretch to the Lake District and to the hinterland?
I… yes, it did, but I think one has to be pretty careful in sort of layering that. In television, as in life, and vice versa. No, I think people… the significance of 1956 was the voiceover. From The North. This is Granada. Now, nobody had ever said anything like that in the history of the world before, nothing was ‘from the north’ other than coal and disparagement. And to have that direct an address from something that wasn’t the BBC, and wasn’t London, was a huge cultural shift. And then 10 minutes later, to be told there is one more type of… there is more than one toothpaste, and 10 minutes after that there is more than one breakfast cereal, and 10 minutes after that you might like to buy this car, in other words, for the commercial world to open up in the way that it did post-war and post-austerity – that austerity, real austerity – was a real change in the world, and it was remarkably quick. You know, television was really invented in 53 with the Coronation, and in 56, on come the ads, and a certain sort of regionalism is born. And in the early 60s… it did not take long for all of us to look like the people on the telly, and it was shattering. It was a really different world. By the time, remarkably, Tony Warren pulls off his act of great creative genius and Coronation Street puts itself on the screen in its earliest format as really a sort of kitchen sink drama, you know, Look Back in Anger, Taste Of Honey, you know, bringing in that phenomenal language and litany and presence of the north in no bogus way at all, in a completely in your face, real, fabulous black and white sort of way. And that’s when… in a way that’s when we all started looking in on ourselves and recognising that we could have very strong opinions and put them out there, so that by the time you get World in Action coming along, then Sidney and Cecil Bernstein’s didactic side comes forward, you know, and they always they always want to inform and entertain. They were very Reithian, they were more Reithian than the BBC, so by the time Brian Inglis comes up with All Our Yesterdays and those astonishing programmes that… and formats that came onto the screen in a rush from 56 through to the early 60s, and we’re really much smarter much more informed than most of the rest of television – not the BBC, the BBC has a very, very different take on things – but if you want to know the difference between Manchester and London, then look at World in Action and Panorama – not that World in Action wasn’t a London-based programme, it very largely was – but it took a different editorial slide, and it did something much more boldly and it didn’t… it hesitated now and again, it wanted a face in front of it, but then it decided it wouldn’t have a face, it would have a voice instead, a few voices, Chris Kelly being the most notable. You know, it did things differently in other words. And I think the Tony Wilson line, the line that carries through and underscores Manchester ever after, is, “This is Manchester. We do things differently here.” And also, by the way, I think that is part of a more globally recognised condition, which is the condition of the second city, and if the second city doesn’t have its voice and it doesn’t have its print, and if it doesn’t have its dialogue, then it’s not taking up its position – so what was coming through the door at Quay Street was only the consequences of Manchester having its second Fleet Street. Because of distances and because of technologies at the time, Manchester in Glasgow had to have prints for their newspapers, so the legacy of that is very, very significant – and also, all sorts of things happened that might be deemed serendipitous now, but the fact Sidney Bernstein actually chose Manchester and chose a location on Quay Street as close to the city centre as he could get at the lowest rent that was available on cleared sides at that time, meant that Granada was in touch with Deansgate and therefore with the Manchester Evening News and Guardian, and therefore with the Daily Mail and Hardman Street and those prints there, and wasn’t that far away from the Express building wasn’t that far away, obviously, from what’s now called the Printworks and has nothing to do with it. But in other words, it found itself cheek by jowl in the same bars, principally in the same bars and the same pubs, as the hacks had been in for a long time. So when you know that you know Michael Parkinson spends every lunchtime in Sam’s Chophouse and you know the ambience, and the very great Peter Eckersley used to call Quay Street and all the assembled bars and drinking clubs around it (Ye Olde something? 16:21), and spent most of his time with the great Arthur Hopcraft, meandering around and finding places to drink between three o’clock and five, when the pubs were shut. And all of those things chimed in to make this great sort of social, well-watered community via natural progression, really.
And that rubs off on the kind of programmes that Granada is producing. (??16:53) a lot of hard news, current affairs.
Yes, but also The Christians, also End of Empire, also University Challenge. I mean, Granada was terribly bright, and not in the least ashamed to be. And, you know, they were… people jibed away at some of the less bright, you know, the likes of Gus McDonald being rude to Mike Scott is kind of weird in retrospect, in hindsight. No, it was… P.T. Barnum, the image of P.T. Barnum on the wall of all the offices in both Golden Square and in Quay Street, it’s kind of the key to it, because it’s the great showman, but bear in mind that’s also transatlantic, you know, P.T. Barnum is not is not round the corner, it’s not Billy Smart, it’s somebody doing something in the continent of the 20th Century. He’s American, he’s a communicator, he’s a self publicist; all of those things just rolled into Granada just so… you know, you only had to open the door in the morning and it was all there. So bringing in Canadian producers, toying with the idea of Alfred Hitchcock actually doing programmes for you, I mean, you know, wandering in and out of cutting rooms much to everybody’s shock and horror…and also, if I may say, something that I think the better parts of the city learned at one and the same time all to our benefit, you know, one of the greatest advantages to being in Manchester is, broadly speaking, you’re a couple of hours away from probably the most important city in the world. And by the way, your relationship with London is a very important one. And don’t deny it, and don’t turn your back on it. Let’s do Chelsea at nine, let’s get those things kicked off, let’s make ourselves familiar in Soho and Water Street and Golden Square as we’re making ourselves familiar on Quay Street, King Street and Deansgate. And I think that acknowledgement, that whilst you’re a second city you sharpen your teeth somewhere in the bars in Soho quite as well as you do in Manchester, and I think that relationship is one that benefited the evolution of Manchester in the second half of the 20th century extremely well. That familiarity with the metropolis. And you didn’t really hear many people mithering on in Quay Street or the Stables bar about, “Cor, blimey, I’ve got to go to London again tomorrow.” It wasn’t like that. The relationship, and basically the kind of metropolitanism of all of that was something that I think Granada used very much to its advantage.
Let’s talk about the building because that’s a sort of expertise of yours. Something a little bit about the history of the building, the architects, the architecture and the design and shape.
I was very, very worried across most of the 90s and noughties that the Granada building would be a) surrendered by ITV, which of course it was, and b) demolished by the first developer who gets a sniff at it, which it hasn’t been. And I have to say, all praise to Allied London, the developer in question, for having the good sense to hold on to what is, in my view, the most successful cultural building in this city in the last 50 years. And people look at it and say, “What, that?” Well, that is actually quite a significant building. It was the first commercial building to be completed in the city centre after the war. Its architect was a man called Ralph Tubbs, and he was selected by Sidney largely because he’d been impressed with his work in the Festival of Britain, because Ralph Tubbs’ designed the dome of discovery. So Ralph Tubbs was a cutting edge architect of his time, and the technique that he brought to the building, Granada House, is a… it’s a curtained wall structure which means that the walls themselves are the windows that are integral to the walls don’t actually carry the weight of the building. So essentially it’s a steel concrete framed building wrapped around with an envelope of panels, some of which are windows and some of which are wall. And the curtain wall was very much the technology, the building technology, that was emerging in the early part of the 1950s. If you want another example of it from slightly later in the decade, than obviously the CIS Tower and those very sort of Americanesque buildings that followed thereafter. So curtain wall was Ralph Tubbs’ introduction. He introduced curtain walling, therefore Sidney Bernstein introduced curtain walling into the city. And they did very interesting things, Sidney being the businessman that he was. So the studio complex in the basement is integral to itself. And apocryphal or not, it was Sidney’s idea that if the company or the license failed, then he’d be able to sell the block, the tower, off as a hotel, and retain ownership of the of the studios. What great foresight! In a way that’s what’s about to happen, because it will be developed into a hotel of some form or another. An ‘events hotel’ is what people call it, which is no… you know, there’s no mystery to that. If you go to Chicago you can stay in the House of Blues which historically is a nightclub with a hotel attached to it. So there’s no mystery to that. But the thing the thing that marked the building out most particularly was that it was on a straight line from Deansgate, and he got the building in before the curve in the road. So what he got on either side looking north and south – from a new, quite tall block at the time, bear in mind – was the very great Granada TV. The red signage which was a stronger icon for this city than anything else across those decades. And the water tower, which people mistakenly think was a transmitter, there was a degree of transmitting from it in the latter part of its life because that’s what satellite dishes can do and they’re attached to tall things, but no, in my view it was because when Ralph Tubbs was playing his part in the festival of Britain on the South Bank, there was something very close to his building called the Skylon, which is a great icon of the Festival of Britain, most other things were removed, as was the Skylon, but that, I’m sure, gave Tubbs the insight into the fact that you need some verticality in the modern world, so sticking a big and somewhat unnecessary spire on the top of your new television company offices was a still really eye-catching thing to do. And so it was the combination of the red Granada sign and the water tower transmitter, the RCA transmitter, that really mark the building, and marked it from a distance, so you really got something to look up to. And, you know, keep playing with it, keep playing with it. And play with your on-screen presence, and make sure that the people know where you are. So the building, which I think is a very fit building, has had some horrible attachments slapped on to it across time. Unbelievable things actually. And some very good architectural practices responsible for them actually. BDP, Building Design Partnership, did quite a nice little studio complex in the garden, which was a car park, and then for a short while a bowling green (or croquet? 26:40), well, a bowling green, because David Plowright had the great ambition to broadcast crown green bowling, and in fact then built indoor bowling, and set up a transmission, once upon a time, a sort of championship – this is by the time BBC2 was discovered snooker. David Plowright and his fantastic imagination thought the bowls would be terrific, so he did, he ran a competition, and I sort of did a double take walking across reception at Granada one day, as one often did, not least when Sophia Loren walked across it, but looking around and thinking, “Just a minute – that’s John Freeman! That’s the man who presented Face to Face! That’s one of the great television icons of the world. He’s invisible now. What’s he doing in Granada?” Well, John Freeman’s other great passion was bowls, so it was John Freeman who commentated on David Plowright’s short-lived bowling competition. No, all sorts of things. The complex is very interesting because then you have the water tower, leading onto the back of what’s now the Museum of Science and Industry site, and of course what people forget about the Museum of Science and Industry is that within the complex is the first passenger railway station in the world, and so beyond that railway station at the 1830 warehouse is a bridge across the Irwell that carries the railway line across the Irwell. That is the first place anywhere in the world that a railway line crossed water! And Granada Television sits within those 500 square meters. It’s just astonishing. So by the time you get Baker Street built in the back lot of a Grade I-listed warehouse and railway station, you’ve got a fantasy world the likes of which just hasn’t otherwise existed. So the complex that goes all around there on the banks of the Irwell was something else. And remember, it’s Water Street and Quay Street, and therefore when you looked across at the botany warehouse, which sadly burned down one night right towards the end of the Jewel in the Crown shoot, thereby releasing an awful lot of insurance money for Granada, and also, by the way, being filmed as it was burning, and that footage was actually used in a later Sherlock Holmes. But that complex, Quay Street, Water Street, the warehouses, the bonded warehouse, it only tells you that the Irwell navigation was a very, very, very significant inland port, long before the Salford docks, long before the Manchester Ship Canal. So in other words, Granada sits in this real, dense complex not far away from the Roman fortress as well, and of course from Liverpool Road and Deansgate as well, which are, you know, the two northern roads that intersect. And getting all that rolling through – I’m no sort of (psychotographer? 30:16) because I can’t be dealing with it, but having studios sitting on top of a culverted canal that wheels its way into the River Irwell close by the railway station and close by the Bridgwater Canal and close by all of that, is phenomenal. It’s the biggest concentration of northern cornerstones that you can possibly imagine. So in the way that all cities go on top of each other, that Ralph Tubbs building and the Granada Studios is another layer in something that’s already pretty significant. And I’m delighted that it’s remaining, and none of us could ever quite believe that George Osborne seemed to wake up every morning when he was Chancellor and give Manchester yet more money that Manchester hadn’t asked for. Nobody can remember asking for £108 million for something that will be called The Factory that will be a permanent home for the Manchester International Festival, which happens once every two years and doesn’t want a permanent home anyway, so it just seems to me that here and now, having departed, George Osborne has left a great big sack of money, all £108 million pounds worth of taxpayers’ money, in order to hand to Allied London in order to enhance their investment in Granada Television, which is weird, but it returns some sort of leverage, some sort of clout, into this bit of the city, which is vitally important to me because, you know, ITV having gone to Media City, which I don’t have any argument with at all, but they rather strike me as kind of Tate Modern and Tate Britain in a certain sort of way, and I almost wish that the much talked about Irwell River Taxi might run between the two one of these days, and really reunite the legacy with the current production base in some sort of way, but that’s just daft really.
Prior to the Ralph Tubbs building, there were a series of small buildings around.
Yes. Do you mean Granada buildings?
Granada buildings, yes.
Oh, yes, indeed! Oh, completely, yes. They were really sweet and they had a very period feel to them. If you go, I don’t know whether you know, Steve, but I spent hours, weeks, months in various of Granada’s archives, including the stills archive, and it’s interesting that the festival café should have been the festival café, where we all had our breakfast of the morning, because a more early 50s retro feel you couldn’t possibly imagine, with very beautiful light chandeliers and very fine chairs that people would give lots and lots and lots of money for nowadays and were probably skipped with everything else and replaced by one of the most hideous cafés one can ever wish to walk into outside of the motorway service station. But no, the buildings, the sort of (mission hut? 33:40 ) type buildings that went up as Ralph Tubbs was developing the studios and the studio building, was that little complex that always had… Sidney saying. “Well, if this doesn’t work we can get out of here pretty quickly,” and one forgets how uncertain all of that was, which is why Granada me so many very clever steps, because they were… they had to, you know, the outside broadcast unit, “We really should be showing some football, shouldn’t we? Don’t they enthuse about that in this part of the world?” So yes, Manchester United vs. Real Madrid was the first football match that Granada transmitted. But then also the kind of things like, “Oh, well, we’ve got outside broadcast units here and scanners here, we’d better do something with them outside of the football season. So, doesn’t that Norman Swallow have some documentary ambitions? Get him to do something. Send him off to Rochdale and we’ll call it Wedding on Saturday.” And at that point you get the first… what did Norman call it? He used to call it ‘Cinema de Bon Chance’, as opposed to Cinema Verité, in which he sort of hated being labelled with the notion of the father of Cinema Verité. But you know, filming that documentary on a scanner with massive cameras on PEDs in tiny churches in Rochdale was a thing that, you know, there was a certain sort of impermanence to that sort of operation, there was a certain sort of, “Oh, if this doesn’t work we’ll try that.” And therefore Granada really only consolidated as a collection of buildings when there was slightly more confidence that this thing, commercial television, is a goer and we might even make some money out of it if we sustain [it]. Because bear in mind it was… the important thing probably to stress is it was an aspect of business that previously hadn’t happened. There was the American, North American, model which was looking pretty confident, which is why people were prepared to put money in on this side of the Atlantic, but if you take it that the studio complex below Granada House – the Quay Street studio complex was the first custom built studio complex anywhere in Europe – then one recognises that this was very, very early days, and that… ‘we’re uncertain but let’s go for it’, because by that time obviously the advertising revenues are beginning to feel like they’ll maintain. So it wasn’t really… from 56 through to 60 was a period of uncertainty, a brief period of uncertainty, followed by just ecstatic, “We’re on to a winner here. Let’s go for it!” And so therefore things became more permanent thereafter. So in a way, even though Granada and commercial television was invented in 1956, the impact was really up to 1960, and after that it was colossal. I mean, part of what sparked the 1960s in terms of the cultural period, an era that we now think of, was the fact that there was commercial enterprise and commercial enterprise embraced television like never before; it was something else. And great things happened as a consequence. Not necessarily always great television, but things occurred – I didn’t actually know this until the great Wikipedia, but I was conscious that my rather smart arsehole Uncle Bill, Bill Sykes actually, in his semi with a very, very big garden in Sale, and his obsession with the German language, and his employment in ICI… I knew that he was a clever clogs, and I knew that he’d gone on Granada in a quiz, and that he’d won some money, and it wasn’t until I checked my facts on this a few months ago now I was writing something, yes he was on Criss Cross Quiz, and yes, he won on £150 or something, but not only that he was the first ever winner on Criss Cross Quiz, which is even quoted in Wikipedia, which… yes. He had very bushy eyebrows. Funny chap. But those sorts of franchises that Granada brought in an early, like (??38:52), like University Challenge, and really made their own, was… again, it was part of that kind of rousing of the consciousness of the city and the city region. And I… you know, priceless in Manchester terms.
Let’s talk about the art collection because you mentioned that it drew you to Granada.
It most certainly did! I’ve been interested in pictures most of my life, but seeing the Francis Bacon in the Granada reception opposite the Christopher le Brun and alongside John Hoyland, and Patrick Heron on the downstairs corridor, these just sensational, mid-century, largely abstract paintings that the Bernstein’s had had collected, and it was Cecil’s son, wasn’t it, that worked for the Waddington’s Gallery, he was chair of the Waddington Gallery in London, and they started to collect these fantastic pictures and carried on all the time. So we were surrounded by really significant, very significant, contemporary art, which eventually – I can’t remember what year, but cleverly, one of the curators at the Whitworth Art Gallery brought them all together into a public show, so they were out of the building and onto the walls of the Whitworth. And then some time after that, people began really not to know what to do with them, except, “Let’s get that Francis Bacon to auction.” So in the first place they took it off the wall and put it in the penthouse. And that was because somebody decided that it wasn’t worth paying the premiums to insure it any more, and they’d wait for a turn in the market. It actually I think sold at auction in New York. But whilst it was sitting on the wall, on the floor rather, of the penthouse leaning against the wall, with nobody seeing it, I made a documentary. I introduced… the woman with the buck teeth and the wimple – I introduced Sister Wendy Becket to the world, because I had come across a book that she had written called Contemporary Women Artists, and I was completely unaware at the time, whilst I admired the book very much, I wasn’t aware of the fact that she was in fact a hermit nun until I rung her publisher. And anyway, so I’d contacted her, actually she lives in a sort of little Portakabin now, but she was living in a caravan in the grounds of a monastery in Quidenham in Norfolk. And it is a monastery incidentally, even though it’s occupied by nuns, it’s to do with the condition. (A thousand, I take it? 42:18) And anyway, I want to get Wendy out of her caravan and up to the Whitworth for their centenary exhibition, and we made a celebration, a half hour celebration, with her. And before she went on television she had only ever seen television once before and it was a horse race. So she hadn’t… this was not at all an experience is that she was used to, and I have to say, she was absolutely brilliant. And I think we make a better programme with her than she ended up making series after series for the BBC, for the story. But during her time in Manchester she asked if she could see the Bacon because she said she’d read that it was in Granada ownership. It was one of the studies of Pope Constance. And so I said, “Well yes, I’ll see if you can get some access.” So I asked permission for her to go up into the penthouse and to have a look at the Bacon. And I put a chair in front of it for her and she came and sat down in the chair where she stayed for two hours just looking at it, and came away with a great beam on her face. “That is a very great painting.” And she is right, of course. But all of that went. I understand there was actually some sort of auction eventually amongst the staff, for lots of the paintings that had remained.
The good stuff I think just disappeared somewhere, and the (vision 2, the lead 2? 44:06) stuff was auctioned off.
It’s a shame. I know at one stage, towards the end of it existing as a collection, Lewis Biggs, when he was director of Tate Liverpool, came over and helped on a rehang. And I think there was genuine anxiety about insurance in some cases, and then there was just genuine ignorance, because after Wendy had spent her two hours contemplating the Bacon and came away and said, “That is a very great painting,” she also said, “That is a very great painting to represent the new media,” which I thought was absolutely spot on. And so the kind of dispersal of the collection, it sort of parallels the dispersal of interests in everything that Granada have been up until then. And I make no bones about it, it changed because change was inevitable. In effect, when I did my exhibition at (Irbis? 45:24), which was called The Ghost of Winter Hill, and I opened that in November 2009, I opened it on the day that the analogue transmitter switched off at Winter Hill. So that was the end of an analogue transmission in this region, and overnight was the beginning of a completely new era, which was the digital era, and the digital era is what one is continuing to go through now. So effectively, from 1956 until 2009 was the television era; that has been and gone, and it’s been gone for everybody. It’s been gone globally, because television… it’s slightly hobbled by the fact that we have one word which describes a box in the corner of the room, and also the contents of that box. So it’s rather a complicated thing. You know, it’s… television is a piece of technology and television is the content of that technology at the same time. And whilst the content continues to evolve through to the intermingling of sound and 2D vision, the way that it’s consuming that alters utterly. So I think 2009 was a convenient break off point, and after that of course, television production migrates. And in this region it’s migrated, as we know, to the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal in Salford. There’s something sort of right about that because Granada in large part had already migrated to the banks of the Thames, ITV House, because… interesting that Granada became so successful it kind of eat itself. By the time it bought the rest of ITV and struggled rather with its fight with Yorkshire, it had all changed anyway, hadn’t it? And it was part of a regional identity that I think has broken down for better or worse more broadly anyway. We’re beginning to reinvent regional identity through different things; through Altrincham market; through small independent football teams that are spectator opened; the fight back against Starbucks that means, thank goodness, in the Northern Quarter in Manchester there isn’t a Starbucks to be seen. You know, there’s more tea and coffee shops than you can shake a stick at – but none of them are global. And that’s because there’s a certain generation that actually sits back and tries to find its regionalism in another way. So, you know, every day there’s a microbrewery opening in Salford, or a new tea shop in the Northern Quarter.
Is this all part of the legacy of Granada, do you think?
Absolutely I do, yes. I think independent production is… independent production in Manchester begins with non-conformist entrepreneurs arriving in the city and throwing up large buildings and throwing people into them. mainly women and children, to work long-ish hours for not a lot of money. And, you know, and up pops Friederich to manage his father’s mill, and we get… if not… we’re not the cradle of the Industrial Revolution, that’s a ridiculous thing to try and point to. But we are the first city on Earth that recognises the emergence of a new demographic, a new class, which is the industrial working class, and by the time we kind of celebrate that through broadsheets and music, and from music to television, there is a lot of visual art in the middle, you know we do have a man, if not more than one, who actually likes to paint industrial scenes, we do recognise the iconography that we are part of, and we do, in a patronising way, produce The Wheeltappers and Shunters Social Club, we do produce comedians. We do do things that pay recognition to the kind of popular culture that abounds, we do as a workforce love to hang around in the pubs and bars, Jeremy Corbyn would have us as anti-feminist in that regard, how dare you sit around after hours getting smashed and inventing rather good television programmes and talking waffle and laughing a lot, and walking away with women who aren’t your wives… anyway, that was a digression. We do engender a real kind of entrepreneurship, and that lingers in the city, sometimes more than less. But I do think that the capacity for drink, entertainment and music and creativity… Caroline Aherne, Peter Kay, all of those people are all part of the same fantastic mix, and all of them would acknowledge that the largest motivator in their formative years was the big red sign of Granada Television – and that is completely undeniable.
Let’s go back a step… actually I’ve not had anybody talk about the education department.
Oh, right! Oh, the education department. The Reithian hangover and the obligation on both the BBC and then of course ITV – this is the nanny state – but the obligation of ITV to fund schools’ programmes and to shadow the curriculum in all sorts of ways led to some fantastically banal television, and some quite remarkable television in which people actually did stand in front of a blackboard with chalk in hand and lecture, and did shake test tubes and talk about embryos and did all sorts of weird and wonderful things, and not many people watched these programmes! Not many people were sat down in front of television sets in my school days, but still they got made and eventually it became… ITV are cheeky buggers – they eventually shuffled off this obligation onto Channel 4. They still are obliged to make the programmes and there was still obliged to be a budget, so Granada’s schools programmes were run by the fantastic Jack Smith in a very pedagogic sort of way, and it gave me some great times. The programmes had hideous titles like Geography Junction, but Geography Junction gave me one of the best film experiences of my life, because by that stage I was sort of proposing programmes, and had the very good sense to propose that we should do a physical geography series and it should be the life of a river, because rivers as you know, don’t you Steve from your secondary school geography days, rivers have a particular generation – they’re young, mature and then old. By the time they’re old, they sort of meander to the sea. And we proposed doing a series on all of this, and we’ll do it on one river. We said, “Why don’t we choose the Rhone, because the Rhone goes from Switzerland to the Mediterranean and enters the Mediterranean in the area called the (Camarde? 54:56). So that was a very good idea. And not only that, I put myself forward to present this series, and decided that the best way to present it was on a bike. So I set off one day assembling a rather beautiful Moulton APB, a bike that actually comes in two halves, much favoured by architect Norman Foster, I might add. But our series began with me assembling this bike by the Rhone last year, and cycling under it in this beautiful blue tunnel like the Ice Hotel, and eventually coming down the road, stopping off in Lyon, going on to the canals and then eventually hovering over the (Camarde? 55:50) and frightening the flamingos. And cycling all the way. The great thing about cycling along the river is it’s sort of downhill all the way because of the nature of the river. And that was a fantastic series. Absolutely terrific! Loved it. Except that we chose to film in June, and June had low pressure hanging over the whole of Europe for the whole of the month, and should have been an absolute paradise of a shoot was a nightmare. It was so bad that when we came to film in Lyon – and Lyon is one of my favourite cities, it’s an astonishing city – the weather was so awful in this Provençale early summer, that I decided we’d have to film the entire film at night and in the rain, because at night in the rain, Lyon looks fantastic because reflections are very beautiful at night time, and so we sort of got away with it. But that was that was a school series, of which there were many. I also did another geography series called Extreme Places, and this was the hottest, coldest, wettest, driest and windiest places in Britain, and then in the world, which involved me and a lightweight crew taking 28 flights in 26 days. And I once had breakfast in Rura-Tonga, lunch in Auckland, New Zealand and dinner that same night in Santiago in Chile. That was great. That was fantastic. But by that time, that was in the late 80s, early 90s, by that time, telly was getting ridiculous and all sorts of people were cutting crews. So I did this this fantastic series that involved me filming in the Arctic, a place called Barrow in Alaska, and sort of leaving Barrow, Alaska one morning and then standing on Bali Hai beach in Hawaii the following afternoon, because believe it or not the wettest place on earth is called… it’s in Hawaii, and it’s called Mt. Waialeale, Kauai. But it’s the wettest place on earth. It rains for 350 out of 365 days. It’s where Steven Spielberg shot Jurassic Park. Massive waterfalls and all of that, and it’s only accessible by helicopter because it’s a volcano, which involved finding an ex-Vietnam vet who, once he’d got his helicopter underway, took off his helmet and put on a sort of red polka dot bandana and behave as if he was about to enter the Mekong Delta… quite barmy actually. But by the time we got up onto the mountain they couldn’t land because it’s very, very marshy, this wettest place on earth. And I’d been asked, it’s been demanded of me, to do a risk assessment which, you know, by this time… you know risk assessment. “We want you to do a risk assessment for this series you’re about to do,” but you haven’t afforded me to recce any of this. So how do I know what I’m going to find in Barrow, Alaska? How do I know what I’m going to find on Mt. Waialeale? “You’ve got to do a risk assessment,” says people who shall remain nameless in the production offices. And of course I had no background in which to do this, not having been afforded to recce, so I get up on the top of Mt. Waialeale for the first time in my life and the pilot is quite insistent that we all get out on a particular side of the helicopter, and unfortunately the sound recordist hadn’t heard this instruction because he had got his headphones on and not plugged in as it were. So he told us to get out the other side of the helicopter which very nearly lost him his head, I might tell you, but also caused him to put his foot down into something that was very far from solid, and he disappeared up to his neck and have the good sense to hold his recorder, his (??60:50), above his head, which seemed like a good idea until he was instructed by megaphone by the madman in the bandana to get hold of the underside of the helicopter. NOW. So he sort of had (??61:06) in one hand and he clung on to the little rail beneath the helicopter with the other. And the helicopter kind of hovered him out of this marsh and put him on the piece of rather more solid land that the rest of us were standing on. He was absolutely covered from head to foot, but he was alive thankfully, because I hadn’t put down fatalities in my risk assessment! But all of those things… anyway, those are the sort of programmes that we made.
I remember Muriel Young from my youth as a presenter.
And she must have been presumably one of the first female presenters at Granada.
No, she didn’t, she didn’t present at Granada. She was one of the first female presenters on the BBC, thought not the first. But Muriel came to Granada, and was this extraordinarily grand and very funny lady, with this deep background in pop and rock ‘n’ roll from all sorts of odd backgrounds. Her husband was called Cyril Coke, who was a very great drama producer, did a wonderful adaptation of The Mayor of Casterbridge. Anyway, they were sort of telly royalty. Muriel and Cyril, and fantastically good fun. And her circle of friends was amazing. She happened to have a house on the Algarve, which is where Paul McCartney and Jane Asher stayed when they were trying to escape the media. Muriel was amazing, because she referred to everybody by their Christian names, so Paul and John and ‘that naughty Ringo’, and all this stuff goes on and this is the same as Johnny’s got them all on Seen at 6:30. She remained very close friends with Cliff Richard actually, and she used to allow Cliff to do these religious series once in a while, sort of, you know, these strange religious people who sing pop songs and they make they make God into a sort of pop song and things like that. But she also did some afternoon shows which I’m sort of embarrassed by now, called things like Get It Together and God knows whatever else. But she allowed me just to do them. So I can remember one episode of Get It Together, which was presented by a man called Roy North, who was just… I mean, I think he’d be one of the Basil Brush presenters. But this was all, you know, this was five o’clock in the afternoon. But I did, on one of the five o’clock in the afternoon Get It Together programmes, have The Pretenders and The Eurythmics before they were The Eurythmics, so it was The Tourists then, so it was Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart. Pretenders doing their first ever telly of Brass in Pocket. Nick Lowe and Dave Edmonds are all the people whom I liked, and they all came along to this weird show directed by the extraordinary Dave Warwick, who sort of liked to put on a sort of special medallion on on show days, this was him being hip in front of Annie Lennox with long black gloves and all of that, it was hilarious. Absolutely bloody hilarious, and I loved it because I just kind of meandered up and down between London and Manchester, watching bands and listening to records, and getting this stuff on. And I eventually got… I chose the wrong Irish band. I chose a band called The Moondogs when I should have chosen a band called U2! But (Eugene Ferguson? 65:32) directed a really good little series of programmes with The Moondogs called Moondogs matinee, and they all went on to do other things because they didn’t make it exactly, though one of the guys is a very experienced senior television presenter in Northern Ireland now, but we had some great fun and did some very odd things. And it was just before I came to Granada, and before therefore I met Muriel, I was working on Piccadilly Radio and became very friendly with Marc Bolan, and therefore when, just before Marc died, the last bit of telly, which is the last bit of Marc Bolan telly which is in Granada’s archive and nobody ever takes it out because nobody ever does these things, but on the last programme that he recorded with Dave Warwick directing, his special guest was David Bowie. So David Bowie and Marc Bolan wandering around… I can’t remember what they did, they did a duet together, it was the end of this half programme called Marc Time, and they sort of fell off… oh, yes. David, very po-faced, approached the front of a rostrum a little too far and completely collapsed onto the studio floor, causing both of them to collapse in laughter the note go on and do a second take. But those were the sorts of things that Muriel was able to do, and also another weird program that she had some responsibility for, on which her researcher was one John Birch, who went on to be very troublesome at the BBC, but they did a programme called Nice Time, which was a kids programme. Have you heard of Nice Time? Well, Nice Time was co-presented – I just find this unbelievable – it was co-presented by Kenny Everett and Germaine Greer, and Germaine Greer used to stay in the Brown Bull in Chapel Street in Salford, and tells a very funny story about being in the Brown Bull one night because she was recording Nice Time with Kenny Everett, and she was teaching at Keele University at the time, but she used to be at the bar in the Brown Bull and she always got sort of troubled… not troubled, but harassed a little, by George Best, who persistently said to her, “Germaine, I don’t understand it. Why have you not tried to pull me?” – and he was, by the way, one of the nicest and politest men on the planet – and she would just say, “But I don’t fancy you, George,” which he would find very hard to take. But she does tell a story of waking up in the middle of the night in her very cheap room in the Brown Bull, and her door was open, and there were a series of people clearly entering the darkened room, and she put the bedside light on to realise that the whole of the Manchester United first team, minus George Best, who had been instructed by the landlord to ‘get upstairs quick’ because they were drinking at 4am in the Brown Bull and they had just been busted. So that was Germaine’s lovely tale. Those weird bits of telly and kids telly was part of it. You know, there are marvellous kids programmes now, but not so many, with no obligation, but it was to do… schools television… the one thing that I would say sort of in conclusion to that is that schools television, as with most things Granada, had a really sort of powerful position, and probably contributed in its way towards the marvellous thing that nobody ever pulls at nowadays, which is the Open University. I will tell you one of the stories that’s just come into my mind… I haven’t rehearsed any of these memories, but it’s just come into my mind, and that is that Muriel was the representative on the children’s committee, so you probably know that there were various committees for various levels of programmes, and at the time of this particular committee meeting, it was hosted at Westwood Television, which was in Plymouth, the southwest franchise. And the head of the Westwood Television was Peter Cadbury, of the Cadbury family, and he chaired this particular meeting of the children’s committee, and faffed around a little bit, and addressed the room and said, “What time are these programmes on?” What do you mean, wheat time are these programmes on? “Well, I don’t know, I don’t know. What time are these programmes on?” They’re on sort of between 4:15 and 5:30. He said, “What? For children? But any self-respecting child is feeding their pony at that time!” That’s a bit of an insight into the Cadbury family!
That kind of brings us onto later music and Granada’s relationship with in particular Tony Wilson. You worked with Tony?
Tony and I were… he was one year my (senior? 71:24), and we met when we were at school because Tony was a gobby sort, and across the Irwell in Salford he went to the De La Salle School, and I went to St Meads Grammar which was on Alexander Road in Moss Side. Tony and I first met because if you were… if you got as far as sixth form and you wanted to socialise with girls, as of course you would, then you sort of joined the debating society. And that covered between schools. It was a good little social network actually. So I first met Tony at Adelphi, which was a girls’ school on Chapel Street in Salford. And I think we… I think we debated on opposite sides of some motion or another, but that’s when we first met, and then after that I can remember seeing Tony standing in the foyer of the Electric Circus in Crumpsall in 1976. And Tony – this was in the build up to So It Goes and what have you – and Tony was standing in the ground floor entrance to the electric Circus and wearing an enormous sort of fedora hat, as he would. There’ some photographs of him in the archive wearing that hat. But what he didn’t know, he was being dripped from the floor above, which was the floor of the gents toilet which was notoriously leaky, so he had pee dropping on his head whilst pronouncing. So yes… by the time I was at Piccadilly, obviously Tony was at Granada, and by the time I came to Granada, Tony and I… we worked together a little bit, we worked together on What’s On, which was a magazine programme which went through various iterations. One iteration was that… (??73:26) was one of its presenters. I think we can draw a veil over that. But so was Johnny Dangerously, which is nice. Nice to see him make his way in life. Well done, John. And yes, so Tony and I sort of saw each other quite a lot, and then we saw each other a good deal more sort of outside the day job, because Tony obviously had a big life in Manchester. Interestingly is he actually sort of became the person that he’d been rehearsing for all those years, and threw himself into the notions of regeneration. Because he was nothing if not a fashion follower, and in the sort of late 80s, at the time he had Dry bar, he had the Haçienda, he had Factory Records, he had Peter Saville, and he had an awful lot of what he was… (??74:28) an awful lot of what was about to make a big change for Manchester, not least, you know, he had great Rob Gretton, whose last office we were actually sitting in when Rob Gretton left the Haçienda, when they all left the Haçienda, Rob Gretton came into this building, I was upstairs at that time. Anyway, Tony became interested in, and with Yvette, instrumental in various stages of the regeneration, as it came to be called, the regeneration of the city, just the gear change really, so that when Tony and Yvette went to the City Council with notions of what became in the city, which was the annual music conference, Tony wasn’t… he didn’t really realise, but he was a fully-formed… revolutionary in terms of the changing roles of cities, and by the time he persuaded the City Council to put quite a lot of money into funding he and Yvette to jet off to New York and look at the New York music seminars and bring that whole notion back to Manchester, which sadly since Tony’s demise which will be 10 years ago next year, you know, has fallen away. And that is a real shame in my view, because Tony always said that he wanted to bring something to Manchester, to Manchester music, that was more than just a band. And in doing what he did I don’t think he realises that sort of tendrils that have gone out, for example obviously, Rob Gretton, who managed Joy Division and went on to manage New Order, clearly, and to bring up Rob’s Records, had working for him at the time a young man called John Drape. John Drape now runs a company called Ground Control which came out of Ear to the Ground, and they are huge events managers, and Manchester’s legacy in events and concerts and gigs and festivals is all part of the bigger Manchester revival which, and the acknowledgment of Tony, and Tony’s role in that, is just huge. I mean, really enormous. The significance that Tony… Tony embodies most of what Granada brought to Manchester. It was flash, it was terribly egocentric, it was megalomaniacal, it as hugely well read, it was up itself, it was all of those things, you know? And kind of got right, but very often not quite got right. See, Tony never got his feet right. He wore very strange shoes, and God knows, in the summer time even painted his toenails, you know, there were some shocking aberrations. But the energy and the articulation and capacity to talk and talk and talk was just so dynamic and so important to the city, and so important to Granada. I mean, people forget, I mean, it was very much the day job for him, I mean, he always said that he wouldn’t hang around with telly folk because they didn’t have as good parties as music folk. You know, and his (extra moral? 78:27) activities are a sort of pretty well documented. But he did have great friends in telly, not least Richard and Judy. I mean, because they lived up Broadway where Tony lived, Broadway in Didsbury, for a while, but no, Tony’s legacy is astonishing, and continues through. I don’t know whether you know this but there’s a very… there’s a tiny little mid 19th century building on Liverpool Road which is the old St Matthew’s Sunday School, and it’s very beautiful indeed, and it was saved from abandonment by an architect called Roger Stevenson who had his practice in there. But for the last several years, for the last several years, it’s the only office of a company called SJM, and SJM are the biggest concert promoters in the world. SJM promotes simultaneously Bruce Springsteen and Kylie Minogue and Take That and earned Simon Moran who is the SJM in the title, a few years ago now, three maybe four years ago, recorded his salary at £9.2m, which made him the highest paid executive in the north west of England. Now, though Tony isn’t responsible for SJM, but SJM began at Manchester University, Simon was chair of ents or whatever, and therefore it’s all part of the legacy. It’s not all of Tony’s invention, but the fact that so many of that massive student population that came to Manchester did so because of the Haçienda and because of Manchester music, and latterly because of The Smiths. Not all of Factory, but because of all the iconography, all those Kevin Cummings photographs, you know, carrying on through to guy Garvey and Elbow, you know, it just continues. And it preceded as well. I mean, Tony was preceded by The Mind Benders and Alan Clarke and the Hollies and all of that. And in fact whilst I was standing on top of Mt. Waialeale, the wettest place in the world, I wasn’t to know that that following morning, I went to the little town below the mountain, which is called Hanalei, and as you will remember, Puff the Magic Dragon lived by the sea and frolicked in the autumn mist in a land called Hanalei. Well, not only did Puff the Magic Dragon live there, but as I turned around from the counter in the post office, there was Graham Nash from Crosby Stills and Nash and The Hollies, who I had met years before because his mum had a pub in Chapel Street in Salford. He’d lived in Hanalei for many years, because he had gone to Kauai, he arrived at Kauai weeks before a massive hurricane hit the island, and in fact ever after, did charity concerts, annual charity concerts for hurricane victims. Anyway, I digress. But it’s important that… that decision that Tony made not to go ITN and to stay in Manchester, people… I don’t know, they might accuse him of parochialism or they might accuse him of not having the guts to make it in London; I think all that’s bollocks. I have to say this because I suffer exactly the same inertia. You know, I’ve lived in Manchester all my life, and I think it suited Tony because he likes to make a difference, and he knew that in Manchester he could – and by golly he did. And I think what a lot of people should really acknowledge is, for a man with a slightly high-pitched lightweight voice and more often than not dodgy hair, a man who wore fur coats on television (while listening to? 83:18) David Cassidy, he did have a huge impact and he was fantastically good at what he did, and he never brought anything into a studio other than politeness and a willingness to do right for the team. And you will never, not in my hearing anyway, I never heard anybody from them make-up room through to the guys on the lighting grids, through to the people on the sound booth, I never hears anybody say a bad word about Tony Wilson, and I think he was a very great and important television presenter.