Priscilla John remembers the 1979 ITV strike

Tell me about the strike. 

A lot of us were badly paid, and there was a section of us, and I still can’t remember the term, what was the term? It was called the thinking in the bath time that designers, casting directors… none of us earned overtime. Production designers, costume designers. We didn’t earn overtime. So we were given a lump sum in lieu, and it was called ‘thinking in the bath time’. The fact that we’re at theatres three or four nights a week and working weekends a lot. Which you wouldn’t do if you wanted a nine to five job, which is why all those people were treated differently. Because we loved it. And because we belonged to ACTT. And because David Plowright thought we were all underpaid, basically. He was for us. He argued for more money with the ITV companies, and he lost out, so we all went on strike. And it was three months, and we didn’t earn a penny. It took me two years to recoup. 

Did you get a significant pay rise post-strike? Did you get what you want? 

Yes, it was better. It was much better, but the union… the companies didn’t want to go back. They didn’t want to pay that much money. David Plowright said, “Okay, enough is enough. I’m paying it. I want my crew, my employees to get this. I don’t care any more. Three months. It’s enough.” I mean, they weren’t making any shows. People were ringing up switchboard every day saying, “What’s happened to Julie Goodyear, what’s happened to Bette’s flat? Has she found a flat yet?” The storylines were still in people’s heads. And they were having to pay the actors, it wasn’t their fault. But we were at the picket line. And at night… we used to take it in turns. And it was it was hard, but I had a bank manager who looked after Thames Television. He said, “Look, Priscilla, I’m absolutely fine with this. I’ll pay your mortgage, I’ll pay all your standing orders. But please don’t try and earn money so you’re not cashing cheques for cash.” And I did the most boring jobs for a couple of weeks. They didn’t want me there anyway, and said, “Please don’t tell anybody else in the building you’re on strike.” So then I ended up working in a restaurant in Didsbury, or on the Wilmslow Road, I can’t remember. But it was fantastic because it had a disco, which we all used to go to later on anyway. And I said, “Can I come and work in the restaurant as a waitress on roller skates?” So I did that. And then I ended up helping in the kitchen because I preferred working with a chef in the kitchen, but then danced a lot at night. And earned enough money to pay for petrol to get me around, and I ate at the restaurant. So I was lucky. But it took two years to catch up, because I owed the bank a lot of money. And it was much, much harder for others.

Leave a Reply