Remembering Dennis Forman and the canteen

I think the thing about Denis was, it was partly that he took his jacket off and he had red braces, and he rolled his sleeves up. And also he would always come and sit beside you in the canteen. The canteen was one of the great levellers. And it’s not true of other companies at the time, because the grandees ate in private dining rooms so they wouldn’t be overheard by the likes of us, the workers. And so the wonderful thing about Denis, and Plowright as well, was that they would come down to the canteen and they’d say, “Oh, I saw that film you did. I thought it was a very good try. Could have been a bit better if you’ve done this and this and this.” But there was a warmth of it, and a feeling of acceptance and a feeling of you are accepted as part of the family. And the wonderful thing about Granada was that because it was small, and because it was regional, and because it had people like Denis and David Plowright, you did feel as they were part of a family. I think everybody felt that, however different they were. And there was World in Action going on, of course, the most brilliant investigative journalism, taking off long before other people were doing it. And the Disappearing World Series, which were wonderful semi-anthropological, sociological programmes. Wonderful things. And films. And of course, the drama, and the drama came courtesy of Plowright and Denis; Denis had been involved in films, and Plowright was wedded to the theatre. And this feeling that they, almost like magnets, attracted to them some very, very good writers, and put on exceptionally good dramas, which were using new people, and people who wouldn’t have been able to get their plays on. Jack Rosenthal was one. Fabulous, wonderful writer, and a wonderful man commenting on what Jewish life was like, then, at that time.

There was always a play on a Wednesday night. And there were plays about trade unions, and plays about women. And plays about girls who got pregnant and were… there were plays about society. Plays about the very bones of what life was like for ordinary people. And that was completely new. The BBC weren’t doing that. Nobody else was doing it. The other companies were beginning to look for profits, whereas Granada was wedded to this idea that they were a cultural institution who were deeply embedded in discovering and revealing aspects of culture – be it music, paintings or religion. Look at A Passage to India, what a brilliant series that was. Or Brideshead or Bamber Gascoigne doing A History of the Christians, with what, 26 programmes on the history of the Christians? And he was doing another one on the history of music with Denis. And Denis, of course, is a great expert on music, because he wrote one of the definitive books, not only on opera but also on Mozart’s Piano Concertos. So you had this input of highly intelligent, active, excited people, you’ve got a toy to play with, and they were cramming it with stuff. And then up comes Laurence Olivier, and appears in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and insists on having a special lavatory seat made for him. He didn’t want to go to the lavatory with anybody else.

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