How did you actually come to work for Granada, because I know that Granada didn’t always take people who were obvious like journalists?
It’s quite difficult to try and understand but I think I was part of the working class phase because you’re absolutely right, they had quite an eclectic hiring policy. Sometimes they would do the conventional thing and go on the Oxford and Cambridge milk run and hire very bright people from there. Tony Wilson was a perfect example of that, Tony was somebody who came through that Oxbridge route. Another time I remember it was only women they hired because they desperately wanted women to come and work in the company. It just so happened at the time when I applied, as I say, I think they were looking for people with not necessarily a working class background but people who had worked and who had done different things. Not necessarily either in journalism or in television.
I always think that in different circumstances I doubt if I would have even got an interview at Granada Television. But it just so happened that I knew Steve Morrison who was in then head of local programmes. Steve asked me if I wanted to apply and I put together a form of application which I put in. I think probably it was helped to the top of the interview pile by him, which meant I at least got an interview. The thing I’ve always said, one of the most difficult things about television is being heard. If you can get in and be heard, even vaguely impressive people who are listening to, you can get in and do anything you want.
I still remember the day of the interview because if I’d known who the people were who were interviewing me, I probably would have been terrified. I went to the interview room and apart from Gus Macdonald, who I vaguely knew, I didn’t know any of the rest of them. There was Chris Pye who was Gus’ deputy in the regional programmes department at the time, Brian Armstrong who was the head of comedy, Derek Granger who went on to make Brideshead, Ray Fitzwalter who was running World in Action and Gus himself. It was an absolutely formidable bunch of people to interview you but because I didn’t know who they were it didn’t actually bother me very much. Gus knew vaguely who I was because I’d been very, very active politically in Scotland. In fact I’d just come off a major student demonstration that had lasted almost the whole year over the lack of teaching jobs for teacher training students. And during the course of the interview Gus kept going on at me about ‘the only reason you want to come to work in television is so you can be a troublemaker and make political programmes and smuggle political messages into programmes’ and all the rest of it. I have to be honest but that couldn’t have been further from the truth. I was told afterwards that the thing, almost more than anything else that got me the job, was at one point Brian Armstrong suddenly said ‘Gus seems to know more about you than we do, are you a raving Trotskyite?’ I said ‘I’m not raving.’
And they just all laughed.
I was told, that was almost the turning point. Chris Pye told me afterwards that I got a tick from all of them. I’m not sure I ever got a tick from Gus, if I’m honest with you, but I got a tick from the rest of them.
What had you actually done before?
I trained as a lawyer and I had worked as a solicitor. I’d been a town councillor in Edinburgh since I was 21, I got elected when I was 21. So I had obviously that kind of background and experience. I had been elected at least twice during that period. I was a member of the Labour party and had that kind of knowledge. I’d also shared a flat at University with Steve Morrison and I was always very, very interested in the arts and culture and all the rest. Living in Edinburgh, you had the Edinburgh festival every year and Steve Morrison and I got very involved in that. Every year for four or five years we used to act as the Edinburgh brokers, agents, fixers for the Bradford University theatre company. So they used to come every year for three weeks and put on shows at various theatres and halls. Steve and I used to organise that, because we were on the ground in Edinburgh during the year we kind of did things. Because I was also a solicitor I did some of the legal work for them and stuff like that. I had that kind of experience of working with them.
At that time the Bradford University theatre group had some amazing contacts and some amazing people writing and working for it. They would come with plays from guys like David Edgar, Sue Wilson, Howard Brenton, who were all at that time – in the seventies – just beginning to make names for themselves. I remember one year, it must have been during the miners’ strike, it was a David Edgar play about the miners’ strike and he said he rewrote the end every single day depending on what had happened in the strike during that period. So I had a bit of experience of doing things like that, and I’d also set up and ran a thing called the Leith festival. It was vaguely modelled on the Edinburgh festival but it took place in Leith, which is the port of Edinburgh. I set it up and it is still running. So I used to be, I don’t know what I called myself, artistic director, organiser, producer of that and I did that for five or six years before I came to Granada. I had that kind of general organisational background which without knowing it, but subsequently finding out about it once you moved to television, is the kind of production background that a producer needs.