I joined as a researcher and was put straight into the newsroom where the evening programme at that time was called ‘Granada Reports’. It was presented by a rota of four people; Tony Wilson, Trevor Hyett, Gordon Burns and Bob Greaves. There was a woman called Ruth who would do it occasionally. With hindsight now it was a very male led evening news programme. It was always a two hander, so there was a rota. It would be Wilson and Greaves some nights, or Trevor and Gordon Burns some nights, and they were all different characters. Again, not having lived in the North West I didn’t really know who Bob Greaves was, but I learned pretty quickly that Bob was Mr Manchester and a huge star locally. Some nights the thing would be done in such a way that all four of them would present the news.
I remember one of the redesigns of the set and the desk was shaped like a snake, and that’s what we called it ‘the snake’. Sometimes you would have the four presenters sitting behind the desk all doing different bits of the news, it was absolutely fascinating…..
How long did you spend on Granada Reports?
Quite a long time actually when I think about it. I was a researcher on ‘Granada Reports’ for about a year, fourteen months, something like that. What amazed me was there wasn’t really any training, it was quite incredible. You were on the news desk for a couple of days, just sitting there to see what happened as stories came in, how the news editor tasted copy.
You would attend the morning meeting, which usually started at about nine o’clock every morning. It was meant to be attended by the whole team although sometimes the presenters wouldn’t attend because they would come in later in the day. You were expected, when you went to the morning meeting, to have at least three ideas for stories that day. So that meant that before you even got in to the morning meeting you should have read the papers, the local papers, listened to Radio Manchester, listened to the Today programme or whatever. So you were always expected when you came in in the morning to have at least three ideas…
There were certain guys, a guy called Mike Engelheart I think his name was. Mike could read Welsh so he had a head start because he used to read the Welsh local papers. So Mike always had the unusual story because he nicked it from some Welsh language paper somewhere. I can’t remember whether they attended or conference called but the Liverpool newsroom had the same kind of meeting in the morning.
When the meeting finished in the morning the producer of the day and the news editor would sit and go through things. Some things were no brainers because they were the major stories of the day and all the rest of it, and other things were kind of optional. So they would then come back and assign the tasks to everybody. There were certain individuals who were specialist like Nik Gowing who now does BBC worldwide news. Nick was the industrial man so he would always specialise in trade union stories and industrial stories.
There was somebody else who would only ever do medicine stories, that was the only thing they were interested in, because there were a lot of people who had these little specialities.
After about four days of being in the newsroom, sitting on the news desk, seeing how things ran you then started to go out with crews. So you’d go out with the reporter, who was usually a member of the NUJ, who was going to do the story and you would be out there as the researcher, fixer or whatever it is.
Eventually, the speed of it was incredible, within about two and half-three weeks you were actually going out on your own with the camera crew. There was a one plus one crew or there was also some two plus two crews that were used because there were restrictions on the length of stories in these days. These were the trade union restrictions at the time. If a story was shot on a one plus one crew the story could not be any longer than three minutes long, I may be vague on the time. And the other thing is, you couldn’t keep the story for more than a day and half. So if the story didn’t get transmitted within a day and half of being shot you could never transmit it. Whereas if you shot the story with a two plus two crew, i.e. with a full union man crew, the story could be any length you wanted and you could transmit it whenever you wanted. There were all these restrictions on doing it. If you were not an onscreen person but a researcher going out with a film crew, everything you did was off camera. In an ideal world you would also try and get your voice out of it as well but sometimes you had to leave your voice in because you were asking the question. I was always terribly conscious of the fact that I had a Scottish accent in the North West.
In these days in the beginning of course we were using stripe film. For a start we were using film, but it was stripe film on the one plus one crews. That meant a number of things. What it meant is that if the film didn’t get to the bath in the labs by ten past four in the afternoon it would not make the six o’clock news programme. There wasn’t enough time to get it back from the lab, get it edited, get it cut and get it on air. In the world of twenty-four hour immediate breaking news back in the seventies, ten past four was the deadline for any pictures on the six o’clock news programme. The other amazing thing about stripe film was the picture and the sound were at different places on the film. The sound was either ahead or behind the picture, I can never remember. That caused problems in editing and that’s why if you go back and look at some of the film reports from these days you would see lip flap. The film had to be edited from the picture but what it meant, was you took the sound off but you could still see somebody’s mouth flapping but no sound would be coming out of it.
There used to be a guy there, he read the news. As well as the presenters Bob, Tony, Trevor and Gordon, we always used to have basically what we called a rip and read during the six o’clock programme. These were the stories which we still felt were worthy of being reported but we had no footage to go with it, we might have had some still pictures or something like that. So it was just a round up of five or six stories or however many, and it was Bob Smithies who used to do that. Bob was an ex Guardian journalist, ex photographer, set crosswords for the Guardian as well. Bunthorne was his crossword nickname, which was a pun. Smithies was the rip and read man but he also went out and did stories, he came from Rochdale.
But Smithies was the master of stripe. He had got down to a fine art how you could instruct a cameraman to pan the camera in such a way that when it came to Bob either asking the question or doing his piece to camera or the interviewee answering the question, Bob’s great claim to fame was that all of his news reports could be edited with no lip flap. So Smithies was the master of stripe in these days.
So I did fourteen months or something like that in the newsroom just learning, seriously, seriously learning and picking stuff up. ‘Granada Reports’ again was slightly different, at that time, it wasn’t one hundred per cent news programme.
On different nights of the week they did different things. So on a Monday night I think they did some gardening stuff, on a Tuesday they did something else and Thursday night something else. There would be about seventeen-eighteen minutes of news and then the last part of the show each night would be devoted to something else.