Exchange Flags was the first Granada Liverpool office and was opened in 1980. It was at the back of the Town Hall, in a rather distinguished building. I have very fond memories of working there. The first programme I worked on over there was Union World. This was a Channel Four programme which was transmitted on a Saturday evening. Although the programme was not actually based in Liverpool we did make use of their studio every Friday night. All the Manchester studios were booked on a Friday so we had to go to Liverpool.
There was always a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere over there, partly because it was a much smaller operation and as a result you tended to get to know everyone from technicians, to kitchen staff, to cleaners.
We did however face a few difficulties in that it was always a problem trying to persuade guests to come up to Liverpool on a Friday evening. We usually had a trade union leader or two on the programme and they would have to travel up from London. The problem was that it was impossible for them to get back after the show had been made. I think we were in studio between 6.00pm and 8.00pm and, at the time, the last train back to London went at about 7.00pm. So, this meant an overnight stay for them. That wasn’t a problem from our point of view but they used to be reluctant to come up because by the time they got back to London on a Saturday it was midday. Trade union bosses and politicians tended to be very hardworking and busy people and valued whatever spare time they had with their family so that to miss half the weekend made them reluctant to come up to Liverpool. As a result Gus Macdonald, who presented the programme and who himself wanted to get back to London, arranged for a taxi to take him back and inevitably he would also take the trade union guest back as well. On other occasions we arranged for a private plane to take them back, along with Gus and a couple of researchers also taking advantage of the free flight. But apart from all that working in Liverpool was a delight.
In particular I remember the Liverpool canteen and the wonderful Joan-i-onee, as she was called. She had an assistant called Helen who sadly died very young. But because the canteen was small you could almost get individual service. Joan would wander into the open plan office mid morning and announce what would be on the menu for that lunchtime. She would also ask if we fancied a cake for the afternoon – which we invariably did. ‘What sort would you like ?’ she’d then ask. ‘I could do you a chocolate or a lemon drizzle or whatever.’ She looked after us and was such a bundle of fun. And every Christmas there was a Christmas dinner. All the staff attended, wearing party hats, etc and after the Christmas pudding David Highet, the office manager, would make one of his hilarious and very witty speeches.
When we were making Union World we would come over from Manchester mid-afternoon and be there until the programme had finished in studio. And because we always had a trade union boss or politician on the show we would lay on a very good buffet for them. Every week Joan would produce this large table of cold meats, salads, a whole salmon, cheeses, desserts and so forth. But invariably because every one was always rushing around, half of it never got eaten. Even once the show was finished people would maybe grab something and then make back to London or Manchester as quickly as they could. What then happened was that most of it got thrown out. ‘You can’t throw all that out,’ I told Joan one evening. ‘None of it’ll keep to Monday though Steve,’ she said, ‘why don’t you take some back with you.’ I was single at the time and living alone so that the prospect of taking some of it home had an appeal. Joan carefully wrapped it up for me and off I went. ‘Next week bring some Tupperware in,’ she advised. So, I did and very week would drive back to Manchester with half a salmon, salads, bread rolls and a trifle that would keep me going all weekend.
I later worked in Liverpool on a programme called Scramble. It was produced by the wonderful Jim Walker with myself, Charlie Rodger, Tim Luxton, Barbara Macdonald and others involved. Charlie and I would drive over every morning, taking it in turns. It was bit of a trek having to do it every day but the rewards were generous. Liverpool was considered to be more than 30 miles from our Manchester base so that we could claim an overnight stay, along with the breakfast and dinner allowance, for four nights a week. At the end of every week, I would go and see Phil Parry, the accounts clerk – always know as Phil the Till – and put in my claim for £200 expenses. Phil always reluctantly handed the money over, with a disbelieving shake of his head. But there was a sense to the 30 mile rule as it stopped the company moving people around as they wished and without recompense. Years later when the rule went, the company was sending people over to Liverpool at 6.00am to work on This Morning, and they received no expenses whatsoever apart from car mileage.
There was always a really friendly atmosphere in Liverpool. Even the security lads on the front door got to know you and wanted to chat. Manchester was always a very egalitarian office but you didn’t always get to know the people who worked behind the scenes – all the technicians. But in Liverpool, because it was a small office, you did. And anyhow Liverpool people are always friendly. But most of all I shall remember Exchange Flags because that was where I met my future wife.