What year did you start on World in Action?
- So, I was 22.
What was your first show?
The first show was about the Yorkshire Ripper. It was the time when those tapes had come out. You know, those tapes that had gone to the West Yorkshire Police, and this man claiming that he was the Yorkshire Ripper. In the end, they turned out to be totally hoaxes. But the man who leading the hunt, George Oldfield, had got such a bee in his bonnet. He was having a nervous breakdown. He was an alcoholic by this time. He’d become fixated on these tapes and he played them publicly to the news, and the all rest of it.
The guy on the tape had said he was going strike again on this particular Friday in early December 1980. World in Action had just had a programme that had gone down, so we decided to do a fresh programme. It was, like, “Send three crews to Leeds and we’ll just film there all weekend,” you know? And then, bit of a cock-up. The producer was a man called David Bowen-Jones, and he’d got a load of hire cars out from, might have been Hertz, I don’t know, and distributed all the cars to everybody. I was taking the crew round to all the locations, in Leeds, where the Ripper had struck. To get, “April the 14th, he struck here,” and, “March the 25th, he struck here.” And I had this big map of Leeds in the car, with crosses, and taking the crew to get a shot of this location, get a shot of another location. And that night we ended up at Leeds University, there was a Student Union Christmas Ball on. The thing was, all these girls were going to be out ‘til two o’clock in the morning. The Ripper had said he was going to strike again. The latest thing he’d been killing was students, the group he’d been killing was students. So this whole thing, “Why are these girls out? They’re doing it in defiance.”
When we came out of the disco, all of our cars were snowed in. There’d been this absolute dump of a snowstorm while we were in there, so we couldn’t move the cars. So we got taxis back to the Leeds Dragonara Hotel, where we were staying. And then the next day, this was the Saturday, we were editing the programme for Monday night. So, the following morning, just straight out and onto the train across to Manchester. There’s two edit suites going. And halfway through the afternoon there’s a phone call put into Granada for David Bowen-Jones. Who’s asked if it’s him? “Did you hire a car in Leeds?” “Yes.” “Can you come to Milgarth Police Station immediately, please, for questioning?” So David had to abandon the edit and go across to Leeds. And the reason why is because the police had found some abandoned vehicles at Leeds University, and in one of the cars was a big map with X’s on it!
Of all the areas where the Ripper had struck!
Very good! Well, that was a baptism of fire for you, wasn’t it?
Well, I think, because I was that sort of age, and wasn’t married, and was prepared to run myself into the ground for them. I did about six crash programmes in about three months. I did one with Steve (Kelly), actually, because the Labour Party was imploding at that time, as well, over Europe. The SDP was being formed. And we did a big live debate one night, in London, with just Macdonald presenting it, about the future of the Labour Party. That was a crash one I did with Steve. We did an interview with Michael Foot. Michael Foot had just become Labour leader, it was his first television interview. We shot that interview at Allan Segal’s house, two cameras, David Taylor was the reporter. I was just being chucked at all sorts of crash programmes really, in the first few months.