The World in Action period, what did you make of the culture of the programme and the people working there? How did you react to all that?
I, sort of, loved it. And I loved it, was terrified of it, but also there was part of it I really didn’t like, as well. I think, for me, temperamentally, it was always a bit of an adjustment to be going to something which was… having really been a news journalist, as somebody went out and did a story that day and it got on the air that night. I mean, the slowest I’ve ever done was, A Week on Friday, which was just a weekly programme.
Yes. To suddenly be spending three months on a programme, I found it very wasteful. I found a lot of time when I was just not really doing much. There’s only so much you can research, you know. There were also those periods where you really weren’t making a programme, that you’d be “on the books” and researching stuff, but you weren’t making anything. And I found that, at that age… and I think I’d find it even now, terribly frustrating. No, I was much more into the instant, the fast moving.
But when you’re on a programme and it was working, it was a great place to be. And when the programmes hit the spot, it was fantastic. I remember Ian MacBride once saying that… you probably couldn’t use this phrase now, but people used to call World in Action, “The hairs on Granada’s chest,” you know. That when there was a great World in Action, suddenly the whole building felt different; it had an amazing effect on Quay Street and everybody who worked there. This was big powerful piece of, not just national but, often, international journalism, which had come out of Manchester. And we’d done it. And, “Nobody else does it like we do it.” And, “This is what’s special about this place.” And that was great, to feel part of that. The politics were vicious. The politics of all current affairs’ programmes, wherever I’ve worked, Panorama, Newsnight, but I found it particularly vicious.
In what sense?
I think, the London/Manchester split was very corrosive. The people who worked, particularly in Golden Square in London, they were big beast themselves. A lot of them had been big journalists on Fleet Street, or big documentary makers; they didn’t quite understand why they’d have to go to Manchester. They resented the editor being 200 miles away in this strange little northern town, which they’d only go to, now, under instruction, or to be in an edit suite. That was very corrosive. I think that was very bad for the team.
I think, as well, there were just a lot of egos. A lot of them were big beasts. A lot of people, I’m not saying everybody by any stretch of the imagination, but a couple of people took themselves incredibly seriously and felt that the world was just waiting for their World in Action. And Granada indulged people like that, as well, which was a good thing. But there were groups within the programme, there were cabals, there were tribes; and I didn’t like that about it.
I mean, Ray was lauded, rightly. He was a fantastic editor. Great guy. Most of the time, as far as I can remember, there was some cabal trying to unseat him as the editor of World in Action. There was that constant sort of plotting and scheming. I didn’t like. I just didn’t like.