Interviewed by Geoff Moore, 6 December 2018.
So Steve, going back before Granada, just tell us a bit about your background and education and stuff?
Yes, well I grew up in a place called Kirkby, which was a big council estate on the outskirts of Liverpool. Newtown. It was where Z Cars was located. They didn’t call it Kirkby in Z Cars, they called it Newtown, but they used to shoot all their location stuff. My local pub was in the titles. And Kirkby, it was in Harold Wilson’s constituency, so you grew up with the Prime Minister being your local MP. But an estate which had quite a rough reputation. It was largely Catholic families from the Liverpool dockside who’d been moved out after slum clearance after the Second World War. It was almost like a dispossessed population, in that sense, because they’d all been torn away from their mothers and fathers. Like my parents, my mom was 19 when she had me and they were suddenly turfed eight miles up the east Banks Road to a place called Kirkby. Which to them felt like the other side of the world, really. And all their community and their network and their families was all back down the Liverpool Dock Road. We weren’t alone in that. There was a lot of families like that.
So I grew up in Kirkby. Because it was Wilson’s constituency and it was a new town, Wilson made it the first all-comprehensive town in the UK. So the only secondary schools were comprehensive schools. There was a boys Catholic comprehensive school, girls Catholic comprehensive school, and two CofE comprehensive schools. And I went to St Kevin’s Catholic comprehensive school. I always wanted to be a footballer, I always wanted to play for Liverpool, and I had trials for Liverpool. Bill Shankly once told me I took a good corner in a trial. But I didn’t get picked.
I was at a Liverpool football game and I was reading a programme and I was reading a piece by a Daily Express reporter writing about covering Liverpool and all the different places in Europe he’d been to. He’d been to Budapest. He’d been to Bucharest. He’d been to Moscow. He’d been to Paris. He’d been to Rome. I just thought, “Surely that’s got to be… If I can’t be a footballer, I’ll go and write about football. I’ll write about Liverpool.” So I wrote to my local newspaper. I went to a careers convention where journalism wasn’t even represented. The closest that you got to it, they had a stand if you wanted to be a printer. And I went to the head of careers and said, “What if I want to be a journalist?” He said, “Well, we haven’t got anybody here representing that.” And I said, “Well, what if I got in touch with my local newspaper and offered to write for free about football reports every weekend?” Because all the pitches in Kirkby were full of people playing football, and the schools. He said, “Well, you could have a go.” So I did, and they bit my hand off. Suddenly, at the age of 14, I was writing football reports for the Kirkby Reporter and they used to get printed every week and my name used to go on it. And after a while, I sent…
Was this Liverpool football?
No. It was just schoolboy football matches. Yes. Then they asked me to report on Kirkby Town. I’d do it for the Kirkby Reporter but also the Blackpool Gazette. And then, I got to 16 and my dad really wanted me to take my A Levels and try to go to university. But I’d got the minimum required qualifications to be a journalist. I got five O Levels. And the Kirkby Reporter offered me a job. They said, “You can get in with that.” So they offered me a job. The Kirkby Reporter was part of a group of newspapers called South Lancashire Newspapers, which were based in St Helens.
And what they did, they…I was 16. You were put on a three month trial, and then if you passed your three month trial, they then would give you a job for three years, three months and they would train you. You know, pay for your training. So I got through the three months and then I was put on a… There used to be lots of different ways you could be trained. You could take a year old, go to a college. Preston was the big place in the North West. You could, over a two year period, go on eight week block release courses. I think three eight week courses. Or you could do a day release course. That’s what I used to do. I used to go to a college in Liverpool every Thursday. I was taught shorthand and public administration, use of language, newspaper law. And you passed all those exams and then you took the final proficiency certificate, which I took at 18. I was the youngest person in the country ever to… because I’d started so early.
I saw out my time at the Kirkby Reporter. I did my indentures. In fact, I started doing freelance stuff for Granada while I was there. While we worked for the local paper, we were always doing freelance stuff on the side. We’d go to a council meeting or court meeting, we’d send a copy to Radio City in Liverpool as well, and Radio Merseyside. You’d get paid a couple of quid. I built a relationship with Geoff Seed at Granada, and we used to send him bits of copy. Liverpool Council was a big story in those days.
But then, what was happening all at this same time, it was the late ‘70s, the Granada franchise was up for renewal. And Granada had got spooked by this man called Terry Smith who ran Radio City in Liverpool. Radio City had started about four or five years earlier. It had been a big success commercially. And Terry Smith was now saying that Granada was too Manchester dominated. There was no real television service for Liverpool and Merseyside and North Wales. That everything that happened on Granada was… if it happened west of the M6, they weren’t interested. And he launched this campaign, I think first of all to take away Granada’s… He was going to challenge Granada’s licence. But then he came up with a plan B which was to try and split the transmitter so that even if he didn’t get the whole of the franchise, he would try and take Liverpool and North Wales and split the Granada franchise. This really spooked Granada. I don’t think it was ever going to happen. I don’t think, actually, physically it could happen. Yes. The IBA were not going to take that off Granada. But anyway, Granada got spooked. So they went on a big Liverpool recruitment drive. Chris Pye was sent to be head of Liverpool. And a lot of people, because I was so much younger, a lot of the people I worked with were much older than me. Eight, 10 years older. But they all knew me. I’d been around quite a bit. And there were two people in particular who both worked in Liverpool who got jobs at Granada. One was Michael Short. The other one was John Toker. I worked with both of them really, really closely. And they were lobbying Granada… Steve Morrison, head of local programmes, to take me on. And as I was leaving my local reporter group that day, I went to see Steve. But I was being offered a job by the Liverpool Echo at that time as well. So he felt, I was only 19, he thought it was probably better if I went and did a year on the Liverpool Echo. You know, “Do that.”
19, yes. Or at least, “Go and do the Echo first, then we can talk again.” And in fact, I only did 10 months on the Echo. And then Granada came back, because they were going to properly open the Liverpool office. Because while people like John and Mike had been hired, they were still working out of Manchester. And what Granada wanted to do now was open an office, which they were going to do… a production office with a studio in Exchange Flags. So I was hired. Chris was the head of Granada Liverpool, but I was working with John Toker and Marian Nelson. Gill Hallifax was our person on reception. And John and I would be making daily news reports for Granada Reports.
So what year was this?
This was November 1978.
So there was a lot of interest in the region, not just representing Manchester, and Granada had to respond to it in some way, didn’t they? They couldn’t ignore it.
Correct. Yes, yes. So John and I were essentially getting at least two pieces on Granada. We normally were in the newsroom, so we were normally in the Bob Smithies news. We didn’t really make the three minute features. We were always doing… Also, it was the Winter of Discontent. The strikes were on. It was the fall. It was the beginning of the fall of the Callaghan government. And it was also the terrible winter. We had snow on the ground for three months, at a time when they couldn’t even bury the dead in Liverpool. So it was a hell of a time to be joining. But of course, I was 20, but when I went on screen on 16mm film, I looked about 12. So I’d be standing outside a picket line, just a 12-year-old. Andy Harries and I went on screen together for the first time on the same night.
Is that right?
Yes. I was covering Liverpool bus strike, and he was covering a Manchester Airport strike.
Was Andy Harries on screen?
He was on screen, yes. He was on screen, yes.
Right. Let’s go back to Exchange Flags, the setting up of the Liverpool operation is quite interesting. I don’t think anyone’s talked about that. But you were there. Were you there from day one, at Exchange Flags?
No, it started… I think it was already underway when I got there, yes, yes.
Was Exchange Flags, it was Granada Liverpool, it wasn’t just Granada Reports?
It was Granada Liverpool, yes. I mean, different shows came from there. It was used for an afternoon… it was a daytime show, the Shelley Rohde show
I produced it. Live from Two. No, it wasn’t Live from Two.
It was Live from Studio Two, wasn’t it?
Well, there was a programme made that came out, and then we did other inserts as well into… but first of all, it was a base for… it was the biggest representation that Liverpool Granada was getting on Granada Reports every night, so that became the big thing to do. And that’s where John and I were. We were news reporters, so that’s what we were going to do for work.
So what was your first job title at Granada?
I think I was just called a journalist. I was just called journalist. Because I wasn’t in the ACCT, I couldn’t be called a researcher. So I was just a journalist.
As a reporter based out of Exchange Flags?
Right. Who was the editor of Granada Reports, then?
Rod Caird. Well, it used to alternate each night. It would be, Rob would produce it one night, and Steve Hawes would produce it the next night.
Rachel Hedditch was the news editor.
I didn’t know any of that, and I should do. So Chris Pye’s job was to be, sort of, Mr Liverpool, to the outside world?
Yes. Yes. And often the Bernsteins would just drop in. They took a big interest in it. I remember… was it Sidney? I think Sidney did drop in one afternoon and then said to John Toker, “Take me around Liverpool.” And then John rang Rachel Hebditch, because he was supposed to be doing a story. And he said, “Well, Sidney Bernstein…” And she goes, “Fuck Bernstein. You’ve got a story to do.” He went, “With respect, I’m not going to.”
She would. So it’s ‘78 you joined?
How long were you doing that job as a journalist, and what was your next job?
I was doing it until the strike, actually.
That was ‘79.
‘79. The strike happened August, I think. July, August. Yes. Maybe slightly earlier. What we did, actually, we stumbled on what turned out to be a very big story, John and I. It was the death of this man called Jimmy Kelly who died in police custody in Merseyside. With Mike Short particularly, because he’d just come back from World in Action onto local programmes. We actually made something like a 15-minute report for Granada Reports. The night before the strike happened, we had this big report out. You know, George Jesse Turner came out to Liverpool and shot it for us, a proper two plus two crew. We filmed it, it was like a mini World in Action. We showed how a man had been killed by the police, really, in police custody when he was just a drunk, essentially, and he’d been beaten up by the cops. It was very difficult for John and I because it’d happened at the same police station which we both used to cover as local journalists. We knew nearly all the detectives involved. So yes, I did that up until strike, ‘79, and then when the strike happened, which we can talk about if you want to?
But then when I came back, when the strike was over, Granada was launching a lunchtime news bulletin. A five minute lunchtime news bulletin. And they asked me to be the first editor of that, get it on the air. It was only five minutes. It was quite complicated because you couldn’t do it from the Granada Reports studio because it would’ve cost too much. The only way it could be broadcast was through the presentation studio. So we had to work with Joe Rigby’s team and David Black’s team, the transmission controllers. It was the station announcers would be the news readers. You know, people like Jim Pope, Charles Burgess. They would read the news at lunchtime. And that’s how I got to meet Pam, because Granada had hired… Pam was Joe Rigby’s secretary, Carol Graham’s secretary. Joe’s team had to do all the admin for it. And so they hired this young girl called Anita Nutall to be like Pam’s assistant, for her to come down and do it. And so Pam brought Anita down, and that’s how Pam and I met. So that was that. (Pam is Steve Anderson’s wife)
How about that?
That was over the lunchtime news, the Granada lunchtime news.
Yes. Tell me about the strike? You were there on the ground, you had to deal with that?
Yes. I mean, it was very bruising because…
How long was the strike?
It was 11 weeks.
It was the summer of ‘79, wasn’t it? I remember some people got other jobs, it went on for so long.
Yes, yes. It was very bruising because I was… Andy Harries and I were the joint FoCs, Fathers of the Chapel, for the NUJ. And because the NUJ was never ever particularly considered a television union, it was a print union, as far as television people were considered. There was no, certainly at national level, there was very little recognition of the NUJ within television. As far as the ACCT were concerned, all the creatives worked for them. NATKE had the secretaries and the clerical. For the ETU, it was the sparks. But the ACCT wanted… everybody on World in Action was in the ACCT. And so, journalists were… It was a threat to their… what’s the word? It was closed shop, essentially. They didn’t want this rival creative base. So talks were going on at a national level and the NUJ were excluded from them. And then the strike was called.
And within Granada, even though the Granada studios knew that we were excluded, there was a sort of expectation that we would join the strike anyway because we all worked so closely with everybody and we were supportive. There was clearly going to be resentment that we were going to get paid while every… and also, the strike would not then be 100% if we were officially working. But I got summoned down to London. Vincent Hanna who was the sort of legendary BBC presenter was the chairman of the NUJ broadcasting council, and he just ordered all of the ITV union officials, in no uncertain terms, that no matter what pressure we came under locally, we could not join the strike. The NUJ was not on strike. The NUJ had been excluded from the national talks. So our members were going to continue to get paid. We had no right to take them out on strike, because it would not be recognised nationally. We would then be liable for our members’ pay.
So there would be some resentment from the other unions, was there, towards the NUJ?
Yes. Yes. I mean, we came under a lot of pressure from the ACCT, from the stewards in Manchester, about our position. And they wanted us out. And we just said, “We can’t come out. Go and speak to your national officers.” But then every week, we’d have a meeting at the Manchester press club. We used to have big rows about whether we should join the strike anyway. But people expected to be paid, but because there’s nobody in Granada to actually process the payments because they were all on strike, but it was very important for Granada to pay the NUJ members. So I used to go to the car park lodge on the way to the Manchester press club, I think it was every Wednesday morning, and Jules Burns would come out and give me a big, fat, brown envelope with everybody’s wages attached separately. So full of cash. And I’d take this envelope full of cash down to the Manchester press club and I would distribute it one by one to the people.
That’s great, that’s great.
Now, what we did, to be fair, as I say there were a lot of people, a lot of NUJ people who did want to join the strike and felt uneasy about being paid while their colleagues were not being paid. And so there were actually very big donations made to the hardship fund that had been set up by the ACTT, from those NUJ members who went on strike.
Were you father of the chapel?
Yes. Andy and I were the joint fathers of the chapel, yes. Because I was officially in Liverpool and he was in Manchester.
Right. So what happened after the strike was resolved?
Well, I then get offered this job in Manchester, essentially. I was, essentially, made the assistant news editor. There was a man called Tom McPhail, big Irish guy, who’d become the news editor. And Richard Gregory had been hired; Richard and I became the two assistant news editors, and we would do a week on, week off, of the lunch time news. Then the next week you’d be, essentially, deputy news editor. So, I, then, started working in Manchester a lot more. I wasn’t doing as much in Exchange Flags now. And I did the lunch time news. Got on the air. Everybody was very happy with it. And, then, Granada was launching a new weekly politics show. It was like a, sort of, politics review show. It was called A Week on Friday, if you remember it? Gordon Burns presented it. And I’d had enough of doing the lunch time news, after a bit, so I said I’d like to work on it. So I got a job on that. It was a team of, Gordon Burns, Mike Short was producing it, Stuart Prebble was the reporter. I was the researcher. I was trying to get into the ACTT now. Charlie Kitchen was the studio director. It was a Friday night programme, half-an-hour, after the news. It sort of took the place of Report Politics, essentially. I think Colin Bell was also a researcher on it. I worked on that for about… I joined World in Action in November 1980, so I must have been about six months on A Week on Friday, and then I got a job on World in Action.
So you were a researcher on A Week on Friday?
And then you became a researcher on World in Action?
Yes. And I was in the ACTT then.
Who brought you into World in Action? How did you get there?
Well, again, Mike was being very supportive. And I think the Jimmy Kelly thing had gone a long way. Ray Fitzwalter had seen it; it was becoming a story that was being talked about. There was job going, which I think John Smithson got. And I think it was at the board that it was suddenly decided, actually, they really needed two people. And as I understand it, Steve Morrison said to Ray, “Steve Anderson’s desperate to come and join World in Action. He’s absolutely made for you. Why don’t you give it a go?” I’d met Ray a few times and he’d be in his classic, non-committal, “Make a few more programmes and we can talk.” And Ray was just told, “Here’s somebody’s who’s here. He’s ready to go. He’ll run…
Did you have to go through a boarding process?
I didn’t. Funnily enough, I just sort of got it. I’d had lots of sort of semi-interviews, but I don’t think they had a board. I think it was just like a meeting. And then, suddenly it was, “If you want to join World in Action you’re on next week.”
So you didn’t actually work on Granada Reports?
Yes, I was. I was on Granada Reports when I was in Exchange Flags. I was working for Granada Reports then.
But not in the Manchester newsroom?
The weeks I wasn’t doing the lunchtime news… but even though I did the lunchtime news, I’d normally carry on and work on Granada Reports that night as well. But I was working on Grenada Reports.
So, at that time, did you live in Liverpool and drive to Manchester?
Lived in Liverpool and drove across, yes.
What year did you start on World in Action?
1980. So, I was 22.
22? That’s the same age I was, when I joined.
Really? We are a lucky band.
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 snow storm 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 Gus 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 Alan 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.
How long were you on World in Action?
Always as a researcher?
Yes. Yes. I ended up going to America about five times for World in Action. A big hour-long special from California. And my first trip to America.
What was the subject?
It was about Russian spies in Silicon Valley. At the age of 24 I flew to San Francisco from London on a club-class flight. The Union rule meant that I had to stay in, at least four star hotels, all the time I was in Sunnyvale and in San Francisco. I had a five week trip to America and filmed in, essentially, the West Coast, then we moved across to Washington. And there were nine of us. There were nine of us.
Yes. I’ve had a similar experience, yes. You can’t beat it!
God knows how much it cost!
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.
So when did you leave World in Action?
I left in the summer of 1984. I had nothing against World in Action. I was actually having a great time on World in Action at that time. But I’d applied for a producer’s job on Granada Reports, which I didn’t get. And I felt really upset about it. I was only 26, but I think had such a sort of fast ride. And people like Mike Short, and others, had been World in Action researchers and then become Granada Reports’ producers. And I loved Granada Reports, actually loved the show. I really wanted to produce it. And, frankly, I could have produced it, but they didn’t give it to me. And I was upset about that, really upset. Because I was actually making a load of World in Action’s by that time, and more or less producing them as well. Because, the way it was, there were no reporters. The producers of the programmes were, essentially, producer/directors. George Jesse Turner often sort of directed himself. But as a researcher in that sort of unit you had a lot of power; you shaped the programme. So I felt I was, essentially, already producing World in Action. Why couldn’t I be producing Granada Reports? Anyway, for one reason or other I didn’t get it.
It just so happened, at that time, I’d done a lot of work with a man called David Taylor, who was a former BBC producer who’d come to Granada. He was a friend of Ray’s. He never quite settled at Granada, and he got a job at BBC Manchester running the radio programme File on Four. But then moved back into television and was given a big project on the Ministry of Defence. And he, at the same time Granada was not offering me a producer’s job, he was offering me an assistant producer’s job at BBC Manchester. And I thought, “I’ll go. I’ll go, two years. It’s the BBC. It’s nice to have the BBC on our CV anyway. And I’ll be back.” And I never came back!
You never came back! So that was that. How long did you stay, in Manchester, at the BBC?
I was there for two-and-a-half years.
All right. And, after that, you went to where?
I then came down to Lime Grove, in London, and got a job on Newsnight. And I was on Newsnight for five years. I then launched a weekly current affairs programme…
Did you produce at the BBC?
Yes, I did. Yes. Yes. I was programme editor at Newsnight. And I became the editor of Watchdog: my last job at the BBC was being editor of Watchdog for three years.
When you came to Granada, Manchester, from your very kind of narrow, really, you know, Kirby and the Liverpool Echo. By the way, my first job was with the Liverpool Echo. We have a lot in common?
We do. We do. Gatley as well.
So you come into Granada, Manchester. You know, you’ve got Coronation Street around you, as well as World in Action, so there’s your entertainment guide. So that must have opened your eyes to the wider world of television?
Did any of these other bits of the business interest you, in working in?
I was fascinated by them. I mean, all the Coronation Street… I remember taking my parents around Coronation Street, one weekend. It was funny because, talk about crossing the line, that sort of added to this totally different world really. Even when I was a newspaper reporter, at least I was covering my local patch. My dad was a pipe fitter. My mum was a school dinner lady. There was no media in my family at all. It was always a bit glamorous that I was working on the local paper. To suddenly be at Granada Television, it was like you’ve won the Pools, you know. And the fact that I can say, “I was in the lift with Miss Nugent today!” “I was in the canteen and Albert Tatlock was there.” My parents, you could almost feel that they’re not quite believing you, you know. It meant I just entered a different world. Already, I’d moved away from a lot of my friends at school. Because I was living a different life to them anyway. But this was it. This was a totally different world I was going into.
So, you left school at 16, didn’t you?
So, obviously, no university?
No. You’d come into World in Action with a lot of graduates, and some of them posh graduates, and all that. How did you deal with that?
Funnily enough, I never found that as much. I found that the people who were the, as you say, “The poshest,” I actually got on with the best. People like Steven Clarke who was a star of Oxford University, him and I made quite a lot of programmes together.
Yes. And we got on perfectly well. He was the guy I was in America with for five weeks, you know.
David Taylor was the boss of the President’s Union at University of London; he ended up taking me to the BBC. David Mills, I made a lot of programmes with; I think he was at Bristol University. I found that much more at the BBC than I did at Granada.
There was a difference?
Yes. I never felt actually at Granada, for a second, that anybody was discriminating against me because of where I’d come from. I never felt that. It was always more, there, at the BBC. But I never felt that at all at Granada.
You were self-confident? I mean, as a reporter you need to be self-confident. You’ve always had that in you?
Yes. But you’re always a ball of neurosis anyway. You always think you’re fucking it up, or you’re not getting a story right. But, no. I think, honestly, I look back, I can’t remember a moment when I felt I was being patronised or people were looking down their nose at me. World in Action, particularly, was almost like a meeting of the local Labour Party anyway. There were a lot of people there from, ex-Socialist Worker’s Party, ex-International Marxist. As I say, I found that that was not an issue.
I’ve just been talking to Jules Burns earlier on about the golden years when there was very little competition. When you had guaranteed slots and guaranteed position on the network.
Think of programmes like Reports Politics …..
I did an entertainment show called What’s On.
Yes, I remember it, yes, Tony Wilson.
Yes, which ran for 40 weeks a year, 40 one hour shows. And all these other programmes, every week you got a show. That doesn’t apply any more. Everyone fights with everyone.
I think I was counting it up one time. I think the period when I was there, when Steve Morrison was head of local programmes, there were 18 different shows.
Yes, that we had on the air.
Yes, is that right?
Can you name them? Or can we name them?
I’m sure you could. I could name 18, I’ll try and do a list again, but it was phenomenal output, a phenomenal group of people that we managed to pull together.
There was. I know because I do Close to the Edge, which was local religion. We also did a farming programme, remember that?
Down to Earth.
Down to Earth, yes.
Was on every week.
Remember The Mersey Pirate?
Was that network?
Think it was network. Think it started on…
Did you work on that?
No, I didn’t, but Sandy (Ross) was at Granada Reports when he was launching it.
That’s right, and Reports Politics, and What’s On, which I did.
Yes, So it Goes as well.
Which I worked on.
Live from Two
Live from Two?
Reports Politics, Reports. Action, This is Your Right…
Kick Off. Remember the guy… remember somebody applied for a researcher job on Kick Off and wrote his letter on a ball? That was a great story at the Kick Off. I was at this application completely written it on a ball.
I tell you what I found funniest thing for me. Newspapers are really quite conservative. You know, they’re really… they respect hierarchies. You know, the editor is a god. The owners of the newspapers are untouchable people. And journalists themselves are quite conservative people. Within their organisation they do respect the hierarchy, because if you don’t, the newspaper doesn’t get out. There’s a tyranny that this paper’s got to get out every day and it’s daily paper, so of course there’s a morning paper and evening paper. So, you have to follow the rules. And because I joined these papers very early, and I was doing things at the age of 16-17, I was covering court cases and covering the local council meetings. I was wearing jackets and ties, you know. 16-17. I was quite and old young man when I came to Granada. And suddenly here was this culture where nobody wore a tie. You are actively encouraged to call your boss a twat. And tell him to fuck off. Treat them with total disdain. And I found that actually the hardest thing to come to terms with, because I was really quite a respectable young man. You know punk, which should have been my era, passed me by because I couldn’t do anything like that.
I remember. Because I worked a little for Daily Post. While you were in the newsroom in the local Daily Post. I was terrified. It was a black dungeon full of drunken scousers.
Is this is Victoria Street?
Yes. One, who won, hated graduates. And two, hated southerners.
And I fitted both bills. And don’t give me a hard time, but I used to go out and do the church services, and get the bus, keep the bus ticket for receiving sixpence here, and eight pence there. But I first went to Granada, I gave John Burke my first expenses, and I said, “It’s bus fare.” And he said, “What are you doing? Bus fares! Get lost!”
Well, Tony Wilson worked at the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo.
Because the Echo had an Oxbridge graduate training scheme. But funny, if talk about feeling a bit down… I used to feel it a lot more at Liverpool Echo. There was a whole group of people, who are now big, you know, Henry Porter, who’s a big writer now, and Ivo Dawnay, who’s married to Boris Johnson’s sister. Hugo Davenport, whose father was an actor, Nigel Davenport. There was a whole group of six or seven… Charles Nevin, you know, very highly educated people that were the Echo’s Oxbridge trainees. And they who other scheme, while they gave a certain number of jobs to people from Oxford and Cambridge over the year. They’d give them two years, and then either keep them on… normally, those guys wanted to gap to Fleet Street.
But Tony was hired from Cambridge. He had a year, apparently. Apparently there’s this great story about him where he used to wear a cape, and if there was a…the only journalist at the Liverpool Daily Post that can wear a cape. There was a meeting called of all the staff, and there was a man called Ian Park, who was the managing director of the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo. Wanted to speak to all the staff, and tell them why the latest pay demands from the unions was being rejected. And the Echo is now instituting a pay freeze, because market conditions were so bad, and the outlook was poor. So the only way they could all keep their jobs was with a pay freeze for the next two years. Apparently Tony was sitting on the floor, shouted, “How much bread are you on, man?”
Fantastic. I found this piece on Steve Morrison you wrote sometime…
Oh, yes. Yes, yes, yes.
You know, your opening paragraph about the talent, the name. I mean, it’s very, very impressive list piece. Do you want to talk a bit about the calibre of the people that you were working with there?
Yes, I mean of course it’s only now you see how well everybody’s done, you realise just how brilliant they all were. But clearly… it was astonishing just to see and be around people who were so brilliant at their job. And often working with the slimmest of resources. No money, no funding, and we all know, pretty ramshackle place regional programmes was. These days you look back and think, “Christ, it was well resourced,” but it always felt like you’re about to fall off the air any minute, didn’t it.
It did, yes.
There were never enough crews for everything you wanted to do…
I produced the thing. We always used to have a standby rack of local bands.
Yes, yes, yes. Yes. Yes.
I digress. I was in Manchester, and I went over to Liverpool, and Bob cleared this with the news. Silence. We can’t go over to Liverpool at the moment. But as soon as we can, we will. Pause. The Holton Weavers have long been one of the…
There was some bizarre standby films, wasn’t there? There was always a standby called Conger Eels. And it was a film about conger eels! Which I think had been shot at Chester Zoo or something like that.
We had a director who used to be called Sam Simmons, his name was…
… and Short used to call him Sam ‘I Love Conger Eels’ Simmons, because every night he’d say, “I hope we can run the conger eels film tonight.” Rather than some ropey old, you know, regional feature that had been shot on the day.
That’s right, that’s right.
But I think it never went out.
Finally, I want to ask you…
But they were incredibly talented people.
It was a very… the atmosphere was very creative. People were encouraged to be off the walls.
I remember one morning, one morning meeting, you know we’d used to go around and, “What’s your ideas?” Ed used to get himself really worked up before he’d speak and so, he got his hands and he’d go, “Man, there’s a lot of funky things going on down in London now at the moment!”
Paul I worked with on World In Action, but he’d been on Kick Off, I think.
Yes. Because he’s a little bit older than me, and he was just though he was about a year ahead… By the time I joined World in Action he was already a superstar there, you know he was turning in. And of course his big breakthrough was the Manchester United programme that he did with Mike Short and Geoff Seed where they…
What was that?
It was the whole share scheme, they found that Louie Edwards had been involved in a dodgy share scheme in terms of buying and controlling rights to Man United.
Which, it should have come out when the strike was on. It was held over, and it went out. It was one of these programmes that just stop the world. You know, it was like corrupt… and Louie Edwards died eight days later. Died eight days after the programme went on.
Tell me again that story about the Toxteth Riots where you shot this footage.
It was July 4, 1981, the day I got married. I got married in Gatley. St James’s church, Gatley. And we had the reception in Alderley Edge, cherry centre all the way, because all the money crowd had come over from Liverpool and there wasn’t just my family, but lots of journo mates as well. And that was the night that Toxteth Riots started. So, the night the Toxteth Riots started, most of the journalist in Liverpool were actually in a hotel in Alderley Edge, missing the story entirely. But, then the following day, the words had filtered through that Toxteth was burning, and John Toker in his wedding suit, the suit he wore to the wedding dashed across , met the crew, the crew was allocated, Alan Almond was cameraman I seem to recall, I think Pete Collins was sound recorder. And they just shot the most amazing material. Throughout that take, the story just kept on happening in front of them, shops burning, petrol bombs, people attacking the police, police fighting back. I’m sorry, countries, because I was pretty far from Manchester that morning. But what happened was that, not a frame of it got shown on the Granada report on the Monday, because they filmed more than 1,600ft of film. The union rule was, an ACCT rule was, if you shoot more than 1,600ft, that then is a two plus two crew, you’re not allowed to put any of it out. And so, I think they shot two and half thousand feet, but it was blacked, all the footage was blacked. And so Granada, as I recall, probably need to check it, but I recall put out cartoons that night, rather than put out a programme without the key material that Granada had gathered that weekend, on a point of principle, they wanted a point about how ridiculous the union were being about this. And put out cartoons.
And that’s never been shown.
Eventually it was. I think, I mean, in fact I was halfway… I’d been making a World in Action in Toxteth, in the weeks leading up to my wedding. It was a story about street driving Toxteth, about the number of old grannies that were being bopped over the head, and it was a way to look at what’s happening to you, and people, and the fact that nobody’s got any work, and what’s happening to society.
So, we’d already halfway shot a World in Action in Toxteth. And so it was then turned, while I was away, it was turned into a programme about and actually, I think the World in Action was allowed to use some of that footage. As I came back this was one day a programme, and I thought we’d be working on, well I knew it’d been overtaken by events, but David Taylor sort of made them in tune, very sharp programme, that we’d been filming in Toxteth, the weeks leading up to the riots.
Good. Final question maybe. You went to the BBC quite young, you know you’re still in your mid-20s when you left Granada.
Yes, 26. Yes…
And you were at the BBC quite a while weren’t you?
I was 13, 13 and a half years at the BBC.
Tell me about the transition to ITV, back again, and how did that happen?
What I’d been running Watchdog at the BBC, and for three years, and it turned into quite a bit of a hit. It was just a great time for consumer Journalism, I had a fantastic team working with me. I was working with Anne Robinson, who I’d worked with a little back there all those years earlier, we knew each other. We really got on, and the programme was getting amazing ratings. We were getting eight and a half million, nine million for Watchdog. So much so, that the BBC moved it away from Coronation Street, and reckoned they were wasting it. Moved it against Emmerdale, we were often, we were giving (Phonetic 54:24) Emmerdale a bloody good run for its money, at seven o’ clock.
And I was getting spin off programmes, they gave me… for a long time I had three shows a week on BBC 1. The Watchdog, the Watchdog spin off. And David, who I’d worked with.
David Liddiment I’d worked with, obviously he’d been a studio director on Granada Reports, when I was news editor, and made reports. And we’d known each other and we’d send, so he was living quite close to me as well. And I got told that he was interested in possibly doing a consumer show for… he got the job as director of programmes in 1980. And, I got in touch with him, and he said, “I was just about to get in touch with you, come around and see me.” So we talked, we had a few meetings. And we talked about news, we talked about current affairs. And he offered me a job, which I jumped at.
Because, it was a big job. I love David.
I love, I wanted to go back to, I always wanted to go back to ITV.
Oh, did you want to?
Yes, I did, because I’ve had fantastic times at the BBC, but I always instinctively felt like a Granada person. Now, I know I was going to ITV, different, but there were still so many people around who I knew, and you were making progress. Adam Elms, Ian McBride, Charles Germane, Steve Bolton. There was still a big gang of people who I knew, and loved, and worked with. So, it was very exciting to go back, and to be and the music unfurls, just a great job. Jumped at it.
So, you moved to London when…
I moved to London in 1987. About when I got the job in Lime Grove, Pam and I moved down. Pam carried on working in Granada after I left, then she transferred down to working Government Square where she went to the bank called Dennis Flack, who was a board director. And he, Dennis was in charge of the bid for the franchise in 1991. So, Pam became the franchise coordinator. She had to get all the material together for Granada’s franchise bid, and she was pregnant with our second child at that time. So, she handed in Granada’s bid, on the Friday, and finished for her maternity leave that night.
Got a taxi out to the IBA, B Walter House, handed in this volumes.
Submissions, supports of Granada’s franchise bid in ‘91. But she knew what the plans were, and she knew when she would finish them, and return to them and turn to me, and get made redundant, because she could see all the plans for the future. So, she came back as a worker for Granada for of the years, she finished, she finished up, but then she actually got a job in Carlton. She got a job at the press office in Carlton. So she became, she was press office editor, at Carlton. So, she did three years at Carlton. And then switched to the BBC. So she had something like, 15, 16 years at the BBC.
Thank you very much, as I said.
All right. Thank you, thank you.
That was great. Great stories in there, and the Liverpool connection is really important. I don’t think anyone else has talked about that, and how that worked.
Yes, It’s worth you having a chat with John (Toker). You know, he was…
What’s he doing?
He’s retired now. So, he’s got plenty of time. He’s a household, he’s got two little kids, and he got remarried. He’s married to Deborah Turner, who’s the president of NBC News.
He lived in America up until last year, then went to across… they live in upstate New York for four years.
Is that right?
But Deborah’s now become president of NBC News International, so she operates mainly from…
Lyon, in France. So she works between London, and Lyon. So they’ve moved.