Steve Morrison recalls managing local programmes

It would be 1976-77. I was asked if I would run the whole of Granada’s regional programmes, which was a very, very interesting job, because you were like a TV station within a TV station, nobody higher up the building really cared, although obviously regional programmes are very important for the licence and the franchise, everybody else in the building was in the network department of entertainment or comedy or drama, and they just left you alone, basically, to do the regional programmes, which were all on the first floor, in the shoddiest offices, because we were the poorest relatives of the building.

But what it did allow to happen was that every year I would do a budget and I would go and see the finance director of the whole of Granada, who was a wonderful guy, and I would say why I needed this and why I needed that, so I started to add programmes to Granada’s regional output within my budget, so invented a programme with a producer, called Reports Extra, which was like a half-hour current affairs every week on a Thursday night, and then we had a programme called What’s On, which was presented and more or les… not produced, but more or less enhanced, by Tony Wilson, and it was full of exciting things that were going on in the region. And then we invented a programme called Celebration, which was basically an arts programme about the best things that were going on.

So the programmes began to increase within the budget that I’d managed to secure from the finance director, and then one Friday night, the team called me in to the larger area where they all worked, I think they were… by then I’d increased the department to 70 people, and they said, “Look, Steve – we’re absolutely exhausted. You keep adding programmes, and we’ve only got so many people, and we’re now making so many more hours than we used to. We just can’t make any more.” So this was like my first revolution in management, and I said, “Why don’t you all hang on here, and I’ll go and phone the chairman and see whether he would agree that we perhaps tempered our output.” And they said, “Oh, could you do that?” and I said, “Yes, I’ll just ring him up at home and see what he thinks.” So everyone stopped talking and I went off to my office and I phoned up Sir Denis Forman, who was then the chairman of Granada, Granada Television being part of the whole Granada group, and he lived at the weekend, although he came up to Manchester in the week, he lived at the weekend, I think, in Essex – very, very famous character, very patrician, but actually quite a liberal, and I rang him up and said, “Denis, it’s Steve Morrison here, I’m in the newsroom in Manchester, and there’s a bit of a revolution going on. We’re making so many programmes, people are falling down on the job, the unions don’t want to work overtime, it’s all very difficult, so I’m going to have to take some action which might temper what we’re actually doing, I just wanted to check it with you.” And he said, “Steve, we have absolute confidence in anything you want to do, just carry on exactly the way you wish and I will back it.” And that was another aspect of Granada. So anyway, we had a wonderful time with a great sense of pride, and turned regional programmes, I hope, from being downtrodden into something exciting.

And what you did was to hire in more people.


One of which was me!

Ah! Welcome. There was a very funny aspect to it, which was, in those days, the Sunday Times review section, which was new, had on its back page, a forecast and a preview of everything that would be on television that week to come, which now of course has developed into a huge magazine called Culture, but in those days was just one page, and it was edited by a very, very interesting guy called Elkan Allan, who had come from entertainment, not from journalism, but was now editing this page. And I went down to London as the little guy who was the head of regional programmes, and I said, “Elkan, I’m from Granada – would you mind, one Sunday, previewing all the programmes as if you were living in Granadaland, and not living in London, and put the London variations as the variations, but the master previews being what would be seen in the north west?” He said, “What a clever, original idea! I couldn’t do that every week, but I’ll come up and I’ll do it once.” So we opened the Sunday Times to see all our little regional programmes that nobody outside the north west had ever heard of, as the sort of default programmes on television, and whatever was on in London or elsewhere were the exceptions. And that was almost like the crowning glory of what we were trying to do with regional programmes, so we absolutely had a ball.

There was one very funny moment when, those of us who weren’t in the newsroom were in tiny offices, rather like social security cubicles, and I had my own little cubicle with all these sort of cardboard little moveable sides, which could be moved as people got shunted around. And the phone rang. And I picked up the phone – nobody had a secretary in those days to themselves – and this voice said, “Good afternoon, is that Mr Morrison?” and I said, not being dressed like that generally, “Yes.” And he said, “Are you in charge of Granada’s regional programmes?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “This is Mr Cecil,” who was the brother of the founder of Granada, who was Sidney Bernstein, this was Cecil Bernstein, who was a kind of shadowy, heroic figure, who nobody ever met, who I think was in charge of things like Coronation Street and other things that Sidney, the main brother, was not dealing with. And he said, “I’m just calling to ask you whether you knew that Erich Segal, the famous American author of Love Story, was in your region this coming week, and he’s doing literary lunches and book signings in different parts of the region.” I said, “Hmm, yes- that sounds very interesting.” “And I just wondered if I could ask you whether you knew of this, and if you knew that Mr Segal is published by Granada Publishing?” I said, “Ah, yes, that sounds very interesting.” And he said, “And also I wanted to ask you why you are the only region in the whole ITV set-up of 13 companies, the Granada region, that has refused point blank to interview him?” And I said, “Oh, that’s very interesting, Mr Cecil,” – which was how he was addressed – “Why don’t you just hold on the line for a second and I’ll open the window, and I’ll find out from the editor, because I’m the head of regional programmes, I’ll find out from the editor of Granada Reports what’s happening.” So I open the window, the panel, and it’s Rod Caird who is on my right, and I said, “Rod, I’ve got Cecil Bernstein on the phone – why are we not interviewing Erich Segal?” And Rod said, “No idea – I’ll have to ask Rachel.” This was Rachel Hebditch, the producer, so he opens on his right, the glass panel, and I’m saying, “Just a second, Mr Cecil, it won’t take a second, we’re just talking to the producer,” so Rod opens his panel and says to Rachel, “Rachel! Why are we not interviewing Erich Segal?” And the book after Love Story, which was called Oliver’s Story … and she said, “Because it’s SHIT!” “Ah,” I said. “Okay, Rod. No problem.” So I went back onto the phone, and I said, “Mr Cecil, we have researched Erich Segal’s book, and the editorial view was that the book was not a patch on the first book, and it would be somewhat embarrassing to interview Mr Segal is such a critical mode, and we felt it better not to do the interview at all.” “Quite right! Carry on, Mr Morrison, thank you.” And he put the phone down. Again, these little things happen which, whilst Granada may have been old-fashioned in some ways, it just gave you a hint you were in a very unusual place. Firstly, that one of the co-owners of the business was treating you with such respect, and secondly that you were creative, so you were allowed to carry on whatever was in the commercial interests of Granada [which] were not the most important thing. What was the most important thing was that the creative people had the independence to make what they thought they should.

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