I got another phone call from Gus, after a couple of years, who said, “I want you to be the Editor of Granada Reports,” which was the nightly news programme. And of course I never worked in news, so there was a fearsome News Editor with a beard, who was very tough, on the news desk, but I was the overall Editor, and I used to practice something, in order to have any influence on this programme whatsoever, I used to practice something called ‘Ed’s notes’. So I would come in, having watched the programme in my own office, and not in the newsroom, I would come in every night after the programme and we would all sit round in the newsroom, and just like a viewer, without knowing the insides and outsides of how the stories were made, and how difficult it was to make them, I basically gave my reaction, and they took this in the best spirit, although I’m sure they thought, “This guy’s from film school, what does he know about making news?”
And there had been, when I first got to Granada, while I was still working out what the films would be for the Northern Documentary Unit, I was called up by the then news editor who said to me… in fact, he may have been the then editor of Granada Reports, John… his second name will come to me in a minute… and he rang me up and he said, “Look, Steve, I know you’re setting up your unit, but you’re free at the moment – would you mind taking a crew up to Barrow, we’d like you to do five 2-3 minute items, if you wouldn’t mind staying up there for a week?” And I said, “Sure, that’s no problem. I’d like to make one condition…” and he was a bit taken aback that a new boy was insisting on a condition, and he said, “Oh, what’s that?” and I said, “Well, I’d also like to string them together, these five stories, and end up with a half hour film abut Barrow. You can have your 2-3 minutes for the news programme, but I’m in a documentary unit, and I’d like to make this ultimately into a film.” And he said, “Yes, yes – you can do whatever you want, but I need these stories.”
So we get up to Barrow with a very tough, very experienced cameraman, and his crew, and we get out of whatever vehicle we were in, on a rubbish tip packed with rubbish by the sea in a dock, and swirling around this rubbish tip were the most beautiful seagulls with long, yellow beaks. And as we got out of the car, two of these seagulls started to fight each other with their beaks, and I said, “Mike! Let’s get this! Let’s get this now.” He said, “Well, hang on a minute, Steve – I haven’t got the tripod and I haven’t got my so-and-so…” And I said, “Mike, forget the tripod, forget the measuring, forget the focus puller, forget everything – just shoot this.” And he said, “Well, how do I shoot it?” I said, “Just get down on your knee, man, and shoot what you can see.” Of course, I was about half this guy’s age, because I was a student graduate, a very recent graduate… and anyway, he got the thing, and he was very, very unhappy with this, and he was muttering to his crew. And then the next minute, I saw two gulls actually having sexual intercourse right in front of us, one perched on top of the other, and I said, “Mike! Mike, get this!” and he said, “Where’s the tripod?” I said, “Forget the tripod, we’ve got to film this, and we’ve got to film it now, because I understand it doesn’t take very long.” Anyway, grumbling, he took it.
And during the week, I had lots of debates in the pub with the film crew about how the film school saw making films against how they made films, and news, and they were very disparaging of me being a little film student, so when I got back I started a weekly film club, so every week I would invite crews and others interested into the preview theatre and we would show a very famous documentary, probably American – because in those days there were some very, very famous American observational documentaries – and I said, “Look, we’ve all been out together, we’ve had rather different views on how to shoot things. I don’t want to argue with you because you all know what you’re doing, I just want you to watch these films, and see how these film-makers got things that we don’t normally see on television, and I have arranged for a number of them to be shown to us over the next three months – see what you think.” And after two or three of these screenings, one guy came up to me and said, “Now I know what you’re trying to do, and I appreciate it.” So that was like my initiation test, but that was very much right at the beginning. So I did a year, probably about a year, of editing Granada Reports.