Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 19 January 2015.
How did you come to join Granada?
Well, this is actually a very funny story.
Everybody says that!
Well, maybe it’s true of Granada! I was a student at the National Film School, which is now the national film and television school, and I was in its first ever year when it opened. And I had started making an observational film about my local Labour Party, which was the Norwood Labour Party; it was largely about their social interaction. And during the time I was making this film, a postman who was a member of the party very kindly came up to me and told me that Shelter were secretly planning to symbolically occupy Centre Point, the tallest unoccupied building in the centre of London, very famous symbolic building, and that this would be non-violent, they would go in on a Friday afternoon, come out on a Sunday evening, basically to make the point that, whilst many people were homeless, this huge building shouldn’t be left empty. So I said, “Oh, that’s very interesting,” and I went back to the film school, got a couple of friends to do camera and sound – I think in those days we used quarter-inch Acai video tape, which is totally unreliable – and we joined this group in some under the arches warehouse in Waterloo. We were given our instructions, and different groups appeared at different entrances and exits to tube stations, waiting for a signal to run across the quadrangle and the patio into Centre Point, and right at the last minute the guy in charge of this called it off and got everybody back to the meeting place and said there were three guests, very sort of sober business people walking across to enter the building and we couldn’t risk doing any harm, so we are going to call it off tonight, we would like everyone to remuster next Friday at the same time and the same places that they wee all designated to be, which turned out to be a very good thing, because I thought to myself, “Why am I making this on quarter-inch video tape? It could be very interesting,” and I raised my standards and got a big film camera and 16mm film and got myself prepared with my little crew better than I had done the week before. Anyway, the next Friday it went absolutely smoothly, we got into Centre Point at about 5pm, the janitor was on the door in reception, the glass doors were barricaded with huge beams in a kind of cross, and I said to the janitor, “Would you mind if I used your phone?” There were no mobile phones in those days, this was 1974 I think it was, and he said, “No – carryon.” So I picked up the phone and I happened to know, from being a student, Gus McDonald, who was the then editor of World in Action, or he might have been the executive producer, I’m not sure. And I rang up Gus and I said, “Gus, we’re in Centre Point, it’s barricaded, nobody can get in, nobody can get out, it’s a symbolic occupation, we’ll be here to Sunday night, I thought you might be interested in this for World in Action.” He said, “No, no – we’re making a programme about oil, we’ve interviewed Lord So-and-so, who is the secretary of state, we’ve spent £750…” – which in Granada means you have to continue and complete the programme – “Why don’t you offer this to This Week in Thames?” I said, “No, it’s either a World in Action or a student film, and if you don’t want it we’ll make it as a student film. Here’s my number, but it’s not my number, it’s the number on reception, if you change your mind let me know,” and I put the phone down. And it was one of those absolutely classic American silent comedies where the phone literally jumped back out of the hook and began ringing, out of the cradle, and began ringing, and I said, “Hello?” and he said, “STEVE! You’re barricaded in, and everybody else outside is barricaded out? This is a scoop, man!” I said, “I’ve just explained that to you, Gus, but you don’t want it.” “No, no, no – we’re sending a man down, he’ll somehow smuggle more film and more cans through the windows. Keep going, and on Sunday night when you come out there will be people there to meet you.” So we were now making this film supposedly for World in Action, although I suppose in our minds we still thought we were making our National Film School film. And I got the organisers up onto the roof, and a big map of London, and they recreated how they planned this, and which groups they had approached and how they did it, and where they arrived, it was a bit like a military operation, which groups arrived from which directions, obviously what their goals were, how they intended it to be entirely peaceful and were coming out on Sunday night, and obviously I spoke to a lot of people who were part of the occupation to find out why they were doing it. Sunday night, it’s dark, the place is surrounded in spotlights from various crews, and there’s about a few thousand people outside the building, and we all pour out and I’m filming away, and I feel this hand on my shoulder, and a guy whispers to me, “Are you Steve Morrison?” and I said, “Yes,” and he said, “I’m Mike Beckham from World in Action, we need you to stay awake all night tonight because this is going out tomorrow night, and there will be two cutting rooms and you’re the only person who knows anything about what’s in this film, so we’re going to have to keep you awake with coffee and keep two cutting rooms going, and we’ll piece this together for tomorrow and we’ll transmit it from ITN in London.” So it went out the next night, I think slightly out of synch, but everybody was in a hurry and it was obviously very immediate. Mike did a terrific job filming outside, so he cut all the stuff I’d done with what he’d done, and I then, having been up for three nights and three days, went home, and the next day I was literally in my pyjamas and dressing gown and a guy knocked on the door of my house, and he said… his name was (John Sheardley? 8:03) and he said, “Are you Steve Morrison?” I said, “Yes,” and he said, “I have a message from Gus McDonald.” I said, “Oh, what is it?” And he said, “Gus said, if you can hustle your way into Centre Point, you can hustle your way into Granada. Would you like a job?” So I said to John, “I really don’t know, I’m a student, and I haven’t finished my course.” And he said, “Well, don’t waste your breath engaging with me, I’m only here to deliver the message.” So I then went back to the director of the film school, who was… he is – he’s still alive, thank goodness – a terrific Scot called Colin Young, who had started the film school, now the National Film and Television School, and was the original director. I said, “Colin, I’ve just been rung up by, or been told, or invited, by Granada to go there, but you know, I’m in my final year, I haven’t finished my course, I haven’t graduated,” and Colin said, “You have now – take the job, man!” So on May 1, 1974, I turned up at Granada and somehow made my graduation film at the same time.
Did they put you through any interviewing process at all?
No, none at all. Basically, Gus invented a new role, or a new unit, called the Northern Documentary Unit, and he said, “You’ll be running the Northern Documentary Unit, you make little films just for the region, and you find stories and you find directors, and I’ll give you a couple of researchers,” one of whom was Anna Ford, “just get on with it.” So one day, a Granada director, a bit bolshie, came into the office, and he stood at the jamb of the door and he said, “I don’t know who you are, but this unit’s never going to work. There’s often been attempts to make little films as well as do Granada Reports but they never come to anything – and neither will yours.” I said, “Why do you say that?” and he said, “Well, you have no authority, you’re a director and directors have no authority in Granada, you have to be a producer to get anything done, and you’re not a producer, so that’s it,” and he walked off. So I walked down the corridor into Gus’s office, and I said, “Gus, I’ve just had this mad conversation with a director who says this is never going to happen because I’m not a producer,” and Gus said, “Okay, you’re a producer.” So in that moment, I went from being a director to the producer-director, and basically the head of the so-called Northern Documentary Unit, which nobody understood, but we started making films. And actually, I still remember some of those films. We discovered – I don’t know how we discovered this, probably down to a very good researcher – that in the car park of Sefton Hospital in Liverpool, I think that’s what it was called, there was a caravan, and in that caravan, on the National Health, a very beautiful blonde woman electrocuted homosexuals – it was called ‘aversion therapy’, and homosexual men would come in, they would be shown pictures of other men in, you know, more or less naked positions, and very glamorous, and when they saw them they would be given, not a huge, but a persistent electric shock on their leg, then they would be shown pictures of naked women, or semi-naked women, and they weren’t given the shock, and at the end of this, which went on for about 10-15 minutes, they would be given a talk, or a conversation, with the lady therapist, and in fact, the lady therapist was so beautiful, and so genuinely interested, that homosexual men who had never been fondly regarded by a woman would be very interested in her, and talking to her, but of course the electric shocks had no effect, and I thought this was a great little film, totally self-contained in a caravan, if the subjects will agree to be filmed, and if the lady will agree to be interviewed, that’s our first film. And in those days, you will recall that very cheap films were made on something called Stripe, magnetic stripe, not normal film, which meant that you didn’t get a print of it – the actual thing, the piece of material was the only piece of material that the picture was on, as opposed to other kinds of film where the negative can produce different prints. So I was back in the cutting room, having done a 20-minute interview with this lady, and interviewed the subjects, and Gus Macdonald dropped into the cutting room, where the editor was a very famous World in Action editor that I had somehow got hold of for a couple of days called Kelvin Hendrie (corr). And Gus looked at this interview with the woman when I was asking her why she was doing this therapy, and did she realise that these men had an affection and a relationship with her, even though they were homosexual, and Gus looked at it and said, “Yes! That’s a good interview, that’ll make two minutes.” And I said, as he went out, “Gus, every single frame of this interview is going in this film – this is not a news programme, this is a film.” And he went, “Ha!” and he walked out. Meanwhile, we had what’s called a ‘trim bin’ with a lot of old bits, ends of stock that we weren’t going to use, and occasionally Kelvin, bless him, would throw the dregs of his coffee cup into the trim bin, and we get another interruption, which is a phone call from David Plowright, who is literally down in the controllers group in London with all the bosses with all of the ITV companies in the fortnightly session when they tortured each other, selling each other programmes, and I don’t know who was listening, but he said, “Steve – an election’s just been called, and Lord King,” – I can’t remember what his name was, the guy who owned the Daily Mirror (Cecil King?) – “but he was doing a film with us around Britain about what he thinks of Britain, and now the election’s been called, we can’t use it, it’s partial, and it’s not suitably balanced under the Representation of the People Act (1918), but Gus tells me you’ve got a very interesting film for regional programmes.” I said, “Yes, we’re cutting it at the moment.” He said, “Well, that’ll be fine, you’re on the network next Tuesday night.” And I said, “How long is this slot, Mr Plowright?” or David, I think I called him. And he said, “Oh, the usual thing – 52 minutes. I’m sure it will be fine,” and put the phone down. And I said to Kelvin, “We are making a 26-minute film, aren’t we?” and Kelvin said, “Yes,” and it is on Stripe, so there’s no extra footage than what we’ve actually got?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “How many pieces of trims in that bin have you got that aren’t covered in coffee? Can you make this film last 52 minutes?” And this film, called Joe, went out on something called First Tuesday, the next Tuesday night. That as my first experience of Granada, and the culture of Granada, which basically was, if you’re determined you can do anything, and you should be as bold as possible in your creative vision and your determination, but as conservative as possible in your estimate of the actual value that the rest of the world will put on it, so that you make it with a sense of creative boldness, but commercial prudence, and don’t overspend. So here I was with a 26-minute magnetic Stripe regional programme, no problem as far as Granada is concerned, just stretch it and put it on the network! So that was my introduction to Granada. Anyway, this went on for a while, and my to-be wife, Gail, who was working in the newsroom, came up with an incredible story in Manchester, which was of a suburban house where a group of very young social workers in their 20s were living with a group of very disturbed teenagers who were so disturbed that they had been bounced out of school, bounced out of special school, bounced out of any remedial place they could be held, and the only people that could actually handle them was this group of I suppose what you might call rather trendy social workers, but very good people, and Gail had come back to the news desk and said this is a terrific film, although she didn’t come from anything to do with media, she came from travel, and they said, “No, we only do two-minute items on the news – if you want this to be a longer film you’ve got to talk to Steve Morrison at the documentary unit.” So I got a message to call her and she took me to see this house and we all went out to play snooker, and it was obviously a fantastic set-up, so that became our next film, and it was so controversial that Granada – again, very boldly – agreed that I could do a live outside broadcast immediately after the film, which in those days was quite common, where the participants and the authorities would debate what was happening in the film, and again, the mayor or the leader of the council who was responsible for these children stood up to make a speech during this live outside broadcast, and as he did so, his trousers fell down, and he was very embarrassed, and he said, “Excuse me,” and he belted his trousers up again, and Gus Macdonald leaned forward and whispered to me, “Steve, is this programme going to finish in good order, or is it going to be a complete shambles?” and I said, “Don’t worry, Gus – it’ll all be fine.” So I had a very colourful entry into Granada. In fact, on my first day, they didn’t have an office for me because this documentary unit was a gleam in Gus’s eye, but nobody knew about it. So what the hell are we going to do with this guy who has turned up, and they said, “Look, why don’t you go into the studio and observe Crown Court?” which was a daily drama, each episode lasts three days and at the end of each episode the jury are taken off to a committee room, given loads of orange juice, and at the end of 20 minutes – they’re only allowed 20 minutes – they come back with a verdict. And the programme has got two verdicts scripted, and whichever one the jury comes up with, they do. “Why don’t you go and watch this? It might be interesting.” So I thought, “Amazing,” so I went into the committee room, I don’t think anybody in those days, in 1974, had actually made a film, a real documentary about a jury, and I was listening to the jury, and they all came into the room and said, “That guy’s obviously guilty, you can tell by the look of him, and there’s no point in us going on further, let’s just say guilty,” and then eventually, as in the famous film 12 Angry Men (1957), the Henry Fonda type says, “Hang on a minute, shouldn’t we check the actual facts?” So they discuss it for 20 minutes and then come up with a verdict. So I went back to Gus and said, “Gus, I’ve only been here two hours, but you’ve got the cheapest, most interesting documentary you can ever imagine – two rolls of film, 22 minutes, in this committee room, it’s a real jury deciding the verdict of Crown Court. That’s a documentary.” And he said, “That could be a problem.” And I said, “But that’s going to cost next to nothing.” He said, “I think you’d better go up to the sixth floor and see the head of human relations.” I said, “Really?” I was thinking, “What have I done? Am I out of here on my first day?” So I go up in the list to the sixth floor, you come out of the lift, the atmosphere is totally different – it’s completely quiet, thick piled carpet, doors shut in offices, no noise whatsoever, and I go down the corridor until I find the door that says Julian Amis, and Julian had been a drama director, and typical of Granada, he was now the head of human relations, and I knocked on the door. “Ah, Mr Morrison! Come in, take a seat. Cup of tea? Welcome to Granada, absolutely fabulous to have you here. I hear you’ve had the most wonderful ides for a documentary, Gus tells me, it sounds absolutely terrific. Of course, there’s just one problem.” I said, “What is it?” and he said, “Equity. We persuaded Equity that 11 out of the 12 members of the jury should be ordinary members of the public, and not members of Equity, because obviously that wouldn’t be representative, but the foreman who says guilty or not guilty has to be a member of Equity because he speaks – but the rest of the 11 could have been members of the extras and walk-on committee, but after a lot of negotiation, we have managed to persuade Equity that it should be genuine members of the public. You come along, you make your film, it’ll be absolutely fabulous, gets a lot of attention, wakes up Equity who says, “Who is this jury?” and they come back to us and say, “You can’t have members of the public, these are jobs for Equity members,” Bob’s your uncle, Crown Court goes down the pan.” So it would be a huge relief to us if a man of your ability came up with another documentary idea pretty quick.” But it was done in such a gentlemanly manner, that this introduction to Granada was… in a way, what with Centre Point and Crown Court, you just saw how unusual a company this actually was, and life went on more or less in that manner – as various opportunities came up, one just took them, and Granada usually backed them.
And that was also a good introduction to the world of television industrial relations.
Take us on this continuing journey of your career.
Okay, so after a while, after I had ben running the documentary unit, Gail and I – who were not romantically connected, but did films together – were invited to join World in Action, which obviously was a very glamorous programme, and we soon discovered that we were the ‘quick turnaround’ team. So while all the more established members of World in Action would be doing very important investigations that took 3-6 months, they had to have some young people that actually got out some programmes in the meantime. So we were sent out on very fast turnaround to make very quick, cheap World in Actions to allow other people to do their very important investigations, and the first programme that Gail and I worked on was called The Blood and Guts Shift (corr), and again, it was in Liverpool in a hospital, overnight in the casualty ward, which actually you see an awful lot of now, but in those days was very close to the action and a little bit unusual, and Gail, who had been a senior staff nurse in casualty in Liverpool in a previous life, came up to me and she said, “The staff nurse, who is like a matron, does not rate or respect the doctor, who is a locum, and she has told him twice that if he doesn’t wear mask and gloves when stitching a patient, she’s going to kick him out of the ward, and this is going to be the third time, and it’s going to happen in five minutes.” And I said to Gail, “You know, it’s absolutely wonderful when a researcher tells a director that something is actually happening and to go over and film it, but to have a researcher tell you before it is going to happen is pure gold dust. We will get over there and prepare for this explosion.” And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. And at the very end, overnight, at the very end of the shift, which was about 6am, I said to the staff nurse, “How do you clock off?” And she said, “Well, I go to my locker room, I put on my coat and I come out.” And I said, “Well, do you take off anything? Do you change?” She said, “I don’t change out of my uniform, but I take off the cardboard thing off the top of my head, because I think that looks pretty stupid walking down the street.” And of course, in uniform she had the watch on her bosom, she had the very starched uniform, she had the little cardboard cut-out sitting on her head, she had her hair very neatly and primly tied up, which made her look an incredible authority figure. So I said to the camera person, who was a brilliant cameraman, “When this woman comes out of this locker room, she’s going to look totally different from how she’s done for the last 12 hours. We’re not going to say a word; I’d like you just to follow her out of the hospital and down the street for 30 seconds – this is going to be the shot which is the credits of the film.” He said, “Yes, that’s absolutely fine, it’s all hand-held, I won’t say a word, nobody will say anything, there’s going to be no ‘action’, no clapper board, we’re just going to follow her.” And into the locker room goes this severe authority figure, and out comes this woman in a black leather coat and blonde hair all the way down her back to her waist – totally different – having taken off her authority and become a beautiful young woman, and walked off to go to bed, and that was the end o the film. So Gail and I had a wonderful time for a couple of years making these sort of quick turnaround, short, sharp World in Actions, so we would be sent to Scotland to do Scottish devolution, and then told half way through that it was going to be two weeks of World in Action, because there was a gap, and we had to stay up there and vend another one – it was all very fast and furious. We actually filmed domestic disputes where husbands would be bashing up their wives, which was very controversial at the time, and I remember the head of the West Midlands Police, the chief constable, very, very nice guy, calling us in and saying how much he supported this film we were going to make, and how were we going to do it. I said, “Well, there’s a routine, we have a release form, and we film, and maybe after the filming we get people to sign a release form,” and he said, “I wouldn’t use release forms.” And we said, “Why not? We have to, it’s part of the rules of the IBA regulator.” And he said, “Working class people might sign them, but I can tell you that no middle class husband, having had too much to drink and possibly hit his wife, is going to sign a release form for any film, so I think you’re going to find this very difficult.” So this was the long arm of the law telling us how to be realistic while we had Chinese suppers on the bonnets of police panda cars, and the production manager of World in Action, who was a fearsome character, called us into his office and he said, “Look, I know you two are an item, and you don’t need to say you’re not, but there is absolutely no point in you two booking two hotels rooms. Is that clear?”
Is this Tom Gill?
Tom Gill! So it gradually became obvious to ourselves and to the rest of the team that Gail and I were going to be engaged on a level more than engaged to make a film, and ultimately we got married. So after this, 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.
What year would that be?
That would probably now be about 1976, because I came in in 1974, I did the documentary unit, then I did World in Action, then I came back to Granada Reports, it would be 1976-77. Then 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 (corr), 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 northwest 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 (corr), 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 (corr), 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 (corr), 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 (corr)… 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. And a similar thing happened on World in Action when Gail and I were sent off to interview the Labour minister for what was then called… I think it was called Sport and Pollution. So this guy got this double-barrelled job when he was really interested in boxing and sport, which included tips and all sorts of pollutants that he was responsible for, and we made a World in Action about how refuse and waste that shouldn’t have been deposited in this tip was going through all the soil and coming out the other end and infiltrating the water supply and so on, and being the producer, I was sent off to interview this minister, and half way through the interview when I was asking why he was allowing this to happen when it was against regulations, he tore off his microphone and stood up and said, “How dare you interview me in this manner, I cannot know the intimate details of every tip in Britain – you will never get another interview with a government department again.” And off he went. So I thought “Gosh, I wonder what this means?” So I went on making the film, and the next day I get this call from Sir Denis Forman’s office, would I like to come down to London with the rushes of the interview, and Sir Denis would like to view them with me. So I had to get the late evening train down to Euston from Manchester, I’ve got this huge can of news film under my arm, and at Euston I get on the tube to go down to Brixton – because I had lived previously in Herne Hill – and when I get to Brixton, I don’t have the can – I’d left it on the tube. And it’s midnight. So I’m knocking on doors and banging on closed metal partitions saying, “What do I do about this can?” and eventually this guy says, “It normally goes to lost property, I’m on the carpet tomorrow at 9am with the chairman of Granada.” He said, “Well, nip on the last tube and go back up to Euston, and knock on a few more doors.” So I shoot back up to Euston on this tube, bash on every metal door I can find, and eventually this big guy comes and opens the door. “What’s wrong? What’s wrong?” I said, “Have you seen a huge can which is full of film, before it goes to lost property? I’d really like to get hold of it, it’s life and death.” And he said, “Funny you should mention that, it’s in my office – it’s just been handed in.” So I take this can of film, and the next morning I turn up at Granada, we go into the preview theatre, Sir Denis is there, “Steve, hi – come and sit down!” it’s just me and him, and he presses a button and says, “Peter, roll this film, roll this interview.” So I’m sitting there, pretty shattered because I’ve come down overnight, nearly lost the can of film, don’t know what’s going to happen, and exactly the moment when the minister stands up and says, “Balls!” and takes the microphone off, Sir Denis leans forward and he says, “Peter, that’ll be enough for now.” And he turns to me and he says, “I don’t think you’re going to have a problem with this interview – just leave it to me.” Now, when you’re a guy who’s just arrived at Granada and the chairman says that without any huge investigation, you feel much better. The next thing that happened is that I get a message from the editor of World in Action saying, “Sir Denis has written to the minister, and the minister has asked if the interview could be done again.” So I said to the then editor, who is David Bolton, “Gosh, do I have to do this interview again?” because him tearing his microphone off, isn’t that the way we should leave it?” He said, “No, Sir Denis and he have agreed; the minister has apologised for his behaviour in view of what Sir Denis has written to him, which doesn’t show him in the best light, and so we’ve all agreed the interview should be done again.” So I’m doing the interview again, which obviously is hugely embarrassing, the same guy, and a thought comes to me, and I said, “Minister, I’m sure you weren’t aware at what happened at this tip, but now that you are aware, would you be prepared to publish all the tips in Britain which should not have certain types of refuse dumped in them for reasons of health and not polluting the water, and these tips are prohibited from anything but a certain kind of waste?” “Certainly, certainly – no problem at all. We will put that out straight away.” And of course the film went out two weeks’ later, and we asked the department every day if they were going to publish this list, and of course they didn’t – ad at the end of the film as the credits went up, we ran a little roller which said, “You’ve seen in this interview that the minister has promised to publish this list, but as of time of transmission, it still remains unpublished.” So it was a kind of draw between us and the ministry, we wanted to keep our position, but we re-did the interview. But again, just as in the Cecil Bernstein example, one got the intervention of a very senior member of Granada who, once they understood the situation, acted in full support of their staff, which is something that kept you there at Granada.
A lot of people have talked about that kind of loyalty and support from Sir Denis in particular.
Yes. So this was…
You ran the locals for how long?
I ran the locals for two or three years, had a wonderful time, and then again, I think Gus may have been still in charge of the whole factual area. He said to me, “I’ve got a problem with the Spanish Civil War.” He said, “We’ve got an executive producer and producers and a very good team, but it’s not working out quite right and it’s very, very slow, would you come over and become the executive producer of this programme?” and combined with that, I can’t remember if it happened simultaneously or consecutively, “Would you become the head of features?” So I left regional programmes and came to become head of features. Funnily enough, I saw that sign, the features department, in my garage the other week, so it still exists, the features department, of the then Granada in Manchester, and I went to meet the team of Spanish Civil War, and again it was the most remarkable programme that very few companies, maybe Thames, who made The World at War, would have undertaken, and Granada undertook… and the BBC would have undertaken… but very few other TV stations would have undertaken it because it actually took us longer to make the Spanish Civil War series than it took the Spanish to fight the Spanish Civil War – it took us over three years. We had a terrific team who were sent all over the world to interview Russians and Americans and the like about the international brigades, and there was a certain rule on the film, which was a very modern form of history-telling, which was there would be no experts with opinions; that the film would only contain eye-witness accounts of people who were actually at an incident, and news film from the time, and I’m sure there was a voiceover commentary and some very, very, very Spanish music, which was very, very evocative. But this very spare, modern idea that this wouldn’t be a lot of talking heads, reminiscing or giving their opinion, it would be people who are actually there in the incident, and the news film that went with it, so it was an absolutely fantastic series, and Granada had had it commissioned at the very start of Channel 4, which was borne out of the ITV bandwidth, another spectrum bandwidth was found to create the second channel, and it was going to be called ITV2 but ultimately it became independent and it was called Channel 4, and this was one of the first series, the first two or three, that were commissioned of that scale, and so this series had been long in the making because everybody knew the new channel was coming along, and it took three years to make. And I remember, because I wasn’t on the ground making the film, I was overseeing the series, and even then I was the head of the department, so I was slightly removed, but it was such a wonderful series that… we went over quite early on to Barcelona to ask RTVE, the Spanish television station, if they would do this as a co-production. We’d actually started, but we were having these negotiations. And the Spanish entertained us to the most incredible munch, which started at 2.30, and at 6pm it was just about winding up. And lots of toasts were given, and everybody was very excited about the programme, because it was obviously the most important subject of the 20th century for the Spanish, and the head of RTVE got up, and he said, “We hail our comrades from Granada and the wonderful enterprise they have undertaken; we have to tell you that, for reasons of state and national pride, we cannot…” – this had never been mentioned until 6pm – “we cannot be your co-producers because the people of Spain will wonder why we were allowing a foreign television company to physically make the series when it’s our war and we are Spanish television. So we don’t feel that we should be the official co-producers, but we are going to make sure that everything you want in the national archive is made available to you with our full support.” So actually, we ended up with a perfect solution, which was we weren’t bogged down by the politics of a very sensitive situation with a very sensitive co-producer, but they opened the archives and we got a fantastic series out of it, and a beautiful, lilting theme tune which I still remember to this day. So the features department was a kind of mixture of hybrid forms, you would get drama documentary, you would get pure drama which didn’t come from the drama department, you would get factual historical series, we had a very interesting film called The Road to 1984 (corr), which obviously went out in 1984, so this is basically where I would have got to by then, having done World in Action, regionals and features. So we made a scripted drama about the life of George Orwell, written by Willis Hall (corr), a very famous northern playwright, which basically cut from a real situation that Orwell was living in, so he may have been living on Jura, a Scottish island, while he was writing Animal Farm or 1984, and then from his own set-up we would cut to a scene in a book that he was writing at the time, so he may have been working in the BBC when he wrote something, we would cut from the BBC to a scene he was writing, so you began to see what circumstances, many of them during the war, just prior to the war, with the Spanish Civil War, because he wrote Homage to Catalonia and fought in the Spanish Civil War. Then working in the BBC during the war, then being in Jura after the war, we saw where he was and what he was doing as he was writing his famous books, and because it was features you can combine the skills of factual and drama in any way you wanted, nobody would stop you. So it was a very original department, and one of the most original things we made, which was an idea from David Liddiment, who I know you have also interviewed, who was working in the entertainment department, but the entertainment department wasn’t making it, it was a musical called There’s Something Wrong in Paradise (corresponds with KC song title – Allie) or something similar to that, I need to check that, and it was a musical performed by Kid Creole and the Coconuts. And David Liddiment said to me, “You must meet this fantastic singer-songwriter who lives in New York who comes from Haiti, I think he’s amazing and I would like us to be making a musical with him.” So I was sent to New York to interview and sort of persuade the guy who… one of his stage names was August Darnell (corr), although his most well-known stage name was Kid Creole. But I went to meet August in New York, and on my way I was in a taxi with a big, burly, black taxi driver, and I said to the taxi driver, “Have you heard of Kid Creole? I hear he’s the rage in New York,” and he said, “No, never heard of him.” So actually, David Liddiment had found somebody who was well-known in France, but totally unknown in America, who had come from the Caribbean, and was now living in New York. And I persuaded August to fly over to Manchester to make this musical in Studio 12, with a huge basin of water that was made up to look like the beach and the sea of a Caribbean island – so that was as exotic as we could do it – and I went down to Heathrow to collect August Darnell, to take him in a car, kind of limo, up to Manchester, and he came off the plane in a 1948 zoot suit with spats, fantastic suit and waistcoat, big colourful tie, and a huge fedora, and a little sort of Latin moustache, and mixed race background, and he walks down off the plane with something like 12 pieces of luggage that looked more suitable for a cruise, you know, wooden suitcases. And I said, “August, we’re not driving straight to Manchester, we’re going to Cheltenham races. I think you’ve been on a plane all night, and you need a bit of rest. Don’t change, we’re going straight there.” Anyway, he looked immaculate. So we get to Cheltenham, and after our lunch we go out into the paddock, and right next to him is the Queen Mother. And he says to me, “Who’s that little woman standing five yards away?” I said, “That’s the Queen Mother – one of her horses is running in this race.” He said, “Steve, do you realise that if a black man was five yards from the Queen Mother in my country I’d be shot by now.” I said, “Well, in England, the class system is such, once you’re in the paddock you’re fine.” So we go back up to Manchester after this day, we’re already good friends, and David Liddiment directed this stunning musical, which I always think, “How on earth did this small television station in the north west of England end up making a musical in the sea and the beach of a Caribbean island? And yet again, Granada had no idea we were going to make this, but they didn’t stop us making it. So during the time I was head of features, I got this completely mad idea to start Granada Film, and on a Friday, at the end of the day, I used to sneak up the back stairs and occasionally have a whisky with the managing director of Granada then, who then became the chairman, who was a fantastic guy called David Plowright, who was very different from Sir Denis, very northern, very journalistic, and combative guy, but a very, very, very driven person. And occasionally I would creep up to his office and we would have a whisky together, and he would ask me what I was doing, how it was all going, and we would have half an hour. And on this occasion, I brought this piece of paper in my back pocket, and I said, “Look, David – we’ve got the largest drama department in Britain outside the BBC, we’re making hundreds of hours of drama, we know all the best writers, we know all the best actors…” – in fact, his sister was a very famous actress called Joan Plowright (corr), married to Laurence Olivier – “We’re in that world, we can get good people – why don’t we start our own film company?” And I knew that Granada Group, under the guidance of Sir Denis Forman, also had a small film company, so I wondered whether there might be an element of rivalry here between Granada Group and Granada TV, and would that work against me, or would it work in my favour. And David – this is absolutely typical of Granada – said to me, “Great idea! Let’s do it.” So I took this paper out of my back pocket and I said, “Well, I’ve got a list of names here – David Putnam, Richard Attenborough – there’s a load of producers who love Granada and respect Granada, and they would like to help us.” “Don’t be stupid,” he said. “Leave your office, take your secretary, go into the bonded warehouse and start the company – you don’t need the help of any of these people, this is Granada.” So I was a bit shocked, because now my bluff had been called, so I get up to go, and I go out of the office, and I had this sense that as I went out of the office – and this is apocryphal, I don’t know if it ever happened – David would pick up the phone to the finance director, who of course knew me from all these annual negotiations over regional programmes, and he would say, “Bill, I’ve just had a conversation with Steve Morrison, he’s got this cockamamie idea for starting Granada Film. I’ve encouraged him and told him he can start developing it, but don’t give him any money.” Which is very typical of Granada, if that conversation ever happened. So what you had to do, you would get a few pence to develop the scripts and the projects, but then you had to ring Hollywood to actually get the production money. So you would be sitting in the bonded warehouse with an industrial sunset of bright orange sun over an industrial landscape in Salford at four o’clock in the afternoon, and be phoning LA, which of course was eight hours earlier and just coming in, and you’d be saying, “Hello, is that so-and-so productions?” or, “Hello, is that so-and-so distribution? This is Granada.” “Grenada? Are you phoning from the Caribbean?” “No, no, no, no, no – Granada Television.” “Television? We don’t do television, we do film!” and over thousands of miles, you would be basically selling to these people. “I’ve got this script, I’ve got these great actors, I’ve got this director – will you fund the film?” Because Granada wouldn’t fund the film, but you knew that ITV would pay the licence fee, which would go a long way to start funding the film, so you were half way there but not all of the way there. And this had all come about, because during the features department, we had decided to make a film called The Magic Toyshop (corr) with Angela Carter, and it was going to be directed by the most wonderful guy, who sadly has died young, called David Wheatley (corr), a north east, tall, bluff, interesting, really interesting guy who was a director, who I had worked with on something or other already, it may have been Scully (corr) (it was The Road to 1984), I’m not sure which project we had worked on, but in the features department we had made a drama series about Alan Bleasdale’s Liverpool character, Scully. I think David may have directed that, I’m not sure. Anyway, the next project David wanted to do was an Angela Carter book, and we chose The Magic Toyshop.
So David Wheatley and I had worked together, and we decided to make a film about one of Angela Carter’s books, and the one we chose was called The Magic Toyshop. Angela Carter was in Texas, lecturing, so David and I got on the phone, which in those days seemed a very long way away, and we rang her and we said would she agree to letting her book be made into a film. In those days, it was going to be a television film, and she said, “Oh, that’s one of my earliest books. Why are you choosing that one when I have made all these more complex, magical, realist, more fanciful subjects later on?” I said, “Well, look, the thing is, in television, you get more engagement if your characters start being real, and then gradually through the story they become magical, than if they start being more abstract, which in television people may not engage with in the same way. We want everybody to believe that they are real characters before they transfer themselves into the magical world.” And she said, “Oh, that’s a very good answer. Agreed.” And we were sort of kicking ourselves and pinching ourselves, and I said, “When are you coming back?” and she said on such-and-such a date, which was two or three months away, and I said, “Do you mind if David and I come down to Clapham and your house, and talk through the ideas and discuss this?” And she said, “Yes, you can come, with pleasure, but whatever you want to do, you do – I’m not going to stop you doing anything – this is a film, not a book.” So we go down to Clapham where she had a huge townhouse, all painted purple, and we would go up into the attic, and we would sit round a rickety little bridge table, and David, Angela and I would be deciding how to make this film, and it was one of those classic situations where you literally had to pinch your leg that somebody was paying you to work with an author that you adored, making the film of your choice, without any hindrance, and Granada was letting you do it. So we made this film, which was made incredibly economically, and I think the supervisor on the production side, the head of production, was Brenda Smith (unverified), who was very, very helpful and fell in love with the project. Everyone was very helpful, the designer was being stretched, everyone was seeing how interesting this was, and David Wheatley was a marvellous director, just has David Liddiment had been with There’s Something Wrong in Paradise, and the film, somebody found out in Palace Pictures that this film had been made, and put it into the London Film Festival. So we were sitting down in London, and we were approached by… is it Steve Woolley? I think it was Steve Woolley, who was working in Palace Pictures at the time, now a very famous producer-director himself, and he came up to us and said, “We want to release this in the cinema,” and I said, “Well you can’t release it, it’s destined to be on television in two months’ time over the Christmas period,” and he said, “Well, can you stop them? Can you stop them for a three-month window, we want to put this out in the cinema.” And that is the poster that they created, which is one of the best posters… and it was… I wouldn’t say it was a huge commercial success, it was a very small, art-house film, but it got a lot of very good crits, and I think that’s what it was, that complete accident that put it into my head that we should start g Film. But of course, starting Granada Film, we quite quickly made two or three films and ended up making My Left Foot, and The Field, both of them nominated for Oscars, and My Left Foot winning two Oscars, so there was a sense of triumph in David Plowright’s mind that somehow, little old Granada Television in Manchester had beaten the whole of the Granada group to the punch with the success of our films, which worked incredibly well. Now, Joe – if you want to stop this for a second –
So there is a story I must tell you about My Left Foot. By the time the Oscars came around, we had completed the film, and I had been promoted again – which is a whole different story – from the head of Granada Film to the director of programmes at Granada, which meant that every fortnight you had to go down to what was called the controllers’ group, which were all the major ITV companies, bargaining with each other about selling and buying each others’ programmes, which was quite an evil experience, because everybody was trying to outdo the other and get their programmes sold but not have to buy the others, which is pretty difficult. Anyway, the Oscars were on a Monday night in those days, and the controllers’ group meeting was on Monday morning. So I said to my wife Gail, “We can’t just fly to Hollywood; I’ve got to go to this controllers’ group meeting in central London – why don’t you go to the airport, the plane is at 1pm, I’ve asked David Liddiment to stand by at the meeting behind me, and when I’ve won the things that I need to win, I’ll dart off and he’ll take over, and I’ll be at the airport by 1pm. Hold the plane!” So she smiled, and off she went to Heathrow, I went to the controllers’ group… anyway, the two things I wanted to sell were worth millions of pounds – one was a very famous drama called Prime Suspect, which is a whole other story in itself, very famous modern drama, and the other one was another drama series set in Spain called El C.I.D (corr). And it turned out that both Thames and London Weekend, who ran different parts of the London franchise, had both read the script of Prime Suspect and they both wanted it, so it became a relatively easy job for me, and we managed to persuade them to play it Sunday/Monday, which meant that they would each get half. The series would go out on a Sunday/Monday, but it would be in two different franchise periods, and somehow or other I managed to get El C.I.D sold as well. So I had come out of this, drenched in perspiration but having sold the two big dramas, and I rush off to the airport, and I get there and Gail says, “It’s closed. The doors have closed.” I said, “For goodness’ sake, Gail, you knew I was coming,” and she said, “Well, I’ve held it for as long as possible, but they’ve closed the door.” And I said, “Well, let’s bang on the door – we’ve got to get on this plane because the Oscars are tonight!” And of course, Gail being Gail, she managed to persuade them to open the door much better than I could, and we get on the plane. Well, we had no time when we landed to change, so half way through the flight we went to different toilets to get changed into a dinner suit and a ballgown, and as we came out of these toilets, the cabin we were in all started to clap and cheer, and the pilot came on over the tannoy saying, “We’ve got two people on the plane who are flying to the Oscars tonight, they’re from British television and they’ve made a film called My Left Foot, and it’s up for two Oscars!” Everybody cheered again, we get off the plane, we’re standing like idiots in the queue for immigration, dressed in our funny outfits, we get through immigration, we get into a rather truncated limo, like a squashed limo, which is all that Granada could afford, and the driver said, “There is no way I’m going to get you there in time, it will be tail to tail for three miles.” I said, “You’ve got to get us there! We’ve come 6,000 miles and we’ve got to be there by 6pm.” Five to six we arrive, and we’re immediately interviewed on the red carpet by Good Morning TV, or TV-am, whichever it was, “Hi, Steve, have you got a chance of winning?” We’re into the hall, and in America the film was regarded as an Irish film rather than a British film because we had a lot of Irish cast, and it was an Irish story from an Irish book. And Daniel Day-Lewis and the director and the producer and other actors were all out of their seats in the bar, having a great time, and I’m sitting in the hall, and it comes up Best Supporting Actress, Brenda Fricker, who of course nobody had heard of in Hollywood, who was the mother in My Left Foot. And of course, she went up to collect her Oscar, and I whipped up to the bar and I said, “Listen everybody, we’re on a roll here, I don’t know what else is going to happen – you’ve all got to come back to your seats immediately.” And of course, we won one of the top awards, which was the Best Actor, which was won by Daniel Day-Lewis. So we’ve now won two Oscars for this tiny film. We all come out of the awards, and the procedure is you go into the Governor’s Ball, which is a ball and a dinner, but nobody balls, and nobody dines – it’s just a kind of networking affair where everybody talks to everybody, then they all go off to different parties. But as we came in, the president of the Academy at that time, I think it was Gregory Peck, (It was Karl Malden, apparently – Allie) stopped us and said, because we were like a bunch of Irish hooligans, stopped us and said, “Well done, you Brits, you Irish, for winning those Oscars – didn’t you do amazingly?” And I said, “Well, actually, I thought we could have done better.” And he said, “What do you mean?” And I said, “Well, surely we should have won best film,” which had been won b Driving Miss Daisy, which I didn’t think was that great a film, and we had been nominated for best picture. And he sort of… he was wearing a sort of Western outfit with that kind of, you know, liquorice tie, and a waistcoat, and he sort of grabbed me by the lapels, and he said something like, “Listen here, son – you’re very lucky you’ve won two Oscar Academy Awards,” – that’s what they call them – “And if you think that we’re going to give away Best Picture easily to the limeys, you’ve got another thing coming. Be satisfied.” Which actually, was a wonderful moment. And then the next day I was offered various deals at various studios, but much to their amazement I said, “Look, we’ve got to fly back immediately, I’m the director of programmes at a small television station on the north west coast of a small island, and that’s my job.” And what was very interesting about that was, why wouldn’t I have gone to Hollywood and done six-picture deals, or whatever it was on offer, of course they were only development deals, and the answer was that you were very, very proud to be the director of programmes at Granada Television – you felt it was the best company you could possibly be working in in those days, and it was your job and your responsibility to get back to the day job, and so off we went. And we got to the airport and we went up to the desk at the BA terminal, and they said, “We’ve heard about your Oscar success, that’s absolutely wonderful, sir. We’d like to upgrade you to First from where you are,” which was club. “Unfortunately we’ve only got one spare seat in First, so would you mind if you were upgraded and your wife remained in the front row of club?” And I said, “Don’t be silly. My wife and I hardly see each other, and we’re travelling together for thousands of miles – we’re not going to separate.” So this guy, he leaned forward into a microphone and he said to the entire hanger,” The Morrisons will not split.” And we stayed in club. But as we got on the plane, a very elegant young Italian came out of First, and he said, “Would you like to come forward to First Class?” I said, “We can’t, because there’s only one seat and we can’t split.” And he said, “No, my father has asked me to take your wife’s seat. There will now be two seats available, and Senor Armani would be delighted if you joined them.” So when we got up there, we find that the whole Armani family is in First Class, except us – and we were entertained by the family for the rest of the flight. So it was an amazing experience, but it was down to earth in Manchester the next day. So… where do you want to go on to next?
Do you want to go onto the Broadcasting Bill Act?
Late 1980s, the Tory government introduced a Broadcasting Bill, which subsequently became the 1990 Broadcasting Act. That much have had… well, it did have a huge impact on Granada. Could you describe how you dealt with that?
Yes. There were basically two things that happened in the late 80s which were very, very important. The first thing was that when I was at the controllers’ group, there was a great deal of rivalry between what was called the seven-day companies, which were those that had franchises across the whole week, and the London companies, who were split into one five-day and one two-day franchise – it was really for and a half and two and a half. So Thames would have the weekday, and London Weekend would have the weekend, and they had the same franchise, split. And because they had split franchises and therefore were more commercially endangered than the seven-day franchises, they had the right to draft the schedule, but we had the right to offer what, in effect, were guaranteed programmes. So whether they liked them or not, they had to play tem, and they would fight each other for the ones they wanted, and leave to the edges of the schedule those they didn’t like, but they had to play them. But during the time I was director of programmes, which started in 1987 and went on to 1992, the regulator, which in those days was called the Independent broadcasting Authority (IBA), had a director who sat on our controllers’ group to keep order and stop us killing each other. And he initiated the idea that they would phase out guaranteed programmes, because guaranteed programmes were not bought on merit, they were related to the size of your advertising revenue. So if you were in a small geographical area, getting 11% of the network’s ad revenue, you would be entitled to make 11% of the programmes, minus exceptions – or plus exceptions – but generally that. And if you were in a very big area, you were entitled to make more of the programmes. So it was totally unrelated to merit.
So during my early period at the controllers’ group, I was approached by the man from the IBA, who was a very, very clever guy, David Glencross, and he said, “We’re going to phase out the programme guarantees, but you should go back and say to your colleagues at Granada not to be worried about this, because Granada is fitter at programme making than most of the other companies, and with the right application you are going to do well out of this. So I had just become the director of programmes, and on my first day I was asked across the corridor to a meeting with a managing director, Andrew Quinn, and this was in a climate when the government had passed a new rule that 25% of all programmes should be given out to independent producers not in the ITV companies. It had been agreed internally that the regional ITV companies, the smaller ones, were to get a bigger share of programmes, and now we were going into a situation where the bigger ITV companies’ programmes would not be guaranteed. So Andrew had had a chart drawn up in beautiful different pencils and colours over the next 3-5 years, suggesting that our make would go down, first by 25%, then by another 25%, so instead of making £37m worth of programmes a year, we’d be making, say, £20m. And he said, “This is inevitable, it’s going to happen, all these other quotas are opening up, which studio should we close in which order? And I’m afraid we’ll have to lose a lot of staff.” And I said, “No, Andrew, the loss of guarantees is the loss of our floor, but it is also the opening of the ceiling. So previously, we could only make £37m of programmes, now we can bid, we can compete on merit – although of course there will be a lot of politics and a lot of shenanigans – but we can now compete for other programmes that are not in our guaranteed make. I suggest we wait for a year before we sack a lot of people and close studios, and see what volume of programmes we are likely to be making.” So the first programme that was put out into what was a contested area, what was called the flexi-pool, which was a kind of precursor for the BBC’s window of competitive competition, the walk, so in the area of programmes that were not subject to guarantees but had to be bid for on a merit basis, was the morning magazine. So there was 1.5-2 hours in the morning that was made up of educational programmes, and the same IBI executive, David Glencross, said to the controllers’ group, “Why are you running these half-hour educational programmes? They’re as dull as anything.” This came from the regulator. “As long as you have educational content in brief, in seven-minute bite-sized chunks,” as he called them, “Why don’t you put a wrap-around package around this time and make it into something more popular? Have a morning magazine with seven-minute educational strands.” So it was decided that this would be the first programme that would be competed for in the flexi-pool, and the daytime committee, which was chaired by a rival ITV company, Andy Allan (corr) from Central, would look at the pilots and choose one. So, of course, I said to my number two, David Liddiment, “This is our opportunity – we must strike and win this programme.” And we were sitting and discussing this all day during what was called the ITV Telethon, watching the studio in Manchester, where the Telethon goes on for about 24 hours, and presenters present it in shifts. And during this shift we were watching was a husband and wife team, Richard Madeley and Judi Finnigan. And David and I looked at each other and we said, “Could this be the first married couple that presents a daily television programme? They’re both journalists, they’re not a confection, they’re both natural TV journalists and TV presenters, but they happen to be married – would they be suitable? Should we have them in this pilot?” and the second thing we decided, which we hoped would make a difference between us and the other competitors, was we weren’t going to do it in a studio. We didn’t tell anybody this, but we decided that we would do it on the Albert Dock, which had a backdrop of glass walls, and the dock in Liverpool, which would give it a totally different feel, and more of a sort of open air magazine feel, and we even built a huge rubber map on a dinghy of the whole of the United Kingdom, and the weather man would have to jump from Wales to Northern Ireland, across the sea, to tell us the weather. So it was quite different in look than all the other entries – I think there were three other ITV companies, including one of the biggest ITV companies, Thames, who put in a bid – and lo and behold, although we were not on the committee, we were not chairing the committee, the committee chaired by a rival ITV company chose us as the winner. This was actually an incredible turning point, because I then went back to the Granada MD and said, “We’ve just won a year’s contract to make a daily programme, so there’s going to be 40 weeks of five episodes, so that’s 200 episodes and 400 hours of television.” He said,, “Oh, that’s terrible – how are we going to make redundant staff, how are we going to start another studio when I told you that I wanted you to close down studios, and Granada group will be petrified by us putting on more overhead.” I said, “No – don’t put on an permanent over head. What we’re going to do is we’re going to contract these staff for a 40-week run of contract, freelance, in Liverpool, what’s called ‘run of the show’, there’ll be no redundancy at the end if the programme is not continued, we’re going to lease the area around the Albert Docks and we’re going to put the set costs in the cost of the programme, which will be paid for by the network – so there is no investment by Granada, we’ve got nothing to lose, if the programme fails after a year, you haven’t added any permanent staff, you haven’t added any permanent studio, and if it succeeds, you have just won millions of pounds of programme business.” So, bless him, he let me do it, and off it went, and recently it celebrated its 27th – 27th! – year on the screen. It’s now transferred, after many years, to London, where it was made here, but This Morning is still going strong, after 27 annual series, in 2015. So the world basically shifted from that moment, and by the time I actually retired from Granada in 2002, having become the director of programmes in 1987, we had moved our annual programme turnover from £37m a year to £537m. So in a way, this threat of removing our guarantees turned out to be the most wonderful expansionist opportunity that Granada had ever had. Now, during the guaranteed period, the quality of the programmes could be very high, because we weren’t making that many and we could choose to make what we want – but beyond the guarantees falling off, we were running a proper programme business, and we made glorious programmes like Prime Suspect and the like, but at the same time we grew the business almost 20-fold – not quite 220-fold, but from £37m to £537m – and the second thing that went in parallel with this removal of the guarantees was this huge change for Granada, was after the 1990 Broadcasting Act, the ability to buy and merge and consolidate more franchises, more regional franchises. So we bought London Weekend Television, and I was asked to go from Manchester to London to become the managing director of LWT, then I became the chief executive of the Granada Media Group, and finally the chief executive of Granada PLC, the public company – but during that period, in the 1990s and into the early 2000s, we bought LWT, we bought Yorkshire and Tyne Tees, we bought Meridian, and we ended up in the end being two major conglomerates – Granada and Carlton – that eventually had to merge in order to form one unified ITV. So that policy, that philosophy, which as I described it to the Granada group executives, who were Gerry Ronson (corr) and Charles Allan, my strategy was, “Get into the London cockpit where the schedule is determined, because that is where the plane is driven.” And it has two pilots – Thames and LWT. You have to own one of these London franchises to be in that cockpit, so the one we chose was London Weekend, which was a very aggressive takeover, and therefore a very arduous time, when I was sent down, the barbarian from the north, to be the new MD of the city slicker licence, which was the London licence, and I had to win over the Melvyn Braggs and all the others, but we changed LWTs output; we concentrated on its strength, which was its entertainment, but added to it other programmes, and within a year or two we had turned that programme division into a very profitable one, and doubled the profits of LWT. We then bought Yorkshire and Tyne Tees, which was the second half of my strategy, which was ‘strengthen your local neighbourhood’; be in the London cockpit, but strengthen where you are. So the north was combined between Granada, Yorkshire and Tyne Tees, and from there we then bought Meridian. So we ended up merging, Granada and Carlton ended up merging, and the two chairmen of Granada and LWT decided they didn’t need their best men at the wedding, so the chief executive at Granada, which was me, and the chief executive of Carlton, we both agreed to leave. I took early retirement and did what I had wanted to do for many years, which was form our own production business, but I have to say that…
What year did you leave?
I left in 2002. So I was at Granada for 27 and a half years, 21 in Manchester and the rest in London, and my reflection on all of this is that Granada went through two golden eras. The first golden era was up to 1987, when it had guaranteed programmes of a relatively small collection, but it included Coronation Street , which was the most popular programme on the network, which gave Granada the clout to make reputational programmes as well, and of course the famous days of Brideshead and Jewel in the Crown and World in Action and a great documentary tradition which you will have heard from Ray and Lesley Woodhead, and a drama documentary tradition – I was very proud of us making Who Bombed Birmingham? (1990) and the whole 7 Up series during my time there, when I was responsible for 28 Up and the director of programmes at Who Bombed Birmingham? Stage, although I didn’t make the programme, I was very proud of it. So, during that guaranteed period, Granada concentrated on the top commercial programme on the network, and loved it, which was Coronation Street, but also made some of the most reputational BBC-type programmes. When the guarantees got reduced, and the takeovers and consolidation took place, Granada changed gear and expended. It took the changed circumstances not from a defensive position, but asserted the strength of its programme making and won many more programmes – there was a point where we were making the majority of the programmes of the whole network; we were making more than 60% of the entire output of ITV which, given that 25% was an independent quota, was a pretty incredible achievement. And occasionally, those two eras, cultures, would clash, so I would come back from the controllers’ group and say to the managing director – or as it was then, the chairman, David Plowright – “I’m going to expand Coronation Street, and this will give us more influence to make what we really want, because both episodes are in the Thames part of the week, and if we introduce a third episode in the LWT part of the week, so that it will not go out Monday and Wednesday, but it will go out Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and even one day Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Sunday, then both London companies will want our programmes more because we’ve got the thing that makes their business work.” And David went white, and he said, “Look, Steve – we’ve made Coronation Street for 28 years, and we’ve maintained the quality at twice a week. Are you now threatening that?” I said, “No – we’re going to invigorate and reinvigorate it, and we’re going to give it a jolt which will make it ever better and more important to the network, and more important for itself, and give us more room for more characters and more things to do.” And I’ll say this of David Plowright – when he heard the story, he backed you. So he took this young guy who was jeopardising the tradition and history of Granada to make Granada stronger; he was going to expand Granada’s most dear programme, most important programme, and he let me do it. And we ended up with five or six episodes a week with no strength ebbing – quite the opposite. The programme got more vigorous than before. So you come back to the ability of Granada to back you to be as bold as possible, but caution you to be conservative about how much you expected people to pay for it, and combining those commercial and creative instincts into entrepreneurship on a bigger stage than we’d had before, so I think the second period was as glorious as the first.