Thelma McGough on the early days of GTV in Liverpool

Chris (Pye) and I went to the Liverpool office. It was behind the Town Hall, Exchange Flags and was a beautiful building. You went to the front door, Chris had a beautiful big office to the right and I had a beautiful big office to the left. There was no secretary, no staff, no anything. However, what I had to do was to be in on the Manchester Granada Reports meetings every morning, so I’d drive from Liverpool, you had to have – or you had to offer – well, you were asked for three stories every morning, but usually you were lucky if you managed one or two. The fortunate thing about the drive, and it was before the M62 motorway, or it only went part of the way, I’d listen to Radio Merseyside and get all those local stories, so but wasn’t too bad. So I could offer something. And then I’d be given a story by the news editor, and you’d be asked to condense it into 36-42 seconds. That was scary. I was told, or someone helped me by telling me, that there are three words a second. So that was a way of determining how long a piece was. I had a friend who worked for the Manchester Guardian who lived in Liverpool called John O’Callaghan and he said, “The trick is to put the nub of the story up front.” So, “60,000 people have been made unemployed this year by the health service, so says the Shadow Health Secretary for the Labour Party.” So I just had to learn by watching and listening. And it was not the breeze that Anthony made it look like! It was really bloody difficult!
Mike Engelhart came over. He was someone I did not know at all, and he was to be the producer there. So we didn’t have a crew, and we still didn’t have a secretary. One morning he said to me, there was a big furore at the time because a Liverpool University lecturer was thought to have information that could be useful to a foreign power, namely Russia, and he’d gone missing without trace. So the national press were in a frenzy, as were the local press. Mike Engelhart said to me, “We’ve been asked to get an interview with his wife.” And he said, “I want you to do that” And I thought, “Jesus Christ, how am I going to do this?” And I was too embarrassed to make the call in front of Mike Engelhart, because I had no experience I didn’t know what I was going to say. So I went into Chris’s empty office and I called the house. I think Mike had given me the phone number. And a policewoman answered the phone. And I don’t know whether it was because I was a woman, but I managed… I told her what I wanted to do. She said, “Just a moment I’ll go and see if” – the name escapes me – “is agreeable.” And with that, the woman herself came to the phone. And I talked to her, and I said it would be really good, and if he’s missing, just the sympathetic woman’s… and I did empathise with her. It would been awful. So she agreed. So then a film crew arrived and we all whisked off to Wirral. When we got to the house there were hordes of photographers and journalists outside the gate, and we’d got permission to go in, or I’d managed to get the permission, so we breezed up the path and they were all like hounds saying, “Can we come in with you?” And I wasn’t sure whether I should say yes or no. Whoever was my cameraman said, “No, don’t let them.” I had no mind to let them, but anyway, we went in and we did the interview. And then when it finished, she was tearful and then I was in tears. I went over and hugged her. I was really upset thinking, “This is so cruel to put this woman through this.” And we went back and the item went out on Granada Reports.
And after this evening programme, Steve Morrison was head of programming, local programming, then – and he’d come in and deliver his inquest. And he congratulated me on getting the interview, and then he asked for comments, and somebody piped up that they thought my voice was too quiet on the tape, and he dismissed them and said it was exactly the right tone, in his Scottish accent. And so I just thought, “Oh, my God. I can do this job! I can do it.” Not long after that, I came up with an idea. A lot of cars were being stolen in Liverpool by young guys, they were breaking into them with coat hangers. So I suggested this film called a Whizzing a Danny. So a ‘Danny’ was slang in Liverpool for a car, and ‘whizzing’ was slang in Liverpool for stealing, or we used to say robbing something, rather than stealing. So robbing a car, whizzing a Danny. I set that film up, and Dave Richards was the director. He came to Liverpool but it was the first time I’d been out properly on a story that I generated. And we did it, but at lunchtime there were five film crews in the kebab house in Liverpool.

I know it well!
Do you? Five of them… I couldn’t eat because it was my first big film that I… I was almost throwing up, I couldn’t eat a thing. And everyone was enjoying it, and everyone was having a drink, and everyone was full of bonhomie, and I was in the loo, thinking, “I’m going to throw up.” But the interesting thing was… somebody in Granada, I was never quite sure who it was, whether it was David Plowright, whether it was Forman, whether it was Mrs Wooller, disapproved of alcohol being on the tab, so there were five PAs all going to – and I knew the owner well, because I ate there often – trying to negotiate the bills to get the booze hidden. That was amusing, that’s something I remember well.

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