Thelma McGough

Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 10 August 2017.

Let’s start with your initial contact with Granada.

Well, long before I joined I was very familiar with the building, and a lot of the staff before I actually became employed there. In the late 60s, I’d done a fashion show with a friend of mine, we were students at Liverpool College of Art. I was a painter, but we decided to set up a label. It was in the Sink Club, which was a trendy club in Hardman Street, and it was attended by Jean Muir, the fashion designer, and a reporter. There was a lot of publicity, so Granada whisked us over in a limo, and we were interviewed by a very dashing and ebullient Mike Scott, with a shock of black hair, and we were dressed in the clothes that we’d done. So that was my first visit. The second visit was… Chris Kelly was producing a program called X. The letter X plus ten, T-E-N. And I was screen tested for that in the Manchester studios, as one of the supposedly bright young things in the audience – not in the audience, I beg your pardon – in the studio. And X was the person being interrogated in the chair, and I was selected. We were sent every week a package in the mail of written notes about X who we were meant to grill to death. So Anna Ford was one of the other nine people, young people. I think she was the president or something at Manchester Uni at that time, and a guy who became a producer at Thames television later when I worked there, whose name escapes me. I think I was absolutely useless as part of that group, because I rather admired some of the people that we had, or admired their achievements, rather than despised them and wanted to put them on the spot. And also the other nine people were very eager to have their voice heard. And I’ve always been a watcher really, someone who is serious and looks at things before I make judgments. But also it seemed cruel to me. Godfrey (Wims? 4:05) was one of the X people, and he seemed old and frail, and I wasn’t going to give him a hard time. and Quintin Hogg was another, and he walked into the studio on sticks and with a orthopaedic boot, and I just felt that it was too easy to mock people that were – mock isn’t the correct word – you were meant to interrogate them, and I had no stomach for it. One of the people that came in was a journalist and a writer called Robert Pitman, who wrote for The Express. And he got a real ribbing from the crew. But afterwards we always went to a club, I think it was the Twisted Wheel, and I think John Birt was the exec producer, and Bob Pitman was sat there, people kind of shunned him, and he said to me, “Why don’t you go and ask him to dance?” I thought, “Why not?” So I did, and we became lifelong friends until he died of leukaemia in, I think was it… ‘69. During this X Plus Ten show, all 10 of us were taken to London – so Granada must have been flush with funds – to stay in Brown’s Hotel, which is not cheap, because Vic Lownes, Victor Lownes, the chief exec of Playboy UK, was going to be the guest. So we were taken there, and we spent the evening in the Playboy Club, interrogating bunny girls. We were meant to be tearing them to shreds, but the bunny girls I spoke to really enjoyed the job, so I couldn’t quarrel with these things, personally. So I knew the building from that. John Birt also produced Nice Time with Germaine Greer and Kenny Everett, and I was invited to be in the audience for that and go to the wrap parties. And then being married to Roger McGough, we would go over – because he doesn’t drive – and so I’d drive him over to take part in (Johnny Hunt programmes? 6:36) and other programmes. So I was very familiar with the building, and I loved the building because, as an artist, the walls were dripping with wonderful, up-to-the-minute art. So if you went in through the car park entrance, there were John Bratbys on the wall. In Committee Room C – but I didn’t know this until later – was a Robyn Denny painting which I always admired. Huge painting. And of course, in the foyer was the Pope, by Francis Bacon, obviously. So it was always a joy to be wandering round the corridors of Granada Television. So I was very familiar with the building. Then I began a relationship with Anthony Wilson in 74 that lasted two years, almost. And he introduced me to everybody. He waltzed me round the corridors, the offices, the studios, the edit suites, and I used to go out filming with him on outings for Granada Reports, but also on his kamikaze stunts. And he was a brilliant filmmaker, and he made it all look effortless, and it always seemed like he didn’t do any research. I think it’s worth remembering that these were the days before 24/7 news outlets, and also there were no mobile phones. By the time newspapers arrived, the news was already yesterday’s – and I think that that’s something worth bearing in mind. These days I’ve got a nine-year-old granddaughter who makes films on a mobile phone with opening titles and end credits, and when I first joined Granada that was done with Letraset, by hand. On the first film I ever made for Granada, I’ve still got a big board with Whizzing a Danny on it. But to get back to your original question, how I came to work there, on… following Anthony around, it always seemed like a really vibrant, interesting job, and he made it look easy and effortless and fun. Being a Scouser, there’s a bit of that Yozzer – though that came later – [attitude of] “I can do that.” You know, “Gizza job.” So I asked them to “gizza job” twice, and I was turned down, clearly. John Slater was the Granada Reports producer when I first went to Granada. He said to me, “I know Tony chooses all these Liverpool stories so he can be with you, and I don’t mind, really I don’t.” It was quite posh, his voice. “But please send in back with half an hour to spare instead of 10 minutes.” And he was an extraordinary man, John Slater. He was an inventive broadcaster himself. There were lots of slots in Granada Reports when he did it. There was always… for some reason there was a running joke of a parrot in the studio all the time, and I think he was the one that suggested the kamikaze slots, and I made Anthony a sweatshirt with kamikaze across it, and went on several of the film shoots, one of which he absolutely could not do, which was water-skiing, and he was banging into the side of the ramp where you took off. He was covered in bruises. But anyway, I suggested an item to John Slater that I thought would be interesting for Granada Reports, meaning, “Someone should do this.” And I’d been aware that in Liverpool, there was this circuit of under fives that were doing these beauty competitions, they were called Rosebud competitions, and John Slater said, “Well, do it. Go away and do it.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “Well, set it up and I’ll give you a film crew.” Which wasn’t quite what I had in mind, it was pretty scary, but I did. And he gave me a film crew, and Laurence Moody, the director, came over to Liverpool, and we filmed these young girls, and we interviewed their mothers, and Chris Moody made a really sweet film which went to transmission, so that was my first contact with ever doing anything like that. And at that time of course, I met (Chris Pie? 11:46), Trevor Hyett, Anna Ford was working there then, Jeff Seed, Gus. So there was a whole coterie of people that I already knew, so then I – oh, and Greavsie! – significant. Greavsie and Jane Cousins were friends. And Jeremy Fox as well. So I failed, quite rightly. Do you have journalistic experience? No. Do you have any film-making experience? No. Well, a bit. Not really. And you have to remember that all the intake, most of the intake, were Oxbridge. You know, there was Barry Cox, Nick Elliott Andy Mere, Coburn… John Slater, David Jenkins, Andy Harries, Tony Wilson – so I wasn’t in that league; I was an artist. However, Jane Cousins asked me to research part of a book she was writing called ‘Make it Happy’, which was the sex guide for teenagers. So that was enlightening, and that was good, and she gave me a credit. And then I went to work voluntarily for the Liverpool Free Press, and it was begun by four investigative journalists, (Rob Raw? 13:24) was one. And they were very mindful that whilst they were uncovering tales of corruption, corporate corruption, in Liverpool, they were neglecting issues pertaining to what would now be called women’s issues, like the lack of funding for nursery schools, or the health service. So I wrote some copy for them, and that was invaluable experience. Out of the blue, then, I had a phone call from Greavsie, and he said he was presenting with Joan Bakewell a programme called Reports Action. And he asked me would I speak to Joe Simpson, who was… Community Service Volunteers, because they were advising the programme. Jim Walker was the producer. What they had done was, they’d demonstrated a pennant, a little orange fluorescent flag, that could be attached to the back of your bicycle to prevent… so you would be noticeable, and there would be fewer accidents. They invited viewers to write in to get one free, and they were overwhelmed. And therefore they’d employed a team of about six young women from the dole on the work experience scheme to pack these things and post them off. And they needed somebody to oversee these youngsters, and Greavsie had suggested me. And I went over to meet with Joe Simpson and Jim Walker, and I was given that job. My wages were paid for by CSV. So that was the first time – we were in the Old School, I think, we weren’t in the main building at that time. I liked Jim Walker, he was very down to earth. Quite brusque, but so was I, so that was that was okay. You know, he wasn’t two-faced, like a lot of Southerners were. So he told it like it is, or was. And so did I. And I admired that in him. So I worked there for a while. I knew, of course, all that group I mentioned earlier, and Chris Pie had been given the job to head up the new Liverpool office. Now, when I was turned down the first two times for jobs, I always got these lovely letters saying, “When the Liverpool office opens, we’ll employ you.” I thought they were being kindly and giving me the brush-off so I thought it would never materialise – and why should it? I’ve no history. However, I think there was a franchise, or they felt… a lot of the stories in Granada Reports did generate on Merseyside, and it wasn’t all because Tony was there to see me, there were genuine stories. And I think they felt obliged, the powers that be, to open the Liverpool office. Anyway, it came to be, and Chris Pie was going to be the person in charge. My feeling was that it was a sideways move that he wasn’t quite comfortable with, and I think he wanted an ally. And of course I did have a great deal of Liverpool contacts, so he came to the Old School and said to me, “There’s another board, why don’t you apply?” and I said, “I’m not doing it a third time.” And he said, “No, you’ll get it this time, apply.” So I did. On the board were people I knew well – or well-ish. There was Gus MacDonald and Steve Morrison and Chris, Brian Armstrong… I’m not sure if there was somebody else. So I did this board and I was a bit more worldly-wise in the ways of telly by then. And Chris came over and said, “You did a really good board and you’ve got the job.” Within half an hour I got a bluey, so a blue envelope, and you take it out, and it’s got nice blue airmail paper, and typed on it was the official version that I hadn’t got the job. So I telephoned him in the other building, so Chris came scurrying over and I showed it to him, “There you go.” And he went away. And then I was summoned to the sixth floor to see Mike Scott. I didn’t know what was going to happen. And I wasn’t intimidated, in a sense, by Mike Scott, because I’d done that interview years ago, and he was always jolly… and so I got in, and he sat on the corner of his desk, and he said, “Right, I want to tell you why I don’t think we should give you the job.” He put his hand on his chin and he said, “I think you too old. You’re 36, and researcher is a starting out job, and I don’t think we should be giving 36-year-olds jobs as researchers.” So I said, “Right. I can do it.” So that’s when he said, “I don’t think we should be giving people of your age jobs as researchers. It’s a junior job.” I don’t know where I got… the Scouse came out in me and I said, “Would you be saying this to someone stood here if it was a man?” And he looked quite shocked. And because he wasn’t my boss and I hadn’t seen another side of him other than the really nice, friendly interviewer man from all those years ago – but by this time his hair had gone grey – I didn’t have that fear of him, and I wasn’t going to get the job anyway, so why wouldn’t I stand there and… and he said, “Well, yes I think I would still say the same thing.” And then he said, “Look, Chris wants you. So I’ll leave it to him.” But I didn’t get the memo saying – oh, yes I did get the memo saying – they didn’t say, “We’ve got it wrong,” it just said, “You’ve got the job.” Then the interesting thing was, having tried all that time to get the job, and it was a very closed shop in terms of the union, Chris and I were celebrating were the drinking the Stables bar that night, which was next door to the Old School, geographically I think, I was suddenly… someone came up to me and said, “You need to join the NUJ, here’s the form.” NUJ. And someone came to me said, “Oh, you need an ACTT card.” So I had absolutely no background for anything, and was given this NUJ card immediately and an ACTT card immediately. That was a contradiction of everything you expected. So after that, what did I do? Chris and I went to the Liverpool office. It was behind the town hall, (cross exchange flags? 21:55), 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’Callahan? 23:38) 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! Then in the Liverpool office – we still didn’t have a secretary – Chris was barely there; I think he had a girlfriend in Liverpool at that time, but I’m not going to any further with that! (Mike Englehart? 24:31) 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 Englehart 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 Englehart, 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 we 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, said 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.

I mean, you go back a long way to Liverpool folk history, because you went out with John Lennon.

And Paul McCartney.

And Paul McCartney. And you knew Cilla. Were you ever able to use them as contacts or get stories?

Here’s an interesting story about my work at Granada Television. At some point, I was living in London but working in Liverpool. I think it was after the strike, and it was when I came back. And so my mother would travel down to London to look after my kids, and my travel up to Liverpool to work at Granada in Liverpool. And I’d stay at her flat in Woolton, and it was literally less than a quarter of a mile from where John Lennon lived, and the house I knew well, Mendips. In the darkness of morning, I had a phone call and it was Bob Whittaker with his lovely Geordie accent. He said, “I need you to come in.” And it is still dark outside. It was December. “John Lennon’s been shot.” And it just seemed so… preposterous that John Lennon would have been shot. And I said, “What are you talking about?” I was waking up from the depths of sleep. And he said, “He’s been killed in New York, he’s been shot.” And it just did not make sense to me at all. And he said, “You need to come in. I need you to come in.” And so I got in my car, and I drove past Mendips, and I looked at the house where I’d spent many a time. And it just the whole thing just seemed absolutely surreal. So I got there, and he said, “We need to get as many people as we can to talk about him.” So I contacted Bob Waller, I got hold of him. Eventually I got hold of Cilla, she was I think in Dubai. I talked to her down the line, wasn’t in vision. And they wanted Cynthia. So I contacted Mike McCartney’s ex-wife who was working in a restaurant they ran together in North Wales, I think it was a Ruthin. And (Anne? 32:51) said, “She’s not here. She’s on the way back from London. She’s been staying with Maureen Starkey.” And she said, “I’ve being asked to keep…” What’s John Lennon’s son called?


I was going to call him Jude. “I’ve been asked to keep Julian.” Anyway, she wouldn’t… she got back, so I rang later in the day and she was back but she wouldn’t speak to us. So the irony was, there was I, who had spent a lot of time with John Lennon, who knew him at a certain stage in his life really well, and instead of them interviewing me, I was employed trying to get all these people that hardly knew him to speak about him. It just seemed a missed opportunity there, but I wasn’t going to say, “Hey guys, do you not think you could interview me on camera?” because nobody else was available. But that seemed daft to me. You know, they had somebody on their doorstep, somebody employed by them, that they could have asked whatever questions they wanted. So it was 30 years until I was interviewed about that by a programme… a Scottish company made. So you were asking about Cilla. No, other than being able to ring her on that occasion and say, “Can you do this?” which she normally probably wouldn’t have done. I can’t think of any other occasion where that was helpful, that knowledge. But certainly, knowing musicians around here, and people, helped. It’s like being able to speak another language, you know?

You’re now ensconced at Granada Television, in the Liverpool office. Did you stay in the Liverpool office very long?

The irony was that with Granada you were based somewhere. So you were based in Liverpool, or you were based in Manchester. It was ludicrous to me, the system, and I think it was at the behest of the unions. I was conflicted over the unions, because I think the unions should have regulated themselves instead of waiting for Thatcher to emaciate them, if that’s the correct grammatical word. So I was based in Liverpool. At times, I was based in Liverpool, they had me working in Manchester. Then I was re-based in Manchester and they had me work in Liverpool. The ridiculous mess of that is that you’ve got mileage from wherever you were based to wherever you’re working, you’d got (per deans? 1:39), so you have breakfast allowances, lunch allowances, evening allowances. The allowances I accrued by the mismanagement of having me based in a place that I didn’t continue to work at, meant that the expenses I got, I bought a brand new VW Beetle. Paid cash for it. It was crazy. So I don’t know that that’s an appropriate way to run a company. Now, okay, Granada presumably weren’t short of funds. But those were things that were written into contracts. So anyway, I’m at Granada reports. So let’s say, to use an analogy, if Anthony Wilson was the Philippe Coutinho of the team, Bob Smithies was what I would call the Stevie G. Steven Gerrard. Because he was not a bright, sparkly star, but he took me under his wing. And in those days, working with Phil… either one or the other, I think the picture was two seconds ahead of the sound, and whilst Anthony and Pat Haggerty, who was brilliant, it was all done in seconds, I found it very difficult to do it myself. Bob Smithies was really, really supportive. He always came down to the edit suite, he always helped. And he was a kind of… without being showy, without being the man with the Golden Boot, he was the backbone and the mainstay of a lot of the time at Granada Reports. Then worked on an absolutely whole host of programmes. I’ve made a list of them. I did give (Live from Two? 4:00) when (Sandy and Steve Leahy? 4:04) were made producers together. I did Mersey Pirate with Sandy, we went to see (??4:11) together. I’ve still got the book in paperback, (Scully and Me? 4:16). And in fact, Drew Schofield who played Scully, was a friend of ours in Liverpool. He’s still acting; I still see him on screen sometimes. I worked on… when I was doing Live from Two, bearing in mind I was 36 before I got this job, I was sent to get Jimmy Savile from his dressing room. I haven’t told ANYBODY this. I knocked on the door, he said, “Come in, come in.” So I go in and I say, “We’re ready for you in studio.” And he’s sat in an armchair opposite me, and he said, “Close the door, close the door,” and I thought, “That’s a bit odd, but hey, he’s the guest.” I did as I was bid. He stood up, he pushed me against the wall and he pushed his hand right up my dress. I pushed him away, I walked out, and left the door for him to follow me. And I didn’t ever tell anybody. Not because I was afraid or ashamed, but I was 36, I’d lived long enough in the world to have this happen to me on a number of previous occasions, so it was nothing new, and I just thought, You dirty old git.” And that was that. And then when all this came out recently, I thought, “Good God. It wasn’t just young women.” I know I looked young for my age, but I didn’t look 15. So there you go. That was my experience of Jimmy Savile.

Did you encounter much sexism at Granada?

No, I… I can not honestly think… well… I can think of one person, but I don’t think I want to pursue that, really.

You don’t have to name names.

There was someone in a position of authority… it’s difficult to say how to put this… that made it painfully obvious that he was interested in me in a way that wasn’t platonic. That’s a delicate way of saying it, isn’t it? And it was awkward. But I got over it. Nothing happened, but there was an occasion that was very awkward.

A number of people have talked about bullying at Granada, and alcohol problems, and people getting drunk.

I only recall one producer who had a difficulty with alcohol. I didn’t like him. He was irascible. Fortunately I didn’t work with him a lot. I only worked with him on a Labour Party political conference in Blackpool. He was of an age I think where he was sexist, but we didn’t know what sexist meant then. In hindsight, you would say that his attitude was sexist. Dismissive of… of me, but maybe of other women, I don’t know what his attitude was to other women. But on the whole, not – although it was a very male environment – my initial contact before I worked there, there was Jane Cousins on screen, there was Anna Ford on screen, and I can’t recall any other women. Sue Woodford, perhaps.

Barbara Meachin?

Barbara Meachin was later, and Judy Finnegan were both much later. They were on screen. I have to say, they were both extremely attractive, particularly Judy, and Steve Morrison was the exec at that time I think. But having a very perfectionist, aesthetic eye, it used to drive me mad that one or both of them at various times would wear black bra beneath a white shirt. So nowadays I don’t think that would matter, although I would still not I find it attractive. I wondered if a woman producer might have said, “Hey can’t you just put a flesh-coloured bra on, or a white bra?” But that’s me being sexist as a woman.

All right, let’s move away from that and go on to programmes. You did The Krypton Factor.

Yes. I did. I worked on Krypton Factor with Nick Turnbull. That was the beginning of the best part of working at Granada. Pete Walker was the director on that, and Gordon and I used to travel around looking for, or interviewing, possible contestants for that. And do you know, that stood me in so much good stead later on with Surprise, Surprise and Blind Date – just that training of being able to suss people out. Gordon was invaluable at that. He was excellent. That was marvellous, because we’d go to the assault course, which wasn’t my bag – I’m afraid of a blade of grass – because Chris Carr was in charge of researchers. This is, I think, another flaw in Granada, although it could be a strength – you did not have a choice where you went, you were told. You didn’t say, “Hey guys, I’d like to do Krypton Factor.” So anyway, I’ll have to go back to Krypton Factor, because I was always sent out to do what was known as the intelligence tests, those three dimensional things that Jerry used to design, who was a maths professor in Manchester. And if I could do them in two speedily a time, they had to modify them. I couldn’t do them at all, or it took too long, because you had a limited studio, how long people could take, then they were modified. So I really enjoy that little tiny bit of power of saying, “This doesn’t work.” And Nick Turnbull was a terrific producer as well, and Gordon, and Pete Walker – it was just one of those times at Granada, and in television, and it’s happened all too infrequently, where you get a team and everyone’s gelled. And it’s just fabulous, and you love going in. So that was interesting. After I worked with Nick on that, he went to work in Liverpool and he asked me to come over there and work with him again. So I did Exchange Flags, I did Take the Stage, I id Music from the Flags, which was a late night insert of little musical items of people. Take the Stage was interesting, that was a theatrical kind of mime show. And we did another programme, we had artists on it. I remember Patrick Hughes coming up to be on it, where they had a black marker and a big chalkboard, and we showed them a picture of a painting, like the Arnolfini Marriage, and they would sketch out a thing and then the other cast members had to guess what it was. Brian Sewell was a very funny person doing that. The Last Drop was interesting. The other interesting programme I’ve worked on was doing the Under Five with Mike Short. Now, Granada in Liverpool then was really up and running. David (Hyett? 14:30) was there, Chris (Carr? 14:32) was there, Chris Pie had managed, or gone, and the whole studio was rigged like a nursery school. And Mike Short and I went around the country, interviewing experts in the field of psychology for the under-fives. So that was very, very interesting. And in fact, the guy – I’m not going to take the credit for this, Mike Short found him – Oliver James is now always on TV espousing – I don’t actually agree with his views, but we gave him his big break. And Shorty was great to work with as well; there were some magnificent people that I worked with.

Any other people in particular that you want to talk about?

Let me think… Sandra Ross was great to work with. He was very… he had a very sharp brain. He had a lot of insight. He had instincts. that in states. Maybe I’m just more comfortable working with people that are from my own background rather than people that I’m not comfortable with. But Nick Turnbull, Gordon, Sandy Ross… then David Jenkins came along and it was a whole new ball game, and that was just fabulous. I started to tell you earlier about one of the flaws I thought Granada [had] where they mismatched people to programmes; you get moved. Like Chris Carr, I went it to his office once – he was now in Manchester – and he was in charge of researchers’ placements. And he said, “Right, now, your next job is Down to Earth.” And I said, “But Chris, I hate the countryside.” He said, “Sorry, that’s all I’ve got for you.” Brian Armstrong was producing it at this time, and he phoned me and said, “Can we meet in the canteen?” I said yes. So I went down there and he said, “Are you are you really pleased about this?” I said, “Brian, you’ve got the wrong person. I am renowned for being afraid of a blade of grass. I hate to be anywhere that’s not in the city with wrought iron railings and neon lights.” And although Chris Carr would not hear of me not doing it, within 15 minutes I was replaced by either Bryan Park or Phil Griffin. I can’t remember who. God, was I relieved that I wasn’t going to have to spend time up in the Lake District in a pair of wellies!

Neither of those two are particularly appropriate to Down to Earth!

Oh, I know. I did a few programmes with Gordon Burns, apart from The Krypton Factor. We put… Extra, I think it was called, where we had people come in the studio. I remember Kilroy-Silk coming in, and then we had an audience. I was going to say it’s a bit like Question Time but it wasn’t as formal as that. And we didn’t do assessments beforehand in terms of employing the audience. So we’d take a poll at the beginning and after this big discussion when Gordon was in the chair, we’d take a poll at the end, and some photographs (??18:07), you know. I was counting the votes to see whether anyone’s changed their mind. But it was a primitive version of all those of all those things that go on. One of the things that was in your guideline list was whether I thought the company was paternalistic. I’m not clear what you were thinking of, or what the definition was of that. However, I found them to be very caring of their employees. I always refused a staff contract – foolishly, in hindsight – because it came with the pension and I didn’t think I would live long enough to have a pension, and I didn’t want to think about it. And here I am, two months off 76 and I’m still here, so it might have been a wise move! And you got shares or you got something else. But I had something in my mind where I didn’t want to do this. So… I’m outlining this because I was not a staff member. However, I had an accident on the Krypton Factor assault course when we’d gone up there, Gordon and I, to take photographs with the staff photographer, because we were about to go around Germany to the forces bases to recruit soldiers and (pick the like? 19:39). So we went up there without any equipment and we took the photographs. And I was in this big pipe that they had to jump out of, and the photographer said, “Why don’t you jump?” And I was frightened of heights. And I did not like being frightened of anything. So I thought it would cure me if I did jump. Of being frightened of heights. Again, another foolish judgment. There was no mattress, I didn’t have trainers on, I jumped out of the pipe… I couldn’t stand up. And Gordon came to the rescue. I had to be dragged into the car. He took me to Salford Hospital. But Granada got a chauffeur to take me over back to London, where I lived. When I was recovered enough to be on crutches, they picked me up at home in Kentish Town, come up first class on the train. They put me up in the Midland Hotel for weeks and weeks. And I wasn’t a staff employee. I think that was generous of them. Also…

What had you done?

I’d broken both my calcaneus, which is your heels, then I was taken to UCH on the Monday morning, and a president came in with a team of trainee doctors, looked at my soles of my feet and said the team, “Can you see the calcanean bruises? I didn’t know what a calcanean was, even though I’d done anatomy as an art student. And so I said, “Will I limp?” He thought I’d said, “Will I live?” and he said, “Of course you’ll live!” And I said, “But I’m going to I’m going to Germany next week,” and he said, “You won’t be going anywhere for some time.” I was admitted for three weeks, and on crutches. That was the year of the Falklands War, because I remember Sandy Ross and Charlie Rogers and Dennis Mooney coming to see me in my house. So what I’m saying is the generosity of care that I go through that was quite striking. And another time, I was going back on the train to London one Friday evening, waiting at the buffet on the train, and the guy running the buffet flipped down the door to open the buffet, and it hit me in the face, and it made a huge gash round my face. There were two guys behind me from Virgin Records, and I said, “Is it bad?” And they said, “Yes.” And I went back to my seat, and there were two women there that worked in a different department at Granada, not production staff, and they called the guard, and he halted the train at Crewe and said I had to get off to get it stitched and I refused. And in London, the ambulance was there and everything. But that’s another way of saying to you, Granada then sued British Rail. I went to see Lord Goodman, no less, in his office in London, and he got me, I think it was £1,000 or £1,200 or something. So Granada were very…


(??23:23). They were caring, and they didn’t have to do that. And as well, when we were researchers, I don’t know if you remember, we were given a voucher to go and buy tents and a pair of boots. Outdoor wet weather clothing. And I’ve still got my red tent somewhere, I remember Sandy Roth had a yellow one, I think. So they didn’t have to do that, but they did. And then there was this bizarre thing that women, if they travelled on company business, could get first class travel on a train. But men couldn’t. So I don’t know, I thought that came from Forman, but somebody said they thought it was Mrs Wooller. They didn’t want women being accosted by the hoi polloi on trains, travel, business.

Hmm. Maybe that came in later. It used to be that everybody used to get first class.



Well, I thought that was a quaint.. when you think now, you don’t get any of those things.

And when you got married, the company gave you a nice cheque.

Oh, did they? Well, I’ve been married three times I didn’t get any cheque!

We were lucky – we got two because we both worked there!

Oh… that was interesting… what else can I tell you? Oh, a funny incident in the Liverpool office, long before there was like big, proper studios. Sometimes you’d have people come in to be interviewed and there were two sound guys there, that’s all I remember. And I remember Graeme Souness came in for an interview, and he was… there was a stand mic. I can’t recall who was interviewing him, but somebody was interviewing him on camera. And he kept knocking the sound mic, and this guy in the sound department – sound department, sounds very grand, but there were only two of them and a vision mixer – came out and kept telling him off. And in the end, Graeme Souness turned round and said, “Fuck off!” in his Scottish accent. It was really, really funny. I met him at Cilla’s 70th birthday, Graeme Souness. He and I were sat on the same table, his third wife was with him and reminded him of it but he’d forgotten. So that was amusing. What else can I tell you? Oh, the highlights! The highlights. Let me see what the highlights were. Ah, yes. When I was working in the Liverpool office, I had a phone call saying they wanted an interview with Bill Shankly. Because Elton Wellsby, I think it was, was the sports reporter and he was tied up doing something else. So I was appointed to do it. Well, my cousin used to play for Liverpool in the 1950’s, 1952 I think, and my grandmother was –

What’s his name?

Brian Williams. He then went to Tranmere Rovers. And my grandmother was such a big fan that the Liverpool Echo did a big spread on her. Mrs Crane at 84, still goes to all the games. So Shankly was revered in our family. So it was like someone meeting Elvis, or… I don’t know who the modern equivalent would be. And I had to go to his house to do this interview, I think it was ’78, it might have been a European Cup match we was to comment on, or a forthcoming match. I absolutely starstruck. And there I was, mid-thirties, like a teenager or a rock concert or like someone might be with John Lennon. I went to his house in (Sandon Park? 28:01) and Nessie, his jolly wife, invited me in and we all went through the house. We interviewed him in the garden. And apart from being starstruck, because he was Bill Shankly, I was also… I also felt that it was a bit groundbreaking. There was I, and no one – a woman anyway – had done any sports news, and I knew my voice would be heard off camera. So it felt really groundbreaking and terrifying for that reason. But I couldn’t tell you what questions I asked him, I literally was so overawed – and I’d met a lot of famous, celebrity type people by that stage. But that was that was the biggest. What else can I tell you? We were talking earlier about the bad part of being shipped to – ship sounds really disparaging – of being appointed to do programmes that you weren’t wanting to do. But in hindsight I’ve realised that what Granada gave me was the ability to be able to thrive in all sorts of different situations that I might not be qualified to do or not, because (??29:39). But that really was invaluable when I came to move to produce Blind Date. I just realised your instincts are so honed by that stage.

Did you find much difference in the culture of London Weekend to Granada?

Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Granada, it was like you were all on the same side. You were all kicking the ball the same way. And at London Weekend if felt… cliquey. My first producer, if you didn’t drink with him in the bar he was… he was very clever, and he’d turn a story around in a second for Surprise, Surprise. But it was very much separate, all these little teams. So we were in light entertainment, and so was the floor below us that did the kind of chat shows, but ne’er the two would meet. Just no communication. So although World in Action, for instance, at Granada – and Anthony used to say, “They’re the serious filmmakers. I’m going to be like them one day, I’m going to make serious films one day.” – and I’ve got lots of these lessons going… he signs them off “Your Anthony”. The next David Frost is always following that. Although they were the other side of the corridor, although they were a separate entity, there was still this interconnection between people like Shepherd and… I’ve forgotten Bruce’s name. Andrew Coburn. Paul Greengrass. So you weren’t separate. And then there was drama at Granada, and they would mingle. You’d see each other in the canteen, you’d see each other in the Stables, you’d see each other in the corridor. But you were all of one, if that makes some sense. Whereas at London Weekend, and at Thames Television before that, everyone was separate. So for instance now, the legacy of that is that after all these years, I’m still friends with Sandy Ross. If I see Andy Harries, we’re friendly. Paul Greengrass came into my office at Blind Date, he was doing something else, I think. David Jenkins are still friends. You and I are still friends. So I know it sounds like a cliché, and people have probably said this to you a lot, but it is like being part of an extended family. And the thing with families and school friends, there’s a lot unsaid; you don’t need to say it. It’s there. We all get each other. And I haven’t found that anywhere else, except with Cilla, or on occasion I’ll see Paul McCartney. It’s that thing of being all out of the same pod, if that makes sense.


And I think the legacy also of Granada is that so many people there… the tentacles spread. So you know, there was John Burton, Barry Cox and Nick Elliot. Sandy went to have an important role at… Scottish. Gus MacDonald, Paul Greengrass. Anthony. And I did Blind Date, and it was already successful when I took it over but there were battling Noel’s House Party. And then the training I had at Granada and Krypton enabled me to to be able to instinctively select contestants that would deliver on screen. And then I endeavoured to source it up. And I know it sounds trivial saying I disapproved of Judy Finnegan and Barbara Meachin wearing black bras under white shirts, but then that element in me with Blind Date contestants to say, “I don’t want your every day dress. Come here with something sexy on.” I kind of knew by that stage what was going to make it successful. And then we got the BAFTA when I was producing it. Unfortunately, I didn’t go and get it, Cilla did it. But I do have a photograph of myself (with it? 35:26). But that’s all the Granada grounding, you know, going through Krypton, and knowing which… just something you know without having to consider.

Was Cilla part of your Liverpool gang when you were younger?

Well, Paul McCartney introduced me to Cilla at the Cavern the first night I went there with him. She was in the cloakroom, he said, “This is Cilla, she sings too.” And Maureen was there, “And this is Maureen, this is Ringo’s girlfriend.” And then we go backstage, and Cyn and John were there obviously, and Paul whispered, “They’ve got married, but we’re not to tell anybody.” So then I would see Cilla around. Bobby’s first memory of meeting me is in the Philharmonic pub in that grand room at the back there. And then I would see her at Top of the Pops when The Scaffold were singing Lily the Pink and stuff. And so when I went to work on Surprise, Surprise it was… again, it was like we were saying about the Granada thing, when you just know people without having to… there’s no barriers there. You know, it’s like smooth sailing. It’s like we all get it.

A lot of like-minded people.

Yes. And politically it was very socialist and left wing, although I have to say personally, and you may not agree, I would question some of the decisions that Jack Straw made when he was home secretary, but hey, there you go. Marvellous times. Marvellous times. Loved every second. Every minute. It was a privilege to work there. I changed careers. Much more interesting than staying home painting pictures.

Nothing else you want to say?

I don’t think so… Steve Morrison giving me a screen test the day he was leaving. Idiot.

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