Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 28 April 2020.
Tim, let’s begin at the beginning. How did you come to join Granada? What was the interviewing process like?
Well, I initially… funnily enough, I thought the other day about this, actually. The first person that I met from Granada was a chap called Jerry Hagan, who was head of script. He was one of Plowright’s performance appointments. He was head of scripts in London. I directed a play at university, which we took to Edinburgh in my second year, and I was asked to go for a breakfast or a lunch meeting with this chap, Jerry. It was interesting just to see how Granada was already then, I mean, everyone knows that they go… everyone goes to Edinburgh to see talent, like the Footlights or whatever, and try and sign them up. But this was someone actually looking at behind the camera talent, which I thought was quite interesting, because I’d directed the play, I hadn’t written it. That was my first encounter. But then I got a job…
What year was this?
That was 1978. Yes. Then I left university and I got a job as… I mean, my way into Granada, it was quite circumvoluted, because I got a job as a chauffeur for an actor called Anthony Andrews. At the time, he was working on this big TV project called Brideshead Revisited. So through him, I met Derek Granger. I was also, at the time, writing a movie script for the director Derek Jarman, which immediately… Derek Granger is one of those incredibly curious people about people, and talent, and encouraging, and so he immediately wanted to know why Anthony’s chauffeur was writing a bloody film script, what was going on. So I met him, and he became a friend and he put me up for ridiculous jobs. I was 22, I think. No experience. He put me up for an associate producer drama job. It was just absurd. Then I’d applied to all the companies, all the broadcasters, and got a flat rebuff. Granger, in his way, he called Steve Morrison, who was head of programmes, local programmes at the time, and said, “Will you see this boy?” And so I got a train to Manchester, and I came up and was greeted by a chap called Steve Hawes, who took me off for coffee whilst I was waiting to see Steve. Then when I went to see Steve, we chatted about what I wanted to do, and this and that. And I kind of, I was a bit of a luvvie, really. I thought, “I want to direct drama, mate. I want to do that Brideshead thing that I just saw that teenager, Charles Sturridge, doing. That’s what I want to do. Why am I looking at something like local news?” Anyway, I was sent away by Steve with a task to go down and watch Nationwide in London, and to read the paper every morning. In the morning, write four items that I would do on an evening show, then tell him what was on the evening show in London, write critiques of all of the things, and how I… so I did that for a week, and then I sent off my A4 Olivetti typed out pages to Manchester, and of course never heard another bloody thing. And that was okay, you know, I was working with Jarman, It was fine. Then in January, I got a call from someone at Granada, I can’t remember who it was. I think it was Jules Burns, who in those days was head of research, saying, “We just wanted to let you know that there’s going to be a board.” Every Monday, there was a media page in The Guardian. Every Monday, you looked, desperate to find a job, and then you applied for them and didn’t get them, in the media page of The Guardian. Anyway, the following Monday, there was going to be an advert for local researchers, six month contract, and I should apply. I then came up to Granada and I had two interviews, two boards, and I got the job. And I’ve always said, absolutely the hand of Derek Granger, how come out of all of these places I couldn’t even get an interview, and then here I was a few months later, at Granada. And I started in March 22 or 23, of 1981.
There’s a bit of a gap, then, from when you left university?
I left university in the summer of 1980.
So I guess, yes, nine months?
So I came up to Manchester. I knew a couple of people up here already, which didn’t make it any easier. But anyway, so we then went through the induction, then we were put onto Granada Reports, which I just found the most terrifying thing that had ever happened to me. I just couldn’t understand why I would be sent out to Stockport Post Office headquarters when there was a strike, with a cameraman, John Blakely, Mike Blakely’s uncle. Kind of a classic Northern kind of, “Who’s this whippersnapper,” type. I just didn’t get it. I remember going to interview John Bond, who was the new head of Manchester City, and I didn’t really know anything about management. I knew about football. I had my team, but I didn’t know anything about, you know. So off I went to Manchester, it’s at Maine Road, and on the way there I read the Guardian, and there was this long piece about Bond, so I kind of memorised it. Then I asked this absurd question, off-camera, that was about 40 seconds long, this question, to which the answer was, “No.” It was like, “Fuck! What do I do now?” But the great thing about Granada was, you were really thrown in at the deep end.
Judy Finnegan was there, I was then given Judy Finnegan as my ‘mother’. The first thing we went off to do was a thing about the police in schools, or something. We went along with it for… I was there for about six months. In the end, you look back on it as a thing where, you got into a meeting at eight o’clock in the morning, and you had to come up with a story, or various people came up with stories. Obviously as a researcher, you’re going to either help a presenter or a reporter, or just do something lowly. But you had to come up with a story, write some links, get permission to film, get out and film. In those days, have it back in time to get to the bloody labs over the road. So you had to get it to the labs, and then you had to get it into the editing room, and then you had to deal with this weird thing called stripe film, where the sound was approximate, was a few frames ahead of the picture, because it was running alongside, it was on the film itself. I mean, I know you know all of this. The sound would be six, seven frames, eight frames ahead of the picture. So when you went to make a cut, the first line you made a cut, it went out of sync, and then you learned how to overlap the sound with the pictures, and… anyway, say it was fantastic training, then I finally got fired by Stuart Prebble, because I was kind of in my… I was quite an expressive young man, and I’d cropped my hair and dyed it pink. I also had a dagger through my ear, and I was hauled in to Prebble, who said, “What on earth are you doing?” And I went, “You can’t tell me how to dress, mate. What are you talking about?” And he went, “I can’t have you on the news anymore.” And secretly I said, “That’s fucking great. Thank you, because I’m just a fish out of water here.” And he said, “You know, if the Chancellor of the Exchequer comes up on a train to Manchester, how am I supposed to send you on behalf of Granada Reports, a serious news programme, to interview him about the economy, looking like that?” So that was my first, you know, that was me starting at Granada.
So Prebble sacked you?
Yes, which he acknowledges to this day. I’m really glad. I often wondered whether it was an apocryphal story. And I met him on a train about 15 years later, and to my delight, he told the assembled audience his pride in having sacked me various years before.
So where did you go? What happened then?
I went on to a show called Live From Two, which was a chat show. Local chat show. Got fired off that as well by someone who’s now a great friend of mine, for ordering the wrong piano for the wonderful Alberto Remedios.
Oh, yes, yes.
I loved him, but it wasn’t so much like I got the wrong piano, because he wanted an upright. The producer wanted a grand, but he was singing a Victorian ballad, so he didn’t want a grand. So I got the upright, got into terrible trouble – it was in Exchange Flags. And there was a bomb scare, IRA bomb scare, right in the middle of the live show, so we all had to run out, and then we were all told to go home. Well, I lived in London at the time. So Alberto then insisted I travelled back to London with him first class. And then when my claim for a first class travel went in I got into really hot water, and I was booted off that to what was considered Siberia at the time, which was a programme called Down to Earth, the local farming programme.
Where under the guide of the wonderful, wonderful Arthur Taylor, I had one of the happiest years of my time in Granada. Because here was an opportunity where the brief was farming, which in itself was fascinating to me, but also the countryside. And it meant that on a Monday morning I was allowed to get in a hire car – can you believe I had a hire car? – and drive up to the Lake District where I discovered a self-sufficient farm with two kind of hippies with only two cows, one called Ronald and one called Margaret, you know, Reagan and Thatcher, and then make a film about them. And directors would be assigned, I’d put it together. And it was just completely fabulous. So I had a great year on that, and then I worked in light entertainment for a bit on an aborted programme called Some You Win. But got to meet… the greatest point of that year really was meeting and having lunch with Denis Law, which was just, kind of, for me, it was the first genuine starstruck moment of my year and a half in Granada. It was fabulous. And then I constantly tried to write at Granada, because I was a writer, really. I’d written my first movie, he said precociously, but I had – and I’d been paid some money for it as well, which is pretty amazing, with the glorious, late, lamented Derek Jarman, another fantastic encourager of young talent. It seemed to be a thing in those days for some people. Actually, particularly gay men were fantastic encourages of… they didn’t have this heterosexual, sort of competitive… of course they were competitive, but even that they kind of managed to… They weren’t looking over their shoulder to see what was coming next, for the wrong reasons. They were looking over their shoulder to bring them on.
So I had gone to see Howard Baker. I’d done a law degree, unfortunately, and I went to see Howard Baker and I said, “I think Crown Court is one of the great shows, I’d love to write for it.” And he was absolutely gobsmacked at the gall of this pink-head, dagger-in-the-ear individual coming into his office. And I was just summarily dismissed, which was very uncharacteristic of Granada actually, in those days. But to be fair, I believe he wasn’t very well at the time. And I called my friend, Jerry Hagan, who I’d met years before, who didn’t seem at all surprised that I’d ended up at Granada. And he had told me to go and see Bill Podmore, and I wrote with a friend of mine who later went on to write for EastEnders. We wrote a trial script for Coronation Street, when I was on Granada Reports. And the response was, the writing was great, but we were too young. And my argument was, “What are you talking about? You’ve got 15-year-olds. You’ve got 20-year-olds. How come the 50-year-old guys writing on this can write for them, and I can’t write for the 50, 60, 70-year-old characters? I’ve got grandparents.” So, that didn’t happen. But Bill, bless him, a couple of years later, at the end of my time on entertainment… oh, I know what happened at the end of entertainment. Some chums of mine from university came up to do a show called Alfresco. And I was the researcher on it, which was very odd because they were a year or so junior to me at Cambridge, but I’d worked with some of them and I knew them all. And here I was suddenly, they were the stars and I was the researcher, but it was a great time.
Was this with Sandy Ross?
Sandy Ross was producing.
Yes. Morrison was in…
There was one moment where the director was a really lovely bloke called Stuart Orme. Stephen Fry was having trouble in a scene. We were shooting in the hospital, I remember really well. And Stephen was having trouble in the scene and I could see exactly what was wrong, so I went up and I whispered to him… a note. And we came back. We did the tape, everyone laughed and Stewart went “Brilliant. Stephen, what did you do?” And Stephen went “Oh, it wasn’t me. Tim told me.” Oh, my god, did I get a bollocking for that. That was not my job.
And who were the other stars who worked on that programme?
There was Ben Elton, and weirdly I’d met Ben on Live From Two, a year or so before. Nervous young man then, he was on a programme with Terry Jones and Alan Bennett. I then got to know Alan Bennett very well. I’ll tell you a story about that later. But Ben was going to do this stand up piece as a representative of a new generation. And it was about 18 minutes long. And I said, “Ben, the programme’s only 22. You can’t do…” So I honed it down to about 90 seconds for them, which was great fun. And he was lovely about it, very modest. So there was Ben. Robbie Coltrane. I remember on the first week of shooting, Robbie turned to me and said, “Go get me a coffee, will you?” And I went “Fuck off, go get it yourself.” And to be fair to him, he came back five minutes later, the two coffees and gave me one. I hadn’t quite got the hang of what I was doing yet, you know what I mean? And he was lovely, used to do up old cars. And Stephen and Hugh, and Emma Thompson, and Siobhan Redmond. Siobhan would come down from Scotland. And it was interesting because Ben was a prolific writer. We’d work a full day and he’d go home, and he’d come back in the morning with three scripts. And I kind of felt at the time that Stephen and Hugh were slightly intimidated by this. But they all got on like a house on fire. They’re all still friends to this day, but that was a great time. And then after that, before I left, because I left briefly, I was a researcher on Scully with the fabulous Les Chatfield. Probably the nicest person ever to work in television, starring Drew Schofield. And actually I think I’m going to challenge Morrison here, because I think Morrison claims to have organised for The Kop to sing Scully’s name. Absolutely untrue.
But it was much more wonderful than that. Because Scully was already a household name on Liverpool radio. And people forget that. That’s where the show came from. And it’s a comment on The Kop. It’s a beautiful comment on The Kop. A lot of them had heard the show, they knew what it was about. This aspirant boy who wanted to play for Liverpool, all that sort of stuff. And we shot a title sequence of Drew running out with Kenny (Dalglish) and all those legends. I was on the pitch, I couldn’t believe it, with the camera. And I swear to you, I almost started crying, because he ran out, the crowd knew what was going to happen, but suddenly, the crowd started spontaneously chanting, “Scully, Scully.”
“There’s only one Franny Scully, one Franny Scully!” I was there chanting.
But it was spontaneous.
How wonderful is that?
It’s like when Bleasdale after Boys From the Blackstuff went out and they got chants of “Gizza job”, it’s the same thing. So, sorry, Steve, you can’t take credit for that. I know you want to.
I tell you, he says that he scoured some of the pubs, he and Dennis Mooney went around some of the pubs in Liverpool. And so where fans met and worked out a lot of these songs and they put the word out. No, no, okay.
Well, maybe that’s true, but maybe… I don’t know. I take the fifth. Yes. Then I persuaded Bill Podmore to commission… funny enough, the chap who had written the play that we took to Edinburgh, where I met Jerry – these things always go in circles – persuaded him to let us… on the InterCity train, you’ll remember this, from London to Manchester, there was this wonderful guard back in the early 80’s, who practically told stories. He was, I think, of West Indian descent. And he was just amazing, you know he’d go, “Ladies and gentlemen in carriage number D, the lady there with her daughter, that’s her first granddaughter, congratulations.” Stuff like this. And Plowright had heard him as well. We invented this character called Shakespeare, who was a guard on the InterCity. And we invented a sitcom called The Train Now Leaving that was set in the buffet bar of an InterCity 125, when they used to cook. And it was deemed that technically, they couldn’t deal with the windows in those days. The Chroma key just was too old fashioned. We then transported it to a greasy spoon, but that didn’t really work. But Podmore had commissioned two scripts off us, that was great. But I had to go on unpaid leave to do that, because it was very complicated. You couldn’t do it under a Granada staff contract because of the rights situation. So I was on unpaid leave for most of that year. And then towards the end of the year, just before I came back, I got a phone call from Jules Burns, saying that they were having a director’s board in the next month.
This would be what year?
1984. I applied for the director’s board within about four months of being at Granada and had been told by Margaret Beckett…
Where were you? Jules had invited you to a board but you’d been fairly precocious and had applied after a couple of months?
Yes. Well, you don’t want to be going into all of that, but yes, the long and the short of it is, I got it, which was great, because I think there was a kind of… if you were ambitious in the way that I, and several other people were at Granada, there was a glass ceiling that you reached. And if you didn’t hit certain landmarks as it were, if you were that ambitious, you had to leave. It was clear to me that if I… the director’s board only came up every two years or so. And I’d now written another movie script with Derek Granger, A Handful of Dust. And what I felt was within Granada, because in a sense, it was quite a small company. That was one of its really good and bad things. It was like a small village. I felt that if you, not me, if you didn’t get that board at a certain point, you weren’t going to get it. It had been decided. They knew you well enough, you know what I mean?
Yes. I think you’re right.
And therefore… so it was a really important board to me, because I knew if I didn’t get it… and listen, I’d just spent nine months in London. I’d been out of the Granada loop. But basically I thought, “If I don’t get this, I’m off, and I’ve now got two years of Granada under my belt, got two movie scripts under my belt, I’ll start again.” But fortunately I got it. And I say fortunately, because it was one of the best training schemes of any company in the country, including the BBC, I think. Because it was ITV, because it was Granada, it was different to the BBC. I know people who came through very successfully through the BBC, but yes, that was then. We had six months with the late great John Slater, the maverick, wonderful John Slater, and the ying and the yang… David Liddiment, who are just being another… I think to get this job in the end, there’s no such thing as a researcher on a drama project, there’s no such thing, as John Temple told me when he took over Alfresco. I didn’t want to do another series of Alfresco. It was like, “I’ve done it.” And the job of researchers like being a… it was great. It’s like being a big assistant. And so, I didn’t work with John Temple. Lovely old John Temple called me and said, “I don’t understand what a researcher does on a show like Alfresco.” I said, “Nor do I John.” And he said, “Well, I won’t be using you.” I went, “That’s okay.” But I did it on that. I did it on Scully, and I did it on There’s Something Wrong in Paradise with Kid Creole. Three of the craziest months of my life ever at Granada. Working with August Darnell and David. August Darnell’s bodyguard had threatened to break a marble table over my head in the Britannia hotel. He was immediately fired and August appointed me as his body guard, which at about seven stone 12, just under six foot… when I worked on a building site once, my nickname was brittle, because I wasn’t… anyway, I had to look after August, that was my job to get him into the shoot every day or rehearsal, every day. And the mad, glorious Karen Black and get them… make sure they’re all right and everything. But after… August, we would get back to the Britannia hotel, where I’d been installed in a room at six o’clock after working and then August would say, “Okay, I’ll see you at 11.” It’s like, “What?” At 11 o’clock he wanted to go out, and we would go out. He didn’t drink very much. We’d go out from 11 till four or five in the morning. And then going to work at nine. After three days of this, I was absolutely shattered. I didn’t… I thought he was a marvel, that he could survive on three hours sleep, until the fourth day when David had some urgent script, which he biked up to the hotel. And I was told to go knock on August’s door, who’d always told me not to disturb him. I thought for other reasons, but I went and knocked on his door and the bugger answered the door. He was asleep. He went back to the hotel at six o’clock every night and slept till half past 10. I had to start doing that, it was the only way to survive. I went through this weird three months of going back to the Britannia at six o’clock, going to bed getting up at half 10, going out till four or five in the morning and then going to bed, maybe for an hour and then getting straight to work. Anyway…
Were you working with David Liddiment as well?
Yes. I was assisting David Liddiment. But basically it entailed running out of the director’s box to go and get cigarettes. That was the long and the… it was great fun and the staff were mature. I helped Morrison with the script. We’d go to script meetings with Mustapha and Morrison and Morrison was another of those who wasn’t blind to the fact that I seemed to be writing as well. A lot of people in television categorise you as what you are. You’re a researcher, you’re make up, you’ve got no other talents. If you’re a writer, you can’t direct, if you’re a director you can’t write, but actually it’s absolute bollocks. Yes, that was great. And Pauline Black from The Specials. She was amazing. And then the Three Degrees, who took me out for dinner one night, just fabulous. One of them, Valerie, wanted to marry me. She was married obviously, but they were just wonderful, flirty, gorgeous, amazing women. So, Granada offered you the opportunity. Who else was going to have dinner with the Three Degrees for fuck’s sake? In the Yang Sing.
Ah, the famous Yang Sing. And okay. So are we beginning to get to the tail end of that Granada career?
No, just the beginning really.
All right then. Go on, carry on.
Because I became a director. Did the director’s course, which was fabulous. And then Granada were brilliant because you went through everything. You did live TV with Granada Reports, or a chat show, and then we started in children’s TV, both with Spencer Campbell and myself. He was the other director, trainee director. And then we went into light entertainment where I did Busman’s Holiday, flew around the world, worked with a legend that is Johnny Hamp. Wonderful, wonderful man. Another encourager. And eventually got to the pinnacle which was Coronation Street. That’s what you wanted. And Corrie was the greatest training ground for drama directors as is EastEnders, Emmerdale, Hollyoaks. But a wonderful, wonderful training ground. I had a year on Corrie which I absolutely loved. And then did Sherlock Holmes with Jeremy Brett and Edward Hardwick. I did a drama documentary about the three final weeks of Margaret Thatcher’s reign with Ray Fitzwalter, which was a different experience for me.
Well because it was becoming from a factual, World in Action background. The challenge as a drama director was to make… it had to be true. So we had to make it work within what we were given because Ray and the journalists had to be able to stand up and say, “But this happened. We’re not making it up.” But it was my first lesson in politics where Geoffrey Howe wouldn’t talk to us, but he made sure that, I think it was Peter Harris, or (??34:26) Harris, I can’t remember which, his personal, private secretary spoke to production at length. And there’s a scene where he’s watching the cricket, test match, and writing his speech. That was the ‘slaughtered by lamb’ speech, in the end, slagging Thatcher off. And this came from his assistant who was with him. And the show went out and then on the Late Night Review or Newsnight, Geoffrey Howe just pulled it to pieces and said, “I’ll give you one example. I’ll give you one example. How the hell would they know if I was sitting there watching the cricket, writing that speech?” And I’m like, “What did he just do?” And it was just amazing that he got out his version of the story through his PPS and then just totally disowned it. So yes, and then really my Granada career came to an end. I was very upset because I left sort of unofficially. When you left, there was this great tradition at Granada. Someone in graphics would do a fantastic picture for you and then someone would go around with a tatty brown, internal envelope and collect about three quid, and buy you a box of Quality Street. But it was the thought that counted!
But I’d been approached by Morrison after I directed various dramas for Sally Head. And I was approached by Morrison, who said, “You’re going to go off and do a movie. And that’s really going to annoy me if you do it with someone else. So I want you to go and see Pippa Cross and see if you’ve got an idea that she wants to make. She’s the new head of film.” So I was sent down to see Pippa and I pitched her the movie Jack and Sarah, which they immediately commissioned. But it then meant when we actually got into production… a year and a half seems so quick now, but it felt like an eternity at the time, a year and a half later, I had been retired from Granada because I couldn’t make a movie, obviously. And all I remember saying to Steve Morrison is, “Where’s the fucking internal envelope? Where’s the picture from graphics? Are you serious? I’ve been here for 10 years. No internal…” Anyway. So yes. So the end of my career at Granada really was making a movie.
And what year was this?
The movie was shot in 1994.
So you left in ‘94?
And who actually made the movie?
PolyGram. Right, okay. So there was no Granada input in that at all?
Well they produced it, and Morrison’s an executive producer. The classic Granada way. They put as little money into it as possible. That’s the way it was. But I’m hugely grateful because in the end, Granada launched my movie career. That’s what happened. And that was entirely down to Morrison. He’d already made two films, and they just made… three films. They’d just made My Left Foot and spurred on by the success of that. “Don’t go to London and make film. Do it with us.” Which is great.
Did you come across people like the Bernsteins very much? Or the Plowrights and…?
Plowright, very much so. Plowright, yes. I didn’t get the reference at the time, but I realised it was the reference to the painting, the Girl with a Pearl Earring. They used to call me the boy with the diamond earring. And the flat… Plowright used to have these dinners and he wanted to meet people he wouldn’t necessarily meet. And I remember I was summoned up to this dinner with David, and there were drama directors and me. And I’d been at the company for about five months so I think I was in line for him, too, at this stage so I… but Plowright had phoned Derek Granger and said, “Who’s new? Who shall I meet?” And Derek said, “Oh, you should meet Tim Sullivan.” So I was called up to the dinner and I kept very quiet. And I thought Plowright was kind of wonderful, very charismatic. And I remember it really well because Sadat was shot in the middle of dinner. And, as I say, I was horribly ambitious young man and everyone ran out of the room except for Plowright. So I stayed rooted to the spot. So I thought, “Oh, now I can talk to him.” And I’d had this, as I say, I’d met Alan Bennett a few months before, so maybe this was nine months into my time. I can’t remember though. Maybe it was longer. Maybe it was nine months. Maybe I was on the farming programme by now. Anyway, I could easily find out. Just find out when Sadat was shot. And I got to meet Alan Bennett, and we’d become sort of pally through Susan Brooks who lived up in Giggleswick with him. One night I was in my flat in Palatine Rows. Horrible little flat. I lived below Rob Cad, not that that made it horrible. And I had been watching, as you do, was really exhausted watching late night darts and I fell asleep on the bed. It’s a tiny bedsit-type flat. And I woke up about half an hour later, said “I better go to bed.” Went to clean my teeth. Came back into the bedroom, television’s obviously off. Got into bed and then this voice said from the television, “Don’t forget to switch your set off.” I almost jumped through the roof! And I switched my set off. And this was, unbeknownst to me… obviously in those days, there was a close down around about 12:00, 12:30 whenever, until the morning. And this was a safety announcement that went out every night. I knew nothing about it. So I had this mad idea, which I pitched to Plowright that night. And my idea was… do you want to hear this, or…?
Yes, yes. This is good stuff.
My idea was… it’s more of a reflection on Plowright than me. My idea was that when you heard that announcement, one day, instead of hearing that announcement, because you didn’t want people to turn the TV off, you’d hear the sounds of someone clearing up, and a voice going, “Oh, what a bloody mess.” Then nothing would be said, and then nothing would be said, and then a couple of days later, you’d hear this tap on the microphone. “Hello? Hello?” And this bloke would start to talk. His mate had told him that he was… and he’d go, “Gerard, can you hear me?” The idea was that a cleaner at Granada would take over the continuity booth for about 45 seconds and do a comic monologue, and I’d phoned Alan Bennett, and Alan Bennett agreed to do it. So, I pitched this to Plowright. He absolutely loved it. That was the mark of the man. Here I was farming researcher or whatever, willing to listen. We actually never got around to doing it, but it made a mark on him. Then about a year and a bit later, I turned up and said… Alan was then working with the BBC, and Joan, who’s David’s sister, had just been in a play called Enjoy in the West End. And I’d managed to get Bennett’s latest TV play out of him. I went up to Plowright and said, “How would you feel if you can have Alan Bennett’s next screenplay?” He said, “We’d love to get him from the BBC.” So, I produced it from my briefcase and gave it to him, and Granada bought it and then their politics happened, and then it happened. So David was intrigued by me, I think it would be fair to say. There were a lot of great, encouraging people, and Plowright was one of them.
What about Mike Scott?
Mike didn’t like me. I never knew why.
Probably the pink hair.
I think it was also the relationship with Granada. I hear at some point he’d said to someone, “What’s going on? Is he sleeping with him or what?” Because it was quite a homophobic place in those times, I think. Yes, Scott didn’t like me, he told me he didn’t like me. I didn’t know what I’d done. I hardly had any dealings with him. He fought single-handedly to not give me the director’s job, according to Morrison, who said I had to go and make peace, which I did try to, only to be rebuffed with, “You make one mistake, you’re out of here.” I went, “Oh, okay.” But I don’t know. So, I never really got to the bottom of it. I did get my revenge though, because we did a telethon, one of the first telethons for ITV about a year or two later. I was directing The Street at the time and I had to do a live section in the middle, which was in the middle of the telethon, Doris Speed coming back to The Rovers out of her retirement. I went down to see her in makeup, and I explained to her what I wanted her to do, and was very reassuring, very confident – confident, seducing, all the great skills that a young director has – and she was like putty in my hands. Then after I left makeup, one of the makeup women came up to me and said, “I’m really sorry, Tim, but do you know what Doris said as you left?” I said, “No.” She said, “She said to me, what did that nice man say? I didn’t have my hearing aid in.” Anyway, the introduction to this was Mike Scott on The Street doing a piece to camera, because of course he used to be a presenter. I made him do 23 takes. Second take was absolutely fine, which I said at the end of this. He was getting very frustrated by the end of it. At the end of it, I went, “No, it’s fine, we’ll use take two,” and just walked off. “Gotcha, mate.” Liddiment was appalled.
Because he was a very good presenter.
He was. He worked with Derek Granger on cinema, I think on the cinema, but also Scene At 6:30. Derek said, “The great thing about Mike was he always asked the question that the audience wanted.” He instinctively knew. And so they had the Rothschilds, can you believe, one of the senior Rothschilds, on Scene At 6:30 at one point. Derek says, “And whatever you do, we’ve been told by the PR people, whatever you do, don’t ask them about being rich.” Well, of course, halfway through the interview, “What’s it like having all that money?” Actually, there’s another anecdote I’m going to tell about Derek, because Derek was a legend, as you know, and you’ve interviewed him. So, you know. It’s a story Derek doesn’t tell very often. But Bill Grundy was one of his presenters, and Bill, as we all know, had a terrible drink problem, and used to get howlingly drunk in the Film Exchange, which was a bar near Granada. In the seventies, Derek Granger made a show called Country Matters based on H. Bates short stories. What people don’t know about that programme is it was the first drama worldwide that had been entirely shot on film. All other dramas in America and this country all been shot in studio with film inserts, but Derek managed to persuade foremen to let him make Country Matters entirely on film. Alan Parker, Sir Alan Parker, the filmmaker, told me at a dinner once that he owed his career to Derek Granger because watching Country Matters changed his life in terms of his ambition. So, he was a forward thinker. Brideshead was supposed to be studio and film, and Derek said, “Well, I’m not making it like that.” Anyway, Derek, as everyone knows, is gay, and during the filming of Country Matters, he had the new cast, including the wondrous late Susan Fleetwood, and they went off and corroborated the story. They went off to the Film Exchange to have dinner on their first night. Derek’s not a very tall chap, not particularly camp, but gay. They went up to the Film Exchange, and there at the bar was Bill Grundy, who stood up and proclaimed all his… he obviously didn’t like Derek, I think he was jealous of Derek or something, this terrible homophobic diatribe, which I won’t even repeat. I wouldn’t give it the kind of credence to repeat it, came out from Grundy. I mean, just awful, virulent stuff, in front of, I don’t know, 150 people, lots of Granada people there, and Derek’s new cast. He turned to the cast, who were sort of ashen, and said, “Please, go back to the Midland. We’ll have dinner there,” went up to Bill Grundy, the cast got to the door and then stopped. Derek Granger went up to Bill Grundy. Bill Grundy said, “What have you got to say to me now then, you faggot?” Derek just punched his lights out and decked him on the floor and then just turned around and walked out. It was like, “Derek?!” Cast loved him from that moment.
There was, as you say, a number of people that talked about the homophobia at Granada at this time, which is probably simply a reflection of what society was like.
Well, I look back on it and I think I was probably a horrible little shit, but I had and I have, a lot of gay friends. I’m quite camp. I’m not gay, but I’ve always had gay friends. When I went to Granada, before the pink hair, which I guess didn’t help, Derek Granger would frequently come into the newsroom and go, “Tim, darling, do you want to come to the Oldham Theatre tonight?” And I’d go, “Oh, all right, I’ll see you downstairs.” And this happened quite a lot. And Derek was obviously a legend. He was doing this huge production, and here was this boy. Derek had met my girlfriend, he’d been round to my house in London. It obviously upset me, I’m not going to name names, because they will be embarrassed and probably deny it now, but I got a lot of stick in that newsroom for that. To the extent that when my girlfriend paid her first visit to Granada, a couple of months after I’d started – because I always used to go to back to London for the weekend .
Yes. Yes. And bullying?
No, never encountered it. I didn’t.
I’ve always been… I worked with producers I did not like working with. But I wouldn’t say I was bullied. I don’t recall anyone… it wasn’t in my experience. But that’s not to say it didn’t happen.
Okay. Do you want to talk a bit about directing Coronation Street?
Oh, wonderful. In the old days there used to be a thing called Weekly Rep, in the theatres. Where they would do a different play every week, with the same cast. They’d learn, before the advent of great television and stuff. And Corrie are the greatest ever weekly repertory company in the world. They’re an amazing bunch, and some really fine actors in there. We had it quite easy in those days, it was more studio based than it is now. But I remember one story that was, amazingly, kept out of the press. In those days we used to film on a Monday morning, block on a Monday afternoon, there was only two episodes, I think. Block the two episodes on a Monday afternoon, and then Tuesday, all day we’d rehearse. Wednesday morning we’d rehearse, Wednesday afternoon we’d have producers’ run, the writers/producers came. Thursday morning was any additional filming or off, then studio Thursday afternoon and Friday. Then edit, we didn’t dub Corrie in those days. Edit on the Monday, into the Tuesday. About halfway through… We used to record on these great big two and a half inch tapes, video tapes, that were in great big box type things. We sat down on the Monday morning, pulled the tape up, and it had to be the wrong tape, there was nothing on it. But it was marked up the right tape. So we pulled up another tape, there was nothing on it. And it was marked up as the right… we had lost all of Thursday, and half of Friday’s studio recording. And it was quite clearly an act of sabotage. It was so serious that within an hour, Plowright, Scott, I can’t remember who else, were in the editing room, double checking that this had happened, talking to the technical people, who, I seem to remember… in those days, if you had a tight tape like that, and you got a great big magnet and you wiped it over the tape, you could wipe it. Something had happened, and it was deliberate, was their opinion. But of course, we now had this problem, because we went out three weeks after the shoot. So, I had to go to the producers’ run on the Wednesday, and announce to the cast that on the Thursday they would be starting in the morning, instead of the afternoon. And then at three o’clock I would take over the cameras till 10 o’clock at night, and redo the previous week. All the cast were fraught. Liz Dawn came up and said, “You don’t understand, I can’t do that. I forget the weeks before, it’s gone, so I can get the new weeks in.” And I was saying to everyone, “Don’t worry. We’ll be…” And you know what, we shot the first scene in one take, and suddenly it was like being in the lifeboats. Everyone was going, “Oh my god they just did…” And we just all rattled through it. And it was just a great, great day. How it never got into the press, I have no idea, because it was a big deal.
Yes. Did you ever find out who sabotaged…
No, it was an absolute mystery. There was an inquiry. It had to be someone technical. Was it someone who had been fired? Was it someone who was leaving? No one knew or, as I always used to say, was it a mistake? And then someone went, “There are checks, you can’t not record the show. It’s not possible.” So the mystery of the missing tapes that to this day has been unrevealed. Actually, the only other thing I did on Corrie, was when Curly lost his virginity. Got a dreadful amount of hate mail for that, because it was with a mixed race girl. It was shocking, absolutely shocking. But, by mistake, on the audio tape, the way we dubbed the titles, it was a copy of the original recording session spilled through, and I found this amazing extra tape that had an extra 40 seconds. It was a cornet solo of the theme, and it just fit Curly losing his virginity so well. So we called up to Plowright and got permission, and it went out and it was wonderful. It must exist somewhere. But yes, great. I was very sorry to leave it. In fact, when I left – again, this is a classic example of Granada, the paternalism of Granada – after my last week on the Street, I was called up to Morrison’s office, who by now was the director of programmes. And sat down, and he said, “Look, I’ve got something really exciting to tell you. Something really interesting. It’s come down from Plowright. I completely agree with it. We’d like you to take over from Bill Podmore, producing The Street.” And I went, “What?” And he said, “Yes.” The Street, eight years earlier, I’d been too young to write it, but now… and I said, “What are you talking about?” And he said to me, “It’s like, this is like giving you the crown jewels. We want…” And I went “But Steve, I’m a director. You’ve invested all this money in me. That’s what I want to do.” “No, but you know, you could go back to it.” I said, “You know very well, that if I produce Coronation Street, I will never be allowed to go back to directing.” And he went, “You don’t understand, David Plowright is saying… this is huge, you’re very young. This is a big thing. This is a big deal.” I went, “I completely appreciate it’s a really big thing. And I’ll phone David, and I’ll say how terribly grateful I am, but I’m not doing it.” And Steve was gobsmacked. He said, “What do you mean you’re not doing it? I’m telling you, you’re doing it.” I went, “I’m not fucking doing it! End of. I’m not doing it. I don’t want to. Thank you, but no.” To which Steve then said, “Well, what do you want to do?” And I said, “I’ve done The Street, now, obviously, I want to direct film drama,” to which he replied, “What if I tell you I’ll never let you direct film drama if you don’t produce The Street?” And I went, “Oh, Steve, you don’t do threats very well. Come on.” Then he laughed and went, “All right, fuck off.” And that was it, I didn’t get it. But it was funny because, between you and me, it got around that I’d been offered it because I was told I couldn’t refuse it in the moment. I had to take few days. And Mervyn Watson desperately wanted to come back to The Street. He was phoning Spencer going, “Is Tim going to do it?” And Spencer’s going, “No. He’s a director, he doesn’t want to do it.” But it was that thing of I had a really good time on The Street. They had really liked me. And it made sense to the way Granada worked. That’s the way Granada worked. “Oh, that went well. He’s brilliant. Let’s get him to produce it.” And of course, it was incredibly flattering. I was very respectful. Those are the decisions that can affect the rest of your career.
Your time on The Street was…
Hilda Ogden leaving.
Oh gosh, did you do that?
I think Rick Mellis did the actual… but I did the hospital episodes leading up to, I think Rick did the actual episode.
You didn’t do Stan dying?
No. I did a miscarriage. I did a stabbing, I think. Oh, no, I didn’t do stabbing, I did Gail and Brian marrying for about the fifth time.
And you were pre the watershed, when The Street suddenly came into the late 20th century.
Yes. Yes. Yes. I mean, it needed a big overhaul. And then when Brian Park was offered it, because Avery Bryant was a great friend, he was in two minds as to whether to do it. And having been offered it myself, because I’d thought about what it would mean, and I said, “You’re crazy. You have to, have to do it. But you have to make an impact. You can’t just go and do it for a year and just have it on your CV. You’ve got to change it. You’ve got to be seen to have done something. Because it’s there for the taking.” It’s such a brilliant group of writers. The storyline editor was, when I was The Street, was Paul Abbott. And whatever happened to him? Kay Mellor was on it. Bill had a really collegiate sort of way of dealing with the writers. You have people like John Stevenson, Julian Roach, Peter Wally, I mean, these were top, top notch writers, really terrific, terrific stuff. And great cast, Roy Barraclough, I loved Roy. And Thelma Barlow. I went see Thelma acting in the Bristol Old Vic. I went to see Roy do his Death of a Salesman in Nottingham. Really, very talented, very thoughtful. Roy and Julie had a storyline, the characters Bet Lynch and Alec Gilroy. But she got pregnant, which everyone thought was a bit odd because they were quite getting on. And they were uncomfortable with it. Then they had this emotional scene. There was a kind of problem, The Street was commissioned in blocks of writing. And so we encountered a scene where the week before, in an episode I hadn’t done, Bet had lost the baby. And then the week after, there was the same with Roy and Julie, where no mention was made of it. And that was because it was in the break between the writing blocks. So, Bill sorted it out, got a new scene room. But Julia and Roy said, “Look, it’s nicely written, but it’s kind of embarrassing. It’s just like, I just don’t believe this.” And so I said to them, “Well, you know what? Let’s do it that way. Let’s do it that your characters can’t quite believe this. Let’s play the absurdity of it.” And they one take just… they got it straight away. They totally got it. Proper instinctive actors.
Yes. Yes. Just moving on slightly, coming from the south, from London, did you find that role just… I mean, we talked a lot, a lot of people talked about Granada as a northern company, being very much obviously based in Manchester, but being very much about the north. Did that strike you when you came from London? Well, did you see it just as another regional TV company?
No, no, no. I thought I had it great identity. Of course, it had two of the worst football clubs in the world. But aside from that, it took a while to get used to because it’s like going to a new school, isn’t it? Before I made friends, I didn’t really understand it. So I would pootle off to London as soon as I could. As soon as I got the director’s job, I left London, I moved to Manchester and bought a house because I thought, “I could embrace this,” which was great. Another great encourager at Granada, when I’d worked on Granada Reports, I’d struck up a rapport with Tony Wilson. I wasn’t alone there, many, many people did. And so, within a few months, I didn’t have anywhere to live. I ended up living in Tony’s house with him one summer. So, I quickly had the virtues of the north west and Manchester and the endlessly repeated story of driving down to present Nationwide and turning around at Watford Gap station. If I had a pound… but I loved Tony, as did most people. He became a great, great friend, as he did with many people. When I came up to direct Cold Feet, he was one of the first people that got in touch, we went out for dinner. Manchester clearly had a really interesting cultural identity, which Granada was very responsive to. And you had these wonderful filmmakers, like Peter Carr who made City, the documentary, which is like the golden age of documentaries. And then in local television, you had people, all those from the north east, like Tony Bully, making programmes like This England, which were great portraits of the north west by people who were interested in the north west and understood it. Local programmes, I would stick my neck out and go local programmes might have been a chore for other broadcasters in the ITV network, but it was a fundamental of Bernstein’s ethos. And it reflected that, it was a north west company that made really good programmes about and for the north west. My favourite story of Sidney…tell me if Helen McMurray’s told you this. She was working in Globe & Simpson, which was the building opposite Granada, which, colloquially, used to be known as Pearl & Dean. And we were making a show called Reports Action, with Bob Greaves, first of the local kind of telethon. We did them pre-Comic relief, pre all of those things. And Helen was the researcher and she’d been sent over to that big room in Globe & Simpson to set up the office. And she was having a really bad day. The desks hadn’t arrived. She had one desk. She had one phone. None of the whiteboards arrived. There was supposed to be an exchange of about… because they took loads of phone calls to take money. There’s supposed to be a little mini switchboard, yada, yada, yada, yada. She was in a really, really bad mood. And this old man wandered in off the street wearing an overcoat and a little sort of trilby hat. And she thought, “Oh fuck, this is all I need.”
“Hello,” she went. “You can’t come in here, this is part of Granada TV. What are you doing in here?”
“Oh, I’m trying to make this show, Reports Action.”
“What does that do? Look, I’m really sorry. I’m really busy. I’ve got no desks. I’ve got no phones. What does Reports Action do?”
“Well it raises money for local charities.”
“Please, could you go?”
“Well, how are you going to do that if you haven’t got any desks?”
This conversation went on for about five minutes, at which point he left and she thought, “Oh thank fuck.” Half an hour later, the doors are knocked down. There’s 25 workmen. There are desks flying in, there are phones coming in, switchboards coming in, whiteboards. It all happened. And she turned to the producer and said, “What the fuck happened?” She said, “Well, you told Sidney there was a problem.” And he came into the building and stripped an ear off someone. That was Sidney. I never met him. Derek had a very close relationship with Sidney. They used to holiday together. He was very tight with Sidney and his wife, but then they had a situation and they had this beautiful Oliver Messel design garden and house in Barbados. And they were held up at gunpoint one holiday, and Sidney’s wife refused to go back, but he loved it. So he used to go there regularly and on occasion, Derek will go with him, and meet wonderful people like Claudette Colbert. Has he told you the story?
So Derek has gone to spend a week or so with Sidney and he says, “We’re going to Claudette’s for lunch.” No, Claudette came for a drink and she said, “Will you come for lunch on Sunday?” And Sidney went, “Yes, of course.” She said, “It’s a bit of a nightmare.” And Sidney said, “Why?” And she said, “Oh, President Reagan and Nancy are coming for lunch. I’ve got the bloody CIA there. They’re fucking ripping the butler’s pantry out, putting an international switchboard in. It’s not like just having someone around for lunch. It’s like a whole great big event.” And so Derek thought, “Oh, this is thrilling.” So they went to have lunch. Derek was an inveterate swimmer, which is probably why he’s still alive at 99. Now he would swim 100 lengths a day, right up until the 70s. And after lunch, Nancy Reagan said, “I’d love to go for a swim.” Derek said, “Oh, I’ll come with you.” And this is when he realised that she had a slight sort of mischievous sense of humour. So they walked out onto the beach. She had a swim costume underneath her dress. They’re informally dressed. And she whispered to Dereck, “Watch the secret service.” And he said, “What?” She said, “Watch now what happens.” So they walked towards the sea. And up on the little hill, there were about 20 suited ear-pieced, secret service men who all suddenly frantically started looking at each other. Then ripped off their suits, all of them, ran towards the sea. And Derek said, “As they swam out, they had a v-shape or sort of semicircle of about 15 secret service agents, swimming in their underwear.”
That’s a good story. So a final question, what kind of a company was Granada to work for? Was it a good company, bad company?
It was a really good company. It was an innovative company, but it made its mind up about you in a way. It categorised you.
Yes, it did.
And as I say, rightly or wrongly, I would’ve left Granada after that directors’ board, because what it meant was, it wasn’t that they weren’t giving it to me then, they were probably never going to give it to me, probably. You reached the threshold. And that’s a kind of criticism in a way. I look back on it, a friend of mine went to the RSC at the same time as I went to Granada, he’s become a film director. We both were at school together, we both came out of university together. Well, he’s a bit older than me. And when I was at Granada and he was at the RSC, we didn’t see each other for a few years. And then when we met, we’re still great friends to this day, I said to him, “Talking to you about the RSC, Granada was my RSC.” That’s what it was. And it was an extraordinary company. And that influence of the Bernsteins ran all the way down. It was a very caring company. I remember I was sent off, I was researching Arts Quiz for Nicholas Ferguson. And I was sent to interview Patrick Heron, the great artist, in Chelsea, and I went to meet him to be a guest on the show. Delightful man. Lived mostly in Cornwall, did those big abstracts, and we had one in committee room B.
And when I got back to go and look at it, I was appalled to see that on the bottom right hand corner, there was a huge spray of dried coffee. No respect. So I called Plowright. I said, “I’ve just been to see Patrick Heron. I don’t think it’s going to do arse shit, but what do you think he would think?” It’s not a glass in case, this is on the canvas. The coffee’s on the canvas. “What the fuck do you think he’d say if he came up to Granada and saw that painting?” And the painting was gone within a week and restored and was back. That’s what Granada was like. Mind you, by the same token, my friend James Maw, who became a producer and who I used to do stand-up comedy with before he came up to Granada, said that it was appalling that the Bernsteins had this wonderful art collection and no one knew anything about it. The management didn’t care, no one cared. To prove his point, he did an abstract door, had it framed and hung it up next to the lifts in reception. And it stayed there for 10 years!
Is there anything else you want to talk about?
Not really. I think it was an extraordinary time, and I think that a lot of people got opportunities in the north west they would never have got otherwise. Now they came into the world of TV. It was incredibly good at promoting within… studio cameraman going on to become film cameraman, going on to become DOPs. The one thing it wasn’t any good at was women, I think. I’ve written about this actually in this week’s In The Can thing I do, but I think you’ve read it. The great thing about being a training director was you got different crews who would come in. You had a real problem and it was a kind of weirdly in-built issue that you had to deal with. Several people that you worked with, I think it was helped by the fact that Spence and I both had hair beyond our shoulders at this point. Several people that you work with had applied for the same job, maybe more than once, and felt that they were clearly more qualified to have the job than you, which may well have been true. But you had this extraordinary army of misnomered PAs because they weren’t PA’s at all. They were production assistants, but they were a mix of continuity, production management, directing. They were extraordinary knowledgeable, and you would have someone like Sue Wild or Sue Pritchard coming from Brideshead or coming from Jewel in the Crown who would be with you on a local shoot as a trainee with something that wasn’t going to be broadcast, giving you as much respect and help as they would have Jim O’Brien or Charles Sturridge. And that was extraordinary. And now, several of those women have gone on to become executive producers of Coronation Street, producers of Hollyoaks, producers of Coronation Street, heads of Lime Pictures. So things changed in a good way, but Granada didn’t exactly help that right at the beginning. And they should have done. To an extent, it was a male-dominated world. Sign of the times, I guess. The other thing I’d say is there was a certain pattern to when you became a director. If you got Coronation Street, the next thing as to get on to film and drama. And then really, unless you got a break, like Charles did with The Strike, and getting Brideshead, or Patrick Lau getting Game, Set and Match, once you’ve done a few Sherlock Holmeses, there was a decision to be made. In the right way, really. You’ve got to make way for others coming through. And by the time I became a drama director, the idea of having a drama director on staff had already become a bit antiquated. It didn’t really belong in the modern world. So in a sense, that threshold was a kind of natural one. You could only do so many Bulmers, or so many Strangers, or so many Sherlocks. Although Prime Suspect, sometimes there was a thing where… I mean, I was offered… when I was trying to do Jack and Sarah, I almost did Cracker and Prime Suspect, and I really regret… if I knew then what I know now, about the way films are put together, I would have directed both Cracker and Prime Suspect. But then, you can’t hang around in a drama company, waiting for the next big one to come along, because who knows when they are going to be? You’ve got to go. You’ve got to fly the nest. And it was a nest.