Trevor Hyett on working on C4’s Union World

I only stopped working on it (On the Market) because one of my favourite programmes asked me to go join them as a reporter, which was Union World, and I was a big supporter of Gus (Macdonald), and very proud of the fact that I knew the man who introduced two very important programme to the Channel 4 schedule for the off – one was Union World, a programme about trade unions, the other was Right to Reply, both of which were great programmes. …..
Union World I thought was… I was never optimistic it would survive for long because I couldn’t see people turning on the telly at six o’clock on a Saturday evening to watch it, especially as the sports report was on elsewhere. And it did a Friday slot first of all, was it eight?
No, it was Friday at… it started off as a local Granada programme at 10.30.
That’s right – it’s when Peter Allen did it, wasn’t it?
No, it was presented by Gus and Anna.
That’s right – I’d forgotten that. But I knew it as a Channel 4 programme, as I was in London when it was run on Granada, so I couldn’t see them. But I thought it was really important, the timing was great in terms of what was happening industrially, notwithstanding the Dirty Jobs dispute that had been a couple of years earlier. A lot was in the melting pot with Mrs Thatcher’s view of the world generally, the trade unions and labour relations, and industry actually, industry in particular, and I think… it raised an awful lot of very important points, examined an awful lot of good stuff, but actually was damned by having such small audiences, that was the problem. And it wasn’t for want of trying – I mean, Gus was a real champion, David Kemp ran the show in his own unique way, but it had a great staff, you know, his team, as you know, was bloody good, it was a fantastic team, and it was still good when I was part of it, even though the original pioneers had mostly moved on to other things. It was still a good and important programme, and a lot of good and important things were said. (We) set up a few debates with the big trade union leaders like Bill Morris, Rodney Bickerstaffe, folk like that. There was also… one of the ex-Communist Party ultra-right wingers of the ECU or whatever it was called on those days.

Frank Chapple?
No, it wasn’t… I interviewed him for another programme, but that’s another story I’ll tell you about in a minute. But we could have good discussions that were about… and also the programme was regarded… the test of any programme is will the people on whom it focuses take part? Do they think it’s worthy of their time, effort and attention? And they certainly did. I remember I presented a whole show – it was my idea – about the new realism. Remember the new realism was something that was being discussed on the left, but in the trade union movement as well, should we accept what’s happening because that’s the new realism, or should we resist it with all our might to the very last? A discussion which is still being had in a way, in a not unrelated form. So I think it was really important that it was damned by the fact that a) the commissioner at Channel 4 wasn’t really interested, she didn’t like it. I don’t know how hard David Boulton fought for it after the novelty had worn off, but I think it was a real shame, a real loss. Because I think with the right slot, it could have had a really good impact and a lasting impact. But the slot was miscast for the programme, completely miscast, and you know, it should have had a Newsnight kind of slot really, and that was a real shame because I think it was a really important effort, and it was taken very seriously by everybody I knew who had worked on it. It’s a sad loss. I know it’s been gone for years now, decades, but it’s a real sad loss, and I was really proud to work on it. ………..
I remember David Kemp saying the July of ’84 – or was it September, I can’t remember which it was now – “It looks like the miners are going to win this,” and at the time I was nothing like so confident, I have to say. I also remember doing a great interview with Mick McGahey during Mayfest up in Glasgow, which is a Scottish TUC sponsored cultural event. And I interviewed Dick Gaughan, a folk singer who you may have heard… all these bloody Communists, they were all Communists basically. It was a good time in terms of the contact I had, and sometimes at the TUC, Gus would hang on to what I was doing, because he knew I knew all the bloody trade union leaders, which was a twist, because ordinarily, Gus was the most connected person I ever knew, and made sure that he was the most connected person, but not in this one instance. So that was quite fun. But Union World, I mourn the loss of that.

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