Vanessa Kirkpatrick on racism, sex and ‘Blond Blue Eyed Girls’

The first week of my induction at Granada wasn’t especially welcoming. After one of my first news conferences, a senior journalist frenziedly wheeled their chair to my desk (Hamilton couldn’t have done it faster) and whispered in my ear ‘you do know don’t you that you’ve only been taken on because you’re black.’ – then wheeled back to their desk like Billy the Whizz. Eh? It’s probably not the best analogy but it reminded me of a scene from ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane.’ This was going to be one hell of an induction.

Sitting in the back of the landmark Granada blue Volvo estate on the way to trying to secure an interview with Viraj Mendis, the crew was sounding off that ‘these bloody immigrants should be sent back to their own country.’ Eh? There I was making sure that at 1.00pm precisely your feet are under a table with three choices of hot and cold on the menu – including the prawn cocktail – and you’re spewing abuse.

I complained about their unprofessionalism and their racist comments – and was assured I wouldn’t have to work with that crew again. So, there you go. Problem solved. Eh? 

I was certainly no ingenue but this is one I didn’t see coming. A producer called me from his hotel – via its switchboard – inviting me to his room to discuss presenting opportunities. I actually apologised that it wasn’t possible!!! The Nanny was out and my husband wasn’t yet home.

And in any case, I wasn’t in the least interested in being on screen. He called me a further four times – increasingly irate. Only after the last call, did it occur to me he was drunk. I thought he would massively regret the calls and avoid me the next day.

And it was only when my husband came home that I realised the calls were an invitation to the casting couch! How absurd and naïve was I!

The person in question came into the newsroom (not his programme) the next day and hovered behind my chair for several minutes without saying a word. Later, I stormed into his office without knocking and told him to never, ever do this to me again. I left trembling – and for the rest of the day waited for my P45.

Various fabulous women, Rachel P, Dorothy B and Liz B, encouraged me to do screen tests. Rachel P would take me to the Granada roof top and patiently coach me. Not only was I scared of heights, but also, I really didn’t want to be in front of camera. So, now I confess. I pretended that I had lost the videos through some magical evaporation. Rachel P found them in my desk drawer.   

I was approached by Luise Nandy  – and returned to Granada in 1991 to Granada’s Albert Dock and very soon after it was suggested that I might be one of the daytime newsreaders. The day I started the dummy runs,  journ.journ was carrying anonymous posts of me taking a job away from ‘blond, blue eyed girls’, ‘get her off’, ‘she’s there because she’s black’ etc etc. Eh?

John Huntley was very supportive and had tried to shield me from the comments – but it wasn’t possible. The super sophisticated portal had been set up so that the authors couldn’t be traced.

When I went live, the racist external letters were pretty rampant. I did actually confide in one colleague who advised I dismiss them. I know she was just trying to reduce my upset.  ‘It’s only the same as someone not liking you because you have ginger hair so just ride the silly comments.’ Eh?

I buried the letters that were left on my desk. Some were threatening. I really didn’t fancy being found floating in the Mersey. I wanted to call it out and spoke to another newsreader. She was network. On multiple times my salary – and a national treasure of sorts –  we privately shared our experiences about the harassment and isolation black employees face in the industry. I was disappointed when she refused to go public.

Sadly, I suspect that it was just HR  procedure that the Police were called in when I decided to make an official complaint. Interestingly, the malicious internal stuff suddenly stopped.

When franchise auctions came along, Granada would cite its recruitment of 5/6/7 black employees (out of a workforce of 1600) to demonstrate its commitment to representing diverse audiences – and to provide the extra turbo energy to get the company through to the last lap.

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