I was a Politics graduate Leeds University. 1978. Professor Ralph Miliband was my tutor and also Head of Department. David and Ed came in a couple of times.
To fund my MSc course at University
of Bradford, I managed to get a Research Assistant post with the Lucas
Aerospace Shop Stewards Combine Committee. Thousands of redundancies had been
announced across the UK plants. The University, alongside shop stewards, developed
an alternative corporate plan that identified the highly skilled workforce
could apply their knowledge to ‘socially useful production’. At the same time, job
losses could be reduced. We were nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize.
My first foray into television was working as a consultant to a Yorkshire TV school series. We picked up The Times Education Award.
I subsequently joined Granada in 1982 after seeing an ad. in the ‘The Grauniad’ for researchers. I didn’t think I stood a chance but I suppose I had various credentials and a couple of anecdotes to fill those awkward silences – should I ever get to interview.
I had mixed with the likes of South African exiles who later were to join Nelson Mandela’s government and dined with Tony Benn, Arthur Scargill, Mick McGahey and other ‘commies’. I had useful contacts and, unbeknown to me, supped drinks with an “agent of influence” for the East German Stasi! Now, that would be a great filler!
I sent off my c.v. with a very brief covering note. ‘I would like to apply for the position of researcher as advertised. `I look forward to hearing from you. Yours sincerely.’
After two boards. Chris Kerr – a gentleman – called to give me the news. I told him that he might have the wrong number.
The Induction weeks
I was to start on Granada Reports and would be shadowing Judy Finnigan – ‘my mother’ for the two weeks induction. My unassigned ‘brothers’ were the three amigos: superstar editors, Oral, Dave and Kim who adopted me on the recommendation of a mutual friend.
Everything was a haze, maybe because I was the mother of a ten month old baby. Each day for 10 months, I was travelling 80 miles round trip by coach from Bradford ( where I lived ) to Manchester.
I’m a brisk walker with a long stride and it’s my first week at Granada. Having got off the 06.15 from Bradford Interchange to Chorlton St. Bus Station – I noticed a familiar mop of hair. It was Mike Scott in front of me – then Programme Controller – swinging his leather attache case. He was sort of idling along – but with purpose – in that casual manner he had. He seemed to be looking forward to his day.
I froze hoping he wouldn’t turn round. I considered a detour but that would have meant being late for the morning news conference. I had to scoop up as many newspapers as I could to filch my mandatory 3 ideas – before the rest of the Granada Reports team plundered stories from the same papers.
Scott stopped – and turned round. He was terribly pleasant for a chap who’s ‘upstairs’ on the 6th floor when I’m ‘downstairs’ on the 1st floor – but for me the next twenty minute walk was self-induced angst. He asked what I looked forward to working at Granada. I can’t remember what I said, which is probably a good thing. I doubt – in fact I know – I didn’t make the best of impressions.
The newsroom – and everywhere else in the Quay St building for that matter – was a health and safety hazard. Papers, lighters and the plumes of smoke from the cigarettes that fired our thoughts for the day. I also had a slight pre-occupation. I was sporting a Kevin Keegan curly perm and desperately worried that my hair (treated with chemicals) might encounter a match and go up in flames – which did actually happen in a restaurant some weeks later.
I was tired from the early morning starts from the other side of the Pennines and desperately nervous of the fast pace of the newsroom. I wasn’t used to turning over fresh copy every hour. An opening paragraph for a dissertation used to take me weeks. After 10 months of gruelling travel, I moved to Manchester.
One of my first assignments on Granada Reports was covering a large demo about public sector low pay. Some of my new Manchester friends were extreme left – and there they were on Bury New Rd. with their banners, some emblazoned with accusations of right wing media bias! One of them spotted me and shouted ‘traitor’. It was actually awkward, because I kind of agreed. Further, I was surprised when Granada unions had voted against walking out in support of the Nurses’ pay campaign in 1982. That ‘one’ by the way, went on to become a very, very well paid international, jet setting bureaucrat.
The 1984 Abbeystead disaster really tested my underdeveloped journalistic mettle in my early days.
I was sent to St. Michael’s on Wyre to knock on doors and vox pop anyone who might know or be related to the casualties of the explosion in the water treatment plant near their village. I felt uncomfortable asking ‘do you know anyone who has died?’ – but it was where I earned my stripes to be a dispassionate journalist – a kind of door step actor. We were in a ratings war with the BBC and simply had to get there first – for live, first hand reaction.
If you came up with an idea, you had a bit more control. After weeks of research – I gained unique access to a mother and daughter who agreed to be interviewed about abuse and incest in their family as long as they remained anonymous. My editor wanted them to appear in vision to give their interviews more authenticity, to lend the piece empathy. I went back to the women, with whom I had built up a relationship of trust, to tell them it was a no show unless they agreed to speak in vision to camera. They agreed. I received bundles of letters from female viewers and Refuges applauding these fantastic women for refusing to be victims and to feeling shamed. For me, it was a fast track in the complexities of researching exceptionally sensitive issues, the art of negotiation and keeping journalistic integrity. Thankfully, mother and daughter never regretted their decision.
In 1993, Granada Reports sent me to Berlin to cover their 2000 Olympic Bid. Manchester was also a contender. There was an extremely vociferous anarchist movement protesting against the city bidding to host the Games. Every day, there were demonstrations through the streets, counter demonstrations, armed police – all against a backdrop of billboards and multi million pound marketing campaign welcoming the world to the new Berlin.
It was also absolutely sizzling hot. I pulled on a short Moschino dress and sported some dark shades to sum up all these perspectives in a piece to camera while walking along the track lines of the old wall. Unwittingly, I was channelling Magenta Devine. I didn’t think it looked that cat walked – but wisely my news editor cut a fair bit of it out.
It was an exhilarating shoot because I was witnessing the very early days of a potential cultural and commercial pact between old East and West. The crew and I pulled together a really loud, colourful and coherent summary of an Olympic bid.
The shoot was equally memorable when an elderly women on the east side of the former wall spat at me and yelled ‘schwarze’ in my face. I was ready to punch her lights out – but another piece to camera had to take priority.
Manchester didn’t really have a chance. Nonetheless, I was dispatched to the Town Hall, Albert Square, to report live on a hopeful victory. There were hundreds there. I had parked up not far away in the ‘gay quarter.’ After the disappointment, I returned to my car only to discover I was blocked in. Foo Foo Lammar mustered a bunch of ‘her’ friends to bump the car blocking my Scirocco as far as they could so that I could get out.
I just loved the theatre, the drama that went into producing Granada Reports programmes. There were some brilliant people in that newsroom. It was a hothouse of creativity.
Between 1982 and 1989, when I left temporarily, I had worked on a whole swathe of regional and network programmes as a researcher/reporter. Granada Reports; This Is Your Right; A Place to Live – whereunder the energetic and scrupulous eye of Jack Smith (Head of Schools programming), we roamed North Manchester industrial estates for rare orchids and filmed on polders in the reclaimed land of Lelystad. From Eyam, Derbyshire to Washington to New York to Haight Ashbury, San Francisco we researched a series of programmes for Channel 4 schools on the epidemiology of disease and HIV. I’m not sure how Jack pulled that one off.
Then apart from working on local and general election programmes there was: Jobwatch; Flying Start; Hold Tight; Connections; What the Papers Say, Hospital Watch (one of the first live simulcasts from Manchester and London hospitals) – and University Challenge where I would stand in for Bamber Gascoigne in rehearsals warming up the smarty pants students for their starter for 10.
Bamber and Christina entrusted me with their treasured photos of far flung places for the picture round. I was to duplicate the originals and return them. I diligently put the originals in a box, securely taped the box within an inch of its life, stashed it under my desk and wrote in shiny black pen ‘DO NOT REMOVE’. The next day the box had disappeared before I had even had a chance to make copies – and was never seen again. Thank you Bamber and Christina for being so forgiving.
I returned to Granada in 1991 – and to again Granada Reports (which zig zagged between various makeovers from Granada Reports to Granada News) as a reporter and newsreader.
I was part of the team led by Rob Mcloughlin that produced IRA Bombing of Manchester, which picked up a Royal Television Society Award.
I was playing tennis, 6 miles away from the city centre, when I heard a loud bang. Minutes later, I received a call from the news desk to meet a crew at Hope Hospital, Salford where some of the casualties had been taken. Making our way back to the studios, there was a police cordon around Quay St…the area was being searched for other devices. I jumped out of the crew car with my tape and persuaded – in fact demanded – that the police let me through. I mean. Come on. I had a bulletin deadline.
This prepared me perfectly for perhaps my most challenging programme. A year later I produced a series of late night programmes featuring the ‘movers and shakers’ who were reviving the city – New Dealers. I ditched the usual, awful talk show chintz furniture and went for monochrome and minimal. Director and crew said the set couldn’t possibly work. Something to do with some technical stuff – like lighting. I stood my ground.
It was recorded as for live and would go out about 30 mins later. I was producing one of the most egotistical yet most invigorating and interesting people I have ever known. Tony Wilson. I was a rookie producer and scared stiff of him but Tony showed me the most utter respect. The shows were a great success. They had a big student following. After the first broadcast, Jeff Anderson called me to congratulate me. Even today, that set is ahead of its time.
I also did a pretty good job of producing a travel guide/ recipe book ‘Too Many Cooks’ – for Live Challenge ’99, Granada’s marathon TV fund raiser for children’s charities across the North West and corralled chefs and the production team to sell the books by any means necessary – in supermarkets, book shops and live outdoor kitchen events I had set up. By the way, the book is available here in very good condition at: https://www.abebooks.co.uk/servlet/BookDetailsPL?bi=1046511661&searchurl=isbn%3D9780953408801%26sortby%3D20
I followed that up with a very risky idea to raise more money. A theatrical spectacular dinner for 200 guests at Baker Street, Bonded Warehouse. I foraged for 20 chefs and implored/ demanded that they help me sell tickets for 20 tables of 10. Quid pro Quo? The chefs would be filmed live on TV, become celebrities overnight (which they did) and at the same time we would raise a load of dosh for our charities. We raised thousands and thousands – and Live Challenge ’99 raised in total 1.8m.
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.
Heart stopping moments…and camaraderie
It was the Granada canteen that introduced me to the irresistible but heart disease inducing cheese and onion pie. The canteen filled me with trepidation but you could star gaze – and create opportunities. It was a bit like speed dating. It was supposed to be rest time for an hour or so but it was also an audition – the stage – for the actors, narrators and story tellers that we all wanted to be. It was sheer theatre, crammed and exuded an illusion of egalitarianism.
Everyone from the basement to the penthouse stood in the same queue for Chips and Bakewell Tart – and sat at the same tables. I don’t remember healthy options. Perhaps it was one ladle of cream – instead of two.
I thought about skipping lunch and going hungry because I really didn’t feel able to sit with David Plowright and Jules Burns – the only seat that was available in this trussed up diner.
I ended up at their table. It was especially foggy that day – so what better than to talk about the weather.
Car park lodge, Manchester. You had made it if you could get in there. A smile – and the barriers would lift and a space was made available. The canteen staff at Albert Dock who always had my breakfast ready at 7.30am – and then of course Mary, the indomitable cleaner from Rhyl who, for my 40th birthday, bought me a feather duster. I still have it. She made my day.
The Stables was the inebriated and fertile hub of creativity – from morning to night. If you came back with a ground breaking programme idea, it was tolerated. If you didn’t – it was still tolerated. It’s also there that I had my first brandy and port. Carole Townsend (This Is Your Right and second in command) said it was good for stomach upsets. Never, ever, ever again.
Pigs really don’t fly. Underinvestment?
The crew and I were driving to Lancaster in the’ Flying Pig’ – the blue Range Rover with the proud Granada ident. Everybody knew the Rover should have been retired. In fact, as we set off from the newsroom, there was a sense that we might be on our final mission. Each of us was on phones warning HQ we may not make it. There was nothing in the engine. Graham couldn’t make it go any faster. I was mentally and physically pedalling like mad as it croaked and groaned – at no more than 10mph – up an insignificant, gentle incline through the town centre. We were overtaken by the BBC heading for the same story. We never made it.
Marjorie Giles, my mentor
Working for the gorgeous, sexy, sensational, witty ,bright eyed, intelligent, terribly posh and motivational producer Marjorie Giles, This Is Your Right(TIYR).
Journalists and ‘serious researchers’ were very condescending to researchers who worked on TIYR. We had been cast into the wilderness of ‘programme making on pitiful budgets.’ But Marjorie didn’t care. She nurtured us, fed us fantastically juicy stories about working at Granada, gave us confidence – and often came in late because her mashed up Mazda had been mashed up again. She was a dreadful driver.
The team was very resourceful despite the meagre funding and disdain. We were always last in the queue for crew and post production facilities. Nonetheless, Carol Townsend always made sure we had a few bob left over for a couple of bottles of plonk for the end of the week. Now, that’s the mark of an extremely good account manager!
None of us – Marjorie, Carole, Elizabeth, Oenone, Linda, Julie – had any air and graces even though we had a collective IQ that would smash today’s University Challenge contestants. TIYR was a trailblazer for network campaigning consumer programmes.
For some reason, I – not Marjorie nor the Director Dick Guinea – was summoned to see Andy McLaughlin, Editor, Regional Features. Andy gave me a right stripping off that the five minute weekday programmes and the Sunday midday half hour that I had researched on how to calculate and write up your tax return was possibly the worst and dullest broadcast in the history of television. I must admit I found it rather hard to disagree with him. I too was virtually comatose interviewing the financial advisers. BUT one viewer on taking in the programme’s advice did actually get a 2K tax rebate. Dull. Yes. Fruitful. Very definitely.
I left – or should I say I was given mandatory leave – in 2000. I should have seen the writing on the wall. I was interviewing a senior manager for a Granada TV corporate video about opportunities for the growing media graduate market. During the interview, this ‘senior manager’ explained that the average age of Granada staff was strategically declining to below 40 years – and the business objective was to make it even younger and leaner. I was very definitely lean – but I was 43.
I can’t write a love letter to Granada – but equally I wouldn’t have wanted to be anywhere else. Granada was the media frontier.