Interviewed by Stephen Kelly, 14 February 2014.
Let’s do this chronologically. When did you join Granada?
I joined Granada in 1981. I was approached initially – I used to work for the BBC on a freelance basis – I did a bit of radio for them. And then the riots took place in the summer of 1981 which I covered for the BBC. As a result of that I was then approached by Rod Caird at Granada to have a chat with the possibility of me joining them. At the time I was working for an organization called MCCR which is Manhester Council for Community Relations. I did a lot of work around race relations and whatever else, talking to companies about their employment policies. Rod and Steve Morrison came to see me and we had a chat. I was encouraged to apply for a researchers post with Granada and I went along and the rest is history. I was successful. It was a very strange interview actually because on the panel was Rod Caird, Steve Morrison – there were four people there – and there was this lady, this woman who was fairly senior in Granada, called Joyce Wooller, who sat there in the entire interview and said nothing at all, just looked and looked and smiled. I left the interview think, huh, not sure. Then I got a phone call literally the same afternoon from Rod Caird to say we’re going to hire you. So, as they say, the rest is history.
I started off working on regional programmes and then it was a pecking order. If you were good enough you’d be working on fairly prestigious programmes within regionals and then if you were really good enough you’d be working on networked programmes, the pinnacle was World in Action – if that’s what you wanted. There was a whole range of stuff there certainly at regional levels, whether the sports department or documentaries. So I did news for quite a while and then I moved over to do This Is Your Right for about six months.
What kind of programme was that?
This Is Your Right was a social action programme presented by the infamous Lord Winstanley. It was transmitted each weekday for five minutes and then on a Sunday they had a half hour programme. It was a consumer orientated programme and we had a whole range of advisers who were supporting the programme whether it was to do with benefits or whatever. It was about people’s rights and what you can and can’t do. It was very successful. There was a huge team behind it. We had people writing in so those advisers – we had about 12 advisers working with us – and they would answer individual letters and we did the programme about some of the issues that were raised. It was a really good programme. Marjorie Giles was my producer at the time and it was fantastic. Just one researcher and we had directors coming in and out. Both the documentary programmes we presented on a Sunday and also the five minute programme in studio with Lord Winstanley and a guest at that time. They produced a piece to camera. It was good.
Can you remember any of the other programmes you worked on?
Yes, I worked on – as a researcher you moved in and out of programmes – in terms of regionals at the time Granada Reports was quite a big production. At one stage we had offices in Liverpool, and Granada Reports was being presented from Liverpool, so you were going between the two. In fact at one time there was a split presentation, so you had Bob Greaves in Manchester and then you would have Roger Blythe perhaps in Liverpool. Between Exchange Flags in Liverpool and Quay Street in Manchester.
There was Live From Two which was a programme presented by Shelley Rhodhe. I did that for a while. I did a number of training programmes, documentary type programmes. I did a whole range of stuff, I can’t remember. I can recall doing a piece for Exchange Flags, at the time when I was in Liverpool. We did a whole range of stuff I was at Granada from 1981 until I left in 1997. Apart from TIYR I worked on All Our Yesterdays for maybe a year and a half, two years. I also worked on Job Watch.
You mentioned Tony Wilson, what kind of person was Tony?
I found Tony to be a fabulous guy, I got on really well with Tony. When I first met Tony – these were people I used to see on TV – it was really strange, I’m a local lad in terms of schooling and the rest of it. I had a college background but I wasn’t part of the Eton scene of anything like that, or Oxbridge. Just meeting the likes of Tony and the rest. I remember the first time I saw Tony, what struck me – he was going into Granada- he had a saddle over his shoulder cos that’s how he carried all his stuff and he had makeup on and I’m thinking hang on. I thought it was left over from being in studio. But no, he wore makeup. Tony was just great , he had so many brilliant ideas, he was ahead of his time. I remember talking to Tony and he used to travel a lot obviously, he was always in the States. He used to come back and I remember he came back and he said, ‘Wallen, Wallen I’ve been in New York,’ and he said, ‘there’s this craze over there and it’s phenomenal its about break dancing.’ I’m thinking what’s that and he was talking about street dancing and break dancing. I’d never seen it before and he said that there are these kids in Manchester apparently doing it. So we got the kids and did a documentary. It was fantastic, nobody had seen it before and Tony was the one who said, yeah we need to do this. He was just fabulous and he was just great working with him as a young researcher I didn’t know the business all that well. I was assigned with Tony and he made life so easy, he was fantastic to work with. He was a great guy, he was a really, really nice guy, And you know this thing about him hating Liverpool was just all made up. Tony knew exactly what he was doing. He was great and he loved his football, he loved Man U. I used to go to his house and he knew all the footballers, knew all the managers; he was a fantastic guy, I really miss him. He was a really good guy.
I remember him coming back from New York and him saying to me, I’ve just seen the future and I said what is it ? And he said LOFTS, everybody’s getting lofts (laughter).
I know, I know. I worked on Upfront for maybe three or four years though when I talk about three or four years, these were seasonal programmes, so you’d be maybe working on it for six months – if that – cos it was a series. Then the following year you’d get the second series. Again working on Upfront with Tony we had a large team of researchers getting guests in and it was a live programme. Tony was obviously doing his music and the Hacienda was taking off. Each Friday night we’d literally finish in studio and all move over to the Hacienda. I remember seeing all these bands and thinking and Tony saying this is the future man, and me thinking I don’t get all of this ! And we didn’t but Tony was saying this is the future. He was really ahead of his time. He was just a visionary. I remember when he said what have you got as your profession in your passport and I said ‘journalist’ and he said ‘nah, that’s passé man. That’s passé.’ And I said what have you got and he said ‘Entrepreneur, that’s what I’ve got in my passport.’ (laughter). I said, ‘Tony you can’t have that and he said ‘why not?’ (laughter). He was just a great guy. A good guy and a really good professional. Broadcasting was in his blood. He had values and he loved the north west. You’ll recall this cos everyone who worked at Granada knew of this. Tony was being lured by the BBC to join them and he went half way down the motorway to join them and he said ‘no, I’m missing Granada’ and he turned back. ‘It’s not for me.’ I can’t remember if it was Panorama or whoever who wanted him down there and he decided no it’s not for me. He had this real feel for the north west although he gave people from Liverpool stick from time to time – Manchester was always better than Liverpool – it was a game to him. He got on with people from Liverpool really well. Derek Hatton was one of the people he got on really well with. I can recall meetings with both of them. No, Tony was really good.
Any other people in particular you remember ?
Yes, the people who stood out for me, people I worked with very closely – Mike Short who was a producer for Granada Reports. Before Mike Short, there was Rachel Hebbditch – a phenomenal woman working in a man’s world. And Chris Wydjinski stood out , again these are people form regional news . And then there were the Rod Cairds of this world that I worked with, very supportive. Stuart Prebble who gave me my first break as a producer and he had me producing a programme called Young Upfront . And again I wasn’t asked if I wanted to do it, I was told I was going to be doing this. He took me in his office – he was head of regional programmes at the time and he said, we feel that you need to grow a bit so we’d like you to produce this programme. It was on the same principles as the Upfront programme we had an audience and we had various guests coming in and Tony Wilson was the presenter and it was a debate programme with the audience involved as well. It went out on a Sunday afternoon at one o clock, aimed at young people and we had Craig Charles taking part in the programme as well. Craig Charles was known for his poetry and stuff like that, so we got him to come along to do some stuff cos he was young and understood them; he was writing some poetry for the programme and his thoughts for the day and so on. Anyhow he did a piece for us and in the piece that we recorded he swore and I think he said something like ‘bloody’ whatever and as the producer I heard it but thought, that’s okay. We canned the programme, recorded the programme and it went out on the Sunday . I thought nothing of it, I didn’t watch the programme go out as I thought it was okay. On Monday I went into the office and Stuart called me in – his PA said he’d like to have a word, can you come along right now if you can. So I went to his office thinking, really great programme and Stuart stood there looking out of the window onto the car park at Quay Street and he said, ‘Oh Wallen, come and have a seat.’. And he said ‘yesterdays programme. Did you see it going out.’ I said, ‘actually no, I didn’t.’ But of course as producer you…’Yeah,’ I said, ‘I thought it was a really good programme.’
‘Did you,’ he said. ‘Well picture this’, he said, ‘I’m a parent and there’s nmy young twelve year old, and he’s looking out of the window though he was looking at me when he was telling me this…’and he’s watching this programme Young Upfront, thinks it’s a brilliant programme and in the middle up pops Craig Charles and he comes out with this torrent of swearing or whatever. What do I say to him?’
‘So,’ I said, ‘well I wouldn’t use the word torrent.’
‘Okay but what did you do about it ? Obviously nothing.’ He tore into me. But then he was great. He said, ‘look, I just wanted to make a point that if there is a doubt – and there must have been a doubt in your mind you must make sure we see it before it goes out. There’s a policy around things like this. Luckily we’ve had no complaints but if we had had any we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on.’ And he was just great. Ever since then he was very supportive. Stuart’s one of those people – still in the business – and fantastic. David Liddiment is another one that stands out for me. He was a great guy, knew what he was doing in terms of his producing skills he was one of the great directors at Granada and he did Coronation Street for many years . And the other person who stood out fro me was Brian Morris who I did Job Watch with for many years. The reason I mention Brian Morris is that there are ways of running a team, there are ways of producing tv programmes, the typical tv programme team at the time was a producer/director kicking arse, cracking the whip and so on. Brian’s approach was totally different as a producer. He was laid back, he would allow you to exercise your own mind and judgement around things. You had to do your own problem solving with Brian rather than him telling you, you do this, do that. He’d say this is what we want to do, now come back to me. It was fantastic working with him. You were allowed to go out and do proper research and come back with some ideas and stuff like this. He allowed you to run with things and give you slack as it were; fantastic guy.
Was there a certain amount of bullying do you think ?
Oh gosh yes, absolutely there was a certain amount of bullying went on. I mentioned the newsroom earlier on and certainly when I first joined in terms of the producer and the news editor were all females. It ws quite interesting that because they were living in a man’s world how they would behave because they swore like troopers, kick arse. Some of the things you hear about newsrooms, they were part and parcel of it . It was quite interesting to see how they would pick out who they liked and who they disliked – it was quite blatant you know. So it went on. There’s no question about it.
You were born in Jamaica but grew up in Manchester, how did it feel coming to Granada as a black person – were there many black people on the staff
No, when I joined Granada I just knew of two people on staff. Actually just one on staff because I was going to mention Noral Ottey who was a film editor but he was working at Granada at the time – he worked for a company called Greendow who did a lot of the editing for Granada. So the only person I knew at the time was Charles Lauder who had been there literally about a year before I joined, I think he must have joined 1979 or 1980 and when I got there, there was Charles who I knew and during that period of the first couple of years there was a black woman – Marilyn Wong Sam – who was there as well. I can’t recall whether she was here just before me or just after. I made some enquiries at the time and I recall being told that Granada Manchester, put away Granada Exchange Flags in Liverpool and put away Granada London, and Granada Manchester had something like around 80-o staff within that building in Quay Street and out of that 800 staff they had six people on their books who they could claim were ethnic minorities and I was one of them. I think it went up to eight at one stage. And that’s part of the reason that during the latter years of Granada while I was there I was flitting in between making programmes as a producer /director but also assisting the organization in terms of developing policies which were more conducive to attract a more multicultural talent of programme makers. So we started the Granada Positive Action scheme for example which was again trying to get people from ethnic minorities, from the black and Asian community and the Chinese community to look at broadcasting as a way forward as a career. So we did that for a while. And that went fairly well. The only problem with that, I felt, and I said it at the time was that while we were giving people a taster we weren’t necessarily giving them full time jobs within Granada. The one or two who did get full time jobs within Granada they’d be gone within six months, if that. So, whilst we were beginning to attract people, we were having problems in terms of retaining them.
How were you treated as a black person ? Did you come across much racism?
I came across a lot of ignorance. There’s two sides to this. When you’re in broadcasting you’re going out meeting the public – and you get all sorts and that’s quite interesting. And going out as a filmmaker, as a researchers with a film crew, there was a whole range of things I came up against. Within Granada itself – throughout that period of time – I cannot recall any blatant, in your face racism. There were things being said, things being done, you were excluded from certain meetings or you were assigned to a programme and there were little cohorts of people that you weren’t necessarily part of but nobody came up to me – though it may have because of the way I handled myself – but nobody came up to me and made any racist comments or remarks. But what I did find within Granada is that whenever it raised its ugly head – Granada was one of those companies that attracted a lot of leftie people so leftie people were with it and there were people there to support me. There’s no question of that. So I didn’t feel, no time at all did I feel, it’s a part of the company or this thing about institutionalised racism. It was there, I wasn’t getting promoted as fast as others were and you think to yourself why is that but, as you well know, at the time its not necessarily what you know but who you know, knowing all the right producers and the rest of it. I didn’t necessarily know the right people and I didn’t necessarily go out drinking and all of that, so its very difficult to assess. But I didn’t come up against any out and out blatant racism at the company at the time. But I was always conscious of the fact that I was different. Working with producers and fellow researchers was different to working with cameramen. You’d go out with some cameramen and, for instance, they’d say we don’t get many darkies here in this company and you think to yourself (laughs) and that was said to me on one or two occasions. One could say is that racism or sheer ignorance. I’m not sure. But I did get that from time to time.
And did things change later on in the company by the time you left were the number of people from ethnic minorities increasing?
No, no. You see that was the disappointing thing for me. We identified – certainly when I was there in 1981 when I joined – it was very clear to me that one of the things that I wasn’t happy to do was to be the spokesperson for the black community. At the time the company felt that if there was anything to do with the black community ask Wallen. I was saying, no, I’ve got my own point of view. You should be going out there canvassing a range of opinion from the black community. Again it came back to who were the company employing, who were they attracting, was Granada in terms of their social responsibility as a company doing the right thing. So we looked at a whole range of stuff that Granada could do and get involved with whether of not it was about producers being used to mentor people from the BME community, etc. There was a whole range of stuff that we decided Granada should get involved with. But even when they did there was still this issue I felt that we still failed to attract the right people. People were coming to me and saying that it wasn’t the place for them. I remember a young Asian girl who was in the newsroom and she was a Muslim girl and she said that she really felt left out. She was a very clever woman but she felt that she just wasn’t part of it all because she wasn’t a drinker, she was Muslim and wasn’t a drinker. So she wasn’t going out to the Old School at lunchtime and getting all the bevvies down her neck and all the rest of it. And because of her lifestyle, because of her culture, she left eventually. Now that’s disappointing and I felt that Granada, after 20 years couldn’t hold itself up as beacon. You know Channel 4 were, in my opinion, more with it at the time in terms of equalities.
That aside how did you find Granada, as a company, to work for?
Oh gosh, what can I say? Despite what I’ve said about cameramen and all the rest of it, I did feel and that was one of the things that was said to me, yeah you take it with a pinch of salt. At my interview one of the things that was said to me was that you were entering into this family. And it was a family. I did feel that. People were really supportive. You could go to most of the senior people, producers. The fact that it wasn’t Mr Plowright, it was David, and he was chief executive at the time, or Mike. You know it was fantastic. Even the head of regional programmes whether it was Stuart Prebble it was Stuart, it was Wallen. I got the sense that I was in a real family and that if I had any problems I could share it with people. For me, and not just for myself, but how they dealt with other researchers who had difficulties in their own life was a testament to the company who were really supportive. One of our researchers who died involved with drugs and the company in terms of some of the senior people at the time were exceptional and I thought, you know, you’re working for a good company. You had all the support, you had the nurses, so most people didn’t have to go to their GPs, just go and see the nurses. And the stuff that you could do with the company, it was just fantastic. Great pension scheme and if people were off ill. I remember working with one producer who had a real drink problem and he began with the company way back in 1962 when the Bernsteins were involved and he had a real problem with drink and the company sent him away to Switzerland for three weeks to a rehab centre. Which company is going to do that for you now? It was really good.
Was there a culture of drinking, the Stables or Old School as it was in your time ?
It was the Stables and then the Old School. Oh yes, there was a culture wasn’t there. But there was also one at the BBC as well. But Granada was not an exception. Granada was probably less than the BBC. My experience of drink and broadcasting – when I worked as a freelance at the BBC the station manager at the time had this huge office that was split by dividers into two so he could open up the office and he’s got this huge desk and you could have a meeting in the office. But in the back part of his office was his drinks cabinet, which was filled each week by the BBC. There was vodka, whatever, you name it, it was there. And if you wanted to have a decent conversation with him about programme ideas you had to make sure you got to him before 11 o’clock because any time after that he was in the bar at the BBC. And if you remember the BBC at Oxford Road it had a bar inside it. At least Granada had it off site somewhere. Yeah there was a drink culture at Granada and if you’d had a good programme there were bottles of wine to celebrate, so it was there all the time. I’ve mentioned one or two people but it didn’t get to the stage where producers or researchers were legless. There were one or two producers who were renowned for their drink but in the main I think people handled it fairly well.
Was there anything else you wanted to talk about ?
Part of the issues I felt with Granada was that you had certainly people within the HR department bringing new ideas to the company but those ideas never worked and I go back to this thing I mentioned about equalities. Granada was a good example of a company at the time and that’s what it claimed to be in terms of the profile , whether it was World In Action or whatever that exposed things. But behind the scenes when you lift the cover up we certainly didn’t get it right. Up to this day I’m not sure what it is that stopped us from being more progressive in that area. We also failed in my opinion to reflect that onscreen as well. So, I’m not just talking about people working behind the scenes. At the time we had a token – whether it’s the newsreader or – we had a whole list of people who came through as newsreaders – but again that was tokenism. I didn’t feel that at any time Granada had somebody like your Trevor Macdonalds of this word. Trevor was with ITN before Granada took over ITN. We never had anything like that at all.
Lynette Lithgow ?
Again Lynette Lythgow was on This Is Your Right for a while but it was tokenism wasn’t it. You had Saul Rahmann towards when I left. And when I was here there was Vanessa Kirkpatrick who was there as a newsreader. They had people coming in and out but I don’t think it was – it was playing to the gallery. I don’t think Granada was committed to all that. It lacked, in my opinion, real representation. And I’m not sure why that is.
A lot of people have talked about Granada being really important to the north west, Manchester. What was the view of the black community towards Granada, did it view it with any affection.
It’s quite interesting I felt that the black community in Manchester felt that Granada was one of those companies that they were there; they were a broadcaster, we don’t have a say in what they do, it’s not a company that we have engaged with in any shape or form, leave them to it essentially. The black community in Liverpool took a different perspective. I remember that when I first joined Granada and one of the things – it was just after the riots as I’ve said – that I decided to do was to go to Liverpool because if you remember Granada was split between Manchester and Liverpool studios. So I decided to go to Liverpool and I remember speaking to Rod Caird and him saying ‘yes we really need to get involved with Liverpool 8.’ Because if you remember the 1981 riots began out of Liverpool. They started off down in London but in Liverpool, in Toxteth, in terms of the north west it was the epicenter of it all. I decided to go down there and meet people from Liverpool, certainly from Toxteth and I remember I went to the Charles Wooten centre which was like a cultural centre for the black community, to meet with people. And it was the first time in my life that I felt a stranger among black people and the reason being that I was , ‘hang on a second, you’re not from around here, you’re not a Liverpudlian, and yet you come here asking us questions, it doesn’t work that way.’ I got a real lecturing from people there and there was about 20 people who met me. It was the Liverpool 8 Defence Committee then and they were saying ‘look you need to understand, you’re from Manchester, you need to understand that here we are in Toxteth, Granada is literally within spitting distance away and I don’t think we’ve even had a cleaner working at Granada and now all of a sudden you want stories from us. It doesn’t work that way.’ I don’t think I achieved anything cos the black community in Liverpool and, rightly so, were very defensive about people from outside being parachuted into Liverpool and doing things there. And Granada, its reputation in Liverpool, was rock bottom essentially. Taking me on improved things a little bit but it made no difference. Up until today I don’t think anyone from Liverpool 8 has worked at Granada as far as I know. That was really problematic and in terms of onscreen representation. Wouldn’t it have been great if in that period we had had someone onscreen with a real scouse accent who was representing the black community as well as Liverpool.
And also at the time you worked on a documentary about guns and drugs in Manchester. Did you feel that there was any antipathy from the black community.
Yes, there certainly was. What I did was to do my research. And when you do your research accurately and properly you’ll generally find that all the people in the black community wanted that to be exposed because they, you know had black on black crime and you need to get to grips with that. It wasn’t just black people in Manchester at the time saying things aren’t right, so let’s get at the establishment, it was black on black crime. I remember when we did the programme, a fairly senior police officer was explaining to us that when he went to investigate a murder in a pub in Hulme, and he had been in the police service for nearly 30 years, it was the first time he had walked into a pub and people were playing pool whilst there was a dead body on the floor and people pretending that it wasn’t there. Nobody saw anything at all. That was pretty frightening. I knew that people in the black community were saying go ahead and make that programme. I didn’t just go and say I wanted to do this programme. And indeed some of the people who were themselves involved said yeah we need to expose all this. I had no problems with doing that at all. It was the sensible thing to do, it was highlighting a problem that needed to be addressed because the area was getting a really bad reputation and I thought at the time because it was an area I grew up in and my parents still lived in that area that it was something I had to do. I didn’t think twice about getting involved in that programme; it was something that had to be done. And as a result of that it started a whole range of things happening. There was changes in Moss Side in terms of housing, how policing was done in the area, local politicians got more involved, the councils got more involved, so a whole range of stuff came out of that. And I’m glad I did it.
And then it all began to go wrong in the 1990s?
Yes. It all began to go wrong, I was being asked to produce programmes I didn’t necessarily believe in and I just felt that the days of aspiring to do World In Action were gone and those programmes were few and far between and reality TV was kicking in and I thought rather than stay here and be miserable and cynical I need to do something different. When you get to the stage where you feel that, that the values are gone, budgets were being slashed, and it meant that you had less money to make programmes, hence the reason that you were using the public as a means of producing programmes, I just felt that that was too much. I needed to do something else, so I go out.