Tag Archives: Granada

What happens when TV companies get taken over? Here’s Granada TV & LWT

An on-screen ident for LWT in 1975

An LWT on-screen ident in 1975

Once upon a time in the UK, there was a network called ITV. Not a single company. A network of separate companies.

The network had been set up in 1955 so that it would provide regional and national competition to the BBC.

Under the Broadcasting Act of 1990, franchises to run the companies were now awarded to the highest bidder rather than purely on quality grounds. This meant, for example, that Central Independent Television paid only £2,000 for its unopposed franchise, but Yorkshire Television paid £37.7 million for its franchise, which was roughly the same size.

The 1990 Act also allowed ITV companies to take over other ITV companies.

In 1994, Granada TV took over London Weekend Television (LWT).

I worked freelance at LWT for two years. I worked freelance at Granada in Manchester over fifteen years.

A friend of mine worked at LWT at the time of the take-over by Granada. This is what they told me in an e-mail after they left:


“The day of the take-over, senior management – i.e. board members – no longer appeared in the building and destroyed cars, offices, equipment etc. This shook and upset me. The rest of the management turned up to find Granada cars in their spaces and Granada bodies in their offices. A few walked out and left it to their solicitors but most had to stay or risk losing their legal rights. That is what I had to do. For nearly a year, I had to turn up for work to protect my legal rights.

Billy Bunter

Billy Bunter

In fact, I had no job because the chap who took someone else’s job also took all of my role so I had to either stay or walk out and claim constructive dismissal but a little known fact is that, if you do this, any award made to you is taxable at 40% and you cannot put the award into your pension which is what I wanted to do.

So I had to fight every day to maintain my position.

I can’t remember the name of the chap who took over my role, only that he was nicknamed Billy as he resembled Billy Bunter.

My job at LWT had been to manage a department which was variously 50-100 staffers plus freelance.

After the take-over, I was excluded from all decisions and information. A few examples of how difficult this was are

  • I received no post as it was all redirected to Billy, I had no signing authority but continued to sign knowing they would be rejected.
  • I had to pay for my own flights to Manchester (Granada TV’s base) and take charge of the office there (such lovely people and well confused by all this) and also took charge of a little London Granada outpost which I closed and moved into my offices.
  • Ooh yes, they did move the woman in charge of another department into my office – a lovely lady with whom I got on well and very nicely moved her out again.

Obviously I was expected to have a nervous breakdown or walk out but was a big enough thorn in their side and knew employment law so I think that is why they gave me everything I asked for just before Christmas and just before my health did break down.

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That halcyon golden era before Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and the trades unions ran the UK

PravdaLogoIn 1984, I went to the USSR. When I came back to my work at Granada TV in Manchester, I happened to mention that, in Moscow, I had taken a metro train out to the end of the line, had taken a walk round the bleak suburban area, gone into a few shops and found virtually nothing on the shelves. In particular, the food shops had a lot of empty shelves and very few items of food.

When I mentioned this to one of my Granada workmates (who had never been to the USSR but who had a university degree), she told me: “Oh! You’ve been listening to too much Western propaganda. It’s not like that.”

I have always remembered this conversation.

I told her I had been to Moscow, walked into shops and seen things.

She, never having been there, told me with total confidence that I had listened to too much anti-Soviet propaganda.

Because she knew what the truth was. She had talked to people she knew who had the same outlook as she did.

This was a university-educated person in her early thirties.

Beware of that most dangerous of all things: an airhead with a degree.

And beware of people who have inflexible opinions on events and eras which they never experienced.

I am buying a new carpet for the stairs in my house.

Yesterday, I was talking to a shop assistant who is younger than my stair carpet. My stair carpet was laid around 1986 – the height of Margaret Thatcher’s period as Prime Minister.

Also yesterday, someone not born when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister told me they found my blog of a couple of days ago very enlightening. It was about the trades unions pre-Thatcher.

Let me take you back again to that halcyon golden era before Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister of the UK and ‘took on’ the unions…

When I worked at Anglia TV in Norwich, you could get no captions or graphics artwork of any kind made for an hour – sometimes two hours – in the middle of the afternoon, because that was when the Graphics Dept men (they were all men) played cards.

It was a pattern widely repeated in many ways in many other departments across the ITV network.

I started at college when Margaret Thatcher was newly Prime Minister. I took Communication Studies – it is now called Media Studies. We had lecturers who worked at the Daily Mirror newspaper.

The non-colour printed Daily Mirror in 1986

The non-colour printed Daily Mirror in 1986

At that time, for several years past, the Daily Mirror had had colour printing machines standing in their building under covers which they had bought for large amounts of money. (Newspapers, at that time, printed photographs only in black-and-white.)

The print unions told the Daily Mirror that the machines could not be used. In fact, they told the company that, if the covers were even removed from the machines, there would be a strike which could possibly close the newspaper.

The Daily Mirror did not print colour photos regularly until 2nd June 1988, after Margaret Thatcher had ‘taken on’ the unions.

Before that, I personally knew someone who was a part-time comedy performer and also a print union member. He ‘worked’ for the Sunday Telegraph in London on a freelance basis… except he lived in Norfolk and never went in to the Telegraph building in London. His friend ‘clocked’ him in and, as far as the newspaper was concerned, his name was Michael Mouse (as in Mickey Mouse – this is NOT a joke).

Getting into the ACTT union or the print unions was difficult but, once you got in, you were untouchable and the companies were terrified of even the threat of strikes. In my view at the time, the closed-shop ACTT was 10% a union protecting its members and 90% a protection racket, coercing money from its members and controlling how the TV production companies worked.

You – and the companies – did what the all-powerful union officers said or you suffered the consequences.

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The golden age of British TV shows included a woman dusting things

In the imagined golden olden days of British independent television, ITV was actually a loosely-linked collection of regional companies with some programmes transmitted locally, some fully-networked and some partly-networked.

As a result, there were some occasionally odd programmes on air.

Keith Martin presenting at Anglia TV

Keith Martin presenting at Anglia TV

Yesterday, I was talking to Keith Martin who worked, it seemed, almost everywhere as a freelance announcer and presenter. He worked on pirate ship Radio Caroline, for the BBC Forces’ broadcaster and for, among many other ITV stations, ABC, Anglia, ATV, HTV, LWT and Thames.

“I remember,” I told him, “writing introductions for Houseparty in, I guess, the 1970s. That was just housewives sitting around randomly talking with no script.”

“Well,” said Keith, “that was a Southern Television production and was a forerunner and far more entertaining than the current Loose Women on ITV, which is done in a stationary way with a row of delightful ladies just gossiping.”

Houeparty - just women chatting

Houseparty from Southern TV – women chatting randomly

“I seem to remember,” I said, “in Houseparty, there would be a ding-dong on the door bell and someone would come into a living room which had been built in the studio.”

“It had this vast kitchen,” remembered Keith. “I suppose you could have called it a farmhouse kitchen. The programme wasn’t networked to all the ITV regions, but Anglia TV certainly took it – it was probably cheap.”

“How did you introduce Houseparty at Anglia?” I asked, “Because you never had any idea what they were going to be chatting about.”

“Most of the opening station idents in front of the programmes,” Keith reminded me, “had noises – little bits of music which someone got paid repeat fees on – but this particular programme had a silent ident, probably because Southern never thought it was worthy of even a harp being plucked. The ident used to come in silently, just like the Granada symbol.” (Granada allegedly had a silent logo to avoid paying for music.)

“When I was at Anglia,” said Keith, “I always made a point of talking over the opening logo because the programme always opened up with these women gossiping about something or other. So I would just say something like Oh, that’s not true! It can’t possibly be true! and then the sound would mix into their gossip and, a lot of the time, it made sense and it was hysterical. The engineers out the back would yell: Perfect! Perfect!”

In the 1960s, this was a TV star

A UK star with its own TV show in the 1960s…

“Who broadcast the feather duster?” I asked him.

“Oh, that was an ABC Television series,” he told me. “I don’t think it lasted very long because I suspect (the ITV regulatory body) the ITA didn’t think it was meaningful enough.

“It was just popular records playing with this woman talking occasionally to camera and she would do the housework while the record was playing. She was doing feather dustering around the house. And this was on television! I’m surprised it’s not been brought back.”

“This programme lasted half an hour?” I asked.

“Oh, at least half an hour,” said Keith. “And it was live.”

“What sort of year was this?” I asked.

“Some time in the 1960s,” said Keith. “The thing was you could tune into these programmes, switch them on and you could hear ‘popular records’ being played on television. Associated-Rediffusion did something very similar with Kent Walton (who went on to be a wrestling commentator). That was dancing and prancing. It was an excuse to play ‘gramophone records’ and the visuals were young people dancing and prancing around in the studio. Cool For Cats, it was called.

“It was all carefully rehearsed as, I’m sure, the dusting programme itself was so that, by the time the music finished, you would only have got to a particular point in the dusting, otherwise you would be dusting the same doorknob again.”

“What did the woman with the duster say?” I asked.

“Please!” replied Keith. “I’m old, but I’m not that old. I saw it as a child. How I saw it I don’t know. It would have been networked to the Midlands and the whole of the North of England.”

Ah! The golden days of television, before everything was dumbed down.

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Coronation Street was built smaller

It is a strange route I know, but this morning I read via the Scottish Television website that English Heritage may list the outdoor set of ITV’s Coronation Street as a historic monument.

Later this year, Granada TV are moving to the new Media City complex at Salford Quays in Manchester and building a new set there. Whether the potential listing of the old set is true or just ITV spin I do not know.

Granada used to do tours of Coronation Street. Maybe they just want a bit of publicity before building a new set and re-opening the old one to tourists.

It is not the original set, though. When I first worked at Granada, there was an older outdoor set which had not been built to normal proportions. It had been built slightly smaller than real life to save money on construction costs but, with careful camera angles, it looked perfect.

You only noticed it was slightly smaller than reality if, for example, you stood in the entrance door of the Rover’s Return pub… and you discovered you were slightly taller than you normally were.

The new set (the one English Heritage are allegedly thinking of listing) is full-scale.

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One of the legendary characters of ITV

ITV used to be made up of separate commercial companies.

In Cardiff last night, I had a chat with some people I used to work with at HTV.

The name Malcolm Leach came up and the general consensus was that he was dead. I have heard this too, though no-one seems to know the exact details.

I asked, “Didn’t he die before?” which is not as silly a question as it sounds, given his past.

He used to freelance around the then ITV network, mostly in Promotion Departments, making trailers for forthcoming programmes. The last time I heard of him – in 2003 – he had been staying with a long-term friend of his from Yorkshire Television, but he had been asked to leave after two days because he was scaring his friend’s children – he had developed a tendency to get up without warning or provocation and start talking to the wall.

Whereas other people might drink a few cups of tea during the course of a day, he replaced each cup of tea with a bottle of wine.

I only worked with him once, at Granada TV, and was amazed that he was so apparently charming.

I should not have been surprised – that is how he got away with so much.

If he really is dead, the word “plausible” should be inscribed on his tombstone.

His exploits were many, including an attempt to buy an ITV franchise to broadcast. Many people lost money. The most definitive Malcolm Leach story I every heard, though, was one which, depending on the telling, either happened at Granada or at BBC TV.

As a freelance, he had either managed to get Granada to provide him with a company car or got the BBC to provide him with a hire car.

After he left the company, they realised the car was missing.

He had sold it.

Men and women die. Legends live on and this story sounds entirely in character.

In fact, it sounds quite low-key for him.

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John Lennon’s night on the tiles and Bernard Manning’s tarbrush legacy

Comedian and actor Matt Roper recently told me a story about defiantly adult Bernard Manning being considered for  the 1972 movie Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland – I blogged about it last week. Matt is up to his ears moving flat today, then straight off for three weeks of summer festival performances – firstly at Glastonbury, then Lushfest in Poole and then the Maker Sunshine Festival in Cornwall.

Very new school trendy.

But as the son of George Roper, star of 1970s ITV series The Comedians, he grew up with the old school comics and their chums.

“There are tons of stories about the old school,” he tells me. “I never really think about it all too much as my contemporaries are quite young still and don’t really know who most of these guys are. The slightly older generation of alternative comics of course do. I got sick of defending the new school to all the old school and vice versa. They’d hate to hear it, and I’ve thought about it for a long time, but they have more in common than in difference.

“People sometimes tar all of those old school comics with Bernard Manning’s brush. It’s hard, having been so close to my father and loving him for his gentle mind and manner, to hear him being lumped in with all the stereotypes about Northern racist comics… Somebody said to me recently that “Bernard was all about the darkness and your father was all about the light” which was very sweet but makes me think – Never mind Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, they should’ve been cast in Star Wars!

One source of stories when Matt was a kid was legendary Granada TV producer Johnnie Hamp.

“He was full of interesting stories which I soaked up happily like a sponge.,” says Matt.

“My favourite story is of when he and his wife were in bed, at home, asleep. It is 2.00am when the phone rings. It’s John Lennon, out on the tiles in Manchester after a TV recording. He asks if Johnnie is coming out to play.

No, says Johnnie, I’m in bed, asleep. But, if you have any trouble getting anywhere, just mention my name.

“As if John Lennon of the Beatles would have had any problem getting into a club and have to resort to name-dropping!”

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How Bernard Manning was almost cast in a classic British children’s story…

Comedian and actor Matt Roper is going to the Edinburgh Fringe in August and should have a baptism of fire, as he is performing in two separate productions – as his comedy character Wlfredo in Wilfredo – Erecto! at the Underbelly and as a Satanic and sometimes singing spin doctor in the satire Lucifer: My Part in the New Labour Project (And How I Invented Coalition Government)at The Phoenix.

Matt is the son of George Roper, one of The Comedians in what was at the time the startlingly original and cutting-edge 1970s ITV series which introduced the British Isles to the ‘old school’ likes of Bernard Manning, Frank Carson, Stan Boardman and Jim Bowen.

I went with Matt to Soho last night to see London-based New York comic Lewis Schaffer‘s extraordinary on-going thrice-a-week Free Until Famous show. It was Matt’s third visit. I go to see the show maybe once every month – as Lewis Schaffer says, it is “never the same show twice”.

Matt, though every inch a ‘new-school’ comedian, grew up hanging round the old school comics as a kid.

Granada TV producer Johnnie Hamp was a seminal figure in British comedy of the time – he is also credited with putting The Beatles on TV for the first time. But I did not know until Matt told me last night that Johnnie had also put a young Woody Allen on British TV screens for the first time.

The most surprising story Matt had, though, was that his dad George Roper and Bernard Manning were originally considered for the parts of Tweedledum and Tweedledee in the mega-all-star 1972 movie version of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.

At the time of the casting read-through in London, George Roper was starring nightly on stage at the Palace Theatre, Manchester. On the day of the read-through, train hold-ups in the North West of England delayed him to such an extent that getting down to London and back up again in time for his appearance on stage in Manchester was going to prove impossible, so he had to cancel his trip.

The ever-exuberant and straight-talking Bernard Manning did make it down to the session, though, striding brashly into the room where Dame Flora Robson, Sir Ralph Richardson, Sir Robert Helpmann, Dennis Price, Peter Bull and other creme de la creme of up-market British theatrical nobility was holding court.

With an outspoken fucking this and a What the fucking hell is that? and a right old fucking load of old fucking bollocks, Bernard soon made his presence felt and…

as a result, neither Bernard Manning nor George Roper were cast in the film.

The parts of Tweedledum and Tweedledee went to the Cox Twins

I can’t help feeling that Bernard Manning and George Roper would have been a casting made in  movie comedy heaven.

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More Matt stories Here.

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