John Mead: Part II – Granadaland 

2 October 2011 tbs.pm/2325

John Mead

It started with a phone call from Vincent Shaw, one of my fellow actors in the Unicorn Players in Weston-Super-Mare but now a leading (and famous) theatrical agent in London, where Associated-Rediffusion had just opened the very first ITV station in the UK.

Vincent told me that two blokes called Bernstein were starting a TV station in Manchester. It will probably fail, he said, because all they’ve got is a few cinemas, and he didn’t think they knew much about television. What Vincent did know about was an audition that was going to take place in a fortnight’s time in Manchester.

There were 800 people being auditioned and would I like him to put my name on that list? Yes, I said, definitely yes. I went to Manchester, auditioned, and was one of the three people given an announcing job. On 3 May 1956, I was the announcer on the first night of the new Granada TV service. It was the lucky start to my career in TV which ended just six years ago in 2005, almost fifty years on.

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This new world of television turned out to be a very exciting place to be. For example that pioneering cultural guru Kenneth Clark (famous for the 13-part TV series “Civilisation” and being the very first Chairman of the Independent Television Authority) had a son called Colin. Colin appeared at Granada at about the same time as I did. They were heady days and everything seemed electrifying and pleasurably unpredictable. Colin and I became friends.

He was working as a junior researcher, and general dogsbody at the new Granada studios on Quay Street in Manchester. We were about the same age, innocents in a swirling enervating new world. One night Colin and I were having a drink in the local Opera House pub (he had been away for a couple of weeks) and he told me he had just been looking after, living with, vamped by, pampered and retained by a lady called Marilyn Monroe, while her legendary and very jealous husband Arthur Miller was away in the States.

I looked at him over my glass of lager and grinned and asked him to pull the other one. He swore to me that it was all true. I didn’t believe him for a moment. Shortly afterwards Colin left Granada in pursuit of his career and I never saw him again. A TV programme a few years later (following Colin’s sad early death) together with magazine articles, newspaper headlines — front page coverage — all turned out to confirm that Colin had not been telling fibs. While the jealous Arthur Miller was away Colin HAD been cohabiting with Marilyn Monroe. Mind you, like his dad, he did have enormous presence and charm.

A brand new star-studded feature film, featuring Emma Watson and Dame Judi Dench, is about to be released dealing with Sir Laurence Olivier, Arthur Miller and Marilyn Monroe and revolving around Colin’s interesting experience. It is entitled “My Week With Marilyn”. It all happened over 50 years ago but the story goes on and on….

Back at Granada, one of the first things I became involved with was the local Granada Sports programme, presented by Gerry Loftus, Granada TV’s Sports Editor who in later years became responsible for negotiating fees in the sporting world on behalf of ITV. That was until he clashed suddenly and horribly with London Weekend Television and disappeared altogether from the TV scene.

I did the soccer commentary timings for Gerry usually sitting alongside him at Old Trafford. One night we covered Manchester United’s return match with Red Belgrade after the horrendous Munich Air Crash, in which goalkeeper Frank Swift (our soccer reporter on the local Granada Sports show) had died — the atmosphere that night at Old Trafford is something none of us will ever forget.

At Granada I started presenting a series of hour-long live current affairs programmes — in that day and age we were all trying everything on the screen for the first time, pioneering. Hence the many programme disasters that occurred. This series was entitled “While the City Sleeps”. The first programme came from Salford Infirmary. We had been told that it was always mayhem there late on a Friday night — so anyone working in the media can tell you what happened next: basically, nothing. No patients, no accidents no dramas apart from a twelve year old girl who had come in at nine o’clock with a fractured arm. We saved her up for treatment until 10.35 when we went on air and after that I attempted to “fill in” for the next forty-five minutes, interviewing innumerable nurses and doctors — it was not good TV. Years later in Cardiff I produced and directed the series “Nurse of the Year” and I came to respect understand and greatly admire that profession.

In Manchester I was still doing long continuity shifts in the studios in Quay Street and quite naturally became friends with the transmission controllers who worked under the direct guidance of the amazing Joyce Wooller. She later became a very senior executive in Granada, I remember she eventually had a penthouse office and three secretaries. My particular pal in Joyce’s Master Control was a TX controller, whom we shall call Dave — Dave and I usually went up the road to the pub next to the Opera House Theatre to relax over a few pints, I can’t remember why we were so tired this particular evening but we were. We consumed a lot of alcohol in a fairly short period of time. I remember mentioning the fact that there was a huge Tory reception going on up the road in the Midland Hotel. It was being attended by the new Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan.

Dave, to say the least, was slightly to the left of centre politically, and he growled something about going up to the Midland Hotel to tell those Tories what he thought of them. Unfortunately at this point I had to get home to our flat in Stockport for a very late supper. Dave on the other hand had no such restriction, so up the road he goes (for a few hundred yards) driving his very old second hand car, which he parked on the pavement outside the Midland Hotel and in answer to shouts of “you can’t park there” explained he was with “Granada TV” and went through the foyer waving his Granada TV pass and then blagged his way (all the way) into the reception for the Prime Minister.

Legend has it that he then tapped Harold Macmillan on the shoulder, who turned to him and said, “Yes?”. Dave just had time to say, “What a fucking democracy!” before he was seized by the stewards and carried out still quite drunk and still waving his Granada TV pass. A great fuss ensued; the following morning the Tory party officially complained both in writing and in person. The Granada management was informed. The very politically-aware (and of course socialist) Bernsteins only applied a very gentle slap to David’s wrist — did they think the event was only a little bit shocking and privately rather amusing? I rather think so.

To be continued…


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“Funny things that happen in television” by John Mead is available now for £6.99 plus P&P from Northstar Books

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