Seen at 6.30 

4 December 2020 tbs.pm/72185

When you walked through the door into Granada Television in Cross Street, Manchester you felt the place was special, certainly different from the other media temples I had worked in. The main reception area was dominated by a large compelling painting by Francis Bacon, the canteen illuminated with a challenging mural by John Bratby. In every office hung a portrait of P.J. Barnum [sic], the American circus-owner, as a reminder that we might be journalists, but never forget the razzle-dazzle.

Michael Parkinson, Parky: My Autobiography, 2008

 

 

You will most likely already be familiar with stories of innovation in television, whether through technology, graphics, formats or presentation. Let me describe an early example of a regional news and entertainment programme which not only set a high standard in its field, but provided a template for what was to come later.

Granada TV was a company with drive, determination and flair – always bold whilst cautious (to quote from the coat of arms of Wallasey, within the company’s service area.). Even as the company was being formed, part of their forward-thinking attitude was that staff should not be drawn from the BBC, to prevent “contamination of the new thinking” to quote a Granada executive. Talent search took the company executives to Canada, to bring fresh blood into TV, an area that the parent, Granada Theatres Limited, had no experience in.

Most of the ITV regions put out regional news bulletins varying in length, including Granada’s Northern Newscast, but there were plans in the fifties to develop a new type of early evening news programme. It would complement the ITN news whilst providing contrast, reflecting not only topical news and regional issues, but also covering the arts, sports, and human interest stories. Derek Boulton, public relations officer said that the programme should make people feel that the North “is a good place to be, and we’ve got our own voice”.

Midland TVTimes page

Midland TVTimes page for 9 July 1957

The new show, People and Places, ran from 9 July to 20 August 1957 as a networked programme, presented by Peter Jones (comedy actor, chiefly known for In All Directions) and Elaine Grand (who later presented Thames’ Good Afternoon). From contemporary accounts, it’s best described as a miscellany, with sketches, interviews and music usually by the Derek Hilton Quartet. The programme was revived starting from Friday 23 May 1958, but this time only for the North, and presented by Bill Grundy, later joined by Chris Howland. Derek Hilton and his trio provided music (including the theme). Gay Byrne replaced Chris Howland in 1961. People and Places finally came to an end on 18 January 1963.

The Beatles were featured on later editions in 1962 and 1963, and a film shot by Granada at the Cavern in August 1962 didn’t make it onto the programme due to poor sound – but it was broadcast a year later on the show that replaced People and Places.

Launched on 21 January 1963, the Scene at 6.30 presentation and production team included Michael Scott, Michael Apted, Johnny Hamp, Peter Eckersley, Michael Parkinson, Chris Kelly, Bill Grundy, Leslie Woodhead, Gay Byrne, Barrie Heads, Philip Casson, Brian Trueman and David Plowright: soon to be well-respected media figures not only in the North, but throughout the country and the world. TVTimes trumpeted Scene at 6.30 as “a no-punches-pulled, hard-hitting, bang-up-to-date look at today’s big talking points. And what’s new and original in music?”

 

Scene at 6.30 title card

Transdiffusion recreation

 

Talking of which, the Beatles were not the only group featured – many other artists performed! Lulu, the Searchers, Long John Baldry, Howlin’ Wolf, Bo Diddley, Duke Ellington and hundreds of others went to Manchester to appear, and, in many cases, to chat about their music. In November 1963, the Beatles performed I Want To Hold Your Hand and This Boy on a Daily Echo newspaper set, and had a conversation with Gay Byrne and Ken Dodd – their off-the-cuff humour was so refreshing and infectious that Granada, rather than losing the sequence completely, broadcast it as a one-off Late Scene Extra on 27 November 1963 at 11.45pm. Famous quote: Ken Dodd says that he would need an earthy name to be a pop star, Paul suggests “Rock” or “Cliff”, John suggests “Sod”!

 

The Beatles perform in front of an enlarged mock "Daily Echo" newspaper

 

In 1976, George Harrison was interviewed by Granada Reports about his new LP “Thirty-Three and a Third”, and part of that feature was that he was seen sitting at a Steenbeck machine watching the November 1963 film of the Beatles, shaking his head in time with the “whoos”.

Michael Wale’s book Vox Pop includes an interview with former Beatles press officer Derek Taylor. In it, he said had been asked by Peter Eckersley to come and work on Scene at 6.30 after Taylor and Brian Epstein fell out whilst touring with the Beatles in 1964. Taylor, having worked for the Beatles in the US, was much in demand there and set up his own business, representing the Beach Boys and many other bands, and working on the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967, after which he went to work for Apple [the music people, not the computer people], again as Press Officer.

Recalling other guests, Joan Riley remembered a sixteen-year-old Scottish girl who was very loud, rehearsing her song Shout – Lulu – and Vanya Kewley who assisted Desmond Morris with a baby chimpanzee in a demonstration. She held the chimp up to the cameras, and it peed in her face, but she laughed it off. Joan was on the phone in her office, and discovered that there was a young lion sitting next to her – luckily she didn’t scream…

Michael Parkinson in Leeds

News reporting on Scene at 6.30 was more broad than the cliché of “warehouse fire in Leeds”. While accepting that, as Mike Scott said “the London end [was] dominated, not dominating”, he understood the need for a London studio, so that anyone based there could be interviewed for the programme. This had the advantage of enabling debate on issues affecting the North. David Boulton did recognise a problem within the North: “Considerable efforts were made to take the programme outside Manchester itself…particularly there was quite a lot of political pressure to do items in Liverpool because [the city] always felt left out and always second-rate compared with Manchester”. In years to come, this was a recurring theme, and at one point it threatened Granada’s ability to retain their franchise.

The London-based presenter was Dennis Pitts. By using regular inserts from Pitts in London, Michael Parkinson in Leeds and, of course, the whole team in Manchester, Scene at 6.30 invented an innovative format that would later be used by the BBC in Nationwide.

Since 1956, Granada had always been inclined to challenge the accepted wisdom. Mike Scott stated that a new type of current affairs programme was evolving, whether in programmes such as Under Fire, where MPs had to face blunt questions from the audience, or in covering the February 1958 Rochdale by-election (which Granada had been told would be illegal) to covering political party conferences. News actuality of the Ringway air crash in 1957, to the hurricane in Sheffield in 1962 had set some precedents as regards what should be reported and brought to the public’s attention. This was an approach which was a major part of Scene at 6.30.

 

Sidney Bernstein

Sidney Bernstein

 

Granada received a call on 22 November 1963 from CBS in New York, stating that President John F. Kennedy had been shot in Dallas. It was just five minutes after the beginning of the programme. The senior executive on duty, Denis Foreman, called ITN, who told him that they were “not going to break into the schedules with the story until they had it from [our] own reporter in America”… and there was a standing rule that individual ITV companies should never pre-empt ITN on big stories. Foreman impulsively went ahead, and Mike Scott broke the news to the Scene at 6.30 audience first, before anyone else in the country.

David Boulton was Granada’s Public Relations Officer based in their London office in the early sixties. By his admission, he wasn’t that good: Sidney Bernstein sent for him, told him he was useless, but sent him to Manchester to work on Scene at 6.30. Producer Mike Murphy gruffly greeted him on his first day, and assigned him the task of a three-minute profile of Frank Cousins, completed with the help of a lady who later became Mrs. Boulton. After a short while, David Boulton became the producer, taking over from Mike Murphy. There was a three-minute bulletin produced by the then little-known Bob Greaves, and David decided to put him on Scene at 6.30, where he became a welcome fixture and part of the northern identity of Granada.

 

 

Another personality who put his stamp on everything he did was Michael Parkinson. In his autobiography, Michael Parkinson was asked to come and produce the programme by Barrie Heads, who told him that he wanted the programme to be “irreverent, funny and seditious”. Parkinson also mentioned that the Scene at 6.30 ethos was that any of the production staff who could write and present an article could have a go at presenting, and he chose to go on air with Bill Grundy for his very first time in front of the camera. Grundy advised Parkinson to slow down his delivery, and lean forward as if engaging the viewer in conversation: he also said that if anything went wrong, “look pleadingly in my direction”. Grundy also reminded Parkinson, at the end of the show, that he should say thank you to the studio. Less seriously, Michael was also seen with a “From the North Granada” logo drawn on his back, as if it was a tattoo, and extolling the virtues of licorice.

 

NORTHERN NEWS

 

There is a 1965 film from Scene at 6.30 in which he narrates the story of sixteen children living at Ockenden Venture Home for Refugee Children in Wetherby, Yorkshire, with their house parents Mr. and Mrs. Lovell. An emotionally challenging tale of twelve German children and four English orphans who are, to quote Parkinson, “not simply cared for, but grafted into the family”. It isn’t known whether it has been broadcast outside the North, but the film was donated by the charity to the Screen South East archive.

Bill Grundy was regarded as one of the best presenters, but not without his particular problems: he once slipped from the newsreader’s chair whilst reading a story, the worse for wear, although he could not be seen because of the unmanned, locked-off camera. He was an important part of the presentation team, and really came into his own during trades union congress and election broadcasts, with a direct and forensic questioning style.

 

GRANADA IN THE NORTH

 

A further development was the establishment of Granada In The North, a kind of news bulletin and preview of the evening’s entertainment fronted by one of the Scene at 6.30 team. It was a way of establishing the station identity from the moment viewing began, and acted as a promotional vehicle to keep the viewers tuned in throughout the night. The sequence even had its own ident. It lasted from 1964-1968.

 

 

Changes were being made to refresh the format of Scene at 6.30 to maintain its pace and vitality. A major reinvention came in July 1966 when the programme became a late-night feature called Newscene (an amalgam of “news” and “scene” coined by Brian Blake). Johnny Hamp wanted to make it more controversial than Scene at 6.30. One of the new elements was that a studio audience of youngsters would engage in debate with the musical guests on issues of the day. (With the benefit of hindsight, the idea was very similar to BBC-1’s A Whole Scene Going – a rare example of Granada following a trend rather than leading.)

 

Courtesy of elenarendezvous

 

As regards archive status, the only complete edition that survives is the Scene Special shown at 10.25pm on 7 March 1967 in the North only. Entitled “It’s So Far Out, It’s Straight Down”, it focussed on the burgeoning London underground movement and psychedelic music scene. Paul McCartney was interviewed and so were leading underground figures connected to the International Times and Indica Bookshop, such as Barry Miles; a Legalise Pot rally in Piccadilly with John “Hoppy” Hopkins and Suzy Creamcheese; Pink Floyd performing at the UFO Club; and footage of the International Poetry Incarnation, which took place at the Royal Albert Hall on 11 June 1965 featuring Allen Ginsberg, Adrian Mitchell and Laurence Ferlinghetti amongst others (this became a film in its own right – Wholly Communion). It would be correct to state that Scene Special produced such a balanced and definitive picture of that time. As a snapshot of the counterculture, it’s an invaluable time capsule, and excerpts have been included in many programmes including Tony Palmer’s All You Need Is Love in 1977.

Scene made its way back into an early-evening slot in June 1967, and Late Scene was a late-night feature as before (this writer recalls that Sgt. Pepper (Reprise) was used as a closing theme at least once during the summer of that year). Change was coming though…

 

 

The franchise awards on 11 June 1967 allowed new contractors into the system: London Weekend TV, Harlech, Thames (itself a new company formed by ABC and Rediffusion jointly) and Yorkshire. The last of these was a challenge to Granada: their
franchise was now a seven-day contract, broadcasting to the North-West (“West Of The Pennines” according to the TVTimes) only. Granadaland, the proud concept driving the company’s approach, looked forlorn and defeated. However, the company was down but not out – a rethink was needed to redefine their region, and to serve the viewers with the same devotion and fervour as before.

Scene continued into 1968, with the same features and news coverage as before. According to one account, Mr. Sunshine by Barclay James Harvest was featured in a short documentary shown as part of the programme – this was the B-side of the single Early Morning which came out in April, the same month that Scene was finally laid to rest.

 

 

The replacement was Six-O-One, mostly fronted by Bob Greaves, as were the successors Newsday and Newsview – yet again, there was music, sport, news, human interest but not as vital as before. Yet, the assemblage that was essentially Scene at 6.30 was taken apart to form several strands – three examples being Put It In Writing, On Site (featuring Ray Gosling) and It’s Trueman (Brian Trueman in search of miscellany) – all of which quickly registered with the viewers. The fact was that there was so much talent in Scene that it was sometimes difficult to contain it.

There was a feeling that Granada were still trying to recapture the glory days of Scene at 6.30 in the early seventies, featuring specially shot features (I remember seeing the Flirtations perform Give Me Love on a clip shown on Newsday or Newsview in 1971). Eventually the format became one of the longest-running magazine and news programmes, Granada Reports which started on 1 October 1973.

Scene at 6.30 set a high standard in the sixties, and the team who worked on it became well-known to the viewers, and eventually a wider audience.

 

 

Michael Apted became a film producer in Hollywood, and is still highly regarded for the Up series of documentaries; Brian Trueman not only was an actor (he was in BBC radio’s The Clitheroe Kid) but wrote many children’s programmes such as Cockleshell Bay and many books; Michael Parkinson, after a time at LWT, established himself as THE chat-show host; Chris Kelly presented Junior Criss-Cross Quiz, Clapperboard and Food and Drink for the BBC; Gay Byrne went back to Ireland and RTÉ to present the long-running The Late Late Show.

Johnnie Hamp went on producing music and entertainment programmes, notably The Comedians and The Wheeltappers And Shunters Social Club, and left Granada in 1987 to form his own production company. He is now retired.

In terms of drama, Philip Casson produced or was involved in many productions from EastEnders to The Man in Room 17. Peter Eckersley was involved in production, then became Head Of Drama, commissioning Victoria Wood to write a play for Granada.

Leslie Woodhead became involved with World in Action, and is still working at 83, as a director/producer on documentaries and Hollywood films.

Bill Grundy continued in presentation and journalism of all shades, such as Afternoon Edition, A House For The Future and Thames TV’s Today – he is remembered more for the December 1976 encounter with the Sex Pistols, which led to his sacking, and a low-key career in the media until his early death in 1993.

David Plowright was Controller of Programmes 1969-1979, and then managing director and later chairman of Granada TV from 1987. Always a staunch supporter of Granada’s programming, quality and integrity, in 1992 he came up against the new Chairman of the Granada Group, Gerry Robinson who forced him out. He passed away in 2006.

In 1979, Plowright was succeeded as Programme Controller by Michael Scott. His career took him from presenting Cinema, The Nuts and Bolts of the Economy and many discussion programmes. In 1987 he returned to presenting with The Time The Place, and was warm, witty and incisive as ever. A character with many fine talents, he passed away in 2006.

Granada in the nineteen-sixties was an exciting place to be for those working there, but the face of the television channel to its public was friendly, warm, informative and Northern… all qualities that apply to every programme, but especially to Scene at 6.30.

 

PT Barnum

 

You Say

4 responses to this article

Pete Singleton 5 December 2020 at 12:43 am

An excellent and informative piece. I cant get enough of this stuff!

Richard Jones 7 December 2020 at 8:47 am

Great article well written!

Win Booth 5 September 2021 at 8:59 pm

I began to work for Granada April 1956 and stayed for thirty one years despite saying I would only stay for the week because I had no idea what
It was all about and they were all mad. I

Paul Mason 6 September 2021 at 12:04 pm

I think Newsview came between Scene at 6 30 and 6-0-1
Newsday the latter used Milestones by Miles Davis as it’s theme. 6-9-1 was dropped as the prog was always late There have been many Newsdaysover the year BBC2 had one with Robln Day as anchor but currently Newsday is a BBC World radio and TV programme

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