16 October 2009

Claptrap 8: Sparks in the background


This is the eighth in a series of posts marking the 25th anniversary of the publication of Our Masters' Voices and the televising of Claptrap by Granada Television.

In the summer of 1984, the miners’ strike was still dragging on as a daily reminder of the woeful state of industrial relations in the Britain at the time.

Of the many ways in which those of us who worked in universities were privileged, one was that we had little or no first hand experience of the irritating frustrations that so many industries were up against – especially, I soon learnt, in the world of the media.

When the Granada Television crew came to film in my study at home, I remember being amazed at just how many of them there were – and quite shocked by how little there was for some of them to do.

How many electricians does it take to check a plug?
There was an electrician, for example, who spent about a minute poking a gadget into one of the electrical sockets on my study wall before giving the crew the ‘all clear’ to set up the camera and lighting. It was a warm sunny day, so he went to the village shop, bought a newspaper and spent the rest of the time reading in the garden.

How many electricians does it take to light a theatre?
I’d also got wind of rumblings between Granada and the Royal Shakespeare Theatre in Stratford upon Avon, where more filming was scheduled for later that day.

Granada needed to know exactly how many RSC electricians would be doing the stage lighting. If there were three, there would have to be three from Granada, if four then four from Granada, and so on. It wasn’t that there would be anything for them to do, or even that they would have been allowed to do anything by the local electricians, but the rule was that same number would have to be there (and paid) for the same number of hours as the theatre’s own electricians.

How many production assistants does it take to carry a film to Manchester?
Meanwhile, Granada was also constrained by some fairly bizarre demarcation issues among its own staff. After filming at the TUC in Brighton, Don Jordan, the researcher in daily charge of the production, had arranged a business meeting in London the next day. World in Action was filmed on 16mm film that had to be developed before editing could begin, so he asked a production assistant to do him a favour that would let him get straight on to London: could she take today’s film back to Manchester and drop it off at the labs for him.

“No”, she replied, “that’s not part of my job.”

Don knew the union rules well enough to know that he had no choice but to cancel his meeting in London and go back to Manchester - sitting next to the same woman on the same flight from Gatwick – for the sole purpose of carrying the film from the airport to the laboratories (which she had to go past on her way home).

How many films were never made?
Ann Brennan's standing ovation may have been a major victory for Granada. But so too was the fact that they ever managed to make any television programmes at all.

2 comments:

cbwoolley said...

I have only recently discovered your excellent blog pages, I wish I had seen them earlier in my career. I am always amazed when senior staff have difficulty in addressing an audience, and showing this would have helped them - and spared me much angst.
I have come to similar conclusions to yours but through business practice rather than sociological research. I would be bold enough to suggest that if you need further examples to widen or update your sources, then observation of the 'barkers ' at old fashioned markets, especially those selling the ubiquitous vegetable choppers, baskets of crockery, or bales of bedlinen, would be valuable. I have rarely seen such immediate reaction to contrasts and 3 part lists as when a crowd starts to buy the products. Fun too!
Kind regards...

Max Atkinson said...

Thank you for your kind remarks.

Actually, there's a book that confirms what you say about 'barkers' in street markets, and a very entertaining read it is too: Trevor Pinch & Colin Clark, 'The Hard Sell: The Language and Lessons of Street-Wise Marketing', London: HarperCollins, 1995.