The continuing saga of my life in television (and what I learnt from it…)
Still in Rathbone Place, behind London’s Oxford Street, securely nestled between The Bricklayers and The Wheatsheaf pubs, the drinking, television production and media education continues. Employed by Music Box, making pop music programmes, I volunteer my services for a new commission they have received from Granada Television called The Hitman and Her, presented by pop music mogul Pete Waterman of Stock, Aiken and Waterman fame, and Micheala Strachan – better known now for her presenting of wildlife programmes.
They needed a floor manager and given my experience doing just that in South Africa I figured I might as well give it a go. Better still it was a job paid on top of my regular salary and let’s be honest you’ve got to grab the opportunities to earn more money when you can. Apart from which it sounded like great fun.
So Monday to Friday I did the day job – producing and directing music shows from the studios in Rathbone Place – and at the weekend I’d be a floor manager on one of the most exacting live shows I’ve ever worked on!
Basically it involved Pete (the Hitman) and Michaela (Her) presenting a live two-hour long show from nightclubs in the North West late at night – perfect timing for viewers coming in later and drunk from their own night out. The theme for the titles was Cocoon by Timerider.
We’d play in the odd music video but most of the content revolved around live bands, dancing and singing games with members of the nightclub audience, celebrity performances and plenty of footage of clubbers dancing. We always had our professional stage dancers who were employed by the club – my favourite being the guy with the python wrapped around his neck. I loved that python! Jason Orange was one of our regular dancers and he ended up in the band Take That.
Saturday we’d meet up near the offices in London, clamber onto a large double decker sleeper coach – the kind that music bands tour in – and be driven up to the location in the North West. We’d do the show – initially live and later edited on the fly and transmitted a couple of hours later – then clamber back on the bus and be driven back to London. If you were lucky you managed to get a berth to sleep in on the return journey, if not you tried to kip upright in a seat – or simply kept drinking.
The coach would arrive back in London at dawn; we’d be kicked out bleary-eyed and left to wend our way home – and inevitably to bed. Monday morning and it was back to the real job.
The very first live episode of the Hitman and Her will always remain a vivid memory for me. I don’t think I have EVER worked quite so hard. How was it a challenge, let me count the ways:
You’re getting the picture, aren’t you? You can guess the rest…
Before we outline the carnage, a clip of the dancing competition – from a much later, more organised episode demonstrating the worst of 80’s fashion, style and dance moves!
We’ve virtually lost control before we even go on air. The dancing and singing competitors, having been chosen earlier in the evening, have been waiting at the free bar for a few hours, excited, pumped and having made liberal use of the free bar to keep themselves entertained. They were no doubt heading back into the crowd to share the free drinks with mates. I wouldn’t know; I was too busy trying to keep everything together. If I found one contestant I’d manhandle them back to the waiting area and yell at them to stay put then head off to find the others. Once I’d got the others I’d return to find the first person had disappeared again.
I counted down presenters and clubbers to zero; the volume of noise as I declared we were live on TV was ear splitting, everyone went mad and instant chaos ensued. I was the only conduit between the director and OB van outside and I could hear nothing through my headphones. Eventually it became irrelevant as the comms broke down anyway.
At some point the turntable developed a problem and Pete was doing his best to get the record (yes, vinyl!!!) on track. As a result he stopped talking – which was a problem because Michaela was somewhere else, we were live on TV and nothing was happening. If a tape exists of that first episode somewhere you’ll see this desperate figure in the background using hand signals to tell Pete to keep talking. The signals didn’t work; Pete was absorbed with his turntable and oblivious to the fact that someone needed to keep the show moving along. Thinking back it was probably moments like this that made the show popular with late night viewers but at the time all I could think about was trying to keep the show going.
Meanwhile back of the stage the contestants were getting drunker and disappearing back into the crowd again.
By this point I am pretty much producing the show from the floor, mostly from memory as there was little opportunity to study the script.
We finally link into a music video – a blessed three-minute reprieve where I can prepare the next feature. Single-handedly I must get the band on stage – yes the same band that has also been taking advantage of the free bar at the back of the stage. The band members, the backing singers, the kit, the lot need to be stage and in place. Time is ticking and by now the back of the stage is a crush of hangers-on, drunken contestants, wayward clubbers, band members and the odd TV executive who’d turned up to admire our first transmission. I had to fight to get through the crush, grab band members by the scruff of the neck and force them on stage. We barely made it.
For the entire two-hour transmission I didn’t stop moving, yelling, pushing, grabbing, gesticulating, explaining, nagging, screaming, running, manhandling people, presenters and equipment – there was no time to think, pause or consider.
As we went off air, I staggered to the back of the stage and collapsed on a seat, drained, shell-shocked and exhausted. A tall, dark and mysterious-looking man who had been sitting quietly observing the pandemonium throughout the evening said simply, “well done”.
I couldn’t even respond. Who was he anyway?
The mysterious man turned out to be David Liddiment, then Head of Entertainment at Granada TV, the bigwig executive responsible for commissioning the show and eventually to become Director of Programmes at ITV. I strongly suspect that the reason I later got a job at Granada TV was because he remembered me from that show.
Traumatic it certainly was but what an education! What a great introduction to an influential TV executive. What an exciting, sweat-inducing experience it was. Working with Pete and Michaela was a real pleasure and Pete was eventually to become my landlord!
But I’ve wittered on enough. I promised you Kylie Minogue and a topless Carol McGiffen. We’ll save it for next time, shall we?
Lessons from this chapter?
Always work at your very best – you just never know who’s watching you and who might be impressed enough to offer you your next job.
Remember that if things don’t go according to plan you are being given an ideal opportunity to learn. It may feel like the end of the world at the time but it rarely is. Look at the difficult times as a challenge and an opportunity.
Want more? Another bit of TV nostalgia:
Want to start at the beginning of My Life in Television? Then click here for chapter one.