Famous faces recall their regional TV roots

Richard Madeley and Austin Mitchell look back on their time presenting regional news

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Richard Madeley
Border 1978-1980, Yorkshire 1980-82, Granada 1982-88
Found national fame on This Morning, 1988

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On my second day at Border Television, we went out to cover the local stage of the Lombard RAC rally, which was going through Kielder forest in Northumberland. When we got there, the cameraman asked rather mischievously: “Do you want any special shots?”

I thought I was being tested so I said: “When the next car pulls up to be checked in, put the camera really close to the back tyre. Then when he pulls away, we’ll get a really good shot of the tyre spinning in the mud.”

He said: “OK, you’re the boss.” And he did it and when the car pulled away, it poured a whole load of gravel and mud straight into the camera lens and smashed it.

So that was it. We had to go home. My first report was a complete disaster. We didn’t get a single foot of film.

Back then, regional news programmes were incredibly important to the companies that made them because every few years the Independent Broadcasting Authority, which basically ran ITV television and issued all the licences, put the licences up for grabs.

If the record of the local incumbent wasn’t very good, they would quite often lose the licence. If companies wanted to stay in business and to hang on to the franchise, it was imperative that they make really good-quality regional news shows. So they had big budgets. They weren’t crappy little regional opt-outs.

At Yorkshire, which is one of the big companies, and Granada, which was the biggest, the budgets for the nightly news show were big, the staff was substantial and the newsrooms full of good journalists.

A lot of the people who went on to run ITV started in regional television: Clive Jones, who went on to run Carlton Television, was my news editor at Yorkshire TV, and David Liddiment, who went on to run ITV for five years, was a director on local programming.

Even though Yorkshire Television and Granada weren’t rivals in the sense that they were broadcasting to the same audience, there was a lot of professional rivalry. Yorkshire thought that Granada news was crap and as soon as I got to Granada, I thought that Yorkshire news was crap.

I got poached by Granada and when I told the head of news at Yorkshire, he just gave me this long look and said: “Richard, they eat their young at Granada Television. For your own sake, don’t go there.” I knew what he meant: Granada was, and still is, unbelievably political. Everybody wanted to be the main presenter and everybody wanted to get more stuff on air than anybody else, and there were a lot of sharp elbows out. It was the school of hard knocks.

I remember going for a drink with Jeremy Hands, who left Border for ITN where he went out on the task force to cover the Falklands War, and he said exactly that. He’d expected it to be bloodthirsty at ITN, but in terms of rivalry, it was a picnic compared to regional television. where you had to watch your back all the time.

I joined Granada in 1982 to co-present the programme with Judy and Tony Wilson – the late, great Tony Wilson who died a couple of years ago. They had a three-presenter line-up. I took over from this other guy, so it was me, Judy and Tony.

Then they decided that the chemistry that Judy and I had, which was totally innocent at that stage, would work better if there was just the two of us so we then co-presented Granada Reports for a year or so before we became entangled, as it were.

Austin Mitchell
Yorkshire 1969-1977
Found fame as an MP, elected 1977

Presenting a nightly regional magazine programme is the best job anyone can get in television. You’re living on your wits and covering the best part of the world (assuming you’re in Yorkshire.) You’re meeting interesting people and working with a team of child geniuses (at least, I was on Calendar). Anything can happen!

I learnt so much but perhaps the main thing was that television, like politics, is all about people. It’s populist, friendly, and open. Though I presided over the debate between Don Revie and Brian Clough on the day Leeds United sacked Clough in 1974, my abiding memory isn’t the Clough interview. For me that was a spectator event.

The most memorable event for me was the night Frank Stagg, the IRA hunger striker, died in Wakefield prison. For some reason, we’d arranged to end the programme that night with a party. At the last moment a piece of paper informing of the news was thrust into my hand and I started to read.

Unfortunately it was too late to change the party piece and as I finished the remarks on Stagg a custard pie was thrown at me, sounds of cheering echoed around the room, and I was covered in streamers. The management refused to give me protection from IRA revenge attacks, I still wonder why.

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Read about Anne Diamond and Stuart Hall’s regional TV experiences in the brand-new issue of Radio Times magazine.