Granada Reports

Tuesday, June 25, 2002 by

Tony Wilson’s timely return to regional newscasting was enough of a media event to merit noticeably generous space in several national broadsheets. But what, for the 80% of the country who have never experienced Wilson hosting teatime magazine programmes (and probably never will) may well have simply been a problem of mild bemusement, was for Wilson himself one of a far starker, significant hue: the prospect of a return engagement with erstwhile cohort and queen of net-curtain twitching triviality, Lucy Meacock.

This couple are not strangers. Both were previously employed as joint presenters on many a late-night Granada debating forum and topical discussion show; and at the time, both seemed to have emerged from this period of partnership unscathed. Wilson, though, was always and obviously the star back then – his colleague a mere supporting player and accessory. Lucy seemed to know that, and Wilson knew that she knew: consequently everything seemed to be for the best.

But then came a parting of the ways and, for Meacock, the opportunity to stamp her own personality upon the vast rostrum of regional programming Granada paraded around the schedules. Up until recently, she had an entire, excruciating 60 minutes at her disposal in the shape of Granada Tonight. But then its airtime was halved, the original programme title Granada Reports restored, and finally Wilson given the call. The question now was how could Meacock maintain her unblemished track record for introducing items in a hoarse half-whisper as if some terrible blasphemy had been uttered, faced with the charmingly clumsy and avuncular patter of the man who bankrupted New Order.

On his first show back, a month ago, Tony seemed to evoke an impression, not altogether pleasant, of having never been away. What was most evident right from the start, however, was a spectacular lack of rapport with his co-host. This was a compound problem, best described as a two-handed programme being presented by two people single-handedly. It made for distressing and embarrassing viewing. You welcomed, more than usual, the smooth professionalism and wry turn-of-phrase of the Beeb’s man in the North West, Gordon Burns, who followed on the other side at 6.30pm.

Several weeks in, and there’s been a change of sorts, but by the looks of it a rather rancorous one imposed in as cold and clinical a way imaginable. Tonight’s show began in a brutal manner, with every possible element – camera shot, paragraph, sentence, and phrase – divided up between the hosts as equally as possible. So though we discovered Tony and Lucy sitting together at one desk, the headlines were parcelled out between them, with each trying to outdo the other in melodrama: “JAILED!” “SHAMED!” “STILL SMILING!” Then the first report proper was introduced by Tony in an extreme angled camera shot that cut Lucy out of the frame altogether and made room instead for a huge screen behind his right shoulder. This arrangement lasted for precisely one sentence, before we switched to a second, different, shot, this time of Lucy, also by herself, and also chaperoned by huge screen, now behind her left shoulder. After another sentence it was back to Tony; and so it continued, ping pong-ing from the one to the other, the impact of the story deflated by the acrobatic and fussy camerawork that dictated we should never see the two presenters in the same shot.

The agenda of the first half of the programme was a well-trodden one: cock-ups and cover-ups, usually at the expense of an innocent member of the local community, with red-tape and bureaucracy to blame. One story nailed two Granada obsessions in one go: guns and the Church of England. While Lucy tip-toed round her script in a decidedly prim and prissy demeanour, Tony went for the opposite tack, reading his lines, trying to sound appalled and intrigued by every single detail. This was an improvement on a month ago, when he fluffed words, shouted, spoke over other people and missed camera cues; but with restraint has come an increasingly latent preacher streak. “Still on the more frightening areas of modern culture,” he linked from one story to another. “Simon was … a HEROIN addict,” he whispered, pausing for effect. These displays of emotion could not help but appear comical and somewhat misplaced, crammed as they were into links of 15 seconds maximum.

Lucy got to introduce an item on the last year’s riots in Oldham, but then for reasons never made clear handed over to reporter Rachel Bullock sitting “in the Granada newsroom” for a pointless commentary on events that she could just as easily delivered herself. Tony then fought back with “Some good business news for the region,” focusing on an upturn in the fortunes of Littlewoods – undoubtedly a relevant story but perhaps not one that warranted a long report which said little and showed less, relying on a rather limited selection of archive clips.

If Tony had appeared rather sullen and constrained so far, an extended report on prostitution gave him the chance to become more animated, principally because it involved a live interview. To discuss the policing of “the so-called oldest profession,” Tony relished in taking us over to Liverpool for a chat with the leader of the Council. “Councillor Storey,” he began, before quickly switching to “Mike”. Storey was equally informal in return – “As you know Tony …;” – but all these pleasantries and flourishes somewhat fudged the essence of the story, as did Tony’s wild proclamation, “But people are going to say, and I hate to say it, Liverpool City Council: PIMPS!” This section then ended on the most sprawling and ambitious of notes, as Lucy piped up, “If you have a view on prostitution, please let us know.” An even taller order than on first impression, seeing as Lucy didn’t tell us how to get in touch.

Once all the bad news was out of the way the programme rushed eagerly towards its other chief preoccupation: obscure stories from anywhere in the world that have involved People From The Region. In this, at least, nothing whatsoever has changed at Granada, regardless of Wilson’s return. Conferring lofty stature on the most minute and irrelevant of topics, both Tony and Lucy entered into this age-old pastime with relish. Particularly plentiful was, as ever, the sports news. An enduring aspect of Granada regional reporting for a tragically long time has been this predilection for delivering smug-sounding reports about sporting events, no matter how large or small, famous or obscure, home or abroad, that are deemed relevant because they feature somebody born in the north west of England. The first round matches at Wimbledon were therefore covered, but only because one of them included a player born somewhere near Wigan. More desperate was an in-depth report of the Germany v South Korea World Cup semi-final match, because, obviously, German player Dietmar Hamann has graced the pitches of Anfield. A quote from David Beckham, “the north-west midfielder” lest we forget, was also shoehorned in, presumably because he also plays in said region. This whole feature was also introduced with a tacky slide and the ugly caption “Our Rising Sons”.

The jumble of sports reports was then summed up as evidence of “A good day, well, a bad day, erm, well, a mixed day.” Who for? “The region” of course. Tony banged the side of his head to stop himself talking. Sensing the show had once again run away from him, and that it was almost too late, he tried to wrap things up with the revelation that although his mum used to have a motorbike, she wouldn’t let him have one. “Quite right too,” snapped Lucy, smacking her lips. “I’ll say goodnight,” said Tony to himself.

Dancing round each other, occasionally venturing a one-liner or caustic comment, yet most of the time sulking next to their respective giant screens, Tony and Lucy failed to convince. Wilson needs the right context to kick back, exploit and wind up; sadly, for the moment, Granada Reports is not it, and maybe never will be again. It was one hell of a relief to turn over and find Gordon Burns – on time, immaculate, reassuring, with news, features and, naturally, “our Commonwealth Games Desk”


One Response to “Granada Reports”

  1. Richard on August 7th, 2009 6:21 pm

    Just to say i had always admired Muhammad Ali and, back in 1977, I managed to get to do a hospital radio interview with. Got a photo taken with him as well, sadly not autographed. Still a treasured item.