It’s funny how, as we get older we can look back on certain moments that shaped our entire lives both professional and personal. Meeting Derek Granger was one of those for me. But, then again, that wouldn’t have come about without Chariots of Fire. It’s just weird how these things work. I got a message from Joyce Herlihy, who had been the production manager on Chariots, to call her. I was writing with Jarman by this stage but not earning any money. She had been trying to get hold of me a few weeks before as she had got me a job as a third assistant director on “An American Werewolf in London” with John Landis. I wonder what would have happened to me, careerwise, if she had managed to find me then. That was a job I certainly couldn’t’ve resisted and if I’d taken it so many things would’ve been different. My career path for one. I’m sure I would’ve worked my way up the ranks of assistant director and might never have a made a movie because of it. I certainly wouldn’t have made many of the friends I now have and, indeed, met my wife. But Joyce didn’t. I suppose I must have made a favourable impression on her as she now had another job offer for me. To chauffeur the actor Anthony Andrews for a month.
And so it was I found myself sitting in a car outside Hertford College, Oxford, in August of that year. I was writing Bob Upadown in longhand in the car – when laptops were still a flight of imagination on Star Trek. There was a knock on the car window. It was Derek. He wanted to have coffee with me later that morning. Like Jarman, Granger was a huge supporter of young talent. This was evidenced by the fact that Brideshead Revisited, his passion project, was now in the hands of a 29 year old director, Charles Sturridge. The original director Michael Lindsay Hogg had had to leave because of the delay caused by the ITV strike of that year. Granger had the pick of any director in the land and yet his instinct told him to go with Sturridge and what an inspired choice that turned out to be. For me, of course, seeing this young protégé directing a production on such a scale filled me with a mixture of furious envy and incentive. These things really could happen.
Derek had noticed me scribbling away in Anthony’s car and asked him what I was up to. When Anthony told him I was writing a screenplay for Derek Jarman, he had to know more. We had coffee. He asked me endless questions about Jarman and the project I was working on and that was that. It was a great week in Oxford. We all stayed at the Randolph Hotel, playing a game called “Halliwell” in Charles’ room in the evenings. “Halliwell” was a film guide and it was basically a film quiz, picking out titles, actors, dates. I got to know the cast well and Charles, who would later go on to become a good friend. The end of that week was also a wrap for all the Oxford sequences. To celebrate we stopped off at the Waterside Inn at Bray for dinner. Anthony made sure I was sitting next to Derek. At some point in the meal Derek asked me what I wanted to do, what were my ambitions. To write and direct drama was my reply. He was the first person I’d met who took that ambition seriously. Not a blink, not a hint of “doesn’t everyone?” about it. He was very encouraging and wished me luck. At the end of the meal Derek had to take a taxi back to Oxford to wrap everything up. At the beginning of the meal Anthony and Charles had bought an incredibly expensive bottle of claret – a Latour, or Mouton Rothschild, I can’t quite remember. They wanted to send the empty bottle to the notoriously strict (for strict read tight) production manager Craig McNeil with the bill. Derek was to pretend they wanted to claim it as an expense and see his reaction. But just as Derek was leaving Anthony Andrews hid the bottle under the table. When Derek had left the bottle magically reappeared and Anthony said, mock surprised, “Oh Derek has forgotten the bottle. Tim would you mind taking it out to him?” I ran out, knocked on the window of Derek’s taxi and gave him the bottle. As I turned to leave he said “Here. Call me.” and scribbled his name and number on a scrap of paper and drove off. When I got back to the table Anthony leant over and asked if I got Derek’s phone number. I said I had. “Never let it be said that I didn’t help you in your career.” He smiled. Never was a truer word spoken.
Derek was hugely respected at Granada by Sidney Bernstein who had recruited him, and David Plowright now the managing director. He had the ear of Sir Denis Forman, the chairman, who greatly respected his talents – one of which in particular had blossomed at Granada. The spotting of promising talent wherever he found it. His track record was impeccable. I met with Derek a few times in London, mostly to go to the theatre, and then a few weeks later I was sent up to visit the Head of Local programmes Steve Morrison in Manchester. Steve would later be a driving force in initiating my first movie as a writer director. The first person I met there was Steve Hawes who was also to play an important part in my development. Morrison sent me back to London with a load of homework to do for him and I never heard another thing. But what I didn’t know was that I had had the blessing of Granger. I wasn’t surprised not to have heard back from Steve; after all I’d been turned down by virtually every other TV company in the UK. But Derek had wildly ambitious plans for me. He put me up, unsuccessfully (no surprise) as an Associate producer in drama. I used to see him and his partner Kenneth in London for dinner. We’d go to the theatre where he would blithely introduce me to people like Dame Maggie Smith and Joan Plowright (David’s sister). But on the career front I was still happily writing for Jarman in Christopher’s studio and Jarman had even managed to find some money from the NFFC to pay us. Then one day in January I got a call from Morrison’s office (I think it was the wonderful, late, Lynette) saying there would be an advertisement the following Monday in the Guardian for a researcher. I was to apply for it and Morrison had relayed a message saying I should get myself well prepared as it was extremely competitive. I applied and found myself living in Manchester that March, with a job as a researcher on local news, about to embark on one of the most enjoyable periods of my working life.
I got a call from Derek Granger a couple of years later. We were still friends, but he lived in London and I was now firmly ensconced in Manchester. I was working on the farming programme. I think it was perceived as a punishment. I’d dyed my hair a dark pink and had a dagger piercing through one of my ears. Stuart Prebble the producer of Granada Reports was appalled and said something like “the Home Secretary is arriving at Piccadilly and I’d like you to go to interview him. But how can I, now, with you looking like that. We’re supposed to be a serious news programme.” (I used to tell this story gleefully then a few years later wondered whether I had distorted and embellished the facts in the telling. Then I found myself on a London to Manchester train with Stuart – I was now a director, he was a big cheese on World in Action – and he happily told the story, exactly as I told it. much to everyone’s amusement. I was actually quite relieved!)
Anyway I was booted off the news briefly to a local afternoon chat show, where I was then sacked a few months later by Trish Kinane for getting what she saw as the wrong piano for Alberto Remedios (she wanted a grand, he asked for an upright as he was singing a Victorian ballad). But then I made matters worse by, after there had been a bomb scare during the live show at the Liverpool Exchange Flags studio) of travelling down to London with him First Class, at his insistence. So off to Siberia. The Farming programme. (Trish went on to become a great pal and to this day is one of my closest friends and I’m sure she’d now dispute this version of events!) The farming programme was produced by a man called Arthur Taylor. A wonderful northerner with a passion for Brass bands. Basically Down to Earth, as it was called, was an opportunity to make really interesting films of the researcher and Arthur’s choice all over the region. But the previous researcher hadn’t really grasped this fact. It was like a local Countryfile, ahead of its time. It had started as a strict farming programme but the brief widened and widened. I loved it. It was one of my happiest years at Granada and at the end of the year people had seen what a blast I’d had, the kinds of programmes Arthur was letting me research and there was a queue to replace me. Sarah Curtis, who later went on to become an extremely successful British film producer took over and made the show even better.
I digress. As I said I got a call from Derek Granger asking me to come down to London the following weekend and go to his house for lunch. When I go there we sat in the garden at his beautiful Kensington house and ate. I had no idea why I was there but went along with the flow. Halfway through lunch Charles Sturridge arrived. Brideshead had by now been a huge success worldwide. Apparently Reagan stopped everything in the White House on a Monday night so he and Nancy could watch it. Charles was one of the hottest directors around. The phone rang and Derek disappeared. Charles turned to me and said “So are you going to do it?”, “Do what?”, “Hasn’t he asked you?” “No”, I replied. “He wants you to write an adaptation of ‘A Handful of Dust’ with him. I’m going to direct.” I was floored and of course thrilled. I don’t think Derek actually ever asked me formally. But we set about writing the script in his house in London and his flat in Brighton. It was to be another six years before it actually got made, but it would become the first produced movie I had written.