; EPILOGUE “There was a lot of heresy about”
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EPILOGUE “There was a lot of heresy about”

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									                            EPILOGUE
     “There was a lot of heresy about”
My attempt at telling the story of British breakfast television initially
took the shape of a series of monthly articles published on
www.offthetelly.co.uk in late 2000 and early 2001. Titled Morning Glory,
the text spanned the period from the launch of Breakfast Time in January
1983 to The Big Breakfast’s fateful makeover in January 2001, ending
with some idle speculation on just how much longer Channel 4 could
feasibly carry on funding such a relentlessly calamitous early morning
programme. Typically, within a few weeks of the final article appearing
on-line, C4 confirmed it was wielding the axe and the search was on for
The Big Breakfast’s replacement.
There seemed no reason not to continue hoarding useful bits of breakfast
telly news, gossip and quotes, especially as the possibility of pitching an
expanded version of the original articles to assorted publishers had
gained in appeal. One of the things that the on-line version of Morning
Glory did not possess was primary source material; a longer, more
comprehensive take on the history of breakfast television would
necessarily require the assembly and presentation of just such a valuable
commodity. There were already various events and revelations that
research had turned up too late to go into the Off The Telly articles. Then
there was the prospect of a looming anniversary: 2003 would be the 20th
birthday of breakfast TV, and a neat hook on which to hang the premise
of a full-length book.
Having secured a commission from Kelly Publications in the spring of
2002, twelve months lay ahead in which to turn a 35,000-word narrative
into something roughly three times the size, plus secure those all-
important interviews with the great and the good. As the time went on,
however, compressing the most memorable incidents from two decades of
television into a 100,000-word history, one that you hope will have a
vague semblance of ‘definitive’ about it, called for just as much sentiment
as ruthlessness.
Familiar dilemmas surfaced again and again. The possibility, for instance,
that your own personal pick of rib-tickling exchanges and potent encounters,
which you’re convinced capture the essence of this or that person or
programme, could quite possibly appeal to an audience of less than two.
Did it matter if you gave over twice as much space to the musings of one
particularly respected TV executive as that for a household personality?
And because you travelled several hundreds of miles to actually meet the
noble personage in question, did they merit an extra paragraph robbed
from someone else you’d barely communicated with by e-mail?
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In the end, it kept boiling down to the same thing. Faced with a surplus
of what you’re presuming to be self-evidently sharp, pithy anecdotage,
garnered at first hand or otherwise, there’s almost nothing left but to take
your chance on material you trust will be accessible, illuminating and
relevant – all desperately worthy qualities, it has to be said. Meantime
you mutter and grumble as the more eccentric, obscure or downright
malevolent excerpts have to take up residence in the well-thumbed rainy
day file.
And that’s where some of the patently irrelevant or gratuitously self-
indulgent off-cuts from the expanded print version of Morning Glory are,
you’ll be happy to read, going to stay. Apart from what follows, of course.
Getting the chance to talk to Greg Dyke was quite clearly something that
bordered on the very edges of unlikelihood, yet in the end happened to
come about in such a perfunctory manner – through a very mundane
exchange of correspondence – as to helpfully undermine any sense of
overawed grandeur about the occasion. Such an impression was
compounded by the manner in which the man himself showed up:
ambling round a corner on the 3rd floor of Broadcasting House, pausing
outside his office, tie askew and glasses on forehead, declaring to anyone
who was listening, “What am I doing now, then?”
The ensuing interview, conducted within Dyke’s sparsely furnished huge
office, didn’t get off to the best of starts when an opening gambit asking
after the nature of his views on breakfast telly before he joined TV-am
elicited the snap response: “Never thought about it. I had no views.” This,
while Dyke was wandering around his room, moving random bits of paper
about, and looking pained. Once he’d sat down, though, his answers
instantly became far more engaging, and to the point. “We were
penniless,” he recalled of TV-am, “it was a bankrupt organisation. If I’d
understood what trading insolvently meant, that’s what we were doing.”
The real straight talking, not to say barely concealed rage, came when
matters turned to Bruce Gyngell. “The hard work had been done by the
time Gyngell got there,” Dyke began. “I quite liked him in later years, but
I always thought he was bullshit. He was quite charismatic; but I fell out
with him pretty quickly. When he got onto his moralistic stuff later on
and started complaining about one-parent families and the rest of it, well,
this was the bloke who cleared off leaving his kids in Australia. I always
thought he was a bit of a hypocrite. I’ll never forget him going up to
someone when he first got to TV-am, clapping them on the shoulder, and
saying ‘There are some wonderful women here, and I’m relying on you to
tell me which of them fuck.’ And this was the bloke who within three or
four years was lecturing the world about moral judgements and values.”
None of this seemed to sit comfortably anywhere within the book; indeed,
neither did John Stapleton’s tirade against Bob Wheaton, during which
he labelled him “a man whose grave I would happily dance on”. It wasn’t
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       Greg Dyke considers his next move while nursing designs on a bowl of flowers


so much out of a sense of prudishness, however; more that such violent
outbursts of emotion disrupted what was turning out to be a largely
restrained narrative. Besides, there was still room for Lis Howell fuming
about GMTV, Mike Hollingsworth attacking the ACTT, and Peter
McHugh laying into more or less everyone. The interview with Greg Dyke
took place roughly a year before he prematurely departed the BBC. At the
time, he moaned about how much he hated “the bowl of flowers that sits
between the two presenters on BBC Breakfast”, so at least he got that
sorted before he left.
In general, the more avuncular and generous the interviewee proved to
be, the greater the disinclination to edit or omit any of their testimony.
Having offered to meet up in person, Paddy Haycocks suggested he be
quizzed over lunch. Once seated in a strikingly upmarket venue
somewhere off Charlotte Street in London, he charitably proposed a plan
for the ensuing discussion: “We’ll talk for ten minutes, then order, then
talk for another ten minutes, then eat.” In fact, the talking continued
unabated right through the food and the ensuing, hugely charitable, two
hours of his time. He’d even brought along a carefully preserved folder
containing archive Channel 4 Daily billings from TV Times, photos from
                                            3
a somewhat bawdy Streetwise night out, and the famous promotional
toothbrush, still in its clear plastic presentation box.
A great deal of Haycocks’ inspired reminiscence made it into the finished
version of Morning Glory. But alongside tales of conceiving the “chest
nappy”, mounting frustration at taping a topical daily magazine
programme 18 hours before transmission, and receiving correspondence
from underworld gangsters, there wasn’t quite room for just how he
ended up next to Debbie Greenwood in Streetwise’s art-deco-meets-hub-
caps studio.
“Michael Atwell was presented with 19 potential male presenters,” he
recalled, “and we were all screen-tested in the backyard of a used car lot.
We had to do an improvised piece talking to a car salesman. It might
sound terribly incestuous, but I’d known Michael from the past when I
worked at London Weekend. But when I got the job, somebody obviously
said, ‘He looks so suburban, so Croydon; turn him into a Channel 4
presenter.’ This involved the following. First of all they sent me, with a
producer-director to accompany me almost like a minder, to a salon where
I had to spend two and a half hours while they chopped my hair and
converted it into a slightly punky sticking-up look. This was a Channel 4
haircut. I thought it looked dreadful.
“Then I was walked into a couple of quite fashionable shops nearby. They
bought me two jackets and a suit, the like of which I would never have
worn or chosen myself, but this was what I had to have with the haircut.
To complete the makeover, they said: ‘Your eyelashes are too light; they
don’t work on camera. You can’t keep having mascara, so we want you to
dye them.’ So I was taken into a department store to the women’s
cosmetic counter, and had to lie down while they vegetable-dyed my
eyelashes black. I was left with Quentin Crisp tarty eyelashes. I had
three propositions on the train on the way home that night.”
Unlike everyone else who agreed to talk about the Channel 4 Daily –
Michael Atwell, Carol Barnes and David Lloyd – Paddy Haycocks recalled
working on the service with unabashed fondness and good humour. But
his responses chimed in with an emerging pattern: nobody who’d worked
in breakfast television ever expressed a particular indifferent or non-
specific opinion about their former stamping ground. It was a subject that
inspired the extremes of love and hate, and nothing in-between.
Mike Hollingsworth was particularly voluble in recalling his own fortunes
at both Breakfast Time and TV-am, institutions about which he had a
copious supply of reminiscences. Discussing the early days of Breakfast
Time, Hollingsworth revealed how news had leaked about a forthcoming
visit from Alasdair Milne, then BBC Director-General. “Word came that
he was coming to lunch with us in the wretched public school dining room
at the front of Lime Grove, and that after we’d drunk a few glasses of red
wine he was going to announce that he couldn’t actually allow us to
                                    4
continue having an astrologer on the programme. But when it came down
to it, Milne couldn’t bring himself to do it. As he went out of the room, the
last thing he said was ‘look after my astrologer for me’. So instead of doing
what he’d set out to do, he backtracked on the whole thing. We’d even had
complaints from the Archbishops of Canterbury and of York that we
weren’t doing religion but we were doing astrology. There was a lot of
heresy about…”
Hollingsworth was at his most garrulous, however, when it came to the
matter of his relationship with the ACTT, the main trade union at TV-am
who had marked his card from the off and who, at Christmas 1984,
appeared to scupper exclusive coverage of Bob Geldof’s Band Aid-related
trip to Africa. With the prospect of having to rely purely on the efforts of
one researcher with a Polaroid camera, Hollingsworth concluded he
might as well make a big deal of filming Geldof leaving the country. “I got
a stretch limo to take him to the airport,” he recalled, “and Anne Diamond
and I went down to his house to say goodbye and wish him well. I’d
arranged for a film crew to turn up and film him leaving, so we’d have
footage the following Monday morning we could talk about. When they
arrived at about 10.30am and knocked on the door, Bob was really angry
with them, and started effing and blinding, telling them exactly what he
thought of them and their union regulations. Of course, I knew that
wasn’t going to do me any good. I was sitting there having a cup of tea,
and these guys were asking if they could come in and have a cup of tea as
well, and he was saying no, you can fuck off.
“Anyway, after we’d been sitting there inside his house talking for a few
minutes I said, ‘Come on Bob, it’s time to go,’ because I wanted to use the
film crew. But then the crew knocked on the door and said they’d had a
discussion, and they really would have to go back to the office because it
would take them a long time to unload their vehicles and their
equipment, and they needed to clock off at 1pm. It was 11am by this
point, and it was all of half a mile back to TV-am. They were deliberately
doing it of course. It was a deliberate act. So off they went, and we didn’t
even have a picture of Bob going to the airport.”
Hollingsworth’s bitterness at how he had been treated by the ACTT, as
well as how he’d been subject to, as he saw it, a giant exercise in historical
revisionism that had conspired to write him out of TV-am’s life story,
leant his testimony a rather melodramatic urgency. But he wasn’t alone
in voicing particularly sharp opinions. The more people agreed to be
interviewed, the more it became noticeable how many grudges and feuds
were still nursed amongst those who had severed all ties with breakfast
television ten, if not 20 years ago. Hollingsworth’s anger was matched by
Lis Howell’s simmering resentment towards her one-time masters at
GMTV. Agreeing to meet in a solitary café close to the Angel underground
station in North London, she spoke in a hushed but confident tone of her

                                      5
enduring feelings towards the organisation that had masterminded the
bid to replace TV-am.
“LWT, like a lot of ITV franchises at the time, was not a commercial set-
up; it was a regional monopoly,” she argued. “LWT was not a commercial
business. It was in competition with no one else. It was given a very plum
part of the network. I don’t want to demean what people achieved, but the
money just rolled in. It had done some very good programmes, but
compared to American businesses with whom I worked later, and
Australians who I’d worked with before, LWT was totally naïve about
what commercial television was really about. It had always been given
the viewers on a plate.”
This blinkered attitude, she contested, fed into a mindset that LWT could
take over breakfast TV and expect a similar kind of success immediately.
“In an arrogant sort of way, and I was part of that mistake, the
assumption was that anything that anybody did was going to be better
than what Bruce Gyngell did. And of course it was crap, because he’d
built it up. And one person who saw this was Gus MacDonald (then at
Scottish Television, one of LWT’s partners in the GMTV consortium). I
remember him saying, ‘why don’t we just hire the TV-am people, do it like
TV-am, then phase them out?’ But we couldn’t do that because our
franchise specified we had to do it another way, and there was always this
fear that if we didn’t do that, what would the ITC say? But Gus was
absolutely right, because nothing succeeds like success, and Bruce and
TV-am had cracked it.”
Howell’s parting salvo before leaving the still noticeably deserted café
was blunt: “I think that the ITC behaved badly. I think it was inept. The
sooner it gets absorbed into OfCom the better. I think it’s stupid in this
country to have the breakfast television franchise, but that’s how it is. It
doesn’t make sense – we don’t have a four o’clock in the afternoon
franchise. I don’t know what more GMTV can do; there’s a glut of media
in this country; I can’t see how else it can develop.”
Piecing together the history of breakfast TV from assorted interviews and
other research involved reconciling impassioned testimony from people
like Lis Howell and Mike Hollingsworth with contemporary material
(reviews, listings, articles) and your own personal memories and
reminiscences. A priority seemed to be finding the most practical fit
between these respective sources, and one that didn’t end up rooted in
somewhat shameless nostalgia. A useful corrective to any temptation for
rose-tinted melancholia usually came in the shape of a recollection that
flew in the face of received wisdom; an out-of-character aside, or barbed
remark. There was Ron Neil, the de facto inventor of British breakfast
TV, admitting, “I don’t watch much breakfast television, I’m much more
a radio man.” There was John Stapleton airing more of his views on
successive Breakfast Time editors: “Dave Stanford I loved; Bob Wheaton

                                     6
I hated. Dave was absolutely wonderful, but it got worse under Wheaton
– far, far worse.” And there was Ed Forsdick’s curt one sentence summary
of Planet 24’s relationship with Channel 4: “Good and bad in equal
measure.”
Richard Porter, meanwhile, provided a telling insight into the enduring
contrast in currency between television and radio at breakfast time: “A
little known fact: John Simpson first liberated Afghanistan on BBC
Breakfast, not on the Today programme as was reported. His famous line,
that ‘I think in a sense the BBC liberated Afghanistan’, he first used that
line at nine minutes past six on our programme. But funnily enough
when he said it on the Today programme an hour later more people
noticed it. The combination of him saying that and the pictures we had,
which were fantastic that morning, ought to have been a reason why
people noticed it. But they weren’t.”
Finally, there were those who, for one reason or another, declined to be
interviewed. Sebastian Scott, the then-embattled executive producer of
Rise, turned down an invitation to put his thoughts on record, his PA
replying: “Sebastian does not feel he would be able to give you the time he
feels you would need for this project…He wishes you the very best of luck
with your book and he will look forward to reading it when it is
published.” Liz Forgan, erstwhile Channel 4 Director of Programmes and
now chair of the Heritage Lottery Fund, conceded: “To be perfectly honest
it all seems such a long time ago – I can’t imagine I’ve got anything useful
to say, and indeed I can barely remember most of the key arguments. I
wish you better luck with others.” Pride of place amongst all the reject
letters, however, had to be the following hand-written note: “Sorry I can’t
help you, but I’ve severed all links with my TV time, and the constant
requests to become an archive! Regards, Frank Bough.”
The old adage about best-laid plans falling foul to that curse of the
political world, “events”, haunted the last stages in the preparation of
Morning Glory for publication. The penultimate chapter had to be re-
written three times in as many months to reflect Channel 4’s seemingly
ever-shifting public stance towards the future of Rise. When Greg Dyke
resigned from the BBC almost a year to the day since he’d given up 45
minutes of his schedule to entertain questions about Wincey Willis and
fireplaces, the closing chapter had to be hastily amended. The finished
book is a near as possible “present day” survey of breakfast TV’s 21 years
on air. Saying that, by the time this article appears on-line, Channel 4
may very well have announced its next big idea for a new breakfast
programme. And by the time you finish reading this, it may well have
changed its mind back again. But that, in a nutshell, is why breakfast TV
remains such a fascinating aspect of British television, and one which
Morning Glory tries to analyse and celebrate in equal measure.


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