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That Reminds Me: Groped by an elephant

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FOR those of us seeking regional news in the 1970s there was a choice between the BBC’s Look North West, featuring the oleaginous Stuart Hall, or Granada Reports on ITV. No contest.

Granada Reports was an entertaining half-hour with a number of excellent presenters. Tony Wilson was my favourite with his irreverent arts round-up What’s On. One night he announced an exhibition of work by Chagall – ‘and that’s how much I know about him’. Pretty risqué for a Friday teatime. He would often have interesting guests – one was John Martyn singing May You Never. Wilson, played by Steve Coogan in the movie 24 Hour Party People, started a series of weekly punk shows at a Manchester club after seeing the Sex Pistols at the Lesser Free Trade Hall. Among the acts were Joy Division, who were the first band to sign with Wilson’s Factory Records. He also founded a notorious nightclub, the Hacienda.

Alongside him on Granada Reports was the avuncular Bob Greaves, who had the distinction of appearing as himself on Coronation Street. Cheshire-born Greaves, owlish with his outsize spectacles, had been a Daily Mail reporter long before my time in Manchester and joined Granada in 1964 to work on the news magazine Scene at 6.30. Colleagues included Bill Grundy and Michael Parkinson.

Greaves co-presented the first Granada Reports alongside Gordon Burns, who would later recall: ‘Bob became internationally famous for an incident with an elephant at Chester Zoo. As he delivered live to camera, the elephant’s trunk began to prod his private parts and wouldn’t stop. Bob, of course, kept going brilliantly in what was a hilarious piece of television shown all over the world. He always said that when he died and people wrote about him, that elephant would still be the star, not him.

‘He was wrong. He was the great star of Granada Television and will always be remembered as that.’

The elephant clip, a mainstay of It’ll Be Alright on the Night, is included in this tribute to Greaves following his death from cancer in 2011.

But my best Bob moment came at the end of a show during which the upper-crust cookery writer Fanny Cradock had showed viewers how to make doughnuts. Under instructions from the producer to wind up the programme immediately, Greaves blurted out: ‘That’s all we’ve got time for tonight on Granada Reports. And I hope all your doughnuts turn out like Fanny’s.’

Returning to the subject of Stuart Hall, I had always thought he was a wrong ’un and this was confirmed by a Daily Mail colleague whose wife worked as a researcher for the BBC in Manchester. On her first day there in the mid-1970s, Hall sidled up behind her in the canteen and loudly made a disgusting suggestion.

It was not until 2012, however, that he was exposed as a serial sex offender. Outraged that he had been made an OBE for ‘services to broadcasting’, and encouraged by revelations of Jimmy Savile’s depravity, a woman wrote a three-page letter to a journalist saying that Hall had groomed and sexually abused her when she was a schoolgirl in the 1970s. The letter was passed to Lancashire police who launched an inquiry.

In April 2013 at Preston Crown Court, Hall admitted 14 charges of indecent assault involving 13 girls aged between nine and 17.  He was jailed for just 15 months, although the Court of Appeal doubled the sentence describing it as ‘inadequate’. His OBE was rescinded.

The following year, Hall received an additional 30-month sentence for two sex assaults on another victim. However, by December 2015 he was free to celebrate his 86th birthday at home on Christmas Day. In 2016 an official report found that some BBC staff members knew he was bringing underage girls into his dressing room for sex, but his ‘untouchable’ status stopped them from passing complaints to senior management.

Hall the Untouchable is still with us at the age of 92.

Masterly Mr Marsh

ON a lighter note, the classiest goal I ever saw was scored by the brilliant Rodney Marsh, playing for Manchester City in the early 1970s. Forty yards out, he chipped the ball over the goalkeeper’s head then immediately turned and jogged insouciantly back to the halfway line without even bothering to watch his shot hit the net. What a character.

Marsh, a Londoner, was signed from Queens Park Rangers for £200,000 in March 1972. At the time City were top of the league but by the end of the season they had slipped to fourth, with critics blaming Marsh’s maverick antics for disrupting manager Malcolm Allison’s well-rehearsed routines. Rodney agreed with them. In his autobiography, Priceless, he declared: ‘Right, no beating about the bush, I have to hold my hands up – I cost Manchester City the 1972 league championship.’

And interviewed in 1974, he admitted: ‘I would feel more elation if we lost 4-3 in a match which really touched the heights than us sneaking through 1-0 in one of those grey matches. If we cannot remind people what a great game it is then we will have missed a tremendous opportunity.’

Also in his autobiography, Marsh recounted a conversation with Tony Book, in which he had described the then City manager as ‘f***ing useless’. Book said: ‘If you think I’m effing useless it’s not going to work. Do you want to take it back?’ Rodney replied: ‘No chance. In fact, thinking about it more, you’re not that good.’ Not surprisingly, he was put on the transfer list.

Despite his extraordinary talent, Marsh won only nine England caps. He claimed that manager Alf Ramsey told him: ‘I’ll be watching you for the first 45 minutes and if you don’t work harder I’ll pull you off at half time.’ Sharp as a tack, Marsh replied: ‘Crikey, Alf, at QPR all we get is an orange and a cup of tea.’ He was never picked again.

After a later spell playing alongside George Best for Fulham, and regularly painting the town red with the thirsty Ulsterman, Marsh retired from football. He and Best worked in the media together before Marsh began acting as a pundit for Sky Sports. In 2000 he vowed to shave his head if Bradford City avoided relegation from the Premier League. They did, and he kept his promise in the centre circle at Valley Parade.

True to form, his sense of humour got him the tin-tack following the great tsunami in 2004. He joked: ‘David Beckham has turned down a move to Newcastle United because of the trouble they’ve been having with the Toon Army in Asia.’ Not a great joke, but surely not wicked enough to merit a P45?

In a future column I will salute another inimitable Seventies football maverick – the great Frank Worthington.

Old jokes’ home

Two goldfish in a tank. One says to the other: ‘Are you sure you know how to drive this thing?’

A PS from PG

Aunt Agatha is like an elephant — not so much to look at, for in appearance she resembles more a well-bred vulture, but because she never forgets.

PG Wodehouse: Joy in the Morning

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Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth
Alan Ashworth is a former national newspaper journalist now retreated to the Ribble Valley, where he grows cacti and tramps the fells. He and his wife Margaret run a website, A-M Records , which includes their collected TCW columns plus extra features including Tracks of the Day. Requests, queries and comments can be sent to alanj126@yahoo.co.uk

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