The Den of Geek interview: Andy Crane
As the face of Children's BBC in the late 1980s, Andy Crane was watched by over 10 million people. Here, he reflects on his career, on Willy Fog day, and fills us in on what he's doing now...
Andy Crane was for two and a half years the face of Children’s BBC’s Broom Cupboard. Partnered with the likes of Edd The Duck and Wilson The Butler, he would sing along to Willy Fog, be gunged on the first ever Comic Relief, and head off to the likes of Motormouth and Bad Influence. Now reading the news in his native Manchester, he spared us an hour for this chat…
You started in local radio in Manchester, I believe. Is that right?
It is. 1983, I think was my first programme, although I was there earlier as a helper out and teaboy, from the dog end of 1981. I did my first programme in December 1983 and I think it was the morning of New Year’s Eve.
Was that nerve wracking?
Yeah, I think it probably was. I practice and practiced and practiced, and built a radio station in my bedroom. A lot of radio presenters will tell you that they started out pretending to be on a radio station or broadcasting down the hall to their brothers in their bedroom and the like when they were much younger. But doing it on the radio for real, yeah I was a bit nervous. I think I’ve got it on tape somewhere, and it’s not the most fantastic radio programme I’ve ever presented. But frankly, it’s not as awful as you might imagine. For a first attempt I thought it was alright. They must have thought it was alright, because they kept asking me to do it.
Radio was always your ambition, then?
Yeah. Television was never any kind of ambition. Television was not something that was accessible when I was 14 or 15. It was just something that happened in the corner of the lounge. It was just on. These days television is seen as a genuine career option for kids. You can queue up outside a building in whatever city you live in, be auditioned by somebody and then appear on Saturday night television and be slagged off by Simon Cowell. Television comes to you now. It didn’t use to when I was a kid.
Radio really was in my city. There was a radio station at the centre of Manchester called Piccadilly Radio, that I could go to their roadshows, meet their presenters. I could go in on a Saturday and get handout photos and stickers. It was much more tangible. It was a station I could write to and go and see. Television I had no concept of it being anything other than something that happened in the lounge, as it were.
That ethos of people being able to approach a media outlet has underpinned what you’ve done since. Interaction always seems to be at the heart of it. Is that deliberate, and important to you?
Yes and no. Interaction has evolved as my career and the careers of an awful lot of people who started out around the same time have evolved. It is coincidental that they’ve run hand in hand.
Children’s BBC was an interactive way of doing television. It was a completely new way of doing television. It wasn’t my idea, I wasn’t the first person to do it. But if you looked at Blue Peter, it interacted with its audiences for years, with competitions and Blue Peter badges and the like. But you didn’t have the same relationship with Blue Peter presenters such as John, Pete and Val when I was a kid as perhaps you had with Philip, or me, or Toby Anstis or Andi Peters. They were much older, they were uncles and aunts. By the time Phillip and I came along, perhaps it was more older brothers and sisters. The relationship was different, it was interactive.
Radio is an interactive medium and continues to be so. Television has just adapted. Technology’s made it more accessible. You can interact with your television now because you can press the red button. Pressing the red button when I was a kid was what people did when they wanted to nuke the other side.
But you like the interactivity?
Interactivity is brilliant, because that’s what I do. I like to talk to people on the radio, or chat to them on the news. People are what makes broadcasting interesting. You only have to watch a man like Bruce Forsyth work with people: he’s a genius. It’s the people on the Generation Game that made it entertaining and funny. Not necessarily what they were allowed to do. It’s the people who make a news story interesting, or a radio programme interesting. If you want to be a successful broadcaster, you’re a communicator. You have to be able to interact with people, because they want to interact with their media. You are it.
So what got you the broadcasting bug? There doesn’t seem to be anyone in your family who’s in the business? And your Dad was a teacher?
He was, he’s retired now. He’s well out of it as far as he’s concerned!
No, there was no broadcasting bug in my family. I was a performer at school. I was in the school play and extrovert and all of that kind of stuff. Which is probably to mask an interior shyness, like most people will tell you. I just thought it was quite an interesting thing to do. I was fascinated by it.
And remember that there’s a difference between standing in front of a camera and an audience, and sitting in a room on your own and broadcasting. You are aware that there’s an audience there, but it is essentially a solitary thing to do. You can be any kind of person you like, you can crack any kind of joke you like, you can say anything you want. Because although you are interacting, it is not on a one-to-one basis. You cannot see the audience if your joke falls flat.
If the cameramen don’t laugh you know it was rubbish, on the radio you don’t. You don’t get struck down with that stagefright that you get standing in front of 10,000 people. It’s a way of performing, but it’s a safe way of performing. If you’re a shy performer, radio is a way of performing without an audience but with an audience, if that makes any sense.You go then from radio to children’s television. Was it Debbie Flint, who hosted Children’s BBC for a few weeks herself, who was the link?
Yeah. Debbie Flint was working at Piccadilly Radio, and had through what means I’ve no idea spent some time sitting in for Phillip when he’d taken some time off. Bless her, she said one day you’d be quite good on this. I’d never heard of it really, I think I was doing an afternoon radio programme at the time. And children’s television was not something I watched or was a part of, fairly obviously as I was in my 20s. So I watched it and videoed it. I didn’t have a showreel because I hadn’t been on telly, and camcorders cost an absolute fortune and nobody had one, so I sent a demo tape off the radio and a photograph.
What did you think of the Broom Cupboard?
I watched it on the television and thought that’s like being a disc jockey in front of a camera. It’s not like presenting a programme. It’s doing what I do on the radio, but on the telly. I naively sent off my photo and tape, and the bloke rang me up and said come down and do an audition. And I went and did an audition that wasn’t very good, I’m imagine. I was a bit like a frightened rabbit in headlamps. But the basics of it are the same. If you can talk over the intro of a record and hit the vocal, which a lot of listeners find very irritating but disc jockeys get very excited about, you can hit a count in your ear. So I could hit the counts. I could talk, the director said zero and I could stop, and it’d be at a coherent point in the sentence, not just “arrghh – here’s the programme”, which some people do.
And they said yeah, brilliant. I went to the bar, and he said would you like to do three weeks on BBC 2. And I went yeah alright then. And that’s how I got into telly. You have to jump through a few more hoops these days.
Were you aware of there being much competition for the Broom Cupboard back then? You’d assume that they auditioned a good few people?
I’m not sure they did, to be honest. I don’t know how many people they auditioned, they might have done. I don’t think people saw Children’s BBC as the career option that it clearly is now. Over time we’d get letters, but I think they get more letters now from kids wanting to be television presenters than I ever got. I fell into it by accident, and it still wasn’t a media career option.
Nine year olds now want to grow up to be ‘famous’, or to be on Big Brother. Or to be a singing star on X-Factor. When I was doing kids telly, kids didn’t really want to be television presenters. They wanted to be whatever they wanted to be. So you got the odd letter, but nowhere near the amount I suspect they get now. I don’t know how many applications to be Phillip Schofield that they got. They wouldn’t have got one from me had my friend at the BBC not tipped me off.
These days every local radio disc jockey fancies themselves as a potential kids presenter, I should imagine. Probably send tapes off. There are schools you can go to to learn how to be a presenter, and come out with a bloody showreel. And you send your showreel off, and they give you the list of people to send it too. Presumably the people on the list get 28 showreels all exactly the same from everybody who graduated the same media course. Which is fine, good luck to them. But it just wasn’t like that. There weren’t billions of us queuing up outside the Broom Cupboard to audition, like you might see with an X-Factor show.
When you got the nod for the Broom Cupboard, was there much of a brief, or did you have to watch what had gone before and find your own tempo?
Absolutely. That’s exactly it. Because it’s not about reading the autocue. It’s not about interviewing the Prime Minister. It’s not about falling into a formula of a show that you have to adapt to. To some extent Blue Peter has a formula, it still relies very strongly on the personalities of the presenters, so it should. But it was about you: Phillip, me, Simon Parkin, Andi Peters or Toby. We were the people who had to fill the three minutes. And we’ve get letters from kids, but it’s what you then do with it, how you take it forward. I wasn’t filling in for Phillip in the afternoons – I think I did some summer mornings for BBC 2 to start with before this came along – so Phil was on in the afternoons and I was on in the mornings. So I’d watch, and I’d watch and learn. And I’ve been doing it throughout my career. If you want to be good at what you do, you watch people who are good at it. You get a producer, you sit down, think okay, what are we going to talk about it? And that’s what we did.
You’ve said in the past in interviews that you fell between two different departments in the BBC. Did that work in your favour, that perhaps Children’s BBC wasn’t thought of as seriously at the time?
It wasn’t that it wasn’t thought of seriously. Children’s BBC was, and I think still is, run by a department called Presentation. In any broadcasting television organisation there is a department responsible for all the bits between the programmes, whether that’s a slide, or the weather, or a clock, or the spinning world that we used to have.
Children’s BBC presenters don’t work for the children’s department that makes the programmes. And as a consequence of that my boss was not the head of children’s television, my boss was the head of presentation. And so we would do stuff in the Broom Cupboard that didn’t necessarily promote the children’s programmes as much as the children’s department would like. We did our own stuff.
Frankly, if you spent three minutes talking about how brilliant the programmes are, it would bore the pants of the audience. Three and a half minutes before Neighbours, with God knows how many people watching, and pretty much left to do what you bloody well like. It’s inconceivable now that an audience like that would be left to the devices of some lad in his mid-20s and his producer doing what the hell they wanted, within reason obviously.
And so we did our own stuff, y’know. We did Edd The Duck stuff, we did nailbiting stuff, and we did kids’ pictures. Little campaigns, and we did the Willy Fog day.
We were going to ask you about that!
I mean that tied in with a programme, Willy Fogg day. It was all programme-related, but it wasn’t just us saying well this is Children’s BBC. If you watch it now, and I may be doing them a disservice as I don’t watch it very much, I would imagine there’s an awful lot more promotion of the product going on than there was when we were there.
But let’s be fair, there’s an awful lot more competition than there was when I was on kids’ telly. When I was on, there was Children’s ITV, and we didn’t even watch it. We didn’t watch it! We didn’t care, because we knew we were better than them, and we knew that we had audiences that were astronomically bigger than theirs. These days, every programme controller of every children’s channel knows exactly what each other are doing. They watch each other, they compete with them, they try and outschedule them with their shows. We didn’t even watch ITV! We didn’t watch our main rival!
So did you watch yourself?
We watched ourselves when we came back from the office. And then we went for a pint. And that’s not because we were arrogant or cool: we just knew that ITV wasn’t live, or if it was live they had commercial breaks, which were a pain in the neck. They couldn’t get their network together because they had to do the links from Birmingham, and some of the shows were coming from Kent, some from Scotland. They couldn’t get a presenter to run up from Studio 7 to the Broom Cupboard with a cake they’d just made on Blue Peter, like we could do. ITV is not one ship like the BBC was. We were just very quietly confident I think, and just got on with it and did our thing.
How involved were you with the genesis of the on-screen characters, such as Bobby The Banana, Wilson The Butler and Edd The Duck?
Genesis is a lovely, flattering phrase. You’ve given me the benefit of sitting down and sweating all night about this that or the other. I suspect Wilson The Butler happened because one day Mark Wilson, who was the producer on Children’s BBC, reached in one day and hit the duck. I can’t remember. Or he handed me something, and I would have said “ah, thank you Wilson”. Because his name was Mark Wilson. And from that a character is born.
Somebody sent me Bobby The Banana, I think. I didn’t go and buy a Bobby The Banana. And we realised that you could operate a banana on two levels. You could do jokes occasionally, that might go over the heads of children, but would be appreciated by a slightly older audience because they were banana-related.
As soon as somebody sees that there’s a Bobby The Banana, then you get sent other stuff. We got Chris The Carrot I think. Children realised that if you show stuffed fruit on the telly, they’ll send you more! Suddenly we have a bloody Broom Cupboard full of the stuff, because somebody once sent me a banana.
Edd The Duck evolved because Christina, who used to do Edd, had found him on a market stall in Hong Kong. But when he first appeared, he didn’t quack, and he didn’t have green hair. When he first appeared, I think he was in pin-stripe blue dungarees. Which disappeared quickly! He went through quite a considerable makeover over the years, and quite rightly he started to quack eventually, He got his punk haircut from a Blue Peter makeover…
We remember that!
Christina has worked on a Blue Peter before she came to Children’s BBC, and they did makeover your teddy as a punk, or something. And she took the green mohican from one of her teddies, and stuck it on the duck.
I bet you wish you’d kept merchandising rights…
I wasn’t allowed to. They’d already been stung by the Gopher, they weren’t going to let anything go at the BBC at that point.
You say that you filled the Broom Cupboard up, but you look at it from start to end, and it went from a seemingly empty room to being jam-packed by the end. Was that something you deliberately chose to do?
I suppose when I started it must have been empty, because I had less stuff. If you do a job for two and a half years, you change things.
We put the window up for a while and kids used to send us views. We put a big wooden window frame on the wall. Was it conscious? Nah! No! It’s kind of a work in progress, the Broom Cupboard, and it isn’t the same now. There was an awful lot of stuff in there because we had an awful lot of stuff sent it. And a lot of it stayed there all day. The Broom Cupboard was the continuity announcer’s room, it wasn’t the special studio for Children’s BBC. The guy saying “later tonight on BBC, Top Of The Pops” was surrounded by pictures of Jimbo, and Bobby The Banana and all that stuff. And they had to sit in amongst our rubbish for most of the day – we were only on for an hour and a half!
But the place was full of our crap most of the day – it was actually quite funny! I think they liked it though. The announcers quite liked it – it brought a sense of fun to the place.
Nicholas Witchell had to read the news there too one day…?
Apparently he did. That was the day of the storm, the hurricane. I didn’t see it. I slept through that hurricane. But yes he did. They presumably had hastily taken down the pictures, but it was the only camera in the building that worked. The only studio that was working for some reason that I was baffled by, really, that the whole of the BBC could fail to work because of some wind. It’s probably on YouTube somewhere…!
Can I talk to you about the Gunge Tank. You went against Mr Bronson, and Michael Sheard wrote in his book about the two of you trading insults on air to see who would go in.
The original Gunge Tank was on the original Comic Relief. We ran the votes in the Broom Cupboard for it, and then the second year it was run by Going Live, and Phillip won it.
I remember the Mr Bronson thing, but one thing I remember about the very first Gunge Tank was that people were disappointed with its contents! That it wasn’t gungey enough, a load of old foam and nonsense. It wasn’t as messy as it should have been. They made it unpleasant the second year!
I was chucked in by Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie I think. I remember it being a very exciting night and lots of fun, and I was wearing a Comic Relief sweatshirt and the make up ladies painted Comic Relief red noses on my knees. It was good fun. The second time I came second, but they invited me to go in anyway. So both Phillip and I went in on the second night. I was covered in crap by Noel Edmonds on House Party or something once as well.You touched on Willy Fog before. You handwrote all the lyrics, and you put out on air an offer to send out songsheets, and were deluged by the sacks of mail that came through.
Yeah, when people see stuff on the telly and want to get involved with it, the idea of something coming back from your television was quite exciting I’d imagine. And this is the kind of stuff we made up. Would the children’s department have declared that the final episode should be National Willy Fog day? No they probably wouldn’t. That was because we were doing it, and it was Children’s BBC and the presentation department having a laugh with it. There had been a singalong beforehand, and Phillip had done a similar thing with The Mysterious Cities Of Gold. But he just sang along. This is where you think, that was a good idea, how can we take it further?
Willy Fog has been going on for bloody ages, that was the thing. We had these cartoons on Children’s BBC that seemed to go on for decades. Willy Fog trundling around the world went on for a very long time, so we thought at the end, national sigh of bloody relief as much as anything else. Thank God! Willy Fogg finally got around the world! Halle-bloody-lujah. We’ll have a celebration, dress up as Willy Fog, get Union Jack waistcoats or whatever we did.
Why not? We’ll sing along to the theme tune. We were chatting about it in the office and I thought – we didn’t know the lyrics, we didn’t know what the bloody words were. So we had to get a VHS of it up, and had to listen to it. These days you could Google it, and the lyrics would just appear. But we didn’t have that. We had to listen to the lyrics, and write it down word-for-word from a video, and then somebody said I want one, I want one. And we thought wouldn’t it be great if everyone was in their lounge singing at half past four, so we’ll send out some songsheets to people.
So we went on the television, and announced that in a couple of weeks’ time it’s going to be national Willy Fog day or whatever. And if you want your songsheet – I waved it around – send me a stamped addressed envelope and I’ll send you one. We weren’t foolish enough to say we’d pay for the postage, there’d have been hell to pay.
We sat back and waited for a couple of hundred to arrive. We thought nobody’s going to be that bothered over a photocopied song sheet with my scruffy handwriting. And the second day about two sacks arrived, and the third day twelve sacks arrived. And the fourth day another twelve sacks arrived. And the fifth day, the corridor outside the Children’s BBC office was getting full. Doreen and Jane who were the secretaries were beginning to sweat a bit.
So I think for possibly the first and only time in Children’s BBC history, unless it’s competition related, we had to call in the special department at the BBC who dealt with mass mailouts. We handed over responsibility for our content to another department for the first time. I have a photograph somewhere of me, Doreen, and Sylvia and Jane sitting on this massive pile of mailbags.
How much mail did you usually get?
We used to get about half a sack – one of those Post Office mailbags – every day. You’d get stuff, birthday cards, bits and pieces, letters for the Broom Cupboard, pictures. To get twelve sacks a day for a week and a half, or whatever it was, was just bonkers. But it was fantastic, bloody hell! People are watching, and seem to like what we’re doing! I still get mails from a couple of girls every April, and they send me a Happy Willy Fog day e-mail every year. It’s very nice of them remember, but I couldn’t remember what day it was! This is the way with a job like mine, there are so many people who have been touched by it so much that they remember stuff you just forget.
I was in the loo yesterday at a building in Central Manchester, and a bloke was asking me about how I used to sign the subtitles for the hard of hearing. We used to have that “there are subtitles on Ceefax page 888”. And he was saying that did you do it like this? And he did some scissor action. And I said no, that’s wrong. I can still remember it. A bit visual for a telephone conversation. But it made me think that we used to sign the fact that there were subtitles. I said to my producer one day how do the deaf kids know that there are subtitles? Because there was nothing on the screen to tell them. I’m in vision. Good point, he said. Let’s learn how to tell them. Somebody had to teach me how to sign the fact that there were subtitles, and we’d put that in.
It was one of those things like saying goodbye to Northern Ireland at five past five. Which was quite the most bizarre thing.
Did they get Neighbours earlier?
No they didn’t. If they got Neighbours earlier they’d have the same out time as the rest of the nation. You backtime from the 6 o’clock news. The 6 o’clock news had to go out at 6 o’clock, otherwise people’s nads were on the line. So you backtime Neighbours to figure out what my out time would be at 5.35, depending on the duration of Neighbours.
What Northern Ireland used to do was put their regional news before the 6 o’clock news and Neighbours afterwards. Their regional news was longer than Neighbours. So they had to go earlier than the rest of Britain, because to get to the 6 o’clock news at 6 o’clock, they had to start their regional news earlier than Neighbours started. They did it the other way round. What the hell happened in Northern Ireland when I said goodbye I hadn’t a clue!
I always felt sorry for the kids in Northern Ireland, who thought that the party’s still going on, and we’re missing it. Obviously something exciting is going to happen in the Broom Cupboard now, and Northern Ireland’s gone! They missed out on so much.You said in the past that the couple of minutes leading up to Neighbours was the point when huge amounts of the country were watching, such was the popularity of the show at the time…
… astonishing, wasn’t it? The numbers who saw me and Edd messing about were entirely down to Michael Grade, who put Neighbours on at half past five.
When Phillip was on, there were all kinds of different programmes on at half five. I think when I started there were bits and pieces on then. Neighbours was something that was on after the birthdays in the mornings. But it was doing astonishingly well, so Michael Grade put it on at half five as well. And it was 12, 13 million people who were watching! They don’t now, but it was massive. It made Kylie who she is, Scott and Charlene, the wedding, Angry Anderson, all of that. 1989 Neighbours was absolutely at its peak, and by luck more than judgement I was sitting there introducing it every day for the best part of a year and a half. And it just made you about as famous as you could get in this country, by virtue of being on, not by virtue of any talent or skill.
If Ant and Dec got 13 million viewers, they’d be dancing in the aisles. And their show’s probably better than the Broom Cupboard, but the audience has diversified over the years. You’re talking about a time when there were only four channels. When I was a kid, half the country would watch The Generation Game, one show on a Saturday night. Doesn’t work like that now. Big shows have much smaller audiences.
Did you sit and watch the programmes with us? It certainly looked like that.
Yeah, we did. Within reason. You’ve got to prepare for your next link, and you’ve got to know where you’re going. But again you’re getting down to the technicalities of it. But if you watch the afternoons back now, you’ll see that there was about a minute at the top of the day, which was about ten to four or ten past four depending whether you were in summer scheduling or not. Then all the links in the afternoon would be about ten seconds. And the bulk of the time was shoved to the end of the afternoon where all the audience was. So you’d get three and a half minutes of me and Edd at half past five.
So during the afternoon, essentially we would say “that was really good wasn’t it? Still to come this afternoon, there’s Newsround and Blue Peter, but right now, here’s Dooby Duck”, or whoever was on.
They were really snappy links throughout the afternoon. So we were watching the programmes. The other thing to remember is that if the programme broke down, I was the guy they cut too. So if I was sitting there picking my nose, you had to watch the programmes, because that’s what you’d be talking about. You’d go “oh bloomin’ ‘eck, I don’t know what’s going to happen to Mr Bronson then”. I watched them because I liked them, but it was sort of my job to watch them.
I was the continuity announcer, and if it failed, as they did on not many occasions, they’d go coming back to you Andy – ready, go! And you were like okay, seat of the pants time here!
Sitting through the programmes, were there one or two that must have made your eyes bleed?
I suppose you remember the things you like. I remember loving Fantastic Max. The baby with the nappy and the safety pin. I liked Johnny Briggs, I liked Byker Grove, I liked Blue Peter. Newsround. Some of the little tiny kids stuff wasn’t to my taste, but it was still very well made.
There were maybe shows that had one series that I’d forgotten about – it is nearly twenty years ago – I’ve done an awful lot in between. There are none that make me think I used to loathe that programme, and I would be honest with you.
What about The Tribes Of Toff featuring you in their song, ‘John Kettley Is A Weatherman’. Did they have to come and get your permission?
No, of course not! You sing about anything you like. As people do. If you want to sing a protest song, you don’t go and get permission from the politicians involved. You just do it. The Tribe Of Toffs sent a cassette to the Children’s BBC office. The reason they got a record deal and a video made was because of Children’s BBC. They sent us a cassette of the song. I played it to Paul Smith, who was the producer or senior producer at the time. And this is what the difference between Children’s BBC then and now is. Paul said that’s really funny, that’s brilliant. Let’s get them in.
They came in, and because we made the weather – and it’s back to the presentation department – we could get them to meet John Kettley. And they came in and they did a session for us in the studio – ITV couldn’t have done this. Come in, make a copy of your record and we’ll put it out and knock a video together for you with John Kettley in it. Then we got them a record deal, and by God, I suspect because it got played on the television quite a lot, it was a bloody hit! It was great, very exciting!
When it came to your last day in the Broom Cupboard, what are your memories? They gave you a fake out time?
They might have done because – yes! – they’d got a cake planned. I counted out, thinking I’d finished. They wanted to make sure they had time to give me a cake and say goodbye. I remember being a bit sad, but I think, I was very touched and flattered that they said goodbye, because I was very close to the team.
It was a very small team that worked very closely together. Doreen, who was an institution at Children’s BBC, has only just recently retired.
I think I probably was ready to move on. I’d made the decision to go. I got a bit choked at the last moment because of the effort involved for me, but it was like I’ve done, it’s great, I’ve had a brilliant time and everyone’s been wonderful. And I think it’s time for me to go and do something else. And somebody had gone and offered me another job on a travel programme so I went off and did that.
I have very very fond memories of my time at Children’s BBC. I have nothing but good memories of it. The people I worked with, the programmes we did, the stuff we were allowed to get away with, of the legacy that it has left me as a broadcaster. It’s absolutely charming to meet people now who are in their late 20s/early 30s who go I remember you on the telly, it was brilliant. And that’s just – thank so much, it’s fantastic. Because we were just having a laugh, and if you were having a laugh with us, that’s the best we could have hoped for, because that’s all we wanted to do.
I love the fact that you’re still talking about it, however many years later it is now. People are writing books about it, there’s crap on the Internet about it. It’s astonishing. But it applies to kids telly. I don’t know if it’ll apply now.
I wonder if kids today will have as fond an attachment to their telly as I do to mine and you do to yours. Because there’s so much of it. You don’t have that intensity and that one-on-one that you had. It isn’t the kind of club. Kids only, Andy, you me and Edd having a laugh. I don’t know these days. I don’t think they connect. I wonder whether my 14 year old, nine year old and 12 year old will have as fond memories.
You went from Children’s TV on the BBC to a form of children’s television on ITV with Motormouth. You’ve talked a bit about the different ways that the two organisations worked. What was the experience of going from one to the other like?
You had to say coming up after the break on one, which I’d never had to say before!
The difference between ITV and the BBC, I couldn’t make a direct comparison. Because I wasn’t doing the same job. I was doing a Saturday morning show, I went from continuity to doing a programme. I went via a travel show on BBC 2, so in a sense it wasn’t the same. If I’d gone to do continuity on ITV I would have probably found it very frustrating. But I went to do two and a half hours of live television on Saturday morning, with pop guests and other presenters and sketches.
It wasn’t quite Going Live, it was a lot more structured than Going Live, because it had to be. It had to try and be something different. Motormouth couldn’t compete with Going Live, because Going Live was Going Live. There was no vacancy at Going Live because Phiilip was still there. So I went where the job was and went to ITV. It was brilliant fun.
We were in Kent. The studio was in Kent, so sometimes getting guests who made a programme for Border Television in Carlisle, it was difficult to get them to come up and come down to Kent and plug it on a Saturday morning. But the BBC had a lot of people who were making programmes in London. That might be the BBC’s failing for being so London-centric. But they had an awful lot of guests: pop bands and stuff are all London-based. Ant and Dec moved their Saturday morning show to London, and that was probably one of the reasons.
But people came and the show went well. I enjoyed it. The difference between the two broadcasters wasn’t perhaps as apparent as it might have been as if I’d done the same job.
Bad Influence came along as well. Now it’s videogames all over the television. Back then it was Gamesmaster or Bad Influence – there just wasn’t much of it about.
And they were the edgy gamers one, and we were the safe kids version. But we were also, to be fair, not just about computer games. It was about technology and computers. Now games was obviously the hook, but there was always an item in there about technology, and computing, and how computing is advancing, it was a sort of Tomorrow’s World for kids. I had to go to Leeds to make that, because it was made by Yorkshire Television! Obviously BBC has regions, regional news, but it wasn’t quite as diversified as ITV was in those days.
How did your week pan out, then?
On Wednesday I’d go to Leeds to make Bad Influence, and then Thursday/Friday I’d be in Kent to work on a Saturday morning show, and then I’d go home Saturday afternoon. It was bonkers for Mrs Crane, she saw very little of me at the time. It was tough for her, but that was the way that the profession was. I had two programmes on ITV at the same time, which hadn’t happened at the BBC. These days you see presenters doing all kinds of programmes for lots of different broadcasters. They switch about and work, and might be on the television two or three times a week.
Again, that’s presenter loyalty, Phillip was a BBC presenter. When he went to ITV at the end of his Going Live run, it was a big deal! Phil was a BBC face! These days they switch channels all over the place. It’s a different marketplace.After Bad Influence and What’s Up Doc, you moved away from children’s television. Was that for geographic and family reasons, or a desire to move on?
A bit of both really. During that period Saturday mornings moved from Kent to Glasgow, which meant What’s Up Doc moved to Scottish Television. And to some extent as well, you come to the end of your natural life in a genre. As an adult presenter, once you’ve made the transition if you can do it – and children’s presenters find it easier these days than perhaps some of us did in the olden days – you can keep going. But you have a lifespan as a kids’ presenter.
I’d done five years of Saturday morning television by that point, and I’d done two and a half years in the Broom Cupboard. My audience had grown up. There were new people coming through. I thought I was a young presenter compared to Blue Peter presenters when I was a kid. These days I’d be quite old. They’re starting Saturday mornings at the age I was getting my nappies changed!
And what did you do afterwards?
We all have periods where you’re working, but not many people know where you are. I did a lot of radio in the north west, Century, Jazz FM, Smooth. I went back to my first love, which was radio.
I was doing a bit for The Family Channel, I did Challenge TV for a while. You do lots of what there is. And then suddenly someone rings you up and says would you like to read the news? And blimey. I must be a proper grown up now! I could give you a long list of what I did between Saturday morning and the news, but for some people there’s usually a couple of key things in their career that they remember.
Chris Tarrant, people will say to him, Tiswas, and Who Wants To Be A Millionaire. And he’s worked extensively throughout his career. But some people will remember different shows. For the vast majority of people, for me, it’ll be the Broom Cupboard, and that might be it. Phillip Schofield it might be the Broom Cupboard and Going Live and This Morning. It might be Dancing On Ice. You just can’t tell, you don’t know in this business. It’s why it scares you, and it’s why it’s exciting.
There also comes a point where it becomes a job. It’s a means to an end more now. When I was younger, it was my life. I loved it. I slept it, ate it, breathed it. Now I go in, do my job and come home. I’ve got a wife and family and other things I do. As long as I’m paying the bills and enjoying what I’m doing, I’m very lucky.
The fact that I’m not Saturday nights on BBC 1, if you’d asked me at 25 if I’d be depressed about it, I’d have said it’d be a disaster. But it’s not. It’s okay. I enjoy my life, my work, my Radio Manchester show. I enjoy doing the news in Manchester. Something might happen, I might do this for the rest of my career. I don’t know! But I’ve got my kids and my wife and my house, and I’m happy and I’m content. I’ve had a very good crack at it, I’ve done better than a lot of people and not as well as some, and should count my blessings.
Do you have any regrets?
No, not at all. Maybe I’d have got a University degree if I was doing it all again, but then if I’d got a University degree, I wouldn’t have had the hands-on experience that my friends had when they were coming out of University. It hasn’t held me back in the programming that I’ve ended up doing. That was never chosen, I didn’t choose my path, the path chose me. People offer me things. I was on the radio, suddenly somebody says kids telly, kids telly led to Saturday morning. That’s how it goes. I’ve had a brilliant time. I’ve no plans on stopping, as long as people keep wanting to give me money to be on the telly, I’m very happy to take it. I’m in a new phase now, I’m doing news. I get to be a bit more serious, show people there’s more to me than just fluff, and it’s great.
But it’s all down to the Broom Cupboard. The Broom Cupboard makes you famous. You can’t trade on that forever. You have to have some ability. But a bit of notoriety carries you through. Look at Noel Edmonds. I don’t claim to be as talented as Noel Edmonds, but if you can win an audience when they’re young and you keep going, they will watch you all the way through your career and remember you with that fondness.
Noel Edmonds was my Saturday morning presenter, and for many it was Chris Tarrant. John Craven was my news presenter, now he does Country File. Valerie Singleton was on Blue Peter, now she does The Money Programme. And so it goes on, you get an attachment to the presenters. My news audience are in their late 20s, early 30s, and they’re the people who watched the Broom Cupboard. It’s been astonishing.
All because Debbie Flint rang up one day and said you should audition for that…
Andy Crane, thank you very much!
Andy Crane is one of the many faces in the new book Celebrate The 80s, available here.