By Lucy Meacock
He was so many things to so many people and he had a passion for this region like no other person I have ever met. He was a huge champion of devolution – and felt the only people who should ever make decisions about the North of England should be from the North of England. I have never written about Tony before because I felt so many other people were doing that – and they had more right to do it.
Whether he was Tony Wilson, Anthony H Wilson or Ant, he deserves every tribute as a loving and caring father, a music maestro, Mr Hacienda, Mr Factory Records, Mr Happy Mondays, Mr Manchester and so many more, he was a man with a huge heart and so many people who loved him. But for a long, long time he was also Mr Granada – my hugely entertaining, charismatic colleague – always bursting with ideas and enthusiasm like a runaway horse, sometimes impossible to manage always impossible to tame. He was everything you could wish for in an onscreen partnership and an off screen friendship.
WATCH: Moment Lucy Meacock came to Tony Wilson's rescue after he's sent flying to the floor by wrestlers in 1990 on Granada Upfront
I was lucky enough to share a desk – and a TV studio – with him for many years.The first time I met him was in 1988. He rescued me, I had only just started working at Granada. I needed a piece of music for a report I was compiling for Granada Reports – the deadline was hurtling towards me – and everyone else in the newsroom was too busy to help. I didn’t even know where the music library was (this was before you could simply download any music you wanted). He was sitting in the newsroom – and said: ‘Hi, we haven’t met. I’m Tony Wilson. I’ll take you to the music library.’ It was a big building. It was a long walk. So we had time to chat. At the time I had no idea that that was effectively where the idea of me presenting UpFront with him was first born.
Months later when UpFront was suggested to me I was completely terrified by the prospect of a live show with a studio audience. In fact I was terrified every Friday night when the voiceover started: ‘Tonight live from the Granada Studio Tours Theatre it’s Granada Upfront with Tony Wilson and Lucy Meacock…’ But I couldn’t resist the opportunity of working with him.
The following week he drove into the Granada carpark ahead of me and when the Granada security man tried to turn me away. He told him: ‘We’re doing the same job. You have to let her in or throw me out.’ He let me in.
When we got our publicity photos done for the programme he’d tell me to smile – and hover behind me looking cool and moody. I never realised he’d done it until we got the pictures back. I had the cheesy TV smile while he looked like Mr Cool.
We had a clothing allowance of £750 for the year. We don’t have those allowances anymore (obvs). It was an enormous amount of money at the time. Much to the producer’s horror he went out and spent it all on ONE suit. It was black with the stitching on the outside and padded shoulders. No-one had ever seen anything like it at the time. Or since. He wore it every week.
A couple of months later he came back from the US and started wearing it with trainers. The Granada Chairman David Plowright phoned in after the trailer on Friday night to say: “Will someone tell Tony to put some proper shoes on.”
Everyone, absolutely everyone, did what Mr Plowright said.
Tony’s response? I am wearing these trainers with this suit … everyone will be wearing suits and trainers in 12 months. He liked to lead not follow.
And I remember his lovely son Oli coming in to the studios wearing top of the range ground-breaking trainers Tony had brought back from the States. People weren’t obsessed with trainers then. Look at all of us now!
We did a live UpFront from inside Sellafield once. He drove me all the way there in his old Jag. No-one had mobile phones then. Tony had a car-phone - and a mobile phone the size of a large brick.. both phones rang all the time on that journey! Some calls he took. Some he didn’t. But he was always in demand.
One of our first Upfront producers was fantastic at her job. We always had great subjects and brilliant guests. But she became increasingly exasperated with our local hero as whatever the debate- he always ended up drawing a parallel with the changing fortunes of Manchester United. She told him: ‘Not everyone is interested in football!’
But his obsession with Manchester United never wavered. He replied:
‘Maybe not, but they’re all interested in good stories and Man Utd is a good story.’
Terry Christian has fond memories of how the two of them would sit near each other at Old Trafford and whatever the results Tony would always remain upbeat and optimistic.
We always had a good line in playful banter – never cruel but mischievous – and it was completely unpredictable - always loving the game that was live TV and not taking ourselves too seriously. But we also recognized the responsibility that went with it. After all if you can take an important message into someone’s living room you better make sure it’s a valuable message.
On Granada Reports he became a legend. First for discovering new musical talent but also for his own talent to see the point, to look beyond the obvious and to ask the questions that no-one else had thought of.
He had such passion for our region. All of it. Not just Manchester. He had a real soft spot for Liverpool too - he was a great supporter of the bid for Liverpool to Capital of Culture - and supported many other initiatives on Merseyside. But it"s fair to say Manchester was his first love. Thinking of him makes me think of the Hidden Gem, yes at lunchtime he would sometimes go off to Church. He loved that place, the peace, the room for thought in a busy world. He never forgot his Roman Catholic roots – maybe that’s where his social conscience came from.
He always had a deep sense of right and wrong but never preached. He would never pass someone homeless in the street without giving them something.
He was a complete enigma, never motivated by money or self-agrandisement. He could always argue for any side – a true Devil’s Advocat. Sometime the best part of UpFront was the rehearsal – listening to him argue with himself from every angle – very convincingly. He would get carried away and would swear a lot. I remember his teenage daughter Issy saying with his half smile: ‘Dad your swearing doesn’t shock or impress anyone!’ A lovely bit of role reversal. He often spoke of his kids with total adoration – the part of his life that made him most proud. They still would today. He taught them well.
When we left our old Granada building I wept. It wasn’t about the building. It was the memories. It was about all those times Tony and myself had rushed down a corridor late for studio. The Head of Wardrobe chasing after us trying to get Tony’s shirt ironed. Or we’d sit in make up with Steve Coogan doing his amazing impersonations of Michael Caine or Tony Wilson – yes it was like there were two of them. Bizarre as he went on to play him in 24 hour Party People. Or we’d sit with Caroline Aherne trying out Mrs Merton sketches before a show and asking if we had a ‘lively debate’ lined up.
Or there were the times we sat in the old canteen having cheese pasties and all-consuming debates about social issues from poll tax to the state of British Rail, about football, about challenging relationships about mistakes we’d made.
He was a fascinating man with a heart the size of the North West. We were so lucky he was born in this region. I was so lucky to work with him. Life isn’t about buildings. It’s about good people who are steadfast in championing the cause of the underdog and never forgetting their roots. I can't believe it's 10 years since he died – he could have achieved so much more – but he certainly achieved a lot more than most. RIP my friend.