Published online by Cambridge University Press: 09 April 2021
AQUARIUS MAY HAVE been a promising title on paper but in the autumn months of 1969 I had nothing to support it: no production team, no programme projects, no studio dates or cutting rooms. And yet everything fell into place like a charm. One blessing was that for the first season at least we were to transmit fortnightly rather than every week. Friday nights at 10.30 was our slot. Monitor had also been fortnightly; it was a civilised tempo of programmemaking. In 1970 the possibility of transmitting the new Aquarius show was merely an option for the other dozen companies which made up the ITV network and apart from Granada very few were willing to transmit culture, preferring to reach for their revolvers. But within the year, after we gained the confidence of the ITA, who declared the show mandatory, meaning every company had to screen it, we switched to a weekly schedule for thirty-nine weeks of the year, plus repeats on LWT in the summer months, so I was now a presenter, as well as an editor, regularly on the air hosting the show to audiences measured in millions rather than the meagre thousands with which arts programme producers have to pretend to be satisfied half a century later.
But in the autumn of 1969 I needed programmes and people to make them, and my cupboard was bare.
Having spent six years at the Monitor coalface, I guess I knew what was wanted. First I had to have a strong number two, a producer, somebody to keep an eye on everything, including me. It was in the videotape editing suite at Wembley that I got into conversation with Derek Bailey, who was then directing programmes for our adventurous education unit after previous work in Northern Island for Ulster Television. Derek had had a brilliant student career as an actor (Prince Hamlet) and stage director (Tiger at the Gates). Something told me on the spot that we could work well together and so we did, very happily, for five years. Derek was immensely proud of his Belfast heritage (the Troubles were just beginning), though politically he kept a neutral stance and it was years before I discovered that he was of Protestant stock – I’d never thought to ask him.