The autobiography of Mrs Yates is interestingly presented in the Burnett Archive as an interview transcript which sets it apart from the other autobiographies in the collection. The interview was given by up-and-coming broadcaster John Berger in 1963 for Granada Television when Mrs Yates was 81 years old. ‘Mrs Yates: Before My Time’ was one of many Granada Television interviews that delved into the history of working-class lives.
Granada television commenced broadcasting in 1954 from Granada Studios in Manchester. The studio was northern through and through, proudly proclaiming its northern origins with the slogan “From the North” (Marucs, 2005). Their ethos was to offer a more radical identity compared to other conservative channels such as the BBC at the time. To signify their socialist values Granada TV was one of the very few channels that did not play “God Save the Queen” at close-down.
The popularity of the channel began to rise throughout the years bringing in great profits: ‘The Granada Group’s profits during its first year were £218,204. By 1980 that figure had grown to over £43 million.’ (Marcus, 2005) The fast rise in popularity indicates that a representative northern channel was long-desired by the public.
The interest in creating a northern branded channel was introduced by Granada Television’s owner Sidney Bernstein who preferred the people of the north over the people of the south: “Granada preferred the North because of its tradition of home-grown culture […] the North is a closely-knit, indigenous, industrial society; a homogeneous cultural group with a good record for music, theatre, literature and newspapers, not found elsewhere in this island […] Compare this with London and its suburbs—full of displaced persons.” (Marcus, 2005)
Creating a series that delved into the history of the working classes shows how Granada TV celebrated northern culture by honouring its history. The interview with Mrs Yates would have been especially esteemed due to her association with the mills of Lancashire, something that northern people watching at home could resonate with.
The interviewer, John Berger, identified openly as a Marxist which made him an ideal reporter for Granada TV. He believed his Marxist stance helped him to understand our place within history:
My reading of Marx… helped me enormously to understand history, and therefore to understand where we are in history, and therefore to understand what we have to envisage as a future, thinking about human dignity and justice.” (Levy, 2017).
We can acknowledge Berger’s interest in interviewing Mrs Yates as she belonged to the labouring-classes in a society amongst the mill owners who represented the bourgeoisie. Marxism gives a perspective to view social transformation, therefore Berger would have been particularly interested in hearing how Mrs Yates’s life was impacted by the class struggles of the time and how her working-class life could have been positively affected if she lived in a classless society. Berger really drives this interview with questions that prompt Mrs Yates to recall upon her life in Darwen and how her working-class status affected the way she lived.
The interview is mainly formal and when Mrs Yates sometimes goes off-topic Berger strictly puts her back on track again:
“Berger: Do you remember how many children were in your class you went to.
Mrs Yates: I could count them on the photograph you know, but I like I don’t just know. Of course, I know them all and I can count them. I should say… how many out of…. Three…
Berger: who would… it doesn’t matter, doesn’t matter.”- (p.7)
Berger is more interested in hearing about the facts of her representative working-class life rather than the intrinsic details of Mrs Yates childhood such as her classmates. Berger may also have been aware of the audience he needed to engage which forced him to keep the interview flowing and interesting for the viewers at home.
Mrs Yates comes across as very pleasant within this interview and we can identify her colloquial lexis throughout which gives the interview a very on-brand northern feel for Granada TV. This is further implied through the transcriber and their inability to pick up on certain words such as her home village lower Darwen, ‘Lower……?’ (p.9). The transcriber’s inability to discern what Mrs Yates is saying suggests that Mrs Yates may have had a Blackburn accent which was difficult to understand. At one point in the interview, Mrs Yates recites a Blackburn poem which the transcriber cannot copy, ‘Lancashire poem: I could not transcribe this: but timed it with a stop watch’ (p.28). Clearly, the Lancashire dialect was inaudible to the transcriber and unfortunately, for us, we will never know the poem that Mrs Yates was reciting.
Check out this interview with John Berger from the Newsnight Archives:
Levy, S. The ways John Berger saw. [online] SocialistWorker.org. 2017. Available at: <https://socialistworker.org/2017/01/12/the-ways-john-berger-saw> [Accessed 1 March 2021].
Marucs, L. Teletronic | The History of ITV – Sidney Bernstein. [online] Teletronic.co.uk. 2005. Available at: <https://www.teletronic.co.uk/pages/history_of_itv_10.html> [Accessed 24 February 2021].
‘Mrs Yates: Before My Time’ Burnett Archive of Working Class Autobiographies, University of Brunel Library, Special Collection.