Box Office: The Man Who Helped Life on Mars Live on Screen Speaks out; Arts & Entertainment He's Used to Handling Massive Budgets, Working with Big Names and Creating Some of British Television's Most Successful Programmes - Including Life on Mars. So Why Does Stephen Garrett Describe His Job as 'Pretty Ill-Defined'? Matt Thomas Finds Out
Byline: Matt Thomas
WE tend to think of television as a pretty immediate medium, something that comes in half-hour-long installments providing an instant hit of entertainment.
Behind the scenes, however, they've got their eye on the long game.
"It might surprise you to know that it took us seven years to persuade anyone that a little show called Life on Mars might be worth making," says Stephen Garrett, the man behind the award-winning series and producer of programmes including Spooks and Moving Wallpaper.
"And it took us 13 years to get Moving Wallpaper off the ground.
It can be quite frustrating at times."
This might seem like a masterpiece of understatement but Garrett is, in contrast to the crazed neurotic producer at the heart of Moving Wallpaper, a remarkably relaxed man.
He's alsoavery successful man, and will be travelling to Aberystwyth next month for an interview session as part of student film festival Ffresh.
He's going to be giving the benefit of his 30 or so years experience of television to an audience of eager film students.
But even though he's the brains behind British TV's best home-grown hits and exports of the past decade, he says things haven't always gone quite to plan.
"Early on in my career, this was back in the 80s, Iwas working on a programme called Riverside, which was supposed to by an attempt by the BBC to pre-empt Channel Four's move to corner the youth market.
"We got a call one day from a young man, a very forward call, basically saying 'I'm very talented, I'm going places you need to have me on your show.' "Well of course we said 'leave your name' and we never got back to him. It turned out that his name was George O'Dowd. We missed a trick there," he says referring to Boy George.
Generally though, things have gone right more often than wrong for Garrett.
After studying law at Oxford in the 70s, "even though I realised very quickly that I didn't want to be a lawyer", he moved up to Manchester to work as a researcher at Granada.
This was, he says, "a very exciting time to be in Manchester, just after punk, and getting to work with Tony Wilson who was then just setting up Factory Records".
Although he initially wanted to be a director he was drawn to production after realising TV is a producer's medium.
"I directed a couple of things but it became clear that if you wanted to get anything done, to move things forward, then you had to be a producer."
Which is what leads us to the big question. What is it that a producer actually does?
"Well, it is quite a nebulous concept really.
"But with something like Spooks for example, I came up with the concept one day wandering around a book shop trying to think of a new pitch for a precinct-based show, something like a police show or a hospital drama.
"Then I brought in David Wolstonecraft to write it, secured funding from Channel Four, as that was who we were pitching it to at the time, to make a pilot. …