TONY WILSON 1950-2007.  RIP


Manchester’s most eccentric and best-known show-business impresario, TV presenter and raconteur Tony Wilson, Aka Anthony H. Wilson, and Mr. Manchester, have died of cancer. We have lost a true hero here.


I remember growing up in the 1970’s watching Wilson presenting Granada Reports, a regional TV news and magazine show for the North West of England, which moved from serious news coverage to silly season stories from the community at the drop of a hat. The format of such shows remains unchanged. One minute the presenters are talking about a local murder, and the next, they show a pancake race in Wigan. They move from the serious and profound to the pathetic and mundane – it’s like seeing recipe slots in the middle of a CNN report.


Wilson, a Salford born Cambridge Graduate, also presented a pioneering music programme, So It Goes, which introduced many leading punk bands who would have found it impossible to get aired elsewhere.  Wilson was also helping to promote the bands in his nightclub slots. He retained his role as a newscaster and broadcaster for Granada Reports at this time too.


So It Goes was the first show to feature The Sex Pistols. The Buzzcocks & The Dammed was among other giants of punk who appeared. An outburst of live on air profanity by veteran rock wild man Iggy Pop got the show cancelled.


Wilson established his own record label, Factory Records; so many bands in his TV shows were his own recording artists.


Wilson initially ran ‘Factory Records’ club nights at The Russell Club in Hulme, but he dreamed of owning his own club. His best-known bands were The Happy Mondays and Joy Division, later to change its name to New Order. The story of the rise and fall of Factory and Wilson’s own club, The Hacienda is given in my review of the film 24 Hour Party People, though the film certainly takes liberties with his story, as he is quick to point out himself on DVD commentaries.


Wilson, along with fellow Granada Reports presenter Lucy Meacock, later hosted a highly controversial late Friday night chat show called Granada Upfront in which studio audiences debated various issues of the day from Euthanasia to whether wrestling was ‘fixed’ or not. The debates of ten degenerated into fighting, and shouting that made Gerry Springer’s audiences seem tame.


As a member of the Manchester Humanists, I was invited to an upfront debate, which I was told addressed general moral standards. In fact, it was about the local BDSM scene. I found myself on live TV with a few Humanist friends, surrounded by people in heavy bondage gear, hoping that none of my family or friends would see me, but many did.  Wilson moved round the studio in happy bewilderment at what had turned into a circus around him. The guest BDSM folk were actually all from the same club, and all went away together on the same coach, though the show made them look as if they had all turned up independently of one another.


Wilson hosted a Channel Four talk show series called After Dark, in which guests talked well into the night on highly controversial topics in a show with no set finishing time, encouraged to pontificate with copious amounts of alcohol, Some guests, notably Oliver Reed, caused controversy once drunk. The show eventually faded out as most channels started transmitting 24 hours a day, and there was no real way to maintain such an open ended format any more.


Wilson stayed with Granada Reports, and wrote columns for magazines like City Life, about Manchester. He was also a regular guest on Terry Christian’s TV review series Terry On Telly, filmed in Satan’s Hollow nightclub. I was a member of the audience at several filmings. I always found Wilson a pleasant, amiable chap who seemed to find everything around him strange – he always seemed to deserve better. Wilson was a good reporter who always seemed like he had something more serious to say, and he always looked exasperated when reporting on the trivia. 


Wilson’s illness and death were terribly sad to read about. He was told that a drug, Sunitinib, which could have helped him live a little longer and less discomfort, (but not cure him) was not available to him on the NHS (which he had always supported). His business losses meant that he could not afford the £35,000 a month required to gain the treatment privately.  He said angrily in a BBC report, “I find you can get tummy tucks and cosmetic surgery on the NHS but not the drugs I need to stay alive. It is a scandal"


Many showbiz friends and the people of Manchester were trying to raise the money for Wilson when he died, and with his passing  the city  lost a true hero, who gave us the Madchester music scene and a great deal of social insight, as well as proving to be one of our greatest humourists and eccentrics.


                                    LINK   Tony Wilson on Wikipedia.



Arthur Chappell