To many people, Tony Wilson was a music mogul, or an intellectual maverick, but he was also extremely proud of introducing himself as a journalist.
In the July issue of Insider magazine, the Manchester-based business magazine that I edit, he was ranked at 99 in our list of the 100 most powerful people in the North West region. Yet he was by some measure one of the most influential Mancunians of the post-war era.
In the very latter stages of his life he was an accomplished presenter on BBC Radio Manchester, hosting Talk of the Town every Saturday, live from the Cornerhouse CafÃ©, and a sports programme, Ground Rules, which explored that particular local passion.
A sports programme on BBC Radio Manchester has to be opinionated, to have attitude, to slag off London and its Olympics, to get that spark going between City and United. And the reason it is so is because that is what the media in Manchester should be. And the reason the media in Manchester has to have that edge over anywhere else is because of great journalists like Tony Wilson.
He first made his mark in journalism with ITN, after graduating from Cambridge, but soon found his berth at Granada TV. As his former Granada colleague Phil Griffin said: ‘It was David Plowright’s Granada and at its heart was Tony Wilson. The heart was Regional Programmes. There was World in Action, Coronation Street, great drama, current affairs and documentaries, and Granada Reports was the brand signifier, the marque on the bonnet.
‘Tony brought flair, knowledge and intelligence into the studio. He was fearless, uncompromising and flashy in front of cameras. He fancied himself rotten. Ask any spark, make-up artist or stagehand and they’ll all testify to his peerless skills, generosity and good nature. He’s among the greatest TV presenters on the planet, ever.’
He launched his record label Factory Records, which launched the careers of Joy Division and the Happy Mondays, while at Granada Reports – as the late great David Plowright used to ask at management meetings: ‘What’s Wilson doing at the moment, apart from using my phones to run his record company?”
The facts of his life don’t tell you what a warm and affectionate friend he was. What a supportive and passionate journalist he was. He wrote an amazing column for the doomed North West Enquirer because he wanted to support a fledgling venture.
Every meeting with him was a joy: a flurry of inspiration and ideas and wonderful stories. I’ll never forget an otherwise-earnest meeting planning for a book we contributed to about the River Mersey.
Some of the other writers were asking about ‘tone of voice”. The voice of Tone intervened, and this is accurate: ‘When Sid Vicious was asked if his music was for the man in the street, he said ‘I’ve met the man in the street and he’s a c***.’ Write for who you want.”
There has been a great deal written and spoken about Tony Wilson over the past two weeks and all of it was true, because it was what people wanted to think about him. But he always maintained, even when there were film posters for 24 Hour Party People, bearing the legend Poet – Genius – Twat, that his public persona had nothing to do with him. But it did.
Even in the last sick few months he used his position as ‘Mr Manchester’to launch a campaign in the Manchester Evening News that railed at the injustice of the postcode lottery over his medication. Not for him, who had pals who funded his relief, but for those in Manchester who did not.
He was a truly special person who I was honoured to count of as a friend. I will miss him, but his spirit will never be forgotten. All of us who work in the media in Manchester will feel the same.