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And so it goes...

Tony Wilson, who died this weekend at 57, was Liverpool's secret champion, writes Angie Sammons

Written by . Published on August 13th 2007.

And so it goes...

Tony Wilson might have been known as Mr Manchester, and, if they had a mayor over there, who would have been more interesting or apt in the role?

But, in a way, the Mr M tag, created by the media, is a bit of a misnomer. That he did more for the city up the M62, in terms of popular culture, than almost anyone else, is undeniable, but Tony Wilson, catholic Salford grammar school boy, had a breadth of vision and appeal that reached far beyond the rainy city.

Near to home, his eyes - and his heart - saw the whole region, Manchester and Liverpool, as one big stamping ground, and he saw absolutely every reason to speak his mind about this place as if he belonged to the family.

That attitude often got him into trouble, but Wilson's fondness for Liverpool was sincere, and he was often spotted here, chewing the fat with other great and not-so-great minds, holding court and sparking out grand ideas for the city as they occurred to him, such as a great museum of pop culture, down on the waterfront, called POP.

He wanted to chair Question Time when
he reached 60 'because I'd be very good at it. I wouldn't be quite as good as Robin Day, but I would be better than Paxman. I have the humility'

I was lucky enough to interview him on a number of occasions. It was ambition fulfilled, having come from a generation of Liverpool school kids who grew up doing their homework and watching the then young and urbane Cambridge graduate, night after night, on Granada Reports, alongside Bob Greaves who was neither of those things.

Wilson brought a little dash of danger (if you were 11) to a typically dull and worthy teatime regional news programme, so when he went on to introduce punk bands in the must-see Granada TV show So It Goes, and later What's On, the image, for us, was already complete.

In one particular face-to face I wrote up for the Daily Post, he told how he'd been running up and down the motorway for three years, unpaid, trying to get POP off the ground. “If anywhere in the world should house a museum of popular culture indeed it is Liverpool for the simple reason that popular culture became globalised in the 20th century and the primal act of popular culture is the pop group, and the fundamental pop group is the Beatles.”

It didn't happen, of course, and Wilson shrugged: “Unfortunately I get carried away with ideas and the fact that they're wonderful.”

He became great for a soundbite after that, one of the people you'd ring if you needed a quote or an opinion on a big story.

“Wilson!” he'd bark into the receiver on answering the mobile. “Yes, darling,” (he called everyone Darling) “I'm just driving.

"What do I think of Liverpool winning Capital of Culture? It's fucking marvellous isn't it? You can print that one for free. Got to go, love. Just jumped a bloody red light.”

He knew his worth and didn't dish his opinions lightly to the media.

Last year, on the North West Enquirer (where Wilson freelanced a sports column) we were going to run a big debate on which was the most important musical city in the last 30 years, with Paul du Noyer in the Mersey corner and Tony speaking up for Manc.

“Most important musical city in the last 30 years? Don't you mean 50 years? If it's 30 years you want to do then we'll fucking trounce you love," he yelled down the phone.

SoitgoestonywilsonSo It Goes

“You really want to put the fucking Teardrop Explodes up against The Smiths, The Buzzcocks, Joy Division, the Mondays? Do you really?”

I paused.

“Make it 50 years, factor in the Beatles and Liverpool might have a chance. Oh, and come back to me with a couple of figures when you've spoken to your editor and we'll see if I'm interested. Goodbye.”

I never did. I knew we'd never afford it. Like Tony, the paper had big ideas and no money.

Factory and Hacienda came and went, but Tony's TV ambitions were far from over.

He once told me he wanted to chair Question Time when he reached 60 “because I'd be very good at it.” It was matter-of-fact, said with utter confidence, as if addressing the school debating society.

“I wouldn't be quite as good as Robin Day, but I would be better than Paxman. I have the humility.”

C_71_Article_1013299_Image_List_Image_List_Item_0_ImageTony was a brilliant communicator. He may have had a big ego, but when Shaun Ryder sang, “who's got the biggest brain?” he surely must have been a contender. And he knew it.

A big loss to two great northern cities because there was nobody quite like him and every city needs a Tony Wilson.

The fact that he's gone so prematurely, at 57, can only, if that's an option, be irking him enormously.

And in a world where nobody knows exactly what it's like to die, one can imagine Tony must be itching to be the first to tell us.

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9 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Matt FinneganAugust 10th 2007.

A lovely piece about a lovely bloke. Spot on about the sense of danger - and intelligence - he brought to Granada Reports and of course So It Goes blew our young minds when he gave our favourite punk revoloutionaries air time. After that he could have done almost anything and still been indulged by a generation of grateful North Westerners. But he did better than rest on his journalistic and musical laurels - he remained passionate about the things he believed in, which is a good example for us all. And what a good socialist too. As you say, much more than 'Mr Manchester' - I suspect he would have hated that description - God knows we could do with a few more just like him, prepared to kick over the traces. I shall remember dancing delightedly to 'White Man in the Hammersmith Palais' when he played it at his club in Manchester one night during the last Labour Party conference. A class act to the end.

Frank Cottrell BoyceAugust 10th 2007.

He really did love Liverpool and spent a lot of time here and it's a tragedy for this city that he wasn't heading up the Capital of Culture because he would've done a great job. Three words - generous. generous. generous.

Mark R Garner. The Publisher. Liverpool ConfidentialAugust 10th 2007.

Angie, you are aware that I was over eight years a close personal friend of Tony, Tony, Tony. Very few people knew that he called the DRM (digital rights management) on the button back in '99, bugger me, I see that Universal have finally, today, done what Tony said they should do all those years ago. He could piss all over the boys with the bright teeth down in London when it came to future thinking. Our Editor in Manchester as well as another close friend have written about him in the last twenty four hours and I sit here at 2.00 am reading the Sunday Papers, bursting forth with tens of thousands of words, mainly positive all about 'Anthony H. Wilson.' Believe me, Tony would have ripped your piece out and stuffed it in his arse pocket whilst borrowing a biro off me to write 'call angie contact her' on the back of his hand. Good one kid. He would also call me a twat for going on with myself.

AnonymousAugust 10th 2007.

He'd have sorted the Culture lot out for sure!

SammyAugust 10th 2007.

dont forget Bill Shankly was his greatest hero

Steve LythAugust 10th 2007.

Brilliant piece that Angie love, without Anthony H, Northern music would never have got anywhere, unfortunately its where we are back to now.God rest your soul Tony

Curly WeeAugust 10th 2007.

Tony Wilson was a good bloke who will be sadly missed by people in both cities. He was big enough to rise above all the nonsense and had a real vision. People like that will always be left on the margins. He wasn't a crook, so his ideas never made him rich

AnonymousAugust 10th 2007.


Jim McCabeAugust 10th 2007.

Despite his all too obvious footballing allegiances, I had a lot of time for Tony Wilson. If John Peel was the figure who gave punk a national platform, Tony Wilson did likewise for a regional audience. For that alone, he'll be fondly remembered. However, there was so much more to his impact on life in the north west. Journalism, music management, civic engagement, it was all of a piece to a guy who richly merits the tag of Renaissance Man. He'll be sadly missed.

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