I left Oxford without a degree or any idea of what I wanted to do. My father was a diplomat, but I had no desire to follow him because I'd never pass the Foreign Office exams. I knew I liked going abroad, though, and certainly wasn't a 'little Englander'.
While at Oxford, I was in a revue entitled Four Degrees Over, which went to the Edinburgh Festival; and, when I'd left university, it opened in the West End, in 1966. We were 'discovered' as the new Beyond the Fringe team. We weren't.
Living at my parents' home in Guildford, I'd catch the 5.18 up to London every night. While I luxuriated in the emptiness of my carriage, going against the commuter tide, I always had a sense that I was in the wrong train and should have been crammed in with the others.
I knew I'd never be that good an actor, but instinct told me I was fit for theatre in some capacity. Deciding I'd prefer employing to being employed, I enrolled on a year-long Arts Council trainee administration course. By the end I had already set up the 69 Theatre Company, which became Manchester's Royal Exchange Theatre, and managerially I was born. I was the enabler and I liked that. Soon I was flexing my managerial muscles, providing the vision, target and activity as Mr Secretary Man.
But I'm not a solo act. I do like being a member of a team, working with people and having colleagues, shifting my ground, labouring a point I believe in totally, then discovering somebody else has a better one and changing tack at once. I've always been a bit difficult to deal with because I come and go, blow hot and cold. And I've a habit of coming back into the fray to say I don't like the way something's going. I've always tended to be a man with a purpose, living with a project from start to finish. Part of me worries a problem to death; another knows when to let it resolve itself.
The great actor-managers are people who can do nothing else, and I clearly wasn't one of them. So in 1986 it was time to move on, and for the first time I became a chairman, overseeing Manchester's Cornerhouse arts centre project.
Around then I also dreamed up the Manchester Olympic bid and mentioned it to a friend. He insisted I couldn't hide behind the great and the good any longer, I had to take the responsibility for it. I was just over 40. In Britain, we've rather lost track of going in for big occasions such as expos, world fairs and the Olympics. I haven't heard of a single British expo application all my life. Why not?
When our Olympic attempt failed, people asked in hushed tones if I'd got over it. I got over it that night. I'm fatalistic and always see the advantages. There were quite real advantages in Manchester not having to host the games; the grief and chaos, for starters. What was important for Manchester, though, was getting the stadium built, and in the aftermath of the bid we kept the notion of Manchester 2000 alive, took away the five Olympic rings and went for the Commonwealth Games. I love the discipline of the externally imposed timetable but, as sport is a small-budget item, you have to talk of employment, regeneration and 'investment in the quality of life'.
I don't know what I'll do to follow the Commonwealth Games, I have no definite plans. Careers are things you look back over rather than plan. I accepted the knighthood and I think I'll enjoy it, so long as it wasn't meant to have an obituary aspect. If it was intended to be a pat on the back and a 'kindly leave the stage' gesture, well, I'm sorry, but I'm not going.
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