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Graham Stuart: Dundee mastermind behind Graham Norton Show on THAT Fergie interview and living TV dream

Graham has enjoyed a glittering career behind the camera, winning awards and amassing a fortune putting A-listers on The Graham Norton Show.
Marc Deanie
Graham Stuart says interviewing Fergie helped prepare him for life as top TV producer.
Graham Stuart says interviewing Fergie helped prepare him for life as top TV producer.

Dundonian Graham Stuart has enjoyed a glittering career behind the camera, winning awards and amassing a fortune putting A-listers on The Graham Norton Show sofa.

But barely a day goes by without someone mentioning that interview.

May 21 marks the 40th anniversary of his famous post-match chat with Sir Alex Ferguson after Aberdeen’s 1-0 Scottish Cup Final win over Rangers at Hampden.

It saw the managerial great slam his players, who just 10 days earlier stunned Real Madrid in Gothenburg to win the European Cup Winners’ Cup.

‘Veins on his forehead’

Graham – a reporter on STV’s Scotsport at the time – says: “It’s so imprinted on my mind.

“I can see it so clearly now and I was delighted the interview featured in the recent Fergie documentary (Sir Alex Ferguson: Never Give In, released in 2021).

“In those days, the BBC and STV shared the game but the reporters from both channels had to run on the pitch afterwards.

“I think I was 26 at the time and I was really fit – I did a lot of distance running.

“So I beat the BBC to get out there and to reach Fergie. Hampden was packed – there was 70,000 people there – and you could see the strains and the pressure up close.

“I could see he was white…white with tension.

“This was 10 days after Gothenburg so I said: ‘You’ve won another cup but it was close’.

“That’s when I saw the veins appear on his forehead. I’m thinking he’s going to swear.

Sir Alex Ferguson speaks to Graham Stuart on the pitch after 1983 Scottish Cup Final. Image: STV.

“And then he looks at me, fury in his eyes: ‘We’re the luckiest team in the world – we were a disgrace of a performance!’

“I’ve got my earpiece in and, from the truck, they’re saying: ‘This is amazing!’

“I’m delighted the interview is used in every Fergie documentary to highlight his perfectionism.

“I was very inexperienced but you know you’ve got a story and that you’re in it.

“40 years on, people still talk to me about it.”

The Fergie clip has racked up hundreds of thousands of views on Twitter and YouTube, as has footage of Rangers legend Jock Wallace screaming in his face following his side’s League Cup Final triumph over Celtic a year later.

Furious Rangers legend Jock Wallace before post-match chat with Graham in 1984. Image: STV.

London-based Graham, 66, adds: “When he arrived back at Rangers as manager (in November 1983), I interviewed him at the entrance to Ibrox and I had to ask him about sectarianism.

“It’s on YouTube – I was known for that interview at the time. It was always difficult.

“He didn’t like me and didn’t respect me but he didn’t respect many people.

“I made a face handing back to the studio and I think people were sympathetic to me. That’s football.”

Joining forces with Graham Norton

But the former High School of Dundee pupil admits getting the hairdryer treatment from some of the biggest names in the game set him up for success in the TV production world.

“I couldn’t have planned it,” he says.

“My experience in TV and radio means I understand more than anyone just how demanding it is in a high-tension situation with a high-profile person.

“Graham Norton is the perfect example of someone who does and says the right thing in the heat of the moment.

“Everything that happened taught me I was a producer, not a presenter. I wouldn’t change it for the world.”

More than a quarter of a century has passed since the dad-of-two started working with talk show king Norton, 60.

The business partners sold production company So Television, founded in 2000, to ITV Studios 11 years ago in a deal worth up to £17 million.

British actresses Joanna Lumley (L) and Jennifer Saunders (R), stars of "Absolutely Fabulous" pose with British talk show host Graham Norton (2nd R) and Graham Stuart (2nd L) at the 29th International Emmy Awards, in New York City. *... Norton and Stuart won the Popular Arts category with the Channel 4 show, "So Graham Norton-Show 18". Lumley and Saunders were presenters during the event. Saunders were presenters during the event.
Joanna Lumley and Jennifer Saunders presented Graham Stuart and Graham Norton with an International Emmy in New York in 2001. Image: Press Association.

Graham says: “We’re still doing it, it’s amazing.

“We’ve worked together a long time and this is the kind of luck you hope for if you’re working in TV.

“Some telly people get precious – but this is show-business. It’s about working with stars.

“Norton is phenomenal. He’s an incredibly talented person and a decent and good man.

“There aren’t many of them around.”

The Irishman famously got his big break on Channel 5’s The Jack Docherty Show, winning Best Newcomer at the British Comedy Awards in 1997 for his stint standing in for the Absolutely and future Scot Squad star.

Graham says: “Jack is a really talented guy. I see him from time to time, he handled it all with great dignity and grace.

“I was in the middle at a table with all of them that night. Our lives changed the moment he (Norton) won.”

Graham’s beginnings

The Dundee producer’s beginnings were on Clive Road – with late parents Rona and Jack and sister Susan who passed away last year – before attending Downfield Primary School.

He says: “My parents were both Aberdonians and moved to Dundee not long before I was born.

“Dad was an accountant. In those days Dundee was the land of new opportunity and he started at Timex.

“After Clive Road, we moved across the Kingsway to Elgin Gardens.

“I have really fond memories of that time.”

From his days at high school, Graham dreamed of a career in TV and working with “the best student television service in Europe” at the University of Aberdeen ignited his passion further.

Graham Stuart.

The English graduate soon moved to London as a BBC trainee before an unexpected intervention from this publication.

He says: “My mum sent me a little advert from The Courier and asked if I’d be interested – it was an advert for a new radio station.

“It was Radio Tay. So I wrote back and thankfully I got the opportunity.

“In 1980 I came back from London to Dundee to help set up Radio Tay.

“I did a bit of news and sport on Tay and then I got picked up as a sports producer for BBC radio in Glasgow.

“Out of the blue I was doing a lot of interviewing in that job and STV spotted me.

“I’d grown up watching Scotsport and then suddenly I’m there as a reporter working with Arthur Montford.”

Henry, Wenger and McLean

Graham hasn’t covered football since he returned south in 1986 to work for London Weekend Television (LWT).

He is an Arsenal season ticket holder but his first football love is Dundee FC.

The producer says: “I’ve been a fan all my life.

“My two sons are proper Gunners and I love going to Arsenal games. But I don’t think you can lose who your team is and Dundee’s result is the first I look for every week.

“There isn’t a big football interest in The Graham Norton Show but I managed to get Thierry Henry on, he was an amazing guest. So was Arsene Wenger, great guy.

“I don’t think I’ll be booking any Dundee players or managers any time soon although I’d love to!”

Rivals Dundee United, along with Fergie’s Aberdeen, dominated Scottish football during Graham’s days covering football.

“United were the premier club then,” he says.

“And I have really happy memories of that period and my experiences with Jim McLean.

“I happen to know Jim’s nephew Derek, a really successful TV producer and when Jim died I told him a story that the family really liked.

“I was reporting for Radio Tay on the Scottish Cup Final that was coming up on the Saturday (May 1981) and I went to interview him.

“I could sense he was under a lot of pressure.

Jim McLean pictured in 1997.

“As I was walking back from Tannadice I checked my tape machine and the interview hadn’t recorded.

“I was panic-stricken. I went in to see the secretary, to say: ‘I’ve got a problem’.

“She was concerned and thinking I was in deep trouble.

“He made me feel, deservedly, small but did the whole thing again.

“However difficult he was, that was the kindest thing to do, a real touch of class.”

Graham returned to his old high school for a prize-giving ceremony last summer and says Dundee “still felt like home”.

He says: “I’m a Dundonian and that work ethic runs strong.

“I couldn’t imagine not working.”

Not even when So Television was sold in a seven-figure deal?

“We felt we were doing something we wanted to keep doing,” he adds.

“That was my approach. Some people use these moments as an exit strategy but we used it as an entrance strategy to get bigger and better.

A boy from Dundee…speaking to half of The Beatles.

“Graham’s the same. The minute you start thinking something’s a chore, maybe it’s time to give it up.

“But it’s a privilege doing this job.

“One thing stands out – I remember we had this big talk show at London Weekend Television.

“I’m on the studio floor just chatting to these two guys, having a laugh. But it was like an outer-body experience.

“I’m just some boy from Dundee. And here I am standing speaking to half of The Beatles – George and Ringo. Amazing.”