After the satellite thing, I’d been on the group board for just over a year, with a division called Services to Business, which was a group of companies, one was Computer Field Maintenance, mending people’s computers, and frankly, I wasn’t very thrilled with it.
And then I was approached by head-hunters, on behalf of Central Television, where Andy Allen – did you know Andy Allen? – had been managing director. Great guy. Fed up of being managing director and wanted to go back to being programme controller. So Central were looking for a managing director. So I met the chairman of Central who was also the chairman of Boots, based in Nottingham, very nice man. And we talked. And shortly after, I got a call from the head-hunter, Roy Goddard, to say, they’re going to make you an offer. A few days, you’ll have an offer. So I said, oh, great. And a day later another phone rang, this in 1987 by the way. Another phone rang and it was David Plowright. And he said, “How are you doing?” And I said, “Alright.” And he said, “Denis is going to retire and I’m going to become chairman. Do you want to come and have a talk?” So I went up and met him at his house up there, and we talked, and I agreed to come back to Granada Television as managing director.
Previously your job was with Group?
Yes. And I was still at that point, with the two television directors, on the group board, which was good.
So ‘87, you became managing director?
Yes. The preoccupation was getting the franchise at that point. But in the run-up to the franchise, the independents’ lobby was getting stronger and stronger and stronger. And sense dictated that the old quota system, when the majors do this and I’ll do that and you do the other and we’ll just carve up the production between us, that obviously wasn’t going to last. So I persuaded, with the help of Greg Dyke, the other managing directors, I persuaded them that we had better start dress rehearsing for more access. The independents are going to win. And we can see if something where a certain proportion of the network needs, was separated out, and could be bid for. That meant the majors giving up capacity that could be bid for by any ITV company or any independent. And the franchises were re-awarded. That idea was suggested to the IBA, because the independents thing was… the IBA was very in favour.
And Greg Dyke came to see me and said, “Listen, this is going to have to become real. Will you take it on as the first chief executive of the Network Centre?” And I said, “Yes, probably, let me think about it.” At that point, the ‘David thing’ blew up, and I said to Greg, “Listen, I’ve been with Granada 25 years and I like the place. I really can’t. Count me out.” So I didn’t tell anybody at Granada. The press had a field day with this. They then said to me, “Well, you chair a group of three, Richard Dunnan, somebody else, to look for a chief executive. And so I did. And eventually we thought we’d found a guy. It got right up to details on the contract and his own company offered him a big job and he just pulled out. So Greg said to me, “Will you think again?” So I thought “Yes I will.” So I thought. And I loved every minute I worked at Granada and in television, but I equally decided I was going to retire as early as I could. So I said to Greg, “Look, I’ll do it on a three year fixed term contract, and then I’m off. And in the course of that three years, towards the end, you can start looking for the permanent guy.”
Did you move to London to do it?
Yes. Well, I didn’t sell my house in Manchester. I did a very good deal. I was able to have an apartment in the West End, which was a very nice way to spend three years in London. But of course, the dust had just settled on the David and Gerry Robinson affair when I cleared off as well. And that’s when Gerry asked me for a list of people he might approach in the broadcast world, so I gave him a list of people and he didn’t like any of them. Programme makers. And that’s when he brought in this monster Charles Allen. Terrible man. Terrible man.
Why do you say that?
Because he went around browbeating people. He forced Ray Fitzwalter to resign. Because Ray said he’d rather resign then get sacked, because he knew he was going to be. Because you know Ray, he wasn’t going to compromise. Awful fellow. Firing people left, right and centre.
Jules Burns described what happened in those times as brutal.
The culling of staff.
That’s a good word. And not only culling of staff, the stories that got back, no doubt some exaggerated, but he diminished people, he belittled people before he fired them and made silly demands on people.