The Granada Group were in trouble. Remember there’d been a takeover bid from Rank, which successfully we escaped from simply because the IBA said they wouldn’t let Rank have the television franchise. It wasn’t a transferable asset. They’d give them to Granada and in the bidding for it they’d have to do it without. So that’s what saw Rank off. Nothing to do with our defence document.
Granada recruited a new chief executive called Derek Lewis. He’d come in as group finance director and then was promoted to group chief executive. And the truth is I was on the group board by this time because I joined the Granada Group board after the success of the BSB application. And frankly, he’s a very bright man, Derek Lewis, he had a first in maths from Oxford. He joined the Forte Corporation, and become a European something or other in the finance side. He was a brilliant numbers man. He worked everything off mathematical models and very private opinion. He had no sense of a commercial proposition. And people like the Bernsteins had it in their blood. Derek wasn’t very good at it. The group went through a series of making acquisitions, trying to grow new arms of business by acquiring small companies. None of it worked. And it got to the point where Granada Group needed a rights issue. They were short of capital. The company’s merchant bankers said, quite bluntly, “Not with Derek Lewis.” It really was the money boys saying, “Yes, we’re up for it, we’ll underwrite your rights issue, but not with that chief executive.”
And it was a very personal kind of company, Granada. There were a lot of people that actually got on for a long time, and it was tough. David Plowright was quite amusing really. You know David? “We’re not having these City people tell us what to do.” But eventually, I think Alex sat him down and said, “Look, David, keep Derek, no money.” So Derek, I think knew he was… anyway, it all ended quite happily. And the money came. But then, of course, that raised the question, you’d better have a chief executive, otherwise where are you going? And so, the headhunters produced Gerry Robinson, who’d… I think he was an accountant with Matchbox Toys. Then he joined Compass, wasn’t it, the catering group. And did management buyouts, very successfully. Made a lot of money. And had a huge regard in the City, as they do for people who can make lots of money. And in he came. Now, all the stuff that went on, you could say it was bad blood between David Plowright and Gerry. I think it didn’t matter.
And Gerry Robinson came in, and I think Granada Television, that year, had previously only made £20 million, and his new profit target he presented us with was £54 million, which was just stupid. I got on with Gerry Robinson because I knew more about it, in a sense, they’re not programmes. I did say to David at one point, “Listen, don’t get into arguments over the profits. You don’t know about profits. You only know, and thank God you do, about programmes.” Now I could deal with Gerry, because I would simply say to him, “Look, Gerry, you can’t have it. I’m sorry.” We went through a big cost-cutting operation to win the franchise at the price we won it at. And he just kept niggling and pushing, but what I didn’t know was that, behind the scenes, David took this up on an almost personal level with Gerry.
But you know, I think David Plowright, he never got over the Broadcasting Act. He never got over it. He lived for Granada Television. He didn’t go home much, frankly. There at night, and there at dawn. And he hated Margaret Thatcher, didn’t we all. He never got over it. And I used to say to him, “Listen, we’ve had the best part of it. We’ve been in this business all these years. It’s never coming back, David.” But he wouldn’t have it. And it all transferred into David virtually saying, “If you don’t get rid of Gerry Robinson, I’m off.” And then of course the last person they could get rid of was Gerry Robinson, otherwise they’d have lost the whole City. The share price, frankly, at that stage would have collapsed. If Gerry Robinson had walked out the door then, it probably would have been the end of Granada Group, and Television with it.
But why couldn’t Robinson live with Plowright?
I think it became personal. I never knew about the £54 million. I brought into Granada the first woman finance director. Very, very bright woman called Kate Stross, who we got from the Boston Consulting Group. She and I used to meet with Gerry, every month. And he never mentioned £54 million to me. I’m sure he did mention it to David because it came out in the end as provocative. It became provocative, I think, because they didn’t relate to each other.
But Plowright was forced out of Granada, wasn’t he?
Well, apparently. I knew nothing of all this going on until one morning, Alex Bernstein rang me up, because I was on a group board. And he said, “Look, I’ve not involved you in any of this, because you would have found yourself in an impossible position, but this is what’s happening.” Gerry wanted David, in the end, out of the, he wasn’t even the managing director, out of the chairman’s job. I think the sequence was Gerry “I want you to go, and Andrew Quinn will take over.” And he said “no”. I think Gerry then said, “Well listen, why don’t you go, but we’d like you to stay on as a consultant to the Granada Group.” David said “no”. And I think various palliative offers were made. But to David, it was not giving in programme making to a bunch of accountants, really. But that was in his heart from the minute the Broadcasting Act came out. David just wasn’t having it.
But Granada triumphed in that bid.
In what? For the renewal? Absolutely.
The only two sensible bids that went in, apart from the ones that had no competition, were Granada and London Weekend. We bid seven, they bid nine.
Why did Plowright react badly to this, because he was…
He wasn’t against making the bid.
No, but given the successful bid, why wasn’t he happy?
Well, he was until Gerry Robinson.
He was until then?
Gerry did, from time to time, press me hard for promises of more profit. And I remember in one meeting saying to him, “Look, we’re a fixed cost base in Manchester.” And that was a major plank in the bid, winning the bid. The quality threshold and all that good stuff. “We’re a fixed base resource. Fixed talent community.” By this time, we were into what finally became the Network Centre. “We have got firm commitments from the network, which will fill our resources for the next two years, and if we get rid of key people, with that order book, we’ll have to hire them back as freelancers. And there’s a considerable cost to that.” But Gerry’s mindset was, “Yes, but you won’t have to pay pension contributions.” So he pushed and pushed and pushed, and I pushed back, and said, “This place is running at resource optimum level.” But I don’t think Gerry didn’t care about television. His whole posture was to come into Granada Group and fire as much overhead as he could fire, and stay very close to the City, and the City thought he was marvellous. As long as they thought he was marvellous, the Granada Group board had to have him.