David Bernstein on his father’s ethical and political beliefs

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One of the things that is his legacy, I think, which he was… he created an atmosphere where the successes at Granada Television could take place. The quality of the people that he brought into the company, the standards that he set, the ethos of fierce editorial independence for all the programme makers… all of that. He was well-established in his politics, his world view, and you can go back to the fact that he joined the Labour Party in 1920 when he was 21 years old, and he was a paid-up member when he died in 1993. And yes, he was a successful businessman, and yes, I was brought up in a very privileged household, but he never forgot that, and he always made a point of stressing to his children that ‘with privilege comes responsibility’, that was his phrase, and he never forgot that. There were a lot of glamorous people going through our home when I was a young boy, but the Americans, I remember… when I was older and looked at their lives, they were very much of the Hollywood group that resisted McCarthyism. He was very proud to be friends with Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. Ingrid Bergman, who was a very good friend of his, had a terrible time with Hollywood over her affair with Roberto Rossellini, and she was drummed out of Hollywood by the very conservative moral police, if you like. My father wouldn’t have any of that, and supported her and always welcomed her into his home, and he was very firm and fierce about the principles that governed his business life and his private life and his personal friendships, and I think that was something that everybody who worked at Granada benefited from, whether they did it consciously or just unconsciously.

And you’ll have to make sure that when you interview my sister, she repeats the anecdotes that she told… which I heard for the first time that Saturday morning, about her father telling her how to behave when she was on the opposite side from him at an industrial dispute. I mean, I thought that was marvellous, I had tears in my eyes and I swelled up with pride when I heard her telling me how Daddy had behaved on that occasion. I thought, “Wonderful, wonderful!” I mean, I had… I must have similar experiences with him but I didn’t have that experience.

But you know, he was… he was a visionary man of principle like that, but at the same time he had a lot of charm and bon ami. There’s a lovely tribute to him in the Times by Bernard Levin, written just after Daddy died, which Bernard describes him as… a tribute to “a man whose greatest gift was the gift of friendship”. And what Bernard describes there is somebody who brought people together, which I think is a great gift, you know, the breadth of people that he brought together. And then you have this… like a chef bringing ingredients to a dish, you know, I mean, we talk about fusion cooking, don’t we, you know, when you take two or three traditional, separate genres, and you bring them together, and you’ve got more than the sum of the parts. And the number of people that you bump into in the creative broadcasting world who have had some association with Granada is ridiculous. It’s ridiculous, you know, it’s do over proportion, disproportion, and I think that he understood the value of that because it was part of his personality and part of his private life as well as his business life, was to bring all these people together, get the brightest, bring them together, put them in a room, see what happens.

How do you think what you call his Labour, his socialist principles, manifested themselves in the output from Granada? Do you think there was a direct link?

Well, I never thought so. I mean, I think the first thing, and the interesting thing, and I probably need to re-read Caroline’s book, is how much did he and Cecil struggle with accepting… that they… well, deciding that they ought to go into commercial television at all. It was the idea of a Conservative administration, it was against their sort of Reathian public broadcasting principles of the BBC and of… sort of in my socialist approach, which is I suppose what you would call my father’s, I suppose they must have felt that, well, if it was going to happen, we might as well do it, make sure it’s as good as it can be. Who better to ensure it’s done well than us? There’s some arrogance there, but I think they thought they could do it well, and that’s what they endeavoured to do. But I think that, if you look at what’s happening today, or what’s happened since the glory days, so… Steve Morrison’s not here to contradict me, but he sort of argued against this on your Saturday, but you know, it… the public broadcasting responsibilities that were in the original Act were fulfilled and maintained at Granada 100% – and because they believed in it, not because they had to do it, but because they wanted to do it – and I think my father would have been proud of that, and I think that was something that he consciously and overtly chose to do and strove to do, and I don’t think you can say that of all the other contracting companies in independent television in this country.

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