David Highet describes how the programme ‘Flying Start’ came about

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Flying Start was the notion of David Plowright. What happened after the riots is that Michael Heseltine came to Liverpool. He’d been appointed by Margaret Thatcher as Minister for Merseyside and I have to say he did an extraordinarily good job and that was a view shared by politicians of all complexions. Heseltine came and met in the little lounge that I had attached to my office Denis Forman, the Chairman, David Plowright, the Managing Director, Lady Margaret Simey, who was chair of the Merseyside Police Committee, and myself and what was put to Granada was that as well as neutrally reporting the news, Granada could use its considerable power and influence in the region to do something positive to help in the regeneration and recovery of the region. And the same message came when in our small Green Room we held a dinner a few nights later for leading business people and politicians who really wanted to have the same discussion with us. Amongst those attending as a host, David Plowright of course but a man whose name I now forget. The other principal hosts were David and myself. One of our non-executive directors who was the regional director of NatWest Bank so he was batting on our side. The conversation became quite heated and cries of ‘something must be done’ could be heard and Plowright took his cigar out of his mouth and put it down, took another swig of brandy and said ‘This is what we are doing. In 2 months time we’re going to launch Britain’s first Business Enterprise Competition for Small Companies (for small and medium-sized enterprises) and it will be called Flying Start. It will have the largest prize on British television, £25,000. Highet is going to raise a prize fund of £125,000 and NatWest Bank will be making a contribution of £50,000 in addition, which will be matched by Granada Television’. And there was a ripple of applause and moist eyes and slapping of backs and more brandy and cigars all round. When they left I said to David, “When did you think of that?” ‘Just now!’ And I said, “So, I have to raise the best part of £200,000, of which you will only give me £25,000 and NatWest will give me £25,000?” And he said, ‘Yes, that’s right.’ I said, “Who’s going to run it?” ‘Jim Walker’s going to be the Producer.’ I said, “Does he know?” ‘No, not yet!’ So Jim Walker was appointed, marvellous producer, and he went off working on the programme format. We brought in people from NatWest and others to be the judges and they helped him form the way which we would approach recruiting the candidates and making sure that we got good ‘uns rather than wrong ‘uns and the first programme was recorded on a boat in Preston Dock. I said to Jim Walker, “For God’s Sake, Jim, what are we doing?!” ‘No, it’s great!’ We sat on barrels for some reason and the presenters were Richard and Judy and that was, I think, their first run out as a presenting couple and they did very well and I think that, in turn, led on to them appearing as the presenters for This Morning and onward and onward! End of that part of the story.

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