Sidney Bernstein as a risk taker

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I wasn’t aware of the fragility of the company’s finances – very few people were aware of the deal that was done with ATV and Rediffusion, I only read about that in the book years later. The little bit of indiscretion which I probably will allow myself, because it’s all a long time in the past… there was a moment when the stability of the company was seriously at stake, and Granada was a public quoted company at that stage, and I discovered, after my father’s death, that in the ‘50s there was an attempt to take over the company by raiders in the stock market, and… not all the members of the family resisted the blandishments of some of those who were offering to buy Granada shares. And my father and his brother Cecil, and some of the other directors, made their own shares, and shares they had set aside for their families, available to an employee share trust, we would call it today, in order to secure the loyalty of some of the senior staff and executives who might have been lured away by those who were keen on taking advantage of the, as it proved, temporary financial vulnerability of the company. So I think that… what do I think… I think maybe they… I wouldn’t say they had bitten off more than they could chew, because they would chew it in the end, but I think they… the project proved to be more taxing financially than they ever imagined, and riskier than they had imagined, and I don’t believe that when they set out, they thought, “Well, we’ll stake everything on this.” I don’t think that’s what they thought they were getting involved in. Having said which, if you read Caroline Moorehead’s biography of my father, I mean, I only know him obviously from when I was born, and even well after that, from the ‘60s onwards, when he was a successful businessman, and he had already done a lot – but if you read about his early career, he was an imaginative innovator, and he did take risks, and he built these cinemas and they didn’t really know whether people were going to come and fill the seats; he borrowed money from Barclays Bank to do that, he bought the Phoenix Theatre in Charing Cross Road and was lucky enough to secure Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence to open it for them in Private Lives; these were all risky, entrepreneurial, showmanship undertakings, and if you both, as you did, worked at Granada Television, you would have seen those PT Barnum prints that he insisted were in every office and at every desk. So there was a showman side to him, absolutely, and that involves a little bit of faith and trust that you will have a good audience for the second house if not for the first house, that’s what he always used to say, quoting the old musical days. So that was always there, and a bit of bravura certainly, but by the time he was in his 70s there was a good solid track record as well. And there was also a great network of firm friendships and established contacts in the worlds that he was dealing with, so when he was looking for programme makers, when he was looking to bring the arts, politics, current affairs, into the new industry of commercial television in the UK, he was well-placed to do that because of his earlier successes through cinema and Hollywood and so on.

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