Sidney Bernstein’s relationship with the Labour Party

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Well I’m just going to remind myself that you asked about the extent to which Granada might be seen as the public face of Sidney Bernstein’s politics. And in order to find an answer to that question, I went back to sketching the period that his life spanned, and by the time Granada began broadcasting, my father was in his late 50s and he’d already been through the First World War, the slump and the General Strike in the ‘20s, the Depression of the 1930s, and he… he very firmly felt that the Labour Party had policies, social policies particularly, which were the ones that he supported and felt were best for the country, no doubt about that. And in the ‘60s, which was a fascinating decade, my sister’s godfather, Bernard Levin, wrote a great book called The Pendulum Years which talks about the great social and political upheavals in this country in that decade, but there was a lot of change there, and my father resolutely supported the Labour Party, even when it struggled internally with itself, and after some hesitation accepted a peerage from Harold Wilson in 1969 when he was 70, and I think that he… he always felt a bit embarrassed a bit about it but I think he felt that it was, to a large extent, a reflection of the public service broadcasting success of Granada, and I think that’s why he accepted the peerage in the end.

Well, he went to the House of Lords and he made a maiden speech… he didn’t like public speaking; he wasn’t a great orator, and he always found that difficult, so he didn’t speak a lot but he made a maiden speech in a debate on broadcasting, and to my knowledge only spoke once or twice subsequently. But he voted when he was asked to by the Labour Whips, and he certainly participated as a Labour member of the upper house. His sweet anecdote, which… his sister Beryl married a doctor, and his brother-in-law Joe’s medical practice was based at the top of the Finchley Road, 615 Finchley Road, by the Blue Star garage, and it so happened that a young Labour MP called Harold Wilson bought a home in the catchment area of my Uncle Joe’s practice, and when that young Labour MP eventually became the leader of the party and then Prime Minister, my uncle, Joe Stone, became the Prime Minister’s doctor and he was ennobled as well. And my father and his brother-in-law were both in the House of Lords at the same time, which I think was a rather nice family coincidence. But both Labour supporters, and both had very… another experience, if I didn’t mention, the Second World War.

My father was a little bit too young to fight in the First World War, so he tried and failed a medical in the last year, his elder brother, the eldest of the nine children of my grandmother and father, was killed at Gallipoli. At the time of the Second World War, my father was too old to fight – he was 40 in 1939 when war broke out, and he served in the Ministry of Information and was involved in a lot of the film propaganda effort during the war, and was able to document the atrocities in the concentration camps as part of the work that he did for the psychological warfare division of the Supreme Headquarters of the Allied Expeditionary Force – that’s a mouthful! His brother-in-law, Joe Stone, the doctor I just mentioned, was one of the first army medics to go into Belsen, and I believe he was instrumental in getting news to my father of what the British Army found there. He and Daddy said to me that they were vivid memories that would effect them for the rest of their lives, of what had happened – not just to Jews but all the victims of the Holocaust, and I think he felt that was another reason to be very firm about the social policies that he felt the Labour Party embodied more than any of the other political parties.

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