Alastair Mutch on programme budgets

A bit later on, I got put on the board. And then as company secretary, you did a legal report every board meeting, once a month, and you did a little piece, and spoke to the board about what was going on. It would be the late 80s by then. It was a fascinating time. I loved the legal cases – I just found the whole thing fascinating. And Plowright, of course, was in charge by then, Denis having retired, and he was a lively, great character, died far too soon. It was very sad.  To them, the only thing that mattered was good programming. If it made a few bob, so be it. And it’s interesting, they got a chap in, a business executive who went through all the management, but first he went to the board. And he said to them, “What’s your objective?” And they said, “To make the best programmes possible, in all categories.” He said, “No, it isn’t. Your job is to make money.” And of course, come the era of Allen and Robinson, that’s what it was all about. So they were pure programme makers, and they were pretty good at it. Programmes like Brideshead, followed by Jewel were fantastic, but the whole portfolio, Coronation Street, World in Action, Disappearing World, drama documentaries, etc. were all leaders in the network.

You’d had frequent discussions with these guys, I suppose?

Yes. And not always pleasurable, in some respects. Bill Dickson, as I say, was very conscious of the company’s money, and of course the Brideshead budget was six episodes, and I think the budget was £3m. And he asked me to keep an eye on it, and I remember once, in a meeting with Plowright and Derek Granger, I said, “Things are not going well. For example, you’ve hired a pen” – which had to be the exact type of pen used in the 1920s, or whatever – “for £250!” So I was brushed aside, and later, Derek was very cross that I’d raised this issue. But they gave up trying to control it, and it went to 12 or 13 episodes, and it cost about £10m. A lot of money in those days.

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