Interviewed by Geoff Moore, 6 May 2019.
So take us back to your early life and where you grew up and so on.
Early life was a long time ago! I was born in Wembley, right at the beginning of the war, so it was a fairly lively upbringing. Not that it bothered me at the time, but during the blitz you spent many hours in a shelter outside the front door. House at the bottom of the garden was bombed. We had a V-1 land in a school field behind us. Blew all the windows in, doors, but we were in the shelter and so that was okay. And then I started at the local primary school till I was about seven. I can’t say I was a star pupil. My parents transferred me to a prep school in Harrow, which was okay. Stayed there till 13, and then went to what they call a ‘lesser known’ public school. That was Aldenham School. Careers advice was a bit different in those days. I went and saw the careers master. I can’t think that he was being paid for this job. He said, “What do you want to do, my boy?” And I said, “I was thinking of accountancy.” And that was on the basis that some of my father’s friends were accountants and they seemed to be fairly comfortably off. So he said, “Good idea. Here’s a leaflet.” And that was it. That was my careers advice.
So I went to the Institute of Chartered Accountants with my father and they said, “Yes, fine, you can be an accountant.” You only needed five O-levels in those days. So I left before taking A’s, and they said, “Here’s a place.” I said, “It’s in the city, could I work in the West end?” “Most certainly.” Gave me a note to go and see somebody. And so I started work just opposite Baker Street Station, super little office. But then my father was transferred to work in an office in Hyde, in Cheshire. So we headed north, as I was only earning £4 a week, not much chance of staying put! So I joined a company called Nasmith Coutts & Co in King Street. I can’t say it was the happiest period of my life. The senior partner was not my favourite man in the world. Strong disciplinarian and very tight on exam leave. For example. The minimum, the bare minimum, that the institute recommended for leave before the final was one month, but most people got three months to prep for their exam. So of course, he gave the four weeks, not even a month, four weeks. By that time, I had gone from £4 a week to £5 per week when I had passed the Intermediate. When I passed the Final I was paid £850 per annum. No mean sum. But as I say, I was not very happy there and the wife’s godmother rang me one day and said, “Granada are advertising for an accountant.” I said, “Ooh, sounds more interesting than Nasmith, Coutts.” So I applied, got an invitation to go in and met the assistant chief accountant, who was Bill Dickson. And you remember Bill, I guess.
I do. What year is this?
1965, so I must have struggled through that bit of the interview, and I was brought back to see the chief accountant, who was a chap called J C Robinson. JCR as he was known was probably before your time, I guess. And he was somebody who liked the title but didn’t really like doing much work, and he threw everything onto Bill, particularly if Sidney came around and asked an awkward question. It would be, “Bill!” So Bill would jump and do it. Anyway, I went into the interview and Robinson looked at me and said, “Play golf, do you?” I said, “A little.” He said “Bramhall?” I said, “Yes.” He said, “I thought I recognised you.” I got the job!
Mr Robinson was the chief accountant?
He was chief accountant, not finance director. They didn’t really have them in those days, I suppose. Not that he was on the television board, I don’t think, but Joe Wharton was the finance king at Granada group. Sidney’s right hand.
Okay. So you started work in Manchester?
Yes. So I went into accounts department.
In ‘65. Tell us about that department that you worked in, how many people were working there?
Well, I walked in the accountants department on the seventh floor. I was assigned to a small group on the cost accounting side, but I suppose it must have been 25, 30 people all together. And of course in those days you didn’t have computers as such. You had a whole Hollerith department, as it was called.
And everything was punched into cards. Run through the system and it sorted the cards based on the punch holes and produced all the information that you needed. We had no calculators. Different world, really. Everything was spreadsheets written out by hand and so on. So I worked there for nine months. I have to say, I’ve always been a bit of a drifter. Fred Boud was general manager. Do you remember him?
I don’t. No.
Great fellow. He called me down and said, “Would you like to come and work for me?” I said, “okay”. I was not greatly enamoured of accounts really. So I suppose effectively I was a sort of management trainee. I worked in his outer office and he posted me for overall training to Film Ops with Bill Lloyd, Engineering with Keith Fowler, Design and Graphics under Peter Ash and a brief spell on production with Tim Hewitt
Yes. But the job was accountant.
No, it was just general management.
As I say, sort of management trainee, really.
And so on. So then I came back and worked fulltime with Fred. I had my first meeting with Sidney Bernstein at that point. I was working in, in the outer office, two secretaries and me. Must have been the end of the long hot afternoon. I lent back and stretched. Sidney walked in right on cue. “Did I wake you up?”
And what did you make of him?
He was God, really. And he had an influence in every sphere of every company he ran. But even more terrifying was his secretary, Miss Hazelwood. If she came on the phone, you were going, “What is it now?” I liked Sidney. But I have to say it was quite similar when you think of the latter period with Robinson and Allen, where the hatchet flew in all directions. It flew quite a bit when I was there. The Sales Manager went, my Chief Accountant went, the Chief engineer went the General Manager (before Fred Boud) went, and Fred Boud was later side-tracked down to films. There were others that I can’t remember.
What period are we talking about?
Through Sidney? Was it his initiative?
I would think it was Sidney. I was not privy to what was going on in the background, but I would think it was Sidney. So the office manager also went, Dennis Pook. Nearly every departmental head was changed. So it was an interesting time. Once Fred Boud went, a chap called Leslie Diamond came in.
Leslie was a great guy. Didn’t do a lot of work, I have to say. You walked into his office. “Oh, sit down. Sit down.” And you would sit down and we start talking about his life, which could fill a book. Comfortably.
What do you mean by that?
Well for example, he’d worked in radio before, and he’d been in Cyprus, and he read out the state of emergency announcement on Cypriot radio. I won’t say he knew Archbishop Makarios, but he certainly knew his brother because his brother, obviously also Makarios, conducted his wedding to a very young girl. He’d only been out a few times, chaperoned by two ladies at all times. And they stayed together until he died. He’d been in the war. He’d been shot down. He had been captured by the Germans. He’d escaped on one of these marches at the end of the war. He set up the Broadcasting Company of Northern Nigeria. He was manager there. It was owned a third Granada, a third Northern Nigerian government, and a third EMI. And another interesting insight into Sidney’s technique. Leslie was obviously new to Granada, and he was asked to do a report. And he said, “Yes, certainly, Mr Sidney. When for?” He said, “Tomorrow morning.” He said, “But you know, it’s afternoon now.” So he worked all night, got a secretary, and produced this report, saw Sidney in the morning, Sidney picked it up, tore it in half, and threw it in the bin. Didn’t even look at it.
Now I can only assume it was testing him under quite extreme pressure, having been up all night and producing this report, and seeing it go in the bin.
So he had no intention of reading it? It was just a test?
Yes, it was just a test. Anyway, he passed, obviously. So he got the job in northern Nigeria and again, you see the things that happened to Leslie. He went back some years later, and was caught in the middle of a military coup. He was briefly held with a man called Sir Abubaker Tafawa Balewa, the Nigerian Prime Minister, shortly before was murdered in January 1966.
Not many people know him.
Not many people know him.
So it was quite a close call. Anyway, he looked after me when worked with him. And then at some point I became office manager, which is not the most exciting job in the world. But you know, I drift along. So I did this for a few years. Trouble with that job, you’ve got a huge number of departments under you, and every time the phone goes, it’s somebody wanting something or complaining about something. People like John Birt, who went on to greater things, wanting a huge amount of space for his programme, Nice Time.
Nice Time was my first job.
So you know John well.
I do. I can imagine that, him wanting the biggest and best.
Yes, yes he did, too. He was never satisfied with what he got, but then nobody was, because I mean, you’ve got so many square feet or even square metres now, so many desks, so many chairs, and you do your best.
You do your best.
So I did that for quite a while, and then continuing the theme of drifting. Bill Dickson by now had become first chief accountant and then finance director. So he invited me into his office and said, “Do you want to come work for me?” So I said, “Okay.” So I went and worked for Bill, so I was back in Accounts, and a lot of budgeting. That was the main thing. But Bill was a fairly complex character. He was a very generous man with his own money, and fiendishly concerned about controlling the expenditure that Granada got involved in. And for example, he would have the accountants day by day, go through every single petty cash claim, which I have to say, in those days, were mostly, purely notional. An electrician, for example, would get up in the morning, get into his notional taxi, go to his place at work, and have his notional lunch and his notional tea, get in his notional taxi, and come home again, much richer than he was when he left in the morning. But if course, the unions at that time were fairly strong.
And there were notional overnights, weren’t there? They would have been quite an expenditure.
There certainly were.
But Bill, his secrecy was almost legendary. Of course, he would go to the board meetings, and all the board reports would be handed out to directors, who would be allowed to see them. And at the end of the meeting, he would collect up every written board paper. He didn’t trust the directors, or their secretaries, or assistants or whoever. It was so confidential. And I remember he tried my patience once. I was doing the annual budget. And as I say, there were no computers. And if you were lucky, you could get hold of a calculator but I didn’t have one in the early days. So the budget was hand-written on these spreadsheets, starting with the existing salaries going right across, cost of living increases, annual increase, and whatever else. So there’s a mass of figures down, a mass of figures across, grand total at the end. And it took ages to rejig if there was a change. Any rate, the one outstanding figure was the figure to be agreed with the unions for the year. And I’m going back a long time, but there were some huge increases. And I was driving home that night, and it came on the news that ITV had settled for… I think it was 16%. It was a huge figure. So I thought, “Right, a lot more work tomorrow morning.” So I went in early and started altering all the spreadsheets. And Bill came in and said, “What were you doing?” I said, “I’m altering all the spreadsheets for the increase.” “What increase?” I said, “Well it’s 16%.” “How do you know?”
I mean it all been confidential discussions at the highest level. And I said, “Well Mr Dickson. It was on six o’clock news last night.” But he was very good-hearted, very generous fellow. Very talented. He was a very good pianist.
Used to play in the flat upstairs at Christmas and entertain the elite. But Bill was also Company Secretary, so this was an area that I found more interesting. And that was the first time I came across this chap called Ray Fitzwalter. And Ray was deep into a legal case for some fellows called John Poulson, T. Dan Smith and also Reginald Maudling. So it’s a really, big heavy case, and I was never involved in that because Ray was reporting to Bill and Jeffrey Maunsell, our lawyer at Goodman Derrick. And of course, then Maudling went and died, and that was the end of that case. Gradually, I moved on to the legal side if you like, which was fascinating. And I think my first case, as it were, was quite interesting. It concerned a local chap who lived in Chorlton, and there was a stream running through his garden, and quite a bit of land and he wanted to develop the land, which adjoined a school. He applied twice to the council, Manchester City Council, and twice he was refused. So he sold the house and moved on. The house was bought by a chap called Harold Tucker, who went on to be Lord Mayor of Manchester, Cecil Ellison, a well-known solicitor, and Tucker’s wife. They applied for planning permission, and lo, and behold, they got it, Tucker being on the Council, his wife being on the Schools Committee. So we suggested that perhaps, or it was Richard Bellfield on local programmes, suggested maybe there was a bit of naughtiness going on. So we put the programme out, and they duly sued us for libel.
Which programme was it?
It was a local programme. Granada Reports, I guess. So we were sued, both the former owner of the house and Granada. So we had two counsel; Richard Rampton, who was our regular man, and a young politician called Leon Brittan. And I have to say Brittan, at that point, that’s probably the most impressive brain I’ve ever met. Obviously I knew all about the case and had studied it endlessly. He’d probably only read the papers once, and you’d make a point, and he’d say, “Ah, yes. But if you turn to such a page, you’ll see that it says…” Yes. I mean, he just absorbed information, but I have to say that counsel said, “You’re not going to win this. You’ve got no evidence.” We said, “Well, you know, things speak for themselves”. Anyway, we kept at it, and in the end, they withdrew. So that was one up to Granada, which was good. But I remember going home and saying to my wife, “I’ve met the future prime minister.” He didn’t quite make it. He became Home Secretary, and then it all went a bit pear-shaped, and he became something very big in Europe, and latterly a lord. Sadly, his life ended in the shadow of that suggestion that he was immoral, which was, of course, totally disproved. But he was a clever man.
This was in the what, early 70s, are we talking?
Yes, it would’ve been, Yes.
And you were in the… legal affairs department.
Yes, and then I suppose another very big one was British Steel. But you’ve spoken to David Boltoun about that?
Yes. Steve interviewed David. Yes.
Yes. I have to say, David made a slight mistake. He said that Lord Denning was for Granada. Now Denning was not for Granada. He was in the Court of Appeal and they unanimously found against us. The situation being that they asked for the return of their papers initially and that was ordered by the judge in the court of first instance. So they we returned them with all the identifying names snipped off. They were a bit upset! Then they wanted to know who’d provided us with the papers and Denning said, “You’ve got to give the answer,” and we said, “We can’t. Journalist privilege.” Then it went to the House of Lords. I mean, Denning subsequently, in one of his books, said with hindsight he would have found for Granada, but the fact is he didn’t at the time. When we went to House of Lords, Patrick Neill (later Lord Neill of Bladen) was lead counsel supported by Derry Irvine, who went on to be Lord Chancellor under Tony Blair. The sadness was that Patrick Neill could only represent us for three days in the Lords. I was there, and he faced these five law lords, all sitting in a semicircle, and he was making our case. For every question posed by one of the law lords, he had an answer and a quote as to why he was right. It was like a headmaster with five pupils, but then he had to go off to New Zealand and Irvine took over. Well, he was all bluster and, to be honest, he was not impressive, shall we say. The case went downhill so it became five headmasters and one naughty schoolboy. It was a complete and utter reverse of the previous three days. He lost the case four to one. Lord Salmon was for Granada. Of course we were still not parting with the information. We were going to be held in contempt of court, at which point I think I was made Assistant Company Secretary or something like that because Bill Dickson had been ill. He’d had a heart attack. If anyone was going to go to jail, it ought to be me. Anyway, shortly afterwards, before anything developed, the mole revealed himself for a large lump of money in one of the national newspapers. The mole turned out to be the chap in the shredding department. So all these papers had gone to the shredder. He’d kept them because he thought they looked interesting, and given them to one of our researchers. British Steel themselves were utterly convinced it was somebody at board level who was the mole. But of course it was the lowest of the low. Why they didn’t suspect that, I don’t know. Fairly obvious where all the papers had gone.
Anyway, that’s where they ended up.
That period, you mentioned the British Steel case and the Maudling and Gozo and Poulson. I was around. I was on World in Action in the ‘70s and there was quite a lot of litigation in the airs.
Was there a tension between journalists and management?
No. Management were absolutely supportive of journalists. I know there were the odd strikes and so on, but if the management thought that the journalist was right, they would support him 100%, often at the expense of the Company as insurers would withdraw our libel insurance cover. For example, if our lawyers said, “You should give in,” and we said no, they wouldn’t fund us.
I think probably the clearest demonstration of that is about a dentist. He was a man, and we’re going back to the 70s, who was earning £250,000 a year on the National Health, not private. Well, that was impossible. I mean, you’d have to work 24 hours a day on very high quality work. You just could not do it. He sued us. His car registration was JAWS 1. Good one for a dentist. It was getting very close to court.
Sorry. What programme was this?
It was a World in Action.
World in Action.
I’m just trying to think who it was that was involved. It’s escaped my mind. Anyway, the lawyers were saying, “You should give in.” Again, it was a bit like the Tucker and Ellison case. There was no documentary evidence. Just that you couldn’t earn that amount of money. We were summoned to go and see Lord Goodman’s, not to his office, but to his flat in London, and had breakfast with him. Stuart Prebble. It’s Stuart. He said, “Well, you know, my advice is that you concede.” We said, “No, we’re not,” and he said, “Well, get me Denis Forman on the phone.” Lord Goodman spoke to Denis and said, “I recommend that you give in on this one.” He said, “What do my team say?” “They want to fight.” Denis said, “We fight.” On the steps of the court, the dentist withdrew. It was set down and then he just pulled out. Had to pay our costs.
That was the support.
That was the support. It was always strong.
Yes. Yes, I remember that period.
Another interesting one was Willy Morgan. I don’t know if you remember Willie Morgan. He was captain of Manchester United. He also played for Scotland. He appeared on a programme with Gerald Sinstadt talking about football. In his career and he said he had been under Tommy Docherty who was the manager of United, who’d taken over from… what’s his name? The Scot.
Matt Busby. Willie said, “I like to think I’ve worked under the best manager in the world and the worst manager in the world.” Obviously meaning Docherty. Docherty was not very happy about this, so he sued Morgan and Granada. Quite an amusing story because I travelled down to the hearing. It’s one of the ones that went to court. Very unusual that libel cases actually get to court. I travelled down on Sunday from Wimslow with Willie. The train was pretty quiet and we had lunch and I have to say I’ve never had service like it on British Rail. The girls were in and out with, “Can I help you? Can I do…” I mean, it was amazing. I said to Willie, “I’ve never had service like this,” and he said, “Well, you know.” Like when you’re famous, these things happen. Then right at the end, one of the waitresses came up and said, “You are Kevin Keegan, aren’t you?”
He was a bit deflated. Anyway, we went into court, and we had a chap called John Wilmers representing Willie and Granada, who was absolutely devastating. You wouldn’t like to be opposite him. Anyway, let’s face it, Docherty is a man who had faced the press all his life, and put down footballers, and put down journalists, and he was King Dick, really. But Wilmers started cross-examining him, and said, “Mr Docherty, should football managers have probity?” He hesitated and said, “Yes.” “Mr Docherty, what is probity?” “Erm… er… I don’t know.” So he was on a slippery slope from then onwards. And then he said lots of things, but witnesses like Denis Law contradicted him, and effectively proved that Docherty was lying. So on the third day of the hearing, he withdrew, and he had to pay our costs. But it was interesting to see those great legal minds in action.
What was your job title at that time?
I was company secretary.
So you would be involved in high-level legal cases?
Yes. 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.
So you had a steady rise through Granada. Is that the right way [of putting it]?
Yes… I drifted.
And you ended up on the board in the 80s?
Yes, 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.
That was kind of the golden era for Granada, wasn’t it?
Yes. There was Brideshead, and then there was Jewel in the Crown I did have a quote written down, I was going to read it out It was at a budget meeting with Derek Granger and Plowright in the June, on the Brideshead Revisited drama, and Plowright said to Granger, “You proposed a figure for props marginally in excess of what George III spent on Buckingham Palace,” to which Granger replied, “I intend to structure every day with a bit of mischief; there’s going to be a trembling phosphorescence about it.” Different world, these characters.
Derek is still alive, of course, he should be interviewed.
He has been, I think. Not by me, but he has been.
I mean, he is brilliant.
The Bernsteins, of course, were around in that period.
By then it was Alex.
But Forman and Plowright had become the double act through that period.
What’s your opinion of these two characters?
Very impressive. But not in the form that today’s business takes. Both were totally committed programme makers. 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. There was another case that we lost, which still rankles.
We didn’t generally lose cases, which is a testament to the research. It was a fairground we made a programme about, they call it The Gaff, and we had people on explaining how they short-changed the customers. The trick was that they count, if it’s a pound and somebody gives them a fiver, they count out the four pounds, fair enough, change, but then they palm one pound and put three in their hand. Of course, they’ve seen the four, so they put the three in their pocket, not knowing they’d been done. It was quite neat. Anyway, Silcock popped up and said it was defamatory of his organisation. We just said, “Well, you’re not identified.” He said, “Oh, yes I am.” There was a shot of a Waltzer going round, and if you were incredibly quick and sharp-eyed, you could just see the name ‘Silcock’ as it flashed by. Anyway the defence to libel is the truth. I was Bill’s assistant at that stage, and he said, “Ray’s got a researcher who can come and help. He’s a barrister, name of Jack Straw.” He came and helped, and his help was that we should pay him. I was, and still am, a bit miffed about that because I was sure we had a good defence.
But, of course, the lawyers didn’t go with us either so we had to settle.
To other things. Let’s move onto the Broadcasting Act in 1990, which shook things up enormously.
Were you involved in Granada’s bid?
Oh, to a certain extent, Yes, being company secretary at that point. I was all the board meetings, all the discussions, all the drafts of the documents that went into the submission. And, of course, secrecy around it was enormous. We knew we were under threat from Liverpool. Phil Redmond was pitching. I don’t know if you know about a certain amount of covert intelligence went on in that direction.
I don’t know. Can you reveal all? It’s your opportunity now.
Well, let’s say that our researchers were most impressive! So, we knew pretty well everything that was coming from that direction. Should have used as a shredder, shouldn’t they? And then, of course, we were pitching for Tyne Tees, so we all travelled north and a little plane with one or two of the Coronation Street folks, and tried to impress local councillors and people of note in the northeast, all to no avail because we didn’t win the franchise, but it was worth a try. I mean, it was a forerunner really of everything that happened as ITV amalgamated. But it was a time of great paranoia. We were approached by somebody who said that there was a mole in our hierarchy who was divulging information, and in evidence, he produced some quite telling bits of information. So much so that Plowright certainly believed it to be true. I travelled to meet him in Amsterdam where he was going to reveal all, but he was a scammer. He’d done the same to Phil Redmond, and he’d done it through phone calls to accountants at Granada. And if you’re a good sort of journalist, you can extract more than people intend to give away, so he’d got some facts and figures, but as I say, he was a scammer. But it just showed the sort of paranoia around that time.
Yes. Because Granada won the bid in the end?
Yes. We won with a very low quote. I think it was nine million, which was pretty healthy compared with what other companies were paying – and that was all down to Plowright.
Hmm. And his advisors. So it was a good bid, and there was much celebration when the result was announced. I went and had a game of golf with Plowright and Andrew Quinn and Johnny Briggs. Out at Mere, the day after to sort of celebrate. My first drive was an absolute corker, but it was all downhill from there on! It was a great time. Everybody was very happy. Everyone was going out for meals celebrating, and then, of course, shortly afterwards, it all hit the fan. I mean, we’d had Derek Lewis in charge of, chief executive of, group, and Derek was very much an MBA type. He was a businessman, and profit was the key, and all the companies of Granada were kowtowing to his reign, except Plowright, who wanted to go in his own way, making good programmes at whatever the cost. So there was a great deal of toing and froing between Derek Lewis and David Plowright, and of course eventually Plowright won out, and Derek resigned and went on to run the prisons, at which point they brought in Gerry Robinson and Charles Allen. And that was a whole different ball game.
What was that like?
Well, they’re two utterly different characters, but the same objective and that was to make money. They came in on huge salaries compared with Plowright and Denis Forman before him. Gerry was an extremely affable, friendly Irishman. You couldn’t but like him, even though he was perhaps sticking a knife in your back. You’d say, “Thank you, Gerry.” Charles Allen, on the other hand, was his hatchet man. Totally different. Of course, they had their run-in with Plowright, and I think they ordered him to go to a meeting at Golden Square, which was the headquarters. And he said, “Well, I’ve got an appointment to go somewhere else.” And they said, “Well, cancel it.” He said, “No.” So I don’t know what happened behind the scenes, but he was sacked, and everybody was staggered, frankly. I think you’ve heard that there was a petition that went around, mostly programme makers, demanding that Plowright be reinstated. It was a very sad time. And then there was a big ‘do’ for David down in the studios – a farewell party for him. Ray Fitzwalter made a brilliant speech, and with that, he departed. But it became apparent that the technique employed by Charles Allen to bring the unions under complete control was to hack away at the management, snip all the heads off directors. Tony Brill, general manager on the board, he was sacked the same day as I was given my notice. Redundant, early retirement. Redundant. You were not sacked in those days.
Were you’re the first to be given early retirement? Were you the number one on the list when they were clearing out this level of management?
No, there was a group of us. There Vivian Wallace, who was head of Granada Television International, Tony Brill, general manager, a chap called Simon Townley, who was a non-exec, me, and in the end, they went through them one by one, right up to Steve Morrison, David Liddiment, the whole lot went.
Did they sack Morrison and Liddiment?
Yes. If you look in the accounts, you’ll certainly see Steve’s payoff.
How did you react to your situation?
Well, it took place in Golden Square, and I went home and told my wife the news. We were having friends around for dinner, so we told them. I said, “We’ll open a bottle of champagne now.” So we opened a bottle of champagne and toasted the future. Interestingly, many years later – what, 12, 13, I don’t know when – it was announced on the news that Allen was ‘resigning’ from Granada. So by chance, the same two friends were staying with us in the Lake District. I said, “Right, another bottle of champagne!”
Yes, what went on at that time with Charles Allen has been described as “brutal”. He went through management.
Oh yes, yes. Well, for example, he sacked Ray Fitzwalter, a brilliant journalist, editor of World in Action, headed documentaries. That was an insane thing to do.
Why would they take out this kind of talent?
Well, I can only think it was to make sure that the unions realised that management and people like Ray had been sacked. They had no chance against him. And indeed, they didn’t really, but their whole focus was making money. Ray wrote a book on Granada, (The Dream that Died the rise and fall of ITV), which no doubt you’ve read.
And I spent a lot of time for Ray going through all the annual reports and accounts and analysing their overall pay. They took home something in the region of 25 million each in pay and bonuses, not to mention very handsome pensions.
Robinson and Allen?
I mean, a prodigious amount of money, and they would change the rules. The way the director’s bonuses were calculated used to be based on the share price, but then when the share price wasn’t doing as well as it could do, the system would get changed so that the bonuses continued to roll.
Got to be a bit careful here with defamation, but he did make a lot of money, of that there is no doubt. They put the pension scheme on a holiday. No doubt advised by, or supported by, the Trustees of the pension scheme. But, of course, a black hole was created, which has never been recouped. There’s still a black hole all those years after. So, that’s a continuing problem for the Trustees and ITV management.
So there’s nothing you can do about any of that, was there? I mean, they were in control of everything.
They ran the show.
They ran the group. Gerry was chairman of Granada Group. Took over from Alex. Charles Allen was whatever he was in Group. He was group director, chairman of television. So it was not a very happy period.
Was it a shock to you when you were let go?
No, it wasn’t a shock. As soon as he came in, or the pair of them… Well, really, Allen. I used to get advised by the group company secretary, a man called Graham Parrot, who obviously knew what was going on and what the thinking was, and his words to me were, “Do not underestimate that man.” I’m pretty sure it’s a bit ambiguous, because it could have just meant he’s a brilliant businessman. Or that he was ruthless, which he was. But that was all he ever said.
There’s a quote in Ray Fitzwalter’s book. And the era that we were talking about, you will remember Ann Clwyd MP who raised this issue what was happening at Granada in the boardroom.
She did. And I wrote to Charles Allen on that topic as I think he thought that it was based on a leak and that, maybe, I was the source.
Well her quote is, “This is a story of boardroom savagery. The likes of which British TV has never seen.”
Yes. It was.
That was in all the papers.
But I think it appeared that she had been, it had been a leak to her and I made it clear to Mr. Allen, that it wasn’t me, as indeed it wasn’t.
Oh, I see. He was not pleased about this?
Not at all. No. Well, nobody was pleased. I mean the IBA who were King Dick at that stage really punished Allen. In the application for the new franchise, I was in charge of due diligence and so on, and keeping programme makers within limits. But there was some serious breach of IBA regulations, I don’t know, product placement or something, which he obviously didn’t take seriously enough, and the Company was fined £500,000.
What show was this?
Well it was soon after I left, you know, a year or two.
I see. And they were just, World In Action was it?
No, I don’t think so. I can’t remember what the programme was. But you see, we took it seriously. I once got a tip off that there was some product placement going on with whisky. You’d find a certain brand was being used by props and it was all set up so that in right in front of the camera was the label. And I had my suspicions as to who it was. And at that stage you could get information. Phone records were becoming more available. And there were these phone calls between Mr X and the product company. Many, many phone calls. So I duly challenged him. He denied the lot. But you know, you did have to keep a track on these things.
What year did you leave Granada?
31st December ‘92. I mean to be fair in the September, Allen said, “When do you want to go?” And I and I said, “Well, year end?” He said, “Yes. Fine.”
Did you have a job to go to?
No, no, no. But interestingly he pinched my secretary / PA , which was a bit galling. Girl I had worked with for 11 years.
Who was it?
Lynn Taylor. Yes. So, she went and worked for him and typed out my final deal. Which was not as good as Mr. Allen’s deal, I have to say!
Not surprised at that one.
Yes. I had an interesting spell in the middle. After Bill Dickson left, a chap called Harry Coe came in, got on very well with Harry, and it was a bit sad because Plowright and Andrew Quinn were still a bit, you know, programme maker-orientated and Harry was a bit more financially orientated. Anyway, there was obviously some meeting with the three of them, which ended in a Harry’s departure rather rapidly, and Andrew came in the next morning and he said, “Look, Harry’s leaving, will you stand in as finance director until we can get somebody? You know, a month or two?” Well I think the month or two stretched to about nine months. And it was a fairly heavy period because financial arrangements with the major companies were changing and Granada’s accounting system was changing. So, it was all quite a heavy period.
You were on the board of Granada?
How long were you on the board?
Do you know, I’m not quite sure when I was appointed. Like all these things, secretaries knew before I did.
Yes. And tell us about the board meetings, this is board of Granada television. They would take place in Manchester?
Well, it was up in room 600. On the sixth floor conference room. They were fairly relaxed affairs. I started going to the meetings when Denis Forman was chairman. In fact, I well remember my first stab at doing the minutes. I was very conscientious and the system was that he always read the minutes before they were released to make sure they accorded with his view! So, I produced what were evidently quite long minutes. And he called me in and he said, “I can see you’ve got aspirations to be an author.” He said, “I’ll let it go this time, but next time, short.” So, “This was discussed. Next item, this was discussed.” They became a very short note.
Who else was around the table do you remember, at that time?
Well, Joyce Wooller, who was very close to Denis. Barrie Heads, who was in charge of International, Don Harker who was Public Affairs, Andrew Quinn, Harry Coe, who was Finance Director plus non-executive directors. That’s about it.
Oh yes. Mike was Head of Programmes.
He was on the board?
Yes. And latterly Tony Brill came on, Steve Morrison, David Liddiment. About it.
After Granada you went to work with Ray Fitzwalter?
Well, I the situation was I was going to be a property millionaire!
I’d decided that I was going to create a company called Solo Homes. I was going to rent property to post-graduates, nurses, trainee doctors, certainly not undergraduates.
My daughter having been an undergraduate I saw what chaos they cause. So, I had a few bob. I’d spoken to venture capitalists who were more than happy to put quite remarkable amounts of money my way. I’d done a business plan, I plotted bus routes, locations, and it was all shaping up. I’d been given the opportunity by two partners, of Peat Marwick who were sympathetic, you know, they would review my plan for nothing if I wanted any help. So, I went to them with my business plan, which I think showed a net profit of 5%, and they looked at it and said, “I think you’re a bit ambitious here. Do you mind if we bring somebody in? One of our colleagues who does this sort of thing?” And it was a girl, she came in, she looked at it and they said, “What do you think?” She said, “Well the profit percentage is wrong.” Yes, I thought so they said. She said, “You’ll make much more than that. At least 10 to 15%.” At which point they thought they were in the wrong business! Anyway, that was what I was doing at that time. Then Ray rang up and said, “Do you want to have a lunch or chat?” So he and Louise came round to our house and had dinner with my wife and me and said, “What do you think about going into business together?” So I said, “Well, okay.” As I said, I’m a drifter, so I dropped the flats idea and went in with Ray.
At Ray Fitzwalter Associates?
Yes. And what was that like?
It was fun.
It was great. I mean, Ray got all the business in, a lot from Granada, Channel 4, Channel 5. I looked after all the finance and the admin and so on. But you see accountants are very boring people. They’re not allowed to have ideas. And occasionally at Granada I had had ideas of a good programme and of course nobody would even look at it. But with Ray and Louise, they said, “Oh, that’s a good idea. We’ll do that.” So we made a religious series in which Bill Nighy starred in one of the episodes, which was quite good. We made an antiques show, which I’d originated. That was a series that went out on Channel 5, The Antiques Hunter. Brought David Dickinson into the world of television.
Oh, did you? Yes, yes, yes.
I lived next door to his daughter. Yes. And it was her child’s fourth birthday party. And we were invited, and I met David and I thought, “Oh, interesting character.” I said, “Would you like to come in and meet Ray and Louise?” So he did. And took a long time, because at first we took the programme plan to the BBC and they said, “Very interesting, but we’ve got the Antiques Roadshow, so we don’t want to do anything else. Try BBC 2.” And they said, “Oh good, good idea. But we’ve got the Antiques Roadshow, try the ITV Channel 4.” All said exactly the same and then eventually it was Channel 5 that took it on.
What was it called, that show?
I think it was the Antiques Hunter.
The Antiques Hunter.
My wife and I were on it and made a show about acquiring a long case clock at auction.
I remember the time, I think I went to the launch of Ray Fitzwalter Associates.
On, was it Lloyd Street?
Yes it was, we had a good launch. I think Steve gave a major speech.
He did, yes. I worked with Ray quite a bit.
But Ray kept getting the business. Then after three or four years we were walking down Kendal High Street and my wife said, “I think I’m going to retire from teaching.” I said, “If you’re retiring, I’m retiring.” So, we called it a day and Ray and Luise carried on for a while in the office and then they’d work from home. But I would like to have amalgamated with other independents.
You mean raise the company?
Yes. For example Brian Lapping would have been an ideal man to go in with.
And somebody else whose name escapes me, who we did talk to. You see, this is where Jules and Steve and David Liddiment scored. I mean they amalgamated and took over and got bigger and bigger. I don’t know what they sold their business for, but quite a few bob I suspect.
Quite a few bob. Well, I interviewed Jules Burns recently.
And of course we didn’t talk numbers, but yes, I’m sure they did.
I mean, I don’t know what shares they owned and how much was the venture capitalists. But at one stage the Press stated that they were looking for £600 million. No mean sum.
Gosh. On the other hand, Alastair, you only live once.
Well this is it…
You’ve got to have some fun out of it.
We were in Menorca once and I was looking through binoculars at one of these mega yachts, no doubt a Russian oligarch and somebody stopped and chatted. And I said, “Look at that boat.” And he said, “If you owned it, would you be happier?” I said, “Well no.”
That’s it, that’s it.
Interesting to see it, but you know when you put it that way.
Yes. Well I don’t have to worry about that because I haven’t got one.
Yes, I mean it’s all right you travel around the Mediterranean and take your friends and foreign politicians, and try and influence them a bit. You know, is it that much fun?
It’s nice to have somewhere else to go.
You know, like you’ve got, you have a choice.
But beyond that.
So looking back on your Granada years, anything else you would like to say? Any kind of people, or what is your overall… how was it for you?
I think, overall, I was born at the right time. I think I was extremely lucky. Apart from the first few years of bombs, we had a long era of peace. I ended up at Granada, which was a fabulous place to work. Then three or four years with Ray and Louise, which was also great. It was a time when the pension was much better than it is now, as a final salary pension. I couldn’t have been born at better time or be luckier, really. And as I say, I’ve tended to drift, but there had been other occasions where I’ve been offered work which would have gone pear shaped. Bill Dickson, for example, said to me, “If you want to go anywhere, laddy, you’ll have to work at one of the operating companies, theatres or wherever.” And I said, “Well, I’m not going off to another part of the world.” I said, “My wife’s got a job teaching. My girls are in good schools. I’m not going to cause any upheaval. I refuse to go.” Then they sent one of the accountants from upstairs, a chap called Jim Whitaker, a very, very good accountant; much better than me, that’s for sure. And of course, they then sold the company. He was cut off. He lost his Granada contact.
So I have no idea what happened to him, but it was one offer I refused. Another one I was offered by Southern Television because I knew the finance director there and the managing director. They offered me a position before the franchise renewal and, of course, they lost the franchise. So I’d have been up the creek without a paddle again. Jeremy Wallington offered me some job somewhere down in London. I didn’t want that, so I sort of drifted in the right direction, and have been very fortunate until my wife died, and that was a devastating loss.
Any individuals that we should remember with fondness from the Granada years?
Well, I suppose if you talk about liking, I mean Fred Boud was a great character. He was a charming man, very kind, thoughtful. And Leslie Diamond I mentioned was absolutely fascinating. Denis Forman was a true giant of television. He could be a bit acerbic at times. One of my early meetings was when they were undertaking a programme called World Tonight, which was a sort of follow on from World in Action. The idea was that it would have three locations, New York, London, Tokyo, or wherever, and look at the same story from different international perspectives. I was involved in the initial costing of it. One day I knocked on Forman’s door. His secretary wasn’t sitting outside so I knocked on the door went in, and he was dictating. I said, “Do you mind if I interrupt for a moment?” And he said, “You already have!” I mean, latterly we became really quite good mates. Because Bill Dickson had been his financial advisor and tax man, and when Bill died, at the funeral, Denis said would I take over. So I became quite close to he and his family over the years until 2013, when he died. Then his wife died later the same year.
And Denis was a help to your daughters, was he?
Yes, he was very supportive.
And Forman’s later relationship to Plowright
Perhaps what is not generally known is that when Plowright was going through the mill, and of course sacked, Denis Forman was group deputy chairman. And I think Plowright felt he could’ve done more to save him.
You mean Forman thought he could do more?
No, Plowright thought that Forman could do more to save him.
Oh, I see. Yes.
And whether he couldn’t or didn’t want to, I don’t know, but at any rate, Plowright had a very, very bitter taste in his mouth; wouldn’t talk to Forman at all. So having been very close over all those years, it all became very sad at the end. So I don’t think they were really ever reconciled.
That is sad, isn’t it?
Yes, but Plowright was an impressive man to work with, but in some ways, very naive. He always used to say that Ray Fitzwalter was his conscience, keep him on the straight and narrow. But I remember after Steve had that great success with My Left Foot, Plowright thought the future was feature films. And they called me in to do some costings, and they were proposing to start one a month. I mean both of them are sitting there saying, “Yes, we can do this.” I said, “You cannot do this. It is utterly impossible.” “No, no, no, we can do it.” I said, “You cannot do it.” They said, “All right then, one every three months.” I said, “You can’t do one every three months. Just look the teams you’ve got to get together and the work has to be done; utterly impossible.” Anyway, that scheme died.
That was I say he was a bit naive. He seriously thought that was the future and he could do it.
And then there was Granada Studios Tours.
Yes, under John Williams. John was an intake of management trainees the same time as Tony Brill, Bill Tomlinson, one or two others. He was very ambitious, John. Have you interviewed him?
I haven’t. I remember him when he was in the film department.
Yes, that’s right, and he ran Tours very well, but I think he could talk about Charles Allen because he said… Allen said to John, because they had retail outlets for the tourists, “You should you put this item up to whatever.” And John said, “We can’t do that.” He said, “How much does it cost?” John said, “Well I don’t know.” He said, “Well if you don’t know, the punters that come around won’t know. Put it up.”
Oh, I see.
Yes, but it was very popular for a while. I don’t quite know why they closed it down, really.
But it was Plowright’s dream, wasn’t it?
Yes, well, Plowright’s dream was Media City, and we went to presentations in the boardroom put together by various local architects. It was his dream, and of course, it didn’t happen until after he’d died.
Well, expand on that. His dream was Media City, where it was in Quay Street, and then the site, he wanted that site.
Well I think, really, he wanted it on the site of the Victoria and Albert Warehouse.
Yes, that’s right.
There was another warehouse there which was used for Jewel in the Crown. I don’t know if you remember, but that was burnt down complete with the sets and the props.
Oh, I do remember.
And the producer, whose name I have lost, held the meeting downstairs in one of the conference rooms the next day, and said to all the concerned people that there’d been a bit of a problem. We’d lost everything. So he said, “There’s going to be a break in filming for about a week,” and that was all. So what they did, they moved on to later filming whilst the stuff for the original filming was recreated, and re-filmed it.
Oh, that’s good, Yes.
What, Christopher Morahan?
Yes, that’s right, Jewel in the Crown. Yes. It’s funny how these names disappear and then come back to you. Yes, so he was a brilliant, brilliant producer, but…
Anything else you’d like to say?
Nothing off hand, really. I can claim to have the only million pound jacket in the world! Granada, under Plowright… The trouble is he and Derek Lewis were just a bit ahead of their time. Plowright thought the future lay in cooperation with other countries, and particularly in facilities, and the use of virtual reality. They bought into a company called Pipa Television in Paris. And I used to go to their board meetings, and we invested a million, overall. The only thing that came out of it was a little jacket I’ve got that says Pipa TV on it!
The million pound jacket!
Yes, but it was a good try. And you see Derek Lewis, highly criticised, because BSB didn’t work. Now BSB was going to work, but the government changed the rules, and they allowed Murdoch to have his Sky system operating at the same time. Whereas BSB had been understood to have a 10-year free run, and that all went pear shaped. BSkyB was formed out of BSB and Sky, BSB being British Satellite Broadcasting. And I think it cost 200 million, for which Lewis got not a lot of criticism. But as they probably realised later about it, really, that I think it was quite a fair investment, but he wasn’t around to reap the rewards or benefits or kudos. A funny old world.
I think the one thing that Granada missed… You see, if you think of Sidney Bernstein, he went into cinemas when cinemas were all the rage. And then he saw television on the horizon, knew it would be a threat to cinemas. Didn’t like television, but bought into it. Then he saw colour television coming, and Granada TV Rental went from black and white to colour, and became a huge company. Derek Lewis saw computers, and then satellite broadcasting. But what they didn’t see was the internet. The internet and all the apps and the games, the X-box type syndrome; that was missed. You feel that had Sidney been around still he would’ve seen that that was another coming thing.
A man of vision.
He was. I always thought it was a bit sad. I went to a Granada Guildhall lecture later on, by which time Sidney really was out of it completely. And he was standing there amongst all these people all on his own. I thought, “Oh,” so I went and chatted to him. It’s funny, once you’re away from the limelight, you really are away, sort of like ex-presidents perhaps.
But no, it was a great, great company to work for, and I was very lucky.