Andrew Quinn on Granada’s move into satellite

Let me just say, the satellite thing came along next. And it was pretty much the same thing. Putting a consortium together. The famous club of 21. BBC were given the job to do. Said they couldn’t do it. Government came back and said, “You’ve got to do it. You have 50%. And we’ll get other partners.” And that didn’t happen either because the BBC, when they were supposed to be doing it, had ordered a satellite, would you believe, from British Aerospace, on which work commenced. And all the other partners said, “No, no, no. If we’re going to do this, big bucks, we’ll go to the world market for a satellite.” That became a huge political row. In the end, we got involved, Granada Cable and Satellite. Because I went to Bill Cotton and said, “There’s total disagreement in the consortium. We’ll produce your working document in six weeks. The pros and the cons, and all the rest of it.” And Bill said, “Okay.” And we did. And it was looked at. And it never happened.

Then it came back again, and it did happen because we got involved with a consortium of Virgin, Pearsons, and BSB. We won the franchise. I was the project director on that. We won the franchise. The specification for doing it, under the franchise, was our friend Tom Robson, again, at the IBA, massive technological spec., dish minimum size of a metre across, which had ripped the chimney off any house when a high wind.

Rupert Murdoch rented a bit of space on the aerial European satellite, launched his own company. That didn’t do very well either. So we ended up with two satellite companies going, neither of which was making any headway. And in the end, the BSB consortium sold out to Murdoch and Sky, very viable then.

Why was that? Was it badly handled?

No. To start, Murdoch actually got in first, before… he had bought space on an existing satellite. And was up and running. And was putting on subscribers at a great of knots. The only trouble was, he was doing it on a door-to-door salesman, sign here. And it very quickly emerged that what he had signed for was a lot of bad debt. There was no credit checks done. However, he was up and he was running. And it was running it on dishes this diameter.

And then it was a huge political row about satellites that would be bought. Eventually the government gave in, and agreed that the BSB could go to the world market. ….But there is a little anecdote about that. The chairman of P&O… what’s his name? Sterling. Sir Jeffrey Sterling had been appointed as an advisor to DTI. It was a great mate of Margaret Thatcher’s. And this political row was going on about we had to buy British, and the consortium went, “No, no, no.” I got summoned as a project director to Sir Jeffrey Sterling’s palatial offices in Pall Mall. And he said, he made it quite plain, that he was there on Margaret Thatcher’s behalf. And he got the message, “You’ve got to buy British. What’s wrong with you?” And all that patriotism, thick and fast. And I said, “Well, I can’t recommend that to the consortium. My brief is to put up the best case.” And he said, “Oh, no, no, no.” So in his office is a wonderful water-colour painting of the great stars of the P&O fleet all around the world. And I said to him, “If I were in your position, and I were told that to buy all my future ships from Tyneside, what would you say?” And he went, “Well, no, no, no.”

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