Interviewed by Geoff Moore, 28 March 2019.
So Andrew, the early years in your life. You want to tell us a bit where you were brought up and educated, and so on?
Right. Well, the very early years, I’m a Scot. I was born on Clydeside in 1937. My father worked in the shipyards. Before the war, before he was married, three years he didn’t work in the shipyards because the Scots… in fact, the shipbuilding industry in Britain generally, was in recession. But at that point, my mother’s family left Port Glasgow, where we were, and went south looking for jobs. So my maternal grandfather ended up in Birkenhead. When the war came, my father was back at work. Reserved occupation, so he didn’t go in the forces. But he worked in the shipyards by day, and he worked as an auxiliary fireman by night. And then after the war, my mother wanted to reunite with her family, and so we came south by which time I had a sister, and eventually another one. We ended up in a place called Leighton Buzzard, in Bedfordshire. There, because that’s where my mother’s family had fetched up, and because he was able to get work there as a sheet metal erector, and replicated the skills he had as a shipbuilder. Then I think that’s where I got very lucky, because I was nine when I changed schools. There was something called the eleven-plus exam, which we hadn’t heard of, coming from working class Scotland. But I got to a grammar school, which was a great thing for me. And from the grammar school, I went to Durham University. After Durham University, I went looking for a job. And the first job I ever had was with a division of General Motors, which was based in Dunstable, which is near Luton, which is where Vauxhall cars got made. The division that I worked for made car parts and accessories. Fuel pumps and thermostats, and motors and all the bits, spark plugs. So I joined there as a management trainee, and I worked the rounds in a factory in Birkenhead, and it was a factory environment. We started at eight, finished at 4:30. The whole thing started at eight, finished at 4:30. Because to use a phrase very in vogue at the moment, even then it was a just in time business. Stuff left the factories on lorries, and had to be on the production lines for Vauxhall and Fords, and anybody else by them, buy seven o’clock the next morning. So that was my introduction to work, and I ended up taking a place in the personnel department. Now, General Motors was then an amazing company. It was the biggest car manufacturer in the world. Their slogan was… what’s good for General Motors is good for America. And it was a highly developed, hierarchical structure. Very good employers, and had a policy for everything. And I got there a very good grounding, I was thinking, in industrial administration, basically. But it was a bit boring, and I don’t much like cars. I’ve always had one, but you have to… and so, I think by this time, I was trying to sell them. I picked up a newspaper one weekend. the Daily Telegraph, because the Daily Telegraph in those days was the jobs paper. And I wrote for four jobs, and I got interviewed for two of them. The advert was for personnel officer. The companies were Sainsbury’s, who as you probably know, they’re a London family owned group of grocery stores, who, one of the first supermarket arrivals on the British scene. And one such was in Dunstable, very impressive. So that sounded good. And the other one was something called Granada, based in Manchester. It said in very short hour, the note said, removal assistance given. So I went first of all, for my interview in Sainsbury’s. And despite this startling modern supermarket on Dunstable High Street, the headquarters of Sainsbury’s is in Blackfriars in London. Very old, very dark and gloomy building. The man who interviewed me, was wearing a three piece suit with winged collar. And the whole thing reeked of Dickens rather than the future, but another great company as it turned out to be. So then I went to Manchester.
What made you choose Granada?
Manchester. I went to Manchester and met the then personnel manager, Derek Roberts, very, very nice man. And when I arrived at the television centre, there was nobody wearing suits. There was an atmosphere, and it was cheery and very relaxing. And so I had my interview with Derek Roberts. Now, I had come from a personnel department with about 16 people in it. And my interview was by Derek Roberts who had two secretaries and a clerk, and was looking for a personnel officer. So, we got on all right. Then they asked me to go for another interview in London, 36 Golden Square, which was the group headquarters then in London, and may still be. I was interviewed by a very tall, quite elderly man. He did have a suit, but he didn’t have the jacket. He had it on the back of his chair. He had braces, I’ll never forget this. He had braces and what’s called armbands, which was a thing that made sure just the right amount of cuff showed. He was very elegant, very courteous. And the first question he asked me was, “Have you ever fired anybody?” Anyway, I managed to convey to him that in a hugely hierarchical organisation like General Motors, it was slightly above my pay grade. I didn’t fire anybody. And so, we had an interview and eventually quite quickly, I had a letter from him saying that they would offer me this job in Manchester. It would be a salary of £1,200 a year, which was £200 a year more than I was earning with General Motors. And I could have an interest free loan of £200, to assist my removal. There was a strange paragraph at the end… we hope you’re free to join us. And probably after about three months, you’ll meet the chairman, Sidney Bernstein. I thought that’s an odd thing to say in a letter, isn’t it? So, I accepted. I used the £200 interest free generous terms loan. To my amazement, I was able to buy a house in Manchester. Three bedroom detached house in a place called Offerton, which is just beyond Stockport, for £2,800. I have to say, that was a big factor, because you couldn’t aspire living near London even in those days. And so, I didn’t think Sainsbury’s would be a fit for me, and I entered the unknown in Manchester. I did eventually meet Sidney, three months in. By which time, I’d encountered the Sidney Bernstein myths and legends. Didn’t like suede shoes, didn’t like cord trousers, didn’t like men with beards, and all this stuff that… anyway, I didn’t own any suede shoes or didn’t have any cord trousers, and I didn’t have a beard. And I had a very relaxed interview with him. I was somewhat in awe of the guy. Even then, he was in his 60s. He said a number of things, but he said, “We are an independent company.” Which indeed they were in those days, because the Granada share structure. Although Granada was a quoted company with two pluses of shares. The Bernstein family owned the voting shares, and the punters owned the ordinary shares. So when he said we are independent, I mean he was able to be… he said we had high standards and if you see something that’s wrong with this company, tell somebody. And if you have a good idea, you must tell somebody. And then he just got to his feet, shook my hand and said, “Good luck, young man.” So, when I arrived in Manchester… I had to come up a month ahead of my wife. I spoke to Derek Roberts and said, “Where can I stay?” And he booked me into some theatrical digs. A lovely lady called Marjorie Howie, in Rusholme, and her husband was Harry Howie, who was a foreman scene shifter at the BBC. People staying there at the time were Ralph Harris, a very well-known television actor called Peter Jeffries, a bunch of assorted artists who were doing something at the Palace. And I’d began to get the feeling this wasn’t going to be quite like General… General Motors. And Marjorie Howie started to talk to me about Coronation Street, and Scene at 6:30. People like Mike Parkinson and Brian Truman, Mike Scott… Chris Kelly, that was the other guy. None of which meant anything to me, because I didn’t own a television set. I didn’t even know there was such a thing as Coronation Street, until a colleague at General Motors when I mentioned where I was going, said, “Oh, you want to join Coronation Street?” Anyway, so I arrived. That was it.
What year was this?
1964. Anyway, so I joined the personnel department. One of the biggest changes was that Derek Roberts said to me, “We have to trade you in here, and you’ll be looking after NATKE. National Association of Theatrical Television and Kine Employees. And I’ll be doing the ACTT and the ETU he said, because they’re a slippery bunch. And so I mean, the only acquaintanceship I’d had with labour relations, was simply to apply the nationally negotiated rates that are applied throughout General Motors. And suddenly found myself in the office with shop stewards who had wandered in and told me that there was a demarcation problem, or didn’t have a big enough crew. So, somewhat in your face compared to what I had been used to. However, I was enjoying it. And then about two years later, Denis Forman, who at the time I think was director of programmes… he gave me a call and said, “Come have a word.” So I did, and he explained to me how Granada had diversified into rentals, TV rentals. And it was growing very fast. It was based in Manchester at that time, but growing by acquisition, and there was no personnel function. So would I like to go to Granada TV Rental as personnel manager? And I thought oh, good idea. So arrangements were being made. Then I got another call from Denis Forman, who said, “Derek Roberts may have told you, but he’s leaving.” He said, “He’s been offered the job of bursar at his old college in Oxford, and he’s off. So, do you want to be personnel manager?” So I said okay. I thought it’s not a bad choice. So one of the roles as personnel manager was that I would attend the Labour Relations Committee for the ITV Association in London, because the industry negotiated collectively for national wage rights and so on. And it was a strange committee, because there are 50 ITV companies. There are only five of any size, and there were some of no size at all, like Channel Television and Border Television. However, this committee met monthly. This was somewhat beyond my experience thus far. I said to Denis before the first one… I forget what the issue was going to be, but said, “What’s my brief?” And he paused and he said, “Do the best you can, but don’t commit us.” And in a way, this was beginning to be to my mind, what Granada Television… how different it was going to be from General Motors. So, that was… embarked on that.
1970, I got another call from Denis Forman. He explained to me that things were changing. The technology was changing. Granada’s portfolio of activity, programme activity, expanded enormously from the early days. He would be looking to make some structural changes, and I’d hear more about it. That was it. Thank you very much. And then I got another call from Denis Forman, and I went back to his office, and to my surprise, Sidney Bernstein was there. Denis said, “We want to talk to you about this accompaniment to Granada TV Rental.” Which by this time was based in Bedford, because they’d just made a major acquisition of a solid based company called Robinson Rentals. I thought here comes the personnel manager’s job again. I said, “What would I be doing there?” And Sidney said, “You’ll be head of property.” I said, “Well, I don’t know anything about property.” And he said, “Well, you will when you’re finished.” Anyway, he said, “I’ll explain. We’ve just acquired this company. They are mainly in the south, and we’re mainly in the north, but there are area that overlap. Some towns, we don’t have a presence, others we have now two presences. So what we need is to survey that whole scene, and we’ve been growing very fast. We do not have a suitable property register for the balance sheet.” I’m saying, “Fine, yes. It’s quite understood.” And he said, “There’s a very good small company in London, called Leslie Finesse and Company, and they’ve been working with us on theatres, cinemas, for many years. And he has two very good young partners. One specialises in the north of England, and one specialises in the south of England. They’ll be contracted to you for a year. We really need to visit every area where we have presence.” He mentioned another dimension, which is that the American concept of shopping malls had just arrived in Britain. The Arndale Centres, and that’s changing our High Streets everywhere, he said. So, that’s the job. He knew I was married and by this time, had one child. “We rented a house for you in Bedford”, he said. “A nice house, and furnished. You take your family and off you go.” So off I went.
However, things got interesting. Because when I arrived, at least two of Robinson Rental executive directors had stayed on. One was a marketing man, one was a company secretary. And Mr. Robinson, who’d sold the company, was a kind of Sidney Bernstein I gathered. He was a powerful man for growing this company very fast, had his own ways for doing things. Had actually built a magnificent new building in Bedford as Robinson Rentals’ headquarters, which of course had now had Granada over the door. And these guys were starting to get the word, that these guys think I’m a spy from Granada. I was blown away, because you can imagine the tension when somebody’s big company gets taken over by another big company. Anyway, it didn’t get in the way for too long. But the other thing that made its way back to me from friends in Manchester, was that the Manchester rumour mill had decided that I’d had a falling out with Sidney Bernstein, and I’d been transferred to Motorways. One lag said, “Well he’s probably on the southbound lane, so you’ll never see him again.” But I set off for these two guys, one working with the south one. They really did know every High Street worth knowing in England and southern Scotland.
And so, got it done in 10 months. We had visited everything with the field management, the guys who knew about renting tellies. And where there was a doubtful presence, we chose the one we thought that we should stay in. Where there was no presence, we identified possibilities. On the way, we… I got every lease on properties, some of which were freehold, some of which were leasehold, and just were in a safe in the company secretary’s office, a rather large safe, and transferred, had all that data coded and transferred onto a system called Hollerith Punch Cards. So there was now a highly specific asset value register that could go onto the balance sheet. So eventually I said to Sidney, “Well, I think it’s done,” so we had a meeting, and he said, “It’s done. Now get the company secretary, give him that register, go with him with all the leases or freeholds to Barclay’s bank in Bedford and have them put in the vault.” So we did. And the next thing I heard was, and learned, that Granada Rentals has now taken over Rediffusion, which is one of their major… and that property register in the vault was collateral against a rather large loan that the group had taken out to grow the biz. And that’s the kind of guy Sidney Bernstein was. I mean, he moved at…
… an amazing pace and if something was going to happen, and it happened. The other thing that happened was that, by this time, Granada TV Rental was so large, and Granada Group value so large, because again by now the money was pouring in for the television. It had been a bit skinny in the first few years. The stock market then took the view that you could no longer have dual shares constructions, and the preferential loading shares would have to be put on the market as ordinary shares. So it was quite a thing, with the benefit of hindsight. And then, of course, Granada Group had to negotiate with the Bernstein family on the value of the preferential shares that would need to be paid to convert them to ordinary shares, and lord, I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall at that negotiation because, well, I obviously never heard the outcome, but nevertheless I would think in a negotiation Sidney Bernstein would be a pretty tough nut to crack. Anyway…
So, on that negotiation, it was basically paying the Bernsteins out, wasn’t it?
That whole thing.
So they were already wealthy and became wealthier.
Indeed, yes. Yes. Oh, yes. I mean, those shares were worth a fortune to the Bernsteins. And I don’t know what the outcome was, but I don’t think they got poorer. However, having thought that perhaps I’d left the television world, I then went back to Manchester and, in the meantime… we’re back on familiar ground now… in the meantime, Peter Eckersley… did you ever meet Peter?
Yes, I did.
He’d made the ground-breaking film called The Mosedale Horseshoe, which was the first television drama in Britain, shot in Britain, shot on 16 millimetre film. Now drama, in those days, was done in studios. In the very beginning it was done live in the studios, and then videotape was invented and videotape, two-inch wide tape, was invented, and editing eventually. But an editing machine in those days, you’re too young to remember… Granada had one initially and eventually two… but a two-inch video editor was about the size of that sofa. Enormous thing, and of course, highly rationed.
And what would that cost?
Oh, I can’t remember. A lot of money, which is why I think they only had one.
But it had also its other implications because, in terms of financial control, the way dramas got made was the producer, director and their cast would go to a rehearsal room somewhere off-site and the sets would be chalked on the floor. And they would get usually three weeks rehearsal in the rehearsal room, and three days in the studio. Now, in those days, the majority of the cost was what the accountants call below the line. It was the cost of having the studio being here and running. Anything going in had to pick up its share of that overhead. But also, then, it was eminently possible to control costs, because directors knew when they went into the studio they were going to be there for three days and they’d better get done because there was another show coming in right after them, and so you got this massive burden of cost just by being there as a production centre, and then you had a slab of variable costs, which are basically actors. And so financial control was a bit of a doddle really until Peter Eckersley demonstrated that you could take a 16 millimetre camera to the Lake District and, by that point, all the cost moves above the line, so you’re not using any fixed costs except for the depreciation on the camera. And the idea of letting highly creative directors loose into the outside world with a crew and a bunch of actors is a different proposition. So Denis Forman… bearing in mind he had (??28:44) this to me, (??28:45) of the time, that things were going to have to change. He then had another conversation, which would be about 1971. Mosedale Horseshoe was in the can and Country Matters was being more than contemplated, it was being got ready. You must remember Country Matters. It was huge, huge acclaim. It was very good, and Peter was, this was his stuff. Forman said to me, “I want you set up a new thing called head of production services,” and that means everything behind the camera. The creative guys and the director… they’re in front of the camera and the whole point is to service them, and we’ve got to find a new way of forecasting costs, of controlling costs. In fact, Sidney Bernstein was on that meeting as well. And so we discussed this at some length, and at the conclusion of the meeting Denis said, “We want you to make the TV centre a place where all the best talent will want to work.” And Sidney said, “At the right price.” Well, that then led to… I was invited onto something called the Programme Committee, which was a Forman-led thing, which met every month with the top programme makers of the day in Granada, and they debated what we’d done, criticised what they’d done. I didn’t criticise. Talked about where the focuses should be in current affairs, documentary drama. And it was a marvellous thing to attend, because there were a lot of very talented people there, like Peter Eckersley and Jeremy Wellington. Did you meet Jeremy?
Wild man of current affairs. Derek Granger, most articulate man I’ve ever heard in my life, particularly when he was cross. And so management became involved in the creative process.
What was your job title at this time?
Head of production services.
Head of production…
Yes. So, the changes that we brought about was that we had to look at location management, and we created six new jobs, six new guys. I think three or even four of them had been a floor manager. Another one was Keith Thompson, who’d been the librarian in the film library. I can’t remember the others’ names. There’s just… but we struck a kind of modus operandi where, when a project was being put together, a drama say, and the team were appointed, everybody involved, including (??32:17), had to read the script and we attempted something called, from what we knew, which wasn’t a great deal at the time, something way ahead of the actual budget, it was called cost magnitude. In other words, we tried to put in the big cost blocks that were going to surround this particular project. The location managers were to be just that. They were to find locations, manage locations, be there so that from the very beginning there was a dedicated team that had read the script, knew the director’s and producer’s ambitions, formed views which then would go back to Denis Forman, who supervised just about everything going in those days. And eventually we got the green light to get into absolutely detailed… the location managers had ridden out and determined accommodation costs and all that good stuff. And off we went. And the ambition really was to have a kind of constructive collaboration between production manager and the creatives, and I think it worked. Well, Country Matters was a huge success. Brideshead Revisited became the legend that it is, even though it got interrupted halfway through by a national strike. Jewel in the Crown, that was a miracle really, Jewel in the Crown, because again, Denis Forman asked me to see him one day and I went to his office and, on all available wall space in his office were diagrams, arrows going… and Jewel in the Crown was a kind of production of four different novels, all telling the same story, but from different points of view. And Forman, who was a genius in my opinion. It’s quite interesting. While he was doing all this, he actually wrote a definitive book on Mozart’s piano concertos, so you’re dealing with quality. And he said, “All they’ve got to do,” he said, “is we’re going to need a lot of money and it can’t all come from Granada, and I doubt it can all come from the network, so it’s going to have to come from you-know-where, America, as had Brideshead, so we’ve got to put a price on this.” And so, not just with me, all sorts of people. He sat there and people came in and, in the end, we sort of had enough for him to go to the group board and persuade them that he wasn’t off his head. So that’s what that was all about, and that was a big sea change in Granada, because up until then, as I’ll touch on again in a moment, everything really in the past had been engineering led, because at the start the engineers actually kept you on the air, and the technology was not reliable. Things were substantially reliable, but things still needed to be mended and… but now Granada was becoming a programming engine, really, and all resources from behind the camera were going to be focused. It was mostly, the big project stuff, was going to happen outside the building, and that was exciting at the time.
Well, the American money into Brideshead. Who provided that?
Was it a substantial…
Or was it Mobil? A million dollars. I’ll tell you a story about that later, when we’re not recording. I think it was Exxon did the money for Brideshead, and in a sense it came from PBS, the American public service broadcasting, which is a quality channel, which is not allowed to carry advertising, but is allowed to carry sponsorship, and in those days it was channelled through one of the local television stations in America. It will come to me in a minute. That was a million dollars. Same process with Jewel in the Crown.
Who secured that deal, to get the million dollars?
Well it was, again, the genius of Denis Forman. I don’t know how the initial approaches were made, but essentially for that kind of money, it was Sidney Bernstein, but Denis was obviously the lead and the master stroke in that, really, I think was Denis Forman’s idea, because when the accountants and the lawyers had then come through yards of discussions and debates, and it went to the Exxon board for a final say-so, Denis didn’t send Granada finance men. He sent Peter Eckersley and Derek Granger, and that must have been a bit of a shock for American media lawyers and such, but they were actually the guys out there and did the final talking and got the final deal.
That was very interesting. So, what happened after that?
So into the ‘80s?
No, it was 1977.
Oh, right. I was thinking Brideshead. When was Brideshead? I thought it was about ‘80, ‘80. Anyway, ‘77 was the beginning.
Yes. …I can’t actually remember the specific dates for Brideshead, but that modus operandi of switching from tape to film and getting the result and controlling the costs at the same time…
I mean, controlling costs. Very interesting you said that it was sort of engineering focused, and then the demand for programming grew and grew, so it must have become more talent-focused.
Oh, yes, definitely Granada…
And from your point of view, more difficult to control?
Not really, no.
I mean, I’ll just give you an example. You’ve heard of Ken Russell? What I’m really saying is some creatives were harder to control than others. Denis had always wanted to make the Wordsworth Lake District drama, which was made in, I think it was two or three episodes, under the heading Clouds of Glory. It was about Wordsworth, his sister and Coleridge and their wandering about the lakes, and Ken Russell, director of some repute, was recruited to do it. And one of the established scenes was at a particular house, the owners of which were persuaded to lease it to us… well, not lease it… to vacate it into a rather good five-star hotel down the road, and to give us this house for a set period as the backdrop to certain key scenes. And off they went to the Lakes. I got a frantic call one day from the location manager who, for a perfectly legitimate reason, had left the location for a couple of days, and when he got back, Ken Russell had got local painters in. Currently the house was painted white and he had it not completely painted pink, only the bits he needed as backdrop. So he comes back to this piebald house, the location manager, at about the same time that the owner strolled up from his five-star hotel to have a look at how things were going and went bonkers.
So, I got shipped off that one with Denis. I told Denis Forman, “You get out there and placate this man, open cheque.” So that was difficult. I will say I had on one occasion Derek Granger ring up from Castle Howard, where they were shooting Brideshead, and a deal had been done by the location manager, as part of the preparations, that the crew and the cast would be fed in Castle Howard’s restaurant because it was a tourist attraction and had a big café. And the location manager had suddenly been told by the local guy at Castle Howard that the prices were going to double what they’d said they were going to be. Derek Granger didn’t take too kindly to this, and so I had to shoot up to Castle Howard, but when I got there I was greeted by the owner, George Howard, Chairman of the BBC, who had a predilection for wearing caftans about the house. Strange man. Eccentric man. Anyway, I sat down with him for a couple of hours and then that got done. So there was the occasional outburst of creativity, conflict of interest or whatever. But no, I have a private theory that the most talented people are the least trouble anyway. That’s a purely private theory.
But in 1977, the guy who was the general manager, Leslie Diamond, died suddenly from a heart attack, and so Denis said to me, “You’re general manager” and I joined the group, the (??43:29) board at that stage, and being general manager just meant I went on doing what I was doing, but got the rest of the television centre to worry about at the same time. But when I took on that job, Granada is just, by then, is what?… nine years old. And the kind of rank of middle management people were probably exclusively ex-BBC, because they were probably quite old when they got recruited. You needed engineers who could do it. A lot of these guys were, a, good and, b, old. Because of the trade union structure, you had managers managing people but, because (??44:26), were in the same trade union as the people who were managing which didn’t quite accord with what I’ve been taught about management theory. Anyway, the business was changing and, particularly as I said, this trying to bring together empathy as well as control of what was essentially a creative process. I’d met at the time, quite by chance, a London headhunter called Nigel (Humphries 44:55) who had done a lot of work for the BBC and Government, finding bright people to go into Government jobs. I said to him one day, “How many people do you put up? How many candidates would you put up for a job?” He said, “Three.” I said, “So one gets chosen?” “Obviously,” he said. I said, “That doesn’t actually diminish your opinion of the two that didn’t, does it?” “No, of course not,” he said, “(??45:26) with people. ”I said, “Well listen, if I, Granada, if we paid you a retainer, modest retainer, when you put somebody up for a job with (??45:45) with a background, which you’ll recognise because you know the BBC and you’ve been around, the background that might suit them for Granada,” and I explained to him about I wanted to get this echelon of younger generalists rather than particular specialists who could actually adapt what Granada was doing, “Would you, for a retainer, ask them if they’d like to meet with Granada?” He said, “Yes, okay. Sounds a good idea.” That’s what we did. I mentioned this to Denis Forman. He said, “The man who was my boss in the army,” he said, “Sir Paul Bryan, was also sat on the War Office Selection Board for picking young officers. He was until he… he’s in politics now. He was on the board of Granada Group until he went into parliament, for reasons he resigned those posts because he became a minister of state.” He said, “He’s a charming man. He also spent about three years being on a very small committee that chose suitable candidates for the Conservative Party. What do you feel about working with him?” I said, “Terrific.” The next 12 months, we chose about six people. Paul Bryan was an amazing guy. He was a son of a missionary and was born in Japan. He became, in World War II, the youngest colonel in the British Army mainly because he was involved in a big action. The rest of the battalion officers got wiped out, I think, and suddenly Paul Bryan is a colonel. Wonderful man, charming, shrewd. He and I sat with Nigel Humphries’s candidates and we made them a kind of silly proposition. We said to them, “Look.” We explained Granada and what we thought it was about. They all said, “What will I be doing then? ”We said, “We’re not sure really. If you come to us, we’ll place you in an area of programme making. We’ll pay you a salary, a decent salary. If at the end of that,” I said, “And if it’s right for you and it’s right for us, things will happen. You’ll get absorbed into what we do. You’ll be doing a job. You might even have created that job for yourself. If, at the end of 12 months, we’re not bonding, you don’t like what we’re doing, we don’t like what you’re doing, we’ll come to an agreement that you leave. We’ll give you a year’s salary to go,” and that put a lot of people off. It didn’t put off people like Tony (Brill 49:15), Ian Ritchie, John Williams. I always quote Ian Ritchie as the exemplar of what a good generalist can do. When we took him on, he was a barrister, very young barrister, with the, he’s from Yorkshire, Yorkshire Engineering Employers Federation. He came to us, I can’t remember how many years. Anyway, he did a great job for Granada. Then, he was headhunted by Tyne Tees, went to Tyne Tees as managing director. When a big franchise upheaval came and Yorkshire and Tyne Tees merged, he was redundant in effect. He went off and became the chief executive of Wimbledon Tennis Club, ran Wimbledon. Then, he was headhunted from Wimbledon to run the Rugby Football Union. I think currently, at the moment, he’s chairman of the Rugby Premiership. That was a guy who took a chance, as did the others. They all turned out well, and so we had our own little War Office Selection Board with a wealth of experience on Paul Bryan’s side and me doing my best to keep up. That’s a very Granada thing, isn’t it?
Yes. It’s very (??50:41) informal.
Having come from totally hierarchical policy for everything, General Motors, who were very good employers, to Granada where what’s the problem? You’ll fix it. Get him and very little structure really. It was good fun. What else happened then?
Were you involved with the graduate trainee schemes?
Up to a point. You probably know the response rates. Whenever it was advertised, which wasn’t every year, the year I’m thinking of, I think we got 1,500 applications. The technique was that teams were appointed by Denis Forman. That year, I was teamed up with Julian Amyes, who was head of drama, somebody else, Derek Granger and (??51:55) pile of applications. I think there were two teams going, so 750 applications each team, which were then split into… the technique was you read your pile and rejected or shortlisted, very long shortlist. Your colleague, his pile, he rejected and then shortlisted. Then, you switched over. You gave him your rejections, he gave you his rejections and (??52:35) so every… apart from the long shortlist, all the others got read twice.
Can you remember notable people that emerged from the scheme, worked for Granada?
A lot of them, I mean Mike Apted, he was there when I joined. He’d already made the first of the Seven Up series. Can’t remember the girl called (??53:07) a girl called (Carol Wilks 53:09).
Oh was she?
Do you remember her?
Yes. I worked with her, because I worked on Nice Time.
In 1969 with Carol Wilks.
She was one of mine and (??53:21) ended with picking the short, short, short, shortlist. She was in that batch.
And John Birt?
And John Birt, yes.
There was another one doing quite well, another film director whose names escapes me.
Wasn’t Nick Elliott?
Nick Elliott was one, yes. Yes, so that was good.
These moments that came back to me from this general manager role was the great dressing room row. Because of, I say because of, well given that David Plowright’s sister’s relation to the wife of the great man himself, we got a deal with Warner Brothers for seven productions, one of which was Cat On a Hot Tin Roof. Natalie Wood, Laurence Olivier was going to be Big Daddy, of course, Natalie Wood, her husband, what’s he called? Him.
Slipped my mind too.
Anyway. It emerged they…
Yes, that’s him and there was a very nice lady called Maureen something or other who played Mrs. Big Daddy. However, the word came down via Laurence Olivier that these were his great personal friends and superstars, which they were. I don’t know whether you remember the Granada dressing rooms in the bowels of the earth.
This would not do. In my role as general manager, Denis Forman says, “You’d better sort out the dressing rooms.” Sidney Bernstein put his oar in and said, “This must be done right.” I said, “What would you call right?” He said, “Well just think doing one for Lauren Bacall,” he said. Why the hell he chose her and not Natalie, so that was like you can spend a bit of money. We set about with a will which meant knocking a few walls down, because they were like rabbit hutches are. Knocking a wall down here and knocking a wall down there. Then, Coronation Street stars arrived en masse, “Where’s my dressing… where’s my… why aren’t you doing my dressing room?”
It went on and on and on (??56:22) I mean in the end… I mean once they’d been made into decent dressing rooms (??56:29) don’t worry, you’ll get that one. When they arrived, outraged with some justification. We’re Coronation Street, the last show got 11 million viewers.
Who are these people from Hollywood?
It was, it was.
Again, a very Granada thing.
This would have been early ‘60s, mid ‘60s?
I didn’t become general manager until 1977.
It says here.
Oh right, yes. Some of these drama productions, one tends to forget about. We can all remember Brideshead and Jewel in the Crown, but some of the others you mentioned, like the Peter Eckersley one and… what, The Mosedale Horseshoe?
Yes, Cat On a Hot Tin Roof ain’t much talked about. They’re kind of a bit forgotten.
Mosedale Horseshoe, I think it was a good enough show, I think remembered for the fact that it was the first 16… because the IBA Engineering Division were pretty hot on quality. So hot in fact that Brideshead, which was also produced on that medium, the then chief engineer, Tom (Robson 58:01), who was a stickler, he actually went on the record. There was no attempt made to stop us doing it. When it had been done and shown and was a rave in Britain and a rave in America, I mean it got something like, in America, 4% of the peak time audience. You might think, well what’s special about that? What’s special about that is that 4% probably included every chief executive, it was the culture channel in America. All this and BAFTAs had been awarded and Tom Robson, in his annual report on Granada, said it actually was untransmittable. Didn’t meet the quality standards.
Needless to say, the IBA were somewhat embarrassed, I think.
Different programmes get remembered for different things.
Yes, they do, yes. Remember the title, Mosedale…
What year would that have been?
Did that win an award?
No, I don’t think so. It was a very Northern… it was about a group of walkers on the Mosedale Horseshoe up in the Lakes. Talking of the PR dimensions of being the general manager of Granada, we made another drama series based on an auction house. The location manager found a very nice house in Chester, auction house in Chester, and did a deal with them to give us pretty comprehensive access. It all went ahead. It all got made. It was a series of seven. The first one went out and the script was about an auction house fraud. The partners of this auction house in Chester went ballistic, because it was highly identifiable place in the middle of Chester, grade one listed building containing this high level auction. The auction room itself, very recognisable. They were going to sue us for defamation.
Forman rang the general manager and I had to go to Chester and talk very fast and calm them down. It was fun.
Fun stuff, fun stuff.
Fun when it stopped, yes. Right, well that’s the point really then I started to drift away from Granada Television day-to-day business on basis towards Granada Group interests. It all kicked off with Kenneth Baker, in 1981, was appointed Minister for Technology. He came up this amazing statement that Britain was going to be cabled like America. It was all going to happen in 10 years and wall to wall cable, brave new world. Again, Denis Forman called me up and he said, “There’s a conference in London about this cable thing that Kenneth Baker’s going on about. You’d better go,” so I went. Fortunately, while I was there, I met a very nice Canadian called Roy Faibish who had been brought up in American cable and was operating as a consultant. That’s why he had come across to Britain to find out what was going on. Anyway, I went back and reported back to Denis Forman. He said, “You’d better go to America and have a look at this cable.” That was the brief. I thought, how the hell? I thought, ah, so I rang this guy, Roy Faibish, and explained it. He said, “Oh I’ll ring you back in a couple of days.” He rang me back with introductions. He’d phoned up and said, “I’d be writing to seven cable companies, five in American, two in Toronto in Canada.” I went, had a look at cable. I went to Fort Lauderdale, Atlanta where, of course, Ted Turner was operating by then.
Ted Turner was operating, two in Denver, one in Pittsburgh and two in Toronto. I did that in 14 days. These guys were great. I wrote to them and said I’m coming and who we were and all that stuff. Then, I went. If you go (??63:52) one said to me, when I was doing that property thing, there’s a…
He came to see me when I was doing that job. At the beginning of every month, for three months, and said, “How are you getting on? How are you doing?” It was like being coached in being a property magnate. He said, “What’s that place, Lisburn?” And I said, “It’s in Northern Ireland.” And I said, “It’s a terrible location. It’s really on the edge of the troubles. And they’re not doing a lot of business.” And he said, “Have you been?” So I said, “No.” And he said, “I’ll give you a bit of advice. Always go and have a look. It gives you an edge on the guy who didn’t have a look.” I said, “Well, I could do that, but actually they haven’t had a plate glass window intact in the last six months. They’re not really even trading.” He said, “Okay, I see your point. But don’t forget. Always have a look.” So it’s form and apply, the philosophy, go and have a look. And when you go and have a look, at that time. This wasn’t the technological wonder that Kenneth Baker was saying it was. It was very big in rural America, because it was supplied on telegraph poles, above ground telegraph poles, with a wire into every house, aerial wire. Nobody had ever attempted to make a first of doing Chicago or whatever. Because it was only being driven by two things. It was being driven by Home Box Office, who when they kicked off, they put on viewers at an incredible rate. Because the installation costs are nil. And then Ted Turner saw this, and immediately he banged CNN on. So it was being driven by two channels essentially. There was all sorts of little, what they call, mom and pop operations, doing bits of local stuff. But by and large, cable was above ground cable, and the programme offering was two channels. And these guys I talked to thought that if you were going to try and dig up the streets of Chicago you were off your head. So I came back. And it was quite interesting. Because I came back, and the next thing, broadcast were on to me, saying, “We believe you’ve been doing it.” And all that stuff. And then I started getting calls from merchant banks. Some of the really big boys. And would I like to come to lunch. And I mentioned all this to the Granada board, and said, “This was nothing exclusive about what we’re doing here. Tell them what you saw. It will make these bankers think we’re on the ball.” So I went to these. I was amazed. They wanted to pick my brains, obviously. They wouldn’t have asked me otherwise. But the private dining rooms of these institutions, there are bloody butlers with white gloves, and silverware, fine Bordeaux wines for lunch. Anyway, I did all that. Then the government came up with the idea that it would be some trial franchises. They would offer, I think it was 11, franchises in conurbations between 50,000 and 100,000 residents. So somebody in Granada Group board said, “Shouldn’t we apply for one?” And we’d already decided that this could not be entertainment led. The investment side of it was horrendous. In fact, just sticking with that for a moment. We’d decided, in Granada Television, that it couldn’t be programme driven. I had a neighbour then, I lived in Didsbury in South Manchester, a smashing guy called Paddy Curly. An Irishman, director of one of the biggest Irish civil engineering groups in Manchester, (Kennedy’s?). And I was having lunch at his house one Sunday. And he said, “What have you been up to?” And I said, “I’ve been to America to look at cable.” And I gave him some of the speculative prices that journalists were playing with, how much per metre to lay cable in an urban environment and all. You can imagine. You’re a journalist. I said, “What would come, Paddy? What would it cost us to install cable in Manchester?” He said, “I have no idea.” I said, “You do things. You’re an Irishman. You dig trenches. And you dig holes. And you’re the biggest outfit doing it in Manchester. Come on.” And he said, “I have no idea.” He says, “There are Victorian pipes under Manchester, and wires, and you won’t believe what’s under the pavements in Manchester.” He said, “I wouldn’t take it on, because I couldn’t get the insurance.” I said, “Why do you need insurance?” He said, “Because I start digging holes down somebody’s pavement, and I manage to cut off the power supply to the whole of a business, who can’t trade now, because they’ve got no power, I take insurance about that kind of thing.” He said, “Nobody knows. This is all speculation.” Nevertheless, Granada Group decided we should have a go. So they immediately formed a company called Granada Cable and Satellite. I was appointed managing director. A very, very good market analyst in our sales department was Denis Flack. He was appointed marketing director. And there was a very nice young business analyst in Golden Square called, Phillip (Slesser 6:39). And that was it. We were… it was a big announcement, but behind the announcement was… however, Granada Group got cracking. And got GEC and BT, should know a thing or two about laying cables, to join. So the consortium was formed. And we chose Leicester. Which is 100,000 population city. At the time it was 25% Muslim. And the theory was that Muslim women and girls were not, broadly speaking, allowed out of the house, because of their faith. And there was huge business done on video rentals in Leicester, which we assumed that appetite could be hopefully converted into get it by cable. Although nobody was very sure what the hell they would be getting. And we did all the spade work. And the date for submitting got nearer. And so there was a board meeting in Granada. And it was a will we, won’t we thing. And Denis rang up one of the partners in GEC and said, “We’re all sitting here. Do you know what to do?” And they said, “We’re all sitting here, and we don’t know what to do.” But the GEC guy said, “I’ve spoken to BT. They’re obviously going to go ahead, because that’s what they do.” And Denis said to him, because he was on loud speaker in the boardroom, Denis said to him, “Can you and I agree that we’re not going to do this?” And he said, “Happily.” So we didn’t do it. And it never happened anyway.
So what happened after that? Where are we up to in the years?
We’re up to 1981.
Obviously, I want to get on to the 80s and 90s stuff.
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.” They turned out to be the 50 ITV companies, at Virgin and couple of… club of 21. 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. While we’ll all bury about that.
Exactly right. You can do that.
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.
How do you view that? Because you were around through all those machinations. And it was a great white hope, wasn’t it?
But it left ITV and Granada’s empire, went to Murdoch, in the end. 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. I don’t know if we’ve got time. 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. 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.”
That’s what was going on. So at the end of the day, BSB was a long way behind. Anyway, eventually launched. Costs started accruing like mad. Murdoch was going bust, although he got in first. His bad debt was killing him. Virgin, who were very active when we bought the franchise, immediately sold their shares out, on day one and buggered off. Murdoch, although he was in trouble as well, was Murdoch. BSB was, I think, seven very powerful partners, who were never going to agree on anything really. So at the end of the day, I think they flew out and said…
We went from your early days through Granada’s early days. We’re up to the Mrs Thatcher time, and the Broadcasting Act. So obviously that’s something I’d like to ask you about. The 1990 Broadcasting Act. What were the discussions? What were the reactions within Granada to this announcement?
What the terms? The bidding and…
Yes, all that.
Obviously, Granada was going to be up for it.
Were there hands thrown in the air when you heard, oh god…
It was ridiculous. The idea… first of all, you look at the landscape. The 1990 Broadcasting Act brought in this ridiculous idea that you had to bid away a proportion of your profits on a ten year horizon. Ridiculous. At the same time, Channel 4, which had up to then, been funded by the ITV system, in return for the ITV system selling the air time. That came to an end. Satellite was coming along. They were on a subscription, but advertising was creeping in at a rate of knots. The delusion on the part of politicians, who thought that advertising revenue would grow in proportion to the number of channels available for its distribution was absolute opposite of what happens. When the channels of delivery grow, the cost of advertising falls. And at best, you might say the overall gross will go up, but it’s now being shared by five. So, no, that was ridiculous. However, nobody actually believed that if you got a franchise, and they didn’t put you out of business on the first day, then you’re in there, and you were a part of it. And eventually the rules would be relaxed. That you could own more than one franchise. So the conclusion Granada came to was that if we had to bid so much money that it wasn’t a business, we wouldn’t do it. So we set about working up what we would pay. At the same time, you were allowed to own another company, provided it wasn’t contiguous with your own area. So we decided we’d bid for Tyne Tees. We got tipped off very late in the day… start again. We made it quite public that we were going to bid for Tyne Tees. Clive Leach at Yorkshire Television was furious, because it was his ambition that, although he couldn’t bid directly, he could have held a proportion of shares in Tyne Tees. And he believed, quite rightly, that the day would come when they could own the lot. So I actually rang him up to tell him. And he was livid. Then we got a tip off that Phil Redmond was going to bid for Granada, supported by Yorkshire Television. So that was, for them, the view held throughout Granada that if it’s going to put us out of business, what’s the point? So we’ll give it our best shot up to a given level of investment. And that’s what happened.
So the Yorkshire, Phil Redmond, bid was late in the day?
Very late in the day.
So up to then Granada thought there wouldn’t be any?
Yes. Nobody bid for Central. Central got it for £2,000. Nobody bid for Scottish. But I did ask John Fairly when the dust settled, “Why was it such as lousy bid from Phil Redmond?” And he said, “Clive Leach was furious. It was late in the day. We were up to our necks in doing our own franchise application. We tried to influence Phil Redmond, but you know Phil Redmond. He wouldn’t listen to anybody.” But Phil Redmond put in a programming bid, which was ludicrous. Alan Bennett was going to write a play for him every month. Things like that. And I think he bid 37 million on top of… 37 billion he bid.
And Granada’s bid?
Yes. Clive Leach bid 35 for Yorkshire. We bid five for Tyne Tees. Tyne Tees had never made more than 3.5 million, ever, in monopoly circumstances, which we all were. They bid 15 million. We could bid five, because we could have run a massive chunk of… and given the way technology was developing, we could have run almost all their overhead off Granada for a small marginal cost. But we didn’t get it. And I did a lot of reading after the event. It was decided by the IBA that they were going to lose certain people. They were sure they were going to lose. Because they knew the bids of course. They knew they were going to lose. I think they knew they were going to lose Southern. They were very preoccupied with the programming side of the network being so damaged that there wouldn’t be a competitive offering. However, that’s not what the Act said, it didn’t say not to bid your profits away. I remember Clive Leach and he was speaking to me again, realising what they’d done. He said to me, “I get up every Monday morning and knowing I’ve got to make a million quid a week.” That’s what they bid. And there was an ensuing scandal which you may know about or not know about, they cooked the books in one set of annual accounts and got found out. Leach had to go, his finance director had to go. Ian Ritchie had already gone because he thought he had been double crossed on the Yorkshire Tyne Tees thing.
The Phil Redmond bid, was that the initiative of Phil Redmond or did it come from Clive Leach?
I honestly don’t know the answer to that. I think Phil was going to bid anyway, because he approached me very early on and said would I go and be his managing director. I had no intention of ever going to be his managing director but he’s known to be notoriously mean, Phil Redmond, and so, to amuse myself more than anything I said to him, “Look, I have no desire to leave Granada but if you will give me 5% of the equity, I’ll come.” And I never heard another word.
So, the Granada bid was seven million, what was the Yorkshire bid?
It was 35, I think. And Tyne Tees, yes. 50 million a year and they gave him the franchise. I mean, other franchises in the area, people lost by putting in business plans like that, but Yorkshire, because there were all sorts of talk of conspiracy that George Russell was on the board of BlackRock insurance company in Newcastle and the local gentry who was a duke of whatever was on the board of Tyne Tees, and I’m not sure that all of that’s true actually, but I think the IBA just thought they had to hold onto some shreds of a network schedule. Without having to go back and start from scratch all over again.
Let’s move on to the caterers, as they called them. The arrival of Gerry Robinson and then Charles Allen. Just give us a bit of background on that, how their arrival came about, and what was the atmosphere.
How their arrival came about in Granada Group? Well, Granada Group were in trouble. Remember there’d been a takeover bid from Rank, which successfully we escaped from simply because the IBA said they wouldn’t let Rank have the television franchise. It wasn’t a transferable asset. They’d give them to Granada and in the bidding for it they’d have to do it without. So that’s what saw Rank off. Nothing to do with our defence document. Granada recruited a new chief executive called Derek Lewis. He’d came in as group finance director and then was promoted to group chief executive. And the truth is I was on the group board by this time. Because I joined the Granada Group board after the success of the BSB application. And frankly, he’s a very bright man, Derek Lewis, he had a first in maths from Oxford. He joined the Forte corporation, and become a European something or other in the finance side. He was a brilliant numbers man. He worked everything off mathematical models and very private opinion. He had no sense of a commercial proposition. And people like the Bernsteins had it in their blood. Derek wasn’t very good at it. The group went through a series of making acquisitions, trying to grow new arms of business by acquiring small companies. None of it worked. And it got to the point where Granada Group needed a rights issue. They were short of capital. The company’s merchant bankers said, quite bluntly, not with Derek Lewis. It really was the money boys saying, “Yes, we’re up for it, we’ll underwrite your rights issue, but not with that chief executive.” And it was a very personal kind of company, Granada. There were a lot of people that actually got on for a long time, and it was tough. David Plowright was quite amusing really. You know David? “We’re not having these City people tell us what to do.” But eventually, I think Alex sat him down and said, “Look, David, keep Derek, no money.” So Derek, I think knew he was… anyway, it all ended quite happily. And the money came. But then of course that raised the question, you’d better have a chief executive, otherwise where are you going? And so, the headhunters produced Gerry Robinson, who’d… I think he was an accountant with Matchbox Toys. Then he joined Compass, wasn’t it, the catering group. And did management buyouts, very successfully. Made a lot of money. And had a huge regard in the City, as they do for people who can make lots of money. And in he came. Now, all the stuff that went on, you could say it was bad blood between David Plowright and Gerry. I think it didn’t matter. And Gerry Robinson came in, and I think Granada Television, that year, had previously only made 20 million, and his new profit target he presented us with was 54 million, which was just stupid. I got on with Gerry Robinson because I knew more about it, in a sense, they’re not programmes. I did say to David at one point, “Listen, don’t get into arguments over the profits. You don’t know about profits. You only know, and thank God you do, about programmes.” Now I could deal with Gerry, because I would simply say to him, “Look, Gerry, you can’t have it. I’m sorry.” We went through a big cost-cutting operation to win the franchise at the price we won it at. And he just kept niggling and pushing, but what I didn’t know was that behind the scenes, David took this up on an almost personal level with Gerry. But you know, I think David Plowright, he never got over the Broadcasting Act. He never got over it. He lived for Granada Television. He didn’t go home much, frankly. There at night, and there at dawn. And he hated Margaret Thatcher, didn’t we all. He never got over it. And I used to say to him, “Listen, we’ve had the best part of it. We’ve been in this business all these years. It’s never coming back, David.” But he wouldn’t have it. And it all transferred into David virtually saying, “If you don’t get rid of Gerry Robinson, I’m off.” And then of course the last person they could get rid of was Gerry Robinson, otherwise they’d have lost the whole City.
Yes, it was him or me.
The share price, frankly, at that stage would have collapsed. If Gerry Robinson had walked out the door then, it probably would have been the end of Granada Group, and Television with it.
But why couldn’t Robinson live with Plowright?
I think it became personal. I never knew about the 54. I brought into Granada the first woman finance director. Very, very bright woman called Kate Stross, who we got from the Boston Consulting Group. She and I used to meet with Gerry, every month. And he never mentioned 54 million to me. I’m sure he did mention it to David because it came out in the end as provocative. It became provocative, I think, because they didn’t relate to each other.
But Plowright was forced out of Granada, wasn’t he?
Well, apparently. I knew nothing of all this going on until one morning, Alex Bernstein rang me up, because I was on a group board. And he said, “Look, I’ve not involved you in any of this, because you would have found yourself in an impossible position, but this is what’s happening.” Gerry wanted David, in the end, out of the, he wasn’t even the managing director, out of the chairman’s job. I think the sequence was, “Gerry, I want you to go, and Andrew Quinn will take over.” And he said no. I think Gerry then said, “Well listen, why don’t you go, but we’d like you to stay on as a consultant to the Granada Group.” David said no. And I think various palliative offers were made. But to David, it was not giving in programme making to a bunch of accountants, really. But that was in his heart from the minute the Broadcasting Act came out. David just wasn’t having it.
But Granada triumphed in that bid.
In what? For the renewal? Absolutely.
The only two sensible bids that went in, apart from the ones that had no competition, were Granada and London Weekend. We bid seven, they bid nine.
Why did Plowright react badly to this, because he was…
He wasn’t against making the bid.
No, but given the successful bid, why wasn’t he happy?
Well, he was until Gerry Robinson.
He was until then?
Gerry did, from time to time, press me hard for promises of more profit. And I remember in one meeting saying to him, “Look, we’re a fixed cost base in Manchester.” And that was a major plank in the bid, winning the bid. The quality threshold and all that good stuff. “We’re a fixed base resource. Fixed talent community.” By this time, we were into what finally became the Network Centre. “We have got firm commitments from the network, which will fill our resources for the next two years, and if we get rid of key people, with that order book, we’ll have to hire them back as freelancers. And there’s a considerable cost to that.” But Gerry’s mindset was, “Yes, but you won’t have to pay pension contributions.” So he pushed and pushed and pushed, and I pushed back, and said, “This place is running at resource optimum level.” But I don’t think Gerry didn’t care about television. His whole posture was to come into Granada Group and fire as much overhead as he could fire, and stay very close to the City, and the City thought he was marvellous. As long as they thought he was marvellous, the Granada Group board had to have him. When that blew up, I hadn’t told anybody. But I’d been, after the satellite thing, I’d been on the group board for just over a year, with a division called Services to Business. Which was a group of companies, one was Computer Field Maintenance, mending people’s computers, and frankly, I wasn’t very thrilled with it. And then I was approached by headhunters, on behalf of Central Television, where Andy Allen – did you know Andy Allen? – had been managing director. Great guy. Fed up of being managing director and wanted to go back to being programme controller. So Central were looking for a managing director. So I met the chairman of Central who was also the chairman of Boots, based in Nottingham, very nice man. And we talked. And shortly after, I got a call from the headhunter, Roy Goddard, to say, they’re going to make you an offer. A few days, you’ll have an offer. So I said, oh, great. And a day later another phone rang, this in 1987 by the way. Another phone rang and it was David Plowright. And he said, “How are you doing?” And I said, “Alright.” And he said, “Denis is going to retire and I’m going to become chairman. Do you want to come and have a talk?” So I went up and met him at his house up there, and we talked, and I agreed to come back to Granada Television as managing director.
Previously your job was with Group?
Yes. And I was still at that point, with the two television directors, on the group board. Which was good.
So ‘87, you became managing director?
Yes. The preoccupation was getting the franchise at that point. But in the run-up to the franchise, the independents’ lobby was getting stronger and stronger and stronger. And sense dictated that the old quota system, when the majors do this and I’ll do that and you do the other and we’ll just carve up the production between us, that obviously wasn’t going to last. So I persuaded, with the help of Greg Dyke, the other managing director, I persuaded them that we had better start dress rehearsing for more access. The independents are going to win. And we can see if something called (Newco?), which a certain proportion of the network needs, was separated out, and could be bid for. That meant the majors giving up capacity that could be bid for by any ITV company or any independent. And the franchises were re-awarded. That idea was suggested to the IBA, because the independents thing was… the IBA was very in favour. And Greg Dyke came to see me and said, “Listen, this is going to have to become real. Will you take it on as the first chief executive of the Network Centre?” And I said, “Yes, probably, let me think about it.” At that point, the David thing blew up, and I said to Greg, “Listen, I’ve been with Granada 25 years and I like the place. I really can’t. Count me out.” So I didn’t tell anybody at Granada. The press had a field day with this. They then said to me, “Well, you chair a group of three, Richard Dunnan, somebody else, to look for a chief executive. And so I did. And eventually we thought we’d found a guy. It got right up to details on the contract and his own company offered him a big job and he just pulled out. So Greg said to me, “Will you think again?” So I thought, yes I will. So I thought. And I loved every minute I worked at Granada and in television, but I equally decided I was going to retire as early as I could. So I said to Greg, “Look, I’ll do it on a three year fixed term contract, and then I’m off. And in the course of that three years, towards the end, you can start looking for the permanent guy.”
Did you move to London to do it?
Yes. Well, I didn’t sell my house in Manchester. I did a very good deal. I was able to have an apartment in the West End, which was a very nice way to spend three years in London. But of course, the dust had just settled on the David and Gerry Robinson affair when I cleared off as well. And that’s when Gerry asked me for a list of people he might approach in the broadcast world, so I gave him a list of people and he didn’t like any of them. Programme makers. And that’s when he brought in this monster Charles Allen. Terrible man. Terrible man.
Why do you say that?
Because he went around browbeating people. He forced Ray Fitzwalter to resign. Because Ray said he’d rather resign then get sacked, because he knew he was going to be. Because you know Ray, he wasn’t going to compromise. Awful fellow. Firing people left, right and centre.
Jules Burns described what happened in those times as brutal.
The culling of staff.
That’s a good word. And not only culling of staff, the stories that got back, no doubt some exaggerated, but he diminished people, he belittled people before he fired them and made silly demands on people. And it sounds awful. What did David Liddiment say because he was there for a lot of the Charles Allen?
Yes, he was. I can’t remember exactly what he said.
Then he went off to be head of live entertainment at the BBC, didn’t he?
So there, that’s me.
Because in Fitzwalter’s book, I don’t think Fitzwalter and Liddiment got on very well.
I think that in Ray’s book, there’s a few snipes at David’s position, and along with Steve Morrison, and Jules as well. I suppose they were…
Partly sniping at Jules? I don’t remember that.
No, no, not, no not in Ray’s books.
Steve Morrison is Steve Morrison. He’s a…
There is still bitterness you know about, amongst some of the guys who I occasionally see who worked at Granada, film editors or technicians, about those people, those individuals who maybe should have done more to protect Plowright. I mean, there was a great campaign to save Plowright.
It was never saveable.
No. Funnily enough, Alex Bernstein, having phoned me up about all this, said, “We didn’t tell you because you’d have been compromised. Would you mind popping down the road to have a conversation with David Glencross to break it to them before it hits the streets, that I’d like to meet with them?” So I did. David Glencross went white. He was a great guy, you know, regulator or not. He went white, on behalf of ITV really, and then he said, “Christ, I’d better get George,” so he shot off upstairs and George came down and I spoke to him and he said, “Well, why do you think specifically it happened?” I said, “Well, because it reached a point where the chairman of a group subsidiary has told the group chief executive to bugger off. He’s not going to work with him.” George Thompson had a very comprehensive, successful career running big corporate… and people like that, highly respected businessman, and he said, “Well, that’s it then, isn’t it?” Though I reported that to Alex who breathed a bit of a sigh. Alex and Gerry then went down together, I wasn’t present for that, and had a conversation with George in which apparently George said, “Well, we didn’t award the franchise to David Plowright. We awarded it to Granada Television,” and he went through the application with them. I’m glad I wasn’t there because I think things got glossed over, but he more or less said, “This is the application. Are you going to stand by it?” They said, “Of course.” End of. Because I mean in the end, business is business. The money men are the money men, and there comes a point where, as Jeremy Corbyn will find out when he tries to renationalize Great Britain.
Yes. I think there’s a bit of resentment against Mark Morrison in particular I think, some of the people. I think Liddiment, who’s a friend of mine, was always sticking up for the programme maker and treading a careful path, you probably had to do. It’s a tricky path.
It is a tricky path.
To keep the programme making side buoyant and make money. That’s what David was doing and Jules as well, another friend of mine, but Jules was as shocked by… what went on I think, in the Charles Allen days, as you are. Let me ask you a few more things, if I can.
Things that occurred to me, just on the non-programming side, the Granada Studios tours. I produced in 1988, the ITV, no, the BAFTA, sorry, ‘89 it was the BAFTA Craft Awards.
Princess Anne, limousines, fireworks, stage one, Shirley Bassey, a big deal event there.
That was actually…
Did you have an American actor who was a guest as well?
Or something, big hit it was in America. Princess Anne I remember was very struck with him.
Was it George Peppard?
That was you? You produced that?
That was me.
Oh, well done. It was good. I was telling my wife about that only the other night, in the context of Princess Anne. I said, “She’s not as big a sap as you might think. I saw almost her almost sitting on George Peppard’s lap.”
I also had Norman Collier to present the best sound award because he did his act with the microphone breaks up all the time and that was hilarious, but that wasn’t the studio. I was going to ask you about studio tours, but that was on the other site. The studio tours project, tell us a little bit about that. Was that Plowright’s idea?
Very much so, yes, yes. It was a good idea in an inadequate location basically.
Yes because we put a lot of work into it in advance, even to the point I would go to America on National Association of Broadcasters’ Convention thing and I stopped off at Disneyland in Orlando and I had heard that you could have a guided tour. You paid a bit more and you got a guided tour, so I signed on in the morning for the guided tour and a very attractive young lady from the Walt Disney University, graduate, appeared in fancy dress and she was the guide and she knew everything about it. There was on about six of us and I had a chance to sit down with her and discuss it and one of things that emerged and that we were able to verify later on is that these tours, and this is America we’re talking about, the size of America, these tours actually need refreshing every so often, more capital investment. I made a note. I thought that was interesting. Then we went farther in to it and we realised that in the space we had, you can’t let in more than a, given fire and safety rules, given number of people, so if you did the sums, took a view about capacity and what you’re going to well in that limited space and we worked out quite brightly, you can probably sell out every time you did it, but there weren’t enough people that went through to give you a profit and enough money for capital renewal, so it was never going to be… it wasn’t going to be a growth investment. David wanted it badly, and in those days, if David wanted something, he got it. It didn’t matter if you were going to lose money. We also had one of those theatres put in where surround sound and the seat moves with the action on the screen. All that did was make a lot of people sick. That wasn’t a great hit actually, but that was the problem. The idea that people would queue around the block to… that’s true and it would still be true today I’m sure, but it always comes down to logistics, doesn’t it. The fire brigade would not agree to any more than about 350 being in at one time. I can’t remember the exact details and the capital renewal programme was eating up profits.
You’re saying that the site wasn’t big enough?
No. Absolutely not, but what it was good, in a way David was right about this, the studios tour, the stables theatre, the hotel… well, David’s feeling and I’m sure that if you want a regional television service in this country, you will not get anybody more regional than Granada. That’s true, but when the money men arrive, particularly when you want an open ended franchise which is what the final thing was for the broadcasting at 1990. Those franchises were open ended. They were deemed to be held on a commercial basis, therefore they were deemed once you got it, you got it.
Then the money men just look at it and say, “Well, that’s not making any money.” Although I don’t know… I think it was after Charles Allen came in. I think that was one of the first things that went. He’s an accountant.
Was there ever a move to relocate the main Granada building, Granada TV, that was ever under consideration to go to somewhere cheaper in Warrington or something?
Well way before we seriously said, I actually at one stage made the proposal because I mean I looking ahead, I couldn’t see how this brick and mortar in Manchester were going to be what would need and the technology changing, location activity. I suggested at one point that we should actually build two, seriously modern all singing and dancing studios adjacent to Manchester Airport, but that didn’t get very far.
What are the highlights looking back over these times? What are your highlights of your time at Granada?
Well, I don’t know. If I look back on it and I sort of couldn’t have had a better progression in life. I mean I suppose the norm for many people is that you hit your peak and then you jog along or you… I don’t know. I was just getting bigger and bigger and newer jobs always, but if you want a slightly frivolous answer to the most thrilling thing is went rank a bit for us, we had to produce a defence document for the city and Denis Forman said, “Well, the money men can do the thing. I’m making a film about how terrific Granada is,” and he did. He went ahead and was getting pretty close to submission time and the lawyers came in. He showed them the film and one of the things that we were doing at the time and it came about from me meeting some Americans during the satellite imaginations, I’d come across this outfit called Hubbard Broadcasting. It was a private third generation family broadcasting firm in Minnesota and we had various discussions and this guy, Stanley Hubbard III said, “Well, why don’t we do something together? Why don’t we sign a kind of agreement that we will put together some mutually agreed projects.” I had mentioned this at the group board and said, “Yes, seems like a good idea.” You can speculate now. All the old stuff is going down the tubes, so that was put in motion and Denis had mentioned it in the film and then the lawyers looked at it and they said, “This joint venture with Hubbard Broadcasting, can we see the agreement?” We said, “We haven’t got one. We’re just started a relationship. It’s been negotiating.” They said, “We won’t do it. You can’t put anything in this document or film that can’t be documented,” they said. Denis said… much of my life has been about what Denis said to me. Denis said to me, “Give your friend Stanley Hubbard a ring. Tell him quite frankly what we’re about. Then go to America, sit down with him, produce the heads of agreement.” I said, “Right.” We’ve got days in which to do this. I rang Stanley. He said, “Fine. Well, I’ll be I’m Florida for the next few days.” I said to Denis, “I don’t know how I’m going to get to Florida, sit down with Stanley and a lawyer. We had American lawyers. I’ll have to pick up a lawyer in New York.” Denis said, “It can be done. Get on the Concorde.”
Did you go?
So I did. I got on the Concord. 780 miles an hour or something to New York, go a cab straight to the New York lawyers, went to another airport somewhere in New York, got on a plane to Florida, had the meeting, and reversed the process, got back and did it… got there, signed the heads of agreement, utterly meaningless, but it was on paper and back in three days.
Apart from that, it was just one long summer. I loved it. Did you feel Granada was okay?
I loved it too. I mean rather like you, I came up… I came for an interview. There was an advert in the Guardian, “Granada Television wants researchers for a comedy programme called Nice Time.” ‘69, this was, and I was not more out of Liverpool University and I thought, “Might as well. You’re just applying for lots of things,” and this was John Birt’s baby, Nice Time. I think there were over 1,000 applicants.
With that awful Australian lady on it?
That’s right. Fantastic.
Kenny Everett, Johnathan Routh, Sandra Gough. Anyways, I was one of a handful who eventually got picked and along with Claudia (Milne 61:03) who was in the group, so that’s how I started and then John Burt went to World in Action, after a bit I went with him, so my heart is really is back in World in Action conflicts and every month now in London, there’s a World in Action social. They meet every month.
At the Frontline Club in Paddington. It used to be run by Mike Beckham who died a few years ago. It’s now run by Michael Ryan.
Oh, I remember him.
And Steven Clark is there…
Does (??61:36) go to those?
No. He doesn’t.
He’s a loner, isn’t he, Stewart?
I see him periodically.
Yes he is.
He’s very successful Sky Arts, portrait artist or whatever, or landscape artist.
Well, I think it’s probably a case that he’s made his money and he’s now going to enjoy himself. I don’t see him, no, but World in Action people and even people who used to work in Golden Square…
Before you and I joined, that turn up there. It’s fun. I don’t go every month, but it’s nice to see it’s there. John Blake goes sometimes and Ian McBride I’ve seen there, so that’s where my roots go back to World in Action. Then I was seduced…
They don’t make them like that anymore. I think the quality of documentary, facts based programming is terrible these days.
It is too.
I think Panorama is a shadow of its former self, worse than that. They’re more like cut and paste from last week’s papers.
The massive promotion for stuff you already knew because it must just be easy to assemble a few bits and pieces and…
Too much of it is half-baked.
You end up watching and think, “Well, why didn’t they ask that or that? Obvious questions.”
That’s equally true of reporting. The standard of interrogation of these bloody idiots in Westminster all running around like headless chickens is awful.
They are allowed to repeat things that are not true. They’re allowed not to answer as many questions as they can avoid answering. Terrible.
Yes, because everything is sort of rolling news, so everything has got to be short and sharp and there’s no understanding, no depth. It’s frustrating.