Brian Lapping on the Bernsteins and Denis Forman

One of the questions is what did you make of the grand days of Granada and the Bernsteins, and Denis Forman and Plowright?

Well, I did get to know Sidney moderately well. Sidney was extraordinary. Very incisive and intrusive and fascinating to talk to. Cecil I didn’t know scarcely at all. But I had quite a number of conversations with Sidney, and I always came away thinking, “That’s really a clever man.” Very ambitious and so forth, but I was definitely very impressed with Sidney. Mike Scott was much more relaxed and nice and easy, but not in the same brain league at all. But the one I most enjoyed, of course, was Denis. Denis was smashing.

Just give us your opinion of Denis Forman. You’ve talked a little bit there about Sidney. Do you remember Denis Forman? 

I remember so many things about Denis, particularly Denis chairing those meetings about what programmes we should make and what effort should be put in and who should do what. Denis was, in my view, completely brilliant. He was absolutely on top of the company, prepared to work all hours of day and night. I just thought he was wonderful and he applied his might tremendously creatively to my projects, but he applied his might equally painstakingly to other projects and he would simply come in, think, read. He was just very hard working, very relaxed, lovely man, absolutely smashing. I think possibly he’s the cleverest and lightest person I’ve ever worked with.

Looking back on your Granada years, how did you feel about Granada as a company and how did you rate it? Did you feel that you were at the right place at the right time? What were your feelings?

I occasionally came down to, it was called LWT? Yes. Because Anne (Lapping, his wife) worked at LWT and I was amazed at how inferior LWT was to Granada as an organisation. We had some close friends, particularly David Elstein working in Thames. And again, I got to know Thames quite well and it was no question that there was a commitment by Denis and by Sidney to doing outrageously ambitious things. Here was independent television trying to enlarge audiences for popular programmes, and Sidney allowed Denis to spend fortunes on much, much more ambitious programmes that were never going to win those large audiences because Sidney agreed with Denis this is just really interesting. And what was that superb series that they made in India?

Jewel in the Crown?

Precisely. They spent a fortune on that and it was silly because Denis, I remember talking – not me talking, Denis talking – enthusiastically about Jewel in the Crown. It was just he was fascinated by India. Had he been born in India?

Not sure.

But he had links to India. To be around in what was supposed to be a commercial organisation when the supreme boss, Sidney, allowed the effective boss, it was then I think managing director, Denis, to spend vast sums on something that wasn’t central to what independent television was supposed to be about. And, was somewhat critically viewed by people at LWT and Thames, “God, Granada spends too much money on those boring programmes.” They didn’t really like it, but they had to transmit them because I supposed Denis or Sidney or somebody twisted arms. It was just a treat of a place to be. It was a place that was in conflict with its proper role. Its proper role was just to make money. Sidney didn’t give all his mind to making money, he gave quite a lot of his mind. He had to make enough money of course, but he gave most of his mind, I think, certainly from some of my conversations with him, to make this programme as good as it can possibly be, and it was inspiring.

It did seem to me that Granada was the Jewel in the crown of the ITV network. Would you say? 

Yes. Absolutely.


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