Chris Kerr on the work of the Granada Foundation

After a few months I was invited, in terms that didn’t invite a refusal, to take responsibility for the Granada Foundation. Kathy Arundale has given a concise summary of the Foundation’s history and work. It had been run up to then by Leslie Diamond the General Manager but he was retiring and, given my background in the arts, DF thought I could probably cope. It wasn’t hard work; we met about three times a year and I would get a lift to Manchester in the chauffeur-driven Rolls of Phill (sic) Jacobs, a Liverpudlian business friend of Sidney Bernstein. We tended to give our grants in a fairly subjective way – there wasn’t much in the way of a formal policy. I was asked to draw up a paper with some suggestions on policy guidelines. I can’t remember what it said but it was probably full of worthy sub-Arts Council ideas for residencies and fellowships. Sir Bill Mather the urbane chairman wasn’t much in favour: “I think it’s probably quite good thing for artists to do a bit of starving in garrets” he said. Both Kathy and Irene Langford have had their goes at writing a policy but I think one of the virtues of the Foundation remains its unwillingness to be restricted by rules. Other members of the Council were Lady Helen Forman, who had been DF’s boss at the BFI after the war. She was formidable but utterly delightful and her no-nonsense manner disguised a clever and sensitive woman with a deep appreciation of the arts and culture. A young Bob Scott was also making his creative presence felt. And then there was Tom Laughton, brother of the actor Charles. Their parents had run the two biggest hotels in Scarborough and, when the time came for Tom to retire, he invited us to meet at his big house on the cliffs. Sidney came too and I think was helicoptered on to Tom’s lawn. We had a fantastic lunch at which we all drank a good deal from Tom’s excellent cellar. I sat back happily and listened to SLB and Tom reminiscing about Hollywood before the war and telling stories about Alfred (Hitchcock), Elsa (Lanchester), Charlie (Chaplin)and other big Hollywood names. Like many really great men, Sidney was extremely approachable – “Mr Kerr, please don’t call me sir,” – and made you realise what charisma really is.

Alex Bernstein, himself a great art connoisseur and buyer, asked me to take responsibility for the superb art collection, of which Kathy Arundale has spoken. I was also allowed to buy if I saw something that fitted and it was a privilege to be able to put together a collection of work by Liverpool artists such as Adrian Henri, Maurice Cockrill, Clement MacAleer, Stephen Farthing and others for the Exchange Flags studio. Quite a lot of these “disappeared” in the move to Albert Dock which I guess means that other people liked them too. About 1982 Robin Vousden who was the assistant director at the Whitworth persuaded Alex to let them do an exhibition of work from the Collection and we had a lot of fun arranging that. I was also involved in the move of the Epstein Jacob and the Angel statue from the basement of Liverpool Cathedral to a new home in the School of Architecture. It was a bit heart in mouth as they lifted it onto a lowloader – no one quite knew how much it weighed or how fragile it was. Later Alex sold or gave it to the Tate and for a time it was in the Tate Liverpool foyer; now it’s nice to see it safe at Millbank. Given the great value of the collection I was always impressed by how laid-back Alex was about the pictures. He felt it was important that they should be on general view and if, as they did, they got damaged, well we just had them repaired. Alex was a private person and rather reserved but, as I got to know him better over the years, discovered that he had a fine and dry sense of humour and decided views, not just on art. Once I’d got over the fact of who he was I think we got on pretty well; he was certainly excellent company.

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