Claire Lewis on Granada and the north – and Sidney Bernstein

Yes. Let’s talk a little bit about the ethos of Granada Television. Granada Television as a company. I’m thinking in terms of its northernness, its politics.
They were very important. Its politics were very important. Its northernness was very important. It was completely different from anywhere else. And it was a combination of people who were left-wing socialists and in showbusiness. So if you wore a gold lamé suit to your interview you were likely to get a job, and if you were left wing you were likely to get a job, but if you were in the middle and you were boring, you wouldn’t. That was the kind of ethos at the time. It was a combination of ideas, and exciting people, and interesting people, and left-wing people, actually, at the time.

Unashamedly left wing?
Unashamedly left wing mostly, yes. Mostly. And that was because of Sidney Bernstein, really. And it stemmed from Sidney, who I actually knew as an 18-year-old, believe it or not.

Yes! I knew Sidney Bernstein way, way, way before my career at Granada. His daughter, his stepdaughter, and I were at school together. So she and I became very good friends. And I became a friend of the family. So I knew Sidney when he was setting up Granada. He was an incredibly scary man. Very, very… and the first time I met anybody who I found deeply intimidating. I mean, he was fiendishly intelligent and very intimidating for a teenager. But I knew him, and there was one famous occasion where I went around to their house and they were all having dinner. Because he was a multimillionaire and he already had the most fabulous proper paintings on his wall that I’ve ever seen in my whole life. You suddenly realised you were looking at something that was a Modigliani, and it was a real Modigliani. It wasn’t just fake. We actually had this dinner, I can’t remember what year it was, it must have been early ‘60s, I suppose, and he said, “Oh, by the way, Granada’s going into the motorway café business. I want each of you to tell me what you would want to eat if you stopped at a motorway café.” I thought, “Oh, no, he’s going to ask me.” So he went around the table and he asked all the guests what they would want to eat at a motorway café, and we all had to say what we thought we would like to eat. And then, of course, my career took a different turn, I completely forgot about it. Ended up at Granada, meeting up with Sidney only once, when he was still there in the late ‘70s. He used to occasionally walk around the corridors. Very, very occasionally. I met him once after that, and that was it. But I think he was responsible for the ethos. Him and Denis were really responsible. And Plowright, to an extent. They were responsible for the ambience, the feeling, the drive.

And did you come into contact with Denis and David Plowright?
I did with David Plowright, yes. Not with Denis. With David Plowright I did quite a lot. Because of being news editor, and because of Seven Up, I came in touch with him quite a lot, yes. And he was, again, absolutely extraordinary and a real inspiration.

How do you think Granada contributed to an image of the north west?
Well, that’s… well, because of the Street. Because of the Street. I knew and watched the Street long before I knew that it came from Granada, or cared. I watched it as a young mum at home, part-time teacher, and that was my image of the north. So in a way… is it fair? Possibly. Is it fair? Yes and no. In the early days, I think some of it was very representative, but it was a fictionalised, romanticised version of what working class life was like. I do think that image was very important; the way that people were portrayed in the Street. Because that was how anybody who didn’t come from the north saw the north. So yes, Granada had a really, really important shaping of the perception of northerners via the Street. I think in terms of politics and World in Action, we did alternative things. We gave a completely different view of what was going on to the world. Well, to the UK, because the world didn’t see it. But it was great being part of journalism that didn’t come out of London. And that was the best thing about it.

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