David Boulton remembers his final years at Granada and how the company changed

The late ’80s things really began to change in Granada. I suppose the biggest manifestation of the change was that for all the years I had been working there I’d been vaguely aware that up on the top floor there was a whole lot of accountants you occasionally saw coming through the door in their grey suits and ties and dressed very, very differently from programme makers and World in Action lot. You saw them go in and go upstairs and you didn’t really know quite what they did and they never had any interaction with you at all. I should say that in the years I ran World in Action I never, never saw a budget, never looked at a budget! At the end of every year Tom Gill would say to me ‘David, we are running a little bit under budget, can you spend a little more on programmes so that we can make a better case for a 2% increase next year’ and so we’d do the best we could with that. But I never had any budget worries at all. I never knew how much the programmes cost.

You had no idea at all?!

It’s astonishing, I had no idea how much the programme, I mean you could calculate the cost of programmes of course in all sorts of ways as to what you included above the line and below the line and all that but I really had very little idea as to what the programmes cost and I didn’t have to bother to look at budgets. Tom Gill would keep an eye on the budget and let me know if we were overspending or under spending but we basically knew that we could spend what needed to be spent. In fact one of the jokes at the time was that Anthea was on Coronation Street, I was on World in Action, Anthea was the one who was making Granada all the money and I was the one who was spending all of Granada’s money! This, as I say, was changing towards the end of the ’80s when we began to find that some of these finely grey-suited accountants were no longer all grouped together on the top floor but you had accountants in your office, in your department and suddenly we were being made much more aware of budget restrictions. We had enormous freedom in each department in deciding what we were going to make, when we were going to make it, how we were going to make it and there began to be a move towards a kind of centralisation of you were not making decisions about what programmes you were making, you were making submissions about what programmes you wanted to make and you were making submissions to what we called the Programme Prevention Department because so many questions came back – ‘Why do we need to do this? Wouldn’t it be better to do it this way?’ – from people who were not programme makers and had no programme making experience and so the whole kind of accountancy business ethos was subverting the programme making journalistic decision-making that had been so vital apart in the way in which Granada had worked. The irony is that it was David Plowright who eventually was fired for not responding to the Granada Group’s Board requirement that he adopt a much more businesslike open approach to programme making. It was David who very early on saw the way things were going to go with more and more channels opening up, with more and more competition, with a thinner spread of advertising that it was necessary to start imposing disciplines that had not been imposed on programme makers before so initially we really quite resented David Plowright for giving way towards these pressures. It was only later on that we discovered the strength of those pressures on him, the degree to which he had resisted those pressures and worked to defend the interests of programme making.

So that was part of my, I’d always decided quite early on that I would retire at 55. I really didn’t have any ambition to go on and become Programme Controller, run the company. I had too many other interests! I was writing books, I was thoroughly enjoying my family. I had my nice 75-acre farm up in the Yorkshire Dales – where we are sitting now – and I enjoyed my weekends up here and I was not one of those who spent the evenings at Granada in the local bars discussing, politicking, networking and all that. I kind of worked, did my job, loved doing it and then went home and there were just too many other things I wanted to do in life. So I had always decided that I would go at 55 and my 55th birthday was approaching and I began to feel that Granada was not the place it had been. And I, personally, from a selfish point of view, wasn’t having the same freedoms to do what I wanted as I had done and I thought, yeah, this is the time when I moved off. It was a good time (1991) to move off because I had got involved in all sorts of other industry stuff after that.

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