David Boulton’s impressions of Granada as a company

First of all it was a family company. The Bernsteins were the bosses. The Bernsteins made the decisions. Sidney was the one with the social conscience who determined that Granada would be better than the BBC [British Broadcasting Company] at producing its news programmes, its current affairs programmes, and in developing a social justice direction. Cecil was the one who was the real money-maker, who developed the light entertainment programmes, the quiz programmes, Coronation Street, the programmes which really brought in the money. It was a very, very good combination. They, together, brought in Denis Forman and in the early years it was the two Bernsteins and Denis Forman who, as a trio, ran the company, knew everything that was going on in the company, made all the appointments in the company, appointed people who they got on with and who could get on with them. What this meant was that people said that, ‘If your face doesn’t fit then you are out, as far as the Bernsteins are concerned’ and there was something in that. Those of us whose faces did fit were lucky. Those of us who shared the values of the Bernsteins and Denis Forman, we were the ones who prospered in the company but that could be perceived by others as paternalistic, as a kind of benevolent despotism but it wasn’t the way I perceived it. I perceived it as working with people with whom I had a shared set of values, a shared set of objectives, people who supported me through the thick and thin and therefore to people to whom I was loyal through thick and thin. When the Bernsteins went, when Denis, when his power waned then that’s when the company began to change and became a less comfortable company to work for because it became like any other company, like any other television company.

There was always a view that the company was unashamedly leftwing, it was quite radical and in a way you epitomised that. You came from a radical background, you’d worked on Tribune and other people like Gus MacDonald had also worked on Tribune. I mean as a manager you would have been responsible presumably for hiring people, what Norman Tebbit called, I think he said ‘Granada was run by a bunch of Trotskyites!’

Ah, yes, a bunch of Trotskyites was something of an exaggeration but it was certainly true that, as I’ve put it, people with a strong sense of social justice were the people who found Granada a congenial place and the kind of people who, those who ran Granada, found congenial. Certainly from when I first moved from being a press officer and moved up to become a journalist I had all sorts of naive notions that I would have wonderful opportunities of spreading my leftwing views. I was very quickly disabused of that in the sense that it became quite clear to me that it would really be very counterproductive to come blazing out with Labour party slogans or leftwing slogans or singing the Red Flag or whatever! And I became a convert to the notion of the necessity of due impartiality in matters of politics and economics and so it wasn’t that I found myself restraining and enforcing an impartiality because I was required to do so when I was running current affairs, it was because I was genuinely persuaded that without the restraints of due impartiality you could have a highly politicised broadcasting system. A system like there is in the States with the Fox Corporation and where rightwing moneyed interests would be more likely to take over the airwaves than those of us who were lefties. So within that constraint of due impartiality we had to work out as cunningly as we could how we pursued a social justice agenda without breaking those disciplinary requirements and of course sometimes we were hauled up for being too biased. I mean we produced all the argument about well, some programmes are leftwing but then they can be balanced by programmes that give a different viewpoint. I think we were cleverer at finding ways of pursuing a social justice agenda within the rules.


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