David Highet describes how he thinks Granada changed in the late 1980s

Things began to change towards the end of the 1980s. It’s a question of ethos and I think I would just like to quote from Ray Fitzwalter’s book – The Dream that Died, the Rise and Fall of ITV – and there’s a quote here quoting Bob Phillis, who was the Chief Executive of Carlton Television. And he said ‘Every organisation has to have a heart, a culture, a sense of values, an organisation needs championing, a standard bearer. Granada had a very distinctive ethos which passed from Sidney Bernstein to Denis Forman to David Plowright. Now it is gone.’ And he made that comment in the late 1980s, probably early ’90s at a time when Sidney Bernstein had died, Denis had gone from the company. Alex Bernstein was the Group chairman. He’d brought in from Compass Catering two Executives – Geoffrey Robinson and Charles Allan – and they came from a very keen business background with no idea at all about television but the Group directed their attention to the television company and particularly through Charles Allan they began to change practice, institute cuts in finance, seek economies whereas in the past the company was dedicated to protecting budget to enable programmes to be made. Anything else could go but programme excellence had to be maintained. And all of a sudden Plowright, as Chairman of Granada Television, found that programme budgets were being cut and he went to Granada Group and he was a member of the Group Board and he said, ‘This must not continue. We have to preserve the integrity and excellence of our programme-making. It’s either you do that or I go.’ And they said, ‘Thank you, David, you go’. An infamous decision which caused huge outrage and resulted in Peter Cook writing to Geoffrey Robinson: ‘Dear Mr Robinson, Fuck Off! Yours sincerely, Peter Cook.’ (correction – it was John Cleese) It had no effect apart from getting in the newspapers and causing some amusement but there was real grief and a sense of loss that David had gone. Without permission the programme-makers gave him a very good party in Stage One where the wine flowed, champagne flowed and “Bet” Lynch, bless her I can’t remember the actress’s name, “Bet” Lynch was lowered from the ceiling in a trapeze, wearing a skimpy costume and gave David a big kiss and a hug (one of the many surprises that night for David) so Granada did change. And although Granada is still a company I regard with great respect and I think its programme-making and programme-makers are of the highest order, I think the ethos changed and I think today’s programme-makers probably find it harder than those who were practitioners in that golden era of the 1980s.

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