David Highet on working as Head of Public Affairs

I moved from that (General Manager at Granada, Liverpool) when David Plowright became Chairman, I think it was 1986. I’d become very ill in the middle of 1986, which is unlike me because I don’t do illness and I managed to get back in time for the Christmas party – we always had a huge Christmas party and so on – and a big Christmas tree was put up in the Central Hall of the Dock Traffic Office, which was 2 storeys high (the hall, not the tree!). The tree was a big one and I said to Paul Rooney, who was our Head of something, very nice man. I said, “Could you put a ladder up the back of the Christmas tree, please, Paul?” He said, ‘Certainly, David.’ It wasn’t in his job description but he did it and went and put this ladder up at the back of the Christmas tree which enabled me to climb up almost to the top of the Christmas tree and my head emerged and I was able to address the throng, who were all well refreshed by this stage, and tell them that I had raised myself from my bed of sickness to come and address them and wish them a very happy Christmas on behalf of the Management and it was a great laugh! It was great fun! And Plowright was there and Plowright said, ‘Come into the Board Room for a drink.’ so I went into the Board Room for a drink with him and he said, ‘Are you still ill?’ and I said, “Yes.” and he said [silence whilst David composes himself] ‘Any medical help that you want from anywhere in the world, you’ll get it.’ So that shows you the kind of person he was! He also said, ‘Denis Forman’s retiring and I’m to be the Chairman of Granada Television!’ And I said, “Good. Congratulations, David!” And he said, ‘And I want you to come and be my sidekick.’ And I said, “Is that a job description?” He said, ‘No, Norman Frisby’s retiring.’ He was the legendary Head of Press and PR, absolutely legendary! Great, great act! Not an act I wanted to follow directly. So I said, “Yes, I would love to come and work for you.” He said, ‘Well, come and work as Head of Public Affairs.’ I said, “Yes, I’ll’ do that because I couldn’t follow a legend like Norman so what I’ll do, I’ll appoint a Chief Press Officer to work alongside me.” So it was a slight cop out but it worked very well.

And I went to work with David and he was a great inspiration as you will gather and a good pal and my role was to work the North-West of England. To make sure that Granada could open the door into any University, any business, any local authority – whatever it might be, if David wanted to go there and see someone, I would be the fixer. It wasn’t as difficult as it sounded because the name Granada would open many doors anyway but there were some doors that were rather firmly shut to Granada and those were the ones that I sought to open. So the role became extremely interesting. We carried on with Flying Start. In addition Plowright and Mike Scott devised various ideas for telethons, ideas which had come over from America and I know Richard and Judy did a 24-hour telethon and we raised immense amounts of money for North-West charities so there were good times in Manchester during the 1980s, perhaps seen by old people looking back as a golden age. But I think even now folk recognise it was a golden age because it produced Jewel in the Crown, Brideshead Revisited, World in Action was going full tilt, Sherlock Holmes and so on and so on as well as all the light entertainment programmes that were coming out.


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