David Highet remembers the importance of Barnum!

I became Head of Public Affairs for the company in Manchester. I’d say that Sidney Bernstein, Denis Forman and David Plowright were three of the most charismatic, impressive, creative, commanding, engaging people I’ve ever met and ever worked for. They became mentors and heroes for me, particularly David with whom I worked very closely when he became Chairman and I became his sidekick as Head of Public Affairs. What can I tell you about them? Sidney Bernstein I didn’t meet often but he came to Liverpool not long after we opened because he wanted to inspect this new outpost of his empire and he came into my office and sat down and had a cup of tea and after his cup of tea he said, ‘By the way, Mr Highet…’ “Yes, Lord Bernstein?” He said ‘Call me Sidney,’ which was most strange that the Chairman of the Group asked me to call him “Sidney” but he called me ‘Mr Highet’! And he said, ‘Mr Highet, where’s your Barnum?’ And I thought this was sophisticated London-code for the loo so I led the elderly gentleman down two flights of stairs to the basement (as we didn’t have a lift) and with some sense of pride I flung open the door to reveal the gleaming porcelain and the crisp, white towels hanging from the dispenser, everything looking perfect and Sidney harrumphed, turned on his heel and walked back up to reception and said, ‘Good day to you, Mr Highet’ and I said, “Good day, Lord Bernstein.” ‘Sidney!’ he said. His chauffeur took him and off he went. The next morning when I came into the office there was a brown paper parcel on my desk. On opening it I found a letter, handwritten by Lord Bernstein. ‘Dear Mr Highet, thank you for your hospitality yesterday. I enclose an image of Phineas T. Barnum, the great American showman. It is my wish that this image hangs in every office in Granada so that as you sit in your business suit behind your big desk, you never forget that the business we are in is show business.’ And so I received, from Lord Bernstein, this rather frightening view, visog, of Phineas T. Barnum. And indeed it did hang in my office for all the years I was with Granada. That was Sidney Bernstein. A little illuminating moment about him.

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