In 1977, the guy who was the general manager, Leslie Diamond, died suddenly from a heart attack, and so Denis said to me, “You’re general manager” and I joined the group, the board at that stage, and being general manager just meant I went on doing what I was doing, but got the rest of the television centre to worry about at the same time.
But when I took on that job, Granada is just, by then, is 21 years old. And the kind of rank of middle management people were probably exclusively ex-BBC, because they were probably quite old when they got recruited. You needed engineers who could do it. A lot of these guys were (a) good and (b) old. Because of the trade union structure, you had managers managing people but were in the same trade union as the people who they were managing which didn’t quite accord with what I’ve been taught about management theory. Anyway, the business was changing and, particularly as I said, this trying to bring together empathy as well as control of what was essentially a creative process.
I’d met at the time, quite by chance, a London headhunter called Nigel Humphries who had done a lot of work for the BBC and Government, finding bright people to go into Government jobs. I said to him one day, “How many people do you put up? How many candidates would you put up for a job?” He said, “Three.” I said, “So one gets chosen?” “Obviously,” he said. I said, “That doesn’t actually diminish your opinion of the two that didn’t, does it?” “No, of course not,” he said. I said, “Well listen, if I, Granada, if we paid you a retainer, modest retainer, when you put somebody up for a job with a background, which you’ll recognise because you know the BBC and you’ve been around, the background that might suit them for Granada,” and I explained to him about I wanted to get this echelon of younger generalists rather than particular specialists who could actually adapt what Granada was doing, “Would you, for a retainer, ask them if they’d like to meet with Granada?” He said, “Yes, okay. Sounds a good idea.” That’s what we did.
I mentioned this to Denis Forman. He said, “The man who was my boss in the army,” he said, “Sir Paul Bryan, was also sat on the War Office Selection Board for picking young officers. He was until he… he’s in politics now. He was on the board of Granada Group until he went into parliament, for reasons he resigned those posts because he became a Minister of State.” He said, “He’s a charming man. He also spent about three years being on a very small committee that chose suitable candidates for the Conservative Party. What do you feel about working with him?” I said, “Terrific.” The next 12 months, we chose about six people. Paul Bryan was an amazing guy. He was a son of a missionary and was born in Japan. He became, in World War II, the youngest colonel in the British Army mainly because he was involved in a big action. The rest of the battalion officers got wiped out, I think, and suddenly Paul Bryan is a colonel. Wonderful man, charming, shrewd.
He and I sat with Nigel Humphries’s candidates and we made them a kind of silly proposition. We said to them, “Look.” We explained Granada and what we thought it was about. They all said, “What will I be doing then? ”We said, “We’re not sure really. If you come to us, we’ll place you in an area of programme making. We’ll pay you a salary, a decent salary. If at the end of that,” I said, “And if it’s right for you and it’s right for us, things will happen. You’ll get absorbed into what we do. You’ll be doing a job. You might even have created that job for yourself. If, at the end of 12 months, we’re not bonding, you don’t like what we’re doing, we don’t like what you’re doing, we’ll come to an agreement that you leave. We’ll give you a year’s salary to go,” and that put a lot of people off. It didn’t put off people like Tony Brill, Ian Ritchie, John Williams.
I always quote Ian Ritchie as the exemplar of what a good generalist can do. When we took him on, he was a barrister, very young barrister, with the, he’s from Yorkshire, Yorkshire Engineering Employers Federation. He came to us, I can’t remember how many years. Anyway, he did a great job for Granada. Then, he was headhunted by Tyne Tees, went to Tyne Tees as managing director. When a big franchise upheaval came and Yorkshire and Tyne Tees merged, he was redundant in effect. He went off and became the chief executive of Wimbledon Tennis Club, ran Wimbledon. Then, he was headhunted from Wimbledon to run the Rugby Football Union.