You looked after the art collection, didn’t you? When did Granada start purchasing paintings, and why?
Well, Sidney Bernstein had always bought paintings, and the London offices had them forever. I don’t remember, in my early days at Granada in Manchester, that there were pictures on the walls, but there may well have been and I simply didn’t notice them.
It did become much more obvious in the 70s, probably — I’ve got a book in there I could look at. But Alex Bernstein was deeply interested in paintings, and he started to buy contemporary works, which came to Manchester to be hung.
At one stage, the Granada Collection was recognised as probably the third best corporate collection in Britain. We had an exhibition at the Whitworth, where many of the works were seen by thousands of people and then came back to the building.
Gerry Hagan, who was then head of the library and later of the script department, had a brief to buy locally — smaller works, possibly — for Manchester, and used to go to local galleries, local exhibitions and buy things he thought would be good, which is why most offices have one or two paintings on the wall. That, together with what you might call the official collection — Alex’s works — was very highly regarded. It’s very sad now that it has dispersed.
A lot of people have talked about the art collection. Particularly, people have talked about walking into reception and seeing the wonderful Francis Bacon, and the quote about Granada Television being the best TV company in the world, and feeling a huge sense of pride and awe.
Not everybody liked the Bacon, of course. It was a very acquired taste, but it certainly made an impression. That was Alex’s buy.
And other people have always talked about how they remember paintings, and will tell you precisely where this painting was that took their eye.
It was a very unusual thing, to see people like John Hoyland and Patrick Heron hanging on a corridor, which was just a way through to the back door. It wouldn’t have happened anywhere else, I don’t think. And sometimes, as a result, they got a bit damaged, because people would be passing by with food and drink and so on, and they’d get bits of splashes. But on the whole they survived pretty well.
And you could apply for a painting if you were in an office?
Yes. I think Gerry started the scheme by saying to people, ‘Well if you see something you like, you can have it hanging’. And there was a period when he actually bought things that were for sale. They used to hang on a staircase going towards Film Ops, I think.
In those days, you could pick up a really nice piece of work for fifty pounds. So that was an interesting scheme, but it didn’t go on for all that long, and I can’t remember why not. Probably too time-consuming for Gerry, or whoever else was operating it.
But people did used to say, ‘Oh, I like that. I wish I had it in my office’ and, if it was feasible, we’d move them about. And so many people used to say, ‘When I go, I’m taking this with me’. I think sometimes it did happen, but we’ll gloss over that!
I wonder what happened to the art collection in the end. It was all dispersed?
…..They apparently had an internal auction, in the building, for the smaller works – what you might call the Manchester works – and people could buy them. Had I known, I’d have gone, because there was one that I left in an office that I would have loved to have bought.
But the main collection slowly was sold off. The Bacon went to New York, even before the change of ownership, shall we say. But the big ones, like Heron, Hoyland and Christopher Le Brun, I’ve no idea where they went, or how.
Some smaller works — there was a group attributed to Constable, but we knew they weren’t, though they were very similar to Constable’s skies — went to Granada’s head office in London, when it went into St. James’. So they could still be there. For all I know, they might be on the South Bank, in the old LWT building.
I don’t know who has got what, if anything. But I suspect that all the major works were just sold at auction. And since I don’t buy an art magazine, of course I didn’t see it happening.
And you’d gone by then?
Yes. It’s fairly recent. Within the last ten years.
I know some were sold off to the staff as well, weren’t they? Some of the lesser paintings.
Yes. I’d have liked to have had the opportunity for that, because there were two on my office wall that I really liked. I can’t remember by whom now. In Globe and Simpson. Is that building still being used now? I don’t know.
Was Globe and Simpson the one across the road?
Yes, the triangular one.
Yes, I worked in that one as well, for quite a while.
Well, obviously they’re not using it, because they’ve gone to MediaCity. But they were, and I had two pictures in there. See, being in charge is nice — you can choose your own!
And we had some cooperation with the Tate in Liverpool, which was very useful, because they had conservation staff who, once or twice, did some work for us to mend a little tear, for instance, and remove a few splats from the corridor works. That was interesting.