Leslie Woodhead on the way in which Granada faced editorial challenges

The other thing you’re asking about, the down sides, I remember that Sidney was… there came a moment, just about when I was starting World in Action, they did a film about Freemasonry, which Mike Hodges, the then feature film director, made – and it was one of the very, very few programmes that Granada pulled – and the reason was that Cecil was a Freemason, and he was very uncomfortable with it. And Sidney – I mean, I didn’t have this conversation, David Plowright did – and he said, “You have to understand, David _ I love my brother; I am not going to do this to him.” Now, you can certainly argue that that was shameful and shocking. It was the only time in my entire experience that that kind of personal agenda intervened, because for the rest of time, I remember they were absurdly courageous about those things. I remember when World in Action did a film about Aspirin, saying it could be dangerous for certain people, and they lost £1m of advertising in a week because they proceeded with that programme. …

And the famous British Steel case, when they were at risk of haemorrhaging enormous fines for denying a court order to reveal their sources – never wavered on that. So they were usually editorially immensely resilient.

I had a personal wonderful story about how, when I did my drama doc about the Red Guard trial, the Chinese Embassy got really, really angry – and a man was seen that morning – photographed by the Daily Mail – standing on the door of the Chinese Embassy with an axe in his hand, as a sort of young Red Guard, and a delegation descended on Sidney at Golden Square to say this film that your producer, Mr Woodhead, has made is a ‘travesty’ of everything that has gone on in China. It was about the trial of a leading member of the Politburo which the Red Guards humiliated and stamped all over this woman, and we did a drama doc about this, and they said, “This cannot go forward, this must be cancelled,” and Sidney had me up and he said, “Did you get it right?” I said, “Yes.” “Bye,” he said, and that was it. Amazing. I mean, he was under enormous pressure, and he didn’t ask me any more questions, just that. So they were usually editorially very robust.

On occasions, the other time it got edgy – there were a couple of World in Actions about Israel that producers had a torrid time with – it seemed to me that Sidney demanded more evidence of bad things going on than he might have done with other stories. There was a story about how the Israelis were demolishing the houses of the Arab population – which was undoubtedly true, and remains true to this day – but he really put David Plowright through the hoops in a way that he might not have done with another story. So I would have to say, those passing moments of editorial intervention that were less than wholly likeable, and there were near moments where Denis and David had to rein in Sidney – after that long strike in the early shooting of Brideshead, Sidney wanted to cancel it. He said, “We’re just haemorrhaging money on this thing, we cannot go on doing this,” and they managed to persuade him to keep going, but left to himself he would have pulled the plug on that, having already spent, I don’t know, £150,000. So what really saved it editorially was the tension between Sidney’s instinctive courage about editorial matters, and his left of centre take on the world, occasionally limited by his personal sensitivities, and the fact that Denis and David were enormously ballsy about editorial things – and indeed, that’s what got them out of bed in the morning, they both loved the mischief of doing serious, rabble… cage-rattling TV journalism. That’s what they loved. In fact, they took much more pleasure than I ever did – I just loved making films.

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