Michael Ryan on Denis Forman, David Plowright and the Granada management structure

I think the important thing at Granada for me personally coming out of the BBC was the unbelievable short chain of command: the editor, Plowright, Forman, and that’s it. Things weren’t allowed to drift. Also when it’s as simple as that it’s not a constant clash of egos because when you get eight or ten people round a table you’re going to get a very difficult decision made sometimes. I think they sort of preserved that side of it. As they expanded they obviously had an HR and PR department, and things which people had done on the back of an envelope very quickly were suddenly somebody else’s job. There was a bit of that. But not that much. I don’t think there was much waste there at all. Also, as was once said by Denis Healey, Forman had “hinterland”. He knew about opera. He had written a book on Mozart’s piano concertos. He was very well connected. I think he was just wise. He’d been in the war and had seen quite stressful things and indeed lost a leg. He just was a wise man. You didn’t always agree with him but you knew it was a respectful argument.

Hugely respected.

He was, and so was Plowright. Plowright was a very good ideas man, a bit less good on the mechanics, like who you get, what the best possibilities are, what the middle level is where you can make the programme but it won’t be as good as it could be unless you do this and this. But he understood the crucial importance of research. What was unusual about them was that they were always interested in the substance of the programme. That may sound a slightly odd thing to say but I’ve known television executives since then who were certainly not interested in the substance of the programme but were interested in where it was going in relations to their own careers.

Partially, it’s a different world. According to the famous phrase, I think by Lord Thomson, it was a licence to print money. They didn’t have to worry about the operational expenses that much because it was in a sense a tax write-off. They didn’t have to worry about the bottom line all the time, whereas I’m sure everyone knows that in an independent production you have a budget and that’s it. In film production it’s a pretty brutal way of doing things because if you haven’t got the money you can’t do it. But there are a lot of things you can’t know, if you’re doing something controversial or sensitive, for example whether you are going to get key interviewee A. Or if you don’t get A, will you get B, and will B do it if A hasn’t? It’s difficult to translate it all into terms of a budget

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