Mike Beckham reflects on Granada’s legacy

Well, I think it’s important that interviews like this try and keep it alive, because it was a remarkable company in that ratings weren’t the be all and end all. It was very important that there were good ratings, of course, but it was set up by Sidney and Cecil Bernstein. Cecil did the light entertainment, and it wasn’t trashy quiz programmes, it was Coronation Street, which was brilliant, University Challenge, All Our Yesterdays, which was pop history, and then the more heavyweight stuff like This England and World In Action, which were remarkable. And then of course the huge drama stand. First of all, Philip Mackie, and he had a kind of playhouse of actors, and then things like Brideshead and Jewel In The Crown. And then Laurence Olivier Presents, you know, in the late 80s/early 90s we were doing King Lear. It’s astounding. I remember Philip Mackie doing a stylised War And Peace. Extraordinary. It was the very best of public service broadcasting. ITV was meant to be public service broadcasting and some companies were more so than others. Granada was right at the pinnacle of this, and I remember at the Banff TV festival in the early nineties, it was voted the best television company in the world. OK, take that with a pinch of salt but you know, it was as good as the BBC at one stage.

And it came down to something very simple. There was a very tiny pyramid structure in Granada. I was a producer-director answering to an executive producer or an editor. The next step was the programme controller. I would then be knocking on the door of Denis Forman or David Plowright being told not to do something, or asking for advice, or help. You go to the BBC now and there’s a huge pyramid structure of all these management and people are upset because they don’t know who these people are, and they make decisions and nobody ever sees them.   Denis and David ate in the canteen. Not all the time, but they ate in the canteen. And they wanted to talk to the lighting engineers. They wanted to talk to the riggers and the PAs as well as the producers. It was a great company. Unique.

I remember a couple of years ago, just after Denis had died, there was a bit retrospective at the BAFTAs and a lot of old Granada luminaries were there. And I heard several people say exactly the same thing – we were so lucky. Mike Newell came up to me and said, we were so lucky. Derek Granger said we were so lucky. And Leslie said we were so lucky. We were in the right place at the right time and the important thing at the top of the company were some brilliant people. Denis Forman was an extraordinary man, so was David Plowright. He learnt on the job. They were rode very hard by Sidney Bernstein who was apparently very difficult to get on with, but Sidney said, look, I’m not going to give the audience what they want, we’re going to lead the audience. The X Factor gives the audience what they want. There’s nothing wrong with it, but it’s not my cup of tea. Granada would never have done a programme like that, as commercial as that, they would have had something else going. In fact Johnnie Hamp had much better ideas than that. And I think also, Sidney once said to me, that a northern audience is much more intelligent than a London audience. They understand more, they’re better read. Whether that’s true, I don’t know, but he believed that. And he believed in the Manchester audience.

Well, Plowright certainly had that view. They were all champions of the north. I suppose you would be if you’d buy the licence.

Yeah. Maybe you had to be. But Coronation Street clicked with northerners because it was very very good. And This England, all of our shows were done up in the north. David Plowright really believed in the North. He was establishing Granada as part of Manchester, and if he had stayed, he would have been knighted. It was very sad that he went, because the company when I left was a sad place. All the fizz had gone, the light had gone out, you know. It was a sad place.

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