Sir Lew Grade has his say!
- “How the IBA bullied me”
- “Money? I made programmes because I believed in them”
- “Why schedules used to take me ten minutes”
- “I believe in hunches not research”
In April 1972, Sir Lew Grade, the Deputy Chairman and Managing Director of the ATV networks, produced revealing evidence before the House of Commons all-party Select Committee on Nationalised Industries who were inquiring into the Independent Television Authority (ITA). Sir Lew was closely scrutinised by eight MP’s: Sir Henry d’Avigor-Goldsmid, Sir Donald Kaberry, David Crouch, Jack Dormand, John Golding, David Stoddart and Christopher Tugendhat, with Russell Kerr in the chair.
“The ITA interfered too much in the compilation of programmes,” explained Lord Grade.
“In the early Seventies I was asked to bring back the so-called ‘Sunday Night at the London Palladium’. One of the major companies said, “We’ll take it if you include beat the clock’. I said ‘fine’. Bit the ITA said, ‘No, you can’t do the Palladium with ‘Beat the Clock’. You can do it without – but the BBC can do a version of it with Bruce Forsythe on ‘The Generation Game’. I couldn’t see the logic in that. After all, we did start it.
“What really concerned ,me was that the Authority were inclined to take part in the creation and creativity of programmes such as ‘The Champions’, ‘Department S’ and ‘Jason King’, which should’ve been left to the professionals.
“Of course I fully understood the responsibility of the Authority to see that there was a balanced programming. I agreed with that. However, I would like to emphasise one thing. We (ATV) didn’t make 35% of all British programmes because we had to. We did them because we wanted to.”
It was suggested by Sir Donald Kaberry during the House of Commons meeting that the ITA may have been guilty of interfering and even altering Lord Grade’s judgment with regard to the content and scheduling of his programmes.
“This was true in many cases“, he said.
“For instance, in the Midlands on a Wednesday evening we showed ‘Jason King’. I described it to the committee as a series of 26 short films; a lighthearted adventure programme starring PETER WYNGARDE. It was not networked.
“Starting the very same week was another series called ‘Callan’ featuring Edward Woodward in the title role. It was a gritty, rough-tough programme.
“The ITA said: ‘You can’t put ‘Jason King’ on at eight O’clock, because at nine O’clock you have ‘Callan’. Fine, I could see that argument. ‘But you can put ‘Cade’s County’ on. Now that was an American programme, and about three times as rough as ‘Jason King’, but because they happened to wear Stetson hats instead of a three-piece suit and use Jeeps instead of a Bentley, that was OK. I just couldn’t see the logic in it myself. That’s where I think they ought to have left it to the professionals.”
Sir Lew was once quoted that it took him just ten minutes for him to produce a broadcast schedule, and John Goulding asked if this were true. “Yes,” he replied.
“When someone joins the ITA, they are there for five years. It takes them three years to find out what it’s all about, and a further two years to learn about it. At the time of this inquiry, I had been in the entertainment industry for 47 years. Suddenly everything was at the recommendation of the Authority. Surely I had the qualifications to decide whether the great British viewing public was mature enough to watch both ‘Jason King’ AND ‘Callan’ in the same evening!”
In spite of Lord Grade giving the impression that he (amongst others) had occasionally been “bullied” by the ITA, he took great pride in the fact that he’d never been influence by such trivialities as profit or loss, and had made television programmes because he believed in them.
“If someone came to me and said: ‘We want to make this series called ‘Jason King’ for 8,000 an episode, what kind of thing can we produce for this amount. That’s how I did things.
“When somebody brought me and idea I would read it, and if I liked it, I’d say ‘We’ll make it’, regardless of the cost.
“I remember ‘Department S’ cost four times what some of the other series at the time cost to make, but the idea was good; it was an exciting one. That’s why when I was asked, ‘With the extra hours will you make money?’, I didn’t know, but you can’t stop progress.
“In 1971, I think we made about £800,000 profit on £15,000,000 capitalisation for our studios, and that was without the capitalisation involved in films, and yet we still went ahead and made many new series, including ‘Jason King’, because I believed that in the end it would work out right. I believe in hunches not research.”
It’s a little known that the Lew Grade was amongst a number of consortiums bidding for control of the much talked about ITV2 which, of course, eventually emerged as Channel 4. It was his hope that with it he might shake off the restraints of the ITA. It was his belief that ITV2 would complement the three existing channels, and afford him more freedom with regard to programme scheduling.
Sir Lew Grade was certainly confident in his ability to fly by the seat of his pants.
The Hellfire Club: The OFFICIAL PETER WYNGARDE Appreciation Society: https://www.facebook.com/groups/813997125389790/