Grade rules out early leisure acquisitions

John Conlon to quit top post at First Leisure as the former head of Channel 4 prepares to take executive control

Michael Grade ruled out an acquisition of Rank's film distribution arm yesterday as First Leisure, the owner of the Blackpool Tower, confirmed he was to become executive chairman in July replacing John Conlan, the company's chief executive. He refused to cast any more light on his ambitions for the pounds 500m leisure group, however, promising a continuation of the company's low profile strategy.

Mr Grade, who announced earlier this week that he would be leaving Channel 4, where he has been chief executive for nine years, said: "Anyone who expects radical change will be disappointed. This is about continuity, not change."

His comments came after he had been linked with reports that Rank planned to sell its film distribution subsidiary. Rank refused to comment on the speculation.

Mr Grade will overlap with Mr Conlan, who said yesterday he planned to improve his golf handicap after he left, probably at the end of 1997. Both insisted the handover was amicable and said Mr Grade's elevation from the non-executive position he had held since January 1995 was prompted by, not the cause of, Mr Conlan's decision to go.

The attempt to present the replacement of Mr Conlan by Mr Grade in those friendly terms was greeted with scepticism yesterday. Despite the united front the two presented, it has come as no surprise to observers that there was no room at the top for both men.

Mr Grade, whose uncle, the late Lord Delfont, bought First Leisure out of Trusthouse Forte in 1982, said the appointment of a chief executive was "an issue that may arise at some point". He refuted allegations that he was taking over the "family firm". Mr Conlan added: "If I were being winkled out, I would not be here today."

Mr Conlan is employed on a two-year contract and earned more than pounds 500,000 in 1995, the latest year for which salary information has been published.

Mr Grade denied that there would be any change of strategy at the company, which has been one of the leisure sector's most steady and, its critics claim, dullest businesses. It owns a collection of unrelated mass market leisure operations including bingo halls, marinas, nightclubs, and live music pubs.

Recent acquisitions have taken it into indoor skiing and it has been linked with several pub chains, although it has so far failed to acquire any. It has prided itself on its ability to continue increasing profits through the recession by organic growth rather than acquisition.

Mr Grade's move into mainstream business follows 23 years in broadcasting, most recently as chief executive of Channel 4, where he was instrumental in investing in a number of British films, including Four Weddings and a Funeral, Trainspotting and Secrets and Lies.

He said Mr Conlan had first approached him just before Christmas to say he wanted to move on. That, Mr Grade said, had started him worrying that he might start to get stale himself at Channel 4. His tenure there had been his longest ever appointment in a career that started with a stint as a sports writer for the Daily Mirror.

Mr Grade refused to be drawn on what he might earn. He said: "I have never taken a job for the money. But I am not so self-effacing that I'm prepared to do it for nothing." Mr Grade is understood to have been tempted back into business by the sort of stock options that would not be available to him at Channel 4.

Comment, page 19

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

competitive: SThree: Are you passionate about sales?Do you have a keen interes...

Recruitment Genius: Loan Adviser - OTE £30,000

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Assistant / Buyer

£15000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company offers a range of ...

Day In a Page

Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created