New boss will stay on old course

Click to follow
Staff at Channel 4, stunned by Michael Grade's decision to quit as chief executive, have been reassured that whoever succeeds him in the post will not set the station on a drastically different course.

In a letter to employees yesterday, Channel 4's chairman Sir Michael Bishop said the company board was "fully committed to the current and evolving programming philosophy" and to "ensuring continuity of purpose for the future".

This will disappoint right-wing moralisers and members of the National Viewers' and Listeners' Association, whose chairman, the Rev Graham Stevens, appealed for the appointment of a "concerned family man".

Speculation is growing concerning the chances of the contenders for Mr Grade's job. Alan Yentob is seen by many as the most likely successor.

Whoever takes over is bound to put their own personal stamp on the station's output and corporate image. Sir Michael acknowledged this in the letter, which stated: "No individual directly replaces or replicates the talents of a predecessor."

The channel, he noted, had been spearheaded by only two people since it was founded in 1982, Sir Jeremy Isaacs and Mr Grade, each of whom had stamped their own particular style on the company.

"Michael especially has steered the channel through some treacherous and difficult waters both commercially and politically. The outstanding financial performance and quality television which the company has produced in recent years is a testament to his charismatic and effective direction since 1988," Sir Michael said. "We can now look to the future and, in due course, a new chief executive to carry forward the original programme remit of the channel."

It emerged yesterday that Mr Grade first indicated his desire to be released from his pounds 450,000-a-year contract to Sir Michael last November when the threat of privatisation hanging over the station appeared to be easing. The two men engaged in a series of secret negotiations before and after Christmas, but when it became clear Mr Grade was adamant, discussions turned to the conditions on which to release him from his current five- year contract, which still had three years to run.

The deal was approved at a board meeting on Monday afternoon, and immediately afterwards an announcement was made to the press. "The only reason for the shock in the media, if I may say, is it's the first time ever a secret has been kept so well," quipped Sir Michael yesterday.

Considerable mystery still surrounds Mr Grade's reasons for resigning. His uncle, Lord Grade, said his nephew sought his advice some weeks ago. "He feels that he has done all he can in television and he is looking for a change in direction," Lord Grade said.

The chief theory is that he was "bored" after nine years in the job - the longest period he has spent in any post - and wants to make "serious" money elsewhere.

Speculation is strong that he is going to head the First Leisure group, where he is currently a non-executive director. From this base he might mount a full-scale bid to take over the film company Rank. Mr Grade refused to confirm or deny these theories yesterday.

t Scotland Yard's vice squad has cleared an art film shown on Channel 4 of being criminally obscene. Despite an 11-minute sequence in which a woman is gang-raped, and scenes of infant mutilation, "no further action" would be taken over Peter Greenaway's film The Baby Of Macon, shown in a late-night slot last week, a Scotland Yard spokeswoman said. Police viewed the film after receiving public complaints, she said.

Two cheers for Grade, Tabloid