Obituary: Lord Delfont

Boris Winogradsky (Bernard Delfont), impresario: born Tokmak, Russia 5 September 1909; chairman and chief executive, EMI Film and Theatre Corporation 1969-80; Kt 1974; created 1976 Bernard Delfont; chief executive, EMI 1979-80; chairman and chief executive, Trusthouse Forte Leisure 1981-82; chairman and chief executive, First Leisure Corporation 1982-86, executive chairman 1986-88, president 1988, 1992-94, chairman 1988-92; married Carole Lynne (Carolyn Farr, nee Haymen; one son, two daughters); died Angmering, West Sussex 28 July 1994.

BERNARD DELFONT, aged three when he came to England in 1913 from Russia, was the second of a trio of brothers, the Winogradskys, who became moguls of British show business. Bernard was born Boris and took the name Delfont; Louis, his elder brother by nearly three years, became Lew Grade and was later created a life peer in the same year as his brother; and Leslie, Bernard's younger brother by two years and the only one born in England, followed Lew in name and profession into the family agency and was the father of Michael Grade, the present chief executive of Channel 4 Television.

Delfont spent 14 years in music- hall before embarking on a career as an agent and impresario which took him from theatrical management in wartime London to founding the Talk of the Town in the 1950s, presenting the annual Royal Variety Performance for two decades and heading an enormous leisure business. In 1965 he sold the Bernard Delfont Agency to his brothers' company, the Grade Organisation, for pounds 250,000. In 1967 he organised the sale of the Grade Organisation to EMI for pounds 6m. In 1980, as chief executive of EMI, he organised the sale of its entertainment interests to Trusthouse Forte for pounds 16m. And in 1982, as chairman and chief executive of Trusthouse Forte Leisure, he organised a management buyout for pounds 37.5m. Its properties then included Blackpool Tower, three London theatres, the Leicester Square Empire ballroom and cinema, seven seaside piers, 18 squash clubs, five ten-pin bowling clubs and nine discotheques. Delfont was chairman of the new business, First Leisure Corporation, until two years ago and its president at his death.

Boris Winogradsky was brought up in Stepney, in the East End of London, and educated at Rochelle Street elementary school and Stepney Jewish School. His father was a tailor's presser and did embroidery for women's dresses; his mother shared with her husband a love for amateur singing. Boris left school at 12 and followed his brother Louis, who had made a name for himself in Charleston dancing competitions, into the halls. Louis danced in an act 'Grade and Gold', with Al Gold; Boris followed suit with Al Sutan (later the comic Hal Monty) as 'Grade and Sutton'. It was to avoid confusion that Grade and Sutton, at the suggestion of Sidney Burns, an agent, were renamed 'the Delfont Boys'. (Winogradsky was 'too cumbersome to pronounce', said Burns. He suggested another variety act on his books, the Dufa Boys: 'So why not Delfont?') With Sutan, or on his own, or with a Japanese beauty (as 'Delfont and Toko', in an act entitled 'Syncopated Steps Appeal'), Delfont danced his way through the Twenties and Thirties, until, in 1937, he forsook the boards for his own agency in the West End of London.

With their talent for deals, their resourcefulness and their acumen for figures, combined with their experience of backstage and agency life, the three brothers became powers in the land, particularly with the burgeoning of the new commercial television industry in the Fifties. Lew joined such other variety characters as Val Parnell in buying into ATV. As Senior Drama Director at ARD (the first television contract holder) - with offices first in Stratton Street, Mayfair, and then Television House, Kingsway - I was in a position to observe closely the rise and continued rise of Lew, who in time became first Sir Lew, and later Lord Grade. Both ARD and ATV occupied the same Kingsway building. By this time Leslie was keeping the office warm. Bernard, soon to combine in business, was nicknamed 'Gentleman' Bernie, because of his change of name and his general style of not being in so much of a hurry as the rest of his family - - his mother Olga, his sole sister Rita, and Lew were the theatrical extroverts.

Delfont and the Grades had become more than serious rivals to the HM Tennant company long before the latter, worn out with its confident monopoly of the English theatre, lost its golden boy 'Binkie' Beaumont. Lew wore his Churchillian uniform of a huge cigar wherever he was from early morning to late at night, most of the time in his office, first in Charing Cross Road and later when head of ATV in Kingsway. 'If it's good enough for Churchill, it's good enough for me,' he said.

Whether it was variety performances or managing musical shows, and later straight dramas on tour and in the West End, Delfont had success. His honours - a knighthood and the peerage - came later, long after he had made his managerial debut with a tour of a modest cast in a play called Room for Two. Later he produced in the West End at the St Martin's Jam Today and a number of good, bad and indifferent productions including Other People's Houses (Ambassador's, 1942), Sleeping Out, Old Chelsea, with Richard Tauber, The Fur Coat and revivals of such evergreen pieces as The Admiral Crichton, The Student Prince, Where the Rainbow Ends, Something for the Boys, Rookery Nook and Rose Marie. In the years ahead he was to have such other favourites under his banner as The Duchess of Dantzic and The Count of Luxembourg.

His lists of productions were large and varied and whether he was behind the Folies Bergere Revue at the London Hippodrome, revues at the Prince of Wales, or revivals of Awake and Sing and the strange ghetto dramas of Israel Zangwill, he was jubilant at working - in evidence or behind the scenes - on so many productions, some of them concurrently, others simultaneously. On the one hand he presented such cherished stars as Yves Montand, Sophie Tucker, Harry Richmond, Mistinguett, Lena Horne and Victor Borge in special recitals; on the other, he presented at the other end of the market such old-fashioned pantomimes as those at Liverpool, Birmingham, Coventry, Nottingham, Sheffield and the London Palladium.

As well as presenting the Royal Variety Performance for 21 years, he was life president of the actors' charity the Entertainment Artists Association, and was involved with many other show-business charities.

'I'm an impresario of pleasure,' he said once. Bernard Delfont was one of the most welcoming impresarios of them all.

(Photograph omitted)

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
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 People

Recruitment Genius: Multiple Apprentices Required

£6240 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Apprentices are required to join a privat...

Sauce Recruitment: HR Manager

£40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: This is an exciting opportunity for a HR...

Ashdown Group: Interim HR Manager - 3 Month FTC - Henley-on-Thames

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established organisation oper...

Recruitment Genius: HR Advisor

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our Client has been the leader ...

Day In a Page

Syria crisis: Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more refugees as one young mother tells of torture by Assad regime

Celebrities call on David Cameron to take more Syrian refugees

One young mother tells of torture by Assad regime
The enemy within: People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back – with promising results

The enemy within

People who hear voices in their heads are being encouraged to talk back
'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

'In Auschwitz you got used to anything'

Survivors of the Nazi concentration camp remember its horror, 70 years on
Autumn/winter menswear 2015: The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore

Autumn/winter menswear 2015

The uniforms that make up modern life come to the fore
'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

'I'm gay, and plan to fight military homophobia'

Army general planning to come out
Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

What the six wise men told Tony Blair

Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

25 years of The Independent on Sunday

The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

Homeless Veterans appeal

As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

Smash hit go under the hammer

It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

The geeks who rocked the world

A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

Growing mussels

Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project