The Independent Archive: Channel 4 `could still be a rather good delicatessen' - People - News - The Independent

The Independent Archive: Channel 4 `could still be a rather good delicatessen'

20 September 1989 Jeremy Isaacs, in an interview with Michael Leapman, reveals how the BBC turned him down

IN HIS cavernous office across the road from the Royal Opera House, where he is the general director, Jeremy Isaacs stretched his small frame in a deep black leather armchair.

"I certainly don't feel like Charles de Gaulle sitting at Colombey-les- Deux-Eglises, waiting to be proved right and waiting to be summoned," he insisted. "But I do think I'd have had some things to give the BBC."

Mr Isaacs's rejection by the BBC Board of Governors for the post of Director- General, after he had been encouraged to apply for it, is the climax of his book Storm Over 4. The appointment would, appositely, have sealed his career, after his initially bruising but ultimately triumphant years as the founding chief executive of Channel 4.

In his book, he drops hints of the grilling the BBC governors gave him in 1987. He was challenged about whether he was amenable to discipline and whether he could stop unsuitable programmes from being aired. In our interview, he elaborated on the ordeal.

"I don't think there was a single governor who really favoured my appointment," he said. "The interview was very much concerned with stopping mistakes - how can we avoid one cock-up after another? It was a question of finding a way of saying what new system of controls should be introduced. It's absolutely true: I'm not known for a tendency to go and see what people are doing and telling them to stop. Rather the opposite: I like to get things on the air."

It seems likely that he is better out of it. An entrepreneurial talent for innovation is not, today, part of the job description of the BBC's DG. It was very much a qualification for the inaugural head of Channel 4, and his book is largely devoted to listing the channel's achievements, with justifiable pride.

Under the new Broadcasting Bill, Channel 4 will sell its own advertising for the first time but will still get guaranteed funding from the ITV companies to ensure it can maintain its level of programming. Dedicated free-marketeers - of whom Rupert Murdoch is the most articulate spokesman - would like to see it eventually earning its living like any other commercial company. Mr Isaacs thinks it could survive such a discipline, albeit in a necessarily modified form.

"Even in the great plethora and proliferation of channels there's going to be, there will be room for somebody buying very cunningly and backing their own judgement, to come up with a channel that presents itself as the one that discriminating viewers in search of pleasure on television will be able to enjoy. But it will be very difficult to fund the making of great strands of difficult and enterprising work like Film on Four. It could still be a rather good delicatessen, but there will be some lines it will not be able to stock. It's always easier to fund purchasing work than make it."

Like all unreconstructed public service broadcasters, Mr Isaacs contests with ferocity the scathing view of British television articulated by Mr Murdoch at last month's Edinburgh Television Festival.

"We have a genuinely popular culture in this country, well represented on television - not just the crinoline stuff that Rupert Murdoch was poking fun at. Can you imagine The Boys from the Blackstuff being commissioned in Hollywood? It came from a writer's involvement with his community and a broadcasting system's ability to put that writer's searing account of things on the screen. And that's genuinely popular high art."

Since Mr Isaacs left Channel 4, its ratings have stayed largely stagnant and are still not regularly breaking the 10 per cent barrier - 10 per cent of the total audience - that has been the target since it began broadcasting in November 1982. It is no secret that he disapproved of the choice of Michael Grade as his successor; indeed he wept, and threatened to throttle him if he betrayed the trust. Yet he does not blame Mr Grade for the channel's current desultory performance.

"Michael Grade is a very skilled scheduler and a very capable programme executive. It's a question of whether he and his colleagues can succeed in a very competitive world. I see no reason yet to carry out my threat to throttle him. I wish him well."

From the Media page of `The Independent', Wednesday 20 September 1989

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

HR Manager - London - £40,000 + bonus

£32000 - £40000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: HR Manager (Generalist) -Old...

Talent Manager / HR Manager - central London - £50,000

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Talent / Learning & Development Mana...

HR Manager (standalone) - London

Up to £40,000: Ashdown Group: Standalone HR Manager role for an SME business b...

HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350-£400

£350 - £400 per day: Orgtel: HR Analyst - Banking - Bristol - £350 - £400 per ...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week