The last of the British movie moguls

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The Independent Online
THE WORLD of show business yesterday paid tribute to Lord Grade, the legendary impresario of film and television who died on Sunday morning at the age of 91.

Lord Grade died of a heart attack while surrounded by close family at the London Clinic. He had been ill for some time.

Tributes to his 70 years in show business were led by his friend Lord Puttnam, the film producer: "He was an extraordinary man, ebullient, generous and unique. With Sydney Bernstein of Granada, he was fundamental to the development of the ITV we now know. He always wanted to make a deal and you could never surprise him. I loved him." The actress Barbara Windsor said yesterday: "What made him special was that he had a great feel for what would be popular and that's what made him loved by thousands in show business."

Ms Windsor and Lord Puttnam were joined by the film director Michael Winner who said: "Lord Grade was an extraordinary man. We'll never see anyone like that again. He was just a wonderful man to do a deal with."

Lord Grade, born Louis Winogradsky, became a professional dancer in the Twenties, touring halls with his own table to dance the Charleston on in exhibitions with his brother Bernard.

When the dancing damaged his knees, Lew Grade set up his own theatrical agency with Bernard. His taste for outsize cigars developed during the war when he gave out the huge cigars as a way of keeping the stars he managed happy.

In 1955 he teamed up with the showman Val Parnell to be in at the launch of ITV where his talent in variety and light entertainment soon came to dominate the channel. It was because of the strength of his ATV company that ITV challenged the supremacy of the BBC through the Fifties, Sixties and Seventies.

If Bernstein's Granada broke new ground with Coronation Street and World in Action, Grade's ATV created an almost endless succession of popular drama serials. He said earlier this year that he had made 10,000 hours of television drama and despite his tendency to showmanship, it was easy to believe him.

Lord Grade's production arm ITC made 165 episodes of Robin Hood, 146 episodes of The Saint and just about every classic serial from the golden age of British television. These included Randall and Hopkirk (deceased), Thunderbirds, Space 1999, The Persuaders and The Prisoner.

Referring to the Thunderbirds, Space 1999 and Joe 90, he said recently: "I did space before Spielberg."

So enduring are the popular drama brands he created that the film giant Polygram bought ITC last year so that it can exploit the rights to his archives to make new film versions of his classic programmes.

His other great strength in television came from his 20 years as a show- business agent working with variety stars of the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s. This experience gave him an eye for talent-spotting and moulded his tastes in the kind of light entertainment which came to dominate ITV's schedules. From game shows such as the Golden Shot to the Muppets to Sunday Night at the London Palladium he showed how to transport the world of West End variety theatre to the nation's television screens.

As an agent, his biggest client was Frank Sinatra, at whose request he once sent pounds 12,000 in cash to a hotel in Rome with no questions asked.

When at his peak his vast empire included the Midlands-based ATV broadcaster, ITC, a collection of theatres and the company, Northern Songs, which owned the rights to the Beatles' music.

The famous interlinking ovals of Grade's ATV appeared at the end of classic programmes as diverse as The Muppets, Crossroads, The Saint and Sunday Night at the London Palladium.

He once said creating a television schedule was like making up a variety show: "Make sure you have enough different acts so that at least half will appeal to all the audience."

The television skills of the Grade family were passed down to Lord Grade's nephew Michael, who was chief executive of Channel 4, now chief executive of First Leisure.

After a boardroom battle with the Australian millionaire Roberts Holmes a Court, Lord Grade lost control of his companies and moved into film production in his seventies when he left ATV. He had success with On Golden Pond and The Pink Panther series. However, his film Raise the Titanic was to be one of the most expensive film flops of all time.

So bad was Raise the Titanic that Clive Kussler, the author of the book it was based on, claimed to have actually wretched when he first saw the film.

Lord Puttnam said yesterday that Grade had left it too late to be a great success in the movies: "He would admit it himself, that his instincts and his taste was 15 years out of date." It was an undying enthusiasm for the business which kept him active right up until his recent illness. He was always in his office by 7am and was always looking for another deal. Polygram recognised his value as a deal-maker and talent-spotter and brought him back to be chairman of ITC when they bought the company.

He was also the target of countless affectionate anecdotes (see panel), the best of which was one he one he always denied: that to save money on the TV series Jesus of Nazareth he ordered that the Messiah be given just six disciples.

Obituary, Review, page 6

His Life in

His Words

"The best deal I ever made was marrying my wife Kathie. The next best deals were Jesus of Nazareth and the Muppet Show - 120 episodes and three movies."

"Jesus of Nazareth came after we'd met the Pope - Kathie [Lord Grade's wife] was overjoyed: we were with him for 30 minutes - and I'd just finished the series on Moses. `Perhaps you will do Jesus next,' he said. So I did: it is a great story."

"I'm an average person and if I think an act is good then the average person will like it. I started in this business as a dancer and I developed a feeling for acts. When you like people you like show business."

"Creating a TV company which will serve the viewer and make money as well depends on making the right judgement about people and then backing them to the hilt. Money isn't everything, but you won't get far without it."

On hearing Pierce Brosnan had only16 minutes of dialogue in the last Bond film: "They should call them something else instead of actors. People today, they don't have to do any acting. Actors are a side-show. The real movie is about car chases and things being blown up."

"There are only three things that count in life. One is your family. Two is your health and three is relationship. The rest doesn't matter. Money is unimportant as long as you have enough to keep your family contented."

Asked what his epitaph would be: "It will be `I didn't want to go. And I'm not going'."

Hits And Misses From Lew Grade's 70 Years in The Business

The Pink Panther

One of a successful series of films produced by Grade and starring Peter Sellers as Inspector Clouseau

Raising the Titanic

"It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic," Grade said of the biggest turkey in his long career

Crossroads

The TV soap was one of the series that established Grade's ATV as a keystone of the ITV network

The Saint

The Roger Moore vehicle gave ATV a glamorous image to complement the solid character of Crossroads

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