Bernstein - genial tyrant of Granada: Jeremy Isaacs recalls his former boss and founder of the Granada group, who died at 94

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The Independent Online
WE CALLED him SLB when I went to work for Granada in 1958. In his mid-fifties, Lord Bernstein owned and controlled a TV station, dominated and influenced all who worked for him, catered to the popular tastes of millions of viewers, invited them, and anyone else he could reach, to share his vision of excellence for all. Today he remains an inspiration.

Sidney Bernstein brought to commercial TV, in the days before the industry apparatchik existed, the aspirations of an impressario of the arts. His walls were hung with paintings; he had hob-nobbed with Chaplin and Hitchcock; he had presented in London the Moscow Arts Theatre. He knew what he wanted, and, sometimes, how to get it. He saw TV as part of a world, not the be-all and end-all of one.

Young producers in Granadaland were invited to live in Manchester, but given theatre tickets to the West End and air tickets to the cities of Europe. On our walls hung portraits of two of his idols: Phineas T Barnum - we were all showmen; and Edward R Murrow - responsible, crusading journalism was our goal.

Bernstein was a millionaire who for years mortgaged Granada's profits to Associated Rediffusion to ensure that his programmes were seen in London. He was a socialist who insisted that all were entitled to the good things in life.

Granada's cameras obtained access to the party conferences, to the electoral count, to the election process. Bernstein believed strongly they should have access to parliament. He lived to see it.

Bernstein was a genial tyrant, whose ludicrous attention to detail and the effect that had on eminent subordinates is vividly caught in an early novel of Michael Frayn's, The Tin Men. He once insisted that the present President of the Board of Trade, being auditioned for a minor reporting role, get up and move about. He wanted to see how Michael Heseltine walked. He once drove me nearly beyond endurance by insisting, with only hours to go, that I persuade Orson Welles to write and present What the Papers Say.

Smitten by the romance of the Alhambra on a youthful walking tour, he called his company Granada. When the Ford Granada came on the market, he sued to stop them using his brand name. When an aerial photographer flew over his Weald property to take pictures, he sued for invasion of his privacy and air-space. The courts declined to rule that his domain extended upwards to heaven. SLB did not always keep a sense of proportion.

He was generous and kind and jealously guarded the welfare and privacy of his friends.

Sidney gave everyone who worked for him the sense that they were part of an adventure and a large enterprise. If they were to mind the pennies, it was in the best of causes, putting on a show. His instincts were to propagandise, to use his franchise as Beaverbrook, with whom he jousted, used his newspapers. But he had pledged his word, and observed the rules.

He drove hard for results. British TV was and is immeasurably better for his input. His leadership and vision put his stamp on our times.

(Photograph omitted)