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Granada TV Part Two:
Comrades at the Top

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Whilst Granada's founder Sydney Bernstein ensured that his programme-makers followed his Left-wing doctrine, the profits he generated from running Granada as a "tight ship" enabled him to acquire a substantial personal fortune from which he also made large donations to the Labour Party.  For his double patronage Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson rewarded him with a seat in the House of Lords in 1969. 
    Forty years later, the innate Left-wing bias that Bernstein instilled in Granada continues unabated, and was given full rein during the run up to Labour's General Election landslide of 1 May 1997.  During the campaign Labour's electioneering focused heavily on the issue of supposed 'Tory sleaze', as supposedly typified by Tatton's sitting Conservative MP Neil Hamilton.

The campaign was at its most fevered on 8 April 1997, on the day that Tatton's Conservative Association was due to endorse Hamilton as its candidate.  That lunchtime the independent anti-corruption candidate, ex-BBC reporter Martin Bell, was confronted by Neil Hamilton and his wife Christine on Knutsford Heath (during which Bell assured Hamilton that he would give him 'the benefit of the doubt' over The Guardian's allegations against him).
    Two days later on 10 April, and despite the imminence of the general election, Granada TV then broadcast a highly prejudicial item about a 'sleaze-keeping force', featuring one of its reporters patrolling the constituency in a white, unlicenced, ex-UN scout car. 
    Light-hearted though it might have seemed, by implying that sleaze was indeed prevalent in the constituency the item created the impression that there was at least some justification for the general clamour against Neil Hamilton.

videograb from Granada Tonight's prejudicial 'sleaze-keeping' force item TX 10.04.97

10 April 1997.  In the run up to the general election Granada broadcast a 'jokey' news item implying that Neil Hamilton's Tatton constituency needed a 'sleaze-keeping force'. (Granada used the vehicle illegally on Motor Traders' plates Reg. No. 263 FV.)

Later that evening, and despite his legal obligation under the Broadcasting Act for political impartiality, Granada chairman Gerry Robinson starred in a Labour Party Election Broadcast.  He opened up with a personal observation:

Former Granada chairman and Labour Party supporter Gerry Robinson


"I think, frankly, there's only one party that can represent Britain best, getting business right, and that's New Labour."


Robinson then boasted of his own shrewdness as a businessman, as if to add value to his following endorsement of Tony Blair:


"I'm the chairman of Granada group and I've been chairman for the last six months.  Prior to that I was chief executive for five years...  I set out very clearly what I hope the organisation can achieve and then lay out plans in order to achieve it.  Well, those skills are exactly the same skills you need in running anything, whether it's the country, whether it's a business, whether it's the party.  People like Tony Blair... creating New Labour...

Former Granada chairman Gerry Robinson

    "I have no doubt at all in having set out very clear objectives for Labour in government that Tony Blair will also deliver that, and that's about leadership, that quality of leadership comes through again and again and again..."


Robinson concluded this gushing tribute with a crude attempt to win over Tories by revealing that he was actually a lifelong Conservative voter himself, who had switched to New Labour after being persuaded:


"I have always voted Conservative - I've been a Conservative voter ever since I was allowed to vote. I've changed my mind and I'm going to vote Labour on this occasion for the very simple reason that I believe it's the right choice for Britain."


Once installed in Downing Street Blair rewarded Robinson with the prestigious chairmanship of the Arts Council.  Robinson responded by making large donations thereafter to the Labour Party (including a gift of £20,000 prior to the June 2001 general election).  However, unlike Bernstein, who was driven by political zeal and who saw television as a means of promoting his beliefs, Robinson's rather ambivalent politics seem secondary to a quest for personal wealth.  In fact, two years earlier in the Commons Labour MP Chris Mullin had lambasted Robinson as a "a ruthless profiteer", whilst in April 1998 the Labour-affiliated broadcasting union, BECTU, had also attacked Robinson over his greed, describing him as a 'fat cat' over his decision to vote himself £138,334 compensation for accepting a reduction in notice required to terminate his contract.  Eight months later BECTU criticised Blair's new ally again, this time for accepting a massive 33% rise in salary to £968,0000 whilst imposing on Granada staff a pay deal pegged at a lowly 3.6%.

Gerry Robinson's greatest coup however was undoubtedly the deal that he and his long-time business collaborators, Charles Allen and Francis Mackay, secured for themselves in the summer of 2000.  Robinson and Allen had first crossed paths in the early 1980s in the Middle East, when they both worked for the hotel and catering group, Grand Metropolitan.  In 1986 Mackay became the finance director of Grand Met's catering subsidiary, Compass Services.  The following year Robinson, Allen, and Mackay engineered a management buy-out of Compass with Robinson as its chief executive.  In 1988 they floated Compass on the London stock exchange, turning all three into millionaires.  Three years later in November 1991 Robinson left Compass to become Granada's chief executive, whereupon Mackay stepped into Robinson's shoes as the chief executive of Compass.  Within months Allen also transferred to Granada, initially to run its hotel and catering arm, giving rise to rumours in the City that the two were involved in a "double-act".

The chairman of Granada Television, Charles Allen

Granada chairman Charles Allen

In September 1992 Robinson appointed Allen to chief executive of Granada.  The following year Robinson oversaw Granada's hostile acquisition of London Weekend Television (LWT), whereupon Allen was also installed as LWT's chief executive.
    Meanwhile, Francis Mackay remained at Compass where he helped transform the company into a global empire.  For his efforts he was promoted to executive chairman on 1 July 1999, by which time Compass was employing some 170,000 people in 90 countries and turning over £4.3 billion.

Less than a year later on 15 May 2000, Robinson, Allen and Mackay announced that Granada (value £12 billion) and Compass (value £6 billion) would merge and then de-merge into two separate enterprises.  One, named Compass Group plc and chaired by Mackay, would consist of Compass's and Granada's combined hotel and catering assets to form the world's biggest leisure group.  The other, named Granada plc and chaired by Allen, would consist of Granada's broadcasting and TV production interests.  Robinson, meanwhile, was to become a non-executive director of Granada and a consultant to Compass.
    Though the three executives enthused over the deal, the City was not impressed and Compass's share price fell 15% on the announcement.  According to the Financial Times, investors were strongly critical and saw the proposal as a scheme to offload onto Compass several hotels that Granada didn't want and couldn't sell.  It is unlikely that shareholders' wariness would have been tempered upon learning that Robinson and Allen would benefit from the deal to the tune of £6 million and £4 million respectively, and that Robinson would receive another £3.5 million acting as Compass's consultant until Oct. 2003. 

The merger was completed on 27 July 2000.  The next day Allen announced Granada's acquisition of United News & Media's television interests for £1.75 billion, after rival Carlton TV's own bid for United was blocked by the Independent Television Commission. 
    Granada's de-merger from Compass was finalised six months later on 1 February 2001.  Over the next 18 months Granada sacked 1,000 staff in an effort to stem rocketing losses incurred by its underperforming new digital channels.  During the same period Charles Allen received nearly £2 million in pay and shares.

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