The End of the End-of-the-Pier Show: A Salutary Farewell to Michael Grade. Enter, Stage Right, the First Media-Schooled TV Mogul
Brown, Rob, The Independent (London, England)
Michael Grade did a fair impression of a model modern media executive when he was chief executive of Channel 4. But this was always a bit of an act, concealing the fact that his management style was moulded by the world of variety theatre rather than in television.
His roots in an old Jewish family of theatrical agents kept poking through the Salute to Michael Grade staged by the Royal Television Society last Thursday night. "I've always thought Michael would make a great game-show host," said Bruce Forsyth, in a tribute to the cigar-chomping impresario.
The audience of fellow telly folk gathered at the Dorchester Hotel in London's West End had to endure (sorry, enjoy) nine of these oral testimonials before the microphone was handed to Grade, who delivered up a series of amusing anecodotes like a stand-up at the Hackney Empire. Some of his reminiscences were moving (though most of us, it must be said, would have happily settled for the edited highlights). Mercifully, he threw a few scraps to the newshounds in attendance by once again savaging the BBC's director-general, John Birt. The Daily Mail, which famously branded him "Britain's pornographer-general", did not escape his wrath, either. Grade recounted how, when one of his great mentors, Cyril Bennett, fell to his death from a high-rise apartment, the voice of Middle England published a picture the next day graphically depicting the fatal drop. "Whenever the Daily Mail has criticised me on the grounds of taste, I remember that photograph," he stated solemnly. One of the most genuine tributes was paid by another fat-cigar chomper: his uncle, Lew Grade, who plainly regards him as more of a son than a nephew. "Recently, when we celebrated our 55th wedding anniversary, my wife revealed that Michael was the only other man she had ever slept with," he jested. "I hasten to add, he was only three and I was on the other side." The reason he was cuddling up to his aunt and uncle is because Michael Grade's youth had an undeniably tragic dimension. Shortly before his third birthday his mother ran off with a Canadian air force captain, abandoning him and the rest of the family. Newspaper profile-writers have repeatedly floated the theory that this is the main reason why he himself went on to have two failed marriages. Personally, I've always been slightly suspicious of journalists (usually female, it may be said) who revel in applying a Woolworth's psychology kit to prominent public figures. Grade made only one, joking reference to his private life last Thursday night: "55 years of marriage - I don't think I'm going to match that!" Earlier, the presenter Esther Rantzen paid a plainly heartfelt tribute when she recounted how, in his stint as BBC1 controller, Grade had made a significant contribution to the success of Live Aid by agreeing to give Bob Geldof five minutes of air time just before Top of the Pops. …