THE ANDREW DAVIDSON INTERVIEW MAGAZINE JOURNALIST OF THE YEAR
The former Channel 4 boss is a changed man. After years of therapy he has mellowed, become less agitated. He has started a new family and, by day, spreads himself across a wide portfolio of non-executive roles. But don't assume he has lost that driving ambition.
Yeah, just ringing with my Pinewood hat on, just checking if there is anything I can do, basically... Yes... yes... Michael Grade, former boss of Channel 4, scion of one of Britain's best-known showbiz families, is on the phone at his desk in Pinewood Studios, selling... 'Well, I tell you, if we get this, I will so look after you so well you won't know where to put your hat...'
He is struggling to close a deal, a deal probably long since gone, to bring a production to Pinewood's soon-to-be-opened, state-of-the-art television studios. He takes another puff on his half-smoked cigar, loudly, a verbal signifier if ever there was one. He's playing all his cards, calling in old favours, even calling up old ghosts. Puff, puff. 'Yes.., yes... extra space, of course.., right... right... If you want us to sharpen our pencil I can get... ah, other issues... yes... hurr hurr hurr.'
Grade, 57, lets out a throaty laugh. Old ties in these kinds of deals can be important, one of the reasons Grade took on the job of chairman at Pinewood Studios. Drumming up a bit of business, doing a bit of selling. He likes that, he's done it all his life, sorting out programming at London Weekend Television, running BBC1, all the time with a salesman's eye, like his uncle Lew and his uncle Bernie.
But his hand is rubbing his forehead now in increasingly agitated fashion. He knows he's losing the fish. He throws in an offer of extra rehearsal time, casting around for more bait. He's clearly getting no bite. Luring producers out of London studios into rural Bucks is not an easy proposition.
"Well, I was just being briefed this morning, and I said I'd just give you a call to see if there's anything... yes... yes...' He tries a new tack. The night before, a terrorist had rocketed the M16 building. 'Of course, don't underestimate the security clampdown in London and the problems that's going to cause now...
Grade cringes at his own chutzpah and gives me an involuntary silent giggle, winking. This is Grade the showman, former agent, one-time journalist, the super-salesman who knows every trick and every phone number, even throwing in his daughter, who used to work for the guy on the other end. Yeah, yeah, she's doing fine, gone to Insead, a killer, she frightens me.
He listens. Eventually, he concedes: 'Well, OK, I appreciate your candour.' After more joshing, making clear there's no rift, he puts the phone down with a little sigh.
No, he says, shaking his head with a weary smile. He leans back, blue shirt open at the neck, crumpled chinos rising above subdued, maroon socks. He looks chubbier, greyer, and-less agitated than the mind's eye remembers: Grade, the executive who was always in the press, often on television, never short of a comment or an opinion. Now he's taken on a new challenge, to develop [pound]16 million-turnover Pinewood, bought out of Rank earlier this year, into the sort of television and movie production hub that will rival the best in Europe.
It's three years since he left Channel 4, the station he headed for nearly a decade to general acclaim. He staved off privatisation, drove up ratings and, despite a fervent campaign by the Daily Mail to brand him Britain's 'pornographer-in-chief', established C4 as just about the only public-service station in the world that could survive on its own ad revenue. He also cemented his reputation as one of Britain's best managers of creative talent. And then?
My hunch is that things haven't been as easy for Grade since that day he walked out of Channel 4's steel and glass HQ in London's Pimlico. …