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David Plowright

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Plowright

David Plowright, standing second from right, with (clockwise) Adele Rose, H.V. Kershaw, Jean Alexander, Bill Podmore, Barry Hill and Helen Worth.

David Plowright, CBE (11th December 1930 - 24th August 2006) joined Granada Television in 1957 as a researcher and became Managing Director in 1981 and Chairman of the company in 1987. Along with the path of this meteoric rise he fulfilled such roles as news editor for current affairs, a producer in that same department, editor of World in Action, department head and then programme controller. Unlike some others at Granada who at Sidney Bernstein's insistence were moved from one department to another in a rather eclectic manner (Brian Armstrong, producer of Coronation Street from 1971 to 1972 moved from current affairs to drama and finally became head of comedy), Plowright's experience was wholly in current affairs.

His main connection with the field of drama was in being the brother-in-law of Laurence Olivier and Granada were able to make full use of this in persuading the ennobled actor to act in, direct or present a series of plays from 1976 to 1978 under the umbrella title of Laurence Olivier presents… Another coup was to have the actor portray, at the correct age for the character, Shakespeare's King Lear in a production of the play which is viewed by some as being a definitive performance and also guest star in the acclaimed adaptation of Brideshead Revisited. Olivier's frequent attendance at Granada's Quay Street studios meant that he often met the cast of Coronation Street and lavished compliments on Doris Speed and Jean Alexander when he was introduced to them (although filming commitments meant that he had to drop out of the role of Ozzie, a tramp who spent the night camped outside a department store prior to a sale with Hilda Ogden in two 1978 episodes).

Plowright, perhaps recognising the value of Coronation Street to Granada more than his predecessors, had four notable connections with the programme: firstly, on 5th May 1982, accompanied by Sir Denis Forman, then company chairman, he escorted Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip when they visited the Castlefield area of Manchester and officially opened the new outdoor set. All of the regular cast were present dressed "in character" but at the same time, "at their best" (e.g. Hilda Ogden wore no curlers) and were stood outside their respective fictional dwellings. The Royal couple were first introduced to Bill Podmore, H.V. Kershaw, Tony Warren and Denis Parkin, the programme's original designer, before walking down the street and meeting the cast in turn.

Eight years later in 1990, in his role as chairman, Plowright marked the programme's thirtieth year when he presented the cast with the keys to the new Stage One complex, a converted warehouse which was the new base for the programme containing a studio for the exclusive use of the serial, permanent dressing rooms for the cast and other production facilities.

In 1991 Plowright secured another term as an ITV franchise with a low bid of nine million pounds (against a rival bid of thirty-five million) and with groundwork laid down by being a vociferous supporter of the Campaign for Quality Television which led to a quality threshold being a crucial aspect of the franchising process. He also publicly stated that if Granada were not successful in their bid, he would sell Coronation Street to satellite television and deprive the ITV network of its most valuable asset. Upon winning the bid he appeared in a celebratory photocall with Julie Goodyear.

Just a few months later, on 3rd February 1992 Plowright was ousted as Chairman of the television company by Gerry Robinson, newly-appointed chairman of the Granada group and ex-head of Compass Caterers, who clashed with him over the need to squeeze more profits from the television arm. People in the industry were outraged with Granada executives signing a letter of protest which said that the removal of, "this efficient and universally respected programme maker has undermined the morale and intentions of the Granada Group ethic… we await to see whether they [the new owners] will reassert the Granada ethic of quality and diversity." John Cleese was more to the point, faxing Robinson with a short letter which said, "F*** off out of it, you ignorant upstart caterer." Plowright's sacking came to be regarded as one of the turning points in which ITV began to focus less on quality programme making in favour of increasing profits.

As another gesture of protest, Granada staff hurriedly changed all of their programme credits to be shown that night to show Plowright as Producer in a gesture of solidarity with their fallen chief. Coronation Street was no exception and Episode 3340 was broadcast with this unique credit.

Obituary in The Daily Telegraph

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