|This article is written
from the Real World
point of view.
- "ITV Granada" redirects here. For the Asian and Middle East television channel, see ITV Granada (Middle East & Asia).
The company was the brainchild of the cinema-chain owning brothers Sydney and Cecil Bernstein. As socialist-minded individuals they were opposed to the forming of ITV but decided to join in with the venture, seeing it as outright competition to their cinema business. They decided to apply for the proffered franchise for the weekday service for the North of England for three reasons: 1) The chance to establish a strong regional identity, away from the influence of London; 2) their cinema chain was mostly southern-based and they would not be in competition to themselves; and 3) the North's heavier rainfall record would mean that more of their potential viewers would stay indoors and watch their programmes rather than venture outside!
Their application was successful and the station first went on the air on 3rd May 1956. Right from its opening night it was a station that was distinctively different to the rest of the ITV network. One of its first programmes was a tribute to the BBC and Sydney Bernstein made a rare on-screen appearance in which he stated that his aim was to produce programmes that would emulate the solid reputation of his main (and at that time, only) competitor. He and his brother were also different to Lew Grade and the other ITV executives as they invested in purpose-built studios rather than use converted cinemas or suchlike and their complex went up on Quay Street on an abandoned bomb-site in the west of Manchester's city centre, close to River Irwell which forms the boundary between Manchester and Salford. Sydney, ever the showman, insisted that the Granada studios had even numbers only to give the impression that there were more than was actually the case and he had a picture of Phineas Barnum on his office wall to remind his staff that they were in the entertainment business. The Bernsteins went to great lengths to forge a strong regional identity for their company, even to the extent of naming their franchise area "Granadaland" and employing a large number of staff from local counties. Arguably Granada's greatest strength was in employing a long line of talented mavericks in the entertainment industry, both from the UK and abroad, who challenged the status quo of both company management and the establishment in producing their programmes – David Plowright, Lord John Birt, Jeremy Isaacs, Sir Michael Parkinson, Lord Gus McDonald, Michael Apted and Anthony Wilson being among the best known names. In the fields of drama and current affairs, with programmes such as A Family at War, Brideshead Revisited and World in Action they proved to be a powerhouse of programme making who frequently upset the government of the day with their journalistic output and yet consistently managed to avoid serious censure by the Independent Television Authority. The ITA once summoned Sydney Bernstein to their London office and showed him their file of complaints on Granada programmes which was four times larger than the other companies put together – a fact which delighted Bernstein. Nevertheless the ITA recognised the great skills and individuality that Granada brought to the ITV network and continued to award it new franchise terms each time that they came up for renewal.
By the time of the 1991 franchise renewal one of the reasons for this indulgence was the financial power, critical acclaim and popularity of Coronation Street which began in 1960 with little enthusiasm from Granada executives but which was readily accepted as one of their most important programmes by the mid 1960s. David Plowright, Chairman of Granada in 1991, openly stated that if the company was not successful in its bid for renewal of the North West franchise, they would sell Coronation Street to a satellite broadcaster, thus depriving ITV of its most valuable asset. Plowright's bluff, as well as the quality of the remainder of his submission for the franchise, won the day but his personal reward was to be dismissed from his post in February 1992 by Gerry Robinson, who had been appointed as Chairman of the parent company in the November of the previous year and who wanted to squeeze further profits out of the television arm. Irrespective of the rights of the situation Granada did continue to be profitable and grow, to the point where, as competition rules became relaxed, they were able to take over one ITV station after another as well as merge with Carlton Television, their biggest rivals in 2003 and form ITV plc who control the vast majority of the network to this day. Coronation Street aside, Granada has moved the majority of its productions away from Manchester and little of their on-screen identity now remains, nevertheless they grew from being the sole survivor of the initial 1954 franchise holders to the dominant player in ITV in the twenty-first century.