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Michael Grade

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The Lord Grade of Yarmouth
Born Michael Ian Grade
8 March 1943 (1943-03-08) (age 70)
London, England
Education Stowe House
Alma mater St Dunstan's College
Occupation Businessman
Broadcast executive
Years active 1966 - Present
Known for Chairman of BBC (2004–06)
Executive chairman of ITV plc (2007–09)
Chief executive of Channel 4 (1987–97)
Spouse(s) Penelope Jane Levinson (1967–81, divorced)
Sarah Lawson (1982–91, divorced)
Francesca Leahy (1998–present)
Children 2

Michael Ian Grade, Baron Grade of Yarmouth, CBE (born 8 March 1943) is an English broadcast executive and businessman. He was BBC chairman from 2004 to 2006 and executive chairman of ITV plc from 2007 to 2009.

Early life

Grade was born into a Jewish show business family originally called Winogradsky; his father was the theatrical agent Leslie Grade, while his uncles were the impresarios Lew Grade and Bernard Delfont. He was educated at two independent schools: Stowe School at Stowe in Buckinghamshire, and St Dunstan's College, in London.


He began his career with the Daily Mirror in 1960, and was a sports columnist from 1964 to 1966. By an account he told himself (on a Channel 4 chat-show, The Late Clive James), the job had been organised by his father. When his father suffered a serious stroke in 1966, the 23-year-old Grade moved into his theatrical business. In 1969 he moved to London Management & Representation. Amongst the artists Grade represented were Morecambe and Wise (he successfully negotiated the duos defection from ATV to BBC2 in 1968) and Larry Grayson.

London Weekend Television

He entered television in 1973 when he joined London Weekend Television (LWT) as Deputy Controller of Programmes (Entertainment), achieving the post of Director of Programmes in 1976. At LWT, Grade worked with both John Birt and Greg Dyke and as Director of Programmes commissioned the controversial series Mind Your Language as well as the popular The Professionals and the long-running arts strand The South Bank Show.

In January 1982 Grade Left LWT to hold a two year stint as President of "Tandem Productions television in USA, Grade Stated "Its is a once in a lifetime opportunity, it is if you like, a gamble I want to take".

BBC (1st period)

Grade joined BBC Television in 1984 as Controller of BBC1, becoming Director of Programmes in 1986 and Managing Director Designate in 1987. His tenure as Controller was especially controversial, with several high profile public outcries over decisions, such as the decision to stop screening Dallas whilst fighting Thames for the series (subsequently reversed) and the forced 18-month hiatus for Doctor Who in 1985. It is not entirely clear the extent to which Grade alone was responsible for these rulings, but in the case of both Dallas and Doctor Who, he became the most prominent target of the campaigns to save the series. Grade claimed at the time that Doctor Who was being rested because it was becoming too violent, it was losing its audience, its imagination and wit. He also claimed "long-running television series do get tired and it is because we want another 21 years of Doctor Who that we have prescribed a good rest." In recent years, Grade has, on a number of occasions, claimed that he postponed Doctor Who out of personal dislike. During an appearance on Room 101 in 2002, Grade said, "I thought [Doctor Who] was rubbish, I thought it was pathetic, I'd seen Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and E.T., and then I had to watch these cardboard things clonking across the floor trying to scare kids!" Eric Saward, script editor of Doctor Who at the time Grade put the show on hiatus, responded to this remark during the audio commentary recorded in 2008 for the Doctor Who story Warriors of the Deep: Saward remarked that, as the Controller of BBC1, this comment by Grade was so unfair because he was in a position to allocate more money and time to the programme (i.e. to improve its production values). Grade admitted in the same programme that he had little interest in or sympathy for science fiction.

In 1986, Grade took the decision to fire actor Colin Baker from the title role of Doctor Who. In 2003, Grade remarked to a journalist for The Daily Telegraph that he had fired Baker because he thought his portrayal of the Doctor was "utterly unlikeable, absolutely god-awful in fact." Former Doctor Who production manager Gary Downie has claimed that Grade fired Baker for personal reasons: "There's a history between Michael Grade and Colin. (Actress) Liza Goddard was Colin's wife. And she was Michael Grade's best friend. The divorce was acrimonious and she moved into Michael Grade's house while she was getting over the divorce. And I'll say no more. Michael Grade was determined. He did not want Colin working for the BBC."

In an interview in the Radio Times in 2012, Grade commented: "From clunky Daleks that couldn't go up and down stairs to the filmic qualities today of Doctor Who, it's a transformation. The show still leaves me cold, but I admire it, which I never did before."

Grade also cut short the serialisation of The Tripods trilogy, written by John Christopher. After two successful seasons which covered the first two books, the third season was cancelled.

Grade was also responsible for purchasing the Australian soap opera Neighbours for BBC1's new daytime schedule, debuting on 27 October 1986. He was also responsible for repeating Neighbours, at first purely an afternoon programme, in a later timeslot, on the advice of his daughter, Alison, who was irritated that she could not watch it due to her being at school. This proved to be a successful scheduling decision that still remained in place until February 2008 before it moved to Five, and paid off at the time with audiences in excess of 18 million viewers for the new 5.35 pm showings. It acted as a target finish time for CBBC and as a buffer between it and the 6 O'Clock News. He also came close to completely axing the sitcom Blackadder, judging the first series to be unfunny, because of lukewarm reviews and high cost (it featured extensive location sequences). He demanded that the price for renewing the series was that it be a completely studio-based production (a decision which had already been taken by the writers independently), which led to its becoming a successful series.

Channel 4

In 1987 he accepted the post of chief executive of Channel 4, succeeding Jeremy Isaacs. Grade phased out some of the channel's more high-brow programming, for which he was accused of 'dumbing down'. Grade responded that in the week he took over at Channel 4 they had screened a repeat of The Far Pavilions in which the American actress Amy Irving "blacked up" as an Indian Princess. During this period he was attacked by the conservative press: the columnist Paul Johnson in the Daily Mail gave him the soubriquet of Britain's "pornographer-in-chief".

He was successful in developing the station at a time when Channel 4 was obliged to give a proportion of its advertising revenue to the rival ITV network. As well as securing talent from the BBC Grade also recognised the improving quality of US television output making series such as Friends and ER mainstays of the channel's schedule. Grade also became embroiled in a vicious dispute with Chris Morris over the satirical series Brass Eye. Grade repeatedly intervened to demand edits to episodes of Brass Eye, and rescheduled some shows for sensitivity . Grade left Channel 4 in 1997 to head First Leisure Corporation, leaving in 1999 after a substantial restructuring to return to media as chairman of the new Pinewood Studios company.

BBC (2nd period)

Grade had ambitions to become chairman of the BBC board of governors in 2001, but lost out to Gavyn Davies. He was also on the board of the ill-fated Millennium Dome. He has been chairman of Octopus Publishing, the Camelot Group, and Hemscott, which he has indicated he will be giving up.

Following Davies' resignation as a result of the Hutton Inquiry report, it was announced on 2 April 2004 that Grade had been appointed Chairman; at the time his only show-stopper requirement was that he did not have to give up being a Charlton Athletic Director. He took up his post on 17 May.

Following the end of the first season of the revived series of Doctor Who in 2005, he wrote a letter to the BBC Director-General, congratulating all involved in the project on its success, signing-off with "PS never dreamed I would ever write this. Must be going soft!"

On 19 September 2006, he became non-executive chairman of online food delivery company Ocado, but step down from this role on 23 January 2013

ITV plc

On 28 November 2006, Grade and the BBC confirmed that he was to resign from his post with the BBC to replace Sir Peter Burt as Chairman and Charles Allen as Chief Executive of one of the companies which formed part of its commercial rival ITV, becoming Executive Chairman of ITV plc effective on 8 January 2007.

Under his jurisdiction ITV as a network, has been struggling with falling advertising and ratings. Mr Grade said his first priority within ITV plc would be to work as a senior partner of ITV Network Limited to improve ITV programming as well as improving its own Digital Channels ITV2, ITV3, ITV4 and CITV. On 12 September 2007, Grade announced a controversial five-year restructuring plan for ITV plc owned Regions targeting entertainment as the Broadcasters top priority to bring to ITV . A major overhaul of ITV Plc's regional structure was also proposed. The proposals would see consolidation of the ITV regional news programmes in England, with regions now broadcasting one service per region rather than multiple tailored local services (for example: ITV Yorkshire would no longer broadcast separate Northern and Southern regions). The proposed changes would also fully merge ITV Border with ITV Tyne Tees and ITV West with ITV Westcountry, effectively ending two regions' tenure as independent players within ITV, these proposals have been highly criticised by BECTU and The National Union of Journalists. Any changes would be subject to full approval by Ofcom.

In March 2009, Grade initiated libel action against another television executive, Greg Dyke, and The Times newspaper over allegations of improper conduct made by Dyke about Grade, relating to his move from the BBC to ITV in 2006. The newspaper subsequently withdrew the allegations and published an apology, admitting that the allegations had no justification.

On 23 April 2009, Grade announced he would be stepping down as chief executive to become non-executive chairman at the conclusion of regulatory reviews into advertising contract rights and digital television before the end of 2009.

House of Lords

In January 2011, he was created a life peer as Baron Grade of Yarmouth. He was introduced in the House of Lords on 27 January 2011, and sits as a Conservative.

Personal life

Grade was created CBE in 1998, and married his third wife, Francesca Leahy in 1998; they have a son, Samuel. He was previously married to Penelope Jane Levinson (1967–1981) (now the second wife of writer and historian Sir Max Hastings), with whom he had two children, and Sarah Lawson, a producer. In 1998, his autobiography was published, entitled It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time. He is a Charlton Athletic F.C. fan., On 22 October 2010, Grade was in attendance at the funeral of actor and comedian Sir Norman Wisdom.

Grade revealed his support for, and membership of, the Conservative Party for the first time in May 2010.

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