Tuesday, November 28, 2006

The trashing of Michael Grade

Okay, so no-one thinks the BBC is going to be doing cartwheels over the news that its chairman, Michael Grade, has defected to ITV, but the corporation's treatment of the story this morning has been a disgrace. Sheila Fogarty's two-way with Jeff Randall on Five Live - "I suppose the question to Michael Grade today is why he has accepted this million-pound job offer from ITV" - was fairly typical of the tone of the coverage.

Well, excuse me, but why is it considered such a crime in big media circles for someone to defect to a rival for a much higher salary? Especially, in this case, when you take into account Grade's historical and family connections with ITV.

The truth of the matter is that Michael Grade has earned himself a permanent place in the history of the BBC on account of two actions he took when he was the corporation's Director of Television in the mid-1980s.

The first of these was to start a weekly soap-opera, something that had never been done on the BBC before. It was called EastEnders and, whether you love it or loathe it, without it the BBC would probably now be reduced to the status of America's tiny National Broadcasting Service.

The second of Grade's great achievements was arguably even more far-reaching. In July 1985, he took the unprecedented decision to clear 17 hours of programming time for a pop-concert, realising before anyone else at the BBC that Live Aid was something that was going to be bigger than all of them.

His reward for that was to be overlooked for the Director-Generalship in 1987 and then sacked by John Birt. He owes nothing to the BBC, and has every right to fill his boots in what will certainly be his last TV job without carping from his former employers.

Mind you, the BBC is not alone in this. A year or so back, Heston Blumenthal decided he'd had enough of being the Guardian's Saturday food writer - fairly understandable when you consider that his restaurant has been awarded three Michelin stars and other media opportunities were opening up for him.

Last week, the Graun responded with this unbelievably bitchy review of Blumenthal's book "In Search of Perfection," followed a day later by this equally vitriolic piece on the TV programme of the same name. Get over it, Mr Rusbridger.

Update: The Guardian displayed its open-mindedness by featuring this post in its Best of the Web listing on Comment is Free earlier today, although it's been taken down now. Meanwhile journalism blogger Static Squid voices his agreement.

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David Gladwin said...

Thanks for linking to that wonderful book review of In Search of Perfection - a thoroughly amusing piece of work!

But perhaps Heston might have seen it all coming when he started fannying about taking all day to make a bit of cake, with a film crew in tow...

Paul Linford said...

Dave, it would have been funny if it had appeared anywhere else but the Guardian, but in that context it was just plain nasty. You just knew that the primary motivation of the writer was not to amuse the reader, but to wind-up Heston.

Henry Krinkle said...

The piece regarding the book is not a review - it's actually in the regular 'digested read' spot by John Crace.

I don't know if you've seen any others but it's effectively satire - the guy takes the michael out of whatever book he is handed (it's Ben Elton on the website today) - more often than not with highly amusing results. every book gets the same treatment - the only book I've seen get a thumbs up was Alan Clarke's political diaries.

The previous poster is proof that its a style that is appealing to some - and John Crace has published a book of his columns which I seem to remember got good reviews.

Not sure this satire - which targets a different author every week - is really deserving of the description : "unbelievably bitchy review".

Paul Linford said...


As a regular Guardian reader I am aware of the "Digested Read" feature and John Crace's style, but I just don't think they should have chosen to make Heston Blumenthal a target of it, because it is very clear that the Guardian has some sort of animus against him.

David Gladwin said...

Well, Heston's a big lad.

I'm sure he can take it on the chin.

Paul Linford said...

It's not an exact analogy, but there are a couple of fairly well-known journalists who I wouldn't write about, because, for reasons I regret but which can't be changed, they were people I was known to have had difficult relationships with in the past. Anything I wrote about either of them would therefore be worthless, because even if I was actually trying to be objective, it would inevitably be seen in the context of our previous "bad blood."

I don't know if this helps explain my point of view, but I do believe journalists (and bloggers) have to be very careful to avoid the accusation that they are writing out of personal spite.

Croydonian said...

The Blumenthal review also extends a joke from Private Eye from at least a fortnight back.

David Gladwin said...

Blimey, Croydonian, the Eye were slow off the mark, then.

Me and the Duchess were making that sort of joke before Heston's first TV show had ended.

james higham said...

Those achievements, being somewhat in the past, are hardly likely to cut much ice with the new generation but they should very much cut some ice with the majority and the question was, as you said, a disgrace.

stalin's gran said...

Writing out of spite is GOOD!

Mr Natural said...


First off the issue with the BBC, (and Sky and ITV) coverage of Grade is primarily that it's a very dull story for anybody who doesn't work in television (or the media).

It's Duller than Dull Dulles of Dulluth, Wyoming.

Do you think the BBC would devote a gazillionth of the covereage to the the Chief Exec of Sony Europe joining Daewoo?

and the heston Blumenthal thing is fairly thin evidence of a Guardian plot against Blumenthal, considering. A comedy article in a comedy slot and a snotty TV review from a snotty TV reviewer? Please.

Now if the Food reviewer had slated the Fat Duck..

Anonymous said...

If you do a LexisNexis search for Heston Blumenthal you'll see that there are many Guardian writers still well disposed towards Heston. Indeed, the support of Jay Rayner and Matthew Fort contributed greatly to Blumenthal's early reputation.

The Digested Read thing was not terribly funny, but it was spot on. What one thinks of Blumenthal depends on whether one believes his schtick or not. Personally, I think it's bullshit.