Baron Grade of Elstree
|Born||Lovat or Lev (Louis) Winogradsky
25 December 1906
Tokmak, Ukraine, Russian Empire
|Died||13 December 1998
|Cause of death||Heart failure|
|Nationality||Russian (until 1912) and British (from 1912)|
|Other names||Louis Grad (professional dancer)
The Dancer with the Humorous Feet
|Education||Rochelle Street Elementary School|
|Occupation||Media proprietor, Impresario, Talent agent, Former professional dancer|
|Organization||Associated Television (ATV)
Independent Television Company (ITC)
|Home town||Bethnal Green, London|
|Television||The Muppet Show (1976–80)
Jesus of Nazareth (1977)
|Board member of||Grade Organisation
Associated Communications Corporation (ACC)
|Spouse(s)||Kathie Moody (married c. 1939)|
|Parents||Isaak and Olga Winogradsky|
|Relatives||Bernard Delfont and Leslie Grade (brothers)
Michael Grade (nephew)
Originally a dancer, and later a talent agent, Grade's interest in television production began in 1954 when, in partnership, he successfully bid for franchises in the newly created ITV network, which led to the creation of Associated Television (ATV). Having worked for a time in the United States, he was aware of the potential for the sale of TV programming to American networks, and a subsidiary, the Incorporated Television Company (ITC; commonly known as ITC Entertainment) was formed with this specific objective in mind. Grade had some success in this field, and these TV series—in particular The Prisoner (1967–68)—still have an international following.
Later, Grade invested in film production. However, several expensive box office failures caused him to lose control of ITC, and ultimately resulted in the disestablishment of ATV after it lost its ITV franchise.
Grade was born in Tokmak, Taurida Governorate, Russian Empire to Isaak and Olga Winogradsky. In 1912, the Jewish family emigrated to Bethnal Green in the East End of London to escape Cossack violence and anti-Semitism. Isaak worked as a trouser-presser while his three sons (Grade and his younger brothers, Bernard and Leslie) attended the Rochelle Street Elementary School near Shoreditch, where Yiddish was spoken by 90% of the pupils. For two years the Winogradskys lived in rented rooms at the north end of Brick Lane, before moving to the nearby Boundary Estate.
Early professional life
At the age of 15, Grade became an agent for a clothing company, and shortly afterwards started his own business. In 1926, he was declared Charleston Champion of the World at a dancing competition at the Royal Albert Hall and subsequently became a professional dancer going by the name Louis Grad; this form came from a Paris reporter's typing error that Grade liked and decided to keep. Around 1934, he became a talent agent and went into partnership with Joe Collins (father of novelist Jackie and actress Joan Collins). Among Grade's clients were harmonica player Larry Adler and the jazz group Quintet of the Hot Club of France.
Following the start of the Second World War in 1939, Grade became involved in arranging entertainment for soldiers in Harrogate, and later joined the British Army. He was discharged after two years when an old problem with swelling of the knees, which had earlier ended his dancing career, re-occurred. In 1945, the arrangement with Collins having been terminated, Grade formed a partnership with his brother Leslie (Lew and Leslie Grade Ltd., or the Grade Organisation) and travelled in the United States, where the brothers developed their entertainment interests. His connections included, among others, Bob Hope and Judy Garland, who performed in Britain for the first time.
In 1954, Grade was contacted by the manager of singer Jo Stafford, Mike Nidorf, who notified him of an advertisement in The Times inviting franchise bids for the new ITV network. Assembling a consortium that included impresarios Val Parnell and Prince Littler, the Incorporated Television Programme Company (ITP), which soon changed its name to Independent Television Company (ITC; also known as ITC Entertainment), was formed. ITC's bid to the Independent Television Authority (ITA) was rejected on the grounds of its conflict of interest from its prominence and involvement in artist management. The Associated Broadcasting Development Company (ABD) had gained ITA approval for both the London weekend and Midlands weekday contracts, but was undercapitalised; Grade's consortium joined with the ABD to form what became Associated Television (ATV).
Grade was deputy managing director of ATV under Val Parnell until 1962, when he became managing director having contrived to have the board oust Parnell. He was responsible for committing the funds for what would become the first trans-Atlantic success of the ITP subsidiary (later ITC): The Adventures of Robin Hood (1955–60), commissioned by UK-based American producer Hannah Weinstein. ITC became a wholly owned ATV subsidiary in 1957, and had many internationally successful TV series, leading Howard Thomas, managing director of the Associated British Corporation (ABC), to complain that Grade distributed programming for "Birmingham, Alabama, rather than Birmingham, England". These series included The Saint (1962–69) and two featuring Patrick McGoohan: Danger Man (1960–68) and The Prisoner (1967–68).
In 1962, AP Films became a subsidiary of ITC. Co-founded by Gerry Anderson, it produced children's marionette puppet ("Supermarionation") series during the 1960s, including Thunderbirds (1965–66) and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967–68), and in the 1970s live-action series such as UFO (1970–71) and Space: 1999 (1975–77). Although supportive of the productions – especially Thunderbirds, for which he insisted that the episodes be lengthened to one hour, so impressed was he with the 1964 pilot, "Trapped in the Sky" — the consistent drive for success both in Britain and abroad caused artistic priorities to diverge, leading Grade to a split from both McGoohan and Anderson.
In 1966, Grade's companies were re-organised again to form the Associated Communications Corporation (ACC). The following year, ATV lost its London franchise to what would become London Weekend Television (LWT); at the same time, however, their Midlands franchise was expanded to run throughout the week from July 1968. Foreign sales remained strong (valued at $30 million in 1970) and the ACC received the Queen's Awards for Export in both 1967 and 1969. Some of the 1970s distributions performed poorly: these included UFO, The Persuaders! (1971–72) and The Julie Andrews Hour (1972–1973), which aired for only one season on the ABC Television Network in the United States despite positive reviews and seven Emmy Awards, including the title 'Best Variety Series'.
The Muppet Show
In the mid-1970s, Grade approached American puppeteer Jim Henson, who was in need of assistance for his latest TV project. Henson wanted to create a new variety show starring his Muppet characters, but had been dismissed by American networks on account of his contributions to children's programmes such as Sesame Street (from 1969). CBS came close to agreeing to broadcast The Muppet Show, but only if it were during a syndicated block of its programming. After watching one of Henson's pilots and recalling a special made in one of his studios, Grade allowed Henson to realise his project in Britain and distribute it through ATV in Britain and ITC in the United States. Grade's action was instrumental in bringing The Muppet Show to the screen in 1976 and ensuring its positive worldwide reception.
Henson later immortalised Grade through the character of Lew Lord (played by Orson Welles) in The Muppet Movie (1979). It was speculated that Dr. Bunsen Honeydew was another caricature of Grade, although this was denied by Henson in a 1982 interview.
Jesus of Nazareth
Grade's other accomplishments in TV included the mini-series Jesus of Nazareth (1977), which was successfully sold to the American market and secured a record-breaking $12 million in revenue. Grade also promoted "quality" productions on ATV as a challenge to the BBC — for example, dedicating a whole evening to a live broadcast of Tosca, starring Maria Callas, from La Scala opera house in Milan, Italy.
In 1975, ITC produced and distributed the film The Return of the Pink Panther with the assistance of United Artists (UA) and director Blake Edwards. Originally conceived as a TV series, Grade sensed potential in resurrecting the Pink Panther franchise by adapting it for cinema. Although controversy surrounded Grade's conversion of the series into a film, a compromise was ultimately made whereby UA would distribute the film in the United States and distribution in other countries would be managed by ITC. The Return of the Pink Panther was released to a positive critical and commercial reception and not only revived the franchise but also prompted Grade to move permanently into the film industry, where he was a producer on the Ingmar Bergman films Autumn Sonata (1978) and From the Life of the Marionettes (1980). Other notable films of 1978 included the co-releases The Boys From Brazil (with 20th Century Fox) and Movie Movie (with Warner Brothers).
In 1980, Grade backed an expensive "all-star" film version of the Clive Cussler novel Raise the Titanic!; in the words of Grade himself, "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic". Released the same year as Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back, the film was panned by critics. This and other expensive box office disappointments – including Saturn 3 (1980) and The Legend of the Lone Ranger (1981) – marked the end of Grade's involvement in major film production. Despite this, several of the most critically acclaimed films produced by Grade were released after the failure of Raise the Titanic: these included On Golden Pond (1981) and Sophie's Choice (1982), both winners of Academy Awards, as well as The Dark Crystal (1982), which was Jim Henson's final project created in association with ITC.
ATV Music Publishing bought a majority share in Northern Songs in 1969. Northern Songs had been established by The Beatles manager Brian Epstein, which held the rights to most of group's song catalogue. Grade and ATV eventually gained control of the company and the rights to all songs written by Paul McCartney and John Lennon between 1964 and 1971. George Harrison and Ringo Starr had left Northern Songs prior to its acquisition by Grade's company. ATV retained Northern Songs until 1985, when the company sold its catalogue to Michael Jackson.
In 1980, Grade's standing in the mass media industry was damaged by three events: Henson's decision to end The Muppet Show after five years, the poor reception to Raise the Titanic, and a decision that, effective from 1 January 1982, ATV Midlands would be permitted to keep its licence only on the condition that it terminate its association with Grade and ITC (ultimately leading to its re-branding as Central Television). Grade resigned his position in the company while it underwent a series of partnerships and mergers. He was later brought in by American producer Norman Lear to head the film unit of Embassy Pictures but was never again as successful or as influential (despite presiding over the distribution such films such as 1982's Blade Runner and 1984's This Is Spinal Tap). He subsequently became a producer of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical Starlight Express. By the mid-1990s, Grade had returned to ITC to head the company one final time until his death in 1998.
Knighted in 1969, Grade was created a life peer — Baron Grade, of Elstree in the County of Hertfordshire on 22 June 1976. He chose Elstree as his territorial designation as it was where ATV's studios were based.
Grade died of heart failure, 12 days short of his 92nd birthday, on 13 December 1998 in London. To celebrate Grade's life and mark the centenary of his birth, BBC Radio 2 transmitted two special one-hour tribute programmes on 24 and 25 December 2006. Hosted by Sir Roger Moore, these featured interviews with Lady Grade, Grade's nephew Michael Grade CBE (now Lord Grade of Yarmouth) and niece Anita Land (both children of Leslie Grade), his nephew Ian Freeman (son of his sister, Rita) and a number of other guests.
- Lewis, Roger (16 March 2010). "The Last Great Showman". Daily Mail. Retrieved 20 August 2012.
- Bethnal Green: Building and Social Conditions from 1876 to 1914: a History of the County of Middlesex: Volume 11: Stepney, Bethnal Green (1998), pp. 126 – 32. Retrieved 14 November 2006.
- Television Greats: Lew Grade, Television Heaven entry.
- Nicholas Faith: Obituary: Lord Grade, The Independent, 14 December 1998.
- Carl Ellis: Lew Grade, Part 3: the War and After, TV Heroes, Transdiffusion.
- Sergio Angelini: Grade, Lord Lew (1906–1998), BFI screenonline.
- Sergio Angelini: ITC, BFI screenonline.
- Carl Ellis Lew Grade, Part 4: Embracing the 1950s, TV Heroes, Transdiffusion.
- Richard G. Elen; ATV, BFI screenonline.
- Entrepreneurs: Top Grade, TIME, 4 October 1971.
- Judy Harris: Muppet Master: An Interview with Jim Henson, Muppet Central.com
- The London Gazette: . 14 February 1969.
- The London Gazette: . 24 June 1976.
- "Marriage was the best business deal I ever made. After that, Jesus of Nazareth and The Muppets."
- "All my shows are great. Some of them are bad, but they are all great."
- "I have a very good sense of what audiences want and expect from movies and television. That's because I'm one of them."
- "Are you buying or selling?" (At age 11, when asked the answer to "What is two plus two?")
- "Only twelve disciples? Didn't I tell you I want this thing to be big, big, big!" (To Franco Zeffirelli, on the set of Jesus of Nazareth)
- "Anyone who is 88 and can still jump up on the table and do the Charleston ... that speaks volumes!" (Sir Roger Moore)