Michael Grade

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The Right Honourable
The Lord Grade of Yarmouth
Born Michael Ian Grade
8 March 1943 (1943-03-08) (age 71)
London, England, United Kingdom
Education Stowe House
Alma mater St Dunstan's College
Occupation Businessman
Media Executive
Years active 1966–present
Organization London Management & Representation
First Leisure Corporation
Camelot Group
Charlton Athletic F.C.
Known for Controller of BBC1 (1984–86)
CEO of Channel 4 (1987–97)
Chairman of the BBC (2004–06)
Chairman of Ocado (2006–13)[1][2]
Executive Chairman of ITV plc (2007–09)
Political party

Penelope Jane Levinson (m. 1967; div. 1981)
Sarah Lawson (m. 1982; div. 1991)

Francesca Leahy (m. 1998)
Children 3
Parents Leslie Grade (father)
Relatives Lew Grade and Bernard Delfont (uncles)

Michael Ian Grade, Baron Grade of Yarmouth, CBE (born 8 March 1943) is an English television executive and businessman. He was chairman of the BBC from 2004 to 2006 and executive chairman of ITV plc from 2007 to 2009.[3]

Early life[edit]

Grade was born into a Jewish show business family originally called Winogradsky; his father was the theatrical agent Leslie Grade and his uncles were the impresarios Lew Grade[4] and Bernard Delfont. When he was three years old his mother left the family to conduct a relationship with wrestling commentator Kent Walton and he never saw her again.[5] He was educated at Stowe School 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 his own account (as related on Channel 4 chat show The Late Clive James), the job had been organised by his father. When Leslie Grade suffered a serious stroke in 1966, the 23-year-old Michael moved into his theatrical business. In 1969, he moved to London Management & Representation. Among the artists whom Grade represented were Morecambe and Wise (he successfully negotiated the duo's defection from ATV to BBC2 in 1968) and Larry Grayson.


Grade entered the television industry in 1973 when he joined London Weekend Television (LWT) as Deputy Controller of Programmes (Entertainment), rising to the post of Director of Programmes in 1976.[4] At LWT, Grade worked with both John Birt and Greg Dyke, and as Director of Programmes commissioned[6] the controversial series Mind Your Language, as well as the popular The Professionals and the long-running arts strand The South Bank Show.[6]

In January 1982, Grade quit LWT to start a two-year stint as the president of Tandem Productions Television in the United States, stating, "It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; it is, if you like, a gamble I want to take".[7]


Grade joined BBC Television in 1984 as Controller of BBC1,[4] becoming Director of Programmes in 1986 and Managing Director Designate in 1987. His tenure as Controller was controversial, with strong public opposition to a number of his directorial decisions, such as cancelling Dallas while fighting Thames Television for the rights to the series (subsequently reversed).

During his time as Controller, Grade was also responsible for purchasing the Australian soap opera Neighbours for BBC1's new daytime schedule; it debuted on British television on 27 October 1986. He was also responsible for repeating Neighbours, at first exclusively an afternoon programme, in a later timeslot (on the advice of his daughter, Alison, who was annoyed that she could not watch it due to her being at school). This proved to be a successful scheduling decision over the years, with audiences in excess of 18 million for the new 5.35 pm broadcasts. The scheduling continued for over 20 years. Grade cut short the serialisation of The Tripods trilogy, written by John Christopher; after two seasons covering the first two books, a third season was not produced.

Grade considered cancelling the sitcom Blackadder, judging the first series to be unfunny, because of unenthusiastic critical reviews and high production costs (it made use of extensive location sequences). In exchange for renewing Blackadder, he required that it become a wholly studio-based production (a decision that had already been taken by the writers independently). Other popular successes during Grade's tenure included the debut of soap operas EastEnders and Howard's Way, the broadcast of the charity rock concert Live Aid and Dennis Potter's The Singing Detective.

Doctor Who controversy[edit]

Grade's hiatus for Doctor Who was highly controversial among fans and in the media. At the time, Grade stated that Doctor Who was being "rested" because it was becoming too violent and was losing its audience, as well as its imagination and wit; he claimed that "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."

Grade, in an appearance on Room 101 in 2002, admitted that he had little interest in, or sympathy for, science fiction. Of the series itself, he commented: "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, the script editor of Doctor Who at the time of its suspension, responded to these remarks during the audio commentary of the 2008 DVD of the Doctor Who serial Warriors of the Deep. As Grade was Controller of BBC1, his comments were unfair as he was in the position to allocate more money and studio time to the programme and thus improve its production values. He was though defended by actress Katy Manning, who portrayed the assistant Jo Grant opposite Jon Pertwee's Third Doctor between 1971 and 1973. In the DVD commentary for The Mind of Evil she said:

The sad thing is when people were going on, getting frightfully angry about it coming off, and poor Michael Grade, you know, was being attacked from every area, I think he was actually doing the right thing. I think he did exactly the right thing. He put it to bed for a while and I think the rest is history.[8]

In 1986, Grade decided to fire actor Colin Baker from the title role of Doctor Who. In 2003, he explained to a journalist for The Daily Telegraph that he thought Baker's portrayal of the Sixth Doctor was "utterly unlikeable; absolutely God-awful in fact."[9]

Following the end of the first series of the revived Doctor Who in 2005, he wrote a letter to Mark Thompson, the BBC Director General, congratulating all involved in the production on its success, signing-off with "PS never dreamed I would ever write this. Must be going soft!"[10] In an interview for 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."[11]

Channel 4[edit]

In 1987, Grade accepted the post of chief executive of Channel 4, succeeding Jeremy Isaacs. He phased out some of its more high-brow programming, for which he was accused of "dumbing down"; Grade retorted that in the same week that he moved to Channel 4, it had shown a repeat of the 1984 adaptation of The Far Pavilions, featuring American actress Amy Irving "blacked up" as an Indian princess. During this period, he was also attacked by the conservative press: Daily Mail columnist Paul Johnson dubbed him Britain's "pornographer-in-chief".

Grade was successful in developing the station at a time when Channel 4 was obliged to award a proportion of its advertising revenue to the rival ITV network. In addition to securing talent from the BBC, he recognised the improving quality of US television output, making series such as Friends and ER the mainstays of the channel's schedule. Grade became involved in a dispute with Chris Morris regarding the satire Brass Eye after repeatedly intervening in the production to order edits to various episodes, and re-scheduling some instalments for sensitivity (the 1997 series finale, which was the most heavily edited, included a single-frame subliminal message reading "Grade is a cunt").

Grade left Channel 4 in 1997 to head First Leisure Corporation, He departed two years later, following a substantial internal re-structuring, to return to the media inustry as chairman of the new Pinewood and Shepperton Film Studios Company.

Return to the BBC[edit]

Grade was on the board of the poorly received Millennium Dome project, and has served as chairman of Octopus Publishing, the Camelot Group, and Hemscott (a position that he intends to relinquish).

He had ambitions to become Chairman of the BBC Board of Governors in 2001, but was beaten to the post by Gavyn Davies. Following Davies' resignation in the aftermath of the Hutton Inquiry report, it was announced on 2 April 2004 that Grade had been appointed BBC Chairman; his only demand was that he would not have to give up his job as a director of Charlton Athletic F.C. He took up his post on 17 May.

On 19 September 2006, Grade became non-executive chairman of online food delivery company Ocado.[12] He resigned[13] from the role on 23 January 2013, after which he was replaced by Sir Stuart Rose.[2][14][15]


On 28 November 2006, Grade and the BBC confirmed that he was to resign from his position within the corporation to replace Sir Peter Burt as Chairman, and Charles Allen as Chief Executive, of one of the companies forming part of its commercial rival, ITV. He became Executive Chairman of ITV plc on 8 January 2007.

During Grade's tenure, ITV has struggled with falling advertising revenue and viewing figures. Upon appointment, Grade announced that his first priority would be to work as a senior partner at ITV Network Limited to improve ITV programming, as well as strengthen its digital channels, ITV2, ITV3, ITV4 and CITV. On 12 September 2007, Grade announced a controversial five-year re-structuring plan for ITV plc-owned regions,[9] selecting entertainment as the top priority. A major overhaul of ITV plc's regional structure was also proposed.[16] The plans would result in the consolidation of the ITV regional news programmes in England, with regions now broadcasting a single service per region rather than multiple, specialised, local services (for example, ITV Yorkshire would no longer broadcast in separate Northern and Southern regions). They would also merge fully ITV Border with ITV Tyne Tees, and ITV West with ITV Westcountry, effectively ending two regions' tenure as independent players within ITV; the proposals have been criticised by BECTU and the National Union of Journalists.[16] Any such changes would be subject to 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.[17]

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 TV, at some point before the end of 2009.[3]

Personal life[edit]

Grade was appointed a CBE in 1998.[18] That same year, he published his autobiography, It Seemed Like a Good Idea at the Time, and married his third wife, Francesca Leahy; they have a son, Samuel.

He was previously married to Penelope Jane Levinson (1967–81; she is now the wife of writer and historian Sir Max Hastings), by whom he has two children, and Sarah Lawson (1982–91), a film producer.

Grade is a fan of Charlton Athletic F.C.[19] On 22 October 2010, he attended the funeral of actor and comedian Sir Norman Wisdom.[20][21]

Grade revealed his membership of, the Conservative Party for the first time in May 2010.[22]

On 25 January 2011, he was created a life peer, as Baron Grade of Yarmouth, of Yarmouth in the County of Isle of Wight.[23] He was introduced in the House of Lords on 27 January[24] and sits as a Conservative.


  1. ^ Finch, Julia (1 July 2010). "Profile: Ocado chair Michael Grade". The Guardian. 
  2. ^ a b Ruddick, Graham (22 Jan 2013). "Michael Grade to step down from Ocado". The Telegraph (London). 
  3. ^ a b "Grade to step down as ITV chief". BBC News. 23 April 2009. Retrieved 23 April 2009. 
  4. ^ a b c Writer Glenn Aylett EMAIL MORE ARTICLES. "Michael Grade The most popular media mogul in Britain". Transdiffusion.org. Retrieved 2011-11-06. 
  5. ^ Levy, Geoffrey (28 November 2006). "Grade bids farewell to BBC and leaps across to troubled rival ITV". Daily Mail (London). 
  6. ^ a b Rowena Mason "Michael Grade at ITV: it seemed like a good idea at the time", Daily Telegraph, 23 April 2009.
  7. ^ Gosling, Kenneth (22 September 1981). "American TV post for Michael Grade". The Times. p. 12. 
  8. ^ Voice-over commentary on the BBC DVD "The Mind of Evil" (1971, 2013)
  9. ^ a b Langley, William (3 January 2009). "He eats, sleeps and breathes television - and at last he's got round to watching some". London: telegraph.co.uk. Retrieved 12 January 2009. 
  10. ^ Dean, Jason (22 June 2005). "Doctor Who's greatest enemy finally surrenders" (free registration required). The Guardian (London). Retrieved 30 November 2006. 
  11. ^ Radio Times, 31 March-6 April 2012.
  12. ^ Michael Grade becomes Ocado chairman | Econsultancy
  13. ^ "Michael Grade to step down as Ocado chairman". Reuters. 21 January 2013. Retrieved 22 May 2013. 
  14. ^ "Ocado Appoints Rose to Succeed Michael Grade as Chairman". Bloomberg. Retrieved 8 May 2013. 
  15. ^ Sandle, Paul (21 January 2013). "Michael Grade to step down as Ocado chairman - FT". Reuters. 
  16. ^ a b Holmwood, Leigh (12 September 2007). "Unions slam ITV regional cuts". London: MediaGuardian. Retrieved 27 September 2007. 
  17. ^ Dowell, Ben (1 May 2009). "Michael Grade: I sued over Dyke piece to protect my reputation for honesty". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 12 May 2010. 
  18. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 54993. p. 9. 31 December 1997.
  19. ^ "Football | News | FA Cup | Manual stories | ITV FA Cup statement - ITV Sport". Itv.com. Retrieved 2011-11-06. [dead link]
  20. ^ "Hundreds pay respects to Wisdom". Thetelegraphandargus.co.uk. 2010-10-22. Retrieved 2011-11-06. 
  21. ^ "Norman Wisdom: Hundreds pay respects to comedy legend". mirror.co.uk. Retrieved 2011-11-06. 
  22. ^ Grade, Michael (4 May 2010). "Impartiality is over: Cameron gets my vote". The Times (London). Retrieved 29 November 2010. 
  23. ^ The London Gazette: no. 59685. p. 1561. 31 January 2011.
  24. ^ "House of Lords Business for 26 January 2011". Publications.parliament.uk. Retrieved 2011-11-06. 

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
Alan Hart
Controller of BBC One
Succeeded by
Jonathan Powell
Preceded by
Jeremy Isaacs
Chief Executive of Channel 4
Succeeded by
Michael Jackson
Preceded by
The Lord Ryder of Wensum
Chairman of the BBC Board of Governors
Succeeded by
Anthony Salz
Preceded by
Sir Peter Burt
As non-Executive Chairman
Charles Allen
As Chief Executive
Executive Chairman of ITV plc
Succeeded by
Archie Norman