Sidney Bernstein, Baron Bernstein
|The Lord Bernstein|
30 January 1899|
Ilford, Essex, United Kingdom
|Died||5 February 1993
London, United Kingdom
|Known for||Founder of Granada Television
Chairman of the Granada Group
Sidney Lewis Bernstein, Baron Bernstein (30 January 1899 – 5 February 1993) was a British media baron who was known as the founding chairman of the London-based Granada Group and the founder of the Manchester-based Granada Television in 1954.
In 1954 he founded Granada Television, which was one of the original four ITA franchisees. He believed the North's media industry had potential to be cultivated. Granada Television eventually became one of the most successful British production companies in history and still produces programmes in 2011 under the ITV Studios moniker.
Although born in Essex, Bernstein became an adopted northerner, building Granada Television, which created a proud heritage of television broadcasting in Manchester - a legacy which continues to this day.
Bernstein left school at 15 and he gradually inherited the property portfolio his father had built.
Bernstein built, with his brother Cecil, a successful circuit of some sixty cinemas and theatres, the first step in the creation of a diversified group of leisure-oriented enterprises. Some of the cinema were on property he inherited from his father. The Bernstein holdings eventually encompassed interests in publishing, real estate, motorway services, retail shops, and bowling alleys, as well as the hugely profitable television-rental business.
Bernstein was a co-founder of the London Film Society in 1925, where he met and befriended the young Alfred Hitchcock, who became a lifelong friend and eventual producing partner. He was the first to bring "October" and other works from the great Russian filmmakers Eisenstein and Pudovkin to London, and sponsored Eisenstein's trip to Hollywood in the early 30's. He also ventured into theater, building an elegant new venue which housed the premiere of Private Lives, by Noël Coward, the smash hit which cemented that playwright's reputation. Though his involvement with the live stage was short-lived, he was passionate about the construction of state-of-the-art movie palaces throughout England. As early as 1931, he was advising the planning committee for the then-nascent National Theater to include film projection and television production facilities into its plans for a theater which was not built until 1976.
Bernstein was an early and ardent anti-fascist, beginning in 1933, when he helped many German actors, such as Peter Lorre, directors, cameramen and other German Jewish and anti-Nazi filmmakers to escape Germany and find work in England after they were expelled from the state-run UFA studios when Hitler came to power and fired all Jewish state employees. Bernstein traveled to America frequently during the 1930s, where he met with Hollywood studio executives and organized meetings to persuade them to support the anti-fascist cause, and, after war broke out between Britain and Germany, to join the British in their fight against the Nazi's. By this point, Bernstein joined the newly formed Ministry of Information, and continued his role of producing and bringing anti-Nazi and pro-British films before the American people during the critical years 1939-1941, when the United States remained neutral while England struggled alone against the Blitz and potential Nazi invasion. By 1943, Bernstein was also a member of SHAEF and worked on films which would help the new Allies, Britain and America, to understand each other. He read and advised on early drafts of Mrs. Miniver, the highly influential and celebrated film starring Greer Garson as the heroic mother of a wartorn British family, which MGM made after a meeting of MGM executives with Bernstein in Hollywood.
As the invasion of France loomed, Bernstein brought his friend Alfred Hitchcock back from Hollywood to England to work on two short documentary films for the post-invasion French audience. And, as the war wound to its close, Bernstein heard the first reports of extermination camps, visited Belsen himself, and was determined to create a film that would be seen by both the German and English-speaking audiences so that they would know the extent of the atrocities of the camps. To this end, he again consulted with Hitchcock to supervise the work of US and British Army cameramen documenting the horrors of the newly liberated camps. The original plan to complete a feature-length documentary film of the camps was abruptly canceled in July, 1945, as the British Foreign Office claimed the material was too incendiary in light of the need for post-war co-operation needed from the defeated Germans. Hitchcock had already begun screening and editing the 800,000 feet of film from Allied cameramen and confiscated German documentation in the summer of 1945 when the project was shelved under number F-3080 in the Imperial War Museum archives, not to be seen until it was unearthed by film scholars in 1984 and shown on BBC as "Memory of the Camps." In documenting the camps, Hitchcock suggested the cameramen use the longest takes possible, in order to show that what the camera was filming was real; this initiated Hitchcock's own involvement in long, uncut takes, which became the raison d'être of Sidney Bernstein and Hitchcock's first co-production, the experimental Rope, starring James Stewart. 
Beginning in 1948, Bernstein lobbied the government to give the cinema industry the right to produce and transmit television programmes, not to individual homes, as the BBC did, but to audiences gathered in cinemas and theatres. The London-based Granada group surprised establishment thinkers by not bidding for a lucrative contract in the affluent Southeast. Instead, Granada pursued the weekday licences centred on Manchester in the industrial North, embracing an area extending across the north of England and Wales. Granada's evidence to the Pilkington Committee on Broadcasting in 1961 justified this decision: "The North and London were the two biggest regions. Granada preferred the North because of its tradition of home-grown culture, and because it offered a chance to start a new creative industry away from the metropolitan atmosphere of London."
In 1991, Granada Theatres Ltd was sold to Bass.
In 1954, Bernstein won a franchise license to broadcast commercial television to the north of England including key urban areas such as Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds and Sheffield. Bernstein wanted the north of England as this would not have any detrimental effect on viewers at his theatres which were predominantly based in the south of England. Furthermore he strongly believed the north of England had a cultural heart that had potential to be cultivated which would translate itself into good television.
The North and London were the two biggest regions. Granada preferred the North because of its tradition of home-grown culture, and because it offered a chance to start a new creative industry away from the metropolitan atmosphere of London... the North is a closely knit, indigenous, industrial society; a homogeneous cultural group with a good record for music, theatre, literature and newspapers, not found elsewhere in this island, except perhaps in Scotland. Compare this with London and its suburbs--full of displaced persons. And, of course, if you look at a map of the concentration of population in the North and a rainfall map, you will see that the North is an ideal place for television".—Sidney Bernstein on why he decided to form Granada Television in Manchester in 1954 which would broadcast to the north of England.
To achieve his aim, Bernstein ordered the building of the United Kingdom's first television studios. Construction of Granada Studios began in 1954. At Bernstein's behest, the Studios featured a purely decorative white, lattice tower in the form of a transmitter tower to give the studios an embellished and professional appearance. Paintings from Bernstein's art collection and portraits of showmen Edward R. Murrow and P. T. Barnum adorned the interior of the studios to inspire creativity among Granada employees.
Bernstein's instincts proved to be sound. Despite objections to a commercial franchise being awarded to a company with overtly left-wing leanings, Granada began broadcasting from Manchester in May 1956, proudly proclaiming its origins with the slogan "From the North" and labelling its new constituency "Granadaland". The first night's programming began, at Bernstein's insistence, with a homage to the BBC, whose public broadcasting pedigree he had always admired, and closed with a public-spirited statement of advertising policy which suggested an ambivalence about the commercial imperative to maximize profits.
As early as January 1957, Granada was responsible for the top ten programmes, by ratings, available in its region. In 1962, it became the first television outlet to screen the Beatles for the British television audience. Bernstein's company soon came to be regarded as one of the most progressive of the independent television contractors. One famous show Bernstein was not enthusiastic about was the drama-serial, Coronation Street. Bernstein's brother Cecil felt the same and Sidney stated to that scriptwriter Tony Warren had done "is pick up all the boring bits and strung them together one after another" upon hearing the proposal for what was then known as Florizel Street.
Nevertheless, Coronation Street was approved and soon become a popular programme. Granada garnered a penchant for high-profile current-affairs and documentary programmes, such as World in Action, Disappearing World, and What the Papers Say, all of which lent Granada prestige and aligned it, unmistakably, with the ideals of its founder.
In 1969 he was given a life peer as Baron Bernstein, of Leigh in the County of Kent. In the 1970s, Lord Bernstein finally relinquished stewardship of the television company and moved over to the business side of the Granada plc. He retired in 1979 and became chairman of the Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester. He was named a Fellow of the British Film Institute and received the International Emmy Directorate Award in 1984. He died in 1993, aged 94.
Bernstein was a keen art collector and paintings from his collection adorned the walls of the Granada Studios. On his death in 1993, he bequeathed part of his collection to the Manchester Art Gallery which included works by Chagall and Modigliani. Bernstein was known to a bad driver, something that his colleagues such as Mike Scott used to humorously joke about when Bernstein gave up driving.
In 1945-46, Bernstein formed Transatlantic Pictures with Alfred Hitchcock, in preparation for the end of Hitchcock's contract with David O. Selznick in 1947. Bernstein and Hitchcock planned to produce films in both Hollywood and London. Bernstein was an uncredited producer on two of Hitchcock's films:
Hitchcock's Stage Fright (1950) started out as a Transatlantic production, but became a Warner Brothers production after the failure of Under Capricorn. In 1954, Bernstein and Hitchcock dissolved their partnership, after one final attempt to produce The Bramble Bush based on the 1948 novel by David Duncan. (See entry for unproduced Hitchcock Projects.)
Later, Bernstein was producer of:
- Memory of the Camps (1985) executive producer, including footage of concentration camps filmed by Hitchcock in 1945
- Frontline (1985) executive producer (US release) 1 episode, "Memory of the Camps" 1985
- "Bernstein, Sidney (1899-1993)". BFI Screenonline. Retrieved 3 May 2013.
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- Feddy, Kevin (4 July 2006). "Our greatest-ever business leaders". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 7 July 2011.
- Howard, Anthony (6 February 1993). "Obituary: Lord Bernstein". The Independent.
- "Sidney Bernstein" by Caroline Moorehead, Jonathan Cape press, 1984
- "Sidney Bernstein" by Caroline Moorehead, Jonathan Cape Press, 1984
- Pearson, Tony. "Bernstein, Sidney". Museum of Broadcast Communications.
- "Bernstein - genial tyrant of Granada: Jeremy Isaacs recalls his former boss and founder of the Granada group, who died at 94". The Independent. 7 February 1993.
- "Corrie: The Road to Coronation Street". BBC. Retrieved 6 August 2011.
- Wollaston, Sam (17 September 2010). "TV review: The Road to Coronation Street". The Guardian.
- "Manchester Art Gallery". manchesterwalks. Retrieved 6 August 2011. "in 1993 Sidney Bernstein, founder of Granada TV, bequeathed a collection that included works by Chagall and Modigliani."
- "Mike Scott". transdiffusion.org. 22 February 2010. Retrieved 2012-02-12.