Jeremy Isaacs

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Jeremy Isaacs
Jeremy Israel Isaacs

(1932-09-28) September 28, 1932 (age 87)
OccupationTelevision executive
Years active1958-2000
Known forChannel 4

Sir Jeremy Israel Isaacs (born 28 September 1932) is a Scottish television producer and executive, and opera manager, with him being a recipient of many British Academy Television Awards and International Emmy Awards. He won the British Film Institute Fellowship in 1986, the International Emmy Directorate Award in 1987 and the BAFTA Fellowship in 1985. He was also the General Director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden from 1987 to 1996.

Early life[edit]

Isaacs was born in Glasgow from what were described as "Scottish Jewish roots".[1] He grew up in Hillhead, the son of a jeweller and a GP, and is a cousin to virologist Alick Isaacs. He was educated at the independent Glasgow Academy and Merton College, Oxford, where he read Classics.[2][3] He did his National Service in the Highland Light Infantry.

Television career[edit]

Isaacs began his career in television when he joined Granada Television in Manchester as a producer in 1958. At Granada he was involved in creating or supervising series such as World in Action and What the Papers Say. He has worked for the BBC (on Panorama) in the 1960s and was the overall producer for the 26-episode series The World at War (1973–74) for Thames Television. He was Director of Programmes for Thames between 1974 and 1978. Later, he produced Ireland: A Television History (1981) for the BBC and co-produced the twenty-four episode television documentary series Cold War (1998)[4] and the ten-part series Millennium (1999).[5]

Channel 4[edit]

Isaacs was the founding chief executive of Channel 4 between 1981 and 1987, overseeing its launch period and setting the channel's original cultural approach with opera and foreign language film, although such programmes as the pop music series The Tube and soap opera Brookside had a place in the schedule from the beginning. The channel commissioned Michael Elliott's production of King Lear (1983) with Laurence Olivier in the title role and Isaacs recommissioned a number of programmes from his time at Granada including What the Papers Say. His appointment of David Rose, previously long with the BBC, as the Commissioning Editor for Fiction led to the Channel's involvement with the eighties revival of the British film industry via the Film on Four strand. Despite a general liberal atmosphere though, a few commissioned programmes, such as Ken Loach's A Question of Leadership, were withdrawn from transmission.

In 1990, Isaacs named a four-hour dramatisation of an early Percy Bysshe Shelley Gothic horror novel, Zastrozzi (1986), as one of the 10 programmes of which he was most proud during his tenure as Channel 4's chief executive.

When handing over responsibility for running the channel to Michael Grade, Isaacs threatened to throttle him if he betrayed the trust placed in him to respect the channel's remit.[6]

Later career[edit]

After leaving Channel 4, and failing to be appointed Director General of the BBC in 1987, Isaacs became General Director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, a role he fulfilled until 1996. This was a difficult period for the ROH, which was not helped by the broadcast of the revealing The House (1996) documentary series on BBC2.

From 1990 to 1998, Isaacs was the interviewer in a revival of the BBC series Face to Face; the former politician and journalist John Freeman had filled this role in the original 1959–62 run.

Ted Turner sought out Isaacs (confusing him with the actor Jeremy Irons) for the role of executive producer for the 24-episode Cold War (1998) series.[citation needed] Between 1997 and 2000, Isaacs was president of the Royal Television Society. He was also chairman of Artsworld before it was sold to Sky.


  • Never Mind the Moon, Bantam Press, 1999 ISBN 0-593-04355-3
  • Look Me in the Eye: A Life in Television, Little, Brown, 2006 ISBN 0-316-72728-8
  • Cold War (In collaboration with Taylor Downing), Bantam Press, 1998 ISBN 0-593-04309-X


  1. ^ Attias, Elaine. "Britain's exciting Channel 4 breaking all the TV rules", Toronto Star, 1 November 1986. Accessed 31 August 2011. "In his early 50s, he is a personal and passionate man who went from Scottish Jewish roots to a philosophy degree at Oxford, presidency of the Oxford Union and on to top programming positions at Thames and Granada television, Britain's powerful commercial independents."
  2. ^ Levens, R.G.C., ed. (1964). Merton College Register 1900-1964. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 425.
  3. ^ Isaacs, Jeremy (6 September 2008). "My mentors". The Guardian. London.
  4. ^ at Internet Archive
  5. ^ Shales, Tom (9 October 1999). "A Journey Of aThousand Years". Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 24 August 2018.
  6. ^ Michael Leapman "'Channel 4 could still be a rather good delicatessen'", The Independent, 20 September 1989

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
New Position
Chief Executive
of Channel 4

Succeeded by
Michael Grade