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Granada Group

Overview

This profile considers the Granada group, the UK commercial broadcaster that merged with Carlton in 2003/4 to form ITV plc.


It covers -

  • introduction
  • the group
  • holdings
  • Bernstein
  • studies

This site features separate profiles of Carlton and ITV plc.

Introduction

UK-based Granada dated from the 1920s and like US counterparts such as Viacom migrated from cinema operation to film production and broadcasting, punctuated by expansion into selling refrigerators, hotels and hamburgers.

As of 2002 the group was the major UK commercial television broadcaster (competing with Murdoch's BSkyB), had multimedia and film/tv production interests and stakes in Australian media groups.

In October 2003 the UK government approved Granada's merger with Carlton, the new entity being somewhat confusingly badged as ITV plc.

The group

Sidney and Cecil Bernstein built a national cinema chain in the UK during the 1920s and 30s, often in a mooresque style. they dabbled in film finance - most notably through the Transatlantic Films partnership with Alfred Hitcock - and in the 1950's gained an Independent Television franchise for English midlands. Sidney famously said "I will earn more from the ice creams I sell in my cinemas than I ever will from commercial TV" - shades of Roy Thomson - but appears to have correctly forecast significant profits if Granada's production costs were kept low.

In 1959 Granada launched a chain of television rental shops, soon more profitable than the network, and moved into the fast food business on a large scale. (A chronology is here.) It acquired rental competitors such as Rediffusion, started selling whitegoods through its shopfronts and moved in and out of general book publishing.

In 1967 changes to the ITV franchise meant that Granada gained and lost some markets. (Bernstein had warned that he would take his case to the United Nations, but the government was undeterred.)

Granada progresively sold off its cinemas and continued to expand in the food services market, gaining control of the Forte hotel and catering group in a controversial £3.6 billion takeover in 1996. In 1999 it bought the television interests of UK publisher United News & Media for £1.75 billion (£20.2 million for Harry Ramsden's Fish & Chip Shop chain in the same year was small change).

In 2000 it merged with caterer Compass Group in a £17.5 billion deal; a year later Compass was demerged, leaving Granada as a pure media group. More drama, it seems, in the boardroom and the merchant banks than on the small screen. A merger with content producer Carlton Communications was mooted but rejected by the government.

Holdings

The group currently has

  • several ITV franchises (accounting for over half the UK commercial tv advertising revenue),
  • a digital television unit and stakes in traditional pay tv,
  • strategic interests in two football clubs,
  • a large film library,
  • film/tv production units and
  • stakes in Australia's Seven Network and Village Roadshow.

An indication of holdings towards the end of 2001 is here.

Studies

There is no major study of Granada's recent history.

Its early years, however, are illuminated by a number of works. For the cinema business and film production see Roy Armes' A Critical History of the British Cinema (New York: Oxford Uni Press 1978) and the major biographies of Alfred Hitchcock. The Granada Theatres (London: British Film Institute 1999) by Allen Eyles deals with the architecture - now mostly recycled as parking lots, bingo halls or supermarkets.

For television see Persona Granada Memories of Sidney Bernstein and the Early Years of Independent Television (London: Deutsch 1997) by Denis Forman, the less substantial It Seemed Like A Good Idea At The Time (London: Macmillan 1999) by Michael Grade and Michael Leapman's Treachery: The Power Struggle at TV AM (London: Unwin Hyman 1989).

The major official history is Asa Briggs' five volume The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom (London: Oxford Uni Press 1961-86); we'd recommend instead the multivolume Independent Television in Britain (London: Macmillan 1982- ) by Bernard Sendall, Jeremy Potter & Paul Bonner. Stuart Hood's Behind the Screens: The Structure of British Television in the Nineties (London: Lawrence & Wishart 1994) will please fans of Vince Mosco and Robert McChesney.

For the 'Forte Wars' see Charles Forte's Forte (London: Pan 1988) and William Kay's Lord of The Dance: The Story of Gerry Robinson (London: Texere 1999), the latter dealing with Granada's chief executive.

Granada's on-again, off-again affair with publishing is touched on in Rupert Hart-Davis's memoirs The Arms of Time (Stroud: Sutton 1979) and Halfway To Heaven: Concluding Memoirs of A Literary Life (Stroud: Sutton 1998).

ITN is explored in the valedictory And Finally ... ? The News From ITN (London: Politico's 2005) by Richard Lindley.