This is THE NORTH: Here Are My Plans 

21 February 2022 tbs.pm/74840

This week in television the focus is on the North. Commercial TV, already serving London and the Midlands, now begins to cater for one third of the population in a vast new area. TV MIRROR brings you an exclusive interview…

 

 

SIDNEY BERNSTEIN, Head of Granada Television, talks to Geoffrey Kino and says, “There’s a local pride which I want to satisfy with regional programmes”

 

Cover of the TV Mirror

From the TV Mirror for 5 May 1956

“GRANADA chose the North of England. It was the region we most wanted.” Mr. Bernstein impressed this on me after I’d been with him a very few minutes. “I doubt if we’d have got London even if we’d wanted it, but I want to make it perfectly clear that Lancashire and Yorkshire were our first choice.”

By then I had got used to his manner. Mr. Sidney Bernstein is a perfectionist; he is also just about the hardest man to see in television today. This is not only because he is extremely busy as Head of Granada Television but because he does everything himself. He wants to know exactly what is happening and to keep his finger on every nerve of his organisation.

When I arrived, he had to keep me waiting and I sat in his ante-room viewing a bronze bust of him. His secretary had warned me how busy he was and had asked me how much of his time I would occupy. Tentatively I said I would like about half-an-hour. Actually I was with him for more than an hour.

“Sorry to have kept you waiting,” he said as he ushered me in. “Now make yourself at home and tell me why you’ve come to see me?”

“TV Mirror wants to know how you intend to entertain the North of England,” I said. “We know you have very definite ideas and we want to know how you’re going to put them into operation.”

Slowly and deliberately, his voice keeping time with his pacing between desk and fireplace, he began to tell me about himself. He told me how he had gleaned his knowledge of Show Business; how as a young man he had travelled back and forth to America; about the films he had made with Hitchcock.

Settling at his desk, he said : “I’ve painted in my background so that you can see that I have at least a superficial knowledge about television.” It was then he told me that he’d chosen the North of England.

 

Studio scene with two people amongst the cameras

‘Spot the Tune’. A contestant faces the camera with Marion Ryan

 

“There are thirteen million people in our viewing area — as many as in the London area. There is more civic pride in the North than anywhere else in England. Dad will march his son round the town when he is just old enough to walk and show him the Town Hall and the football ground and the War Memorial. That won’t happen in London. And have you studied the rainfall maps? Need I tell you the advantages of wet evenings as far as TV is concerned?

“The North appreciate the value of money and there’s more money up there to be spent sensibly — Advertisers appreciate this.”

Another interesting piece of information Sidney Bernstein had gleaned was that Monday night was peak viewing in the North — with a viewer figure of 81 per cent and Tuesday followed closely with 80 per cent.

This is a reversal of viewing figures down South where Fridays and Sundays are the accepted peaks.

 

A bare studio

A property man waits to clear a set and put the top hat back into store

 

I asked him if he could tell me about some of his programmes.

“It isn’t all planned yet. I want plenty of elasticity so that I can use television properly. I’ve got two OB units made specially to our own requirements by Pye. I believe in TV as a means of communication and I’ve got crews manning these that can put them up in a very short time. Wherever something is happening Granada OBs will be there. I believe the essence of TV is the outside broadcast. Again my programmes must be right for the North. Let me give you an example of what I mean. The whole country watches the Grove Family but if I gave the Groves a Wigan accent and set the action in that town, I’ll bet all the North would tune in to that programme instead of the Groves.

“Now that couldn’t happen in London. You could set it in Woolwich or Acton and no one would know which borough it was in. That’s what I mean about regional programmes and that is what I’m interested in putting out. This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe some of the programmes now showing I shan’t want for the North — I think some of them will be first-class up there.

 

The control room

In the control room: on the left, the sound mixer; on the right, the vision mixer

 

“Variety is a big problem”

Dragnet is fine; Gun Law first-class. I think I Love Lucy will be popular anywhere and I am sure Liberace will be as much appreciated in Manchester as he has been in London, Birmingham and New York.

“I like panel games and quiz shows provided the latter never try to make the human being lose his dignity. I wouldn’t have that sort of show, but those that dwell on general knowledge questions are excellent and I love watching them myself.”

I pointed out that he had left out light entertainment and told him that I had noticed that most of the performers were under contract to other companies and that Granada had even lost most of the shows from Blackpool this year.

“I didn’t want them,” was his reply. “Variety is a big problem over here — same acts repeated too often. In America there is only one top-flight variety show and that is the Ed Sullivan one. His deadpan manner is tremendously effective and then, over here, you can’t do what they can in America and get politicians to appear in light entertainment programmes to have fun poked at them and to be attacked. So over here we have to fall back on the same pattern and that pattern is becoming a bore.

“Then again it is only on Sundays that the best artists are available and I don’t have to worry about Sundays — as for the rest of the stuff I don’t think it’s very good. Believe me when something good comes along, that is something good for the North, I’ll take it. I see no point in competing with first-class stuff owned by other contractors — I shall want to buy that. When Hugh Beaumont has a suitable play for the North I shall want to screen it.

“We’ve got Sir Thomas Beecham under contract, as you know.”

 

A man with a caption roller

Rehearsing for the evening broadcast, a technician times the unrolling of a caption before the camera

 

I interrupted here saying that ARTV’s experiments with the Hallé Orchestra hadn’t been all that successful and that TV didn’t seem the best medium for serious music.

“It depends how it is presented,” Mr. Bernstein retorted. “Now this is how we’re going to do it. On a Monday for instance our cameras would take you to meet Sir Thomas at home where he’ll introduce himself to you and talk about the concert you’ll be hearing on Wednesday. He may stroll over to the piano and play a few bars to illustrate what he means. Then, on the Tuesday night, we shall take viewers to watch a rehearsal and to see how Sir Thomas works, and what it means being a conductor and what different interpretations mean. So that by the Wednesday, the night of the concert, viewers will have a feeling of anticipation.”

I acknowledged the novelty of this and wished the venture luck but I wanted to know more — more of these regional programmes.

“Let me put it this way,” Mr. Bernstein parried. “If I told you we had a panel game where a person came in and waved his arms about and then was asked questions as to what those signals meant you would say that it sounded a bit dull. Yet that formula is known now as “What’s My Line?” He sat back: “Wait and see some of our shows and then judge them and talk about them.”

 

A Granada Travelling Eye van

 

I pursued this regional attitude on another tack — namely that of costs and advertising. Surely, I asked him, networking was the way in which profits were made — to stand aloof from it would be ruinous.

Mr. Bernstein smiled: “Don’t get the idea that money doesn’t interest us.

“Indeed we’re a small company and not half as rich as some of the others. We’ve got to make money unless we are going to die. But I want to put on my shows and I hope, and believe, people will come to us and ask for them.

“As for the advertiser, I feel sure that once he sees what we are doing and how we are going about entertaining the public, then he will come in and devise a method of advertising to coincide with our method of entertaining. It is possible that the advertising in the North will be quite different from that in the South; alternatively it may be the same. But one thing I do know. The Advertising agent is a sensible quick thinking chap who’ll adapt himself and his commodity to the right method of sale quickly, once we’ve proved that what we’re doing is right.”

Until I had had this conversation with Mr. Bernstein, I had felt, like so many other people in television, that the secrecy that surrounded his activities meant that he had nothing and that Granada were not prepared. Now I am sure there is plenty up Mr. Bernstein’s capacious sleeve.

 

You Say

2 responses to this article

Simon Webster Wise 21 February 2022 at 6:01 pm

A northern based continuing domestic drama. Can’t see that having an audience outside of Granada land…

Tony Brogan 23 February 2022 at 7:22 am

“GRANADA chose the North of England. It was the region we most wanted.”

And why did they want that region of the big four regions? Not from any affinity or relationship with the region but purely from profit motivation.

The movie theaters (their main business at the time) which Granada owned were not in the North of England but mainly in the South East and adjacent areas. Thus the television service which they provided in the North of England for the ITA would not be taking away patrons and thus revenue from their theaters in the South East.

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