Lew Grade, Baron Grade
(25 December 1906–13 December 1998), born Lev Winogradsky
, was an influential showbusiness impresario
company executive in the United Kingdom. His interests included Pye Records
He was born in Tokmak
, to Olga and Isaac Winogradsky. In 1912 the Jewish family fled the Russian pogroms
to a new life in the East End of London. Isaac managed a cinema, while his three sons attended the Rochelle Street School in Bethnal Green
, near Shoreditch
, where Yiddish
was spoken by 90% of the pupils. For two years they lived in rented rooms at the north end of Brick Lane
, then moved to the nearby Boundary Estate
. At 15 Louis became an agent for a clothing firm, and shortly afterwards started his own business. But after he won a Charleston
competition at the Royal Albert Hall
in 1926, he became a professional dancer under the name Lew Grade. In 1933, he founded a talent agency with his brother, Bernard.
At his 50th wedding anniversary party after being toasted by all in the room, he rose to address the gathering with a story. Early in the days of the talent agency, he and his brother shared an office on Wardour Street in London. The office was small with one telephone. As the brothers did not have enough money for a secretary, it was impossible for them ever to have lunch together. One day, Lew Grade was alone in the office when a man came in. He said, "I am a comedian." Lew Grade said, "Well, make me laugh." The routine was very amusing and after, he said to the man, "There's an opening at the Palladium tonight at 8:30 for 50 pounds. Our fee is 5 pounds." The man, very exciting, reached into his pocket and all he had was a 10 pound note. He threw it on the table and ran out. Lew Grade said, "I learned my first lesson in business ethics that day: should I tell my brother?"
His two brothers, Leslie Grade
and Bernard Delfont
, were also show business impresarios and his nephew, Michael Grade
, carried on the tradition. Michael was Chairman of the BBC
from 2004 to 2006 and became executive chairman of ITV plc
on 8 January 2007.
A sister to Lew, Leslie and Bernie, Rita (1924–1992) was born in the UK, by which time the family was living in Streatham, south London. She married a Twickenham doctor, Joe Freeman (1912–1979), in 1949. They had two sons, Ian Freeman (1950–), a PR consultant and freelance journalist, and Andrew Freeman (1962–), a corporate accountant.
In the 1950s, as Britain prepared for commercial television
alongside the dominant BBC
, Grade had been approached by manager Mike Nidorf
into the formation of a company for a bid of the new ITV
network. Gathering several connections, including impresario Val Parnell
, the Independent Television Company
was formed to bid for a spot. Although initially rejected due to its size and potential power, it eventually joined with the Associated Broadcasting Development Company to form Associated TeleVision
, which gained ITV bids for both London and Midlands. However, Grade would get his first taste of creating programming for an international audience with The Adventures of Robin Hood
, commissioned by an American producer, yet produced in Britain. Its eventual success would lead Grade to a drive to create and produce for the world, leading to later accusations of making TV "for Birmingham, Alabama, not Birmingham, England." and ATV
's eventual downfall in 1981. Private Eye
regularly referred to Grade as "Low Greed".
Lew Grade is best known by viewing audiences as the man responsible for a number of cult British TV series through his ITC Entertainment
production company. These shows included The Saint
, The Persuaders!
(both starring Roger Moore
prior to his international fame as James Bond
), and two of the most famous works of Patrick McGoohan
: Danger Man
(also known as Secret Agent
in the US) and The Prisoner
. In 1962 he purchased independent production house AP Films
, co-founded by Gerry Anderson
, which produced a string of popular children's marionette adventure series including Supercar
, Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons
, Joe 90
, three feature films, and the live-action sci-fi series UFO
and Space: 1999
. Although supportive of the produced shows, the consistent drive for success at home and abroad led to various artistic differences for Grade with McGoohan and Anderson, leading to the departure of both.
In the mid-1970s, Grade approached American puppeteer Jim Henson
, who was in need of assistance for a new television program. Henson wanted to create a new TV variety show starring his Muppet
characters in the United States, but had been dismissed by the American networks for merely being part of children's shows like Sesame Street
almost agreed to holding the show, but only if it aired during a syndicated block
of its programming and if it were produced by someone else. After watching one of Henson's pilots and recalling a special made in one of his studios, Grade decided to let Henson create his show in England and distribute it through ATV (in the United Kingdom to the ITV network) and ITC (for the United States and worldwide distribution). Grade's action was instrumental in bringing The Muppet Show
to the screen in 1976 and led to its wide success on both sides of the Atlantic and around the world. Henson chose to immortalize the great producer through the character Lew Lord (played by Orson Welles
) in The Muppet Movie
. Some also speculate Muppet Dr. Bunsen Honeydew
is also a caricature of Grade.
Jesus of Nazareth
His other successes as a producer included the award-winning Jesus of Nazareth
(1977), starring Robert Powell
- ironically, as Grade was Jewish (as, of course, was the title character). Grade had unique success in selling to the American market. The mini-series secured a record breaking $12m. He also promoted extravagant 'quality' productions on ATV to prove its equal to BBC TV
, for instance giving over a whole evening schedule to a live broadcast of "Tosca
" from La Scala
starring Maria Callas
Grade's professional life had also intertwined with the famed British rock group The Beatles
during two of their most crucial periods. In 1963, after tough negotiation with Lew's brother Leslie Grade to do so, they performed on the ATV show Sunday Night at the London Palladium
as a Royal Variety Performance
for Queen Elizabeth II
. This was a big moment for the rising band prior to their appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show
and the start of Beatlemania
. But when Grade crossed paths with the group again in 1969, it was under much less friendly terms. Grade and ATV Music Publishing
bought majority share in Northern Songs
, the company that owned nearly all of the Beatles' works. After a fierce battle, Grade and ATV won control of the company while controlling any other song works by Paul McCartney
and John Lennon
between 1964 and 1971. (George Harrison
broke from Northern Songs prior to Grade's acquisition.) ATV would retain control of Northern Songs until 1985, when the company sold the songs to a more controversial owner: Michael Jackson
In 1975, Grade and ITC released the film The Return of the Pink Panther
into theaters with assistance of United Artists
and with director Blake Edwards
and Peter Sellers
in his role of Inspector Clouseau
. Originally conceived as a TV series, Grade saw the potential of reviving the Pink Panther film franchise by turning it into a motion picture. Although there was tremendous controversy with Grade turning the project into a movie, a compromise was eventually made where United Artists would distribute the film in the United States while ITC would distribute for the rest of the world. When the Pink Panther film was a huge hit, it not only revived the franchise (which UA would resume on its own), but also made Grade move into films, hoping to have the same success as he had in television. While having notable films and modest successes in this period, the biggest success would come through 1979's The Muppet Movie
, partially tied to his successful deal with Jim Henson and the popularity of The Muppet Show
. Keeping his ideas about class alongside showmanship, Grade would also become the producer of Ingmar Bergman
films Autumn Sonata
and From the Life of the Marionettes
. Other notable films of the period include other co-releases such as The Boys From Brazil
with 20th Century Fox
starring Laurence Olivier
and Gregory Peck
and Stanley Donen's Movie Movie
with Warner Brothers
In 1980, Grade backed an expensive 'all-star' film version of Clive Cussler's best-seller Raise the Titanic. Released the same year as The Empire Strikes Back, the middle of the original Star Wars trilogy, RTT flopped as audience tastes had changed. In his typical Jewish chutzpah Grade himself remarked that "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic". This and other expensive duds--including Saturn 3 (also 1980) and Legend of the Lone Ranger (released the following year)--marked the end of Grade's involvement with major motion picture production. Amazingly, several of the most critically acclaimed films produced by Grade would come out after the disaster of Raise the Titanic: the Academy Award-winning films On Golden Pond and Sophie's Choice, as well as cult classic The Dark Crystal, which was the final project Jim Henson created in association with Grade and ITC.
After ITC and beyond
In 1980, three events would end up diminishing Grade's star in the production and entertainment world: Jim Henson
's decision to end The Muppet Show
after a successful five year run, the bombing of Raise the Titanic
, and a decision during the ITV
determination for the Midlands region effective 1 January 1982 that ATV
could keep their license under the condition that they remove their connection with Grade and ITC Entertainment. (eventually leading to their rebrand as Central Television
) He eventually stepped down from the company that he had led since the 1950s as it was put through a series of partnerships and mergers. Grade eventually was brought in by Norman Lear
to head the film unit of Embassy Pictures
but was never as influential or successful as he was during his long history in British television and film. (even though he sat through the distribution of important and influential films such as Blade Runner
and This Is Spinal Tap
.) He was also a producer of Andrew Lloyd Webber
's musical Starlight Express
By the mid-1990s, Grade once again returned to ITC, to head the company that he had created for one last time until his death.
He was made a life peer
as Baron Grade
, of Elstree
in the County of Hertfordshire
in 1976, having been knighted
in 1969. He chose Elstree as his territorial designation
not after the famous Elstree Studios
, known at one time as "Britain's Hollywood", but because ATV's studios were also located there, although actually both are located in Borehamwood
Lew Grade would have been 100 years old on Christmas Day
2006. To celebrate his life, BBC Radio 2 produced two one-hour shows which were transmitted at 10pm on 24 and 25 December. The shows were hosted by Sir Roger Moore
and featured interviews with Lady Grade, Lew's niece Anita Land and nephews Michael Grade CBE and Ian Freeman, plus a host of stars.
- Commenting on his expensive flop, Raise the Titanic: "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic."
- "Marriage was the best business deal I ever made. After that, Jesus of Nazareth and The Muppets."
- From Sir Roger Moore - "Anyone who is 88 and can still jump up on the table and do The Charleston...that speaks volumes!"
- "All my shows are great. Some of them are bad, but they are all great."
- "Only twelve apostles? Didn't I tell you I want this thing to be big, big, big!" (To Franco Zefirelli, on the set of 'Jesus of Nazareth')
- "I have a very good sense of what audiences want and expect from movies and television. That's because I'm one of them."
- When asked the answer to 'What is two plus two': "Are you buying or selling ?"