Michael Grade’s Ofcom appointment seals long career in broadcasting

Michael Grade, the Tory peer who has been put forward as the government’s choice to chair the broadcasting regulator Ofcom, is one of the most familiar behind-the-scenes figures in British TV.

Lord Grade was born into a royal family of UK showbusiness. His father, Leslie, was an agent who booked stars such as Bob Hope, his uncle Lew was one of the founders of ITV and his uncle Bernard – a Delfont – was a theatre mogul and one-time boss of the record business EMI.

Once known for his red braces and fat cigars, the 79-year-old’s appointment as Ofcom chair follows a long stint of top broadcasting roles in a career spanning four decades. He has worked at the BBC, ITV and Channel 4, where he was nicknamed “the pornographer in chief” after he sanctioned controversial late-night programmes such as The Word, Eurotrash and Dyke TV.

Born in 1943, Grade began his media career in 1960 as a journalist and sports columnist at the Daily Mirror. After a stint in theatre management, he switched back to media to work in entertainment programming at London Weekend Television.

After a relatively short spell in the US, where he cruised Los Angeles in an open-top pink Cadillac, Grade returned in 1984 to become controller of BBC One. There he changed early-evening viewing habits with EastEnders and Neighbours.

In 1988, he moved to Channel 4 as chief executive, where the occasionally racy programming prompted the Daily Mail to give him the nickname Britain’s “pornographer-in-chief”.

One of the most notorious incidents of his career occurred at Channel 4 when he became involved in a dispute with the iconoclast satirist Chris Morris over his Brass Eye series. Grade reportedly repeatedly intervened in the production to order edits to various episodes. Morris ultimately responded by inserting a frame stating “Grade is a cunt” into its final episode.

While chief executive of Channel 4, he campaigned against its privatisation, but has changed his mind in recent years and spoken out in favour of the proposal.

In 1997, he quit Channel 4. After time as chief executive of bingo giant First Leisure and chair of Pinewood Studios, Grade returned to the BBC in 2004 as chairman.

The BBC looked like a job until retirement, but in 2006 Grade was dramatically lured to ITV, on a mission to restore its fortunes. He left three years later, however, accused by some of failing to produce the expected string of entertainment hits.

In the Grade years, the shares at ITV plunged 50% and its cash-strapped rival Virgin Media considered a takeover, which forced Sky to snap up a 17% stake to block the deal.

Grade, however, insists his stint at ITV was a success because the broadcaster survived the recession, without a cash call on investors, and built shows such as Britain’s Got Talent and The X-Factor.

Grade revealed his membership of the Conservative party for the first time in May 2010. On 25 January 2011, he was created a life peer, as Lord Grade of Yarmouth.

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