HE was the leader who inspired a television generation in Granada’s glory days at Hollywood-on-Irwell.
David Plowright liked a good party – and he would have loved the one thrown in his honour last night.
The former Granada chairman, who died last August at the age of 75, was remembered at the London Television Studios on the South Bank.
It was a moving and uplifting event, full of tributes.
And with new ITV executive chairman Michael Grade the last to speak, it also stirred the very soul of British television.
Younger readers may never have heard of David. But don’t let that put you off learning about an extraordinary man who led a golden age of Manchester TV.
There’s a report in today’s MEN…but more to tell below.
Family, friends, colleagues and TV stars were there for a series of speeches, films and a concluding jazz band-led chorus of: “For He’s A Jolly Good Fellow.”
Among those singing along were former Coronation Street actresses Thelma Barlow and Anne Reid, Brideshead Revisited star Diana Quick, plus Geraldine James and Tim Pigott-Smith from The Jewel In The Crown and Dame Maggie Smith.
David was the man behind Brideshead Revisited – arguably the greatest British TV drama of all time – and The Jewel In The Crown.
He was also a crucial figure in the history of World In Action, Coronation Street and countless other programmes.
Coronation Street star Bill Roache, who has played Ken Barlow since 1960, described it as an “emotional evening”.
He told me: “Everyone remembers him with tremendous affection. He was a man of great judgement, a good programme maker and we all miss him tremendously.
“David wasn’t just the head man at Granada, he was a friend and he was approachable. You just loved him.”
Former World In Action editor Ray Fitzwalter told how David first joined Granada via an interview with Sidney Bernstein, co-founder of the TV company.
“To get in, David had to pass a rather difficult test. In interview, Sidney Bernstein asked him the impossible question designed to flummox: ‘How much margarine goes through the Manchester Ship Canal each year?’
‘2,000 tons,’ said Plowright, quick as a flash. ‘Quite right,’ said Bernstein, who didn’t know either. They would, of course, get on very well.”
Then there was the day the Queen came to Weatherfield.
“When the royal couple arrived, David had the job of escorting the Duke of Edinburgh. But I can tell you he got out of control, because he spotted Bet Lynch, who was wearing what could only be described as a most assertive brassiere.
“It was fashioned out of a Union Jack and the Duke stepped up close, peered down and he said, ‘New shoes, I see.’
“In 1990 a queen of a different sort came to the Street and Margaret Thatcher was her name.
“She stepped into the Rovers Return, she saw Hilda Ogden and said, ‘My name is Hilda too and I’d like to play the part.’ And a little voice at her elbow, one David Plowright, said, ‘And what’s more, you’ll shortly be available.’
“David was a festival of a man, He had a whole range of qualities that tell us a great deal about him – fun and mischief, independence and non-conformism. He had courage, realism, vision and style. And he had a personal dignity and a concern for others.”
Ray concluded: “I ask you all to note that the age of vulgarities and the time of the fiscal puritans may be drawing to a close.
“The many creative lessons that David bequeathed to all of us may have their day again.”
Other speakers included ex-Granada executive Lord Gus Macdonald, who recalled an international television conference where Granada was acclaimed as the best commercial TV station in the world. “It certainly felt like that to me,” he commented.
Brideshead Revisited producer Derek Granger told the gathering that without David, the award-winning 1981 drama would never have reached the screen.
And in a taped tribute, former Granada chairman Sir Denis Forman summed up his late colleague and friend as “a great producer, a great television executive, and a great man”.
Michael Grade said: “As I embark on my second stint at ITV, I am acutely aware that the spirit of David Plowright is as relevant today as it ever was.
“It’s a much tougher world these days, as David, I’m sure, would have been the first to recognise.
“But you have to go on believing what David believed – that the audience is not stupid, that quality and popularity are not mutually exclusive qualities. Be ahead of the tastes of your audience, not behind.”
He added: “I will do my best to rekindle his passion for programmes and programme makers.
“His impact on British television must never be forgotten, and it never will be forgotten. The high reputation of British television, its central role in the life of the nations and regions owes much to David Plowright.
* David’s actress sister Dame Joan Plowright (pictured above) remembered her brother with a poem called Definition Of A Successful Life:
To laugh often and much
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children
To earn the approval of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends
To appreciate beauty
To find the best in others
To make the world a bit better, whether by leaving a healthy child, a garden plot or an esteemed body of work
To know that even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
The Jewel In The Crown
World In Action