Michael was born into the famous showbusiness ‘The Grades’ family. He went on to have a highly successful career as an Agent, Broadcaster TV Executive and Chairman of several media companies. He is now an engaging motivational business keynote speaker focusing on sales, marketing, leadership, strategy and business change, Michael was educated at Stowe and St Dunstan’s College.
He started as a sports columnist on the Daily Mirror from 1960-66, then moved into showbusiness as an Agent and eventually became joint Managing Director of London Management (Talent Agency). He worked alongside Billy Marsh, who had discovered, among others, Bruce Forsyth, Morecambe and Wise and Norman Wisdom, Michael learnt to put together variety shows and to manage the finances. Gradually, Michael built a talent list that was to prove useful when he was tempted into the medium of television, with the offer of head of light entertainment at London Weekend Television (LWT).
In 1973 he became Head of Entertainment and Director of Programmes at London Weekend Television, After a faltering start with the two editions of A Special Tommy Steele (ITV, 20/1/1973, 7/4/1973) and a John Curry ice-skating spectacular, he produced the successful Two’s Company (1975-79), a comedy vehicle for Elaine Stritch and Donald Sinden, and the black working-class comedy, The Fosters (1976-77), which launched Lenny Henry and Norman Beaton. When Cyril Bennett tragically died, Grade was made director of programmes by the new managing director, Brian Tesler. In this post he went on to launch The South Bank Show (1978- ) and The Professionals (1977-83); to learn the art of scheduling in the federal ITV system; and to deal with both the powerful unions and the regulatory body, the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA). He attempted to dislodge BBC’s Match of the Day, which dominated the Saturday night schedule, with a daring £5 million bid for exclusive rights to football, called by the press ‘snatch of the day’. Although the high-octane row that followed restored the programme to the BBC, the BBC was forced to agree alternation rights with ITV for all key sporting events.
In 1981, he moved to the United States to become President of Embassy Television seduced by the lure of Hollywood and better financial prospects as president of Embassy TV, an independent American production company making situation comedies. But he found the relentless high-pressure salesmanship dispiriting and missed the responsibility for a broad range of programme production. It was here that he developed his trademark accoutrements: big cigars, red socks and braces.
He joined the BBC as Controller, BBC One in September 1984, and in conjunction with these duties he became Director of Programmes, Television (June 1986) commissioning BBC’s first soap ‘EastEnders’(1985) ‘Wogan’ (1984) and cancelling ‘Dr Who’. He went on to Managing Director Designate in 1987 and BBC Chairman in 2004. In January 1988 Michael Grade took up the post of Chief Executive at Channel 4 Television.
In March 1995 he was appointed Non-Executive Chairman of First Leisure Corporation plc. At the end of January 1997, his appointment as Executive Chairman of First Leisure was confirmed and he took up his position on 2 June 1997. In October 1998 on the appointment of a Non-Executive Chairman, he became Chief Executive and oversaw the restructuring of the Company.
Since leaving First Leisure, Michael Grade has become Chairman of the Octopus Publishing Group, as well as Chairman of Pinewood Studios Ltd. At the end of January 2000, he joined the Board of the Camelot Group, which currently operates the National Lottery licence as well as Ocado. In March 2000 he was made Chairman of Hemscott.NET, a leading supplier of business and investment information over the Internet. He has also become a Non-Executive Director of digital octopus.
In 1997 he was appointed Chairman of the Royal National Theatre Development Council and also became a Director of The New Millennium Experience Company. He is a member of the Council of the Royal Albert Hall. In April 2000 he became Chairman of Index on Censorship.
Michael Grade was awarded a CBE in the 1998 New Year’s Honours. He stepped down from ITV at the end of 2009, and from Ocado in 2013. He in the last four years he has presented entertainment documentaries for the BBC on aspects showbusiness in particular Comedy & Variety.
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Matthew Willetts MA is the Director of Comicus who has over 35 years experience in television, film, theatre, and comedy club/cabaret entertainment, working as a performer, screenwriter, producer and agent. He lectured at Southampton Solent University in Comedy, Screenwriting, Television, Theatre & Radio. Matthew can sometimes be seen and heard on TV & Radio and often quoted in the national press and media publications. As well as speaking regularly at festivals and industry conferences, he has been a judge at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and the Montreux Television Festival.
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