By Lewis Chester
Aurum Press, £20
Lew Grade was Mr Showbusiness. Agent, television boss and latterly movie producer, he brought the likes of Louis Armstrong to the London Palladium, The Muppets to the small screen and Sophie’s Choice to the big one.
Exuberant and witty, as an agent he complained that “the clients [Peter Sellers and Spike Milligan among them] got to keep 90 per cent of my earnings.”
His leadership of ATV helped shape commercial TV, introducing Sunday Night at the London Palladium among other variety, game and quiz shows.
This first biography analyses Grade’s legacy, his highs and lows, the political manoeuvring, boardroom battles and the fierce rivalry with his brothers, Leslie Grade (his agency partner) and Bernard Delfont, the theatre impresario.
Born Lovat Winogradsky in Odessa, in 1906, his family moved to London’s Brick Lane in 1912. He anglicised his name to Louis Grad while conquering the dance halls as Charleston world champion, and later to Grade after a French poster misspelt his surname.
Intimate glimpses of the stars pepper the book, including Judy Garland’s constant need for reassurance and the inflated ego of Mario Lanza, the first superstar tenor. Pivotal career moments revealed include Roger Moore nearly missing out on his role as James Bond through being unwilling to do a second series of Grade’s TV hit, The Saint. Grade talked him round.
And, when the blockbuster mini-series, Jesus of Nazareth, was overrunning and Grade suggested cutting lines, the distinguished and irate cast had to be placated by Laurence Olivier, acting as unofficial shop steward.
Some of Grade’s ambitious plans did fall apart, however. An updated classic “road” movie, re-teaming his favourite, Bob Hope, with Bing Crosby, had to be abandoned after Crosby fell into an orchestra pit and slipped his disc while taping an American TV special.
Fans sometimes influenced decisions. Noele Gordon — Meg Richardson in the iconic soap, Crossroads — got a pay rise after sackfuls of letters deluged Grade’s headquarters amid rumours that she was to be sacked.
One of Grade’s major ATV deals still reverberates. In 1969, he bought the publishing rights to John Lennon and Paul McCartney’s back catalogue, which was later sold to Michael Jackson, fuelling the friction that split the group and is still bemoaned by McCartney.
Lewis Chester’s affectionate look at his career suggests that the serial cigar-smoking mogul Grade’s outrageous personality is sorely missed.