Grade of Elstree, Lew Grade, Baron

▪ 1999

      British impresario (b. Dec. 25, 1906, Tokmak, Ukraine, Russian Empire—d. Dec. 13, 1998, London, Eng.), was a flamboyant, indefatigable motion picture, theatrical, and television producer who was one of the most influential personalities in British popular entertainment. Equipped with his signature "security blanket," a huge Havana cigar, he brought to the public such films as The Return of the Pink Panther (1975), On Golden Pond (1981), and Sophie's Choice (1982) and such television series as "Robin Hood," "The Saint," "The Avengers," "Coronation Street," "Sunday Night at the London Palladium," and, perhaps most memorably, "The Muppet Show." Grade dropped out of school at age 14 to help his father in his business. In 1926, however, he won a dance contest and began touring Europe as the world Charleston champion. After alerting show business agents to other acts he deemed talented, he went into the business himself, first with his friend Joe Collins and then, in 1943, after World War II army service, with his brother Leslie. Lew and Leslie Grade Ltd. booked acts at the London Palladium, among them such American imports as Judy Garland, Danny Kaye, and Jack Benny, and by the early 1950s had become Great Britain's largest talent agency. In the mid-1950s Grade invested in Associated Television (ATV), which was in competition with the BBC, and soon joined the company. Presenting light, wholesome entertainment, ATV flourished, and Grade expanded the fare to include lavish historical dramas about Moses and Jesus and productions by the National Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company. In addition, Grade ventured into producing motion pictures. Most were successful, but in 1980 Raise the Titanic, which had cost more than $30 million to make, was a disaster at the box office. This failure prompted one of Grade's most famous quotes, "It would have been cheaper to lower the Atlantic," and made it necessary for him to sell his Associated Communications Corp., which comprised ATV and a number of other entertainment ventures, to Robert Holmes à Court in 1982. Grade thereupon became chairman of Embassy Communications International, a position he held until 1985, when he formed the Grade Co., of which he served as chairman until his death. Grade was knighted in 1969 and made a life peer in 1976.

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Universalium. 2010.

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