Obituary: Lord Bernstein of Craigweil

Former chairman of Granada empire, with a passion for theatre and contemporary art

Born: 15 March, 1936, in London.

Died: 13 April, 2010, in London, aged 74.

ALEXANDER Bernstein was born into a hugely successful family and groomed for control of one of the largest family-run businesses in the UK, but he was happier dealing with works of art than prime-time television.

Bernstein was the son of Cecil and nephew Sidney Bernstein, founders of Granada. He was brought up near Bognor Regis and educated at Stowe School before studying economics at St John's College, Cambridge.

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During his early life his father and uncle had been expanding the family business at an impressive rate. Bernstein's grandfather had left his four sons the family building business plus two music halls, which doubled-up as cinemas. They made a bold move to sell the building operations and concentrate on films.

As the company grew it became evident that a branding was required; the company needed a name that conjured up an image of paradise and luxury. Sidney hit upon the name Granada after a family holiday in Spain and by 1935 the company was on the stock exchange.

By the time the young Alex Bernstein had completed his degree Granada Ltd was massive. It had been awarded the ITV north franchise in 1954 and a new chain of television rental stores had opened as part of the group in 1959.

His first position out of university was as a cinema assistant manager in London's Brixton in 1959. He then moved north as a production trainee at Granada TV, Manchester in 1961. He married his first wife, Vanessa Mills, in 1962 before beginning a stint as a junior researcher, then was seconded to corporate responsibilities.

He became managing director of Granada TV rental in 1964, before being elevated to chairman some time later. He then moved on to the position of joint managing director of Granada Television before taking over from his uncle, Sidney, as chairman of the Granada Group.

Sidney's Granada TV had built a reputation for making ground-breaking programmes, from Coronation Street to University Challenge. The cinema chain was all over the south of England and had been joined by bingo halls, motorway service stations and a publishing house.

Bernstein's approach to company management was very different to his uncle's. Sidney Bernstein was an entrepreneur extraordinaire who adopted a very hands-on role in the building and running of his empire. His attention to detail was well known, as was his insistence that there was no excuse for wastage.

Alex Bernstein was ill at ease in the bright lights of UK media domination. A quiet, thoughtful individual, he gained a reputation for a high level of integrity. He was also intellectual and could have excelled in the world of academia had the family not come calling.

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However, he continued the expansion of the group away from the television franchise of ITV, consuming the competition to create a media enterprise eventually worth 4 billion.

The early 1990s proved a testing time for Bernstein and the Granada Group, leading to the sale of the company's building blocks – the cinemas and the bingo halls – in order to finance further ventures in to satellite broadcasting. It was a period that put Bernstein's own position in jeopardy, but he weathered the storm and brought in a new chief executive, Irish accountant Gerry Robinson.

Robinson immediately set out his stall, upsetting a substantial proportion of the television industry by drastically reducing spending by Granada studios. The unpopular move strengthened the company, and by the time Bernstein retired in 1996 after 32 years, he had handed over the chair to Robinson, and London Weekend Television and the Forte Hotel's group had been added to the portfolio.

Granada was now Bernstein-less for the first time in its history. Seemingly glad to be out of the fold, Alex turned down the opportunity to remain as president, declaring that he was "leaving Granada on a high". He had married his second wife, Angela Serota, in 1995 and it was evident that he felt a change was required in both his working and personal lives.

Bernstein carried on the family tradition of supporting the Labour Party. When in 2000 he received a life peerage, Lord Bernstein of Craigweil, it was suggested that the title was awarded as recompense for the financial support he had given Tony Blair's private office.

Bernstein dismissed this as a "curious concept" stating that his peerage had led to at least as much work as he had ever contributed to business.

His major passions were the arts, theatre and collectable contemporary art. He was chairman of the Royal Exchange Theatre and the Old Vic in Manchester and London respectively. He also founded the Quercus Trust, a charity supporting young theatre directors and performers, and was also a trustee of the Theatres Trust.

His impressive private art collection included works by Roy Lichtenstein, Jasper Johns and Kenneth Noland. He was a director and co-owner of the Waddington Galleries in Cork Street, London from 1966.

Bernstein was a keen skier and enjoyed gardening.

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Alex Bernstein, Lord Bernstein of Craigweil, died as a result of a heart condition.. He is survived by his second wife and his son and daughter from his first marriage.