Michael Grade, of the legendary Grade and Delfont entertainment dynasty, is eyeing up the West End as his next conquest.
Should we be scared?
Andrew Lloyd Webber, who owns a number of London theatres and has recently talked about his keenness to divest of a few, is in talks to sell four venues: the New London, where War Horse is currently playing, the Palace (Priscilla Queen of the Desert), the Cambridge (Chicago) and Her Majesty’s (The Phantom of the Opera).
It is believed that the theatres would be bought for around £50 million by a consortium led by Grade, theatre agent Michael Linnit and financial backers.
The package of theatres doesn’t include the three flagship venues of the group: the Adelphi, currently home to Lloyd-Webber’s musical Love Never Dies, the Theatre Royal Drury Lane and the London Palladium.
Michael Grade’s family history is entwined with London theatre, with his uncle Lew Grade staging Sunday Night at the London Palladium in the 1950s and 60s for his ATV network. Michael has recently recorded a Radio 2 history of the venue timed for its centenary this December.
His uncle Bernard Delfont converted the London Hippodrome into the Talk of the Town restaurant in 1958, bringing in a host of entertainers including Frank Sinatra, Eartha Kitt and Judy Garland, and staging the Folies Bergère. In the early 1990s Bernard Delfont struck a deal with Cameron Mackintosh to take on his Prince Edward and Prince of Wales theatres, creating the company Delfont Mackintosh, which today owns seven West End theatres.
But in the last few years Michael Grade’s ability to run leisure and entertainment companies has come under fierce criticism. He took over Bernard Delfont’s First Leisure Corporation, set up with Max Payne, in 1997, leaving in 1999 after a turbulent few years. He received harsh criticism from Delfont’s widow, Lady Delfont, who told the Daily Telegraph in 1999 that, “At no time did we understand that Michael Grade’s job was to asset-strip a thriving company.”
His recent tenure at ITV was largely believed to have been unsuccessful, and as Chairman of Pinewood Shepperton studios he is currently facing calls to step down by one of its leading investors, the funds group Crystal Amber, charged with an unconvincing performance since the company floated six years ago and a lack of adequate direction.
Lloyd Webber has been slowly divesting of his theatre assets. In 2005 Really Useful sold four theatres to Nimax Theatres – the Lyric, Apollo, Garrick and Duchess for £11.5 million. And in a frank interview with the Daily Mail in July, Lloyd Webber talked of the stress involved in keeping the theatres going and the large debt owed on them: “We’ve got an overdraft of about £100 million against the theatres, which is too much… it’s simply beyond me.”
Let’s hope these precious assets are not beyond Michael Grade.