Sir Jeremy Isaacs: If I had to start again...

It may have been natural to become an MP. I enjoyed being involved in politics at Oxford and, having studied Classics, I had no idea what else to do. The general secretary of the Labour Party in Scotland put me right: five tough questions demonstrated that I knew absolutely nothing about anything. But I had enjoyed being present when figures like Nye Bevan and Clement Attlee spoke, so I thought of a job in TV.

by Sir Jeremy Isaacs
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

In 1958 I was hired as a researcher by Granada where, among other things, I wrote the weather forecast. I mentioned anti-cyclones and was told: 'We don't use words like that here, it's either wet or dry.' I thought that was marvellous - it didn't matter that you could translate a line or two of Homer; what mattered was that you could communicate. I quickly realised I wanted to use the medium to explain the world to people. After only 18 months at Granada I was producing What the Papers Say.

Making programmes is one of my two great satisfactions. The other is creating the space in which others can fulfil their potential. I am hugely proud of The World at War, but when I say I 'made' it, the truth is it took 50 people three years to make.

The most exciting and difficult thing I ever had to do was get Channel 4 off the ground. We started with an almost blank piece of paper, and we had an absolute whale of a time doing things no-one had done before. Setting it up was far more exciting and rewarding than just keeping it on an even keel, so I put in to become director general of the BBC. When I didn't get that, I went to the Royal Opera House - the biggest gamble I ever took.

I've never regretted that move, but it came at a time of appalling under-funding of the arts. Perhaps that's easier than having lavish resources. Who knows? No-one in the creative industries has ever had lavish resources.

Sir Jeremy Isaacs was founding chief executive of Channel 4 and director of the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.

Find this article useful?

Get more great articles like this in your inbox every lunchtime

What's the most useful word in a leader’s vocabulary?

It's not ‘why’, says Razor CEO Jamie Hinton.

Why collaborations fail

Collaboration needn’t be a dirty word.

How redundancies affect culture

There are ways of preventing 'survivor syndrome' derailing your recovery.

What they don't tell you about inclusive leadership

Briefing: Frances Frei was hired to fix Uber’s ‘bro culture’. Here’s her lesson for where...

Should you downsize the office?

Many businesses are preparing for a 'hybrid' workplace.

How to make your team more accountable

‘Do as I do’ works a lot better than ‘do as I say’.