Lew Grade Part 1: the early years 

1 September 2004 tbs.pm/2278

In the early days of Independent Television, many of those running the fledgling channel seemed to have a much higher profile than those running ITV today. As the network approaches its half-century, those running it are only really known to those who read the City pages or the trade press.

Yet during the 1950s and 1960s, those running larger stations such as ABC, ATV and Granada were familiar names to viewers, while even smaller stations such as Westward were capable of producing formidable personalities.

But of all the personalities the channel produced in its formative years, arguably one man stood above them all, a man who Roger Moore said was “larger than life, even though I doubt he [was] even five feet nine.”

BBC’s “ATV Night” called him “The Persuader”, Patrick McGoohan said he was “rightfully Sir Lew Grade, rightfully thereafter, Lord Grade,” while to Roger Moore he was simply “Mr. Television.”

Yet ironically, Lew Grade initially took some persuading to become part of ITV, and the Independent Television Authority turned down his company’s first application for a broadcasting licence.

As shown in the credits to an interview with his nephew Michael on “ATV Night”, the man who would become Lew Grade was born Louis Winogradsky on 25 December 1906, in the village of Tokmak, near Odessa, in what is now the Ukraine.

The pogroms that swept Russia forced many Jews to flee the country, and the Winogradskys were one such family. In fact, some of the family was already there when Louis’ parents made the decision to leave, since three of his mother’s brothers had emigrated to London in 1909.

The family, Isaac and Golda, the five-year-old Louis and his younger brother Boris arrived in Brick Lane in the East End in 1912. Like many Jewish immigrants, Isaac Winogradsky entered the rag trade, initially as a presser and then later as a mechanic.

Two years after the family arrived in England, Golda’s brother Herschell helped them move out of Brick Lane and into the Henley Buildings in Shoreditch where he himself lived. It was at this time that the eight-year-old Louis attended his first school, the Rochelle Street School. Until now, he’d mainly spoken Russian and a little Yiddish and his poor grasp of English caused him to be “somewhat humiliated” and placed in a class of four- to six-year-olds.

However, blessed with a photographic memory, he quickly progressed and within six months he’d learned enough English to move into the main boys’ school. He was also developing a talent for figures, with arithmetic being his favourite subject.

Whilst at Rochelle Street, Louis was entered for a scholarship to Parameters College in London, which he passed. However, the London County Council refused permission for him to accept it since Isaac had never been naturalised and the family wasn’t British. Nevertheless, the school celebrated his achievement by giving everyone a half-day holiday.

Three further scholarship exams followed, all of which Louis passed but none of which he was allowed to accept. However, at least the half-day holidays awarded after each pass made him popular with his fellow pupils!

Just before he was due to leave the school, Louis was entered for a final scholarship, which took place at the People’s Palace on the Mile End Road. It was three months before the results were known, and in the meantime the family had moved once more, to 10 Grafton Street.

Out of four hundred who had taken the exam, only one person had got the compulsory sum correct – Louis. As a result, the LCC finally waived their objection over his citizenship and offered him the scholarship.

However, he never accepted his place. Living opposite the family’s home in Grafton Street was a man called Alfred Goldstein, who worked for a booking agent for the Savoy Hotel. Goldstein suggested to Louis’ parents that he’d be better off getting some practical work experience instead of returning to school.

They agreed, and Louis joined a company called Tew and Raymond, who manufactured women’s clothing. He stayed there for about eighteen months before deciding to go into the embroidery business with his father Isaac.

Winogradsky and Son quickly developed into a “thriving little business”, but Isaac was also a gambler and much of the money the company earned went into paying off his gambling debts.

By now, Louis had developed a passion for dancing. One night, Sid Starr, whose father was a tailor in the factory next to Winogradsky and Son’s, invited him to the East Ham Palais de Dance. Louis had nothing better to do, and at least the dance provided the opportunity to meet some girls.

Once again, his photographic memory helped him, as he quickly learned the steps to various dances. Louis was always far better at the faster dances than the slower ones, which stood him in good stead when the Charleston became popular.

He quickly mastered the new craze, and Sid Starr persuaded him to enter a competition at the Ilford Hippodrome. The first prize was £25, and Louis was confident of winning it until he saw The Rubens, a brother-and-sister act who had just returned from winning the European Charleston Championship in Paris.

Persuaded to go for a drink – lemonade, as he wasn’t a drinker – in the pub opposite, Louis suddenly had the idea for a new step, which he later called the ‘crossover.’ Sid Starr and several other friends suggested that he include the new step in his routine for the final.

Back at the Hippodrome, The Rubens went on before Louis once again and got a tremendous ovation. Louis’ act was well received, but to nothing like the same degree, until about a minute in when he went into the ‘crossover’ step he’d invented in the pub earlier.

The crowd were ecstatic, and Louis won the title of Charleston Champion of London and the first prize of £25. More importantly, he’d decided on his future.

Louis Winogradsky was going into the entertainment business.

A Transdiffusion Presentation

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