Back in the mists of 2011, I blogged about Malcolm Leach, a legendary if decidedly amoral figure in the on-screen promotion departments of independent television companies in the 1980s, breaking hearts and making trailers for programmes.
I mentioned his exploits included trying to buy a regional ITV franchise and persuading an existing ITV company to rent him a car, then selling it without telling them.
In 2012, someone called Jamie spotted the blog and commented:
I knew Malcolm Leach in the early 1990s and I have many fond memories of him. I just happened to think of him this afternoon – I don’t know why – and so my Googling has led me here. It would be a shame if he were no more, yet no surprise.
The last time I saw Malcolm he was running a pub in Clifton. This would have been around 1993. I went over to visit, with my brother.
Malcolm knew that I liked a drink back then, and he poured me a pint of cider which, in retrospect, was probably about 12%. An elderly gentleman seated at the bar said to me: “If you drink that, you won’t walk out of here.”
Malcolm simply said: “Pay no attention to him, Jamie. He has angina and so may die at any moment.”
He cackled with laughter and lit one of his untipped fags. I drank the cider and another one too. And that is the last memory I have of that day and, sadly, of Malcolm.
Malcolm Leach got around, in more ways than one.
In 2014, itinerant voice-over announcer Keith Martin commented on my blog:
I met Malcolm. It could have been at HTV… but was it at Anglia, TVS or Southern?. Could it have been at Rediffusion or Thames or LWT? Perhaps it was at Border, Channel or even ATV? How about Yorkshire, not forgetting BFBS TV? I wish I could remember. Help!
More recently, ex-promo person Simon Kennedy spotted my blog and commented:
I remember from my time at TEN: The Entertainment Network:
TEN went on air on the night of the 29th of March 1984. The launch party was held at The Kensington Roof Gardens with a feed from the satellite to the screens set up around the room. Industry figures from film and television were on the guest list, as well as our VIP, Superman actor Christopher Reeve.
Champagne flowed as we headed towards the eight o’clock lift-off.
Malcolm had prepared a ‘Countdown to TEN’, featuring clips taken from cinema trailers of movies with numbers in their titles. Ten was “10”, and so on, until seven, which used a clip from Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs.
Standing between me and the monitor were a group of executives from Disney. The moment Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs hit the screen, they went into a huddle and left even before the end of the promo. No-one else seemed to notice this departure and a cheer went up from the guests as we headed into the first film. The festivities kept going into the night.
The next morning we were understandably late into the office, but Malcolm was nowhere to be found. It seems that the previous night, even before the party wrapped up, we received a communication from the Walt Disney company.
Malcolm had not cleared the use of any of the clips assuming that, just because he could rent the trailers from National Screen Service, he could include them. And, with that, he drove another shiny nail into his own coffin.
Disney now demanded that not only did we have to write a grovelling public letter of apology, we also had to put out an announcement on air that day stating we didn’t have the rights to show the clip, that we would not be showing Snow White, nor would we ever be showing Snow White. The hung-over Malcolm was dispatched to make up the announcement and get it on air as soon as possible.
Malcolm lasted a further month at TEN.
Still I ate well – and often – at L’Escargot (the very expensive restaurant) on his expenses.
I thought Simon might have more anecdotes about Malcolm, so I Skyped him. Before talking to him, I looked up Malcolm Leach on the internet and there was a letter in The Guardian in 2001 from him.
Ex-Granada person David Liddiment started at their on-screen Promotion Dept in Manchester (where Malcolm had worked), then became executive producer on Coronation Street 1987-1991, Head of Entertainment at the BBC 1993-1995 and ITV Director of Programmes 1997-2002.
In 2001, he criticised BBC TV for not fulfilling its cultural responsibilities, which Malcolm took exception to. He wrote to The Guardian:
David Liddiment’s remarks put me in mind of Tom Lehrer’s observation that satire died the day Henry Kissinger was awarded the Nobel peace prize.
Having spent my working life in the same medium as David, I have never known him troubled before by such lofty concepts as “soul, individual acts of creation and communication: ideas, scenes and spectacle shared with an entranced and receptive nation”. Having presided over ITV’s slide from the mediocre to the downright pathetic, he is perhaps the last person to start lambasting the BBC.
Malcolm Leach, Bath
So he was alive and thriving in 2001.
And I Skyped Simon Kennedy to see if he knew more…
SIMON: The last time you and I talked was about 30 years ago at TVS.
JOHN: I guess… So… Malcolm was a bit of a character…
JOHN: What are some of the other Malcolm stories?
SIMON: Well, there are a lot of stories you can’t blog about, because some of the people are still alive. (I HAVE CHANGED ALL THE NAMES IN WHAT FOLLOWS)
Dick Waterstone had employed Malcolm at Granada in Manchester and mistakenly took him under his wing. When Dick got the job as Head of Presentation and Promotion at TEN The Entertainment Network, he took Malcolm down to London.
Malcolm had a very pretty young wife whom we met once but who was then bundled up back in the train to Manchester and remained there while Malcolm began to pick off the women friends of his younger promo producers.
There were about three of us in our early twenties. Pete Beacham had a friend called Sarah, whom Malcolm took a fancy to and they were a little bit of an item for a time until she discovered about the wife up in Manchester.
We then had screaming phone calls coming into the TEN offices. “No, Sarah, Malcolm isn’t here right now. No, really.”
To go into an edit suite and watch a man swigging wine and chain-smoking Gitanes at eleven in the morning was something in and of itself. But it was the Disney thing which finally did for him.
JOHN: He seemed to be irresistibly attractive to women for some bizarre reason. Maybe it was the ‘bad boy’ image.
SIMON: It must have been that. He was one of the most remarkably ugly men I can ever remember meeting.
JOHN: I just remember him as being a bit chunky and shapeless.
SIMON: He was a pain-in-the-ass to work for – he was my boss – because he was so mercurial. ‘Hot and cold’ doesn’t even begin to cover it.
The last I heard of him must have been in 1984 when he was given the bum’s rush from TEN and we had one very quick drink before he announced he would be leaving us. He didn’t tell us why. He said he was going to go over and meet his good mate Raúl Castro in Cuba, because he was good friends with ‘the Castro boys’. And that was the last I heard of him. Whether he’s still with us, God only knows.
JOHN: Someone definitively told me he was dead. Though maybe he is going to reappear in Cuba, having conned his way into power. Nothing would surprise me.