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16 - In Make-Up or Munich

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  09 April 2021

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Summary

ON MARCH 1ST 1975, ten years to the day from when I was made Head of the new Music and Arts Department back in the 1960s, I resumed that post at the BBC. After my somewhat precipitate exit in 1967, the Music and Arts departments had been headed by separate bosses, John Culshaw and Stephen Hearst. I was originally wooed back to run BBC's Arts Features department, which was in disarray since the resignation of Stephen's successor in the post, Norman Swallow. Plans changed early in 1975 when John Culshaw decided he had had enough of being a BBC boss and would resign, so my old department combining Music and Arts could be restored to me in its entirety.

I selected John Drummond to be my overall deputy. Apparently he had applied to have the arts job himself but Huw Wheldon was not a fan (or so John felt) and what was worse (and unbeknown to me), a group of Kensington House producers had sent a round robin to management opposing John's appointment: nobody doubted his intellectual ability but in those days his man-management skills were still being polished. As a temporary measure Mike Wooller had been named Acting Head of Arts and my arrival did not go down well with him either: I was seen as the prodigal son receiving unduly favoured treatment when he came home. All things considered, it was important for me to establish my authority early on. My standing as a presenter was a known factor: I had been on the screen hosting Aquarius virtually every week for five years. But being a boss was a different ball game so I arranged to address the department a month before I took over. Inwardly I was terrified by the proceedings. About 120 producers, directors, researchers and PAs squeezed into the basement meeting room at Kensington House. I knew maybe a quarter of them from my first spell as departmental head back in the early 1960s. I asked in advance for everybody to write me a brief note about themselves, from which I learnt that the room was full of unhappy colleagues who distrusted the management, weren't getting the transmission slots they deserved and had wonderful programme ideas that were being ignored.

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Humphrey Burton In My Own Time
An Autobiography
, pp. 319 - 346
Publisher: Boydell & Brewer
Print publication year: 2021

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