Rediffusion Television and The Music Men

Strings player rolls a cigarette


by John McMillan, general manager, Rediffusion, London

The great satisfaction of having a national television responsibility – of being an independent television programme company in this country – is the fascinating variety of activity which presents itself to all who play a part in it. No other medium of communication gives so many opportunities to its board of directors and to the staff responsible, day in and day out, for the operation of the service. By the same token no other medium of communication poses so many problems of decision. The nightly audience is vast, comprising almost every newspaper reader (and some who are not) in our population. They belong in equal proportions to every class and every shade of taste and opinion about what they expect television to give them.

They share just one common view: that having, as an individual or as part of a family group, subscribed to the purchase of a receiver and the annual licence fee they are reasonably entitled to programmes they will like just at the moment they are ready to start viewing. It is rather like expecting a newspaper editor to combine all the distinctive features of all newspapers and many periodicals in one day’s issue.

It is impossible but it is fascinating.

The question is how to organise and to conduct a company which will attempt the impossible and keep on trying every day. Firstly, the temptation to specialise, to do part of the job, must be put aside. That is the clever way out because action can merely be taken to satisfy the vocal, articulate subscribers and thereby stifle effective criticism while creating a superficial reputation for something or other of a worthy or enviable kind.

It will just not do. It is an abdication from responsibility – a breach of an unwritten contract.

Our way – we believe deeply and continuously that it is the right way – is to establish a scale of priorities covering the whole range of real television opportunities and then to make every programme as best we can. To do that we have banded together a creative production staff of dedicated professionals. They do not always succeed – which is another way of saying that they are not always satisfied – but they try and they try as a comprehensive team.

This programme, ‘LSO – The Music Men’, is a typical example of Rediffusion Television in action. It began its formal existence, at least on paper, at a company Board Meeting held at Television House on 10 June 1964. Board meetings are held fortnightly. The senior management officers are there too taking part in the discussions on all aspects of company policy. On this occasion attention turned inevitably to a standing item on the agenda – ‘Grants to Arts and Sciences’. These include gifts of financial subvention to organisations concerned with the presentation direct to the public of serious music and, at that time, Rediffusion’s cash donations had reached a total of £59,000 most of which had gone to the Hallé Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. These cash gifts had been made because the company had come to believe through its experience that direct patronage in material form would be more effective than the broadcasting of concerts to a minority television audience.

It never pays, of course, to be too rigid in the pursuit of a policy. In the minds of all who attended that Board meeting rested a fond hope that one day a means would be found of making music intriguing to a large television audience in a broadcast programme. Consequently when one of the Directors proposed that a fresh attempt be made there was a ready response. The job was turned over to the Programme department where Peter Morley, one of its producers, immediately rose to the challenge and soon proposed three alternative programme treatments after consultation with four of his colleagues who were, although not musicians, deeply interested in the problem.

The particular proposal which was finally chosen was, at that time, conceived and described as a half-hour programme. It is interesting and typical that enthusiasm throughout the company for the project has resulted in a final running time of 58 minutes! And whereas in the beginning it was merely intended to produce it for television audiences in this country, business arrangements have now been made with the performers to enable it to be shown throughout the world on any television station and in any cinema theatre which cares to acquire it.

Therefore it is not surprising that the production budget has multiplied by four times in the inevitable course of the programme’s evolution and aspirations. It now remains to be seen on 22 September whether 14 months of work and worry, intermixed with many moments of sheer enjoyment, have justified the effort and the speculation of time and much money.

Whatever happens – whatever the public and critical reaction – we shall at least have the satisfaction of knowing that once again, in one of the many fields of activity which challenge us, we all tried – from board room to studio floor.