David Rose obituary by Simon Farquhar

David Rose. Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(Below is Simon Farquhar’s obituary of David Rose, which is published in The Times today, 24th Feb 2017. Thanks to Simon for sharing the full copy of his article.)

When David Rose was appointed the BBC’s Head of English Regions Drama in 1971, with a noble brief to “find new writers in the regions and nurture them”, the Head of Plays waved him off to the new Pebble Mill studios in the badlands of Birmingham saying “you will come to our weekly meetings, won’t you?” Shrewdly, Rose replied “thank you, but no. I don’t want to know what you’re doing, and I don’t want you to know what I’m doing”.

It was typical of what made him an adored man, a wise and altruistic professional with a Father Christmas beard, a twinkling eye and a boundless enthusiasm for drama, stories and, crucially, storytellers. Softly spoken and broad minded, he was a quiet giant who gave a voice to those with new and dangerous things to say, driven, unlike many other pioneering forces in television drama of the time, not by politics but purely by principles, and known to chew his handkerchief in anxious moments. His ten years at Pebble Mill are now the stuff of television legend and a wonderland for the tv historian to explore. On his watch, that building became a powerhouse of innovation and unpredictability; young talent such as David Hare, Willy Russell and Stephen Frears made the place “the British film industry in waiting”.

Born in Swanage, Dorset, David Edward Rose and his sister Daphne lived over the jeweller’s shop his parents ran in the High Street. He inherited their love of music and his mother’s interest in amateur dramatics; his uncle had also set up the first cinema in town. After Kingswood School in Bath and war service with the RAF, during which he undertook 34 flying missions in a Lancaster Bomber, he took a year out in Cannes. After watching Michael Powell explaining film rushes at the end of a day’s shooting on The Red Shoes, he aimed at becoming a director. He studied at Guildhall School of Music and Drama, then worked in repertory theatre for five years, firstly as an actor at the Royal Hippodrome in Preston, where he met his first wife, Valerie Edwards, and then as a stage manager at Sadler’s Wells, before joining the BBC in 1954 as an assistant floor manager.

In his first week, he worked on the now-legendary Rudolph Cartier production of 1984. He later transferred to Elwyn Jones’ Dramatised Documentary Unit, where his first credit as a television director, Medico (1959), about the service that offered emergency medical advice to those at sea, won that year’s Prix Italia. Rose was fond of relating how, after the prize giving, he said to a man at the bar “Hello, I’m David Rose, a producer”. The man replied “hello, I’m Samuel Beckett”. Rose met Gracie Fields on the same trip, and said he always regretted not introducing them.

The following year he launched Z Cars, a series it is impossible to overstate the importance of in television history. It brought a new immediacy to television drama and believed that “a police thriller could be a work of art”, something television is only now, over half a century later, realising again. The pressure of live broadcasts was immense; on one occasion, when actor James Ellis had broken his foot, Rose, out of shot, carried him from one high stool to another, to give the illusion that the actor was delivering his lines standing up.

Director of Television David Attenborough would later say that appointing Rose as Head of English Regions Drama was one of the best decisions he ever made. The triumphant debut, Peter Terson’s The Fishing Party (1972), a story of three Leeds miners on holiday, was an authentic, unpretentious, home-grown treat. After its broadcast, Managing Director of Television Huw Wheldon telephoned Rose and said “if that’s what you’re going to do boyo, that’s alright by me”.

Plays with fire followed this beguiling start; incendiary half-hours such as James Robson’s magnificent Girl (1974), in which Alison Steadman and Myra Francis gave British television its first lesbian kiss, were history in the making. A Touch of Eastern Promise (1973) was the first drama on British television with an entirely Asian cast; the soap opera Empire Road (1978) was another first, written, acted and directed predominantly by black artists, set in one racially diverse street in Birmingham.

Nowhere on television before or since has the “right to fail” principle been so fearlessly executed. Rose loved discovering writers with no screen experience; “some people thought this was mad, but I thought it was great. They come with no baggage”, he explained. “Every day of my working life depended on writers. The BBC used to do audience satisfaction surveys, and you had to score a figure as close to 72 as possible to keep the bosses happy. I didn’t agree. If it was a low figure, I thought that was good. I don’t want to make it easy for the viewer. I don’t like them to know what’s coming”.

Although some of Birmingham’s output was commissioned by London, there was a kitty of development money which allowed him to make things without having to ask permission. This was how he got something as wild as The Ken Campbell Road Show on the air, and other works that could be called courageous and adventurous; he knew a keen as mustard young director like Matthew Robinson was just the person to hand a script like Eric Coltart’s Doran’s Box (1976) to. “I don’t understand it, it’s about a man who shoots at aeroplanes”, Rose said. Whatever was inside that puzzle box remained a mystery for the small number of head-scratchers who watched the finished piece, but we had fun trying to find out.

Rose had far more respect for his audience than his superiors. He had to fight constantly for his survival within the BBC, and had his fair share of hot potatoes: Philip Martin’s savage Gangsters (1975), Watson Gould’s blistering feminist attack on a patriarchal society, The Other Woman (1976), Malcolm Bradbury’s concupiscent The History Man (1981) and a planned-then-banned production of Ian McEwan’s Solid Geometry. But there was also Mike Leigh’s Nuts in May (1976), Alan Bleasdale’s The Black Stuff (1978) and the film he was most proud of, Penda’s Fen (1974) by David Rudkin, one of the richest and most sophisticated works ever produced for television. At its simplest, the story of a teenage boy’s awakening to the English landscape surrounding him, its potent blend of folklore, folk horror, questions of personal and national identity, environmental concerns, sexuality and religion made for a bewitching brew, interweaved with the music of Rose’s favourite composer, Elgar.

The days of pockets of anarchy at the BBC were coming to an end as the 1980s ushered in new threats to autonomy and artistic integrity. Rose was two years off retirement when Jeremy Isaacs invited him to become Head of Fiction at the new Channel 4.

It was an Indian summer for him. In his first year there, he produced 20 feature films; the previous year there had been just 21 made in Britain as a whole, only two of which were British. Over eight years, he approved the making of 136 films in total, the advantage over the films made for the BBC being that some had the chance of a theatrical release. High profile successes included My Beautiful Launderette (1983) and Mona Lisa (1986). And fiction didn’t only mean films: he also commissioned a soap opera like no other, Brookside (1982), a breeding ground for writers such as Jimmy McGovern and Frank Cottrell Boyce.

Some disapproved of Film on Four, claiming it betrayed television drama by diverting funds into a moribund film industry. But it allowed strange, wonderful work to be produced and gave a transfusion of faith into British movie-making. As we salute the arrival of T2 Trainspotting we should remember that it, like its predecessor, was backed by Film4. In 1987, Rose received the Roberto Rossellini Award in Cannes for Channel 4’s “services to cinema”, a remarkable and deeply significant achievement.

His appetite for new people and places was a personal as well as a professional virtue; in his later years, having read that if you make a new friend you extend your life by a week, he made a point of getting to know new people, be it in the street, at a bus stop or at a concert. Director Tony Smith says that “he could be irascible, infuriatingly dilatory, he said ‘garn’ and ‘goff’ instead of ‘gone’ and ‘golf’. He was patrician, but a benevolent and self-challenging one. And we all loved him”.

His domestic life was a busy business: married three times, lastly to producer Karin Bamborough, who had been his assistant at Channel 4, he made his own huge family as harmonious a place as Pebble Mill had been; domestic life was often carried out to a classical soundtrack which he would usually be caught conducting around the house or at the wheel of his car. His passion for music and drama was passed on to his nine children, one becoming a jazz musician and another becoming a producer. At 89 he made his debut short film, Friend or Foe, which explored his experience of Parkinson’s Disease. It won him a Mervyn Peake Award.

When he received a BFI fellowship in 2010, Head of Film and Drama at Channel 4, Tessa Ross, announced that “you are in my head all of the time, as I try and protect that precious place”. Tony Smith recalls how “towards the end of his time at Birmingham he took a sabbatical. Some months after his return, he asked me: ‘English Regions Drama – have we succeeded, really?” I answered him at length, ticking off all the positives.  He made no comment.  As I was leaving, I said, ‘You know, when you were gone, we were afraid you wouldn’t come back’.

He had returned then, but he will never be replaced.

David Edward Rose, producer, born 22 November, 1924; Swanage, Dorset, married 1st, 1952, Valerie Edwards (d 1966); three sons three daughters; 2nd, 1966, Sarah Reid (marriage dissolved, 1988); one daughter and one stepson, one stepdaughter adopted; 3rd, 2001, Karin Bamborough, died Hackney, London, 27th January 2017

Simon Farquhar

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Second City Firsts screenings Sun 24 April 2016

copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There is a series of screenings at the Midlands Arts Centre on Sunday 24 April 2016, starting at 2pm, as part of the Flatpack Film Festival. Below is the publicity information from organiser, Ian Francis:

SECOND CITY FIRSTS

During the 1970s, a key strength of the drama department at BBC Pebble Mill was its ability to unearth new talent; not just through flagships like Play For Today, but also the entry-point offered by the likes of Second City Firsts. Running from 1973 for ten series, this half-hour slot took a chance on a spectacular range of ‘regional talent’ including Willy Russell, Julie Walters, David Rudkin, Brian Glover and many others. Just as importantly, it offered a diversity of representation that often compares favourably with today’s TV drama. This afternoon we’re joined by Tara Prem, a script editor and subsequently series producer on Second City Firsts, to explore six very different episodes from the strand.

Girl 1974

Girl 1974

Early to Bed

Early to Bed 1975

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volume One:

A Touch of Eastern Promise; Girl; Early to Bed

Our first film, A Touch of Eastern Promise (1973), is not officially a Second City First, though it emerged from a very similar slot. Written by Prem herself, it’s the tale of a daydreaming shop-boy who has the opportunity to meet his favourite star. Partly shot in Balsall Heath, all the cinema scenes were captured at the now-demolished Imperial on Moseley Road. To follow, an Alison Steadman double-bill: studio-shot military drama Girl (1974), which features the first lesbian kiss seen on British TV; and then Early to Bed (1975), with Steadman smouldering on location in a depressed mill town. This claustrophobic tale of infidelity was the first television script by Alan Bleasdale, who later went on to Boys From the Blackstuff and GBH.

 

The Permissive Society 1975

The Permissive Society 1975

Jack Flea's Birthday Celebration 1976

Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration 1976

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Volume Two:
The Permissive Society; Club Havana; Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration

It was at the Midlands Arts Centre where Mike Leigh first embarked on his unique approach to devising scripts, and Pebble Mill which commissioned much of his early TV work. Made a year before camping comedy Nuts in May, The Permissive Society (1975) is an overlooked gem. Also confined to a single set, Club Havana (1975) is a tense portrait of a Handsworth speakeasy by playwright Barry Reckord, featuring Don Warrington as the landlady’s son newly arrived from Jamaica and an incredibly young Julie Walters as the barmaid. We conclude with Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration (1976), a psychosexual nightmare from the pen of Ian McEwan which is very much in keeping with his short stories of the time.

Flatpack Film Festival – Second City Firsts

A Touch of Eastern Promise

A Touch of Eastern Promise

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Flatpack Film Festival are going to be screening six 30 minute dramas made at Pebble Mill by the English Regions Drama Department, in April 2016 at the Midlands Arts Centre, Edgbaston:

“SECOND CITY FIRSTS

During the 1970s, a key strength of the drama department at BBC Pebble Mill was its ability to unearth new talent; not just through flagships like Play For Today, but also the entry-point offered by the likes of Second City Firsts. Running from 1973 for ten series, this half-hour slot took a chance on a spectacular range of ‘regional talent’ including Willy Russell, Julie Walters, David Rudkin, Brian Glover and many others. Just as importantly, it offered a diversity of representation that often compares favourably with today’s TV drama.

 

Volume One:

A Touch of Eastern Promise; Girl; Early to Bed

A Touch of Eastern Promise (1973), is not officially a Second City First, though it emerged from a very similar slot. Written by Tara Prem, it’s the tale of a daydreaming shop-boy who has the opportunity to meet his favourite star. Partly shot in Balsall Heath, all the cinema scenes were captured at the now-demolished Imperial on Moseley Road. To follow, an Alison Steadman double-bill: studio-shot military drama Girl (1974), which features the first lesbian kiss seen on British TV; and then Early to Bed (1975), with Steadman smouldering on location in a depressed mill town. This claustrophobic tale of infidelity was the first television script by Alan Bleasdale, who later went on to Boys From the Blackstuff and GBH.

 

Volume Two:

The Permissive Society; Club Havana; Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration

It was at the Midlands Arts Centre where Mike Leigh first embarked on his unique approach to devising scripts, and Pebble Mill which commissioned much of his early TV work. Made a year before camping comedy Nuts in May, The Permissive Society (1975) is an overlooked gem. Also confined to a single set, Club Havana (1975) is a tense portrait of a Handsworth speakeasy by playwright Barry Reckord, featuring Don Warrington as the landlady’s son newly arrived from Jamaica and an incredibly young Julie Walters as the barmaid. We conclude with Jack Flea’s Birthday Celebration (1976), a psychosexual nightmare from the pen of Ian McEwan which is very much in keeping with his short stories of the time.”

 

 

A Touch of Eastern Promise – Radio Times

ATEP Radio Times article

 

 

 

 

 

 

ATEP Radio Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission.

This Radio Times interview with Tara Prem was published in February 1973. The article publicizes the 30′ drama, A Touch of Eastern Promise, written by Tara, which was the first British television film with an entirely Asian cast. The Radio Times does not mention this fact, but concentrates on the similarities of the Bollywood film industry and the Hollywood film industry. The film was set in Balsall Heath, Birmingham, and tells the story of Mohan, and his obsession with a Bollywood film star – Shalini. It was produced by David Rose and directed by Michael Lindsay-Hogg.

 

Free Screening Event – Sat 5 March

Archive Event Flier

Screening Schedule

 

Film info


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On Saturday 5 March, Birmingham City University are holding a free screening event at the School of Art in Margaret Street, very near the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery.  The event is open to the public, and it would be great to see as many people there as possible, so please come along if you can.

We’ll be screening three BBC Pebble Mill dramas: Fellow Traveller, (the only TV film made at Pebble Mill) TX 1991, which will be introduced by Exec Producer Michael Wearing and writer Michael Eaton; A Box of Swan , starring Adrian Dunbar and Pete Postlethwaite, TX 1990; and A Touch of Eastern Promise, TX 1973, which will be introduced by writer Tara Prem and script editor Peter Ansorge.

There will also be the opportunity to see excerpts from a Philip Donnellan documentary made in Birmingham before the building of Pebble Mill: Joe the Chainsmith.

 

 

 

The schedule for the screenings is as follows:

11am-12pm and 2pm-3pm: ‘A Touch of Eastern Promise’ (1973) & ‘A Box of Swan’ (1990)

12pm-1pm: ‘Joe the Chainsmith’ (1958) & ‘A Story of Cradley Heath’ (2010)

1pm-2pm: ‘Made in Birmingham’ (2010).

3pm-4.30pm:            ‘Fellow Traveller’ (1991 )

 

I hope to see you at the event on Sat 5 March. For more information see this link: http://homeidentityandcitizenship.posterous.com/

Vanessa