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

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David Rose 1924-2017

David Rose 2009. Copyright resides with the original holder, no reproduction without permission

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

News has come through today that David Rose has sadly died. His death was apparently very peaceful.

David had a long and distinguished television career. He flew in Lancaster bombers during the WWII, joining the BBC in the mid 1950s. In the 1960s he produced Z-Cars and the spin-off series, Softly, Softly.

In 1971 he was appointed by director of programming, David Attenborough, as Head of English Regions Drama at Pebble Mill. His remit was to produce dramas which depicted life outside London. The era at Pebble Mill was a rich and creative one. David proved himself to be an inspiring leader, with an impeccable knack of putting together talented and innovative teams. He took creative risks and was responsible for bringing many new writers and directors to the television screen. Pebble Mill was incredibly productive under his leadership, producing many Plays for Today, as well as anthology series like Second City Firsts. The talent he worked with included: Alan Bleasdale, Willy Russell, Alan Plater, David Hare, Mike Leigh, Stephen Frears, Peter Terson, David Rudkin, amongst many others, as well as the staff team including Michael Wearing, Peter Ansorge, Tara Prem, and Barry Hanson.

In 1981 David moved to the newly formed Channel 4, where he was made Commissioning Editor of Fiction by Jeremy Isaacs. He was responsible for the development of Film on Four. It was during his time at Channel 4 that he won the Roberto Rossellini award for services to cinema in 1987, an honour he was incredibly proud of.

David Rose’s legacy at Pebble Mill is still evident in the BBC Birmingham Drama Village today, in the shape of some members of staff, and also in the innovative production practices.

David will be much missed, and we are unlikely to see his like again.

2-Opportunities from pebblemill on Vimeo.

I recorded this film in 2009, of David, Barry Hanson, Tara Prem and Peter Ansorge talking about English Regions Drama.

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Shakespeare or Bust end credits

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

This grab is taken from the end credits of Shakespeare or Bust, by Peter Terson.

The 1973 Play for Today featured the three characters who’d appeared previously in The Fishing Party.  The drama followed the miners, Art, Ern and Abe, on a canal narrowboat trip down to Stratford Upon Avon.  Art was played by Brian Glover, Ern, Ray Mort and Abe by Douglas Livingstone.

The story is of how the three men travelled on a canal boat to see some Sharkespeare at the RSC in Stratford Upon Avon, but when they arrived they couldn’t get in to the theatre. However, at the end of the play they meet Richard Johnson and Janet Suzman, as themselves, outside the theatre, where they were playing the title roles of Anthony and Cleopatra. I think the grab is of Janet Suzman going for a swim in the river at the end of the film.

The producer was David Rose, Brian Parker the director, with Barry Hanson as script editor, assisted by Tara Prem. Oliver White, as you can see from the grab was the film editor, with sound by Peter Caselberg.

Thanks to Ian Collins for sharing the grab.

The following comment was left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:

Susan Cawson: ‘Peter Terson lived on [the canal boat] Ben when it had a cabin. We had an interesting trip when he towed Christopher James for us, he is the only person I know who can steer a 70′ boat through a bridge sideways and get away with it. An interesting weekend!’

 

Shakespeare or Bust

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

This grab is from the 1973 Play for Today, ‘Shakespeare or Bust’, by Peter Tersen.  David Rose was the producer, Brian Parker the director, Barry Hanson the script editor, assisted by Tara Prem.

The film featured three characters who’d appeared in an earlier Play for Today, ‘The Fishing Party’ again by Peter Terson.  The drama followed the miners, Art, Ern and Abe, on a canal narrowboat trip down to Stratford Upon Avon.  Art was played by Brian Glover, Ern, Ray Mort and Abe by Douglas Livingstone.

Peter Terson wrote the script whilst doing the journey himself in a narrowboat, leaving chunks of the finished script at lock-keepers’ cottage along the route for Tara to pick up.

The following comments were added on the Pebble Mill Facebook Page:

Caroline Hawkins: ‘Yep, I remember it. Mum was the costume designer and after the filming was over we hired the very same boat for a family holiday.’

Dawn Trotman: ‘I think Oliver White cut it and of course Barry Hanson went on to head up the department as well as produce the Long Good Friday.’

Roses of Eyam – Ben Lamb

The Roses of Eyam – An interview with producer David Rose conducted by Ben Lamb

Don Taylor’s television adaptation of his own stage play The Roses of Eyam (1973), which he wrote and directed, was filmed at Pebble Mill studios and broadcast on BBC2 at 9pm on 12/6/1973.

As a full length play independent of an anthology series, The Roses of Eyam is an unusual and distinctive text. Produced by David Rose’s English Regions Drama department the play was shot entirely on videotape in Studio A and depicted the story of the quarantined villagers who sought to protect the rest of Derbyshire from the bubonic plague in 1665. This television play sits in stark contrast with Rose’s other English Regions Drama plays such as Alan Plater’s Land of Green Ginger (1973) and Peter Terson’s Fishing Party  (1972)that were shot entirely on film and were set in authentic contemporary locations to address modern day political problems facing 1970s Britain.

I began by asking David where he saw The Roses of Eyam fitting into this canon of texts he was producing at Pebble Mill at that time:

In a way, I surprised myself by producing Don Taylor’s play. From the beginning, working in the Television Drama Department of DDC Television, I had only dabbled in the Single Play, as Assistant Floor Manager, then Production Assistant. I soon found myself directing, and producing (terms which were not then clearly defined – another matter) in a small unit of Drama, headed by Elwyn Jones. Our area of concern was the writers’ accuracy during research, in areas that generally proved to be ‘the work place’. Black Furrow by Elaine Morgan, dealing with opencast coal mining; Who Pays the Piper? concerning Regional Symphony Orchestras, written by John Eliot.

I only mention this because when I was invited to head a small new group at Pebble Mill Studios, Birmingham, the opportunity arose to cover any aspects of drama that I wished. The content of the 30 minute play strand, Second City Firsts, mainly video studio plays – and Play for Today, mainly location films – were contemporary.

It was Don Taylor’s proposition that I must have been compelled by. I frankly felt that his approach was too close to theatre – even somewhat ‘old fashioned’. But I backed it – and very much welcomed his desire to accompany it with a short documentary investigation. Transmitted the night prior to the film, it proved to be an excellent and effective trailer for the play.

I then asked David why the play was so well received by the public given the vast amount of congratulatory letters sent to him personally that can be found at the BBC Written Archives in Caversham:

I think the project’s strength lay in the very direct manner of storytelling – no director’s pretentious fireworks. And, the story itself. of people’s courage in the lifestyle of 17th century everyday acceptance of life as it was led. Add to this a cast of first class actors.

Curiously, I watched a Danish film only this week which had a curiously similar approach –reminding me of Eyam. A Royal Affair, directed by Nikolaj Arcel, a tale of brave idealists who risk everything in the pursuit of freedom for the people, a story that changed a whole nation’. A film that is nominated for the European Film Academy Awards.

As the village of Eyam was unable to receive BBC2 transmissions when the play was broadcast, the BBC decided to screen it at the Church of St. Lawrence using eight television monitors. I asked David how the residents of Eyam responded to watching the play in the authentic surroundings of their own 12th Century church:

I don’t have a vivid memory of it; but it seems to demonstrate the importance of a particular place and time in peoples’ lives. I shall be introducing Mike Leigh’s film, Nuts in May, during the Purbeck Film Festival in October. A festival seen mainly in village halls across the Isle of Purbeck – and at the request of the residents of Corfe Castle, around which it was filmed.

Ben Lamb