John Madin and the Donnellan documentary – Six Men

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

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














In 1965, the maverick film maker, Phillip Donnellan, produced a documentary which featured the architect of BBC Pebble Mill, John Madin, amongst other prominent Birmingham men. The documentary was called Six Men – Portraits of Power in a Modern City.

The film was not universally popular, and caused John Madin some issues.

The filming was quite intensive, and involved Madin being followed round by cameramen for a three-week period, in order to capture a candid view of the architect’s working life. John Madin had requested that he would be able to see the finished film before broadcast, because of the need to maintain professional etiquette. However, this did not happen until very late in the day, and Madin was unhappy about his lack of editorial input into the film. He was frustrated that his repeated requests to see the commentary script, which was to be presented by the writer and broadcaster, Rene Cutforth, were not answered, until at 10.30pm on Thursday 25th March, when he was allowed to see the as yet unfinished script. Madin expressed concern about some of Cutforth’s remarks, but was told that he would ruin the programme if he insisted on these being omitted. Some changes were made to the script, but Phillip Donnellan proved very elusive, and in the end more changes were eventually agreed over the phone, as Donnellan was recording the commentary at a London studios, with Cutforth. The programme was transmitted with Madin still unhappy with certain views expressed.

But the matter did not end there. A local architect complained that the documentary was a breach of professional etiquette, in that it ‘advertised’ Madin’s work, and he referred the matter to the Architects’ Registration Council, who had the power to strike Madin off. A hearing was arranged for December 1965. Patrick Beech the Controller of Midland Region, was supportive of Madin, and explained in a memo that eleven out of thirteen of the accusations brought against Madin, were contained in Cutforth’s commentary, which Madin had not had any editorial control over.

Fortunately, the hearing was short-lived, with a decision being made quickly to dismiss the case. Madin clearly felt bruised by the whole experience.

(This blog was informed by letters and memos held at the BBC Written Archives in Caversham, in file M10/27)