Happy Birthday to the leader with the golden touch

David Rose nurtured a generation of writers and directors; Jeremy Isaacs celebrates his career

Anyone interested in comparing the range and quality of today's television drama with that of a previous age should consider the lifetime's achievement of the benign magus David Rose, who celebrates his 80th birthday this month.

Anyone interested in comparing the range and quality of today's television drama with that of a previous age should consider the lifetime's achievement of the benign magus David Rose, who celebrates his 80th birthday this month.

It is not just what David did that is instructive, but how he did it: no committees of consultants; no focus groups or market-testing. Just an eye for a situation, a nose for a script, and a mind of his own to make the critical judgement.

This shambling grizzly bear of a man, with pince-nez, was a product of the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He was no dancer, but early in his career he worked behind the scenes at the Sadler's Wells Theatre Ballet, before joining the BBC in 1954.

The A to Z of David Rose's career in television begins with "Z": Z Cars, which he launched. It was the first convincing police series and owed more in its texture to the street and the pub than to West End theatre.

Troy Kennedy-Martin and John Hopkins cut their teeth on Z Cars, John McGrath directed and the powerful cast, including Stratford Johns, Frank Windsor and Brian Blessed, revelled in their parts. The screen came alive; viewers, summoned by the flutes of the Liverpool Philharmonic in Bridget Fry's arrangement of "Johnny Todd", were transfixed. The original recording of one of television's best-remembered theme tunes still rings out today at Goodison Park whenever Everton take the field.

But perhaps David's face did not fit at Television Centre, because he was later banished to a sort of BBC Siberia, as Head of TV Training. It was David Attenborough who came to his rescue, sending him to Pebble Mill, Birmingham, as Head of Drama (English Regions).

In the 10 years that followed he showed what he could do. He found regional talent in David Mercer, John Hoskins, Jack Rosenthal and Henry Livings. In 1972 Peter Terson's The Fishing Party put Pebble Mill on the map. But the range was vast and the style varied; from Willy Russell's Our Day Out, to David Rudkin's Penda's Fen, Alan Bleasdale's The Muscle Market, and Alan Plater's Trinity Tales. Not least among these was David Hare's directorial debut with his own script, Licking Hitler, notable also for Bill Paterson's commanding central performance. BBC drama on film was never better. And there were Gangsters and Empire Road (the first credible black series), and Malcolm Bradbury's acerbic The History Man.

No wonder Attenborough wrote that sending David to Pebble Mill was "one of the best things I have ever done".

In the late autumn of 1980, with The History Man sizzling on the screen, I was looking for someone to take charge of Channel 4's drama output. Due to launch in November 1982, Channel 4 had no studios. Our plan was to encourage independent film-makers by "offering them not only money, but the chance to exhibit their work in the cinema, where it might gain a reputation and an identity, before its television transmission." This notion I had included in my letter of application for the job. Rose, when I put it to him, concurred. Eighteen months later, we staggered together out of the viewing theatre, into the light of Wardour Street and across the road to the Intrepid Fox pub, after seeing the final cut of Neil Jordan's Angel; a major new film-maker had come our way.

If Z Cars was David's "Z" and Angel was his "A", Phil Redmond's Brookside - salty stuff in those days - was "B". It lasted 20 years.

Between 1981 and 1990, Rose and his associates, Karin Bamborough and Walter Donohue, gave the nod to 136 feature-length films, half of which got a cinema release. Jerzy Skolimowski's Moonlighting was an early favourite; Colin Gregg, Maurice Hatton, Stephen Frears ( My Beautiful Laundrette), Michael Radford ( Another Time, Another Place) came on stream. Peter Greenaway and Terence Davies made their distinctive English contributions. The channel invested in Merchant-Ivory's Heat and Dust and A Room with a View, and helped finance international prize-winners, like Andrei Tarkovsky's The Sacrifice and Wim Wenders's Paris, Texas. These films won substantial audiences, and gave a jolt of life to British film-making. None of it would have happened without Rose.

David is totally without vanity, and never has very much to say. When I would ask him what he looked for in a subject, he would mutter something about "the rough edges of truth". But he always knows what he wants, and is respected by all who worked with him, as simply the best.

If he were starting out today, would he again be given such free rein? I doubt it.

Jeremy Isaacs was founding Chief Executive of Channel 4 (1981-1987)

Suggested Topics
News
The Banksy image in Folkestone before it was vandalised
people
Life and Style
tech

Sales of the tablet are set to fall again, say analysts

News
Brian Harvey turned up at Downing Street today demanding to speak to the Prime Minister
news

Met Police confirm that there was a 'minor disturbance'

Life and Style
A street vendor in Mexico City sells Dorilocos, which are topped with carrot, jimaca, cucumber, peanuts, pork rinds, spices and hot sauce
food + drink

Trend which requires crisps, a fork and a strong stomach is sweeping Mexico's streets

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
George Lucas poses with a group of Star Wars-inspired Disney characters at Disney's Hollywood Studios in 2010
films

George Lucas criticises the major Hollywood film studios

Sport
football West Brom vs Man Utd match report: Blind grabs point, but away form a problem for Van Gaal
Arts and Entertainment
Bloom Time: Mira Sorvino
tvMira Sorvino on leaving movie roles for 'The Intruders'
Arts and Entertainment
Gotham is coming to UK shores this autumn
tvGotham, episode 2, review
News
i100
News
First woman: Valentina Tereshkova
peopleNASA guinea pig Kate Greene thinks it might fly
Voices
Chris Grayling, Justice Secretary: 'There are pressures which we are facing but there is not a crisis'
voices

Does Chris Grayling realise what a vague concept he is dealing with?

Life and Style
The charity Sands reports that 11 babies are stillborn everyday in the UK
lifeEleven babies are stillborn every day in the UK, yet no one speaks about this silent tragedy
News
Blackpool is expected to become one of the first places to introduce the Government’s controversial new Public Space Protection Orders (PSPOs)
news

Parties threaten resort's image as a family destination

Life and Style
Northern soul mecca the Wigan Casino
fashionGone are the punks, casuals, new romantics, ravers, skaters, crusties. Now all kids look the same
Life and Style
gaming

I Am Bread could actually be a challenging and nuanced title

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Programmatic Business Development Manager

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: As the Programmatic Business Dev...

Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: Trainee Recruitment C...

European Retail Sales Manager, Consumer Products

competitive + bonus + benefits: Sauce Recruitment: My client is looking for an...

Sales Director, Media Sponsorship

£60000 - £65000 per annum: Sauce Recruitment: A globally successful media and ...

Day In a Page

Two super-sized ships have cruised into British waters, but how big can these behemoths get?

Super-sized ships: How big can they get?

Two of the largest vessels in the world cruised into UK waters last week
British doctors on brink of 'cure' for paralysis with spinal cord treatment

British doctors on brink of cure for paralysis

Sufferers can now be offered the possibility of cure thanks to a revolutionary implant of regenerative cells
Ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities - not London, or Edinburgh, but Salisbury

Salisbury ranked seventh in world’s best tourist cities

The city is home to one of the four surviving copies of the Magna Carta, along with the world’s oldest mechanical clock
Let's talk about loss

We need to talk about loss

Secrecy and silence surround stillbirth
Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Will there be an all-female mission to Mars?

Women may be better suited to space travel than men are
Oscar Pistorius sentencing: The athlete's wealth and notoriety have provoked a long overdue debate on South African prisons

'They poured water on, then electrified me...'

If Oscar Pistorius is sent to jail, his experience will not be that of other inmates
James Wharton: The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

The former Guard now fighting discrimination against gay soldiers

Life after the Army has brought new battles for the LGBT activist James Wharton
Ebola in the US: Panic over the virus threatens to infect President Obama's midterms

Panic over Ebola threatens to infect the midterms

Just one person has died, yet November's elections may be affected by what Republicans call 'Obama's Katrina', says Rupert Cornwell
Premier League coaches join the RSC to swap the tricks of their trades

Darling, you were fabulous! But offside...

Premier League coaches are joining the RSC to learn acting skills, and in turn they will teach its actors to play football. Nick Clark finds out why
How to dress with authority: Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear

How to dress with authority

Kirsty Wark and Camila Batmanghelidjh discuss the changing role of fashion in women's workwear
New book on Joy Division's Ian Curtis sheds new light on the life of the late singer

New book on Ian Curtis sheds fresh light on the life of the late singer

'Joy Division were making art... Ian was for real' says author Jon Savage
Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

Sean Harris: A rare interview with British acting's secret weapon

The Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Barbra Streisand is his true inspiration
Tim Minchin, interview: The musician, comedian and world's favourite ginger is on scorching form

Tim Minchin interview

For a no-holds-barred comedian who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, he is surprisingly gentle in person
Boris Johnson's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Boris's boozing won't win the puritan vote

Many of us Brits still disapprove of conspicuous consumption – it's the way we were raised, says DJ Taylor
Ash frontman Tim Wheeler reveals how he came to terms with his father's dementia

Tim Wheeler: Alzheimer's, memories and my dad

Wheeler's dad suffered from Alzheimer's for three years. When he died, there was only one way the Ash frontman knew how to respond: with a heartfelt solo album