Andy Allan: ITV Director of Programmes who launched 'Morse' but axed 'Crossroads'
Wednesday 14 December 2011
A television presenter-turned-executive who ran three different ITV companies, Andy Allan is destined to be remembered as the man who axed Crossroads, but he was also responsible for some of television's biggest successes. When Ted Childs, his controller of drama at Central Independent Television, and the producer Kenny McBain proposed a crime series based on Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse novels, with each story presented in a then unusual two-hour slot, Allan persuaded other sceptical ITV executives to accept it and the programme, starring John Thaw, ran from 1987 to 2000.
Allan – whose staff enjoyed his quick wit and dry humour, as well as the ability to delegate – also backed his Controller of Features, Richard Creasey, in making the 12-part documentary series The Nuclear Age (1989) co-produced with WGBH of Boston, drawing on Russian government film archives. This led to the setting up of the East West Creative Association, a joint venture between Central and Goskino, Russia's state committee for cinematography. Because Central was paid in roubles, it spent that money by employing Russians to work on productions there, including the first eight Sharpe Napoleonic Wars adventures (1992-95) after Allan himself had the idea of bringing Bernard Cornwell's novels to television.
The association was also hired out, working on programmes such as the BBC documentary Realms of the Russian Bear (1992) and Michael Palin's Pole to Pole series (1992). Later, it worked on ITV's first two Hornblower dramas (1998). But despite the programmes that he was responsible for putting on, Allan became infamous with one band of viewers for one he took off. The long-running serial Crossroads, set in a Midlands motel, received a mauling from the critics from the time it began in 1964, but its popularity ensured a run of more than 20 years – until Allan made the decision others had avoided.
First, he tried to revive it by bringing in William Smethurst as producer from The Archers, with a remit to take the soap upmarket. But in 1987, Allan consulted Childs before announcing that Crossroads would be taken off screen the following year. He said that the programme took up 20 per cent of Central's studio time, which could be better used.
In the 1994 documentary Crossroads: 30 Years On, he added: "It had had its days of 16 million viewers, it was in decline and, as we tried to change it ... we found that the traditional audience didn't like the changes we made and yet the young people were deserting the old format in their droves. The world's moved on a bit and it does look a bit quaint and a bit old-fashioned."
A campaign to revive Crossroads by those who saw the characters as being like members of their own families – which might have seemed curious to those who saw only wooden acting and outlandish storylines – eventually bore fruit. Several years after Allan's retirement from television, Crossroads was revived – twice – but failed to find its old audience or a new one.
Born in Newcastle upon Tyne in 1943, son of the city's chief fire officer, Allan attended Tynemouth High School and graduated in philosophy from Birmingham University before taking a post as a researcher in its medical school. He entered television in 1965 as a presenter and producer in the current-affairs department at ABC, which broadcast to the North and Midlands at weekends. When it lost its licences in the 1968 ITV franchise reshuffle, Allan moved to ITN as a producer, before moving over to Thames Television in 1969.
As an executive producer from 1974, he was responsible for regional current-affairs programmes and the daily news magazine Today. In 1977, he became head of news and launched its replacement, Thames at 6 after luring Andrew Gardner from ITN to present it.
Allan's career soared when, in 1978, he returned to his native North-east to become Director of Programmes at Tyne Tees. He was responsible for the launch of programmes such as the children's pop music series Razzmatazz (1981-87) and the television film The World Cup: a Captain's Tale (1982), the true story of a team of Durham miners that beat the cream of European sides to win the Sir Thomas Lipton Trophy twice, in 1909 and 1911.
A major success for Tyne Tees came in producing the unpredictable rock programme The Tube (1982-87), broadcast live from Newcastle, for the newly launched Channel 4. Allan himself loved music, particularly jazz.
He became Tyne Tees's deputy managing director in 1982 and managing director in 1983, before the chance came the following year to become director of programmes at Central, a major producer for the network. He was later managing director of Central Broadcasting and Central Independent Television.
His programme successes at Central included Soldier Soldier (1991-97), Peak Practice (1993-2002) and The Cook Report (1985-98). Regionally, he was responsible for introducing the live, 90-minute, Friday-night programme Central Weekend (1986-2001), in which a studio audience debated – often heatedly – a wide range of topics. The show, in which disgraced MP John Stonehouse collapsed with a heart attack during one edition, was based on Allan's Tyne Tees programme Friday Live and other regions copied the format.
When Carlton Communications took over Central in 1994, Allan was appointed chief executive of both companies, then director of programmes (1996-98). He was also governor of the National Film and Television School (1993-98). After taking early retirement from TV in 1998 he became chairman of Birmingham Repertory Theatre (2000-2005).
In 2004, Allan returned to live in Northumberland and a year later was appointed chairman of the digital technology company Codeworks. Lucy, the daughter from his second marriage, is a television drama producer.
Andrew Norman Allan, television producer, presenter and executive: born Newcastle upon Tyne 26 September 1943; married 1969 Wendy Wilson (marriage dissolved; two daughters), 1978 Joanna Forrest (marriage dissolved; two sons, one daughter), partner to Phoebe Lambert; died Newcastle 28 November 2011.
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