Barrie Edgar: Television producer who worked on 'Come Dancing' and 'Gardeners' World'
Wednesday 06 February 2013
In a television career spent entirely with the BBC, Barrie Edgar demonstrated a parallel loyalty to his home area of Birmingham. Specialising in outside broadcasts and bearing the title TV Producer, Midland Region, he established his reputation in the single-channel era of the 1950s, continuing as the city's production centre became Pebble Mill in the early 1970s. While his credits were as disparate as children's programmes, variety shows and the 1962 consecration of Coventry Cathedral, he also made programmes that reflected his own interests; as a keen horticulturist, he produced BBC2's Gardeners' World, one of several shows that survive him, in varying formats.
The changes within the entertainment industry of the 20th century were delineated in his own bloodline. His father Percy Edgar had been a singer and songwriter before becoming a regional director of what was then the British Broadcasting Company in 1922. His son David Edgar remains a vital and respected playwright, once noting that "my father's career bridged the first great transformation of television: from a witness of existing events to a creator of new ones, from a site to a medium."
Educated at Oundle School, Barrie Edgar gained experience at Birmingham Repertory Theatre, although he later claimed that he had been "the world's worst actor". There would later be some very occasional excursions in front of the cameras. During wartime he served in the Fleet Air Arm and the Royal Navy before joining BBC TV as it resumed live transmissions in 1946.
At Alexandra Palace he produced Three Blind Mice (1947), publicised as "a half-hour work of crime detection written by Agatha Christie". It had originated on radio earlier that year, as part of Queen Mary's 80th birthday celebrations. Edgar's version came and went in one night, but five years later and after extensions and rewrites by Christie, it made its stage debut as The Mousetrap.
He worked on a 15-minute filler, The Memory Man (1950) – "Barrie Edgar asks the questions" of Leslie Welch and his "phenomenal memory". He was also a commentator for the TV coverage of Billy Smart's Circus in 1950, and was still producing highlight shows from circuses 20 years later; the Chipperfield Circus from Birmingham's Bingley Hall became an annual speciality.
He was one of several producers for The Centre Show (1950-51), a showcase for emerging talent, largely ex-forces, broadcast from the Nuffield Centre, hosted during Edgar's tenure by the eternal comedy stooge Frank Thornton, with the future broadcaster Steve Race at the piano. Returning to his home city in 1951, he was sometimes credited on screen as having "presented", rather than produced. His outside broadcasts included the second act of The Merry Wives Of Windsor (1955), from the Memorial Theatre at Stratford, with Anthony Quayle as Falstaff. It incorporated a nervous introduction for viewers from the critic Alan Dent, and pre-filmed explanations of the characters and their plot functions.
On 29 December 1955, the Midlands studio in Gosta Green, Birmingham opened. Edgar's contribution was Hey Presto!, a magicians' showcase, magic being another of his off-screen interests. Other productions included another vehicle for new performers, Next Week's Calls (1956), and Children's Playtime (1956) – unusually presented by Bobbie Kimber, a female impersonator. Edgar also appeared as an interviewer on The Midlander (1958-59), presented by the naturalist Phil Drabble and screened only locally.
An attempt to transfer My Word! (1960) to television with Frank Muir and Denis Norden, was judged unsuccessful, and the rest of the decade saw Edgar increasingly involved with religiously themed documentaries. By contrast, and from 1958 onwards, he was executive producer of Come Dancing, then presented by Peter West (whom he would also use to front his circus specials), and whose competitive element consisted of inter-regional heats. Edgar would later select Terry Wogan, who had then largely concentrated on radio, to host its 1974 series. He did not regard Strictly Come Dancing as quite the same animal.
In the London Review of Books in 2005, David Edgar observed that his father "saw many of his programmes hived off from outside broadcasts to specialised (and centralised) BBC departments; over the years, he lost the King's College Christmas carols to Music, Songs of Praise to Religion and Come Dancing to London." None the less, Edgar produced the latter, and Gardeners' World, until his retirement from the BBC in 1979.
The following year he was among signatories of a letter to The Times registering disapproval of cuts in BBC regional broadcasting. Equally in character, he refused to accept lucrative offers from ITV, or to set up his own production company, as contemporaries of his had done. He spent 10 years on screen, taking care of the Pebble Mill garden on Pebble Mill at One and its successor Daytime Live, before retiring again in 1989.
Round-faced, bespectacled and habitually smoking a pipe, Edgar is survived by his son, two daughters, six grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Anthony Barrie Edgar, television producer and director: born Birmingham 26 April 1919; married 1943 Joan Burman (died 2005; one son, two daughters); died Birmingham 28 December 2012.
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