John Cain: Pioneer of social-action television

 

John Cain was a senior BBC executive who paved the way for social-action broadcasting such as Live Aid and Red Nose Day. It was his genius to see that while broadcasting a programme about a particular issue was all very well, in order for it truly to make a difference a huge infrastructure and support system of phone lines and associated services was necessary.

In 1975, when Cain was head of the BBC Further Education department, he commissioned a television series, On the Move, that tried to reach people concealing literacy difficulties. The programmes starred Bob Hoskins, but in order to succeed the project depended on setting up national phone lines which would provide individuals with sensitive help.

The BBC governors refused to spend licence-fee money on such a thing, so it became necessary to set up an organisation outside the BBC to do the job – and to find money to pay for it. This was done rapidly by setting up the Adult Literacy Support Services Fund. Cain then had the vision to see that this model could serve many projects and many broadcasters on a more permanent basis.

David Hargreaves, producer of On the Move, said: "John always brought energy and drive to the task of finding more funds, to widening the terms of the charitable remit, and to reaching out and inviting other broadcasters in. Any reservations that Channel 4, and later ITV, might have had about joining an organisation which must have seemed to them very much the BBC's baby, were assuaged by John's evident honesty and decency."

In 1980 Cain became first chairman of what had by now become Broadcast Support Services. This, little by little, developed the resources and systems for effective back-up which made huge charitable specials such as Comic Relief and ITV's Telethons both possible and successful.

John Cain was born in 1924 into what he described as a "lower-middle class family". His father was a chauffeur, his mother a shop assistant. They lived in Pimlico and John won scholarships, first to Emmanuel School and then to the City and Guilds, Imperial School in London. But the Blitz and family poverty forced him to drop out and join the RAF, where he trained as aircrew. He finished his training just as the war ended but stayed on until 1947, working in the RAF education service. On demob he was given a government grant to become a teacher. He taught mathematics at Willesden grammar school from 1950-57, followed by two years at a huge new boys' comprehensive in Tulse Hill, south London.

In 1954 he married Shirley Roberts, an actress whose first job after leaving Rada was playing in the Cherry Orchard, directed by John Gielgud.

In 1961 Cain took a job giving public lectures at the Science Museum. There he began to use video cameras, which he found helped teaching and learning. So a logical next move was into educational television. He became assistant head of school broadcasting at Associated Rediffusion but he preferred the public-service ethos and joined BBC school television as a producer of maths programmes. He soon extended his range into history and science as well.

He swiftly rose at from assistant head, to head, of Further Education television in 1972. He presided over a golden age of foreign-language programmes, the early days of Delia Smith, a fine series on the history of Ireland and many other TV riches.

Moving further upwards he became assistant controller of Education in 1977 just as the BBC began to hit political, bureaucratic and economic storms. He experienced at first-hand a graceless visit to the studios by Mrs Thatcher – strongly anti-BBC even before she became prime minister.

In 1981 he took on his last post in the BBC, controller of public affairs. He enjoyed the political insights which his exalted standpoint provided and also dealing with the BBC regions, with broadcasting research and with the charges of bias – coming at this period mainly from the extreme left – which the corporation had to face. After retirement in 1984 he wrote a highly readable account of 70 years of BBC broadcasting. He added further to his tally of degrees with a PhD from the Open University, its subject, unsurprisingly, social action broadcasting.

A small stroke in 1996 restricted his activity, but for another decade he remained active and enjoyed growing vegetables, going to the theatre and the company of his daughters and two grandchildren. Latterly he was affected by Alzheimer's disease and spent some years in a care home close enough to his house in Chiswick for him to be visited frequently by his family.

John Clifford Cain, television executive: born London 2 April 1924; married 1954 Shirley Roberts (two daughters); died London 12 April 2013

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Arts and Entertainment
Rita Ora will replace Kylie Minogue as a judge on The Voice 2015
tv
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Alan Turing, who was convicted of gross indecency in 1952, was granted a royal pardon last year
life
Arts and Entertainment
Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Ed Stoppard as her manager Brian Epstein
tvCilla Episode 2 review: Grit under the glamour in part two of biopic series starring Sheridan Smith
Life and Style
life
Arts and Entertainment
Tennis player Andy Murray's mum Judy has been paired with Anton du Beke for Strictly Come Dancing. 'I'm absolutely delighted,' she said.
tvJudy Murray 'struggling' to let Anton Du Beke take control on Strictly
Life and Style
Vote with your wallet: the app can help shoppers feel more informed about items on sale
lifeNew app reveals political leanings of food companies
Arts and Entertainment
The cover of Dark Side of the Moon
musicCan 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition? See for yourself
Sport
New Zealand fly-half Aaron Cruden pictured in The Zookeeper's Son on a late-night drinking session
rugby
Extras
indybest
Voices
A new app has been launched that enables people to have a cuddle from a stranger
voicesMaybe the new app will make it more normal to reach out to strangers
Arts and Entertainment
Salmond told a Scottish television chat show in 2001that he would also sit in front of a mirror and say things like,
tvCelebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
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 General

Graduate / Junior C# Developer

£18000 - £25000 Per Annum + bonus and benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

IT Project manager - Web E-commerce

£65000 Per Annum Benefits + bonus: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: If you are...

Female PE Teacher

£85 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunity for Secondary ...

Teaching Assistant - Shropshire

Negotiable: Randstad Education Chester: Teaching Assistants needed in Shropshi...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits