Katharine Everett: TV producer and first BBC controller of new media

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The Independent Online

Katharine Everett’s television career took her from Tomorrow’s World to the hi-tech new world of the small screen: starting as a producer of science programmes, she became controller of British television’s first exclusively digital channel and then BBC controller of new media.

Launching BBC Choice, a general entertainment channel to complement BBC1 and BBC2, was a major challenge for Everett. Before the run-up to its 1998 launch, she also witnessed the fraught meetings that took place to create the corporation’s online services in those early days of the internet. She recalled the “harassed looks” on the faces of Edward Briffa, the head of BBC Online, and his creative team.

“To launch hassle-free in the BBC, you need to be allowed to hand-pick a team of experienced people and be left to get on with it,” she observed. “The launch of bbc.co.uk was in the full glare of the management headlights, with little of the basic support a team needs – and none of the systems and processes in place for running a large website. But it launched and has thrived since.”

When BBC Choice took to the air, after much hype and with a budget of only £20m for 3,500 hours of programming annually, it struggled to get a positive reaction, not helped by the fact that it started a week before digital decoders became widely available.

Everett’s description of it as “a friendly channel” was also seen as rather uninspiring, but she persisted with innovative ideas such as interactive programming – allowing viewers to choose their own camera angles for Wimbledon tennis, for example.

On becoming head of the corporation’s new media department (2001-3), she found herself in the crossfire again, “brokering peace” between different factions. “Stains of the blood that had been spilled in the very early days of the BBC’s venture on to the internet remain to this day on metaphorical carpets around the BBC,” she wrote in 2007, 10 years after the online launch.

Born in Surrey in 1952, Everett spent some of her childhood in Singapore, before attending Wycombe Abbey School in Buckinghamshire. After school, she studied English at Lady Margaret Hall in Oxford.

In 1975, she joined the BBC as a costume assistant in Television Centre’s wardrobe stockroom, then became a telephone enquiry clerk, before gaining a place as a research assistant on a BBC graduate trainee scheme.

Within a few years, Everett was a producer. Her first notable programme was the seven-part dramatisation Oppenheimer (1980), which starred Sam Waterston as the American physicist who developed the atomic bomb during the Second World War. It went on to win three 1981 BAFTA Awards.

From 1985, Everett specialised in science programmes, producing Your Life in Their Hands (1986), Q.E.D. programmes presenting the biological facts about AIDS (1987) and tracing the development of synthetic fibres (1988), and Tomorrow’s World (1989). She was also responsible for Life on One (1990), a magazine show presented by Sarah Greene and Simon Mayo, and Hospital Watch (1991), following a week in the life of Hammersmith Hospital.

Her programmes for Horizon, made between 1987 and 1993, included “The Iceman” (1992), about mummified remains found the previous year on the Italian-Austrian border in the Alps, dating back to about 3200 B.C.

Moving up the executive ladder, Everett became BBC television’s budget negotiator for factual programming (1993-4), BBC1 finance director (1994-5), then that channel’s head of commissions and development (1996-7).

After taking charge of BBC Choice (1997-9), BBC interactive TV and navigation (1999-2001), and the corporation’s new media department (2001-2003), she worked as project director for the “Make it Happen” campaign, launched in 2002 by the then BBC director-general Greg Dyke to encourage innovative thinking among staff. Two years later, Everett became the BBC’s director of change. She was married to the film editor Horacio Queiro.

Anthony Hayward

Katharine Winn Everett, television producer and executive: born Woking, Surrey 3 July 1952; married 1988 Horacio Queiro (one son, one daughter); died London 3 February 2009.