Obituary:Robin Whitworth

Robin Whitworth was one of the brightest young radio producers in the heyday of BBC Features and Drama before the Second World War and was the writer and producer of An Act of Faith, the remarkable colour television film which portrayed the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral.

Drama was in Robin Whitworth's blood. His father, Geoffrey Whitworth, founded the British Drama League, serving as its secretary and later, Chairman. Robin himself became the organisation's Deputy Chairman in 1953. His mother directed and managed the Three Hundred Club for staging plays of merit likely at first to have a limited public.

He was educated at Eton and New College, Oxford, where he read History. His father, a member of the BBC's Education Committee, persuaded Sir John Reith to give his son an interview at the end of his second year. Reith told him to go back to Oxford, get a First and return to see in which part of the BBC he would really like to work. Eventually he joined, without a First, Val Gielgud's Features & Drama Department late in 1932 as a trainee studio manager at pounds 100 a year "to pay for his fares and lunches".

Whitworth was first attached to Archie Harding, one of the BBC's most talented producers and a future head of staff training, who was preparing the first complicated round-the-world feature leading up to the King's Christmas broadcast from Sandringham. This was no nursery slope for a beginner but proved a splendid challenge. When an epidemic of flu incapacitated all the announcers in the recently started Empire Service, Whitworth found himself corralled into reading news and talks in the middle of the night to the short-wave audience.

Harding, who was moved by Reith in 1933 to become programme director in Manchester, took Whitworth with him as his producer of drama, features and light entertainment. He returned to London in 1934 for further work as a drama producer and was temporarily assigned to assist Eustace Robb, an ex-army officer who, with the aid of two engineers, Birkenshaw and Bridgewater, was producing experimental 30-line Baird television programmes.

On Christmas Day 1935 the BBC broadcast the most ambitious religious dramatic programme up to that time, Unto Us, devised by R. Ellis Roberts and produced by Whitworth, with music under the direction of Sir Walford Davies. When King George V died in 1936 the governors asked that the same team should devise a tribute in poetry and music to be broadcast on the eve of the King's funeral.

By that time Whitworth was based in Birmingham as Features Producer. He wrote and produced a wide variety of programmes about people and places in the Midland Region. One of the amateur actors he frequently used was Godfrey Baseley, who went on to create The Archers.

Whitworth had joined the Rev Dick Sheppard's Peace Pledge Union, and he made it clear to the BBC authorities that in the event of war he would be a conscientious objector. He told them that he would continue to work in broadcasting as long as he was needed, would do no propaganda on behalf of his personal opinions, betray no secrets and offer to resign.

When the Second World War did break out in 1939 he joined the Friends' Ambulance Unit, working for some time as its publicity officer, and at the end of the war was reinstated in his Birmingham job as Features Producer, without loss of the regular increments to his salary.

One of Whitworth's major post-war activities was to produce a series of 10 half-hour programmes edited by Solly Zuckerman entitled Look Ahead. They concerned the main fields of science in which there would be developments likely to change our lives in the next 10 years. He and Zuckerman spent a year in preparing them. They were then broadcast weekly.

By 1953 Whitworth felt that his creative fires were burning low, and he wished to return to London. The BBC television service had recently created a new Documentary Department headed by Paul Rotha, the renowned producer of wartime documentary films and the author of The Film Till Now (1930).

Previously the various documentary producers had worked directly to the Controller of Programmes without any departmental organisation. Rotha's department needed a business manager, known in the television service as an Organiser, and Whitworth was offered the job. It was not a happy time for him.

Rotha was no good as a departmental head and Whitworth found that he was giving away copies of films to friends, contrary to all the rules. Within two years Rotha was dismissed. The documentary producers then went in three different ways. Those working on dramatised documentaries, what is now called "faction", moved over to the Drama Department. Some accepted handsome offers to join the new ITV companies, and some of the best joined the Television Talks Department which I headed.

While Whitworth was Documentary Organiser he conceived the idea of making a television programme about the rebuilding of Coventry Cathedral, and had the prescience to have it shot in colour, although British colour television was not to start for another 14 years.

One of Whitworth's ideas was to film from the same places with the same camera lens on the same day each year, so that they could be edited to show the cathedral grow. This was only partially successful, for three of the five camera positions got destroyed in the rebuilding. An Act of Faith, written and produced by Robin Whitworth and directed by John Read, the maker of documentary art films, was one of the first colour programmes broadcast by BBC2 in 1967.

The rest of Whitworth's BBC career was useful rather than creative. He moved over to become the Women's Programmes Organiser for the next eight years and in 1963 was seconded for a year as an adviser to the Cyprus Broadcasting Corporation. On his return he became the Drama Booking Manager in the Programme Contracts Department. He retired in 1971.

Whitworth married Cecily Blunt in 1934. They separated in 1961 but remained on amicable terms. Their daughter Anna helps to raise funds for New College, Oxford. Robin Whitworth retired to live in Oxford. He was proud of the symmetrical garden he created, with the help of his friend Pam Mayor, a small-scale replica of that of the Chateau Villandry. He was a keen supporter of the work of the Voice of the Listener and Viewer and regularly made his way to London to attend their meetings. He was unhappy about recent developments in the corporation which he had served with such distinction in his youth.

Leonard Miall

Robin Aymer Whitworth, radio producer and television executive: born London 3 March 1911; Assistant, Drama Department, BBC 1932-33, Drama Producer, Manchester 1933-34, Drama Producer, London 1934-36, Features Producer, Birmingham 1936-40, Features Producer, Birmingham 1946-53, Documentary Organiser, Television 1953-55, Women's Programmes Organiser, Television 1955-63, Drama Booking Manager 1964-71; married 1934 Cecily Blunt (one daughter); died Oxford 26 July 1996.

Arts and Entertainment
Sydney and Melbourne are locked in a row over giant milk crates
art
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleActor, from House of Cards and Benidorm, was 68
News
A scene from the video shows students mock rioting
newsEnd-of-year leaver's YouTube film features staging of a playground gun massacre
Travel
travel
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
i100This Instagram photo does not prove Russian army is in Ukraine
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
Sport
sportVan Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Environment
View from the Llanberis Track to the mountain lake Llyn
Du’r Arddu
environmentA large chunk of Mount Snowdon, in north Wales, is up for sale
Life and Style
Martha Stewart wrote an opinion column for Time magazine this week titled “Why I Love My Drone”
lifeLifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot... to take photos of her farm
Arts and Entertainment
The Secret Cinema performance of Back to the Future has been cancelled again
filmReview: Sometimes the immersive experience was so good it blurred the line between fiction and reality
News
i100
Life and Style
The director of Wall-E Andrew Stanton with Angus MacLane's Lego model
gadgetsDesign made in Pixar animator’s spare time could get retail release
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Environment
Tyred out: should fair weather cyclists have a separate slow lane?
environmentFormer Labour minister demands 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists
News
people
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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

VB.Net Developer - £40k - Surrey - WANTED ASAP

£35000 - £40000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: .Mid Level V...

Digitakl Business Analyst, Slough

£40000 - £45000 per annum + Competitive Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Dig...

Mechanical Estimator: Nuclear Energy - Sellafield

£40000 - £50000 per annum + Car, Medical, Fuel + More!: Progressive Recruitmen...

Dynamics NAV Techno-Functional Consultant

£50000 - £60000 per annum + benefits: Progressive Recruitment: An absolutely o...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices