Peter Bryant

Actor turned BBC producer
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The Independent Online

Peter Murray Bryant, actor, writer and producer: born London 27 October 1923; twice married (one daughter); died London 19 May 2006.

A former actor who became a trusted producer of middlebrow dramas, Peter Bryant made his television career exclusively in the BBC, and spanned the corporation's progression from the tentative, all-live days of Lime Grove to the secure professionalism of Television Centre.

Following repertory experience, the blond-haired, eager-looking Bryant made his small-screen début on 6 December 1953, as the ineffectual Edgar in Wuthering Heights, adapted and produced by the Quatermass team of Nigel Kneale and Rudolph Cartier. Five months later, The Grove Family (1954-57) began, with the Radio Times exhorting viewers, "Each week you are invited to share this family's troubles, joys, and tribulations."

Discounting an earlier children's series, The Appleyards, this was the first soap opera on British television. It was set in the unglamorous London area of Hendon, and its homely, lower-middle-class protagonists were named for the studios from which the series was broadcast. Bryant was a regular as Jack Grove, the eldest son and a National Service conscriptee. Over 20 years later, Clive James wrote in The Observer that the series "had a caricature Northern grandma and a daughter straight from Rada", and indeed certain viewers at the time were aware that it was not exactly sophisticated drama. But the novelty of television guaranteed it an audience, and its termination, when ITV had yet to find a successful soap, was a surprise.

Bryant reprised his role in the first ever film spin-off from a British television series, It's a Great Day! (1955). Seemingly similar, but more ambitious, was The English Family Robinson (1957), Iain MacCormick's four-part series on colonial rule; Bryant was in its last instalment, with Peter Wyngarde as an Indian, while Champion Road (1958) was a Northern-set "serial" with a young Prunella Scales.

After playing a reporter in A Farthing Damages (BBC, 1959), a single play starring suave Alan Wheatley (the Sheriff in the 1950s series of Robin Hood) as a suspect spiritualist, Bryant turned his attentions to radio, first as an announcer, then as a script editor, eventually as head of the BBC's Drama Script Unit.

In 1967 he returned to television, now on the other side of the camera. He became "Story Associate", then story editor, on Doctor Who, before becoming its producer that year with "The Tomb of the Cybermen"; his predecessor, Innes Lloyd, assured him that anything involving Cybermen was bound to be a hit. Patrick Troughton was the Doctor, and Bryant remained with the series until Troughton's penultimate story two years later.

Although Bryant's tenure remains highly regarded by diehard fans, it actually saw declining ratings and a rumour that the series was to be scrapped altogether. One of his final acts as producer was to cast Troughton's replacement; after Ron Moody had turned it down, he chose Jon Pertwee, whose brother Michael and father Roland had written and created The Grove Family.

After Special Project Air (1969), an early-Sunday-evening series that formed part of BBC1's first week in colour, he produced Paul Temple (1969-71), starring the debonair Francis Matthews as Francis Durbridge's amateur sleuth, long popular on radio. As Bryant enthusiastically informed the Radio Times, "The main reason we've been able to do so much filming abroad is that this series is a co-production" - German financing enabling filming in Malta, Amsterdam and Italy, thereby stealing a march on comparable ITV thrillers. However, it was for this reason that Huw Wheldon, who felt such matters were best left to Lew Grade, cancelled the show in 1971 after four series.

Bryant subsequently became an agent, chiefly for children's authors. He was noted for his convivial nature, particularly at the Green Room Club in London.

Gavin Gaughan

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