Philip Jones: Television executive who sold 'Inspector Morse' to the world
Friday 10 July 2009
Over a period of four decades that mirrored the growth of television, Philip Jones was one of the industry's master salesmen, taking British programmes to worldwide audiences. He sold Inspector Morse (1987-2000), starring John Thaw as the Oxford detective, to more than 200 countries.
While responsible for international sales at the ITV companies Central Independent Television and Carlton, Jones established a reputation as a "people" person. With a dislike for paperwork, he clinched deals by building up relationships with buyers on the telephone, in meetings and by entertaining them at meals that became legendary with colleagues.
When he left in 1999 – he was described at the time by a fellow industry stalwart as "one of the last grand old men of distribution" – Jones recalled how his job had become tougher with the advent of cable, satellite, video and DVD, and the need to negotiate separate deals.
"If I was visiting Scandinavia, I could leave on Sunday and be back on Friday, having done Finland, Sweden, Norway and Denmark," he explained. "Now, it would take three weeks."
On one such trip to Sweden, Jones showed the character that made him so likeable in the industry. Arriving at his hotel late after an alcohol-fuelled dinner with a client, he discovered that his room had been let to another guest. Following a row with the concierge and determined to make a point, he stripped down to his boxer shorts and went to sleep on a sofa in the lobby.
Born Philip Mervyn-Jones in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, in 1944 (he dropped the "Mervyn" when he entered television), he was the son of a teacher serving in Italy as a lieutenant- commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during the Second World War. While attending Colchester Royal Grammar School, Jones excelled at rugby union and cricket, and was coached by Trevor Bailey at Essex County Cricket Club. However, he was not academic and stayed on at school until the age of 19 to achieve four O-Level passes. His plans to train as an Army officer at Sandhurst were thwarted when he suffered a bad knee injury that left him with a permanent limp.
Interviews for jobs with firms such as the Fyffes banana company were unsuccessful and his mother suggested that he contact his paternal uncle, Elwyn Jones, a BBC producer. A meeting with him did not result in work, but Jones applied for jobs at the BBC and, in 1963, was taken on as a clerk in the BBC Transcription Service. From there, he became a junior sales executive with BBC Enterprises, which sold the corporation's programmes abroad.
One of Jones's most significant deals, which he and the division's general manager, Dennis Scuse, sealed together, was the first sale of a British programme to the Soviet Union, The Forsyte Saga (1967). Then, Jones joined Yorkshire Television (1970-73), where his global sales included Alan Whicker's various jet-setting series.
In 1973, his career took a slightly different course when he became a theatrical agent with the William Morris Agency in London, charged with packaging stars and ideas to sell to television. As he wined and dined entertainers such as Neil Diamond, he himself described his job title as "head of lunches".
Jones returned to television as director of international sales for ITC Entertainment (1978-82), the distribution arm of the impresario Lew Grade's ATV, which was still earning income from 1960s series such as Danger Man and The Saint. On top of this, he clinched a $1m deal with Australian television, giving it the rights to screen The Muppet Show. The company also sold films made by Grade, such as On Golden Pond (1981) and Sophie's Choice (1982).
When ATV was replaced as the ITV Midlands franchise holder by Central Independent Television in 1982, Jones continued in the same role for the new company. Then, in 1988, he became managing director of the newly formed Central Television Enterprises and, nine years later, director of international relations at its successor, Carlton International.
Throughout this time, Jones was responsible for sales at one of the two biggest commercial television organsations (the other was Granada Inter-national) distributing British programmes worldwide. Central Independent Television won the Queen's Award for Export on two occasions, in 1987 and 1989. As well as Inspector Morse, Jones had success with other dramas, including Soldier Soldier and Sharpe, documentaries and children's programmes. He also showed business acumen by founding Central Video and by obtaining the rights to the films of the great producer-director Alexander Korda, including The Thief of Baghdad (1940).
On leaving Carlton International in 1999, he set up his own company, Philip M. Jones Associates, acting as a consultant to producers worldwide. He was also on the board of Promenade Productions and served on the international jury at the Banff Television Festival.
For many years, Jones was president of the cricket club in Knowl Hill, Berkshire, where he lived. His son, Matthew Mervyn-Jones, is a television producer.
Philip Mervyn-Jones (Philip Jones), international television sales executive: born Clacton-on-Sea, Essex 24 March 1944; married 1966 Sue Hancock (one son, one daughter); died Knowl Hill, Berkshire 5 July 2009.
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