Richard Broke: Television producer who found himself attacked by the Tories for 'Tumbledown' and 'The Monocled Mutinee'

 

As a television producer, Richard's Broke's greatest concern – and achievement – was to make good, challenging drama. Two of his BBC productions, The Monocled Mutineer and Tumbledown, also provoked the Tory government into accusing the Corporation of left-wing bias. Causing controversy was never Broke's aim, but he privately admitted to gaining satisfaction when the Daily Mail was whipped into a frenzy.

Four years after crystallising the tragedy of unemployment under the Thatcher government in Boys from the Blackstuff, Alan Bleasdale adapted The Monocled Mutineer (1986) as a four-part serial from William Allison and John Fairley's book about the 1917 manhunt for Private Percy Toplis, who deserted during the First World War. Paul McGann played Toplis, allegedly the ringleader in a rebellion by troops in France before the battle of Passchendaele.

The most wanted man in Britain, he proved to be a master of disguise and the resulting drama was utterly compelling – but the Conservative Party chairman Norman Tebbit declared it biased and the Daily Mail described it as "a tissue of lies". Admissions of dramatic licence after the programme was promoted as a real-life story did not help the Corporation's case.

This followed Tebbit's attack on the BBC for allegedly being anti-American in its coverage of bombing raids on Libya launched from British air bases – the latest in a long line of Tory accusations of bias during the 1980s. (Tebbit had also claimed that Boys from the Blackstuff would reduce investment in Liverpool.)

In 1988, Broke was at the centre of more controversy. Tumbledown, written by Charles Wood, told the real-life story of Scots Guards officer Robert Lawrence, who was paralysed after being shot in the head by a sniper in the Falklands. Colin Firth played the lieutenant who feels abandoned by the Army and government in a production that raises questions about how Britain treats its war wounded. Directed by Richard Eyre, it earned the Best Single Drama award from the Royal Television Society, Bafta and the Broadcasting Press Guild – and a tirade of abuse in the letters columns of The Times and Daily Telegraph.

As the first executive producer of the BBC's Screen One drama slot, Broke commissioned A Question of Attribution (1991). Based on Alan Bennett's play and directed by John Schlesinger, it is about the interrogation of Anthony Blunt (played by James Fox), who was exposed as a Soviet spy while working as surveyor of the Queen's pictures. It was another piece of television that sat uneasily with the Establishment.

Broke had Establishment connections himself, having been educated at Eton. His family's involvement in amateur dramatics led him to become an assistant stage manager, first at the Oxford Playhouse in 1961, then for Laurence Olivier's launch of the first Chichester Festival Theatre season, when Broke also appeared as a servant in The Broken Heart. This was followed by a stint working on the Lionel Bart wartime musical Blitz! (Adelphi Theatre, 1962).

Broke joined the BBC as a trainee on productions such as the fantasy series Adam Adamant Lives! (1966-67). In 1970 he broke his spine in a car crash that left him wheelchair-bound. Far from allowing this to end his career, he was soon back at the BBC and adopting a positive outlook that saw his fortunes soar. After working as a researcher on Dennis Potter's Casanova (1971), starring Frank Finlay in a contemporary take on the Italian lover, Broke was promoted to script editor, working on six plays (1972-73) in the Thirty-Minute Theatre series, including five by John Mortimer. Among other dramas he script-edited were Roy Minton's Funny Farm and an adaptation of 84, Charing Cross Road, both for Play for Today in 1975, and Frederic Raphael's The Glittering Prizes (1976).

Broke was given his first chance as a producer on episodes of the anthology drama series Centre Play (1973-76). He followed it with Play for Today and BBC2 Playhouse productions but significantly advanced his career by producing Winston Churchill: The Wilderness Years (1981) for ITV. The eight-part serial was based on Martin Gilbert's biography tracing the politician's exile, from losing office in 1929 until the start of war. In a master stroke of casting, Broke persuaded Robert Hardy to play Churchill. The actor had been reluctant but revealed that "several very good lunches" with the producer helped to change his mind.

Broke returned to the BBC for a golden period that included producing Dr Fischer of Geneva (1985), which he adapted himself from Graham Greene's novel, with James Mason in the title role. Untouched by the Monocled Mutineer and Tumbledown fall-out, he was put in charge of Screen One in 1989. Over the next five years he worked on nearly 50 productions, ranging from William Humble's Tony Hancock biopic Hancock and Willy Russell's stag and hen parties drama Dancin' Thru the Dark to Roy Clarke's A Foreign Field, starring Alec Guinness and Leo McKern as war veterans returning to Normandy to visit a the grave of a friend.

Broke's last major BBC drama was Cold Comfort Farm (1995), starring Kate Beckinsale and directed by John Schlesinger. He returned to ITV for two series (2000-01) of Where the Heart Is and one run (2002) of the hospital drama A&E. He was married to the film make-up artist Elaine Carew.

ANTHONY HAYWARD

Richard William Broke, television producer and writer: born London 2 December 1943; married 1988 Elaine Carew (two daughters); died London 14 April 2014.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
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

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + uncapped commission : SThree: Hello! I know most ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Performance Consultant Trainee

£22000 - £28000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Consultant trainee opportunit...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - (Full marketing mix) - Knutsford

£22000 - £25000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Executive - Knu...

Ashdown Group: Web Developer - ASP.NET, C#, MVC - London

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Web Developer -...

Day In a Page

Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

The future of GM

The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

Britain's mild winters could be numbered

Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

Cowslips vs honeysuckle

It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss
Tony Blair joins a strange and exclusive club of political leaders whose careers have been blighted by the Middle East

Blair has joined a strange and exclusive club

A new tomb has just gone up in the Middle East's graveyard of US and British political reputations, says Patrick Cockburn
Election 2015: Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May

Election 2015

Meet the top 12 wacky candidates seeking your vote in May
Countdown to the election: Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear as the SNP target his Commons seat

Operation Save Danny Alexander shifts into high gear

The Chief Secretary to the Treasury didn’t forget his Highland roots in the Budget. But the SNP is after his Commons seat
The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

The US is getting frayed at the edges

Public spending on infrastructure is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened, says Rupert Cornwell
Mad Men final episodes: Museum exhibition just part of the hoopla greeting end of 1960s-set TV hit

New Yorkers raise a glass to Mad Men

A museum exhibition is just part of the hoopla greeting the final run of the 1960s-set TV hit
Land speed record: British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

British-built hybrid rocket car aims to be the fastest on Earth

Bloodhound SSC will attempt to set a new standard in South Africa's Kalahari desert
Housebuilders go back to basics by using traditional methods and materials

Housebuilders go back to basics - throwing mud at the wall until it sticks

Traditional materials are ticking all the construction boxes: they are cheap, green – and anyone can use them
Daniel Brühl: 'When you have success abroad, you become a traitor. Envy is very German'

Daniel Brühl: 'Envy is very German'

He's got stick for his golden acting career and for his beloved restaurant - but Daniel Brühl is staying put in Berlin (where at least the grannies love him)
How Leica transformed photography for ever: Celebrating 100 years of the famous camera

Celebrating 100 years of Leica

A new book reveals how this elegant, lightweight box of tricks would transform the way we saw life on the street and in fashion, on the battlefield and across the world