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.

Arts and Entertainment
TVShow's twee, safe facade smashed by ice cream melting scandal
News
newsVideo for No campaign was meant to get women voting
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Life and Style
tech
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates after scoring his first goal for Arsenal in the Champions League qualifier against Besiktas
sportChilean's first goal for the club secures place in draw for Champions League group stages
Arts and Entertainment
Amis: 'The racial situation in the US is as bad as it’s been since the Civil War'
booksAuthor says he might come back across Atlantic after all
Extras
indybest
Life and Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 200th birthday of Irish writer Sheridan Le Fanu
tech
Arts and Entertainment
Vinyl demand: a factory making the old-style discs
musicManufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl
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

Project Manager (infrastructure, upgrades, rollouts)

£38000 - £45000 Per Annum + excellent benefits package: Clearwater People Solu...

MI Analyst and SQL Developer (SQL, SSAS, SSRS)

£28000 - £32500 Per Annum + 28 days holiday, pension, discounts and more: Clea...

Creative Content Executive (writer, social media, website)

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum + 25 days holiday and bonus: Clearwater People Solut...

Systems & Data Lead – Oxfordshire – Permanent – Up to £24k

£20000 - £24000 Per Annum 28 days holiday, free parking, pension: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone
Amazon is buying Twitch for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?

What is the appeal of Twitch?

Amazon is buying the video-game-themed online streaming site for £600m - but why do people want to watch others playing Xbox?
Tip-tapping typewriters, ripe pongs and slides in the office: Bosses are inventing surprising ways of making us work harder

How bosses are making us work harder

As it is revealed that one newspaper office pumps out the sound of typewriters to increase productivity, Gillian Orr explores the other devices designed to motivate staff
Manufacturers are struggling to keep up with the resurgence in vinyl records

Hard pressed: Resurgence in vinyl records

As the resurgence in vinyl records continues, manufacturers and their outdated machinery are struggling to keep up with the demand
Tony Jordan: 'I turned down the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series nine times ... then I found a kindred spirit'

A tale of two writers

Offered the chance to research Charles Dickens for a TV series, Tony Jordan turned it down. Nine times. The man behind EastEnders and Life on Mars didn’t feel right for the job. Finally, he gave in - and found an unexpected kindred spirit
Could a later start to the school day be the most useful educational reform of all?

Should pupils get a lie in?

Doctors want a later start to the school day so that pupils can sleep later. Not because teenagers are lazy, explains Simon Usborne - it's all down to their circadian rhythms
Prepare for Jewish jokes – as Jewish comedians get their own festival

Prepare for Jewish jokes...

... as Jewish comedians get their own festival
SJ Watson: 'I still can't quite believe that Before I Go to Sleep started in my head'

A dream come true for SJ Watson

Watson was working part time in the NHS when his debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, became a bestseller. Now it's a Hollywood movie, too. Here he recalls the whirlwind journey from children’s ward to A-list film set
10 best cycling bags for commuters

10 best cycling bags for commuters

Gear up for next week’s National Cycle to Work day with one of these practical backpacks and messenger bags
Paul Scholes: Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United

Paul Scholes column

Three at the back isn’t working yet but given time I’m hopeful Louis van Gaal can rebuild Manchester United
Kate Bush, Hammersmith Apollo music review: A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it

Kate Bush shows a voice untroubled by time

A preamble, then a coup de théâtre - and suddenly the long wait felt worth it
Robot sheepdog technology could be used to save people from burning buildings

The science of herding is cracked

Mathematical model would allow robots to be programmed to control crowds and save people from burning buildings
Tyrant: Is the world ready for a Middle Eastern 'Dallas'?

This tyrant doesn’t rule

It’s billed as a Middle Eastern ‘Dallas’, so why does Fox’s new drama have a white British star?