Sam Organ: Television producer who worked on 'Tribe' and 'Amazon'
Friday 07 May 2010
Sam Organ was a highly respected executive producer in British television whose work was regularly nominated for awards. Though he spent most of his career working in the BBC and rose to become deputy head of BBC Bristol, he was never a Birtist bureaucrat. Beneath a playful exterior he concealed steely determination. His film-making reflected his strong commitment to fairness, justice and tolerance. But there was nothing priggish about him, and his strong sense of fun was never far from the surface.
Organ joined the BBC in west London as a trainee in 1982, and made his mark on the then new Crimewatch programme. His early work as a documentary producer displayed both his creativity and his essential integrity. One memorable moment came in a 40 Minutes programme about London Lighthouse, when he handed the camera to a dying Aids victim. This sensitive gesture of respect to the individual being filmed was typical: Organ was the very antithesis of that type of modern producer who misrepresents his or her purpose in order to achieve a sensational effect.
For over a quarter of a century he worked on hundreds of documentaries, including the series Tribe and Amazon, which won a Bafta award. Young producers benefited from his steady guidance. Many of those who worked with Organ regarded him as a beacon for public service television. His high principles were matched by exacting standards: he insisted on correct grammar in scripts and abhorred jargon and waffle.
He inherited some of his endearing characteristics from his father, who had been a merchant seaman and became a Trinity House pilot; his mother was a teacher. The family lived near Harwich on the Essex coast, where the children enjoyed a Swallows and Amazons-type existence, sailing, swimming and playing games. With two older sisters, the young Sam was the baby of the family, adored by all – which perhaps helps to explain the boyishness which he retained to the end. At the age of eight Sam was sent off to board at Woodbridge School, from which he won a place to read PPE at Keble College, Oxford. Much later, Organ would reflect that he had spent most of his life in institutions: boarding-school, Oxford and the BBC. When he eventually left the Corporation in 1999, he joked that he was being "returned to the community".
Before going up to Oxford Organ spent six months working as a volunteer teacher in a Kenyan secondary school near the coast of the Indian Ocean. After matriculating with a first in 1982, he worked first as a researcher for the Labour MP Greville Janner, and then as a freelance radio journalist, before winning a place on the very competitive BBC trainee scheme. In the mid-1980s he began living in Camden with the writer Rose Shapiro, and their first daughter was born two years later. In 1989 they moved to Bristol, where a second daughter was born in 1993. Though he loved his work, he adored his family, and was both a proud father to Isabel and Judith and a devoted partner to Rose, whom he married in 2002.
In the previous summer Organ had collapsed while whale-watching on a family holiday in America, and was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. Over the following years he bravely underwent three sets of brain surgery and a range of other treatments, some extremely unpleasant. He knew from the outset that the prognosis was not good, but was determined to make the best of the time that remained to him. In this he was lucky to be in the care of oncologist Dr Kirsten Hopkins at the Bristol haematology and oncology centre, who responded wholeheartedly to his resolve to live as long as he possibly could.
His courage and his cheerfulness throughout were both astonishing and inspiring; not for a single moment did he seem to surrender to self-pity. As the disease progressed Organ spent increasing and unwelcome time both in hospital and at St Peter's Hospice in Bristol.
He carried on working regardless. Rose would often find him with his Blackberry in one hand and a blood transfusion hooked up to the other. During his last chemotherapy session he held a conference call with colleagues in Cardiff, London and the United States, holding a hand-written sign politely asking the nursing staff if they would mind waiting until he had finished the call. Only one of those on the line had any idea that he was in hospital.
"Blubbing is allowed", he told his sister Kate at a particularly difficult moment. Organ's traditionally male qualities of stoicism, dignity, and reticence were balanced by his gentleness, sensitivity and lack of pomposity. He was an exceptional person: intelligent, mischievous and funny, with a gift for friendship. His gleeful relish in the absurdities of human existence was irresistibly infectious. His company lit up the lives of those lucky enough to have known him.
Sam Organ, television producer: born Colchester 5 April 1958; married 2002 Rose Shapiro (two daughters); died Bristol 14 April 2010.
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