OBITUARIES : Derek Burrell-Davis
Monday 02 January 1995
A second version of the circus for children followed on Boxing Day. The regular producer of both programmes was Derek Burrell-Davis. He was at that time one of the best of an outstanding team of outside broadcast producers who dominated BBC television, creating a variety of entertainment programmes as well as covering sport and ceremonial occasions. Later he became the first Head of the BBC Network Production Centre in Manchester.
Burrell-Davis loved circuses, which in those days were not frowned upon as politically incorrect. He produced the Royal Performance from Bertram Mills's circus at Olympia and his skills were put to a challenging test when Richard Dimbleby, his commentator, was untypically late for the start of the programme. The Russian who played Coco the Clown that year had the responsibility of welcoming the Queen. Clutching a bouquet, he was shaking with nerves. Dimbleby had kindly taken him aside to soothe and reassure him, and in doing so had momentarily forgotten to watch the clock. Suddenly he fled from the clown, skirted the astonished VIPs by sprinting down a hundred yards of red carpet to his waiting microphone. Meanwhile Burrell-Davis had conducted an ingenious and protracted camera sequence which skilfully disguised Dimbleby's absence.
Billy Smart's Big Top ceased touring some 20 years ago, but in October 1993 and again a year later it stood for a month in Richmond, Surrey. On each occasion Burrell-Davis and his wife Mary David, also a skilled television producer, were invited to help with the production, though both had long since retired. They had become close friends of the Smart family.
However Burrell-Davis's programmes were not restricted to circuses. He specialised in large outside broadcasts and spectaculars. He created Saturday Night Out, a weekly series which ran for two years exploiting the highly mobile new one-camera OB unit known as the Roving Eye. He also directed Public Enquiry, a series of live discussions on current affairs.
Burrell-Davis produced many programmes from different European countries. I particularly admired his work at the International Exhibition in Brussels in 1958. The Soviet pavilion there was equipped for closed-circuit television. Burrell-Davis managed to produce a highly complicated programme using a Russian outside-broadcast unit, a Flemish outside-broadcast unit and a Russian tele-cine machine. The technical crews had no common language but managed to follow Burrell-Davis's direction. Richar d Dimblebytoured the Soviet pavilion and was pictured being shown Russian food delicacies such as suckling pig and porridge for dessert. It was the first time that British viewers had been given a live view of Soviet activities.
The next evening Flemish television repeated the same programme for Belgian viewers. They followed exactly the shape of the programme Burrell-Davis had prepared. It could not be bettered. They did not even bother to issue another script to the technical crews.
After education at Repton, and war service with the Royal Engineers, Burrell-Davis had joined the J. Arthur Rank Organisation to learn the technique of film-making. In 1950 he moved to Alexandra Palace as a BBC television stage manager and soon became anoutside broadcasts producer. The following year, when the opening of the Holme Moss transmitter brought television to the North of England, he was transferred to Manchester and for the next four busy years he produced and directed an average of six programmes a month.
He then returned to London to Peter Dimmock's outside broadcast department for 14 years of widely variegated production. He directed circus spectaculars from France, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Ireland and the Soviet Union as well as many from the United Kingdom. In 1969 he was appointed Editor in Charge of the Outside Broadcast Entertainment Department and the following year the BBC moved him back to Manchester to become the first Head of the Network Production Centre. He supervised the building of the new Broadcast Centre and substantially increased its productivity.
Burrell-Davis retired from the BBC in 1977 and for the next two years was a freelance producer for Yorkshire Television. He then went to live in Bournemouth. His interests included yachting, cooking, painting, and lawn bowls. For some 15 years he served as a special constable, but perhaps his greatest pleasure in retirement was being called back twice to help produce Billy Smart's Big Top.
Leonard Miall Derek Gilbert Burrell-Davis, television producer and executive: born York 8 July 1918; married 1946 Joan Morgan (nee Royle; two daughters, and one son deceased; marriage dissolved 1970), secondly Mary David; died Poole 25 December 1994.
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