OBITUARIES : Derek Burrell-Davis

Juvenal limited the appetite of the Romans to two things - bread and circuses. In the mid-1950s BBC television's Christmas Day offering was much the same. After viewers had eaten their plum pudding they listened to the Queen's message and then we re always treated to an outside broadcast from Billy Smart's circus, wherever it happened to be standing.

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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Ashdown Group: Human Resources Manager

£28000 - £35000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: A successful organisation...

Recruitment Genius: Internal Recruiter - Manufacturing

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Internal Recruiter (manufact...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager (CIPD) - Barking / East Ham - £50-55K

£50000 - £55000 per annum + 25 days holidays & benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Man...

Recruitment Genius: Operations / Project Manager

£40000 - £48000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This software company specialis...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent