Obituary: Bernard Sendall
Friday 07 June 1996
The chief architect was Sir Robert Fraser, born in Australia and recruited into journalism before the war by Harold Laski. He had been a wartime member of the Ministry of Information. The flurry of indignation among Conservative politicians when Fraser was selected as the first Director- General was well illustrated by David Low in a 1954 cartoon published in the Manchester Guardian which showed a gaggle of Blimps clad in towels demonstrating outside the ITA's headquarters. What they did not realise was that Fraser's socialist ardour was cooling and that he increasingly felt that a monopoly in television was inconsistent with a free and democratic society.
Sendall, his Deputy Director-General, had also worked in the MoI as the private secretary to the Minister, Brendan Bracken. The third member of this triumvirate was Tony Pragnell, formerly an Assistant Principal at the General Post Office, who joined the ITA as Assistant Secretary in 1954, becoming Secretary in 1955 and second Deputy Director-General in 1961.
Sendall and Pragnell were quite different in style, as Lord Hill of Luton, a later ITA chairman, remarked in his memoirs. "Bernard was thoughtful, unobtrusive and civilised, concealing a considerable strength behind a gentle manner; not least important, the companies trusted him. Tony was coolly and calmly efficient, with a passion for detail and a mastery of the facts; he never allowed emotion to colour his judgement."
The work of these three, under the general direction of the ITA's first chairman, Sir Kenneth Clark, was to establish the framework in which the new programme companies would operate, and to help decide which should be franchised. In addition, Sendall had particular responsibilities for the supervision of programmes to terms of policy and taste.
Sendall was the one member of the authority who regularly attended the Monday morning meetings of the Programme Controllers' Group, the powerful team representing the leading programme companies which determined the main framework of ITV's schedule each week. Unlike the others around the table he had never made programmes himself, but he held clear and decisive views on what was worth transmitting to the whole country. His comment that one ITV light entertainment programme was "distressingly popular" became part of the folklore.
Sendall went to the elementary school in Malvern where his father was headmaster, and from there won a scholarship to the Royal Grammar School, Worcester. At the age of 16 he won a Demyship in Modern History at Magdalen College, Oxford. He graduated at 20 with a First in Modern History and went on to read Modern Greats. He then had a year as a Henry Fellow at Harvard.
He joined the Home Civil Service in 1935 and worked first at the Admiralty, where, once the Second World War had started, he served as one of the three private secretaries of the First Lord, Winston Churchill. Later he become the Principal Private Secretary to Brendan Bracken, Churchill's choice as Minister of Information.
After the war Sendall helped to convert the MoI into the new Central Office of Information, and in 1951 he was seconded as Controller of the Festival of Britain Office. As the top civil servant on the team, he was responsible both for the money and the conscience of the festival's planners, who greatly appreciated his imaginative and flexible approach to problems. He was appointed CBE for this work. He then had a further spell at the Admiralty before moving into television.
Sendall retired in 1977 and received the gold medal of the Royal Television Society for outstanding service to television. He then started work on the first two volumes on the history of independent television. He gave a fascinating account of the vicissitudes of the early years of ITV, how it came near to financial collapse and how it recovered to become an integral part of British life. A degenerative illness tragically curtailed hls authorship of subsequent volumes. He was well sustained through this long privation by his wife Barbara and her son, to whom he was closely attached.
Bernard Charles Sendall, television administrator: born Malvern 30 April 1913; a private secretary to the First Lord of the Admiralty 1939-41; Principal Private Secretary to the Minister of Information 1941-45; Controller (Home), Central Office of Information 1946-49; Controller, Festival of Britain Office 1949-51; Assistant Secretary, Admiralty 1951-55; CBE 1952; Deputy Director-General, Independent Television Authority 1955-72, Independent Broadcasting Authority 1972-77; author of Independent Television in Britain, volume i 1982, volume ii 1983; married 1953 Barbara Steward (nee Coviello); died London 25 May 1996.
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