Obituary: Harman Grisewood

Harman Grisewood, a founding father of the Third Programme and the holder of several top positions in the BBC, rose by an unusual route. During the Second World War, he suddenly leapfrogged from a relatively obscure post in Broadcasting House to become the Number 2 of the European Division in Bush House.

In 1941 Government ministers, using their wartime powers, had insisted that the BBC should appoint Ivone Kirkpatrick of the Foreign Office to the new post of Controller of the European Division, responsible immediately to the Director-General. The BBC in turn declared that Kirkpatrick must take as a deputy someone with substantial broadcasting experience. It was a hard driven bargain.

At Worcester College, Oxford, where he was a history scholar, Harman Grisewood had been a leading member of the OUDS. After he came down he took a humble job writing the labels for Fortnum and Mason's delicacies. One day an Oxford friend in charge of the Children's Hour at Savoy Hill invited him to read a chapter of Ivanhoe to the children. He came away with three guineas. This was three shillings more than he earned in a whole week at Fortnum and Mason. So he gave in his notice the next day and spent the next four years acting in radio plays with the BBC Repertory Company. In 1933 he joined the BBC staff as an announcer, like his better known cousin Freddie, and in the early part of the war was engaged in routine work as a programme planner.

Harman Grisewood had a cultivated mind, though not at that time any great knowledge of foreign affairs, nor indeed of European languages. He had not sought the Bush House job, which involved a substantial promotion, nor had he even known of it before he was appointed. Moreover Kirkpatrick, who had been educated by Benedictines at Downside, considered he had no need of an Assistant Controller at all, and certainly not one who had attended Ampleforth, the Jesuit boarding school in Yorkshire. "Two Catholics," he warned Grisewood, "some people will make trouble."

But fears of a Protestant backlash were ill founded, and Kirkpatrick and Grisewood worked harmoniously together and with the rest of us in Bush House. Harman Grisewood headed the European Service for nine months at the end of the war on a temporary basis, after the Foreign Office had reclaimed Kirkpatrick, and indeed had hopes of becoming its permanent chief.

But what was needed for the Controllership in peacetime was authority in Whitehall, which Grisewood, for all his qualities, lacked. The post went to Sir Ian Jacob, the former Assistant Military Secretary to the Cabinet, and Grisewood dropped down to become the number two in the Talks Division. He disliked its squabbling atmosphere and in 1947, unwell and disenchanted with the BBC, he resigned.

For a few months he tended his garden and regained his health. He then received a handwritten letter from George Barnes, the designated head of the new Third Programme, asking him on a personal and temporary basis to come and help him run it. Grisewood, who admitted to being "an inveterate highbrow", was delighted. Moreover their interests were complementary; Cantabrigian Barnes was Anglican, musical and romantic, Oxonian Grisewood was Roman Catholic, literary and classical. Together they enlarged the vocabulary of broadcasting.

In less than two years Barnes was promoted to a seat on the newly established Board of Management with the egregious title of Director of the Spoken Word (DSW). Grisewood followed in his footsteps first as Head of the Third Programme and eventually also as DSW, responsible for those programme areas which attracted the most controversy: News, Religion, Talks and Education. Complaints from educationists and the clergy were usually just as vociferous as those from politicians, if marginally less self-serving.

When Sir Ian Jacob became Director-General he appointed Grisewood as his Chief Assistant and abolished the title of Director of the Spoken Word. Grisewood became the channel for communications between the DG and the political parties, as well as among the current affairs departments of the BBC.

Grisewood's autobiography One Thing at a Time (1968) recounted a conversation at the time of Suez with Sir Anthony Eden's Press and Public Relations Secretary, the late William Clark. "William told me that the Prime Minister had instructed the Lord Chancellor to prepare an instrument which would take over the BBC altogether and subject it wholly to the will of the Government."

This statement was widely discussed after its publication in 1968 and even debated in the House of Commons. William Clark admitted to me some years later that in talking to Grisewood he had exaggerated the specific plans afoot. Clark's diary, written at the time of Suez, but published after his death, makes no mention of the alleged instruction to the Lord Chancellor.

Nevertheless throughout the Suez crisis the BBC was under very heavy pressure from the Eden Government to avoid, in press reviews broadcast overseas for instance, any mention of domestic opinions critical of Eden's action. In the absence of Sir Ian Jacob at a Commonwealth Broadcasting Conference in Australia it fell to his Chief Assistant Harman Grisewood and the Acting Director-General, the late Air Chief Marshal Sir Norman Bottomley, to reassert the principle that long-term credibility must not be sacrificed to short-term political expediency and staunchly to preserve the political independence of the BBC.

Leonard Miall

Harman Joseph Gerard Grisewood, actor, BBC executive and author: born 8 February 1906; BBC Repertory Company 1929-33; Announcer, BBC 1933-36, Assistant to Programme Organiser 1936-39, Assistant Director Programme Planning 1939-41, Assistant Controller, European Division 1941-45, Director Talks Division 1946-47, Planner, Third Programme 1947-48, Controller of the Third Programe 1948-52, Director of the Spoken Word 1952-55, Chief Assistant to the Director-General 1955-64; CBE 1960; Knight of Grace and Devotion, SMO Malta 1960; author of Broadcasting and Society 1949, The Recess 1963, The Last Cab on the Rank 1964, David Jones: Welsh National Lecture 1966, One Thing at a Time 1968, The Painted Kipper 1970, Stratagem 1987; married 1940 Margaret Bailey (one daughter); died Eye, Suffolk 8 January 1997.

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