Obituary: John Elliot

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The Independent Online
John Elliot was one of the BBC's most versatile and conscientious producers of drama and documentaries.

He is remembered as a very good producer of many of the Wednesday Plays, and as the author of Mogul, which began in 1965 as 13 dramas about the oil industry and then was converted into the series of a further 123 episodes of The Troubleshooters, mainly produced by Tony Read, the original story editor. He also produced the outstanding series of film documentaries The War In the Air.

After schooling at Berkhamsted, Elliot was reading English at Klng's College London when the Second World War was declared. He was opposed to the idea of killing anyone himself, so he immediately volunteered for the Royal Army Medical Corps. As a corporal he was involved in the evacuation from Dunkirk. He served in the Middle East and in 1942 was commissioned and transferred to become the Public Relations Officer for the Commander-in-Chief, Ceylon.

Shortly after VJ Day he married Elizabeth Haynes, who had been a fellow student at King's College. He worked for a year in the Public Relations Directorate at the War Office, was demobilised as a major and then joined a small film company which made a promotional film explaining how television worked. This led him into the BBC's film department, then based at Alexandra Palace, and he soon made his mark as a sequence manager. He worked on Television Newsreel and in 1952 was given the task of preparing the obituary of King George VI.

The following year Elliot embarked on a major film documentary series. The Americans had made a series of films Victory at Sea, chronicling the story of sea-power in the Hitler war, seen through American eyes. Elliot engaged Air Chief Marshal Sir Philip Joubert as the full-time technical adviser on a series of films he wrote telling the story of air power from its rise in 1914 to the explosion of the Atom Bomb in 1945. It was the first major series about the Second World War made by British television. Sir Arthur Bliss, the Master of the Queen's Musick composed the musical motif.

Elliot edited a film about Henry Moore which won a Venice Film Festival Award in 1953. The following year he was seconded to the United Nations in New York as Film and Television Liaison Officer, and on his return became a sciptwriter/producer in the BBC Drama Department.

In addition to the highly successful Mogul and Troubleshooters series he wrote the 13-part Fall of Eagles (1974) about the collapse of the Russian, German and Austro- Hungarian empires after the First World War which was sold to more countries abroad than any other BBC programme. His programme A Man from the Sun produced in 1955 was the first especially made for West Indians, and was followed in 1982 by Ebony, with black writers and reporters.

When Desmond Hawkins, the founder of the Natural History Unit at Bristol, was sent to London on a television course, he was attached to Elliot for training and the two became firm friends. Hawkins became Head of Programmes at Bristol in 1955 and two years later was made the South and West Controller. For his successor as Programme Head he chose Elliot, whose reputation at Television Centre ensured that Bristol's regional offerings would be assured of proper consideration for the national network.

When Hawkins retired at the beginning of 1970, Elliot was his natural successor, but at that time the whole future of BBC regional controllerships was being reconsidered and John Elliot was merely made Acting Controller. For three months he held out in the hope of achieving the position he richly deserved. But then his patience gave out. He resigned and became one of the first television producers to form himself into a limited company. He went on making programmes, often for regional television. He was one of the medium's most talented pioneers.

Leonard Miall

John Herbert Elliot, television drama and documentary producer: born Reading 4 July 1918; Film and Sequence Manager, BBC 1949-54, seconded to United Nations, New York 1954-55, Head of Programmes, West Region 1967- 69, Acting Controller, South and West Region 1970; married 1945 Elizabeth Haynes (two daughters, and one son deceased); died Bristol 14 August 1997.