Obituary: Rex Moorfoot

Click to follow
Rex Moorfoot, broadcaster: born Scunthorpe 28 January 1921; BBC Birmingham 1937; Fleet Air Arm 1941-46; Far Eastern Service 1946- 55; seconded as Director of National Services, Radio Ceylon 1952-53; Television Talks producer 1955-60; Head of Presentation, Television 1960-77; author of Television in the Eighties: the total equation 1982; married 1945 Suzette Balls (two daughters); died Carshalton 26 September 1994.

REX MOORFOOT, the former producer of Panorama who later revolutionised the presentation of BBC Television, was a Yit. That may sound an opprobrious term for a gentle, courteous and compassionate man. In BBC parlance during the 1930s it stood for Youth in Training. Moorfoot became a Yit in 1937 at the age of 16 when he joined the Birmingham station to be trained as an effects assistant.

He had grown up in the Midlands with a strong interest in amateur drama which led him towards the BBC. By the time the Second World War broke out he had risen to become a junior producer's assistant, and was working on programmes evacuated from London such as Bandwagon and Monday Night at 8. In 1941 he was called up into the Fleet Air Arm and served as a radar instructor in Canada, the United States, North Africa, India and Ceylon.

After his return to the BBC in 1946 he was posted to the Far Eastern Service as a producer. He started London Calling Asia, a 45- minute daily programme which had a loyal audience throughout the Far East. He was seconded in 1952 for nearly a year to the Commonwealth Relations Office und sent under the Colombo Plan to run the national services of Radio Ceylon, which he did very well.

Two years after his return he applied for attachment to television and was soon established as a producer in the Television Talks Department at Lime Grove. He successfully adapted one of the radio programmes he had started in Bush House, Asian Club, to become a television favourite. He was also responsible for a number of important programmes such as the coverage of party conferences and the series We, the British. In 1957 he devised and produced the television programme leading up to the Queen's first delivery on television of her annual Christmas message from Sandringham.

In 1958 Moorfoot became the producer of Panorama, then at the height of its reputation with a mixed collection of political reporters including Woodrow Wyatt, Christopher Chataway, John Freeman and Francis Williams. Moorfoot's style had a less sharp cutting edge than that of his predecessor (and later successor) Michael Peacock, but a number of outstanding editions were mounted in the years when he was in charge.

By 1960 there was a strong feeling that the presentation of television needed a radical overhaul. Timing was haphazard, the trailing of forthcoming programmes was uncoordinated. There was an over-reliance on the charm of a bevy of announcers to make up for professional deficiencies. The Controller of Television Programmes, Cecil McGivern, was prevailed on to take action. He moved Moorfoot from Lime Grove to the newly opened Television Centre as Head of Presentation and gave him carte blanche to alter the system.

Very soon Moorfoot introduced tighter discipline into the presentation of programmes. Voice-overs replaced loquacious vision announcements. He brought in a new internal transmission communications system, and established a mechanism for the promotion of programmes which involved his colleagues in radio presentation, the publicity department and the Radio Times .

With the advent of BBC 2 in 1964, Moorfoot's Presentation Department began producing a number of programmes of its own. In order to start the second channel with at least 25 programme-hours a week, more facilities with the new technical standards of 625 lines UHF were required. Not enough of the production studios and outside broadcast units could be converted in time. However, Moorfoot had two brand-new small presentation studios, adapted for BBC 2 standards, and he devised a series of small programmes including Late Night Line-up, The Old Grey Whistle Test and various others dealing with films, the press, and television itself. It was one of these which started Will Wyatt, the present Managing Director of BBC network television, on his career.

Moorfoot took early retirement in 1977 and became a freelance consultant on communications technology. He gave advice to the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, and organised courses for British Telecom. He was always interested in the secondary distribution of television programmes and provided two Directors-

General, Alasdair Milne and Sir Michael Checkland, with valuable suggestions in this area. He set down his thoughts in Television in the Eighties: the total equation which was published by the BBC in 1982. He also gave much useful advice to various charities such as the Royal Television Society, Dr Barnardo's Homes and the Soldiers', Sailors' and Airmen's Families


(Photograph omitted)