BBC RADIO Drama has, in terms of volume of work produced, long been the largest patron of original creative dramatic writing in Britain. Richard Imison was Script Editor for BBC Radio Drama from 1963 to 1991 and it can therefore fairly be said that no single individual has had an equal spread of influence, nor given so much support to playwrights, both budding or in flower, as Imison did in the past 30 years.
What Imison gave in breadth he also gave in depth. Unstintingly he would encourage and enthuse. He had an intuitive flair for discovering a new writer as well as being able to analyse the faults in the script of an experienced one. Added to this he had the clarity of thought and explanation in suggesting how improvements should be made.
Never particularly practical in areas of personal finances, he could probably have earned a fortune in another place as a 'play doctor'. He would also have made a remarkably fine teacher. But he chose broadcasting and public service as his milieu and the gain was that of the BBC in particular, and of countless writers in general.
It was a milieu well suited to his temperament and personality. He was immensely clubbable, witty, talkative, caring, knowledgeable and totally unselfish. He stood back when others, writers or directors, received the public bouquets in which he should have shared, content with the reward of knowing a good job had been done well. Despite an innate and proper vanity, he never sought the limelight. His pleasure was in giving.
This unselfishness came from a deep-seated Christian faith which grew as the years passed and which strengthened even further as he and his wife Trish, and children Nicholas and Natasha, confronted the possibility of death during the last year of his life when he learnt of an inoperable cancer. The courage, humour and steadfastness they all showed became a remarkable witness to faith to their many friends and colleagues and is something which has enhanced us all.
Although this faith was always at his centre, Richard was a complex many-faceted man, full of paradox. In his reasoning self he was pure Greek (he had been a Classics scholar), strict, almost Stoic. At times this would make him seem over-schoolmasterly in his dealings with colleagues and could give rise to criticisms of being curmudgeonly, which he was not. Creatively he was a Romantic, boundless in enthusiasm, kindness and generosity, in fact and of spirit. An inspiring speaker and an energetic mover of things in public, he remained intensely private in his family life which was the most important part of his existence.
Whereas some can interweave the different strands of their personality, with him they were kept on separate tracks. To senior management this sometimes came across as a flaw for, although early on in his career he was identified as a high-flyer, senior appointments in the BBC eluded him, much to his chagrin. Perhaps God was working a purpose out, for what may have been a loss to the policy-making and directing echelons of the corporation was a great gain to the well-being of British drama.
Before taking early retirement last April before the full import of his illness was known, he spent a year as Special Assistant to the Managing Director of Radio during which period his experience, wisdom and computer-like memory was as invaluable as was his reminding everyone of the importance of many of Lord Reith's tenets about public-service broadcasting. On his retirement he aimed to paint (he was a more than good amateur water-colourist), to spend time with his family and to write the books he had been delayed from writing while busy helping and advising others. Tragically this was not to be.
In public life it tends to be the high-profile areas which are remembered. With Richard Imison it could be the large projects he furthered such as a series of co-productions with the United States, or the big radio serialisations of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, Tolstoy's War and Peace, Anthony Powell's A Dance to the Music of Time, Galsworthy's The Forsyte Chronicles, or else his fruitful association with now famous writers such as Tom Stoppard, John Arden or Harold Pinter. But he should be remembered most for the writing careers he helped in their early stages and the encouragement he gave to all those many excellent writers whose names have not become household words. These many thousands will know who they are and acknowledge their debt.
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