Obituary: Stanley Hyland

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The Independent Online
In the 1950s and 1960s, before the spin doctors took over, television party political and election broadcasts were solely produced by the BBC's Television Talks department. Prime ministers, warily facing the hazards of live transmission in the new medium, tended to demand the services of a familiar trusted producer. For Anthony Eden it was David Attenborough; for Harold Wilson it had to be Stanley Hyland. He produced most of Wilson's main broadcasts from 1964 to 1970. It was the Labour prime minister himself who applied to Hyland the nickname "Gold Microphone in Waiting", originally coined by Malcolm Muggeridge for Richard Dimbleby.

Like Wilson, Hyland was a Yorkshireman. He grew up in Shipley and attended Bradford Grammar School with Denis Healey. At his 14th birthday party, Hyland's father, a lifelong Labour supporter, decided to instruct him in the facts of life. He drew Stanley aside, told him he had important information to impart, and began, "First let me tell you about the birth of the Trade Union movement."

After serving as a Navy signaller during the Second World War Hyland became a research librarian at the House of Commons. He acquired a thorough knowledge of both the workings of Parliament and the structure of the Palace of Westminster, which he put to good use in the first of three thrillers he wrote, Who Goes Hang? (1938), about an ancient corpse discovered in the clock tower of Big Ben.

Hyland joined the BBC European Service in 1951, and held three posts, including Turkish Programme Organiser. He then moved to the Televison Talks department. He worked under John Grist, then in charge of producing all the political programmes, and together they developed Who Goes Home?, a predecessor of Question Time, in which two MPs from adjoining constituencies debated political issues before an audience of their electors. The first came from Keswick with William Whitelaw and Fred Peart making their first television appearances. In 1959 The Hustings used the same technique to cover the General Election campaign, dividing the country into as many groups of constituencies as could be reached by regional and local transmitters at once.

In September 1962 the Conservatives asked that Grist be assigned to them as the principal producer of their party election broadcasts. In February 1963 a similar request for Hyland came from the Labour Party. Thus began the close relationship between Wilson and Hyland, who also produced the programmes for the Liberals.

Meanwhile Hyland had been involved in a quite different series of service programmes, using Barry Bucknell, an all- purpose handyman, to give practical instruction from the studio to the growing body of DIY enthusiasts. Bucknell and Hyland then suggested an ingenious development: buy a dilapidated but structurally sound house. Then show Bucknell each week doing the various jobs needed to reconstruct it, and finally sell it again at a profit.

They discovered a suitable house in a Victorian terrace in Ealing, west London, with space alongside to park an Outside Broadcasts van, and the BBC's regular and very respectable estate agents were asked to negotiate the purchase. Their surveyor's horrified report advised the television service "not to touch it with a bargepole". Hyland courteously replied that the things the surveyor had found wrong were virtues for his programme, which was a popular success.

In 1970 Hyland, by then Chief Assistant in the Current Affairs Group, decided to retire from the BBC and put his production skills to work commercially. He founded HyVision, one of the first private companies to train amateur performers to face a television camera. His clients included ICI, the police, Imperial Tobacco, Commercial Union Assurance, and the Save the Children Fund. "When one of my clients is on," Hyland claimed, "I promise you Robin Day won't chew him up."

In 1994 Hyland was involved in an accident which resulted in the death of his wife and severe injuries for himself; this clouded his final years, though recently he managed to pay a last visit to the House of Commons, where his career had begun.

Leonard Miall

Henry Stanley Hyland, television producer and author: born Shipley, Yorkshire 26 January 1914; BBC Television Talks 1958-70; married Mora Hopkinson (died 1994; two sons); died Bromley, Kent 17 January 1997.