Obituary: James Bredin

James Graham
Sunday 23 October 2011 07:17

JAMES BREDIN was one of a diminishing generation that had seen active service in the Second World War and, soon after returning to civilian life, discovered the new excitement of television. He was a founding partner in the bold venture of setting up a news service to rival the BBC and directed the first newscast of ITN (Independent Television News) in 1955.

Both the services and television left their mark on him. The gin and tonic "in a tall glass" and the long cigarette holder owed something to the wardroom of Second Lieutenant Bredin's days in the RNVR Fleet Air Arm, between 1943 and 1946. At the end of the war, he had thought of becoming a BBC newsreader, but instead became a scriptwriter with the This Modern Age Film Unit, until he eventually joined the BBC as a television current affairs producer in 1950.

He had attended London University after Finchley Catholic Grammar. Highly literate, precise, fond of phrases like "it makes good sense", Bredin was part of the talented group of production people who set the standards of their day in current affairs, their icons Grace Wyndham Goldie and Huw Wheldon.

At the BBC, he worked on documentaries and in July 1954 began directing Viewpoint. The series was loosely based on Edward R. Murrow's US programme See It Now, and ran successfully until April of the following year. On it, Bredin worked with Aidan Crawley and when, that April, Crawley was appointed ITN's first editor, moved across with him. It was Bredin who arranged the studio tests which resulted in Chris Chataway's and Robin Day's being chosen as the first newscasters when ITN went on air for the first time on 22 September 1955.

Bredin might have become deputy editor but was considered a production figure, rather than a journalist, and instead concentrated on the studio, which he did with great skill, contributing to ITN's high production standard. He directed the 1959 general election programme for ITN and it was at ITN he met his future wife, Virginia Meddowes, then a PA.

His opportunity for a broader role came when the late Sir John Burgess invited him to become managing director at Border Television in 1964, succeeding Robin Gill, who had launched the station, based in Carlisle, a year earlier. Burgess felt that Bredin "added a lustre" of creativity to the station.

Bredin had an Irishman's love of America, coming from Co Clare. His work on Main Street USA, a series which had considerable impact, helped develop the documentary genre in the days of black-and-white. On a May Morning traced the events of May Day at Oxford, opening in gentle meadows, to birdsong. Soon after arriving at Border, he gathered his production staff in the boardroom early one morning, and ran it as an example of what Border should seek to achieve. Newcomers watched in awe.

Bredin had a window in his office looking down into the studio, where, one day, a loveable but flamboyant director was rehearsing the gentle folksongs of Julie Felix against a hacienda wall, with sombreros and huge mock cacti. Bredin groaned, rehearsal stopped and the show was shot against plain background and careful lighting, the good taste that was his hallmark. (The director went on to showbiz fame.)

Derek Batey's quiz show Mr and Mrs was the company's mainstay at the time, and was a programme Bredin enjoyed and encouraged. In his own field, he helped set up Four Companies Productions, with Ulster, Westward and Grampian, producing The World of Beatrix Potter and the story of the speedboat racer Donald Campbell.

Clouds gathered in Cumbria, when things became difficult at Border during the industrial stresses all too familiar in the early Eighties. It was time for Bredin to move on. When I returned north from Broadcasting House to take over from him in 1982, he met me at the station, a characteristic gentlemanly gesture.

The programme foundation he laid held good and Border was to prosper again, helped by Muir Sutherland and Melvyn Bragg, an old friend of Bredin's, who joined the board. Bragg produced Border's first Channel 4 series, Land of the Lakes, which Bredin had instigated.

He also wrote for Diffusion, the quarterly of the European Broadcasting Union (EBU), and reported on the television coverage of the 1994 elections in South Africa. He was a regular book reviewer, his last, on Paul Bonner's Independent Television in Britain, still to appear.

He called on me after I had been ill, with a CD of King Lear - a very James Bredin present. We talked of how he had enjoyed reporting on Mandela's newly awakened South Africa; and his pride in his son, Miles, emerging as a novelist, his first book tracing a journey across that same continent. His fondness for his family always came through, although he and Virginia had moved apart.

Bredin had a great concern for archives, and was anxious that valuable television material should not be lost. He was BP Press Fellow at Wolfson College, Cambridge, in 1987, producing a report on "A Television Archive for Britain". He acted as archive consultant for Anglia Television and a number of other companies and was on the Royal Television Society (RTS) History and Archive Specialist Group.

He was a familiar figure at the RTS, where he was made a Fellow in 1983, and he was always well- informed and up-to-date. A few weeks ago, at an RTS dinner, I spotted him in the crowd and offered a drink, never needing to ask what, as I ordered him a gin and tonic, "in a long glass".

James John Bredin, television producer: born 18 February 1924; Senior Producer, Independent Television News 1955-59; Producer of Documentaries, Associated Television 1959-64; managing director, Border TV 1964-82; Press Fellow, Wolfson College, Cambridge 1987; married 1958 Virginia Meddowes (one son, two daughters); died London 11 November 1998.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments