Obituary: Derrick Amoore

Robert Rowland
Sunday 18 September 2011 13:00

Derrick Amoore, television producer and editor, born London 7 March 1935, married 1965 Susannah Latham (two daughters; marriage dissolved 1985), died London 2 September 1992.

DERRICK AMOORE chose to display his original and exciting talents in the world of television, at a time when the medium was in its formative years, and needed pioneers and people of spirit to breathe life and creativity into it.

If the BBC is endeavouring, these days, to preserve its reputation (as its management proclaims), it is a reputation based on the work of such as Derrick Amoore, Donald Baverstock, Michael Peacock and David Attenborough. Amoore joined a tribe of producers who stalked the corridors of Lime Grove with the predatory air of lions in their prime, given encouragement to roar in the jungle by a formidable head of department - Mrs Grace Wyndham Goldie. He was one of the last of the 'Goldie' boys.

It is one of the myths of television that the advent of a commercial competitor gave the BBC a kiss of life. Amoore, like some others in the late Fifties and early Sixties, chose to join the BBC because it represented a set of values, in the very best populist sense, which were distinct from the commercial advertising ethos of the 'other side' - an ethos which has been allowed, over recent years, to masquerade as a motor of national efficiency. Some young people, in those post-Suez, Macmillan days, had ideals which were unashamedly based on a broad liberal consensus. Though they did not embrace the language of the business schools, and were not primarily motivated by the need to be judged by the money they could make, they were fiercely competitive, and immensely creative within the prevailing BBC management ethic of mutually transacted trust centred on fairness and objectivity. From them sprang national events such as Tonight, Panorama, Sportsnight and Nationwide.

Amoore was the last editor of Tonight. He was also the inventor and founder of the hugely successful late-evening current-affairs 24 Hours. Under his wing, on both programmes, he developed talent - with a brilliantly critical eye which rejected equally visual infelicities, loose ends, conceit or bombast. He invented and created the long-running early-evening Nationwide, which changed the television landscape for over a decade - with its remarkable combination of human stories (often quirky but always affectionate), and glittering shafts of new perspectives on national politics.

He then ran BBC News for five years, after a period as Assistant Head of Television Current Affairs. He stood his ground for his staff - in ways often unknown to them - during a period of intense public debate. He gave people the courage of their convictions: he devolved responsibility, encouraging those in whom he saw potential and journalistic integrity. He argued without rancour, and deplored sycophancy.

Life with Derrick Amoore demanded intense debate within the show, but consistency and tenacity in arguing its case to those who might question it from without. He ended his BBC career with a long period running Radio London, where his creative talents still worked. It was a smaller public canvas than he had experienced previously, but he took it over with the same sense of excitement and purpose which he had brought to Nationwide.

He started at Cambridge, where he wrote for Granta and was a pupil of FR Leavis, then spent three years in the army for his National Service, where he claimed a variety of military involvements - including 'jumping' with the Parachute Regiment at Suez. He joined the BBC as a trainee from Cambridge. He could read Latin and Greek, and had a voluminous knowledge of modern history, the ancient world, and English literature. He had an omnivorous appetite for opera, and in his later years wrote operatic reviews. He had the reputation of being one of the cleverest people in the BBC.

Like many intelligent people, he possessed a kaleidoscope of characteristics: he was a private, bookish man with a flair for public and popular journalism, and a bravura way of life which became legendary in its manifestations. It is a pity that he leaves no lasting record, as poets, novelists and playwrights do. He chose the more ephemeral art of daily television. But, in that, he touched the lives of millions. His programmes sparkled with his excellence. He was a great entertainer who never derided attractive didacticism.

He has died too soon, but he bore his last and fatal illness with the most extraordinary courage. He underwent a series of fearsome operations for cancer of the mouth, bouncing back after them as if he had just been to the dentist. He was looked after, in his last years, with great kindness, by Ann Jones. He was married for many years to Susannah, with whom he had two daughters, Chantal and Topaz. He spent his last years re-establishing old affections with family and friends.

Amoore possessed an inventive and infectious sense of humour and wit, which he could use to diffuse an argument, to sharpen his point - or usually, just to be funny. He smoked too many untipped cigarettes for his own good and for too long - aided by a warlike cigarette lighter which produced an enormous flame. He was convivial, sometimes to his detriment - but often as a product of creative discussion and long conversation. He retained a sharpness of response and intellect, whatever the circumstance: this made him an outstanding and inspirational colleague, and editor.

(Photograph omitted)

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