Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

June 15, 2007

David Hatch - obituaries

So far only two of the British broadsheets seem to have run obituaries. I would have expected The Telegraph to.

It's interesting that so far Hatch's brief career as a performer seems to have got more attention than his decades of work in radio!

This from The Independent

Sir David Hatch
Brilliant BBC radio producer and performer turned administrator
Published: 14 June 2007

David Edwin Hatch, actor, producer, writer and radio executive: born 7 May 1939; Radio Network Editor, BBC Manchester 1974-78; Head of Light Entertainment (Radio), BBC 1978-80; Controller, BBC Radio 2 1980-83; Controller, BBC Radio 4 1983-86; Director of Programmes, BBC Radio (later Network Radio, BBC) 1986-87, Managing Director 1987-93; Vice-Chairman, BBC Enterprises 1987-93; Adviser to the Director-General, BBC 1993-95; CBE 1994; Chairman, National Consumer Council 1996-2000; Chairman, Services Sound and Vision Corporation 2000-07; Chairman, Parole Board of England and Wales 2000-04; Kt 2004; married 1964 Ann Martin (two sons, one daughter), 1999 Mary Clancy; died Chalfont St Giles, Buckinghamshire 13 June 2007.

David Hatch was a brilliant radio producer, writer and performer who became a hands-on BBC administrator and was able successfully to negotiate the shark-infested waters of the Corporation, eventually becoming head of the entire radio enterprise, or in BBC bureaucratic jargon "Managing Director, Network Radio BBC".

On his way to the top he endeared himself to staff and colleagues generally by championing radio at every opportunity and showing little inclination to use his various posts as stepping-stones to what some might think of as the greater glory of television. Hatch remained a radio man, pure and simple.

Yet he was essentially an easy-going, sociable man with a droll sense of humour who, especially in his early days, fitted perfectly the role left empty by the death of Kenneth Horne, another superlative radio performer. Hatch was a superb "straight" man: never more so than in the comedy programme he inherited as producer when he joined the BBC in 1965, I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again, which was stuffed with up-and-coming comics such as John Cleese, Bill Oddie, Graeme Garden, Jo Kendall and Tim Brooke-Taylor.

While the rest of the cast engaged in extravagant and hilarious foolery, Hatch played the classic lone figure of sanity in a mad universe, by turns avuncular, stern, unflappable. At the end of one series, in 1969, the I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again survey (a regular feature) examined "Love":

Hatch: What is that certain something that first attracts a boy to a girl? No one can say.

Bill Oddie: I can.

Hatch: Not on radio you can't. I suppose really the special allure of a woman was probably best summed up by an eminent psychoanalyst when he said . . .

John Cleese: Phwoooar!

David Hatch was born in 1939, the fourth and youngest son of a country vicar. He was educated at St John's School, Leatherhead, in Surrey, and then Queen's College, Cambridge, where he gained an MA and a Diploma in Education. Originally he planned to read theology, to follow in his father's footsteps, but got sidetracked into the Cambridge Footlights company, which then included Cleese, Brooke-Taylor, Graham Chapman, Oddie and Jonathan Lynn.

It was a comic melting-pot which later produced Monty Python, The Goodies, Yes, Minister (co-created and co-written by Lynn) and a multitude of other classic comedy shows and radio and TV programmes.

Leaving Cambridge, Hatch successfully toured America with Cambridge Circus and broke into the West End for a run. He joined the BBC in 1964 through a scheme run by radio's "Light Entertainment" department, and cut his producing teeth on magazine programmes such as Roundabout (an early evening show).

After I'm Sorry, he produced numerous light entertainment shows, including The Tennis Elbow Foot Game (a "lost" programme collectors of old radio shows would give their eye-teeth to be able to hear again) and Just a Minute, as well as adaptations of the novelist Richard Gordon's Doctor in the House, and television-to-radio transfers (a flourishing trade in the 1970s) like Brothers in Law and All Gas and Gaiters. He also created and launched the Friday late-night satire show on Radio 4, Week Ending, which began unpromisingly po-faced (and voiced) but soon became a cutting-edge programme to which most of today's best comedy writers contributed at one time or another.

After a while Hatch discovered (somewhat to his surprise, as he later recalled) that he was no longer "getting a buzz out of studio work. Management seemed an obvious move".

Following a stint in Manchester and then a couple of years as Head of Light Entertainment Radio, he was made Controller of Radio 2. During his three years there he let commercial stations mount full-scale and frenzied assaults on Radio 1 while he quietly built up "personality" presenters on his own network, replacing the old "announcer" system. Seeing that there was a dearth of female presenters, he captured and built up Gloria Hunniford into a star performer.

In 1983 he moved from Radio 2 to Radio 4, again as Controller. He found an enormous listener-loyalty which was immensely enthusiastic, but could also be immensely ferocious. Changing the steady morning schedules into an overall "running" show, Rollercoaster, proved fairly disastrous, as Hatch ruefully realised in short order. "[It] brought me tremendous abuse", he recalled years later. "I'm sure they'll find the word 'Rollercoaster' on my heart when I die".

He survived, and gradually brought round most of his critics and the vast Radio 4 audience to the view that change was really inevitable, and could often be liberating.

In 1986 he was made Director of Programmes, Radio, and finally Managing Director of the entire Broadcasting House enterprise. He finally retired in 1995, having been Adviser to the BBC Director-General from 1993.

From being a BBC apparatchik (though a friendly and approachable apparatchik) Hatch became Chair of the National Consumer Council from 1996 through to 2000, joining the ranks of the great and the good. He helped to run the British forces broadcasting network and was a JP, sitting regularly at Aylesbury and Amersham. In 2001 he was made a governor of his old school, St John's, Leatherhead.

Jack Adrian

This one ran in The Times

Sir David Hatch
Comedian who became managing director of BBC Radio, where his optimism helped to lighten some gloomy times

David Hatch was a mainstay of BBC Radio for some 30 years. His early training had not particularly marked him for this: the fourth son of a Yorkshire vicar, he went to Cambridge with theology in mind. There, through the aegis of the Cambridge Footlights, he fell in with John Cleese, Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor, and with them took a revue show, A Clump of Plinths (later renamed Cambridge Circus) to the West End and Broadway in 1963.

The following year he took the straight-man role in the radio series I’m Sorry I’ll Read That Again. He also did six months on the West End stage, and then played New York. He reckoned this new life to be “better than yet more Latin”.

But he was swiftly drawn to life on the other side of the microphone. He joined the BBC staff in the mid1960s, and over ten years in radio light entertainment built a solid reputation for innovation and effective producing. He was the moving spirit behind Week Ending and Just A Minute; he cast his net wide, and high on the list of passing recruits who became lifelong friends were Terry Wogan, Richard Briers and David Jason.

He spent the late 1970s running radio in Manchester, and then headed the light entertainment department from London. He moved into management, and ran Radio 2 for three years from 1980, switching then to Radio 4. Not everything he did was lauded: his experiment with a roller-coaster sequence on Radio 4 proved too much for his morning audience, but his undergraduate humour did not desert him. “Radio 4,” he wrote, “should be a daily anthem of joy – and anthem is as anthem does.”

He resisted the temptations of television: unlike many of his radio colleagues, he was not restless or frustrated in his medium. Television, it was true, had more money, but radio commanded a deep loyalty from listeners. He was for the most part uncomplaining about the traffic of talent out of radio and into television. He saw radio as an important training ground, from which the best would inevitably move on, be it John Lloyd or Steve Coogan. It was, however, a matter of irritation for him that his television colleagues failed to make the best of this nursery, even on occasions allowing BBC radio shows to find a visual outlet on ITV. He held that comedy was too rare and precious a commodity to be so lightly set aside.

The BBC’s habit of looking to television for its radio chiefs amused Hatch. He would cheerfully wonder who the BBC would next send down the road from White City to Broadcasting House. He soldiered on with good grace under Aubrey Singer, Dick Francis and Brian Wenham, finally getting the top job himself in 1987.

As the first managing director to face competition from networked commercial radio, he sought to tidy up: he corralled sport, Open University, schools, education and new children’s programming into a newly mixed Radio 5. The soufflé failed to rise, however, and Hatch came under increasing pressure to make way for rolling news. His resistance to this put him on a collision course with John Birt, then operational boss of BBC journalism and shortly to become director-general. It was widely assumed that when Birt took over, Hatch would go.

In fact, an intervention from the Heritage Secretary, David Mellor, added an unexpected twist. Mellor argued that the BBC could ill-afford to lose one of its few managers with a human face, and Hatch stayed as special adviser to Birt. He peppered him with morning memos designed to lighten the onward march of Birtism.

Notwithstanding that his Radio 5 had been removed in favour of the newsy Radio 5 Live, Hatch stayed loyal to the new regime. His support proved crucial when Birt’s career nearly foundered on the question of his tax status.

Hatch was asked to redefine the BBC’s regional priorities, and find ways to put more work away from London. This led to its fair share of idiocies as programmes were biked hither and thither to fulfil quotas, but Hatch felt that the scheme’s heart was in the right place. He had always seen that a strong BBC needed to draw inspiration and insight from the length and breadth of the land.

Some thought Hatch too much a man for all seasons. The truth was that he treated most political considerations with insouciance. It was therefore natural for him to rub along with the chopping and changing of policy fashion simply to get on with the task in hand. That, as he saw it, was the role of the public servant.

The affection expressed for him when he finally left the BBC in the summer of 1995 was genuine and widespread. Hatch was not without a fondness for the louche, but in him it sat happily alongside a love of the Church. In 1995 he became a justice of the peace in Aylesbury and the next year was appointed CBE.

In 2000 he became chairman of the Services Sound and Vision Corporation and, to the surprise of some, the Parole Board. He fought hard against budget cuts that meant prisoners seeking release could not be properly interviewed, and was incensed when Home Office researchers concluded that conducting interviews did not make much difference to Parole Board decisions. His warnings bore bitter fruit in 2006 after a number of killings by men freed in error.

Hatch was knighted in 2004. He will be best remembered for his steadfast commitment to radio, especially in those gloomy years when it seemed the good times were gone for ever. Hatch rightly suspected that television would lose some of its lustre, and it is largely to his credit that BBC Radio regained confidence in itself. As he always asserted, radio makes better pictures.

His first wife, Ann, predeceased him. He is survived by his second wife, Mary, two sons and a daughter.

Sir David Hatch, CBE, managing director of BBC Radio, 1987-93, and chairman of the Parole Board of England and Wales, 2000-04, was born on May 7, 1939. He died on June 13, 2007, aged 68


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