Just A Minute blog

A blog on the BBC radio programme Just A Minute

Location: Wellington, New Zealand

June 18, 2007

More on David Hatch

Probably the last set of tributes to Sir David Hatch.

This is from the Guardian

Philip Purser

In an age when television was still supposed to be the dominant form of broadcasting, and certainly one on which every career broadcaster should have won his spurs, Sir David Hatch, who has died of cancer at the age of 68, rose to the highest echelons of the BBC without ever straying from radio.

Then, in a complete change of role, he became the salaried, sometimes controversial chairman of the parole board. But even here he exercised the humanity and good humour for which he had been famed at the BBC.

The son of a Yorkshire vicar, he had intended at first to follow in his father's footsteps, but at Cambridge in the late 1950s - after school at St John's, Leatherhead - he was lured into the Cambridge Footlights company.

Its members then included John Cleese, Tim Brook-Taylor, Graham Chapman, Bill Oddie and Jonathan Lynn, who between them would go on to give television (and the world) the Goodies, Monty Python's Flying Circus and Yes, Minister. In 1963, they took a version of their last student entertainment, A Clump of Plinths, to the West End and then to the US for six months.

Hatch went with them, and on returning joined the BBC's light entertainment department. In the classic I'm Sorry, I'll Read That Again (1964), he was the po-faced straight man essential to the wild comedy dispensed by the rest of the cast.

The back-stage business of broad-casting had by then taken his interest. He originated and produced Week-ending (which gradually turned into another weird comedy show), then I'm Sorry, I Haven't a Clue and Just a Minute, both of which are still on air. The Tennis Elbow Foot Game has, alas, dropped through the sieve of time and no recordings seem to exist.

He also oversaw adaptations from popular fiction such as Richard Gordon's Doctor in the House stories, and radio versions of popular television formats. His move to higher management came in 1974, to Manchester as head of network radio there, then back to London as head of light entertainment. He was controller of Radio 2 for thee years, moving to the same job for Radio 4 in 1983. In 1986 he was made director of programmes, radio, and managing director, radio, 1987-93, with a seat on BBC's board of management.

These were not easy times for the holders of such posts, with John Birt's reforms and the increasing determination of successive governments and prime ministers to appoint "strong" chairmen to keep broadcasters in their place.

But Hatch managed to keep a human face in all his contacts. Always good-tempered, affable, funny, he was renowned for the words of encouragement and praise he lavished on all deserving underlings. He got on famously well with the likes of Terry Wogan and David Jason. John Cleese affectionately called him Kipperfeet.

Hatch was a big-hearted man who let you know his thoughts, according to Will Wyatt, then head of broadcast, television. At his desk by 6.30 each morning, Hatch would send out a stream of little notes and memoirs, some containing advice or even a warning, others just to cheer up the recipient. "He sent me a little bit of advice one morning and signed it off, 'Cluck, cluck, Mother Hen'," said Wyatt.

It was the same story when he finally retired from the corporation in 1995 and, though retaining one or two honorary posts in broadcasting, began to take on responsibilities in quite different walks of life.

As a justice of the peace in Buckinghamshire, it was rumoured that he would sometimes feel so sorry for some poor offender that he would send him the cash to pay his fine in an anonymous envelope.

He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, a governor of the British Nutrition Foundation and chairman of the National Consumer Council. He was made CBE in 1994 and knighted 10 years later for his work at the parole board.

This appointment raised eyebrows at the time. Previous chairmen had all come from a government service background, and again his tenure coincided with difficult times for the body he was heading. On the one hand there was much public disquiet over the release of offenders from prison who promptly went on to reoffend. At the other extreme was the case of Tony Martin, the East Anglian farmer jailed for shooting dead a Gypsy burglar, whose early release he opposed because he believed him to be dangerous.

Hatch defended the policy of releasing as many prisoners on parole as possible because he believed it helped to wean them off crime, and also helped relieve prison overcrowding. His staff welcomed his sturdy defence of the board's independence. They also found him an appreciative and generous chairman.

His first wife, Ann, died in 1997. He is survived by two sons and a daughter from that marriage along with Mary, his second wife, whom he married in 1999.

ยท David Edwin Hatch, broadcaster, born May 7 1939; died June 13 2007

This is from the Telegraph

Sir David Hatch, who died on Wednesday aged 68, joined BBC Radio as a writer and performer on I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again and during the 1960s was the originator and producer of comedy shows such as Weekending, Just a Minute and I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue; he became controller of Radio 2, then Radio 4, before becoming overall head of BBC radio.

Hatch was the first radio controller to have endeared himself to staff by showing no indication that he regarded his postings at Broadcasting House as mere staging posts along the road to Television Centre. Very much a "hands-on" manager, he liked to walk the floors each day, looking in on presenters in the on-air studios. Terry Wogan, for one, rated him "the finest senior BBC executive I ever worked for".

Producers often found themselves bombarded with what they called "Hatchlets", timed notes reading "Heard your programme, why did you\u2026 ?" But he was also generous with his praise, not forgetting the technicians.

Hatch loved radio with a passion; even John Birt, who removed him as managing director of radio, saluted "an astute, straight-dealing and utterly committed champion of the medium".

This was immediately apparent when Hatch took over at the top in 1987. Knowing radio's strengths in people and ideas, he built on them. In 1993 it was at his prompting that Radio 2 restored Wogan to the network's breakfast show.

But not all the risks Hatch took came off (he was responsible for the launch of Radio 5, subsequently reinvented as Radio Five Live); yet as commercial radio expanded he placed BBC radio firmly back in the limelight.

Many expected Hatch to be a casualty of the Birt regime in 1993; he had opposed plans for the introduction of a rolling news channel and a large-scale shake up of Radio 1. As it turned out he was moved from his job as head of radio to make way for Liz Forgan, and appointed to a new post of "special assistant" to Birt.

As an adviser with influence but no power, Hatch described himself as "a sort of minister without portfolio" whose main function was to act as peacemaker among the "warring BBC barons". Though he helped draw up plans for the corporation to devolve more programme-making to the regions and loyally defended the new Director-General from his enemies, he was widely seen as having been (in Mark Tully's phrase) "shunted into a siding".

"I am told," Hatch said in an address to the 1993 Radio Festival, "that you get two chances to give this speech - once on the way up and once on the way down." He paused. "Welcome to my second speech." Hatch retired early in 1996, five years before the mandatory retiring age.

The fourth and youngest son of a country vicar, David Edwin Hatch was born on May 7 1939 and educated at St John's School, Leatherhead, and at Queens' College, Cambridge. He read Theology and might have followed his father into the Church, but he soon fell among the undergraduate comics of Footlights - a generation that included John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Bill Oddie and Tim Brooke-Taylor - and changed his plans.

After graduating he joined other members of Footlights in a revue called Plinths (later renamed Cambridge Circus). "We were offered seasons in the West End and on Broadway, which seemed like a lot more fun than yet more Latin," Hatch recalled. But even then he was always the management figure, getting his fellow actors out of hotel beds and to the airports on time.

The charms of cabaret soon palled, however, and Hatch returned to London where, in 1964, with Bill Oddie, John Cleese and other Footlights members, he joined the BBC through a scheme run by radio light entertainment; he went on air as the straight man in the cult comedy show I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again.

Billed as a "radio custard pie", the show (hailed by one critic as "a weekly fusilade of rude, cheerful, chaotic and noisy sketches") ran from 1964 until 1973. But Hatch preferred working behind the scenes, and went on to produce a number of shows in the 1960s before moving into management.

Appointed network editor of radio in Manchester in 1974, he returned to London in 1978 as head of radio light entertainment. By increasing the number of scripted comedy shows he set about dispelling its reputation as a "Cinderella department" run by "old men covered in cobwebs".

During his three years as controller of Radio 2 from 1980, Hatch inaugurated a gradual and unobtrusive shift away from old-style, announcer-based shows towards "personality presenters"; he also commissioned a major project to broadcast all 13 of Gilbert and Sullivan's operettas.

Moving to Radio 4 in 1983, he vowed to reverse the trend of falling audience figures with a series of "minor changes" to programming, but found himself up against an audience which "if you try to make any even very minor changes in scheduling or programming, react as if you have gone into their living rooms and shifted all the furniture round". By his own admission he tried to change too much too fast, introducing an experimental sequence called Rollercoaster to the morning schedule which brought in sackloads of abuse and had to be dropped. "I'm sure they'll find that word engraved on my heart when I die," Hatch said later.

Appointed director of BBC radio in 1986 and managing director of Network Radio BBC the following year, Hatch served as vice-chairman of BBC Enterprises from 1987 to 1993. In 1989 the 25th anniversary broadcast of I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again featured Hatch playing himself as one of the original stars of the series. John Cleese played a BBC Director-General who, on discovering that shows like those of Derek Jameson were damaging the ozone layer, summoned Hatch as radio's managing director and ordered him to recycle quantities of old programmes in order to repair the damage.

After leaving the BBC Hatch served as chairman of the National Consumer Council from 1996 to 2000. Later he returned to broadcasting, as chairman of Radio 4's Wireless World from 1999 to 2003.

He also become involved in the criminal justice field, as a magistrate and - from 2000 to 2004 - as chairman of the Parole Board of England and Wales. He arrived at the Parole Board at a time when its workload was increasing and as it assumed responsibility for deciding on the release of the most dangerous prisoners. Determined to maintain the board's independence, Hatch was not afraid to take up issues on behalf of members and he fought to retain prisoner interviews with the aim of improving the quality of risk assessments.

He was appointed CBE in 1994 and knighted in 2004 for his work in the criminal justice system.

David Hatch married, in 1964, Ann Elizabeth Martin, who died in 1997; they had two sons and a daughter. He married secondly, in 1999, Mary Clancy, with whom he had been paired at a dinner party by Terry Wogan's wife Helen; Wogan himself was best man.

And this is from my friend Keith Matthews who has been doing some historical research in the BBC Archives

I was travelling up the A1 when I heard the news report on radio 2 concerning the death of David Hatch - Just A Minute's most influential director.

He was so important in establishing the blueprint for the show in the first dozen or so years. The framework of this essential bluepprint still, exists to this day.

It was he who cossetted and cajolled and generally massaged the reluctant Kenneth Williams' frail ego into toughening up and hardening himself against the established players of the game. If David had been an ego orientated person he would have left Kenneth to fend for himself and surely the show would have ended after the second series.

It was he who brought about the unwritten rule among the regulars of letting the speaker establish their story in the first fifteen seconds or so of their minute - a rule with which both Kenneth and Nicholas agreed.

Often Kenneth would visit David at his office under the premise of talking about one of the upsets that had occurred during his early days with the game and often his stays would end up talking about the world of comedy and anything else from theology to hospitals. They developed a deep respect for each other and as Kenneth began to excel at the game (in the performance bit anyway because he 'often trailed') David would write Kenneth letters that bordered on the fanatical. He would apologise for sounding so like a typical fan but in respect to Kenneth's work on Just A Minute he could not help himself. He would thank Kenneth over and over again for the excellent comedy that Kenneth had given the show - labelling some of Kenneth's shows as ' some of the best ever recorded'.

As for David ,Kenneth grew so attatched to him that he fretted whenever it looked likely that David was missing due to illness or a holiday claiming 'it was not the same.'

When David moved to producing for the BBC up North Kenneth virtually went in to mourning. As we know David Hatch did eventually return to producing JUST A MINUTE and so at least Kenneth was not left grieving the absence of David Hatch for long.

When Kenneth died David Hatch applied to the BBC's Archive department for several of the originals of the letters that Kenneth had sent him. The BBC granted his wish and kept photocopies on file and sent the originals to a very grateful Hatch. What emerges from these letters is the sincerest of friendships that Kenneth ever had with a radio producer. Radio was Kenneth's favoured medium of self expression by the mid 70s and it was Hatch who held the key to this treasure trove.

What also emerges if you spoke to anyone from any show that Hatch worked on is his selfless devotion to bringing about the best in everyone involved. His magician like ability to harness seemingly opposed talents and spin them into gold. This genius will be sadly missed by all lovers of radio comedy.

He will be missed...


Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a unrelated note (and will all due respect to the late lamented Sir David) I, hopefully, will create a little amount of joy when I inform you, Dean, and potentially others that a friend of mine, a dear generous woman, has kindly uploaded an episode of Cluedo which features our JaM chairman Nicholas Parsons as the Reverend Green.

Please, I implore you, download this episode to see how open-minded the man is and how happy he is to join in and raise hilarity (or concern depending on your viewpoint LOL).


4:36 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a unrelated note (and will all due respect to the late lamented Sir David) I, hopefully, will create a little amount of joy when I inform you, Dean, and potentially others that a friend of mine, a dear generous woman, has kindly uploaded an episode of Cluedo which features our JaM chairman Nicholas Parsons as the Reverend Green.

Please, I implore you, download this episode to see how open-minded the man is and how happy he is to join in and raise hilarity (or concern depending on your viewpoint LOL):


Simon :)

4:36 pm  

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