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Last Updated: Tuesday, 22 July, 2003, 06:11 GMT 07:11 UK
The pioneers of British media

by Nick Higham
BBC media correspondent

Here's a summer game to play as you while away those long lazy hours on the beach somewhere, trying to ignore the pangs brought on by being deprived of your favourite newspaper, TV programme or radio show.

Who are the pioneers of British media?

Those people - still alive - who helped shape the programmes we watch and listen to, the newspapers and magazines we read, and the technology that brings them to us?

David Attenborough
David Attenborough pioneered natural history TV
Who first had the ideas for things we now take for granted - or had the energy and vision to take other people's ideas and drive them to fruition?

Someone asked me for my suggestions the other day - and it proved harder than I'd expected to come up with a list of names.

In newspapers I thought of Eddie Shah, the man who first broke the stranglehold of the print unions and then launched his own low-cost daily newspaper, Today.

I thought of Andreas Whittam-Smith, the founder of The Independent (which unlike Today still survives).

And I thought of Harry Evans, the legendary editor of The Sunday Times in the 1960s and 70s, who more or less invented the modern multi-section, campaigning Sunday broadsheet newspaper.

Radio pioneers
Radio Leicester, the first BBC local radio station in 1967
Lord Gordon of Strathblane, who launched Raido Clyde, the first independent local radio station to make money
Michael Bukht, founder of Classic FM
Anna Raebrun, pioneer of frank phone-ins
In magazines there's Tony Elliott, the founder of Time Out, the first listings magazine and forerunner of a thousand copycat titles and newspaper supplements; John Bird, founder of The Big Issue and James Brown and his colleagues on the original team at Loaded, which set a new standard for men's magazines.

There's also David Hepworth, who as editorial director of EMAP Consumer Magazines revitalised general interest magazines by launching the likes of Q, Empire, Heat and Mojo; and William Davis, founder of British Airways' High Life, the (highly profitable) precursor of scores of free "customer magazines".

But what about television and radio? Any list of pioneers should include survivors of the generation of offshore pirate stations who brought American-style music radio to Britain.

There are the people behind programme genres which are now familiar but seemed revolutionary in their day.
Genre pioneers
Ned Sherrin, David Frost for That Was The Week That Was, the first live satire sow
Tim Brooke-Taylor, John Cleese, Graeme Garden, David Hatch, Jo Kendall and Bill Oddie for I'm Sorry I'll Read That Again
Cliff Michelmore, Alasdair Milne and others started Tonight, the forerunner of every subsequent topical magazine programme
Biddy Baxter, the editor for years of Blue Peter, was a pioneer of children's programming

Paul Watson, who made The Family in 1974, gave us the fly on the wall human interest documentary and its bastard offspring, the docusoap.

David Attenborough was a pioneer of natural history programming while Jeremy Isaacs (who also merits a mention as the first chief executive of Channel 4) helped invent the blockbuster documentary with The World at War.

Troy Kennedy Martin gave us Z Cars and his brother Ian gave us The Sweeney, the patterns for all subsequent cop shows.

Phil Redmond gave us Grange Hill and Brookside - socially-engaged serial drama.

Tony Warren, creator of Coronation Street, not to mention Norman Painting (Phil Archer in The Archers) and Bill Roach (Ken Barlow in Corrie), might represent an earlier generation of soap opera pioneers.

More recently Peter Bazalgette has given us lifestyle and makeover shows like Ready Steady Cook and Changing Rooms (as well as bringing Big Brother to Britain), Anne Wood has given us the Teletubbies, Charlie Parsons has given us The Word and The Big Breakfast.

Chris Evans has given us himself, not to mention Don't Forget to Pack Your Toothbrush and the zoo-format radio breakfast show.

Chris Morris, progenitor of On The Hour, The Day Today and Brass Eye, is more original (and outrageous) than all of them.

Janet Street Porter
Janet Street Porter defined 'yoof' programmes
Michael Jackson, later chief executive of Channel 4, was a pioneer of independent television production and of arts programmes (The Media Show, The Late Show), though he owed a lot to the real pioneer of arts on television, Monitor (Melvyn Bragg is a survivor of the original Monitor generation).

Jane Hewland and Janet Street-Porter pioneered "yoof television" and many of the techniques now commonplace in factual TV (handheld cameras, zippy editing, walking pieces to camera, scrolling captions) on LWT's Network 7.

Many of these people are well-known to the general public.

Others are backroom men and women like Quentin Howard, chief executive of Digital One and a pioneer of digital radio, or Mike Smartt, about to retire as the first editor of BBC News Online and a pioneer of public service content on the web.

And no list of pioneers in British media can afford to ignore Rupert Murdoch, who by my estimation pioneered four of the most significant developments in British media in the last 40 years:

  • the modern British tabloid (the Sun and News of the World)
  • low-cost production techniques in national newspapers (Wapping) which in turn led to today's multi-section, multicoloured, lifestyle-heavy titles
  • multichannel pay television
  • digital TV.

    Among the lieutenants who helped him: Vic Wakeling, a pioneer of the dedicated television sports channel; Adam Boulton, representing the pioneers of 24 hour television news; and Kelvin Mackenzie, sole survivor from among the great editors of the Sun.

    It's a long list already, but I can't help feeling there are scores of names I might have included which have somehow got left out - programming wizards, technological inventors, entrepreneurs, pioneers of new media, community media, ethnic media...

    Feel free to send me your suggestions to me using the form below.

    Your E-mail address

    Disclaimer: The BBC may edit your comments and cannot guarantee that all e-mails will be published.

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