Andrew Stewart

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Andrew Stewart (23 June 1907 Milngavie, Glasgow–5 November 1991) was a broadcasting executive and producer best-known for his 40 years' service with the BBC, mainly in Scotland but also in other parts of the UK. He served as the BBC's Scottish Programme Director 1935–1948; Controller Northern Ireland 1948–1952; Controller Home Service 1953–1957; Controller Scotland 1957–1968; Director Scottish Television 1968–1977; Governor National Film School 1971–1976. He was a very independent-minded man, very much in the Reithian-mold and indeed served as something of an acolyte to John Reith all his life.

Early career

The son of a railwayman, Stewart was educated at North Kelvinside Secondary School, Glasgow and went on to Glasgow University where he graduated in French Language and Literature, as well as experimenting with amateur film-making in his spare time.

He had been a leading light in his school dramatic society, and after taking his degree he worked briefly as an actor and assistant stage manager with the Scottish National Players under Tyrone Guthrie. It was Guthrie who recommended Stewart to John Reith, who at that time was the General Manager of the British Broadcasting Company.

BBC career

Following a near hour-long interrogation by John Reith at the BBC's Savoy Hill headquarters in London, Stewart was appointed personal assistant to the Northern Area Director David Cleghorn Thomson on 16 December 1926.[1] At the age of just 19 he found himself involved in all activities of broadcasting, including taking turns at reading the news, acting in radio plays and performing in sketches in the Children's Hour, in which he was named by the children's organiser, Kathleen Garscadden, as 'Longfellow', on account of his height.

Broadcaster Howard Lockhart recalled him being one of the most popular Children's Hour personalities:

He was a fine reader of stories. He always used to begin them with "Once upon a time, for all the best stories begin that way — at least mine always do..." I think his most popular one was The Gingerbread Man — "Run, run, as fast as you can, you can't catch me, I'm the Gingerbread Man!" He was also a popular singer, specialising in The Lum Hat Wantin' the Croon. He'd say, "The key of doh, please Barbara, and not too high!"[2]

In 1931, and still only in his twenties, he was appointed Glasgow Station Representative. Even though the transfer of the BBC's Scottish headquarters from Glasgow to Scottish Broadcasting House, Edinburgh the previous year had reduced the volume of programme-making in Glasgow, the station was still responsible for one or two programmes most days. However, Stewart acted more or less as an OB man for the Region and was therefore away from Glasgow a good deal, leaving his secretary as the only person to deal with callers, complaints and other matters. After he was installed as the new Scottish Regional Director in September 1933, Melville Dinwiddie argued that this arrangement was "entirely inadequate" for a city of a million inhabitants and was given head office permission for the station's part-time announcer role to be converted into a full-time announcer-assistant, whose duties were so arranged that he could be there whenever Stewart was away.[3] Howard Lockhart applied for this job but it went to James Fergusson who had much more impressive academic qualifications.[4]

Stewart was then promoted to Scottish Programme Director in May 1935 following Moray McLaren's move to London.[5]

At the advent of the Second World War, Stewart was all set to take up a commission in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. Two days before he was due to report for duty he was told he was to be seconded to the broadcasting division of the Ministry of Information in London. He took up his post on 24 April 1940 and stayed there for 16 months, co-inciding with Reith's brief tenure as Minister of Information. During this time he was backfilled as the BBC's Scottish Programme Director by Moultrie Kelsall.[6]

He continued as Scottish Programme Director until 1948, during which time he articulated his vision of the BBC's function in Scotland as a multi-genre broadcaster — a principle it still stands by today. "The programmes," Stewart said, were "to reflect the whole of Scotland. Our Home Service must also be a Light Programme and a Third Programme."

Controller, Northern Ireland

In 1948, somewhat reluctantly, Stewart accepted the post of Controller, Northern Ireland. It was said that here, the temper of the man matched the requirements of the time — his firmness and mental clarity, allied to his understanding of the moral stance of the people with whom he was working, was of great importance to the success of that post. He quickly won the respect and trust of all sections of the Ulster community, and he was rewarded four-and-a-half years later with the controllership of the Home Service.

Controller, Home Service

On 1 January 1953 Stewart became controller of the BBC Home Service at Broadcasting House, London. From there, it might have been expected he would have been appointed Director-General. But the climate of the times had changed, partly on account of the spread of television, largely on account of the licensing of independent stations. The BBC still held to its brief 'to inform, educate and entertain', but the wooing of an audience and the acceptance of a more liberal view had to be regarded.

Stewart was appointed CBE in 1954 in the Birthday Honours.

Controller, Scotland

Stewart took over as Controller, Scotland from Melville Dinwiddie upon the latter's retiral on 8 July 1957.

Despite being a loyal Scot, Stewart was disappointed to be sent back north of the border, confiding to friends that he felt that he was being side-tracked.

While offering firm and principled leadership in Scotland for the next 11 years, his ideas about broadcasting were out of sympathy with the spirit of the 1960s, reducing his influence with Head Office and leaving him sometimes at odds with colleagues in the south.

He also did not think much of the idea that Alasdair Milne, then editor of the Tonight programme, should become his head of programmes, although he was the preferred candidate of the then director-general, Sir Hugh Greene. "Andrew Stewart catechised me sternly about the ballads, about Scottish history, about my recent lack of experience of Scotland," Milne wrote in his memoirs, and it got back to him that he had been described as "a young man in a hurry". When Stewart retired in 1968 it was, ironically, to Milne that he yielded his controller's chair.

Stewart's Rethian ideals led him to proclaim that there was to be no association with 'commercial television', famously using the phrase "the gloves are off". Yet curiously, on his retirement he became a director of Scottish Television Ltd and remained on its board until his 70th birthday.

During his time as Scottish Controller, Stewart faced constraints on account of the financial needs of the services.

Director, Scottish Television, 1968–1977

Management style

Stewart was very much in the Reithian mold, particularly in his concern for principle and morality, although he was said to have had more human understanding than Reith and could respect another point of view.

He insisted on high standards, and could be stern with those whom he judged to have fallen short of them, but in spite of his rather austere manner, he was greatly liked and admired. He was a very perceptive man, and many members of staff, some of them quite junior, had reason to be grateful to him for some unobtrusive act of kindness. During his time with the Home Service he was appointed CBE.

Other activities

Stewart was much in demand in other areas of Scottish life. From 1972 to 1982 he was chairman of the Scottish Music Archive and for five years in the 1970s he was chairman of the Films of Scotland Committee and a governor of the National Film School.

Glasgow University

There was one distinction in his retirement which meant more to him than any other. When his old master Lord Reith became Lord Rector of Glasgow University, he invited Stewart to be his assessor. It was not an easy assignment because Reith characteristically decided that he must be much more than a figurehead. The consequent invasions of the province of the principal and senate put considerable strain on relations with the university authorities and for much of his period of office Stewart found himself cast in the role of lightning conductor. The Honorary LLD conferred on him by the university in 1970 was a richly deserved battle honour.[7]

Private life

Stewart was widely read and maintained his early interest in the theatre. He was also in his day a keen mountaineer. He married in 1937 Agnes Isabella Burnet, daughter of James McKechnie, JP, who predeceased him by a few months. They stayed in the Pollokshields area of Glasgow during their retirement.

References

  1. Ariel, June 1937, 35.
  2. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 6.
  3. DIA to Controller (A), 10 November 1933, BBC WAC R13/369/2.
  4. Howard Lockhart, On My Wavelength (Aberdeen: Impulse Books, 1973), 17.
  5. 'BBC appointment', Glasgow Herald, 4 May 1935, 17.
  6. 'Scots programme director', Press and Journal, 25 April 1940, 2.
  7. Obituary, The Times, 13 November 1991.
Media offices
Preceded by
Moray McLaren
Scottish Programme Director
1935–1948
Succeeded by
Gordon Gildard
as Head of Scottish Programmes