When the name of Huw Wheldon cropped up in a Today programme piece this morning about the death yesterday of the pioneering art critic John Berger, I realised that I have left out an anecdote from my posts about working for Auntie in the seventies.
It happened soon after I started work in BBC Television Presentation department at the TV Centre in White City in 1973. The office was on the fourth floor, and when I was on the early shift I would take the lift from the main entrance foyer shortly before 8 o’clock, usually in a dazed state after the two hour train and tube journey from mid Kent. One morning I was joined in the lift by a man I vaguely recognised. In the few moments it took to get to my floor, Sir Huw Wheldon, Managing Director BBC Television and legendary broadcaster managed to find out who I was, where I worked and what my job was.
As the lift doors closed behind me I could not figure out why a British broadcasting legend might be interested in me, even for that brief moment before he was borne aloft to the hallowed sixth floor. I mentally wrote the incident off as insignificant small talk but I mentioned it to some of my time-served colleagues, who I think were equally mystified, and perhaps a bit envious, given my lowly place in the pecking order.
At least a year later, déjà vu. Same lift, same Huw Wheldon. I recognised him but said nothing as the doors closed. Huw just looked up at the floor indicator and said “Hallo Peter, how are things in Presentation?” I probably mumbled something polite and innocuous. I think he may have wished me luck. As the lift door closed once more on the fourth floor I marvelled at the apparent feat of memory. I am haunted by the thought that I missed a trick that day.
What I didn’t know then was that Huw Wheldon had been a staunch supporter of Late Night Line Up; I wonder if this may explain his interest in presentation department who, under Rowan Ayers had opened up the airwaves to public participation and had an enormous effect on British television.
Rowan Ayers Obituary (The Guardian)