Tribute to Aubrey Singer 

Television executive 1927 - 2007

Life Story

Distinguished producer who missed out on BBC top job

Aubrey Singer, who died on May 26 aged 80, i s often described as the greatest director general that the BBC never had.

His passionate, idiosyncratic views often generated controversy and made headlines. In 1983 he warned against the ‘Americanisation’ of television with the arrival of Sky.

In a career spanning fifty years, Singer brought pioneering programmes to British screens and sparked public fascination with the world of science.

He was also responsible for bringing classic dramas such as "I Claudius" to our screens.

Aubrey Singer was born on January 21, 1927 in Bradford. He left school at 17 to train as a film editor, spending many years making films in Africa and then Austria.

He joined the BBC in 1949. Singer became the first BBC producer in Scotland, covering the Queen’s inaugural visit to Edinburgh. He moved on to New York in 1953, where he remained for three years as the BBC’s television officer.

In the late 1950s, he delivered a groundbreaking series of science programmes that led to the founding of the BBC Science and Features department. As head of Outside Broadcasts, Singer was responsible for the launch of important programmes, such as Tomorrow’s World and Horizon.

In 1974, he was promoted to Controller of BBC2, a role he thoroughly enjoyed, bringing classic dramas such as ‘I Claudius’ to British screens.

Four years later he was appointed Managing Director of BBC Radio. His controversial plans to rationalise the BBC orchestras led to strikes and a campaign calling for his resignation.

From 1982, Singer was the managing director of BBC television with his eye on the top job of BBC director general. Despite being awarded the CBE in 1984, he was asked to take early retirement.

In response, Singer set up White City films where he remained MD until 1996. During this time he was responsible for the output of high quality documentaries and dramas.

Singer died in a nursing home on 26th May 2007 following a long illness. He is survived by his wife Cynthia and their two children.

Singer was widely respected in broadcasting and was appointed president of the TV and Radio Industries Club, chairman of the Society of Film and Television Arts and a Fellow of the Royal Television Society.

Yet Singer was always a divisive character with as many friends as enemies. He was often criticised for his autocratic manner even towards the most senior of staff; but he is also fondly remembered for the enthusiasm and encouragement he showed junior trainees.

He will be remembered for his intuitive ability to recognise and deliver a good programme, bringing pioneering series such as Horizon to the BBC. He succeeded in his mission to bring popular high quality science programmes to our screens, most notably the ‘Ascent of Man’ in 1973.

Jana Bennett, director of BBC Vision, remembers him as "a distinguished programme maker and controller who presided over the output… of series still regarded as benchmarks for the industry today. He was an accomplished television executive who contributed an extraordinary amount at a time of enormous change in the industry.”

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