The ‘Emmy’ winner who sent Robin Day to cover sport and made the Minister stop traffic! 

11 July 2022 tbs.pm/75290

He helped mould ITN… He put Anglia TV on the map… He re-shaped Tyne Tees… He is Arthur Clifford OBE…

 

 

The Lens masthead

From The Lens, the staff newspaper for ITN, December 1984

“A chinny, talkative, firecracker”. That’s how the great Arthur Christiansen once described Arthur Clifford — undoubtedly one of the most influential men to walk into ITN when it started transmission in 1955.

His fiery enthusiasm and pioneering spirit as a news editor in the early days of the station are warmly remembered by those who knew him then.

Now, almost thirty years later, and after an absence from national television news of twenty years, Arthur’s back — working for ITN’s teletext service, Oracle.

In the intervening years he earned distinction as an architect of first-class regional television. At Anglia first, as head of news and current affairs; later at Tyne Tees as Head of Programmes.

He devised network programmes which are still running today – About Britain and Face the Press are two of them.

Dagenham, Fleet Street, and the Guards

He won a television Oscar — an Emmy Award – for a documentary about shipbuilding. In 1976 he was awarded an OBE for this services to broadcasting. Four years later the Royal Television Society honoured him with a fellowship for his contribution to the development of television journalism.

But he says that rejoining ITN nearly three years ago was almost like starting out again. “It could have been difficult but it wasn’t. It was almost as though I hadn’t been away. Of course I am delighted to be a part of ITN once more. It’s still a family. That surely remains one of its greatest strengths.”

 

 

Arthur’s career began more than forty years ago in his native Essex, as a teenage reporter on the Dagenham Post. From there he moved to a Fleet Street newsagency. Then came the war and service with the Brigade of Guards. He stayed abroad sometime after the war to launch a newspaper for the new Rhine Army. He returned to Britain to the BBC as a sub-editor in radio, and later, briefly, as a reporter.

BBC Radio led him to BBC Television, and among his many credits he has the distinction of being the first chief-sub of television news, in 1954 at Alexandra Palace.

“It really was magic lantern journalism. The format was staid but it whetted my appetite for television news. I must have been like an eager labrador prowling Ally Pally. When ITN came along, I was there.”

He got an interview at ITN by writing a sample bulletin for Aidan Crawley, the first editor. He was taken on as deputy news editor. Within three months he was promoted to full news editor.

Those who remember his early work say Arthur’s originality was abundant.

He persuaded Duncan-Sandys, then housing minister, to knock on East End doors to tell people about his slum-clearance scheme.

“I even got Ernest Marples, who was transport minister at the time, to stop holiday traffic and tell motorists to drive carefully.”

He sent the young Chris Chataway to interview Teddy Boys at the Elephant and Castle one wet Sunday morning. And lined up for a dubious Robin Day – an interview in America with the legendary boxer, Sugar Ray Robinson.

 

 

The black and white cricket show

“It was our first Roving Report, and Robin said to me I understand you want me to interview this prize-fighting chap!’ But when we saw the interview – in the ring – it was as though Robin had been a boxing reporter all his life. He would never do anything less than perfectly.”

Arthur says he always tried to approach each story in a different way, although his decisions sometimes earned him criticism. When the South African test team flew to Britain shortly after scores of blacks had died in the Sharpeville massacre, Arthur sent a black Trinidadian reporter, Ernest Eytle, to interview them.

“Ernest had been a very good cricketer in his day, but some people thought I’d sent him as a gimmick. I hadn’t. At the airport the South African skipper came up to be interviewed, and said ‘Oh Ernest, how lovely to see you,’ and they embraced and did a very good piece.”

Arthur now admits his early days at ITN were the happiest of his life.

“It was a pioneer outfit. It was completely informal, slightly wild, there was a feeling of liberation in the air. I wouldn’t have missed a second of it. We had scant resources, far too few bodies, we were up against a giant BBC machine, and yet we won – mainly through ideas.”

Those ideas were in great demand, and after joining Anglia he got an hour-long documentary about factory farming into the top ten TV ratings. Perhaps its success was due more than anything to the inspired title: “Switch on the chickens, put the cows on the roundabout.”

Then came Tyne Tees, where he was programme chief.

 

A man sits at a desk with a large typewriter and a small television set

The man in his environment: Arthur Clifford with typewriter, teletext and telephone.

 

From the end of the pier to a top award

“Tyne Tees was completely different to Anglia. I went from the granary of Britain to an area which had been brought to its knees long before the recession hit the rest of Britain. North Easterners were fed up with being seen as if through the wrong end of a telescope. I wanted to take Tyne Tees from being an end-of-the-pier showbiz station to a company with a real regional force.”

It was an ambition in which he succeeded completely. As well as devising programmes like About Britain and Face the Press, he took TTTV successfully into children’s network drama, with a series called the Paper Lads.

But his greatest success was a documentary contrasting the ultra-modern efficiency of a Swedish shipyard, with the more traditional methods of the North East.

Arthur sent the head of the boilermakers’ union and the boss of Swan Hunter shipyards across to Sweden to wander around the hi-tech Swedish yard together under the watchful eye of the camera. “Big Deal at Gothenburg” won television’s highest accolade: an Emmy Award.

 

 

Although that award set the crown on the turn-around in Tyne Tees’ fortunes, Arthur Clifford’s reward came in a more modest way: “Shortly afterwards a man came up to me in a pub and said ‘Mr. Clifford, you’ve given this region back its pride.’ That made it all worthwhile for me.’”

But at the peak of his success Arthur left Tyne Tees. He had his reasons:

“I found that ITV politics was coming between me and making programmes. ITV is a hard world full of accountants talking about investing in packages instead of looking at human lives.”

He wanted to prove to himself he was still a good journalist, and joined Essex County Newspapers as Group Editorial Manager. He wrote a great deal here – features, leaders and his own regular column.

But within three years he was back at ITN working for the Oracle news service.

“I see it as another piece of ITN pioneering. Oracle is widening its horizons all the time, the audience is growing and the service developing. It’s tomorrow’s newspaper, tomorrow’s technology today. And writing for Oracle is a challenge to any newswriter in the business. It’s the art of the short sentence: five paragraphs to tell the lot. Ernest Hemingway would have flourished there.”

But, inevitably, there is the odd regret…

After thirty years of pioneering British television Arthur Clifford’s extraordinary achievements speak for themselves. It’s tempting to ask whether this tall sturdy man approaching sixty has any regrets.

“On reflection, I perhaps regret having left ITN in the first place. My wife says if I’d been more of a diplomat. I’d have been a more successful journalist.”

If Arthur Clifford had been more of a diplomat, British television and ITN would have lost a very distinguished journalist, a real “firecracker”.

 

Arthur Clifford OBE 6 October 1925 – 24 April 2010

 

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