A very remarkable man
Remembering Captain Thomas Marcus Brownrigg OBE, CBE, DSO, RN (Rtd), IDC
It is with a great sense of sadness that Fusion records the death of Capt. T. M. Brownrigg, general manager of this company from its start in November, 1954 until his retirement in December, 1964.
Only in the last issue did we print extracts from a letter he had written to The Times about the merger of Rediffusion Television and ABC Television. In this letter he defended the record of the company and its staff, a staff, he said, which was never baffled.
That his death should occur while the company he helped to create was, itself, facing a form of death sentence makes the event even more tragic. He would have been glad to be sure that the future of those who worked for him was secure.
That his death has to be recorded in Fusion, the magazine he launched for the staff, is also sad. He always took a keen interest in each issue but never interfered in its production. Occasionally there would be a suggestion but never an instruction. He defended the freedom which enabled it to be a magazine created by the staff for the staff.
He was proud of his motto for the staff — never baffled.
Yet near the end of his life be had to admit in his letter to The Times about the merger: ‘It is sad and I am baffled’.
Maybe the staff will continue to live up to their reputation of never being baffled. But about his death, less than four years after his retirement, they can only echo bis words and say: ‘It is sad’.
More than 300 colleagues from the Royal Navy, the world of television and Rediffusion Television attended the memorial service last month to Captain Brownrigg at St. Martin-in-the-Fields. The lesson was read by Admiral Sir David Luce and the service was conducted by the Rev. Austen Williams. The address was by Robert Everett, a man who served under Capt. Brownrigg in the Royal Navy and at Rediffusion Television. His address, which was widely praised, is reproduced here.
In the lesson, from the Book of Wisdom, which Sir David Luce has read, there is that phrase:
‘as sparks among stubble…’
I do not think that, in so few words, there could be a better epitaph for our Tom Brownrigg.
I use the word our in this somewhat proprietary sense because I believe that that is how many of us here would feel about him.
As a ‘spark among stubble’ indeed because, having known him as it were in two lives, I certainly knew that spark – and I have been a small part of the stubble.
It seems to me that this church is absolutely the right place in which we should come together to remember Tom; the man and his achievements. And, therefore, to feel sad, but not to be dismayed.
For those of us from Rediffusion, St. Martin’s has been virtually our parish church to which, upon so many occasions, we have brought our cameras.
St. Martin’s is also known as the parish church of the Admiralty and, thus, the altar is flanked by the White Ensign and the Admiralty’s flag.
It is very much, then, the proper place in which to remember the man who was our so redoubtable general manager having already had a distinguished career as a sailor.
I am not going to recite a catalogue of almost unattainable virtues. Tom Brownrigg was not a great national figure – nor was he a saint. He had no desire to imitate one.
But I look back at the man I knew and served; whom I admired and greatly liked. Therefore, I grieve but I am also grateful.
I shall not embark upon a series of naval anecdotes. I would, however, recall my very first encounter with Tom when, having just been appointed to a brand new aircraft carrier under his command, my admiral commented:
‘Congratulations, with Tom Brownrigg as your captain you will have an exciting time … I would give you about a fortnight before you are sacked…’
Curiously enough, it wasn’t so, but most certainly we had an exciting time; because he was an exciting man to know and to serve.
What, then, were the qualities and characteristics which made it so? As a seaman he was a master craftsman. He could handle an awkward heap of aircraft carrier as if it were a sports car; and he did.
He was a brilliant navigator; and that is why he was Master Navigator of the Mediterranean fleet during the most crucial and precarious time in our naval history. He commanded a war-time cruiser; he was twice decorated for distinguished services. He was Director of Plans at the Admiralty and, subsequently. Chief of Staff in the Mediterranean.
Then he ‘retired’ … but, when thinking in terms of Tom Brownrigg, the word retired is almost a joke. Having ‘retired’, he became the driving force in the creation of the post-war Bracknell new town.
He became the founder general manager of Associated-Rediffusion and carried us through eight hectic years of what I would claim to be extraordinary endeavour and achievement.
He ‘retired’ again.
In the intervals of being chairman of the Berkshire council of St. John’s, on the Arthritis and Rheumatism Council – and so many other activities – I suppose that his time was his own.
When I think of Tom Brownrigg, I think of the essential qualities of leadership; of command. Of command, one demands justice. He gave it. One needs decisions; he made them. Above all, I believe that in command there must be a basic, rock-like integrity. He had it.
Tom was not an easy man. Very often, he could be downright ‘difficult’. He was not everybody’s ‘cup of tea’. Most certainly, he could be almighty ‘difficult’ with those who were found wanting. To those who might try to conceal their ignorance in waffle he applied a mind and technique like a surgeon’s scalpel. He was certainly allergic to yes-men.
He could be very tough, haughty and seemingly implacable. Yet, he would be surprisingly compassionate, even sentimental. He was absolutely loyal to trusted subordinates – whether they were right or wrong.
To some people he could be frankly alarming; yet he was a gay character. He dearly loved a party and liked nothing better than to play the host, at the centre of the stage and surrounded by people. He liked people.
He had a strong, endearing and infectious sense of humour; and the blessed capacity to laugh at himself.
In this day and age, when we seem to be set about with people of empty aims and phoney values, I think that we should mark well men like Tom; the things he thought mattered and his spark of unquenchable enthusiasm for the job to be done, to be done well, to be thoroughly finished, whatever the difficulties.
And so, here we are today; all of us for the same reason. Each of us with personal memories, and personal reactions to the man. We have come together to pay our respects; to give a farewell salute – sadly but without dismay – to the man whom we had to admire, having travelled with him just so far.
To achievement; to the memory of Tom Brownrigg; most truly and surely a very remarkable man.
A third man’s view
There are two views about him and mine is neither of them. I remember him as a professional affliction and then with personal affection. Professionally, he was very tough on me: on reflection, I care nothing about that. He fired at me, as he did at all of us. There are so many ‘Tom’ stories. Mine are no better than so many. The story about the cats is true.
There were two pug-dogs wandering about in features, which should not have been there. I got word that the GM was on his rounds. There was no place to hide the dogs and the owner resolutely refused to shove them into a filing cabinet.
‘What are these cats doing in the building?’
‘They are not cats, sir, they are pug-dogs.’
‘They must be cats. Dogs are not allowed in the building.’
Shortly afterwards I allowed the young son of a well-known personality to sit-in on a ‘This Week’. On his rounds the Captain nearly had a fit. Lacerated, in shreds I took the boy to the guest room, where orange squash can just be found. There, Captain Brownrigg made him his guest of honour. The mistake was mine. The boy was in the technical area and that was not allowed. However, he was a guest.
Later, also on ‘This Week’, a well-known journalist fell into the guest room and fell asleep during an anniversary programme. ‘Who is that?’
‘That’s XY, sir. He’s had pneumonia.’
I reckoned that was my good deed for the night by XY.
Later the familiar tinkling of glass galvanised the recumbent XY towards the Scotch. Tottering towards the Captain he intoned … ‘Are you here for the free drinks too?’
When the Captain left he turned to me and said ‘You must look after XY. Pneumonia is a terrible disease.’
For some people on ‘This Week’ he had a personal dislike amounting to incivility. There was the case of a scriptwriter who shall he called Can Can. It would be difficult to forget such a name.
There was a fearful row. The subject hardly matters.
Next morning the Captain was in the lift on his way to the invincible Fourth Floor. Can Can stood silently beside him. When both reached the fourth the Captain said, as the doors opened, ‘Good-morning, Wharburton.’
He admired efficiency. On one of his trips to America his agent so confused American time scales that he was caused to arrive for urgent appointments hours too early, which was boring, or hours too late, which was intolerable. On his return to civilisation (UK) he posed before a do-it-yourself photographic machine in an attitude of extreme ferocity, which was not difficult. The result he had sent to the agent with a note to the effect that this was what he thought about the arrangements made for him.
He admired and respected straight talk, though curves and mazes in his own conversation went unnoticed, by him. Lord Birkett once told us, at a programme planning meeting, the story of two workmen ‘who became inebriated, I am sorry to say, near Liverpool. Later, both men found themselves, I know not how, crawling late at night along some railway lines. One said – “I find these stairs (meaning the railway sleepers) very steep.” The other said – “I don’t mind the stairs being so steep but I cannot abide the bannisters being so low.”’
When Lord Birkett had gone the Captain sent for me and said: ‘What do you think the fellow was getting at?’
The notion that Birkett was merely telling us a story for its own sake, in working hours, eluded him.
One day he invited us to the theatre; his secretary, Liz, could see anything she liked. So we went to ‘Make Me An Offer’.
During an interval I asked him how he was enjoying the show. ‘Don’t tell Liz’, he said, ‘but we saw it last night.’
‘Well, why didn’t you say so? We could have seen something else.’ ‘No. This is what she wanted to see.’
His attention to detail sometimes came unstuck. On the occasion of the visit of a Prime Minister to the studios he issued one of his second-by-second calculated instructions. Only one function had been forgotten. The Prime Minister wanted to wash his hands. The Captain leapt forward to lead him out – to the ‘Ladies’.
He did not appear to be very musical. Visiting the rehearsal of a full orchestra in a serenade for strings he complained that the brass wasn’t working.
Normally meticulous when it came to rank and station, the uncouth world of show-biz sometimes defeated him. In the very early days he was discussing, at one of his superbly stage-managed cocktail parties, his appointment of a senior drama executive. He had to choose between two people, he told his guest; one was ‘Harold Hitler’ and the other was ‘Sir Francis Drake’. He had chosen Harold Hitler because Sir Francis Drake was quite unsuitable.
His guest said nothing: he was Sir Francis Drake.
Filed. This anecdote of Capt. T. M. Brownrigg is told by Neil Bramson:
‘I was once unwise enough to ask for an extra filing cabinet. Nothing happened for a day or two, then, without warning, the Captain entered himself, followed by business manager, office manager and purchasing officer. Unerringly he went to my existing filing cabinet and selected, equally unerringly, the third drawer down. Opening it, without even looking, he triumphantly produced a pair of ladies’ high-heeled shoes.
‘Deadpan he turned to the business manager: “Requisition these, Elms”, he said and walked out with a gleam in his eye.’
Four years ago in December, 1963 an article appeared in Fusion under the heading ‘The general manager’s farewell’. In it Capt. Brownrigg revealed some of his memories and philosophies about television. This article consists of extracts from that piece.
‘On Wednesday, November 24, 1954 I walked into the offices (two rooms) of Associated-Rediffusion in Stratton House as the third member of the staff: the company secretary, Arthur Groocock, and his personal secretary, Fay Caddy, were already there. The company’s name was fixed – an accountant in Rediffusion was presented with a gold watch for having thought of it, especially the hyphen – and the Board of Directors had been chosen: the chairman from B.E.T., three directors from Rediffusion and four from Associated Newspapers (hence Associated-Rediffusion – ed.). Nothing else was fixed.
‘I do not propose to trace the build-up of the company, nor to describe the intriguing excitement with which I entered, for me, the unknown worlds of entertainment and advertising. Suffice it to say that the company went on the air on Friday, September 22, 1955 with a crashing and most expensive programme, and will end its present Licence period on Wednesday, July 29, 1964 with, I hope, another outstanding programme: and that between these two dates, the company has been so successful financially as to become the envy of many people, and so successful programme-wise that it is the provider of the majority of live/taped hours to the network. Some call us doggedly decent; I say we are reliably good.
‘Most people think of a general manager as a man in command, even at times as a dictator, but in fact no one is a successful general manager unless he serves. In our case he has to serve the viewers, the staff and the shareholders. Also, of course, he has to manage.’
About serving the staff he said: ‘Firstly, he must establish an organisation which is clear and workable, so that everybody knows who does what. Nothing is more frustrating than not knowing who deals with what and who can give a decision. Secondly, he has to create a staff relationship in which the staff feel that promotions or demotions are fairly done, that discipline is tempered with understanding. Nothing can engender bitterness more than a feeling that something has been decided unfairly or ruthlessly and, in this connection, the same ill feeling can be caused if the general manager allows one person to get away with something – bad time-keeping or excessive expenses – whilst his colleague has abided by the rules. Thirdly, the general manager must see that conditions under which the staff work, and the equipment that they operate are the best that can reasonably be provided. It may be the creative freedom given to the programme directors, or it may be the vision mixing panel in master control, but whatever it is, it should enable the creative staff to be creative and the servicing staff to be able to do their job efficiently.’
Later on he made this point: ‘You will observe that there is a very fine dividing line between the object of satisfying the viewers with better programmes which might be achieved by extra expenditure, and the object of preventing the shareholders’ money being wasted. The general manager never has an easy life and very rarely does he have easy decisions to make. (“Problems only reach the general manager when they are insoluble elsewhere”.)’
About his retirement Capt. Brownrigg wrote: ‘As planned long ago, I am retiring from my job as general manager before the start of the new Licence period; firstly, because I think that after 45 years of full-time work I am entitled to take life a bit easier and, secondly, because I believe that television is a young man’s job: new ideas should be bubbling up and new techniques tried (always provided they are not to the detriment of the viewers). When you are over 60 there is a danger of thinking that old and tried ideas are necessarily the best.’
His article ended: ‘I would like now to thank you all for your loyal support through the years, and for never allowing your jobs to get you down. I hope, when the station clock is redesigned, it will contain the company’s motto “Never Baffled”.’
With the death of Rediffusion Television that clock will now never be redesigned.
About the author
'Fusion' was the quarterly staff magazine for Associated-Rediffusion and Rediffusion Television employees.
1 thought on “A very remarkable man”
I love the fact the cover of that final “Fusion” magazine depicts a shotgun wedding.