|Birth: ||Jun. 8, 1932|
|Death: ||Dec. 22, 2010, England|
Alan Shallcross obituary
Producer of popular BBC television dramas
Alan Shallcross, who has died aged 78, epitomised the BBC television producer of the 1970s and 80s. Always dapper, never without a tie and eminently respectable, Alan had a passion for drama and a respect for writers, actors and the creative process. He knew what he wanted and he got it by searching out talented individuals, nurturing them and then watching them weave their magic in his productions.
In those days, when Paul Fox was controller of BBC1 and Christopher Morahan was head of plays, the BBC drama department bubbled with life. Producers such as Alan were given commissioning power. The writer Brian Phelan, who worked with him often, has described how they went out to lunch, chewed over an idea and, if all was well, went ahead and did it: no committees, no commissioning department, just one producer with an eye for a good idea and the energy to see it through to the screen.
Alan was a producer on the series Play of the Month, Sunday Premiere and Play for Today, which brought to television actors who had made their names in the theatre, among them John Gielgud and Helen Mirren. When asked which of his productions he rated most, it would always be the one Alan was working on at the time. But Churchill and the Generals (1979), with Timothy West as Churchill, remained high on his list. Another was The Weather in the Streets (1984), from the Rosamond Lehmann novel, starring Michael York.
Alan was born in Heswall (then in Cheshire, now in Merseyside) and grew up on a farm during the second world war. He read English at Exeter College, Oxford, along with Russell Harty and Alan Bennett, who became lifelong friends. After graduating, he joined BBC Television in 1957 and worked in programme planning. It was a way in, but strategy and budgeting weren't interesting enough for Alan and in 1962 he enrolled on a directing course where he met Cedric Messina, a self-made TV impresario who became his mentor, friend and colleague. Several years later, M&S – as Harty called them – took on the huge task of producing for television the complete works of Shakespeare for the BBC. Messina was determined to use all the "knights and dames", and Alan had to get hold of them.
One of the highlights was As You Like It (1978), with Mirren as Rosalind, filmed on location at Glamis Castle in Scotland. Cedric and Alan were responsible for 12 of the 37 TV plays produced.
Alan's most notable success was pulling together financing from America and Japan to film the mini-series The Ginger Tree (1989) on location. This was the first BBC drama to use the high-definition technique. There were only two high-definition cameras in the world at the time. The actor Samantha Bond remembers filming halfway up a mountain when, inevitably, their camera broke down. The crew had to wait for three days for the only existing replacement.
A great raconteur, Alan delighted in telling of his first visit to NHK TV studios in Japan, with his business card translated into Japanese. He presented the card and found himself waiting for hours. Finally, he approached the reception desk. Scrutinising his card again, the puzzled receptionist looked up and said: "But why does BBC window cleaner want to see top Japanese TV producer?" In the late 1990s, Alan retired to Settle in North Yorkshire, where he became an energetic figure in the artistic endeavours of the community.
• Alan Shallcross, producer, born 8 June 1932; died 22 December 2010
North Yorkshire, England
Created by: K
Record added: Dec 20, 2011
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