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Burton, Humphrey (1931-)

Director, Producer, Presenter

Main image of Burton, Humphrey (1931-)

A leading producer of television arts programmes for over 40 years, Humphrey Burton has been a key figure in many of British television's long-running, influential arts magazines, such as Monitor (BBC, 1958-65), Omnibus (BBC, 1967- ), Aquarius (ITV, 1970-77) and Arena (BBC, 1975- ).

He was born Humphrey McGuire Burton in Trowbridge, Wiltshire on 25 March 1931. His father was Chief Examiner for the GCE at Cambridge University, where Burton read Music and History before spending a year in France on a scholarship studying the development of the public concert.

In 1955 he joined the BBC as a trainee studio manager, and some three years later was invited to join Huw Wheldon's Monitor series as a production assistant. It was at Monitor that he learned the craft of television, from producer Wheldon and from director John Schlesinger (as the latter's assistant).

Later, as associate producer and programme editor, his Monitor programmes included a documentary about the life of Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev (tx. 18/6/1961), directed by Ken Russell, Orson Welles talking live with Wheldon about filming Kafka's The Trial (tx. 16/9/1962), and Russell's drama-documentary about composer Sir Edward Elgar (tx. 11/11/1962), the latter programme the series' 100th edition.

With the advent of the second channel, BBC2, he broadened the range of BBC Television's music programmes. In 1965 he was made BBC Television's first Head of Music and Arts, a position he held until 1967.

After some 12 years with the BBC, he left to become a founder member of London Weekend Television following the ITV franchise round of 1967. He was LWT's driving Head of Drama, Arts and Music from 1967 to 1969 before resigning his post to concentrate on freelance work.

In the latter capacity he found time to produce the occasional special himself, like Meet André Previn (ITV, tx. 21/3/1969), featuring sessions of orchestral, chamber, and jazz music, and August Strindberg's powerful relationship triangle 'Playing With Fire' (for Saturday Night Theatre, tx. 13/6/1970).

As a freelance producer, LWT asked him to return to oversee their new fortnightly arts magazine programme Aquarius. Often as entertaining as they were informative, the Aquarius editions ranged from a profile of Denis Mitchell ('Television's Master Film Maker', tx. 17/10/1970) to Elton John ('Mr. Superfunk', tx. 3/4/1971) to the bizarre interview Russell Harty conducted with surrealist Salvador Dalí ('Hello Dali!', tx. 11/11/1973).

In early 1975 he left Aquarius and went back to the BBC to head what was in effect the largest television arts empire in the medium's history. As Head of the Music and Arts department, Burton's responsibilities took in not just the arts documentary and magazine programmes Omnibus and 2nd House (1973-76), and the complete Wagner opera 'The Flying Dutchman' (tx. 9/11/1975), but also history series Chronicle (1966-91), celebrity profile Success Story (1974-75), the musical quiz Face the Music (1972-84) and The Tribal Eye (1975), David Attenborough's examination of tribal art.

Ironically enough, as a counter to LWT's popular Aquarius, the BBC charged Burton with making a success of their new arts magazine Arena, which had initially failed to establish an audience.

Over the years he has been responsible for many memorable musical projects with Leonard Bernstein, the Young Musician of the Year programmes, and various televised Glyndebourne opera events. His work on opera, ballet and symphony concerts has won him four Emmy Awards, two Baftas and the Royal Television Society's silver medal.

Tise Vahimagi

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Master Singers - Two Choirs and a Valley (1965)Master Singers - Two Choirs and a Valley (1965)

Sensitive documentary about a Welsh mining community

Thumbnail image of Antonio Gaudí (1961)Antonio Gaudí (1961)

Ken Russell's portrait of the great Spanish architect

Thumbnail image of Elgar (1962)Elgar (1962)

Ken Russell's remarkably imaginative portrait of the composer

Thumbnail image of Gordon Jacob (1959)Gordon Jacob (1959)

Ken Russell's portrait of the English composer at home and at work

Thumbnail image of Light Fantastic, The (1960)Light Fantastic, The (1960)

A survey of various dance forms as performed across the UK

Thumbnail image of Prokofiev (1961)Prokofiev (1961)

Ken Russell's portrait of the great Russian composer

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