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Rose, David (1924-)


Main image of Rose, David (1924-)

Throughout the 1960s, 70s and 80s David Rose was a leading figure in British television, firstly at the BBC, where he produced Z Cars and Softly, Softly and was Head of English Regions Drama for ten years, and then at Channel 4, where he was Senior Commissioning Editor for Fiction from 1981-90, responsible not only for the new channel's drama output but also for Film on Four, which revitalised British cinema.

Born in Swanage, Dorset , on 22 November 1924, Rose studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama from 1947-49 before working for five years in repertory theatre, as a stage manager and director. In 1954 he moved into television, as an assistant floor manager in Michael Barry's Drama Department at the BBC, and in the late 1950s was part of Elwyn Jones' Dramatised Documentary unit, a small but influential wing of the Drama Department. It was here that Rose got his first opportunity to direct with Black Furrow (1958), a dramatised documentary about open-cast coal mining in South Wales, written by Elaine Morgan. Similar productions included Medico (tx. 7/1/1959) and Scotland Yard (1960), both written by Robert Barr, and Who Pays the Piper? (tx. 13/10/1960), about the BBC Northern Symphony Orchestra, written by John Elliot, with Nigel Stock and Reginald Marsh among the cast.

Rose's work with the Dramatised Documentary unit made him the ideal choice to produce a 'realistic' police series. From 1962 to 1965 Rose produced 176 episodes of Z Cars, the series that helped usher in a new era of progressive contemporary drama under the BBC's new Director General, Hugh Carleton Greene. Created by Troy Kennedy Martin, with writers including Robert Barr, John Hopkins, Allan Prior and Alan Plater, and directors such as John McGrath, Ken Loach, James MacTaggart and Shaun Sutton, Z Cars needed a well-organised producer to oversee it and to maintain its early vigour once Kennedy Martin and John McGrath, who established its fast-paced narrative style, had left the series. The original Z Cars ended in 1965, returning in a half-hour twice-weekly format in 1967, but by this time Rose had moved on to produce Softly, Softly, a spin-off series about a regional crime squad based in Bristol, with Stratford Johns continuing his role as the irascible DCI Barlow, now promoted to Superintendent. Rose remained as producer of Softly, Softly for eighteen months before becoming Assistant Head of Series Drama at the BBC, followed by a spell as Head of BBC TV Training.

When the BBC decided to establish a new regional television drama department at its new Pebble Mill studios in Birmingham, Rose was an ideal choice to head it given his production and management skills and his advocacy of the writer as the primary creative figure in television drama. With script editor Barry Hanson, Rose set about commissioning established writers, including Arthur Hopcraft, David Rudkin and Peter Terson, and many newcomers, including Alan Bleasdale, Ian McEwan and Willy Russell, to write dramas about aspects of English regional life and culture, as a counterbalance to the largely metropolitan drama being produced at BBC Television Centre. Among the many plays, series and serials produced at Pebble Mill under Rose's auspices were Peter Terson's The Fishing Party (tx. 1/6/1972), Alan Plater's Land of Green Ginger (tx. 15/1/1973), Philip Martin's Gangsters (1976-8), Michael Abbensetts' Empire Road (1978-9) and Alan Bleasdale's The Black Stuff (tx. 2/1/1980).

In 1981 Rose left BBC Birmingham, signing off with a production of David Rudkin's extraordinary three hour Artemis 81 (tx. 29/12/1981), to join the new Channel 4 as Senior Commissioning Editor for Fiction. Rose's brief was to produce 'fiction', embracing drama (the twice-weekly serial Brookside being a prime example of innovation and controversy, continuing the regional cultural ethos established by Rose at BBC Pebble Mill), short films (including the Short and Curlies series of 11 minute films) and feature films for Film on Four, perhaps C4's most successful venture in the 1980s. Not only did Rose emphasise the creative importance of the writer, his already passionate advocacy of filmed drama was pursued at C4 to great success, seeing films such as Angel (d. Neil Jordan, 1982), Paris, Texas (d. Wim Wenders, 1984), My Beautiful Laundrette (d. Stephen Frears, 1985), Mona Lisa (d. Jordan, 1986) and Distant Voices, Still Lives (d. Terence Davies, 1988) win awards at festivals around the world.

Invited to give the annual Huw Wheldon Memorial Lecture in 1990, in a presentation intriguingly titled 'Gangsters, Gossip and Grain', Rose expressed his concern about the direction in which television was heading, with unprincipled producers ('gangsters') exploiting real-life stories for the sake of ratings; a proliferation of TV soaps and long-running series ('gossip') which are prone to staleness; and the possibly detrimental effect of new technology, such as High Definition Television, on the quality of film and TV drama: "HDTV is the enemy of atmosphere, denying us the veil of mystery which I loosely describe as grain". The creative role of the producer is often overlooked in television, but the many writers, script editors and directors who worked with Rose speak highly of his leadership qualities, especially his ability to create a space in which others can work without interference from management. Such inspirational producers are increasingly rare in television today.

David Rose received the first Roberto Rossellini Award in 1987 (on behalf of Channel 4), the Royal Television Society's Gold Medal in 1988, and a BAFTA Fellowship in 1997.

Lez Cooke

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Selected credits

Thumbnail image of Brookside (1982-2003)Brookside (1982-2003)

Early Channel 4 hit that changed the face of British TV soap

Thumbnail image of Gangsters (1976-78)Gangsters (1976-78)

Tough crime series set in the Birmingham underworld

Thumbnail image of Land of Green Ginger (1973)Land of Green Ginger (1973)

A young woman is torn between her Hull home and her ambitions in London

Thumbnail image of Penda's Fen (1974)Penda's Fen (1974)

David Rudkin's complex drama explores English pagan myths

Thumbnail image of Z Cars (1962-78)Z Cars (1962-78)

Groundbreaking cop drama introducing new grit and realism

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Thumbnail image of Play for Today (1970-84)Play for Today (1970-84)

Single drama slot known for its provocative political work

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Thumbnail image of Channel 4 Films/Film on Four/FilmFourChannel 4 Films/Film on Four/FilmFour

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