Skip to main content
BFI logo











Screenonline banner
Wilcox, Desmond (1931-2000)

Presenter, Producer, Writer

Main image of Wilcox, Desmond (1931-2000)

In marked contrast to the businesslike, informational TV documentaries of the 1950s - such as straightforward factual accounts of the workings of Scotland Yard (War on Crime, BBC 1950), the activities of the medical services (Medical Officer of Health, BBC 1954), and so forth - the 1960s TV documentary became deeply imbued with a sense of care and concern for the ordinary citizen.

As one of the founding fathers of human-interest television (along with Denis Mitchell), Wilcox had an aptitude for telling stories about ordinary people and the strength and frailty of human relationships. After a decade in print journalism, he turned to television as a reporter for This Week (1956-78), ITV's flagship current affairs series; two of his reports, on the increase in road accidents, 'Road Deaths' (tx. 2/1/1964) and 'Road Safety' (tx. 17/12/1964), played an important part in subsequent government legislation.

He left ITV for the BBC in 1965 to become co-editor (with Bill Morton) and often presenter of Man Alive (BBC, 1965-82), an innovative documentary series chronicling the stresses and strains faced by ordinary people. It was here that he first met his future wife, Esther Rantzen, who was a production assistant; she subsequently worked as a researcher and reporter on Wilcox and Morton's consumer affairs series Braden's Week (BBC, 1968-72) before moving on to the long-running That's Life (BBC, 1973-94).

A year after winning the Richard Dimbleby Award (for his contribution to factual programming), in 1972, he became the BBC's head of general features. Later, as a freelance producer, from 1980, he developed The Visit (BBC), initially a cinéma vérité style strand which ran intermittently from 1982 to 1991. One of the programmes, 'The Boy David' (tx. 7/6/1983), a touching film about the rescue of a disfigured Peruvian child, won five international awards. There were other highly sensitive and emotional projects, including 'Coma' (tx. 25/11/1987), about an 11-year-old girl's fightback from emergency brain surgery after a road accident (returned to in 'Coma: Connie's Story', tx. 22/11/1994, for ITV's revived The Visit), and 'A Voyage for Idris' (tx. 23/11/1993), about a young boy's battle against muscular dystrophy.

He established his own company, the Man Alive Group, in 1995, producing one of his final documentaries, the heartbreaking Children of the Sewers (ITV, tx. 9/2/1999) which highlighted the plight of orphans living rough in Bogota (a follow-up to his earlier The Visit programme 'The Lost Children', tx. 12/6/1991).

Tise Vahimagi

More information


From the BFI's filmographic database

Related media

Selected credits

Thumbnail image of This Week 404: Birth Control (1963)This Week 404: Birth Control (1963)

Documentary about contraceptive dilemmas for Roman Catholics

Thumbnail image of This Week 417: Road Deaths (1964)This Week 417: Road Deaths (1964)

Documentary hinting that alcohol and road safety don't mix

Thumbnail image of This Week 473: Abortion - A Law for the Rich? (1965)This Week 473: Abortion - A Law for the Rich? (1965)

A documentary on abortion, made at a time when it was almost entirely illegal

Related collections

Related people and organisations