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Farson, Daniel (1927-1997)

Writer, Director, Presenter

Main image of Farson, Daniel (1927-1997)

The son of an English mother and the famous American foreign correspondent and big game hunter Negley Farson, Daniel Farson pursued a career in journalism before he joined the infant ITV and became an incisive and intelligent on-screen reporter/interviewer.

He made his TV debut on Associated Rediffusion's 'live' debate show Seconds Out on 5/3/1956. Farson's verbal demolition of the other guests in the programme (about conscription) caught the attention of This Week producer Peter Hunt, who offered Farson a scriptwriting and interviewing job on an upcoming edition of the landmark current affairs series. He quickly became a regular, and more exposure followed with his recurring guest spot as an 'authority' on early ITV game show Two for the Money (1956).

Soon Farson became a household face, one of a new breed of celebrities (which also included Gilbert Harding, John Freeman and Robin Day) made entirely by television. He signed an exclusive contract with Rediffusion and all the following series mentioned here were from that company.

He graduated to fronting his own series (starting with Member's Mail in 1957, which examined problems sent in by constituents to their MPs) and made waves with Out of Step (1957), in which he investigated minorities and eccentrics. The list included vegans, ufologists, witches and scientologists but, predictably, the biggest splash was caused by the edition on nudists. Front-page headlines were the response to the programme of 2/10/1957, which featured what was reputedly British TV's first naked woman, although Farson's thoughtful and intelligent treatment of the subject derailed any would-be outrage and the only call to ITV's Television House was one of praise.

A follow-up series, Keeping In Step (1958), looked at conformity and Farson managed wryly to show how traditionalists can be as eccentric as outsiders. This was followed by People in Trouble (1958) in which Farson tackled (what were conceived as) contemporary social problems (unmarried mothers, mixed marriages, kleptomania, depression, spinsterhood [!] etc.).

Farson's Guide to the British and Success Story followed in 1959, but Farson found himself back on the front pages the following year when Living for Kicks (tx. 2/3/1960), a stand-alone programme in which dissatisfied teenagers aired their grievances, attracted hysterical press reaction. The programme, unusually, had aired the authentic voice of angry youth (mainly from Brighton) and it shocked those out of touch with the changing mores of the nation.

Farson decided to give up television in 1964, to spend time writing - including biographies of Francis Bacon and Dracula creator Bram Stoker, who was Farson's great uncle. Although lured back to TV at various times from the mid 1970s, his greatest contribution to the medium was his work from 1956 to 1964, in which he pioneered a new kind of small screen journalism, taking an uncompromising, 'warts and all' look at contemporary issues and modern people.

Autobiography: Never a Normal Man (HarperCollins, 1997)
TV Memoirs: The Dan Farson Black and White Picture Show (Lemontree Press, 1975)

Dick Fiddy

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