Journalist and broadcaster
Born: December 9, 1931; Died: April 19, 2014.
Ian McIntyre, who has died aged 82, famously gained the nickname of “Mack the Knife” during his 1976-78 stint as controller of BBC Radio 4, thanks in part to the numerous -and, at the time, controversial – cuts and changes he made to the station’s schedules. His style of governance – described by one producer, Piers Plowright, as ruthless – would later cause further ructions at BBC Radio 3, although he remained controller of that station for nine years until the role was merged with that of running the Proms.
Born in Banchory, Aberdeenshire, McIntyre attended Prescot Grammar School in Merseyside, before reading Modern Languages at St John’s College, Cambridge, during which time he was president of the Union. Graduating with an MA, he spent a postgraduate year at the College of Europe in Bruges, before returning to the UK to complete his national service in the Intelligence Corps in Sussex.
Following his national service, in 1957 he joined BBC Radio as a producer in the Topical Talks Unit, working on the twice-weekly current affairs magazine programme At Home and Abroad. After two years he was appointed editor of the programme and remained in the post for a year, before moving to becoming a course organiser at the BBC Training School. Just one year later, he left the BBC to join the then Independent Television Authority as a programme services officer, but also remained in this post for just a year.
From 1962 until 1970, he worked at the Conservative Central Office in Scotland as their director of information. In the run-up to the General Election in March 1966, he was selected as the Conservative party’s candidate for the Westminster constituency of Roxburgh, Selkirk and Peebles. While he attracted 18,396 votes, it was not enough to unseat the Liberal candidate David Steel (who gained 20,607 votes). Steel, who had won the seat from the Conservatives in a by-election the previous year, would go on to represent the area at Westminster until his retirement in 1997.
Denied a political career, McIntyre continued to working as a freelancer, making numerous documentaries initially for BBC Radio 3. In 1969, however, he was approached by his friend and colleague Tony Whitby – at the time, Controller of BBC Radio 4 – to help launch a new current affairs programme for the station. His brief was simple: “Make them challenging, make them interesting, and make them amusing if you can.”
Launched in 1970, the programme McIntyre created, Analysis, is still running today. McIntyre – with his immediately recognisable quiet, assured voice – fronted the programme for six years, leaving only when he was appointed controller of BBC Radio 4.
His relatively brief tenure as head of the station was certainly, on occasions, controversial with both staff and listeners, not least because of his rescheduling of The Archers and Alistair Cooke’s Letter from America. However, he was arguably faced with the challenge of balancing rising costs with falling budgets. Some of his innovations did not outlast his departure in 1978, not least the decision to cut the length of morning news and current affairs programme Today.
He was certainly successful though in relaunching the station as BBC Radio 4 UK, following the 1978 reorganisation of the corporation’s radio frequencies which removed the regional opt-outs the station had inherited from the former Home Service in 1967. McIntyre also hired the station’s first female newsreaders and commissioned the Radio 4 UK Theme from Fritz Spiegl. It was an orchestral medley of traditional and Irish tunes representing the four home countries of the United Kingdom and would continue to be used until April 2006.
McIntyre was appointed controller of BBC Radio 3 in 1978, in which post he would remain for nine years, although his relationship with several departments – most notably the Music Division – became increasingly strained as financial cuts hit the BBC hard from 1980.
During his tenure, he successfully shifted the station away from its habit of including long analytical introductions of the music being played, and he was also pleased to drop Open University programming. In 1987, however, the position of Radio 3 Controller was merged with that of Controller, Music; while McIntyre applied, the new position was won by former Music Controller John Drummond, and McIntyre left the BBC soon afterwards.
Returning to life as a freelancer, he reviewed books for The Times (for which he briefly became an associate editor, 1989-90), The Spectator and The Independent. He also began to build an impressive series of biographies on figures including Robert Burns (his most recent published in 2009), the artist Sir Joshua Reynolds, 18th century actor David Garrick and the BBC’s first Director General John Reith. He also contributed to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.
His wife, Leik Sommerfelt McIntyre, died in 2012. He is survived by their four children and 11 grandchildren.
First published by The Herald, 22 April 2014.