Hugh Greene

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(Redirected from Hugh Carleton Greene)

Hugh Carleton Greene was Director-General of the BBC from 1960 to 1969, and is generally credited with modernising an organisation that had fallen behind in the wake of the launch of ITV in 1955. He was the brother of the writer Graham Greene, but was often confused by the public with his contemporary, the television presenter Hughie Greene.

He kept the BBC in pace with the major social changes in Britain in the 1960s, and through such series as Steptoe and Son, Z Cars and That Was The Week That Was, he moved the corporation away from Reithian middle-class values and deference to traditional authority and power. Controversial, socially concerned dramas such as Up the Junction and Cathy Come Home were broadcast as part of The Wednesday Play strand, which also gave Dennis Potter his breakthrough as a dramatist with, among other works, the "Nigel Barton" plays. As a result of Greene's breaking down of Reithian cultural mores, the BBC also greatly increased its standing as a broadcaster of pure light entertainment, proving that it could achieve comparable ratings in the mainstream, populist market to those achieved by ITV. Carleton Greene also strongly opposed pressure from the morality campaigner Mary Whitehouse, a stance not always followed by future directors-general.

The tone of BBC Radio overall changed less radically in the Carleton Greene era than that of BBC Television, with reforms of the networks not coming until 1970 (by which time Charles Curran was director-general). However it was in 1967, under Greene's director-generalship, that the corporation embraced pop radio for the first time with Radio 1, taking most of its DJs and music policy from offshore radio, which had just been banned by the government.

Greene's undoing followed the appointment of the former Tory minister Lord Hill as chairman of the BBC Governors from September 1, 1967, ironically by Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who had criticised Hill's appointment as chairman of the Independent Television Authority by a Tory government in 1963. A more cautious and conservative atmosphere then took hold in the corporation, typified by the axing (until 1972) of Till Death Us Do Part, one of the series most despised by Mary Whitehouse, but conversely one of its most popular in the ratings. In July 1968 the BBC issued the document Broadcasting In The Public Mood without Greene's significant involvement, seeming to question the continued broadcasting of the more provocative and controversial material (one of Greene's allies at the top level of the corporation described this document as "emasculated and philistine") and in October 1968 Greene announced that he would be retiring as director-general. He was succeeded the next year by the more conservative Charles Curran.

Echoes of the removal of Hugh Greene could be heard in the departure in 2004 of director-general Greg Dyke in the wake of the Hutton Inquiry.

Carleton Greene then became one of the BBC governors, a position he held until 1971. He has remained a divisive figure in what have been called the British "culture wars" (after the American term for the liberal-conservative divide in US society); he has frequently been attacked by those of a conservative bent, especially the writer Peter Hitchens, for his part in the erosion of, what they see as, a better Britain. But he has been praised by some of liberal and leftish leanings for opening up an, as they claim, ossifying institution, and creating a more tolerant and open-minded society. The simple fact remains that one's opinion of Sir Hugh Carleton Greene can depend entirely on one's opinion of the social changes less deference to traditional authority and the traditional establishment that are most frequently associated with the 1960s. Sir Hugh Greene's influence on British society both on those who approve of what he stood for and on those who despise it remains, as does the influence of those social changes more generally. Recently, in the wake of the Hutton Report, there has been some further debate about the relationship between the government, the Establishment and the BBC.

Preceded by:
Ian Jacob
Director-General of the BBC
Followed by:
Charles Curran

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