Ian Trethowan

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Ian Trethowan
Born (1922-10-20)20 October 1922
Died 12 December 1990 (aged 68)
Cause of death
motor neurone disease
Nationality British
Education Christ's Hospital School, West Sussex
Occupation political journalist, radio and television presenter, BBC Director-General

Sir Ian Trethowan (20 October 1922 – 12 December 1990) was a British journalist, radio and television broadcaster and administrator who eventually became director-general of the BBC. Ian Trethowan was educated at the independent Christ's Hospital school near Horsham in West Sussex and did not attend a university.


Trethowan was a journalist and former parliamentary lobby correspondent, who would go on to become director-general of the BBC from 1 October 1977 to 31 July 1982, having previously been managing director of BBC network radio from 1970 to 1976. He was a high-profile broadcast journalist and had earlier been a presenter for Independent Television News in the late 1950s and early 1960s, co-presenting ITN's coverage of the 1959 general election.

Trethowan moved to the BBC around 1963 and was part of Grace Wyndham Goldie's group of heavy hitting journalists which included Richard Dimbleby and Robin Day. He was a regular presenter of shows such as the political programme Gallery, Panorama and general election and budget specials. He presented the BBC's tribute programme to President John F. Kennedy on the day of his assassination.

Somewhat cautious and conservative-minded, he was responsible for the controversial sacking of Kenny Everett from Radio 1 in 1970 for making a joke suggesting that the wife of John Peyton, the transport minister in the Tory government, had only passed her driving test because she had "slipped the examiner a fiver". This intensified dissatisfaction with the BBC's handling of pop radio among a generation still mourning the demise of most of the offshore radio stations in 1967. In 1979, when Trethowan was director-general, the BBC governors scuppered a plan to broadcast Michael Parkinson's chat show three nights a week, probably because the idea seemed too populist.

A close friend of the former Tory prime minister Sir Edward Heath, and an exponent of the same kind of one-nation Conservatism, Trethowan has been criticised in recent years by some on the left, especially for his support for the Security Service "vetting" of BBC employees which has often been seen as a means of weeding out leftists in the corporation. However, his natural genuflection to those in power ensured that his five years in charge of the BBC were generally very stable and secure for the organisation, in stark contrast to the subsequent director-generalship of Alasdair Milne. In a harbinger of what was to follow, Trethowan's final months at the BBC saw the Thatcher government dissatisfied with what it saw as the corporation's insufficiently patriotic coverage of the Falklands War. From 1987 until his death from motor neurone disease, Trethowan was chairman of Thames Television.

In 1994, when announcing her plans to reduce the dominance of received pronunciation and include more regional accents on Radio 3 and Radio 4, Liz Forgan (who then held Ian Trethowan's old post as managing director of BBC network radio) said that she wanted to move away from the attitude expressed by Trethowan when he heard a Birmingham accent on BBC radio and said "What is that sound doing on the BBC? Get it off." These remarks may be apocryphal, although of all BBC directors-general since 1960, Trethowan is probably the one most likely to have held such views.

Trethowan was knighted in 1980.

In December 2011 when 30-year-old British government papers were released, it was revealed that as director-general Trethowan personally intervened in an attempt to censor a 1981 edition of the BBC's flagship current affairs programme Panorama about Britain's intelligence agencies. Trethowan told the press at the time that nobody from the government had seen the film or put pressure on the BBC but in fact he had met the heads of the Security Service and the Secret Intelligence Service, showed the agencies a preview tape of the programme and invited them to suggest cuts to it. The programme-makers defended their show and, although changes were made, the transmitted programme still annoyed the intelligence agencies.[1][2]


External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by
Charles Curran
Director-General of the BBC
Succeeded by
Alasdair Milne