John Furness

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Interview Date(s): 
17 Jan 1995
28 Feb 1995
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Interview notes



Born in Worcester, 1911. Parents separated when he was still a baby, he talks about being fostered; his mother took a job as a secretary to an MP and worked at the Houses of Parliament. She remarried when he was seven, and sent to another foster home where he stayed until he was 21. He talks about growing up in the village of Wickford, Essex. Left school at 16, his step-father got him a job in the Anglo-South American Bank. Side 1 is full of interesting social history about village life.


Again he talks about his growing up period and his interest in the theatre.


He continues to talk about his interests; he also talks about earning £5 a week playing the piano at the Florida Club – his bank wages were £3. He has moved to another bank, the British Overseas Bank. When the war started joined ENSA [Entertainments National Service Association] and in 1941 moved with them to Denham House; was sent to the Oxford area to look after Queen Mary’s Entertainment for the Troops. After Dunkirk, was called up: joined an NCO’s [Non-commissioned Officer] course, later selected for an OCTU [Officer Cadet Training Unit] and by the end of 1941 was commissioned and asked to join the Indian Army. He talks about this period.


He continues to talk about his Indian period and the time when he took charge of troops sending radio messages home. In 1946 on demobilisation he joined he joined the BBC European Service as an SM. He then managed to get a transfer to television at Alexandra Palace, and again talks at some length of his early days there.


He talks about early episodes of Panorama (1953); Brains Trust (TV version). He talks about Andrew Miller Jones, Mary Adams, and the first use of a teleprompter, by the Earl of Harewood. Howard Thomas and The Brains Trust; Then Gardening Club, with Percy Thrower. He then talks about the expansion of programmes from the regions, which took away some of John’s programmes. However, he then went on to produce the Barry Bucknall D.I.Y. [Do it Yourself] series. He then goes on to talk about Andrew Miller Jones and the production of Panorama.


More about Panorama, when he took over from Miller Jones. He then talks about The Brains Trust which he produced from 1955 to 1961 when Donald Baverstock killed off the programme. Owen Reed of Children’s Television asked for John to take over Playbox, which he produced from 1961-1963. He talks about the programme in some detail. He then went to produce Blue Peter.


After Blue Peter he was loaned to Jamaica TV which was starting up after independence, and he talks about that period. On his return he took over the training of new producers. His next series was to be Songs for the Times, followed by the An Evening with… series.


He talks at length about An Evening With… and people who took part. Then came a 13-part series with Spike Milligan. [Muses with Milligan]


He talks about the programme he made with Lady Margot Asquith. He took early retirement at 59 and joined the staff of the Polytechnic of Central London. He then talks about the BBC in general and the types of staff he met.



Brought up by mother from baby. Normal schooling. Mother PA to an MP. Lived in Fulham. Stepfather in RFC. Moved to Wickford until 21 years. With uncle built first wireless receiver in village of Wickford for early BBC broadcasts. Heard Dame Nellie Melba singing.Joined a bank. Called up in army ended in Queens regiment.Promoted to Staff officer. BBC Dramas after army .Early programmes. Panorama with 35mm film. With Percy Thrower on Gardening Club all live. Ballet. Worked in France live programmes from Paris.Pioneered first programmes from USA on film before Videotape. Brains Trust. Union difficulties working in USA. Blue Peter. Songs for the Times. Produced with Malcolm Muggeridge on George Orwell programme.Returned ot BBC as Freelancer for last years.Guild of TV producers member.