Richard Greenough

Family name: 
Work area/craft/role: 
Interview Number: 
Interview Date(s): 
11 Oct 1990
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 

Horizontal tabs

Interview notes


[Transcribed from log-sheet notes by David Robson]

Trained as architect, war service with Royal Air Force as radar technician. Posted to Stratford-upon-Avon and wanted to become an actor. Obtained temporary job as scene shifter. Joined BBC TV and trained and worked as a designer at Alexandra Palace, Lime Grove and TV Centre. Joined ATV in 1955 and eventually promoted to Head of Visual Arts, including wardrobe, make-up and props etc. Retired early – disliked administrative role. Enjoyed working in ‘live’ TV up until mid-1960s after which VTR became universal, recorded shows lacked excitement.


Head of Visual Arts at ATV

Obituary. It is with great regret that the Alexandra Palace Television Society has today learnt of the death of Richard Greenough, Designer (BBC 1948-1955, ATV 1955-1983).

As a child, in Woking, Surrey, Richard made theatres out of any box he could find, designed and made the scenery, so perhaps he was destined to be a set designer in later life.

It was Richard's intention to become an architect, but with the advent of war in September 1939, this avenue was curtailed, but he did attend night school to study architecture.

In October 1941 Richard found himself out of work and through a friend became a scene-shifter at the Princes Theatre (now the Shaftesbury Theatre).  This proved to be good experience for his future career in scenic design.

In February 1942 Richard was called-up to the RAF and after a month was posted to Glasgow on a basic wireless radar course.  After his training he was kept on as an instructor and was based there for almost a year.  This enabled Richard to return to his first love architecture, as he was able to attend a part-time course at the Glasgow School of Art for two afternoons and two evenings a week.  Sadly, he was posted away before he could take the exam.

Early in 1945 Richard was posted to a camp three miles away from Stratford-upon-Avon and took the opportunity to see if they wanted anyone to "hold a spear" - with everyone away at the war, they jumped at the chance.  During the remaining year Richard found himself in three out of the eight plays the theatre produced.  The following year Richard was in six out of the eight plays that were produced and he was demobbed three weeks before the end of the season.  Following his leave from the RAF Richard was taken into the company until the end of the season.

The 1947 season saw Richard acting along-side such names as Donald Sinden, Joss Ackland, Margaret Courtenay, Paul Scofield and Robert Harris.  Towards the end of the season the company brought several productions to His Majesty's Theatre in London which, sadly, only ran for three and a half weeks!  However, Richard could claim he was a West End actor!  Richard described this as a "most wonderful year, but it proved that I would never be a good actor as I was hopeless with lines, being somewhat dyslexic."

Richard then decided to turn his attention elsewhere in the theatre, becoming an assistant stage manager and was employed at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East.  By his own admission he wasn't much good as an ASM, lasting only two productions, so by early 1948 Richard was out of work, deciding the theatre was not for him.

By coincidence during his time in the RAF, Richard met Stewart Mortimer, who had been with the BBC Television Service before the war.  Richard wrote to him and Stewart passed his letter on to Peter Bax, Head of Design (H Tel Des).  Peter called him to an interview on 13th January 1948, along with models of stage sets he had made and architectural drawings.  Following this interview Richard received a letter engaging him as a "holiday relief".  It did not say what or whom he should relieve!

Richard therefore joined  the BBC Television Service on 23rd February 1948 in the Design Department where he remained until 1955.

When Richard walked into the Design Department on that February morning there were only three Designers; Barry Learoyd, James Bould and Stephen Bundy, who were extremely over-worked.  After a few days Richard found himself assisting James and Stephen whilst looking after the shows with stock sets, such as “Muffin the Mule”.

In addition to the two studios there was a workshop for constructing scenery and for the painters who wallpapered and painted the sets.  Scenic artists painted backcloths on paint frames.  Although the transmitted picture would be in black and white, scenery was painted in colour.  Firstly, because if actors were in an all grey set, they would find it very depressing, and secondly, it was assumed that one day television would be in colour and scenic artists who had been trained to use colour would lose their skills if they always had to work in tones of grey.  There was a large stock of scenery, flats, doors, windows, balustrades, etc., which could be arranged in many ways, new pieces being made as required and re-decorated for every show.  There was a number of stock sets such as the Georgian set and Oak Panel set which were in units of walls, doors and so on.  The scenery was mostly stored in the Alexandra Palace Theatre, which had not been used as a theatre for many years, and also in many other areas.

One of the first tasks Richard was required to undertake was to re-draw the floor plans for both the two studios at Alexandra Palace.  These floor plans were used to stage each television production in the studios and used by everybody concerned with action on the studio floor, Set Designers, lighting, camera positions, etc.  And it was these floor plans that were used for the staging of productions for the remainder of the period that BBC Television occupied Ally Pall.

Richard started to design shows himself, his first being “Holiday Fashion” on 22nd June 1948.  Gradually, his work-load increased and he was given bigger and bigger productions.  Later in the year, on 9th November, Richard designed The Paris Lido Show, directed by Michael Mills.  He was not allowed to go to Paris and had to reproduce the Paris Lido from photographs in their brochure.!

In his memoirs Richard described how he designed the sets for a play:

Before reading the script, I preferred to talk to the director.  I would ask him or her what sets were required and where he or she thought the doors, windows, fireplaces and staircase etc., were, for example; door on the left, fireplace on the right, and any other thoughts on the set he or she had.  I believe that I have a very good visual sense so that when I read the script I would see the set in my mind’s eye.  If the director said the door was on the left, that is where I would see it.  If I read the script first and saw the door on the right and the director later said it should be on the left I would find it difficult to see it that way.  It is most important that there is very close co-operation between designer and director and each should be guided by the other, but both many have to amend their ideas to make the sets fit into the studio.  When plays were transmitted live, it was very important that the actors and cameras could move from one set to another.  This may influence whether the door is on the left or right.

At the end of 1950, the BBC started to use the Lime Grove Studios, Shepherds Bush, which had been the Gainsborough film studios.  Richard was responsible for designing the first show out of Studio G – this was “Gala Variety”, which included a very young Tommy Cooper, on 23rd December, directed by Michael Mills.  His PA was Yvonne Littlewood, who went on to be a LE Producer and Director in her own right.

Although Richard designed many sets during his time with the BBC, his most famous production was “The Quatermass Experiment”, which was transmitted live in six episodes in Studio A from 18th July to 26th August 1953.  Richard’s assistant on this production was Stewart Marshall who took the design credit on episodes 2, 4 and 6.

With the advent of Commercial Television Richard was not alone in leaving the corporation for a new career with the “rival” companies.  Richard resigned from the BBC on 31st May 1955 to go to ATV, as Head of Design.  During his seven years with the BBC, Richard designed, or was responsible for, over 500 productions.  They were all transmitted live and he believed that none of his work had been recorded.  However, the first two episodes of “The Quatermass Experiment” were telerecorded (and have subsequently been issued by the BBC as a DVD release), as well as rehearsals of “Gala Variety”, which were filmed by Desmond “Cam” Campbell, on his 16-mm film camera as a record of his own work in television lighting.  This film was discovered by the Alexandra Palace Television Society in the early 2000’s and now resides in the film archives of the APTS.

Allowing himself a short break between jobs Richard joined ATV on 1st July 1955, and was “the” Design Department.  He was soon joined by three designers and the department gradually took shape.  At that time ATV’s principle studio was the Wood Green Empire.  At that time his office was on one of the upper floors of Television House, Associated Rediffusion headquarters on the corner of Kingsway and the Aldwych.  Richard was responsible for designing the first show out of Wood Green Empire, a thirty minute variety show directed by Bill Ward, transmitted live at 8pm on ITV’s opening night, 22nd September 1955.

During his time with ATV Richard was also responsible for “Sunday Night at the London Palladium”, the first being on 25th September 1955, which ran, with some breaks, until December 1967.  

On 11th January 1982 ATV became Central Television – a condition of the new franchise was that the company had to have studios in the East Midlands which were built in Lenton Lane, Nottingham.  The company had, for many years, a studio complex in Birmingham.  It was not viable to run three television studio centre.  The Elstree studios closed on 31st July 1983 and on that day Richard retired!

During the course of his career with ATV Richard issued a weekly schedule for the benefit of designers and directors.  These schedule began on the first day ITV went on air and continued until the day Elstree Studios were closed.  These give an almost complete record of all the programmes made by ATV for a total of almost 1400 weeks.

During 2004 Richard set himself the task of recording his working life in television which resulted in a fascinating manuscript, which now resides in the Archive holdings of the Alexandra Palace Television Society.

In April this year I was fortunate to be able to visit Richard in his home in North Eyot Gardens, just a stones-throw from BBC Television Centre.  He was in the process of moving, due to ill health, to Denville Hall in Northwood, Middlesex.  Richard had kept a record of all the BBC productions he worked on, contained in 5 large ring binders.  This compete record of his working life for the corporation are now in the Archive holdings of the APTS, and provide a wonderful, and historical accurate, insight into the early years of television design.  It is a great shame that Richard was not able to enjoy his new home for very long before the asbestosis from which he had been suffering finally claimed his life.

Richard was a remarkable, gentle, and delightful man.  He always had a smile and would relish in talking about his career, which influenced a great deal the direction television scenic design would take.  He truly was one of the last of the “old family” that lived, breathed and slept television in its first home, Alexandra Palace, and will be sadly missed by all that knew him.

Richard R Greenough
4th April 1922 – 12th August 2010

Simon Vaughan
for and on behalf of
Alexandra Palace Television Society

Richard's funeral will take place on Tuesday 24th August 2010 at 12.30pm at Mortlake Crematorium (TW9 4EN) and afterwards at the Londsbury Club next to Teddington Studios.  For details please contact Bridget MacIntyre (his neice) on 0208 894 4119.

Back to top


Simon Vaughan
for and on behalf of
Alexandra Palace Television Society