Leonard Miall

Interview Number: 
260
Interview Date(s): 
16 Sep 1992
Production Media: 
Duration (mins): 
180
Access restrictions: 

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Interview
Biographical

Rowland Leonard Miall (6 November 1914 – 24 February 2005) was a broadcaster and administrator at the BBC for 35 years, from 1939 to 1974. In retirement, he became a research historian, studying the history of broadcasting. 

Early life

Miall was born in London and educated at Bootham School in York. He learned German at Freiburg University, and read economics and law at St. John's College Cambridge He was President of the Cambridge Union Society and Editor of the Cambridge Review. 

After leaving Cambridge he lectured in the United States for a while but already had his eye on a job in broadcasting. As one of 3,000 applicants for a vacancy in the BBC press office he made the shortlist of two but lost to his rival. Early in 1939, however, the BBC offered him the chance to join its European Service to organise news talks in German.

BBC career

Miall joined the European Service of the BBC in early 1939. He took charge of broadcasts in German until 1942, when he was seconded to the Political Warfare Executive  a government body set up to co-ordinate broadcasting to enemy countries and occupied territories.  Miall was a member of the British Political Warfare Mission to the United States where he was director of news in San Francisco and head of the New York office. He returned to London in 1944 and stayed in propaganda broadcasting until the end of the war.
In 1945 he rejoined the BBC and was briefly a correspondent in Czechoslovakia and acting diplomatic correspondent . He  became the BBC's American correspondent from 1945 to 1953, covering nearly all of Harry Trueman's presidency, and the first year of Dwight D. Eisenhower's. Although based in Washington,  he visited all of the then 48 US States. His radio broadcasts made his voice a familiar feature of BBC news coverage. 

In June 1947, he reported a speech at Harvard by George Marshall, on the  reconstruction of Europe.  Ernest Bevin, then British Foreign Secretary heard the broadcast, and was spurred to press ahead with what became the Marshall Plan for the nations of Europe to rebuild their economies after the war. 

When Miall returned to London, he served as head of "Television Talks" - documentaries and current affairs - at BBC television from 1954. He found himself in charge of a formidable stable of talent, including Alasdair Milne, Donald Baverstock, Huw Wheldon, Cliff Michelmore, Geoffrey Johnson Smith, and Paul Fox. He was assisted by Grace Wyndham Goldie and was based at Lime Grove sudios. During that period programmes such as Monitor, Tonight and The Sky At Nightt were created; Panorama was relaunched; and David Attenborogh began his wildlife broadcasting career. 

Miall was promoted to assistant controller at the BBC in 1961, in charge of the planning for the new BBC television channel,BBC 2 , which began broadcasting in 1964. He received the OBE  in 1961. 

After a period as Assistant Controller for Programme Services, Television, Miall returned to America in 1966 to run the BBC's New York office, in charge of editing news coverage and also selling BBC costume dramas to American television channels. He returned to London in 1971 to become controller of overseas and foreign relations. He was involved in the establishment of the Commonwealth Broadcasting Association. He retired in 1974. 

In retirement he became a consultant research historian at the BBC, and assisted Professor Asa Briggs in producing the official History Of Broadcasting In The United Kingdom. He prepared material for three of  Briggs’s books on the history of the corporation and carried out interviews for a BBC oral history project. In 1994 he published "Inside the BBC", a book of short profiles of 25 personalities from John Reith to Robin Day. He had known them all and worked closely with many.