Mike Fentiman

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22 Jun 2000
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Born in East Ham, east London, Mike was the son of James, an engineer, and his wife, Dorothy (nee Morris). He was educated at a number of primary schools, the only pupil in his year to pass the 11-plus. He attended East Ham grammar school for boys and Leicester University, graduating in 1960 with a degree in English literature. After a brief stint as a teacher he took up a traineeship as a studio manager in the overseas service of the BBC. By 1965 he had joined Late Night Line-Up, and was to stay at the BBC until ill-health forced his retirement in the 1990s.

1984, his Taking Liberties film reported the miners’ strike from their point of view. His efforts brought frequent conflicts with the higher echelons of the BBC.

The move towards access television went back to an incident in 1972 when the Line-Up presenter Tony Bilbow visited the Guinness factory to record workers’ views of television. He was met with hostility: “You types will just take what we say and cut out what you don’t like,” they told him. Bilbow guaranteed there and then this would not be so.

Mike grabbed the idea and the opportunity. He and Line-Up editor Rowan Ayers persuaded the BBC to approve the idea of “community programming” – an editorial attitude that, as he put it, “did not derive from the assumptions of the university educated elite who are commonly believed to dominate television production.” launch of the Community Programme Unit, Mike went on to become its champion. As editor he gave community and special interest groups freedom to make their own programmes. The idea was a success and evolved in many directions, with programmes such as Something Else, Comic Roots and Open Space. Further on came the Disability Production Unit, and programmes for deaf and hearing-impaired people such as See Hear.When he left the unit in the mid-80s he remained for 13 years a moving spirit and sometime chairman of International Public Service Television (Input) conferences.

From 1970 until just before his death he sustained a writing partnership with Bilbow. They wrote three comedy series for Radio 4 and contributed to the award-winning radio series Lines from My Grandfather’s Forehead, which starred Ronnie Barker. After his retirement from the BBC he and Bilbow wrote six plays for the Incognito theatre in north London. Until the last year of his life Mike attended regular reunions of Line-Up colleagues.In 1961 Mike married Dorothy Filby and they had three children, Jonathan, Kate and Daniel. They divorced in 1988, and in 1989 he married Patrice Abrams. They had two daughters, Jessica and Eleanor, and divorced in 2013. Michael James Fentiman, television producer and writer, born 27 September 1938; died 22 February 2017