TRODD, KENITH

British Producer

Few television producers ever gain name recognition beyond their industry but Kenith Trodd is arguably one who has. Described as the most successful of all British television drama producer, he is the winner of countless awards for the many one-off plays and films he has shepherded to the screen, and a figure seen as indispensable to the health of the Drama Department of the BBC, out of which he has worked almost continuously for over 30 years. He is rare in spanning the history of British television drama--from its "golden age" of experiment in the 1960s to today's more hard-nosed era of cost-efficiency and ratings imperatives.

He is perhaps best known for his work with that doyen of television playwrights, Dennis Potter. Both came from similar working class and Christian fundamentalist backgrounds. (The son of a crane driver, Trodd was brought up as a member of the Plymouth Brethren.) Both did National Service as Russian-language clerks at Whitehall where, during the height of the Cold War, they became firm friends with shared left-wing convictions. It was only at Oxford from 1956 to 1959, that each found a convenient outlet for their political views, rising to become stars of a radical network of working-class students which gained national media coverage and taught them much for their future careers about the value of courting public controversy.

Originally, however, Trodd intended to become an academic and it was only after returning from a stint of teaching in Africa in 1964, that he received an offer from another ex-Oxford friend, Roger Smith, that would change his life. Smith had been appointed story editor of the innovative Wednesday Play slot and desperately needed two assistants to help him in his policy of recruiting as many new writers to television as possible. Along with Tony Garnett, Trodd joined the BBC just at the time the single television play was entering a radical phase of experimentation and permissiveness, as a new generation of talent began to make its presence felt. Working as a story editor on The Wednesday Play and also Thirty Minute Theatre (a shorter experimental play slot), Trodd became central to this wave of innovation in the 1960s, nurturing writers such as Potter, Jim Allen and Simon Gray.

In 1968, he gained his chance to become drama producer when, along with Tony Garnett, he was lured to rival commercial company, London Weekend Television (LWT), on the promise of forming an autonomous collective within the organisation. Notable as the first independent drama production company in British TV, Kestrel scored some successes during its two-year association with LWT but the arrangement ended in acrimony, with Trodd eventually decamping back to the BBC where he became producer on the Play for Today slot throughout the 1970s.

Never any stranger to trouble, he had returned to a Drama Department in political turmoil, as managers cracked down on the freedoms programme-makers had enjoyed during the 1960s. Being the producer of some of Dennis Potter's most controversial work, Trodd often had to make a public fuss to defend the writer`s freedom, most notably in 1976 when Brimstone and Treacle was banned. He also found himself blacklisted by the BBC as a suspected communist sympathiser for his support of a range of radical left-wing practitioners.

Though these difficulties were eventually resolved, Trodd continued to campaign for greater independence within the BBC and particularly after the success of his Potter serial, Pennies from Heaven, in 1978. In marked contrast to Potter, he became a passionate advocate for TV drama filmed on location rather than recorded in the studio (the dominant practice up to that time). This drive for change came to a head in 1979 when he again left the BBC for LWT, as part of a deal involving the formation of an independent production company with Potter. Once more, the arrangement ended in acrimony. Trodd returned to the BBC, but this time on the eve of the foundation of Channel Four, the network that would do so much to legitimate the concept of the independent producer in British television.

 

In the early 1980s, Trodd became chairman of the Association of Independent Producers as one of the new breed of "independents," although he continued to work within the very heart of institutional television at the BBC. Under his influence, however, things were changing there too. He had finally achieved his goal of remaining within the corpration while being able to produce independent projects as well. This ideal soon became accepted practice, as did his campaign for shooting on film.

In 1984, Trodd formed part of a BBC working party convened to examine how the Corporation should respond to the feature film-making for TV and theatrical release that Channel Four had pioneered. The outcome was the abandonment of the old concept of the studio Play for Today and the introduction of new BBC film slots, Screen One and Screen Two, with Trodd helping to oversee the first batch of films in 1985.

Despite the success of his campaigning, Trodd's recent career raises uncomfortable questions about whether he has not made himself somewhat redundant by the changes he helped bring about in the 1980s. The decline in the annual number of single drama slots due to the increased costs of film-making, plus the corresponding decline in writers and directors required to fill these slots, all indicate a much tougher and more competitive environment than the one which allowed him to experiment with new ideas and untried talent in the 1960s. Nor, despite the success of a few of his BBC "single films" like After Pilkington (1987) and She's Been Away (1989), has there been anything like the constant stream of outstanding material that secured his reputation in the 1970s. A rift with Potter in the late 1980s (not healed until the writer's death in 1994) also did not help matters in this respect. Certainly, Trodd's function has changed from the days when, as a BBC tyro, he filled his many play slots with a motley crew of young writers and directors--the question is whether for the best.

-John Cook

KENITH TRODD. Born in Southampton, Hampshire, England. Educated at Oxford. Began television career as story-editor, The Wednesday Play, 1964; producer, London Weekend Television, 1968-70; producer, BBC Drama Department, 1970-79; producer, London Weekend Television and partner with playwright Dennis Potter, 1979; BBC Drama Department and independent film producer from 1980. Recipient: Royal Television Society Silver Medal, 1986/87; British Academy of Film and Television Arts Alan Clarke Award, 1993.

TELEVISION PLAYS (selection)

1969 Faith and Henry
1976 Double Dare
1976 Brimstone and Treacle
1978 Pennies from Heaven
1978 Dinner at the Sporting Club
1979 Blue Remembered Hills
1980 Shadows on our Skin
1980 Caught on a Train
1980 Blade on the Feather
1980 Rain in the Roof
1980 Cream in my Coffee
1981 A United Kingdom
1986 The Singing Detective
1987 After Pilkington
1988 Christabel
1989 She's Been Away

 

See also British Programming; Channel Four; Film on Four; Garnett, Tony; Loach, Ken; Pennies from Heaven; Potter, Dennis; Wednesday Play