Hugh Greene

For those of a similar name, see Hugh Green (disambiguation).

Sir Hugh Carleton Greene KCMG OBE (15 November 1910 19 February 1987) was a British journalist and television executive. He was Director-General of the BBC from 1960 to 1969, and is generally credited with modernising an organisation that had fallen behind in the wake of the launch of ITV in 1955. He was the brother of Graham Greene, the English novelist.

Early life and work

Greene was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire,[1] one of the four sons and two daughters of Charles Henry Greene, Headmaster of Berkhamsted School. His brothers were novelist Graham Greene, Raymond Greene, a physician and Everest mountaineer, and Herbert Greene, the eldest, a relatively little-known poet recruited in 1933 as a Japanese spy and perhaps best remembered for leading a march at Broadcasting House in protest against one of his brother's actions as Director-General.

After education at Berkhamsted School and Merton College, Oxford,[2] Greene came to prominence as a journalist in 1934 when he became the chief correspondent in Berlin for The Daily Telegraph. He and several other British journalists, including his secretary in Berlin, Barbara Henman, were expelled from Berlin in reprisal for the removal of a Nazi propagandist in England. Greene managed to report from Warsaw on the opening events of the Second World War and continued as a correspondent for a short time. He served briefly with the Royal Air Force in 1940 as an interrogator, but was encouraged by the military authorities to join the BBC later that year.

Wartime and post-war work

Greene joined the BBC as head of the German Service in 1940 at the age of 29.[2] He made significant improvements to transmissions following a risky flight in a De Havilland Mosquito aircraft over occupied Norway to study the effects of Nazi radio jamming. He presented news and discussion programmes and became fairly well known in Europe in this role. From 1941 he helped to smooth the relationship between the BBC and the Political Warfare Executive (PWE), whose goals were somewhat at odds: the BBC strove for accurate, unbiased journalism whereas the PWE was largely concerned with propaganda.

Following the war, Greene helped with the rebuilding of German broadcasting infrastructure in the British Occupied Zone. With the Cold War developing, he was given the task of leading the BBC's East European service, and produced propaganda for the British Army in Malaya during the Communist uprising in 1947.

Greene returned to the BBC in the 1950s, where his reputation and ability caught the attention of Director-General Sir Ian Jacob. (It was probably during this period that he began using his middle name, Carleton, presumably to distinguish him from the popular ITV entertainer Hughie Green.) He started as Director of Administration and in 1958 he swapped jobs with the unpopular Tahu Hole to become Director of News and Current Affairs. He succeeded Jacob as Director-General two years later, in 1960. Days after his promotion, Greene made arrangements for Hole to receive a golden handshake for early retirement. According to one of his biographers, Greene thought one of his greatest contributions to broadcasting was the restoration of order to Hole's austere news department, which had come to be known as the "Kremlin of the BBC". It later materialised that Hole had leaked a secret BBC document to the competing Independent Television Authority (ITA) in which concerns were voiced about the financial interests of newspapers in ITV companies. Greene learned of the leak from a displeased Ivone Kirkpatrick, the chairman of the ITA. (Kirkpatrick had been a member of the PWE, Head of the BBC's wartime European Services and High Commissioner of the British Occupied Zone in Germany and had worked with Greene many times.) The leak would have led to Hole's immediate dismissal, but it was detected after his retirement.

Director-General of the BBC

Greene kept the BBC in pace with the major social changes in Britain in the 1960s,[3] and through such series as Steptoe and Son, Z-Cars and That Was The Week That Was, the BBC moved away from the ethos of Reithian middle-class values and deference to traditional authority and power. Controversial, socially concerned dramas such as Up the Junction and Cathy Come Home were broadcast as part of The Wednesday Play, which gave Dennis Potter his breakthrough as a dramatist with the "Nigel Barton" plays, amongst others. Greene is thought to have directly suggested only two programmes, the imported American series Perry Mason and Songs of Praise[4] which began in 1961.

The tone of much of BBC radio changed less radically in the Greene era than BBC television, with much of the current national network structure not being introduced until 1970, by which time Sir Charles Curran was Director-General. However it was in 1967, under Greene's directorship, that the corporation began a dedicated pop radio network with Radio 1, taking most of its DJs and music policy from offshore pirate radio ships, like Radio Caroline, which were now illegal because of the Marine, &c., Broadcasting (Offences) Act 1967. Greene strongly resisted pressure from the 'clean-up TV' campaigner Mary Whitehouse, a policy not always followed by later directors-general.

Greene's undoing followed the appointment of the former Conservative minister Lord Hill as chairman of the BBC governors from September 1, 1967, by Labour Prime Minister Harold Wilson, who had criticised Hill's appointment as chairman of the Independent Television Authority by a Conservative government in 1963. A more cautious and conservative atmosphere then took hold in the corporation, typified by the axeing (until 1972) of Till Death Us Do Part, one of the series most despised by Whitehouse, but one of its most popular. In July 1968 the BBC issued the document Broadcasting In The Public Mood without Greene's significant involvement, seeming to question the continued broadcasting of the more provocative and controversial material (one of Greene's allies at the top level of the Corporation described this document as "emasculated and philistine") and in October 1968 Greene announced that he would be retiring as Director-General. He was succeeded the next year by the more conservative Sir Charles Curran. This move was welcomed by a great many MPs, Governors of the BBC, Churchmen and Whitehouse's National Viewers and Listeners Association, as Greene was regarded by the conservative minded with disdain. Whitehouse once commented: "Greene fully understood the destructive power of the satire. Why, knowing its power, did he also use it here against family life, Christianity etc? This is the heart of our complaint against Greene."[5]

Other roles

Greene then became a BBC governor, a position he held until 1971. He has remained a divisive figure in what have been called the British "culture wars" (after the American term for the liberal-conservative divide in US society); he has frequently been attacked by conservatives. The writer Peter Hitchens has condemned Greene for his part in the erosion of what he sees as a better Britain.

In 1985 he received the Eduard Rhein Ring of Honor from the German Eduard Rhein Foundation for outstanding work related to the promotion of scientific research and of learning, the arts, and culture at home and abroad. The number of living bearers of these rings is limited to ten.[6]

Beyond his work in broadcasting and journalism, Greene was known for his appreciation of beer and became a director of the Greene King Brewery, established by his great-grandfather, Benjamin Greene, in 1799. He also once bested his famous brother Graham in a writing contest to parody the novelist's writing style in the New Statesman.

Personal life

Greene was knighted in 1964. He was married four times: to Helga Guinness, Elaine Shaplen, Tatjana Sais and Sarah Grahame. He had two sons by each of the first two marriages.[2][7]

He died in Westminster, London, of cancer, aged 76.[8]

Portrayal in popular culture

In 2008 Greene was played by Hugh Bonneville in the BBC drama Filth: The Mary Whitehouse Story. This focused on Greene's conflict with Whitehouse (played by Julie Walters) and later with Lord Hill (played by Ron Cook) when he was Director General.



  1. Births England and Wales 1837-1983
  2. 1 2 3 Levens, R.G.C., ed. (1964). Merton College Register 1900-1964. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 207.
  3. "The BBC Story" (PDF). BBC.
  4. Asa Briggs The history of broadcasting in the United Kingdom, Volume 5, Oxford: Oxford Unioversity Press, p.334
  5. Michael Tracey and David Morrison Whitehouise, London & Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1992, p.93
  6. "The Eduard Rhein Ring of Honor Recipients". Eduard Rhein Foundation. Retrieved February 5, 2011.
  7. Fowler, Glenn (1987-02-21). "Sir Hugh Greene, 76, Dies In London". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-04-02.
  8. Deaths England and Wales 1984-2006


Further reading

Media offices
Preceded by
Sir Ian Jacob
Director-General of the BBC
Succeeded by
Charles Curran
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