John Drummond (arts administrator)

Sir John Richard Gray Drummond CBE (25 November 1934 – 6 September 2006) was an English arts administrator who spent most of his career at the BBC. He was described as "one of the most formidable figures in the arts world of the UK for 40 years".[1]

Early life and career

Drummond was born in London, the son of a master mariner in the British India line and an Australian lieder singer. He spent much of his childhood in Bournemouth, spending hours in the public library absorbing all he could on creative arts, and also attending concerts by the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra. He was educated at Canford School and, after his National Service in the Navy (where he studied Russian), read History at Trinity College, Cambridge from 1955 to 1958. At Cambridge he organised cabarets for the Footlights Society and in 1956 wrote a musical about Regency Brighton titled The First Resort.[2] His contemporaries included Derek Jacobi, Peter Cook, Michael Frayn and Ian McKellen,[1] and he was also a member of the Marlowe Society, performing in Christopher Marlowe's Edward II, which was broadcast on the Third Programme in 1958 with Jacobi in the title role. That year he had already gained a BBC general traineeship,[3] and his early career at the BBC was as a foreign correspondent (Drummond spoke fluent French and Russian). In 1961 he went with Richard Dimbleby, Robin Day and David Attenborough to make a series of documentary films in the Soviet Union, selected with his Russian language skills in mind. Later that year he began a two-year assignment for news and current affairs in Paris as assistant to Robin Scott.[2]

In 1964 he was part of David Attenborough's launch team for BBC2, and he went on to direct/produce of arts programmes for BBC Television, including a documentary about the Decca recording of the complete Ring Cycle by Wagner The Golden Ring, a biography of singer Kathleen Ferrier, programmes about Diaghilev, a series on architecture Spirit of the Age, and masterclasses by French cellist Paul Tortelier.[1] His interest in ballet and dance was reflected in many of the programmes he produced for the BBC, and he appeared as presenter in many of them.[4]

Ultimately he became Assistant Head of Music and Arts before becoming director of the Edinburgh International Festival at the end of 1977. Drummond's period at the Festival was particularly successful, and Norman Lebrecht commended him in a tribute for his multi-disciplinary approach in a celebration of 'fin de siècle' Vienna in 1983.[5] In his Guardian obituary, Humphrey Burton listed several highlights from his tenure in Edinburgh: operas in 1980 including Peter Maxwell Davies' The Lighthouse, for international theatre 1979 with the Rustaveli Company, Georgia, and 1980 for Bill Bryden's adaptation of the York and Wakefield mystery plays for the National Theatre, and starting a book fair and commissioning the Queen's Hall as a festival chamber music venue.[6]

Radio 3 and later life

After leaving his post in Edinburgh in 1983, he returned to the BBC and was appointed Controller, Music (in tandem with his predecessor Robert Ponsonby for a year as Controller, Designate) in 1985 and then Controller of Radio 3 (1987–92) when the two posts were merged. He was succeeded by Nicholas Kenyon as Controller of Radio 3, but Drummond continued to be responsible for the Proms until his last season in 1995. While Controller of Radio 3, Drummond introduced the co-ordination of interval talks with the evening concert, doubled the length of the Saturday morning Record Review programme and scheduled the first Jazz concert at the Proms with Loose Tubes in 1987. He also devised 'weekends' covering all the arts in a particular city (Minneapolis, Berlin).[1] Humphrey Carpenter wrote that Drummond viewed Radio 3's audience as consisting of "thirty minority tastes, each of which is characterised by its intense dislike of the other twenty-nine".[7]

Drummond attacked Nigel Kennedy in 1991 for wearing a black cloak and 'Dracula' make-up while performing Berg's Violin Concerto,[8] and comparing Kennedy's usual punk clothing to the vulgarity of Liberace.[7]

Having chosen not to renew his contract as Radio 3 Controller for a second five-year term in 1992, he became openly critical of the Birt regime at the BBC, for its managerial and populist instincts. For Drummond, the BBC "has been an organisation which has seen itself as leading society, not following taste. If it no longer wishes to be that, I can't see any reason for its existence." At about the same time, he called Tony Blair a "professional philistine" and attacked the Blair government for destroying "the national sense of culture".[9] At the very end of his autobiography he attacked what he saw as trends in the arts: "The lowest-common-denominator, accessibility-at-any-price, anti-intellectual laziness of so many of today's leaders [...] is a form of appeasement. Failing or refusing to differentiate between the good and the indifferent, while sheltering under a cloak of spurious democracy, is simply not good enough. It is a betrayal of all our civilization has stood for".[10]

Other activities and honours

John Drummond was chairman of The Theatres Trust near the end of his life (1998–2001). He had also been on the Council of Management of the new music group, the Fires of London. In 1998 he made the annual Royal Philharmonic Society lecture with the title "Taking Music Seriously".[11]

He was appointed a CBE in 1990 and knighted five years later.[1] When approached by the French Ambassador in London (Jean Guéguinou) to offer Drummond a Légion d'honneur, the Foreign Office refused it on the grounds that as he worked for the BBC he was a Crown servant; the year after when he had left the BBC, he was offered directly, and accepted the honour.[12]

Preceded by
Ian McIntyre
Controller, BBC Radio 3
Succeeded by
Nicholas Kenyon



  1. 1 2 3 4 5 Milnes, R. "Obituary: Sir John Drummond". Opera, November 2006, pp. 1311-1312.
  2. 1 2 The Daily Telegraph obituary 8 September 2006, accessed 24 January 2014
  3. Carpenter, p. 316
  4. British Film Institute page for John Drummond, accessed 24 January 2014.
  5. Drummond Won Plaudits, Enemies at BBC, Proms: Norman Lebrecht, accessed 18 January 2014.
  6. Sir John Drummond, obituary in The Guardian, 8 September 2006, accessed 24 January 2014
  7. 1 2 Carpenter, p. 335
  8. Tainted by Experience, A Life in the Arts, 2000, Faber, pp. 394-395.
  9. Kennedy hits back at arts elitism, accessed 18 January 2014.
  10. Quoted in editorial "Piece in our time". Opera, October 2006, p. 1159.
  11. John Drummond at the Royal Philharmonic Society website accessed 24 January 2014.
  12. Tainted by Experience, A Life in the Arts, 2000, Faber, p. 456.

External links

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