OBITUARIES: SIR JAMES REDMOND

Sir James Redmond, Director of Engineering at BBC Television, 1968-78, died in London on October 17 aged 80. He was born in Muiravonside, Stirlingshire, on November 8, 1918

JIM REDMOND was one of the great pioneers of public service television. From being an apprentice vision mixer at prewar Alexandra Palace, he rose through the ranks to deliver to the nation BBC2 and the foundations of the Ceefax teletext service.

As luck would have it, the first night of BBC2's transmission in 1964 was blighted by disaster (but not one of Redmond's or the BBC's making): Central London was blacked out by a power cut.

Opening a new channel was no straightforward task. The existing BBC television channel (to be renamed BBC1) was broadcasting on the old, poor quality 405-line system; BBC2 was destined for 625 lines. Moreover, with color television just around the corner, the new channel would have to be technically prepared for this major leap forward. Redmond prepared for these changes coolly, rationally and to a meticulous timetable.

When BBC2 finally launched, a day late, it did so with a major blockbuster, The Forsyte Saga, and the channel quickly carved out a distinctive niche for itself.

The son of a railway worker, James Redmond was born in an idyllic village consisting of a small row of cottages with a stream (or burn) flowing under a bridge at the end of the road. Attached to the family home was a small general store run by his mother.

Educated at Graeme High School in Falkirk, Redmond developed a keen interest in wireless telegraphy which propelled him to the Caledonian Wireless College in Edinburgh, where he gained a first-class certificate in radio telegraphy. At 17 he went to sea with the Merchant Navy, employed firstly by the Marconi Company and then in duties on large liners such as the SS Montclare and the SS Montcalm run by the Canadian Pacific line.

Back on land in 1937 he joined the Post Office engineering department until a telegram arrived from the BBC offering him -L-3 a week - a considerable wage that greatly impressed his family and friends. He began work in Edinburgh before joining the fledgeling television service at Alexandra Palace in London. When television closed for the war years he joined the Blue Funnel Line, serving as a radio officer on the Phemius in the Far East.

His one appearance on the "other side of the camera" came when the British Government made a film tribute to the heroic role of the wartime Merchant Navy, Western Approaches (1944). Unsurprisingly, he played the part of a radio officer.

With the war over, Redmond returned to pick up the pieces of the country's infant television service. The immediate postwar years saw many major developments including the cross-Channel television link to Calais (the beginning of Eurovision), the BBC's coverage of the Festival of Britain (1951) and the biggest outside broadcast of its time, the Coronation in 1953.

In the 1960s Television Centre at White City replaced the BBC's mixture of old church halls and film studios, and again Redmond played a key role, anticipating the corporation's needs.

After the successful launch of BBC2, Redmond advanced through several senior positions until being appointed Director of Engineering in 1968. He used his position to push for the adoption of digital technology, laying the path for the Ceefax service, which broadcasts text alongside the main television picture.

Jim Redmond served on the council of the Open University from 1981 to1995, receiving an honorary doctorate in 1995. He also served on the council of Brunel University and was President of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, 1978-79. He married Joan Morris in 1972 and she survives him along with their son and daughter.


BACK to Articles