The diary of John Whitney CBE, former Director General of the Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA), paints an intimate portrait of the most challenging era British television and radio has ever faced. His memoirs To Serve the People, from John Libbey Publishing, chart the intense political pressure that ultimately caused the abolition of the IBA and its rebirth as the Independent Television Commission, the precursor to Ofcom.
The book, comprised of Whitney’s diary entries between 1982 and 1989, offers insights into the businesses and personalities that controlled the broadcast industry during that turbulent time. Whitney peppers To Serve the People with casual references to his meetings with society’s most influential figures: dinner next to the Princess of Wales who invited him to see what was in her handbag, and drinks with 36-year-old entrepreneur Richard Branson. To Serve the People offers an unrivalled insight into the impact of Britain’s broadcasting history on all levels of society and is a must-read for anyone who works in broadcast, government or simply remembers a time when there were only four UK television channels.
In his diary, Whitney chronicles the wrath he faced from Margaret Thatcher and her Foreign Secretary Geoffrey Howe when the IBA allowed ITV to air Thames Television’s documentary investigating an SAS mission in Gibraltar that killed three IRA members. It marked a watershed for the battle between free speech and legal inquiries free from prejudice, with Thatcher remarking in a later interview: “If you ever get trial by television…that day, freedom dies.” Whitney also tells of the bitter battle he oversaw between the BBC and Thames Television for the rights to the hit ‘80s American soap opera Dallas.
He acted as ‘honest broker’ during ITN’s financial crisis and faced the impact of the Peacock Committee Report, which recommended the privatisation of BBC1 and BBC2.
“Shortly after I was invited to become Director General of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, I started keeping a detailed diary which I would write up on Sunday evenings,” said John Whitney. “To Serve the People covers the years in which television and radio faced more challenges than at any other time in their history. Although more than 20 years have elapsed since my time at the IBA, I remember so well the quality and loyalty of everyone there that I wished to pay tribute to them with this book.”