Scotland

BBC man's bid to unite poet's corner with newsroom Neanderthals

Ken Cargill
Image caption Ken Cargill worked for the BBC for 30 years

Journalist Ken Cargill, who has died at his home in Angus after a short but devastating illness, had the now rare experience of working for the same employer for almost his entire career.

He joined BBC Scotland in 1972 as a humble researcher and moved steadily through the ranks to become a pioneering head of news and current affairs.

His main achievement - arrived at through blood, sweat and tears - was to bring together television and radio news units into a unified service and to develop a working relationship between news and current affairs.

Ken was educated at Arbroath High School before graduating from Edinburgh University with that grand old qualification [ sadly no more] MA LLB.

He edited "The Student" and chaired the infant Student Publications Board.

He was Senior SRC President and acted for a time as Rector's Assessor on the University Court. It was in that capacity that he first came to my attention ( after a recommendation by Magnus Magnusson no less).

I became his first employer in the BBC - as his file records in an administrator's scribble: "£110 per week. Working for Matt."

As a researcher he worked on;

  • "Current Account", the bedrock of the Television Current Affairs Department,
  • "First Person Singular" with Mary Marquis
  • and "Mainly Magnus".

Even then, he showed an admirable capacity for sheer hard work, allied to sound judgement.

Ken quickly graduated to making half-hour films as a reporter on "Current Account". It is fair to say, however, that he was not the most natural of television performers and it was probably a relief to him [ it certainly was to some BBC curmudgeons] when he became a director and subsequently a producer on the same programme.

Among his many programmes in that role, several stand out - a profile of hostage Jean Waddell, an account of the decline of Hugh Fraser Jnr, and an early exposure of the problems of senile dementia.

Ken's finest hour as a producer was probably with "Agenda", a weekly political series on Sundays, which displayed his programme sense and editorial judgement.

It frequently caught the attention of the press and resulted in good coverage in newspapers as diverse as The Herald, The Guardian, the Irish Times and - his local - the Dundee Courier.

In 1986 he did a comprehensive account of the state of the nation in "Scotland 2000" - 50-minute films, followed by 30-minute discussions, plus radio phone-ins. It was high profile and well received.

By this time, television news and current affairs had been amalgamated and his biggest challenge lay ahead.

As Deputy Editor (News & Current Affairs, Television) under the redoubtable George Sinclair, Ken was initially regarded if not with outright hostility then certainly with some suspicion by the newsroom.

Some in news regarded current affairs as Poet's Corner, while some in current affairs considered the newsroom a nest of Neanderthals. Neither was completely wrong.

Image caption Ken Cargill (centre) is pictured with the university's Nigel Hawkins (left) and Professor Nicholas Terry

His first efforts were directed towards staff training and deployment and BBC Scotland's flagship programme, Reporting Scotland.

Ken stepped up to Editor, News and Current Affairs Television, in 1988, adding the Radio operation to his portfolio in 1994. [ He was even, for a time, in charge of Sport, though never seen engaging in it.]

These were the years of transformation. New specialist correspondents were appointed, the newsrooms in Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee were brought into the mainstream and - most challenging of all - journalists off screen and on were required to be bi-media, servicing both radio and TV bulletins.

Reporters and correspondents were trained to edit their own stories in an electronic revolution that surpassed even the changes in newspaper production. All this was achieved at a time of increased pressure on budgets and staff - pressure which has continued and severely taxed his successors.

Who's Who entry

He presided too over the Devolution Referendum and the establishment of a new Scottish Parliamentary Unit.

It was noted by his concerned senior colleagues that Ken worked incredibly hard, even cancelling holidays. In his own words, however, "I function better as a No1 than as a No2". He could be short tempered and impatient with those less adept than himself.

His entry in Who's Who in Scotland admits to "heckling, hectoring and harrumphing" as some of his recreations.

He could have added "an addiction to gadgets". He was once spotted at Hampden, during his sports brief, sitting alone in the VIP seats at an important football match, whilst all but him had fled to the free booze and canapés.

He was watching the half-time roundup on his miniature television receiver to make sure the programme was up to standard.

Image caption Ken Cargill joined BBC Scotland in the days of tape and reel recording machines
Image caption Under Ken Cargill's leadership in 1999, BBC Scotland entered an era of internet news
Image caption Although he had stepped down as head of news, Ken Cargill was involved with co-ordinating BBC Scotland's move from the west end of Glasgow to Pacific Quay in the city's southside
Image caption Technology has continued to advance since gadget-fan Ken Cargill's retirement. HD broadcasting is increasingly becoming the norm in news and elsewhere

Ken's last three years in the BBC were spent on a task of quite different nature and dimensions. He was project director for the design and construction of the BBC's new headquarters on Pacific Quay in the south of Glasgow.

He revelled in the change and rose to the challenge of matching an architectural landmark to the complicated technical demands of a broadcasting centre with the right ambience for a place of employment. By common if not universal consent, he succeeded.

After retirement from the BBC, there was little possibility of Ken looking for an easy life. He was variously a visiting professor in journalism studies at Strathclyde University, an honorary professor of politics at Glasgow University and chaired the governance committee of the Court of Abertay University, which awarded him a fellowship shortly before his death.

'My angel'

He was also chair of the Patrick Allan-Fraser of Hospitalfield Trust, the arts centre in his native Arbroath.

During his illness, Ken was cared for selflessly by his wife Una.

As he said in a Facebook posting before an operation at the turn of the year: "Think of Una, who has been my angel."

He is also survived by his mother and his sister.

Though he died in his beloved Angus, aged 65, his monument is on the south bank of the Clyde, in the style of the BBC building and the standard of its programmes.

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