An appreciation of Mark Dodd by William Crawley

Published December 24, 2020

Mark Dodd, former Controller Overseas Services (1981-88) and Head of Eastern Service (1967-81), died on 29 November 2020 aged 90.

Mark graduated from Cambridge in History and worked as an archaeologist for the Royal Commission on Dorset before joining the BBC as a general trainee in 1956. In this much sought after scheme he had had the privilege of working among others with Grace Wyndham Goldie on early editions of Panorama.  But he moved to the World Service and Bush House where he was to make his career, initially as a talks writer and producer in the African Service. His association with the Indian subcontinent, and his long involvement in broadcasting to Asia began in 1965 with his appointment as BBC Representative in Delhi. From there he established a very good rapport both with All India Radio and Radio Pakistan executives and kept in touch with many of them for years after leaving India. But he had also been conscious that the BBC representative’s office needed to expand its role if the cost was to remain justified. With the expansion of opportunities for television filming in India and neighbouring countries, the office became a more active support base for TV crews, a task that Mark Tully especially developed.

His active time in India was shorter than planned as he fell ill and for some time Mark Tully took over as Acting Representative. Shortly after his recovery he was summoned by the Director General Charles Curran to be Head of the Eastern Service in Bush House. These were the years when the radio transistor revolution reached its peak, providing huge new audiences for the Hindi and other BBC south Asian language services.  Mark himself modestly disclaimed credit, writing that ‘the foresightedness of my predecessor (as Head of the Eastern Service) Tom Morgan.. had ensured that Current Affairs should become the cutting edge of the Hindi Service just at a time when hundreds of thousands of Indians were seeking a window on the world through the newly available transistor set.’

In the Eastern Service Mark set a firm and lasting direction for the principle that the BBC should target audiences for its language services rather than separating them by country. So the style ‘Indian’ and ‘Pakistan’ Services were abolished. Two Bengali language services, one for India and the other for East Pakistan, later Bangladesh, were merged. The BBC Urdu service though principally targeted to Pakistan recognised more actively that a good proportion of its audience was in India.

A second lasting legacy of Mark’s time at the Eastern Service was the negotiation of a new basis for BBC news coverage of India. In 1970 the BBC correspondent Ronald Robson had been expelled over the airing by BBC television of a series of documentaries by the French director Louis Malle.  The series was not a BBC production and Robson had nothing to do with them. They had been shown without any adverse publicity on French television. But some heated criticism in the Indian parliament and print media of content allegedly disparaging to India – for example footage of vultures rather than of industrial innovation – led to the closure of the BBC office and the effective suspension of BBC programme operations in India, though the Indian language services, ( broadcast from London and not dependent as they are today on Indian government permissions), continued uninterrupted. In early 1972 after India’s war with Pakistan establishing an independent Bangladesh, Mark Dodd and the then Managing Director of External Services Oliver Whitley went to Delhi for talks with the Indian government. The outcome was the re-opening of the BBC office with Mark Tully returning to Delhi as BBC representative ‘with a news watching brief’, an arrangement which both launched Mark Tully’s journalistic career and allowed in due course for other dedicated correspondents to report from India. Mark Dodd’s aptitude for quiet diplomacy paid off. He was always tough and effective in promoting and defending the Asian language services, notably in justifying the BBC Persian service against the strictures of the British ambassador in Iran. Sir Anthony Parsons, facing the fury of the Shah during the Iranian revolution, had wanted the service abolished, though later he retracted his criticisms. The BBC Pashto service broadcasting into an equally conflicted environment was also set up under Mark’s watch in 1981. . The Burmese Service, threatened with closure in the same year, was rescued, to become one of the BBC’s highest priorities with the ‘Rangoon spring’ seven years later. .

His colleagues saw Mark as a thoughtful administrator and a popular manager. It was not his style (as one said) to generate outrageous anecdotes, though his tales of his undergraduate jeux d’esprits caused much hilarity within his family.   Another former senior colleague says ‘he was the most civilised of colleagues, at a time when the nature of our jobs was changing so rapidly’. His head of hair was famous in that it never seemed to thin or go grey, and he always appeared both fit and smartly turned out, though maybe his characteristically dashing bow ties raised an eyebrow or two.  He retained his passion for archaeology and sometimes took time off to take part in a dig or to coach his old college’s rowing club, another all-absorbing interest. He was a skilled amateur artist and in retirement had more time for painting, exhibiting locally as well as sending privileged friends memorable Christmas cards of his own design. He was proud that one of his sons, Daniel, followed him into the BBC. Mark will be greatly missed by his many friends, and our sympathies go to his widow Shirley, to Daniel and his brothers and their families.

William Crawley

20 December 2020



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