10 April 2018

BBC's Hugh Carleton Greene honoured with English Heritage Blue Plaque

  • Former Director-General of the BBC celebrated
  • Plaque unveiled by Greene’s ex-colleague David Attenborough
David Attenborough unveiled the English Heritage Blue Plaque honouring former BBC Director-General Hugh Carleton Greene

Hugh Carleton Greene (1910-1987), Director-General of the BBC during the sixties, has today (10 April) been commemorated with an English Heritage Blue Plaque. Veteran broadcaster, naturalist and former colleague, David Attenborough, unveiled the plaque at 25 Addison Avenue in London’s Holland Park.

Described as “the man who turned down the central heating and opened the windows at the BBC,” the corporation’s output during Greene’s spell as Director-General included the satirical That Was The Week That Was and Ken Loach’s gritty drama Cathy Come Home. Under Greene, BBC2, BBC Radio 1 and the Open University were all launched and the early years of his time in office saw a dramatic recovery in the BBC’s television audience share, which had fallen far behind that of ITV. Greene’s role in all these successes was as an enabler: he later described his aim as being “to make the BBC a place where talent of all sorts, however unconventional, is recognised and nurtured”. 

Not everyone was a fan of his liberalising influence. The ‘Clean-Up’ TV campaigner Mary Whitehouse asked the BBC to remove the word “knickers” from a song in a Beatles film slated for transmission, a request which Greene described as “technically impossible and, anyway, silly”. Whitehouse regarded Greene as the individual “most responsible for the moral collapse that characterised the sixties and the seventies”. Yet one of Greene’s own programme ideas, Songs of Praise, is still running today.

David Attenborough unveiled the English Heritage Blue Plaque honouring former BBC Director-General Hugh Carleton Green

On unveiling the plaque, David Attenborough said: "I speak as someone who worked for Hugh Carleton Greene. It's difficult to explain how important he was to all of us who worked for him. He was a remarkable figure, a scandalous figure; he was a bit of a mystery man. It was a great privilege to work for this remarkable man."


Greg Dyke, English Heritage Blue Plaque Panel Member, and former Director-General of the BBC, said: "Hugh Carleton Greene was one of the great Director-Generals of the BBC. He took over at the end of the fifties when the BBC was in crisis. Its share of the audience had collapsed following the arrival of ITV yet, by the time he left, the BBC had re-invented itself and in the process invented popular British television in areas like drama and situation comedy as well as allowing the BBC to challenge the status quo in Britain for the first time with shows like That Was The Week That Was. This was the end of the age of deference. The BBC changed dramatically in the sixties thanks to Carleton Greene and he set the tone and pace for television for the next thirty years."

Hugh Carleton Greene, born 15 November 1910 in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire - and younger brother to novelist Graham Greene - began his career as a journalist in Germany after graduating from Merton College, Oxford in 1933. Working for a number of publications, including the New Statesman and the Daily Telegraph, Greene was expelled from Nazi Germany in 1939 but continued reporting from Warsaw and Amsterdam, in each case being forced to flee advancing German forces. After returning to England, he was given a volunteer commission in RAF intelligence, interrogating captured pilots, before joining the BBC in October 1940, eventually progressing to Director-General in 1960. After nine years and three months in the role, Greene resigned from the BBC in 1969. He died of cancer at the King Edward VII hospital, Marylebone, on 19 February 1987.

The English Heritage Blue Plaque to Hugh Carleton Greene is at 25 Addison Avenue in Holland Park, London. Greene lived in the unassuming two-storey semi-detached house for 11 years during the height of his career as a broadcasting executive. When he moved here in early March 1956, he asked for his free BBC television set - then a considerable perk - to be moved to the new address.

Other people and places prominent in the history of television recognised under the London Blue Plaques Scheme include the comedian Tony Hancock (Kensington), the entertainer Joyce Grenfell (Chelsea), Alexandra Palace - from where the first BBC high definition television service was broadcast - (Wood Green) and the first BBC Director-General Lord Reith (Westminster). Hugh Carleton Greene's brother, novelist Graham Greene, also has a blue plaque (Clapham).


The English Heritage London Blue Plaques scheme is generously supported by David Pearl and members of the public.

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