Friday, April 24, 2015

Mark Jones

Mark Jones, who ran the BBC Sound Archives for fifteen years, has died at the age of 67.

Blessed with a hugely well-stocked mind, plus a deep and constantly-growing fund of gossip (told either with a twinkling eye or iron certainty, depending on the recipient), he moved from archivist to programme-making in style, making most recently audio-books that tell the story of the First World War, D-Day and Radio 4 itself through BBC recordings. It would be nice to hear at least one of these 50-or-so programmes in the Jones Back Catalogue actually “on air” as a tribute to his research and writing skills.

His knowledge and love of the archive, and understanding of the rights minefield, were also pivotal in establishing the style and ambition of Radio 7, now Radio 4 Extra. He worked with Jonathan James-Moore, ex-head of Radio Comedy, to produce dummy schedules that shaped how the channel sounded from day one.

Like many, his route into the heart of the BBC was slightly oblique. Educated at Haberdashers’ Monmouth and Bristol University, he moved on to York, where he abandoned an M.Phil course after two years, slightly puncturing his ambition of an academic career in the emerging field of American Literature studies. How he turned the corner into a job in the BBC’s personnel department, looking at grading issues, probably ought to remain a mystery (though it remains an extra endearment to this writer).

He stayed three years in the world of job evaluation. He managed at least a couple of what BBC insiders call “trips” in the period. He spent a week on the streets of Lisbon with a news correspondent and film crew during the overthrow of Salazar, in order to determine the salary quotient appropriate to making difficult editorial decisions in dangerous circumstances. All jokes about being paid to watch other people work had been heard by the time he left the department.

At the sound archives, the activity was all about selection – these, we should remember, are the years before the arrival of the terabyte, and radio, even more than television, had to make hard choices about what was best kept. As the boss, he oversaw the computerization of the catalogue, and the move into digital recording.

Mark left the BBC in 1996 for his second career as a writer and producer. He taught at London University's Extra-Mural Department and at the City Literary Institute. In 1998 he won an SWPA Gold Award for “75 Years of the BBC”, a celebration of radio broadcasting. He wrote for the BBC History Magazine and provided all the recordings for the multi-award-winning audio series Eyewitness, a ten-part history of the Twentieth Century. He researched or wrote audiobooks and features on Victorian and Edwardian cricket, Dylan Thomas, Churchill, Alistair Cooke, the Titanic and the Battle of Britain.

As well as being a lifelong lover of radio, and an avid member of the MCC, Mark played cricket for the Bushmen, a team founded in World Service, and captained them in 1981. He also followed the fortunes of York City and Welsh rugby – a bit roller-coaster in recent years, as were Mark’s battles with illness. He smiled wryly and laughed through them all.

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