Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Martin Cox

Martin Cox, who was a calm and wise thread running through the sometimes frenetic patch-work of BBC radio current affairs for many years, has died, aged 74.

He went to St John's Cambridge, and then joined National Opinion Polls (NOP), a subsidiary of Associated Newspapers. His expertise looked useful to Steve Bonarjee, boss of the BBC Current Affairs Group (Sound) in 1969, who took him on as a producer.

In 1970, this department was split up, and the newsy Current Affairs side took Today and what became The World Tonight, whilst Martin went with Current Affairs Magazine Programmes, CAMP by name if not nature. Martin stayed with CAMP, producing Nigel Rees (who's helpfully filled in this detail) in his first presenting job, on You and Your Money – one of the precursors of You and Yours.

Martin then surfaces in the Radio Times as a producer for the Special Current Affairs Unit run by Bernard Tate from later in 1970, on programmes like Saturday Briefing and Analysis, with presenters like Robert Carvel and Bob McKenzie.

By 1973, when I signed on with Auntie, he was a duty editor on The Today Programme. It was going through a fairly bouncy, confident period, and the production team seemed to have fun, on and off air. Martin liked to wear a fishing-smock type top for night shifts.

In 1976, he was still there, working with Nigel Rees as presenter in London, as Brian Redhead broadcast from Manchester. He rose to Assistant Editor, as the programme went through the turmoil of "Up to the hour" and back. In 1978, Nigel remembers Martin presiding over his leaving party - every other senior figure on the production side unavailable, ahead of yet-another re-vamp. "One always felt in safe hands with Martin. He knew what he was doing – which was not always the case with Today staff", he writes.

He became Editor of The World At One in 1987, in the wake of the arrival of John Birt. John selected Jenny Abramsky to lead Radio News and Current Affairs, and Martin stepped up in the shuffle that followed. He oversaw the installation of James Naughtie as main presenter in 1988. Things were still analogue, and the World At One /PM team worked pretty closely - colleagues remember his enjoyment of a quick razoring of an odd tape to fill the FM slot at the end of PM, whilst Long Wave went to the Shipping Forecast. No grandeur for this Editor.  He also exercised another skill, acquired on Today, of carefully constructed rotas, drafted in pen and ink, which took delicate account of the ever-changing interpersonal relationships (or not) of a large team of self-assured presenters and producers.

In 1989, he moved to join Jenny Abramsky's cabinet, as Managing Editor of Current Affairs. In 1994, he was Commissioning Editor for News for the nascent Radio 5Live. He would sometimes bring me a calm version of Jenny's view of my latest Breakfast pilot, when Jenny was too exasperated to deliver it in person.

After leaving the BBC, he came back in 1999 as a consultant, to review the radio commissioning process. From 2007 to 2010, he was Chairman of the BBC Pensioners' Association.

Weds update: Tribute from Jim Naughtie: “Martin was my first daily editor at the BBC, and a brilliant one. Funny and wise, dry and tough, with a brain that could bulldoze its way through any obstacle, he was what all our editors should be. All at once, he had a feeling for political folklore, the here-and-now and the future. He never made a suggestion about a script that didn't make it better. On top of it all, he was a decent and good man who cared deeply about our trade, and its values. Every time I met him after he'd retired, I felt better: Martin gave our game a good name. Everyone who worked with him knows that, and I remember him fondly and with admiration that will last.”


  1. Sad news. I remember Martin as a very encouraging radio elder for a newly fledged radio news recruit. They don't make 'em like that any more....

  2. Martin gave me my first job at the BBC as Reporter with Today and I heartily endorse all the comments above. He had a finely tuned understanding of News and Current Affairs Journalism and the often arcane workings of the Beeb. Above all he was a good, straightforward man to deal with, and as Jim says I always felt better after talking to him. He will be much missed. (David Stevenson)


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