’I am not a moralist. I am not Mary Whitehouse.’ Bruce Gyngell,
chief executive of Yorkshire Television, is a man who speaks in sweeping
statements, and in one sentence can invoke controversy. His latest move,
to take Hollywood Lovers off prime-time ITV in the Yorkshire-Tyne Tees
region, grabbed national newspaper headlines last week and reopened the
debate on media morality.
Gyngell’s quest to clean up television has met with the approval of his
audience. Well, that’s what he says. YTTV’s potential audience of 8.4
million viewers was instead treated to The Best of Whicker’s World.
Unofficial viewing figures showed that just 918,000 people tuned in, in
stark contrast to over 1.4 million who tuned in to Hollywood Men last
Although he dismisses accusations of censorship, Gyngell is confident he
is doing the right thing. ’I have a gut feeling about these things.
You don’t treat an audience in a cavalier fashion. I do believe that I
am in tune with audiences.’
His argument is that no society believes sex should be performed in
public, so why should it be acceptable on TV? ’People don’t get down on
a cocktail party floor and get on with it, do they?’ he thunders.
So is Gyngell a prude? No, say those who know him. He’s far from
politically correct, according to one ex-colleague. ’There is this
strange dichotomy, that one minute he will moralise and the next minute
he makes a comment about some woman walking down the corridor and her
Born in Melbourne in 1929, he is described as a tall, slim man who is
not without sex appeal. Gyngell was the first person to appear on
Australian TV when it launched in 1956, as an announcer for Channel 9.
Eight years later he became the station’s managing director.
He is a man of outward contradictions, being overtly emotional, yet
possessing a ruthless streak. On the one hand, he encouraged a family
atmosphere at TV-am, where he told staff to wear pink because it was an
uplifting colour, and discouraged black. But when the technicians went
on strike in 1987 he unceremoniously sacked 229 of them.
Gyngell’s penchant for pink hasn’t rubbed off on all his colleagues, but
the sentiment has. BSkyB sales and marketing director Tony Vickers, an
ex-colleague at TV-am and godfather to Gyngell’s son Harry, says: ’TV-am
was run as a family. We did not always wear pink shirts, but the eternal
summertime worked well.’
The breakfast slot captured over two-thirds of the morning TV
But it took its toll. Gyngell suffered a heart attack and has since
become a ’fitness freak’, says one ex-colleague. ’When he was on a
macrobiotic diet he suffered from the most dreadful flatulence, so no
one dared to go into his office after lunch.’
Those who have worked with him describe a faddish, likeable man with a
great deal of verve. Mike Hollingsworth, former director of programmes
at TV-am, fired by Gyngell in 1986, says: ’I like him despite our
fall-out at TV-am. He’s a man you can’t dislike for long because he
means what he says.’
Hollywood Lovers is not the first show Gyngell has banned from YTTV’s
airwaves. ITV’s late-night programme schedule designed to pull in male
viewers, such as The Good Sex Guide, Carnal Knowledge and God’s Gift,
were censored by Gyngell because he thought they were inappropriate.
Also worrying for ITV is Gyngell’s attitude to the selling of the ITV
Network. As chairman of the merged international sales houses of
Granada, LWT and Yorkshire-Tyne Tees, he has clear views on how ITV
programmes should be branded, which go against existing marketing
strategy for branding the ITV Network. ’Where do you find ITV except in
the minds of sales house and advertising agencies? We would be much
better off if we called ourselves Channel 3 Carlton, Channel 3 LWT, as
we do with Channel 3 North East.’
Since joining Yorkshire he is credited with raising the profile of
programming while rejuvenating classics such as Emmerdale. Ironically,
the soap is becoming infamous for its late-afternoon sex scenes, but of
course it doesn’t qualify as sleaze because it is set in the English
countryside, not Hollywood. ’Bloody Hollywood film stars are pretty
shallow to start with,’ mutters Gyngell.
Chairman of network planning committee,
Managing director and chairman,
Nine Network (Australia)
Group managing director and chief executive,
British Independent Television Enterprises