Obituaries: SIR JOHN DRUMMOND ; High-Principled Giant of BBC Music and the Proms and an Energetic Director of the Edinburgh Festival

By Tusa, John | The Independent (London, England), September 8, 2006 | Go to article overview
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Obituaries: SIR JOHN DRUMMOND ; High-Principled Giant of BBC Music and the Proms and an Energetic Director of the Edinburgh Festival


Tusa, John, The Independent (London, England)


The BBC's former Controller of Music, a sometime director of the Proms and of the Edinburgh International Festival, John Drummond was a big man, physically and intellectually. With his craggy, handsome features, his large shock of hair, his inclusive smile and his attractive voice, he could fill a room even when others were in it. When he was charming, he was devastating' when he fought a quarrel - or picked one - he was dangerous, took no prisoners, and carried some grudges to his dying day.

Whatever case he made, or whatever argument he fought, Drummond - as his close friends always called him - was fighting on the side of the saints. They and he believed in the infinite preciousness of European culture' in the necessity of sticking to total standards' in a hatred of cheap compromise, soft-centred populism, temporising accommodation in the defence of fundamental principles.

Drummond was absolutist about his beliefs - he could be inconvenient, awkward, relentless. If, finally, he paid a price of exclusion because of his commitment to his principles, that was a sadness that he bore to the end, though never happily or in a spirit of personal reconciliation.

Born in 1944 in London, Drummond was brought up in middle-class gentility in Bournemouth - his father a remote Scottish sea captain, his mother a dashing, attractive Australian. He always felt at home in Australia and made much of his being half Australian. At Canford School, he was the conventional "clever boy" with an encyclopaedic memory that only deserted him in his last years.

During National Service in the Navy-a tribute to his father - he was chosen for the celebrated Russian-language course at Bodmin. He became a fluent Russian-speaker, a lover of Russian music and literature, and was capable of conducting a news conference in Russian when the BBC Symphony Orchestra visited Moscow in 1987. There was a half-hearted attempt to recruit him for Intelligence but - wisely - it was not followed up.

At Trinity, Cambridge, Drummond read History, and mixed freely with the generation of Bamber Gascoigne, Michael Frayn, Margaret Drabble, Peter Cook, Ian McKellen and others. He was intermittently funny as a Footlights sketch performer and wrote a truly dreadful musical - The First Resort - about Regency Brighton which amazingly got a production at the Arts Theatre.

Though fully a match intellectually for any of his contemporaries, the "clever boy" from Canford also saw himself- probably unnecessarily - as the "poor boy" from Bournemouth. He often felt he was there to sing for his supper.

Bitterly disappointed not to get a First in History, Drummond then moved into the elite of BBC recruits, the much-coveted General Trainee scheme. For 20 years, he ploughed the furrows of the dazzlingly creative BBC Music and Arts Department. In his programming about Kathleen Ferrier, and Serge Diaghilev, or his four programmes about architecture, Spirit of the Age, Drummond made a full contribution to the department. %t he was never very good at being a number two anywhere, still less number three or four. Here was a creative leader bursting to get out.

His real fulfilment came as Director of the Edinburgh International Festival from 1978 to 1983. His wide contacts with musicians and his extensive knowledge of the orchestral repertory made his music programming both brilliant and comparatively easy. What was more surprising was his relish for and determination to discover outstanding international theatre. From the extraordinary Polish director Tadeusz Kantor to the Rustaveli Company of Georgia's shattering Richard III, to his love for the National Theatre of Brent's sublime idiocies, the theatre programme had a zest and innovation that was breathtaking.

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