Head of the BBC’s radio drama department who oversaw hundreds of new plays and discovered Joe Orton among others
As assistant head and subsequently head of the BBC’s radio drama department for 15 years, John Tydeman was a figure of far-reaching influence, overseeing the production of hundreds of hours of new plays, classics and serials each year.
He claimed early influence as the discoverer of Joe Orton, then newly released from prison for defacing library books, and was later responsible for giving Sue Townsend’s diary-writing teenager Adrian Mole the platform that produced a phenomenon.
In between, he was a popular, avuncular and staunch supporter of new writers, helping to raise the profile of luminaries such as Tom Stoppard, Caryl Churchill and Rhys Adrian, 27 of whose plays he directed. He also persuaded Edward Albee to write his first work for radio, Listening, in 1976.
Aside from managerial duties, he was a prolific producer, translator and adapter of novels with BBC Radio’s Genome archive, listing more than 1,000 entries. He joined the corporation in 1959 as a trainee after national service in Malaya and studies at Cambridge University, where he began to act and direct in a cohort that included Derek Jacobi, Ian McKellen and Corin Redgrave. The association cured him of his own ambitions to act.
Within a year he was a fully fledged producer, becoming the department’s assistant head in 1979 before succeeding Ronald Mason in 1986. Two years from retirement, he resigned in 1994 disenchanted with the John Birt-led managerial changes that introduced a competitive internal market throughout the BBC.
During his tenure, he worked with most of the leading and emerging actors and writers of the time to produce some of radio’s most memorable drama productions, including Alec Guinness’ King Lear in 1988, Paul Scofield’s 80th-birthday performance of the same role in 2002, Peggy Ashcroft’s final performance in Stoppard’s In the Native State (1991) and Timothy West’s Willy Loman in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in 2006.
Among several prestigious accolades he received were the Prix Italia and Prix Futura bookending the 1970s for plays by Rhys Adrian and a Giles Cooper award for Harold Pinter’s Family Voices in 1982.
After leaving the BBC, he continued to produce independently for radio and returned to working in the theatre. Earlier productions including Churchill’s Objections to Sex and Violence (London’s Royal Court, 1975), John Mortimer’s The Bells of Hell (Garrick Theatre, 1977), and Robert Nye’s Falstaff adapted by David Buck (Fortune Theatre, 1984) were most conspicuously added to by his 1996 revival of Emlyn Williams’ Night Must Fall at the Haymarket Theatre.
From 1991 until his death, he served as a trustee of the Peggy Ramsay Foundation and also served on the boards of the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre and the Garrick Club.
Honours included an OBE in 2002, a special Sony radio award in 1994 and the Radio Academy’s lifetime achievement award in 2010.
John Peter Tydeman was born on March 30, 1936 and died on April 1, aged 84. He is survived by his civil partner, Tony Lynch.