Diana Edwards-Jones Obituary: Remembering the Director of ITV’s News at Ten for Over 20 Years

Diana Edwards-Jones Obituary: Remembering the Director of ITV’s News at Ten for Over 20 Years


Diana Edwards-Jones obit – The pioneering television director Diana Edwards-Jones, who has died aged 91, helped ITN establish its reputation for producing a popular, authoritative news service on ITV – and was renowned among colleagues for her colourful language in the gallery. She directed News at Ten, Britain’s first half-hour daily news programme, from its launch in 1967 until her retirement 22 years later – and was instrumental in making the “bongs” a part of its opening headlines. The broadcast also featured two newscasters presenting alongside one another for the first time in the UK.


During rehearsals for the title sequence, Andrew Gardner, partnering Alastair Burnet, was delivering the headlines when a sound mixer inadvertently brought up the tones of Big Ben striking the hour. When Edwards-Jones realised that a short headline could be fitted between the bongs to great effect, before Johnny Pearson’s stirring title music, The Awakening, the technique became an indelible News at Ten trademark.


Filling a half-hour news programme proved shaky at first, but the ITN war correspondent Alan Hart’s dramatic report on the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders retaking the Crater district from the rebels in Aden, screened on the third night, helped to make it a winner with viewers – and a regular in TV’s weekly Top 20 audience ratings.

Edwards-Jones continued on News at Ten until 1989. As well as becoming ITN’s head of programme directors, she was the first woman to direct a live election night results show, in the hot seat for both 1974 polls.


She was meticulous in her preparation and organisation, and then skilful at coordinating scores of outside broadcast cameras in constituencies and at the political parties’ headquarters, along with graphics and studio discussions and interviews. Her brilliance at spotting the most significant action and getting to declarations before the BBC during that year’s first election won Edwards-Jones the Royal Television Society’s 1975 silver medal for “outstanding creative achievement behind the camera”.

Colleagues recalled her message to the ITV “troops” up and down the land and in the studio during the hours before going on air: “Listen here, this is a rehearsal, not a fucking tea party!” They also remembered the red Llanelli rugby sock she wore to operate the cold metallic foot pedal that activated the equipment, allowing her to speak to outside broadcast directors around Britain. Edwards-Jones made the job her own and directed five election night results programmes in all, the last in 1987.

David Nicholas, the first producer of News at Ten and later ITN’s editor, once compared her with Britain’s first female prime minister. “When Diana’s in charge, she’s in charge,” he said in 1989. “Mrs Thatcher would be like a shrinking violet in comparison to Diana.”

Born in Swansea, Diana was the daughter of Nancy (nee Davies) and Cyril Edwards-Jones, a GP. On leaving Battle Abbey school, East Sussex, in 1950, she trained at Cardiff (now Royal Welsh) College of Music and Drama. She gained experience as an assistant stage manager with the Maudie Edwards Players at the Palace theatre, Swansea, before acting at the Theatre Royal, Bristol, and with Terence Dudley’s company at the Grand theatre, Swansea.


In 1955, as ITV was preparing its launch in London, she applied for a job as a floor manager at Associated-Rediffusion, one of the new commercial companies. She said it turned her down because she was a woman, but suggested she apply for a similar job at ITN, then based in the same building. She passed the interview, exaggerating her experience in stage managing – more than 100 theatre plays, she told them – and lying that she could type.

“But I did know a bit about timing from the theatre,” Edwards-Jones told Richard Lindley, author of And Finally…? The News from ITN (2005). “When you go to a matinee, they always speak faster so they can have a bit of a rest afterwards before the next performance.”

Edwards-Jones in the ITN control room in 1971. View image in fullscreen Edwards-Jones in the ITN control room in 1971. Photograph: Evening Standard/Hulton Archive Alongside typing scripts and arranging stills photographs from agencies and newspapers, she made her debut as floor manager at 10pm on ITV’s opening night, 22 September 1955, with a sweep of her arm signalling to the newscaster Christopher Chataway that he should start.

For the first time, the BBC had a rival in television news. ITN injected personality, as well as authority, into its programmes and pioneered new techniques – filming with lightweight 16mm cameras and live sound, and adopting a more incisive, rather than deferential, style of interviewing.

Edwards-Jones moved into the high-pressure world of programme directing in 1961 and was responsible for introducing earpieces for newscasters, to allow direct communication with them. Training production assistants and other directors soon became part of her job, and many credited her tongue-lashings as being an important element in the “masterclass”.

She built up a close relationship – professional and personal – with Burnet, ITN’s senior newscaster on ITV, and in 1979 they and News at Ten’s associate editor, Barrie Sales, brought about the sacking of Reginald Bosanquet, the flamboyant newscaster who was loved by viewers but increasingly becoming a liability as his alcohol intake increased. Following the nightly programme, the trio would often go for a drink and bacon-and-eggs meal at a nearby hotel. After a particularly hairy News at Ten that Bosanquet only just made it through, they decided he must go. The next day, ITN’s editor, David Nicholas, had a tearful meeting with Bosanquet – who, like Edwards-Jones, had been with the company from the start – and they agreed he would leave immediately.

Following Burnet’s death in 2012, he left £100,000 in his will to Edwards-Jones. She had been one of the few who continued to visit him during his final years, when he suffered dementia, and his wife, Maureen, described Edwards-Jones as “a very dear friend” of herself and her husband.

Edwards-Jones was made OBE in 1987. She is survived by a cousin, Philip Geen.

Conclusion

Diana Elizabeth Edwards-Jones, director, born 13 December 1932; died 14 April 2024

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