Terry Johnston, a pioneer of regional television journalism, has died aged 71.
He was controller of news and current affairs at ATV, now Central Television. Prior to that he held the same position at Southern Television for 16 years, where he introduced the concept of hard-hitting documentaries on regional topics. Beneath a gruff facade he was a gentle man, inspiring respect and enthusiastic affection from staff.
Johnston worked hard and played hard and when out on the town with his subordinates insisted on being known as TJ, one of their mates, not as Terry Johnston, the big boss. He instinctively understood what the viewing public wanted and discussed the merits and demerits of particular programmes not just with colleagues but also with viewers.
He was firm but fair with his staff. He would regularly give someone a public rebuke and then call them into his office and invite them out for lunch. "By the way," he would say, "you’re paying – but I’m signing the expenses." As one associate put it, he would kick you when you needed kicking, and lift you up when you needed lifting up.
Born in London in 1931, his early career was with the Evening Argus, Brighton. But, while there, Johnston was already hankering for the bright lights of television. He supplied ideas to the Tonight programme and joined Southern Television. When John Boorman left the post of head of current affairs to pursue a career in film-making, it was Johnston, then 29, whom he recommended as his successor.
Under Johnston, the nightly magazine programme Day by Day, became the most successful regional show throughout ITV.
After 16 years in the job, he resigned in a row with management and for a few months in 1977 he tried his hand as a freelance producer. It did not work, and he was content to accept a lowly producing job with Yorkshire Television, working on breakfast shows. But it was not long before his talents were sought, and obtained, by ATV in Birmingham to revamp the network station’s news and current affairs output.
In 1984, ATV become known as Central Television and new management arrived. Johnston was one of the casualties and he left to set up his production company, Vision Associates. It won awards for corporate videos and, until his death, was run by him and his son, Tim.
He will be remembered, with great affection, as the upholder of a journalistic tradition that did not rely on market research to tell you what the viewers like and don’t like.