Today we got the sad message that our beloved and most admired BBC colleague Piers Plowright passed away on July 23. 2021.
We have got these lines from our colleague Rebecca Wilmshurst from the BBC.
I’m sharing very sad news received just now that Piers Plowright, an absolute master of the audio world, passed away this morning.
He had been in a hospice and poorly for quite a while.
But his family were with him at the close of his life – and what a life he lived. So many wonderful features – in particular I remember Insect Musicians and One Big Kitchen Table – both of which, I think, won the Prix Italia.
Below is a picture he sent me when he left Drama many, many years ago – beaming alongside the `end of the Piers’ cake which we’d had made for him.
Until relatively recently, he continued to come and visit us each summer to talk to the new intake of Soundstart actors on the joys of `listening’. No one ever failed to be moved by what he said.
From Edwin Brys (Belgium, VRT, Ake Blomström):
Piers Plowright’s radio work is characterized by its elegant structure, beautiful musical atmosphere and deeply humanist approach.
“Gentle, loving and caring”, as someone once said.
But there is more.
There is poetry and a sense of myth. (about his “Setting Sail”):
Like Charon, this is an author who makes us cross the River Styx and takes us to the mysterious realm of the dead.
As one of his characters says:
”Death isn’t a bad thing.
I think it’s a good thing that you die.”
Strange, confusing, warm and wise words.
AUDIO + SCRIPT “SETTING SAIL” 1985
From Richard Bannerman (former editor Radio Documentaries Unit):
What a great and generous-hearted man he was.
He seemed to have time for everyone, often giving his support to those who needed it and possibly he thought we all needed it!
He definitely was a radio guru, and could have vanished into the radio-stratosphere but his wonderful humanity kept his feet on the ground.
And he leaves such a legacy of creativity behind him.
We were so lucky to have him within our little group for a decent time, and I hope we offered him a zone where he could still be himself – and not bother about cutting tape or digits! It’s a loss of a truly great person.
From Simon Elmes ( ex-BBC, Radio Documentarist & Creative Consultant):
My own memories of Piers are of a wonderful programme maker from a school that was already becoming seen as somewhat esoteric by prosaic BBC managers when he was flourishing.
He was a guru, and producers courted his praise which he dispensed with generosity and fine judgement.
His programmes ‘Setting Sail’ and – for me – above all ‘Nobody Stays in this House Long’ were landmarks of subtlety and simplicity that spoke huge volumes with minimal means.
He was – nobody ever said this but all knew it – unbelievably good-looking, and his admirers were always both attracted to his magnetic presence, his wonderful, delicately modulated voice and his dashing, youthful good looks which he maintained even into old age.
Piers’s Christian faith – he was I believe a Roman Catholic – was something that always went hand-in-hand with his presence in the office, and spending time in his presence always felt a bit like an audience with the Pope.
His friends were intellectuals – poets, writers, philosophers – and his home in Well Walk, Hampstead in London was the regular meeting place, I gather, of a confraternity of ideas and debate.
When I made a feature about the re-modelling of BBC Broadcasting House in the early 2002s for BBC Radio 3, I interviewed him.
He had this wonderful image of our venerable old 1932 building, its walls impregnated – as he said, like the frozen post-horn in Baron Munchausen’s journey (by Rudolf Eriche Raspe) – and ready to reveal their audio secrets as the builders moved in and stripped bare the plaster.
To me this was pure Piers – imaginative, literary, European.
And so true.
From Babro Holmberg (Former Head of Swedish ‘Features and Documentaries’):
This I did not expect to happen – so soon! …
I last saw Piers a couple of years ago while visiting a grandson studying at Oxford, spending a couple of days in London first, having a lovely Turkish lunch with Piers P and John Theo…and now suddenly they are both gone! I am truly saddened…what a loss to all of us.
And still – I am privileged to have known Piers and have nothing but fun and lovely memories of him!
Please, if you can, convey my deepest sorrowful feelings to his family and British colleagues – the world around me feels a bit smaller now…
I feel a bit smaller now.
From Lorelei Harris (Former Head of Arts and Cultural Strategy, RTÉ)
I am so sorry to hear of Piers’s death.
He was a wonderful radio producer and, more importantly, a beautiful and generous man.
My very deepest condolences go to his family and I hope they find comfort in the knowledge that his presence in our midst enriched us greatly as radio professionals and as people.
From ‘School of Sounds‘ in London
When we began thinking about the School of Sound, a friend teaching radio suggested that the one person we should consult was Piers, one of the BBC’s leading radio producers .
At our meeting in Broadcasting House, we discussed whether the idea of a conference about sound was even viable.
Would anyone come?
Piers began thinking aloud about the experience of listening in a communal setting, like the Scandinavian events where recordings of radio programmes are played to a live audience in an auditorium.
It was clear we’d met a like-minded person.
His interest was not technology or the ‘business’; it was in something more ephemeral that occurs when we listen: that mysterious collaboration between creator, speakers and audience.
By the end of our talk, he’d agreed to speak at our first event in 1998.
His talk was entitled The Shadow Knows. In his notes, he wrote, “Making the point – did I really believe this? – that drama is more powerful when you hear rather than see it”.
His voice, his stage presence and, most importantly, his love of communicating with an audience was mesmerising. The oft heard comment was, “I could have listened to him all day”.
He did what all good radio does: He lured the audience into a private world of new ideas and ways of thinking.
He was so successful that we asked him to return the next year and to again lead off the proceedings.
He became the “overture” for all the Schools of Sound after that.
Pier’s gave his talks titles like A Listening Life – A History of a World in 20 Sound Clips, Does Sound Matter?, Silence is …?, The Tallahatchie Bridge and Other Mysteries or, more cryptically, When Does the Connecting Train Arrive?
He spoke of the ambiguity of sound, its pleasurable inscrutability, the way it leaves room for the audience’s imagination.
He asked questions and left it to his listeners to fill in the answers.
It’s no exaggeration to say that Piers created the spirit – and set the standard – for those who followed him at the SOS.
Piers played a variety of radio pieces and film clips by himself and others.
One of his own works is appropriate today, the exquisitely simple Setting Sail.