NICK’S transition from the world of the written word to the world of BBC Television was seamless. After the briefest spell as a temporary researcher , he was quickly on the high flyers’ production trainee scheme in 1986 and away on a round of assignments to various current affairs programmes. Until, in 1987, he made perhaps a strange landing – in the arts department. There, at that time, journalist was something of a dirty word, but Nick was not daunted.
He began as he meant to go on with a high-profile film with a very important presenter. A Vision of Britain was Prince Charles’s essay on the state of British architecture.
It was the first of many distinguished films and series with very well-known presenters which Nick masterminded. This was no easy task: holding the ring with strong-minded contributors and ambitious directors; coaxing co-producers to enhance his BBC budgets; maintaining a vision and a style over months, even years, of work. It was a sign of his strength of purpose that among the series American Visions with Robert Hughes, Renaissance with Andrew GrahamDixon and The Human Face with John Cleese and four other of his films were a clutch of Bafta, RTS, Banff and Emmy nominations and awards.
Nick’s finest talent was his ability to combine the sharpness of a journalist with the insight and imagination of the artist and to temper both with an instinct for the popular and the starry which never detracted from his fundamental seriousness about ideas.
Above all, he had a sense of mischief and fun which informed his greatest achievements, The Secret Art of Government (1999) and Sotheby’s and Christies: a Crime Amongst Gentlemen (2002). Here his boldness saw him taking on the most powerful institutions and winning hands down. He moved with ease among the rich and influential, but his intellect and charm found cunning ways through the smoothest presentation and the smartest spin. These films were full of witty, toe-curlingly sly moments when he cut to the quick when all around seemed unaware they’d been as much as touched.
He was equally proud of his contribution to the recent Leonardo trilogy presented by Alan Yentob. This was, at heart, a series he had wholly devised and struggled for years to get made. In the end, it became caught up in internal politics and Nick directed only the final episode, The Secret Life of the Mona Lisa. Somewhere there lay the struggle between the Reithian principles of Huw Wheldon’s Monitor legacy and the mantras of the modern BBC. The institution which had long supported this passionate, idealistic perfectionist began to make him feel his face and his skills no longer fitted.
He was on the verge of leaving the BBC when he died suddenly on 23 July of heart failure – a tragic loss to all who loved him and love good television.
He was just 43 years old.
Roger Thompson, BBC commissioning executive for TV editorial arts
THERE we all were, assembling in Cardiff for our postgrad year at journalism school, a last reprise of student life: another shared house, another year of abysmal communal cooking.
And then there was Nick.
His own flat, MG Roadster sports car, rich baritone voice – he was posh and proud of it. I had never met anyone quite like him. Initially aghast, I was soon beguiled. Nick adopted our shared house as his own, scorning our cooking loudly and inviting himself back every night for more.
Loud, certainly. Pompous, of course. He was Mr Toad personified.
But like Toad, he was a passionate enthusiast and a loyal and caring friend. To be fooled by the exterior noise was to miss the interior care, sensitivity and idealism that pulsed through Nick’s larger-than-life personality and larger-than-normal girth.
So it was that he locked into my plan to abandon the search for employment after Cardiff and cycle from the top to bottom of India. I was basically scared of settling down into a job. Nick was wildly taken with India, faded touches of the Raj, taking tiffin from the mountains to the coastal jungles – with tigers, thalis, bidis and bhajis.
And so he packed up his bike as well. After weeks of arguing and in complete disagreement with everything, our preparation was complete.
Nick was to meet and match India for colour, escapade, incident and entertainment every inch of the way and our resulting book, Ram Ram India, is every bit as much about Nick as about India as he “poop-pooped” his way across the subcontinent from the Himalayas down.
The phrase “Ram Ram” peppered our trip – it means “Cheers!” in Hindi. I never, ever dreamed I would have to be writing Ram Ram to Nick so early in his life.
He went on to become many things – but was, above all else, a constant, ever-generous and loyal friend in good times and the not-so-good. More important than all his work achievements, Nick was a wonderful, attentive and inventive father.
The world is a quieter and less colourful place now that his journey has suddenly been cut so short.
Ram Ram Nick.
Alex Thomson, chief correspondent, Channel 4 News