Peter was a pioneering sports broadcaster and a senior BBC television executive during the formative years of the medium in the 1950s. He was born in London and at the outbreak of war, joined the Royal Army Service Corps territorial unit and was called up only two months later to serve in France, during the retreat from Dunkirk. In March 1941, he was allowed to transfer into the Royal Air Force and qualified as a pilot officer. Then in 1943, he became a flying instructor on Tiger Moth and Miles Magister at various flying training schools, with the rank of Flight Lieutenant, and in February 1944 was appointed as a staff officer at the Air Ministry.
After demobilisation, Peter joined the Press Association working briefly as a racing correspondent and in March 1946 joined the BBC, around the time the television service was revived, as a producer/commentator, based at Alexandra Palace. One of his first tasks was to negotiate television racing coverage from Sandown, Kempton Park and Royal Ascot. He also organised 70 hours of outside broadcast coverage of the 1948 London Olympics. In 1949, he commentated on the University Boat Race. He produced the BBC’s first televised Test match from Trent Bridge in 1950, and organised the first relay of live television pictures to Britain from Calais in the same year. As head of outside broadcasts, Peter was in charge of events such as the Queen’s Coronation in 1953 – an event that is widely believed to have increased TV sales and the appreciation by viewers of BBC Television.
However, the broadcast had nearly not happened at all, for when the BBC first formally applied to the Earl Marshal, the Duke of Norfolk, for permission to cover the Coronation on live television, the answer was a flat no. Churchill, then prime minister, asked why the public should have as good a view as he would. He won the authorities over with a technical demonstration inside Westminster Abbey and showed how unobtrusive coverage could be, with lighting at an acceptable level and the television cameras inside the Abbey virtually invisible.
In February 1952, he arranged television coverage of the funeral of King George VI. The sombre images of three black-veiled Queens at the door of Westminster Hall summed up the sense of the passing of an era better than any spoken commentary. As assistant head of television, outside broadcasts (OBs), he spent the early 1950s in a perpetual state of anxiety that the government might call a snap election, requiring cameras and microphones at points all over Britain at short notice. In the event, by the time of the general election of 1955, he had been promoted to general manager and head of the OB department, a post he held until 1972.
In April 1954, Peter was the launch presenter on the new sport news programme Sportsview (which became Sportsnight in 1968) and in its first year, it featured Roger Bannister’s record-breaking four-minute mile run. No sooner had he completed the race, Bannister was bundled into a BBC van and driven to London and the BBC’s studios in Lime Grove where Dimmock interviewed him live. BBC TV’s Sports Review of the Year also started in 1954, with Dimmock again taking the presenter role, which he did until 1963. He continued to announce the results until 1971. He fronted the first two editions of Grandstand in October 1958 before handing over to David Coleman. He presented his final Sportsview in 1964. Peter presented BBC TV’s children’s series Junior Sportsview (1956 – 1958), produced/directed the State Opening of Parliament in 1958 and in 1960, the first televised Grand National. He supervised television coverage of the wedding of Princess Margaret to Anthony Armstrong-Jones (later Lord Snowdon). From 1963 until the Queen’s silver jubilee in 1977, he was the BBC’s liaison executive with the Royal family. In 1972, he was appointed general manager of BBC Enterprises and left in 1977. He was headhunted by American television in 1978 and became vice-president of worldwide sales and marketing for the ABC network in New York. He returned to Britain in 1986 as chairman of Television Enterprise and Asset Management, now Zenith Entertainment. He retired in 2000.
In 1998, he returned alongside other presenters for the Grandstand 40th anniversary programme, televised from Ascot. He was disappointed when the BBC failed to invite him to the service at Westminster Abbey in June 2013, attended by the Queen, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Coronation. However, he was invited the same year to the official opening of New Broadcasting House, looking frail and in a wheelchair, to be introduced to HM The Queen, alongside Sylvia Peters and other broadcasters.
He was appointed OBE (1961) and CVO (1968). He was made a Freeman of the City of London (1977), elected a Fellow of the Royal Television Society (1978) and received a special judges award at the 2004 Royal Television Society Sports Awards. In 1960, he married former BBC continuity announcer and What’s My Line? panellist Polly Elwes. She died from bone cancer on 15th July 1987. They had three daughters: Amanda, Christina and Freya (later worked in BBC TV Presentation in the 1980s). On 8th June 1990, he married Christabel Rosamund Bagge. He died aged 94 in 2015.
Video Clips on the Internet
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Peter Dimmock interviewed on the 40th anniversary edition of Grandstand.
SOURCES INCLUDE: obituary for Peter Dimmock - The Telegraph.
PICTURED: Peter Dimmock. SUPPLIED BY: Online. COPYRIGHT: Unknown.