TRIBUTE TO DAVID PHILLIPS

This is the text of the address given by Phil Moger at the funeral of former ITN and NBC producer David Phillips on 24th September 2021 at Guildford Crematorium. Phil worked closely with David on the ITN News at 5.45. A Guardian obituary of David is at https://www.theguardian.com/tv-and-radio/2021/sep/15/david-phillips-obituary.

David Phillips was simply one the finest broadcast journalists I have ever known.

Outside, working with reporters he was in a league of his own; in the office, masterminding the News at 545 he changed the face of tv journalism. I was proud to work with him and eventually take over as editor of that programme.

David was dynamic. And he was charismatic. And it was never less than exciting to work with him.

But there’s someone who has got better words than me..Gerry Seymour the novelist (who is here today). Gerry was an ITN reporter and worked with David on some of the biggest stories of last century.. He says David was irascible, brilliant, innovative, stubborn and inspirational.

It’s good that I mention Gerry because if you wrote a book about David and some of the ways he worked it would be regarded as unlikely fiction.

And if it was turned into a film, the star would have to be Tom Cruise because he is the only actor who could do the stunts that David pulled off.

David worked for ITN for 20 years.  I’ve picked out some highlights to show his raw talent.

For the first, to get the full impact of the importance go home tonight get on the internet and look up Dawson’s Field explosions.

In 1970, Palestinian terrorists hijacked three airliners and flew them to a dessert airstrip in Jordan. There after offloading the hostage passengers they blew up the planes. One of them was a BOAC VC10

A freelance cameraman working for ITN was the only person to get the picture. There were no satellites or mobile phones.  Everything was on film. This was a massive story that the world was hungry to see.

David grabbed the rolls of film and drove to Amman airport. But there were no flights out.  No planes.  Except for one…a Caravel airliner not due to fly..  David found the pilot and with an American tv man they persuaded him to fly out that night  to Nicosia. for a princely sum…£25,000 in today’s money. Two of them in an eighty seater plane.

David dashed off that plane to find all flights to London were full.  But he persuaded another pilot a BEA captain to let him fly in the jump seat .

In Britain three picture editors worked in relays on the film.  And a half hour programme went out that night – a world exclusive thanks mainly to David. 

It’s yet another flight that brought another exclusive for David…with Gerry Seymour.

In 1972 Palestinian terrorists killed the Israeli athletics team at the Munich Olympics. In a shoot out five of the terrorists were killed but three surrendered.

It was another massive story. Suddenly the Germans released the three who flew to Tripoli. In Munich David hired an executive jet and with Gerry flew after them. A worried Foreign desk  in London asked David “And how much is that gonna cost us this time” “Sorry mate, haven’t a clue” said David.

The ITN pair had no visas . No landing clearance  when they took off.

David and Gerry DID land, arranged to interview the terrorists and hid from the worlds press who were also after the interviews.  But Gerry got them, another world exclusive.  Gerry was to say later David never entertained a fear of failure that day.

David wrote two books about hijackings.  One of them I have here Leila’s Hijack War co written with another ITN journo Peter Snow. I HAVE ONE OF THE FEW REMAINING COPIES IN CIRCULATION. That’s because my wife, News at Ten director Jacqui Bromley typed the manuscript of the book and proof read it.

On lighter topics  David loved anecdotes and I am indebted to Stewart Purvis for this one.  David was at the Montreal Olympics on a radio programme where journalists were discussing their coverage.  A German woman – Dagmar – listed all the problems her team had faced.  David listed all ITN’s successes and said “Hard lines Dagmar .”  She replied “ You are a very rude man ”.  And David replied.  “Me rude, me rude, your’e the German”.

David’s biggest success was being the brains behind a new early evening news programme, The News at 545.  It started in 1977. A different broadcasting world.  No Sky, No 24 hour  BBC news, No Channel four or five.

ITN had its News at Ten but early in the evening it was a ten minute bulletin a hotchpotch of what was to come later in the evening.

The new News at 545 – fifteen minutes long – covered stories that had never been covered on television before.  A nod to the popular press –the Mail, the Mirror etc Ed Stourton once said it was regarded at the time as a bit risqué.

. And it liked sport..a horse race every day.  We were told the Queen mum was a viewer because of this

The whole idea was to make it a good evening paper. David had been a sub on the Manchester Evening News and the London Evening Standard. David’s great talent was spotting a story which people would be talking about at home or in the pub and pushing it up the bulletin to story three or four and, if  it were a quite day, even the main story..

David told me he had a picture of his scenario. A husband comes home to his wife or wife comes home to her husband and as they come through the door they say; HAVE YOU HEARD THIS. 

Example: Recently,  The rolling stones drummer Charlie Watts died.  Known to all generations big time.  A programme I saw headlined it but made it an” And finally.”

Now Afghanistan was big this day so it would not have been the lead but David – and myself – that story would have to be second or third. That was the Phillips difference.  And that’s how he changed the face of tv journalism

Other programmes soon started changing what they covered. It’s what we see today…David’s part in history. And ratings soared

Throughout  David retained his love of the unusual.  Concorde fought for years to be allowed to land in New York.  When it did he negotiated with British Airways to do the landing LIVE IN THE NEWS AT 545. We prayed that day for it to be on time. It was. A great cheer went up in he tv gallery.

And David introduced another innovation — end titles covered in film. I was his main picture man on the Concorde day.  And  on that day we had Concorde’s captain waving his hat in the air from Concorde’s window. As a goodnight.

David left ITN to get back to field producing . That saddened many of us.  He went to  the American company NBC . He was Paris Bureau chief and London deputy chief.

But David never did things by halves.  On the day he left ITN he was taking it easy: his last programme had been put together before lunch.  At three that afternoon Irish terrorists blew up he car of Airey Neave, the shadow Northern Ireland Secretary killing him. Two hours before deadline the whole programme had to be redone.

It was one of his finest.

One final point

 I have gone through dozens of documents to write  David’s obits, many supplied brilliantly by his son Guy head of ITV regional news. 

I came across one phrase written by David; “I get my energy through enthusiasm.”

I never spent a day when David wasn’t enthusiastic.  That phrase should be pined up in every newsroom  because without enthusiasm you put out a dull product.

And David knew that better than anybody .Energy through enthusiasm is the legacy he leaves us.

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