Jonathan Powell (producer)

Jonathan Leslie Powell (born 25 April 1947 in Sittingbourne, Kent) is a British television producer and executive, and later a professor and head of department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London.[1]

Jonathan Powell
Jonathan Leslie Powell

(1947-04-25) 25 April 1947
EducationSherborne School
Alma materUniversity of East Anglia
OccupationTelevision producer, television executive, professor
Years active1968–present
TitleBBC Television Head of Drama (1985–1987)
Controller of BBC1 (1987–1992)


Powell was educated at Sherborne School and the University of East Anglia where he studied English Literature. In 1968, he began working in television drama, producing programmes such as Crown Court. Working for the BBC, he produced several drama series during the 1970s and 1980s, including literary adaptations such as A Christmas Carol (1977), Wuthering Heights (1978), Testament of Youth (1979), Pride and Prejudice (1980) and The Old Men at the Zoo (1983). However, probably his best known work was as producer of the Alec Guinness-starring BBC serials Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (1979), and its sequel Smiley's People (1982).

In late 1983, he was made Head of Drama Series and Serials at BBC Television, and later became the overall Head of Drama, overseeing a period of change in the BBC drama department, with more original dramas being produced as well as classic adaptations, and more drama programmes being made on film rather than in the BBC TV studios on video tape. In 1985, with the support of BBC1 controller Michael Grade, he attempted to cancel Doctor Who. After a public outcry and a tabloid campaign, this decision became an 18-month hiatus instead.

His most prominent television post came in 1987 when he succeeded Michael Grade as the Controller of BBC1. While he was Controller, Doctor Who came to the end of its first run in 1989, although Head of Series Peter Cregeen acknowledged it was his decision not to continue the programme. In common with Grade, Powell had a low opinion of the series and especially despised its producer, John Nathan-Turner, who he later said he wanted to "fuck off... or die, really".[2] Powell was held responsible for commissioning Eldorado, a new soap opera that lasted only a year and was critically and popularly regarded as a costly fiasco and an embarrassment for the BBC.[3]

He remained controller of BBC1 until 1993, when he left the BBC to join the independent company Carlton Television, where he became Director of Drama & Co-Production.

As at 2013, he is Head of the Department of Media Arts at Royal Holloway, University of London.[1]


  1. "Professor. Jonathan Powell - Research", Royal Holloway, University of London. Retrieved 25 May 2013.
  2. Matthew Sweet "JN-T: The Life and Scandalous Times of John Nathan-Turner by Richard Marson – review", The Guardian (website), 22 March 2013
  3. Steven Barnett, Andrew Curry The Battle for the BBC. Aurum Press, 1994, p. 167 ISBN 1854102850
Media offices
Preceded by
Graeme MacDonald
BBC Television Head of Drama
Succeeded by
Mark Shivas
Preceded by
Michael Grade
Controller of BBC1
Succeeded by
Alan Yentob
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