From The Times
July 31, 2009
Philip Jones: television sales executive | Times Online Obituary
Philip Jones: television sales executive
Jones: he sold the Soviet Union The Forsyte Saga on its 'anti-capitalist' ethos
Philip Jones was the doyen of international television salesmen. He was the man who, over a period of 40 years, sold The Forsyte Saga to the Soviet Union and Inspector Morse to just about everybody. He marketed programmes for every British channel with the exception of Granada, and he established Europe’s largest commercial TV sales company in Central Television Enterprises (CTE). A bon vivant and a legend in his lunchtime, Jones was a prodigious networker who knew the world sales markets better than any other. He was a great “opener” of deals, preferring the thrill of the chase to the fine details that he left to his subordinates. He loved television, once boasting: “I watch six hours of TV every night, seven if there’s anything good on.”
He was born Philip Meredith-Jones in Clacton-on-Sea, Essex, in 1944. His father, a Welshman, was a primary school headmaster who became a lieutenant commander in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve during the Second World War. Philip was brought up in a pub run by his mother in Colchester.
He attended Colchester Royal Grammar School, though left with only four O levels. He preferred sport to academic work, and played cricket for Essex. But when a rugby injury left him with a permanently damaged knee, Essex’s captain, Trevor Bailey, was forced to let him go. The injury also ended his ambition to follow his brother to the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst.
Instead, in 1962, Jones chose the BBC, working his way up in BBC Enterprises, the corporation’s commercial arm. It was here that he helped to convince the Soviet Union of the anti-capitalist theme running through The Forsyte Saga, resulting in a rare deal with the Communist state. At the Rossiya Hotel in Moscow, where the deal was clinched in 1967, he removed what he thought was a bug from the hotel wall. When he nearly froze overnight, he realised it had been the central heating control.
He left the BBC for Yorkshire Television in 1970 where he spent three years before changing tack and joining the William Morris talent agency. His job was to “package” rising stars for television companies. He described himself as “head of lunches”, but while the lifestyle suited him this corner of the showbiz industry did not. In 1978 he became international sales director with ITC Entertainment, the distribution division of Lew Grade’s ATV.
Though Grade had an impressive catalogue, with programmes such as The Saint and Danger Man, the company was in financial difficulties. Yet, by clinching a $1 million deal to sell The Muppet Show to Network 10 in Australia, Jones helped to save the company from going under. One colleague described his relationship with Grade as akin to father and son.
Jones continued his role when Central Television won the Midlands franchise. In 1988 he set up CTE and became its managing director. This was his heyday. A great showman, he would be in his element working the rooms at the great television festivals in Monte Carlo and Cannes. In the latter, he would rent a suite at the smart Carlton Hotel and invite the world’s buyers to a free buffet and champagne. He had that ability to remember people’s names, and even their children’s names. Whether it be series such as Morse, Soldier Soldier or Sharpe, documentaries or children’s programmes, he knew instinctively where to place them. Foreign buyers trusted his judgment and beat a path to his door. If he was asked how many episodes were in a series, his typical reply was, “How many do you want?” On one famous occasion in 1992, while selling a documentary series called Sea Power, he persuaded a Russian admiral to dock his warship in Cannes harbour so that he could use it as the venue for the launch party.
Under Jones, CTE won two Queen’s Awards for Export. He loved the creative side of television, too. He would often be consulted on whether a planned series had sales potential. He would read scripts and talk to producers and directors.
In 1997 he became director of international relations at CTE’s successor, Carlton International. Gradually, working practices changed and he felt less at ease with the regime of spreadsheets, computers and shrunken expense accounts. It was the end of an era and in 1999 he left Carlton to form his own consultancy firm.
Jones died at home while reading Claire Tomalin’s biography of Samuel Pepys, a man whose convivial nature chimed with his own.
He is survived by his wife, Sue, a son and a daughter.
Philip Jones, television sales executive, was born on March 24, 1944. He died of a heart attack on July 5, 2009, aged 65