A Biog-Blog


... I can't remember why I came to my pc just now.

Perhaps to do my Tax Return (I regularly mean to do it!)

Donald MacLean

Portrait by Charlie Bibby

Photo: Charlie Bibby (F.T.)

Yet, in 2009, I do clearly recall watching a Baird TV set 75 years ago ...

... and a 1930's prize-giving when Lord Reith came back to his old school and told us how he'd created the BBC ..

... two reasons, maybe, why I became one of the BBC's pioneering television producers.  

Royal Albert Hall 1963

Beatles '63 CU

And I remember a full-house concert at the Royal Albert Hall in 1963 when the Rolling Stones refused to play because the Beatles had top billing. 

Or was it the other way round?

Anyway, as Head of Popular Music I had to fix it. 


And a meeting of the BBC's "Programme Policy Board" when I was the only one aware of the significance of "Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds".  At 27 I had been appointed Chairman of this body for the very good reason that, understandably, no-one else would touch the job with a barge-pole. 

For as long as I can remember, my interests can be summed in one word: "communication" ... the challenges of using new media effectively ... radio > television > video > software > the internet. 

At 30 I found myself Commander of the Army's Press Communications unit in the '56 Suez invasion (every bit as ill-judged as the recent Iraq one)  ...  with our transmitter bombed out of action and 14 of the world's elite War Correspondents on the beach at Port Said handing me armfuls of urgent copy.

And when I resigned as a Managing Director in Britain's major entertainment company, to be with my dying wife, I was instead promoted to Deputy Chairman - to pioneer, among other things, working from home online.bbfc 12 symbol

I was determined to end the Censorship of movies and replace it with a Classification system that would enable viewers to make their own decisions.  The experts said it couldn't be done.  We did it.

BBFC logoTo do so we first assembled an authoritative committee (including the nice Lady Plowden, Chairman of the Independent Broadcasting Authority, and a Bishop, plus the formidable Hilda Himmelweit, world-famous Professor of Social Psychology).  To ensure the right focus I chaired the initial meeting ... which, to my embarrassment (but no-one else's), rather quickly focused on the circumstances in which one TV character could tell another to fuck off.

My earliest memory:  When I was four a very can-do girl visitor of six took my hand, led me into the shrubbery of Clifton Lodge, our home in York, and widened my horizons somewhat.  I think this is why, during a recent talk about poetry, on hearing the phrase "The oral tradition ..." my mind wandered off.

In my teens the war started and, in the remote Highlands, I was temporarily responsible for my 3 younger siblings.  Wee Fiona got meningitis and within days had died.  The ensuing 2 weeks remained a horrible blank for the next sixty years ... I knew only that they were the source of the panic attacks which often overwhelmed me ...  unpredictably ... except that they never, thank God, struck when I was at the controls of an aeroplane or a television broadcast.  When I started researching this story the astonishing events of that fortnight emerged.

In the seventies in California, jet-lagged at 4.0am, I couldn't sleep, so I took my camera out into the hotel garden and crouched down for a close-up of a cactus at dawn.  No-one had told me that the sprinklers were timed for 4.0am.  Or that every jet had a 10 metre blast.

I was invited to a meeting, in the Prime Minister's Cabinet Office, of leaders of the "Information Industries".  Thirty-two of us ... Britain's most opinionated men and women.  They elected me Chairman.  The experts told us that the new media were not covered by Copyright.  So new video and computer programs would be created only by amateurs.  It took two years to change the law - but we did. **

And ...


the unfolding story of one life and two careers -
foreseeing change, staying ahead of it -
in broadcasting and in business -
in the UK and US.

See "Blogs" below


A very professional profile
BBC Profile

Financial Times 2006 "First Person"
Financial Times website - Google "Donald MacLean: the tech polymath who tried to buy Apple for EMI" to read the article.

when the 'Internet Movie Database' says "Trivia" - it means it!
Internet Movie Database

Review of this website by best-selling author Rory MacLean
MacLean Magazine 2010

** Praise indeed!  Cross-party compliments from Parliament
Hansard Online
(You may not want to read all 36 pages!
Once there type Ctrl-F, 'MacLean', then 'return' 4 times)

- - - music - - -
One of my hobbies is creating computer music
using software that some very clever folk have developed.
(Sonar, Audacity, Band-in-a-Box & keyboards Korg M1, Oxygen 8)

These examples will play when you
click the titles in the little player below.

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- - - - - -


Why not a book, a regular biography? 

A New York publisher offered me a generous contract.  And a deadline.  I declined.  The website I created 15 years ago (run now by a worldwide team) introduced me to a new way of communicating - and I like it. 

So first this biog-blog.  One instalment at a time.  I don't lose control ... can pop into my den and change any of it, at any time, within seconds. 

At the end of the day if there's still scope for a book that's fine.  Maybe from a modern print-on-demand publisher. 

But if it means no book-signing sessions that's fine too - I've had more than my share of publicity. 

Old diaries

My 42 dog-eared diaries are crammed with facts.  Until I was 60 that meant business.  For example "0730 Car to airport. 1010 United 954 SFO to LHR".  That's a fact.  It's not what I'd care to read here and I assume you don't.  So I don't do facts - I write what the facts recall.

That diary note recalls a departure lounge in San Francisco airport.  The huge nose of a jumbo jet looms outside the panoramic window.  I see that a bowser is connected - the plane is being refuelled.  A large stepladder sits under its nose - an upside-down V - left there perhaps by an engineer, gone to find a different spanner.

My grandfather and my father trained as engineers, so did I.  (Later we became managers of, respectively, a foundry, a biscuit factory, a TV crew.)  Perhaps that's why my thoughts run like this: "How many gallons of fuel must this brute burn to haul its 440 tons into the air, and then over the Arctic for 13 hours to London? How much weight must all that liquid add? That slowly increasing weight is going to make the fuselage settle down. There are just inches between the underside of the nose and the top of the stepladder ... fewer inches now than the last time I looked ... oops ... no-one else seems to be noticing ... who can I tell?"

747. Boeing photo.The airline attendant is quickly on her phone.  My mind runs on: "There's probably a radar antenna inside that nose ... so the skin won't be metal ... probably plastic ... so it'll break, not just dent ... they'll have a spare here ... but supposing the techy stuff inside is damaged?"

It seems longer but it's probably just minutes later that three figures run out onto the tarmac - one of them to the bowser, the others to tug at the step-ladder.  But it is now firmly embedded in the aircraft's nose. 

And I am firmly embedded in the US of A for the rest of the day.

I've always been absent-minded.  At school in pre-war Scotland my teacher was the original for Miss Jean Brodie (called Miss Read), she twice gave me the strap for day-dreaming.  A fertile imagination served me well when I wrote for radio.   In my eighties I day-dream even more.  If you're a stickler for truth the omens are not good!

Many times, in many board-rooms, I have made a decision and added "The Legal Dep't will refine the wording."  Not now.  My home in the Chiltern hills has many amenities but no legal department.  If someone takes me to task because the nose-cones of 747's contain not radar but the toilet plumbing I shall thank them for their superior knowledge - and change not a word.

What follows assumes that you and I understand each other - we're dealing in memories, not aircraft design ... and I hope that they will interest you.




(click an underscored name)


1.    CHANGE                

2.    COMMUNICATION        

3.    THINGS                          

4.    TIM                                 

5.    PLACES 1                       

6.    PLACES 2                       
7.    SHRINKAGE                   
9.    HABIT                            
10.  FIREWORKS                   
11.  BROADCASTING 1        
12.  BROADCASTING 2        



13.  ALMOST  
14.  NANO
15.  JOHN



(I post sparingly)




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Site updated on 05 April 2011


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