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Sir John Richard Gray Drummond CBE (25 November 1934, London – 6 September 2006) was an English arts administrator who spent most of his career at the BBC. He was the son of a master mariner in the British India line and an Australian lieder singer.

He was educated at Canford School and, after his National Service in the Navy, read History at Trinity College, Cambridge. At Cambridge he was a member of the Marlowe Society, performing in Christopher Marlowe’s Edward II, which was broadcast on the Third Programme in 1958 with Derek Jacobi in the title role. At the time he had already gained a BBC general traineeship (Carpenter p316).

His early career at the BBC was as a foreign correspondent (Drummond spoke fluent French and Russian) and then director/producer of arts programmes for BBC Television; ultimately he became Assistant Head of Music and Arts before becoming director of the Edinburgh International Festival at the end of 1977. Drummond's period at the Festival was particularly successful, and Norman Lebrecht commended him in a tribute for his multi-disciplinary approach in a celebration of 'fin de siècle' Vienna in 1983.[1]

After leaving his post in Edinburgh in 1983, he returned to the BBC and was appointed Controller, Music (in tandem with his predecessor Robert Ponsonby for a year as Controller, Designate) in 1985 and then Controller of Radio 3 (1987-92) when the two posts were merged. He was succeeded by Nicholas Kenyon as Controller of Radio 3, but Drummond continued to be responsible for the Proms until his last season in 1995. While Controller of Radio 3, Drummond introduced the co-ordination of interval talks with the evening concert, doubled the length of the Saturday morning Record Review programme and scheduled the first Jazz concert at the Proms with Loose Tubes in 1987. Drummond had a low opinion of the Radio 3 audience, which he saw as consisting of “thirty minority tastes, each of which is characterised by its intense dislike of the other twenty-nine” (Carpenter p335).

Drummond attacked Nigel Kennedy in 1991 for wearing a black cloak and 'Dracula' make-up while performing Berg's Violin Concerto,[2] and comparing Kennedy's usual punk clothing to the vulgarity of Liberace (Carpenter p335). Most opinion in the media sided with Kennedy.

Having chosen not to renew his contract as Radio 3 Controller for a second five-year term in 1992, he became openly critical of the Birt regime at the BBC, for its managerial and populist instincts. For Drummond, the BBC "has been an organisation which has seen itself as leading society, not following taste. If it no longer wishes to be that, I can't see any reason for its existence."[3] At about the same time, he called Tony Blair a "professional philistine" and attacked the Blair government for destroying "the national sense of culture".[4]

John Drummond was chairman of the Theatres Trust near the end of his life (1998-2001). He had also been on the Council of Management of the new music group, the Fires of London.


  • Fine and Private Place (with Joan Bakewell), 1977, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, ISBN 0-297-77432-8
  • Tainted by Experience, A Life in the Arts, 2000, Faber, ISBN 0-571-20922-X
  • Speaking of Diaghilev, 1997, Faber, ISBN 0-571-17864-2


  • Humphrey Carpenter (1996 [1997]) The Envy of the World: Fifty years of the BBC Third Programme and Radio 3, Weidenfeld and Nicolson [Phoenix pbk, ISBN 0-7538-0250-3, pp316-36]
  • Hevesi, Dennis, "John Drummond, 71, Director of the Edinburgh Arts Festival, Dies", New York Times", September 15, 2006.

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