The young Nigel Pickard went to art school at the same time as Graham Ralph. But it was clear to him that ‘I was crap at drawing so I would need to find something else to do.’ His first job was as a trainee film manager ‘and I still maintain the cutting room was a fantastic place for me to learn program structure,’ he says.
At the end of five years in editing he began to worry that ‘I’d spend my life in a darkened room.’
Fortunately, he secured a job as a floor manager at Southern Television -the part of the ITV network that broadcast to the south coast of England during the 1970s. In this capacity, he got the chance to be first assistant director on a production of Wurzel Gummidge.
By the age of 27, he was directing kids shows like Runaround. ‘At that time, Lewis Rudd had overall responsibility for programming-but a particular passion for kids shows-so he was a distant mentor for me. I enjoyed making kids shows because of the diversity. I never saw it as a stepping stone to something else.’
In 1980, Southern lost its ITV license to TVS and Anna Hume joined as head of programs. Under her leadership, TVS made the influential magazine show No. 73. Pickard ‘directed it, produced it and ultimately was responsible for killing it.’ After Anna Hume returned to the BBC, TVS boss Greg Dyke made Pickard kids controller. During that time, he worked with Nick UK managing director Janie Grace and Carlton kids controller Michael Forte.
Like Southern, TVS lost its ITV license in 1990 to Meridian-which is still the incumbent. After a brief time out of work, Pickard joined another ITV company, Scottish Television, but the relationship was short-lived. Soon after, Pickard was invited to become director of programs at the cable and satellite launch of The Family Channel. ‘I made a conscious decision that I wanted experience in starting a channel. At that time, not many people knew about stripping series, acquisitions or making shows for £3,000.’
Subsequently, Flextech bought Family Channel and Pickard relaunched it as Challenge TV. He regards this as an invaluable period in terms of learning about branding and marketing ‘but I started to wish there were a few more noughts on budgets and audiences,’ he says. ‘I enjoyed Flextech and wasn’t desperate to leave. But then (ITV Network director of programs) David Liddiment approached me out of the blue and asked me to do the job I had always coveted.’ The rest is history.