George Brown interview on Rediffusion tribute to John F. Kennedy (lost TV appearance of British politician; 1963)

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Brown during a meeting with John F. Kennedy.

Status: Lost

George Alfred Brown (1914-1985) was a British politician. MP for Belper from 1945 – 1970, Brown was an influential figure on the right-wing of the Labour Party, holding senior positions within the party and in government under prime minister Harold Wilson. Brown was infamous for his issues with alcohol, issues that would ultimately contribute to his political fall from grace. These issues were made public on November 22nd, 1963 when an intoxicated Brown made an embarrassing appearance on a televised tribute to American president John F. Kennedy just hours after news of his assassination had reached Britain. The appearance caused a brief stir in British politics and was used by the Conservative Party to attack Labour, but it ultimately did not seriously affect Brown’s political career. No footage of the interview is available to the public, and it is likely lost.


Born to a poor working-class family in Southwark, Brown became involved in the trade union movement before entering Labour politics.[1] He was a beneficiary of Labour’s landslide electoral victory in 1945, becoming MP for Belper. Brown established himself as a leading figure in the right-wing of the party and was respected for his intellect and skills as a speaker, and was widely regarded as “the ablest trade union MP”.[1] Brown would be elected as deputy leader of the party under Hugh Gaitskell, a victory that marked “a high-water mark for Brown within the party”.[1]

However, despite his strengths, Brown was also regarded as temperamental, with a propensity for alcohol.[2] Upon Gaitskell’s sudden death in 1963, it was these personal flaws that led many MP’s, even those on the right-wing and centre of the party, to support first James Callaghan, and ultimately Harold Wilson, who would be elected as the party’s leader.[3]

The interview

On November 22nd, 1963, Brown was attending a mayoral drinks reception at Shoreditch Town Hall, when he was informed by Milton Schulman, assistant controller of programmes at Associated-Rediffusion, that Kennedy had been assassinated earlier that day in Dallas.[4] Brown was closer to Kennedy than many of his contemporaries, having met him three times, including a recent meeting in October 1963.[5] Brown agreed to be interviewed for a hastily organised tribute to Kennedy.

Brown’s behaviour started causing issues even before the interview had begun. Waiting backstage with his fellow guest's movie producer historian Denis Brogan, columnist John Crosby and actor Eli Wallach, Brown started hectoring a “subdued and clearly upset” Wallach, calling him conceited for his lack of knowledge of British playwright Ted Willis.[4][5]The confrontation ultimately escalated until the two men had to be physically separated by the other guests.[4]

On air, Brown’s manner was “both weepy and aggressive”,[4] “a compound of maudlin sentimentality, name dropping and aggression”.[5] Visibly intoxicated on-air, Brown was asked by host Kenneth Ryan “I know you met President Kennedy once or twice. Did you get to know him as a man?” and responded combatively, stating “Now, you’re talking about a man who was a very great friend of mine…”.[5] Brown referred to the Kennedy’s with an undue familiarity, frequently referring to them by their first names, and appeared emotionally distraught on air as he recounted “Jack Kennedy, who I liked, who I was very near to…I remember it’s not many weeks ago I was over there with my daughter who lives in New York…and she was talking to Jackie across the garden. One is terribly hurt by this loss.”[5]


Press criticism of the interview took some time to heat up and was most widely promulgated by papers aligned with the Conservative Party.[5][6] A week after the interview, Brown would give a brief personal statement to his colleagues within the Parliamentary Labour Party, who “in parliamentary manner accepted the explanation”.[7] There was little damage to Brown’s standing within the party, and attempts by the Conservative Party to use the broadcast against Labour in by-elections the following December had little impact.[8]

Brown would remain influential within the party, and upon Labour’s victory in the 1964 election, he would enter Wilson’s cabinet, serving as First Secretary of State and the Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs. His heavy drinking continued in government, however, infamously inspiring a piece in Private Eye magazine that popularised the term “tired and emotional” as a euphemism for intoxication.[4] Brown’s heavy drinking and fraught relationship with Wilson would ultimately lead to his downfall in March 1968, when his failure to attend a crucial meeting during a crisis in the international gold markets led to a subsequent offer of resignation (an offer frequently made by the mercurial Brown and generally ignored by Wilson) which was accepted by the prime minister.[4]

Brown would never hold a ministerial post again, and he would lose his parliamentary seat in the 1970 election. He would subsequently be made Baron George-Brown and sit in the House of Lords as a Labour peer until 1976 when he resigned in protest of a government bill to strengthen trade union ‘closed shops’ – however, his resignation would be overshadowed by press photos of Brown falling down as he left Parliament.[4]


It is very likely that Rediffusion’s tribute to Kennedy, and thus Brown’s interview, is lost. The tribute was aired live at a time when live television was rarely recorded.[9] Any recording of the special would likely be filed under This Week, the name of the premiere current affairs show on Rediffusion. Some materials for This Week have survived within the British Film Archives – however, no materials are listed in the Archive for any shows aired on November 22nd, 1963.[10] Kaleidoscope, considered an authority on British television during this period, does not document the status of This Week’s episodes during November 1963 – however, it is likely that the episode, like the rest of This Week’s initial 1956-1968 run, is missing.[11]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Brown’s entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography
  2. Martin Pugh, Speak for Britain! A New History of the Labour Party (Vintage, 2011)
  3. Ben Pimlott, Harold Wilson (William Collins, 2016)
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 Ben Wright, Order, Order! The Rise and Fall of Political Drinking (Gerald Duckworth & Company, 2016)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 5.5 Blogpost on the interview citing Peter Paterson’s 1993 biography of Brown.
  6. “Tories carry the Brown broadcast to the hustings”, The Guardian, December 4th, 1963,
  7. “Mr Brown explains tribute”, The Guardian, November 29th, 1963
  8. "British Laborite Ordered to Rest: Brown, a recent target of Britons' Criticism, Is Ill, New York Times, December 17th, 1963"
  9. Transdiffusion article on television preservation
  10. British Film Archive entry for This Week
  11. Kaleidoscope entry for This Week