Gorham, Maurice Anthony Coneys (1902–75), author, journalist, and broadcasting administrator, was born in London on 19 August 1902, the younger child of James John Gorham, doctor, formerly of Clifden, Co. Galway, and his wife Mary Smith of Lancaster. His sister Mary Honora was born in 1901. Gorham's education was at Stonyhurst College, the Jesuit public school in Lancashire, and Balliol College, Oxford, where in 1923 he graduated BA in modern history. After three years of political journalism in the Westminster Gazette and Westminster Weekly, he joined the BBC's Radio Times in 1926, becoming art editor in 1928. The creative atmosphere of broadcasting fascinated him though he disliked what he termed the ‘stuffed shirt’ administration of the BBC and its director general, John Reith; the feeling was mutual. Nonetheless, by 1933 Reith had appointed him as editor of Radio Times, and despite their differences Reith recognised Gorham's major journalistic contribution and his artistic use of graphics and typography. Under Gorham's editorship Radio Times delivered a significant and increasing income for the BBC. By 1937 weekly sales had reached three million copies.
Gorham retained his strong family and social connections with Clifden and holidayed in Ireland annually until 1939. He planned to retire early and live in Ireland, but set aside these plans with the outbreak of war. He remained with Radio Times until 1941, when he was appointed director of the BBC's North American Service. In summer 1941 he travelled widely in the USA (where he had made an extensive visit in 1938) and in Canada to promote the BBC's broadcasts. Prior to D–Day he was chosen as director of the Allied Expeditionary Forces Programme (AEFP) of the BBC. The service went on air on 7 June 1944, the day after the Normandy landings.
As soon as the war in Europe ended the BBC's director general, William Haley, reorganised the corporation's services. In June 1945 Gorham launched the BBC's second domestic radio service which he named the BBC Light Programme. Shortly afterwards he was given charge of the re-opening of the BBC's television service (which had been suspended in 1939) in time for the victory parade in London in June 1946. But in December 1947 he resigned from the BBC after a strong disagreement with Haley over a restructuring plan which he believed would make the television service too subservient to the BBC's prestigious radio services.
Gorham now returned to newspaper and magazine journalism, sometimes using the pen name ‘Walter Rault’. Despite his difficulties with the BBC, he wrote several radio documentary scripts. His regular journalism included a radio and television review column in the Sunday Times and the Star. In this period he also published a number of books concerned with broadcasting: Sound and fury: twenty-one years in the B.B.C. (1948), which traces his own BBC career in detail, Television. Medium of the future (1949), and Broadcasting and television since 1900 (1952), a general history of broadcasting.
During the summer of 1952, Erskine Childers (qv), minister for posts and telegraphs, along with León Ó Broin (qv), secretary of the department, persuaded Gorham to come to Dublin to improve the ailing Radio Éireann. From January 1953, Gorham and the newly formed Comhairle Radio Éireann, which Childers had established, moved forward with reforms at breathtaking speed: listener research was introduced, latent staff talent was identified and promoted, significant programme changes were made, and broadcasting hours were increased. But there were some setbacks for Gorham, both personal and institutional. The salary he had been promised was blocked by the Department of Finance, and new studios which had been built in the GPO remained unequipped. Transmitter coverage continued to be patchy throughout the country and plans for a second radio service and a programme journal could not be realised for financial and technical reasons.
At Radio Éireann Gorham was faced with trying to provide a comprehensive Irish radio service on a single radio channel. His recent experience with the BBC Light Programme (and his earlier exposure to American popular radio programmes on AEFP) persuaded him that ‘good’ need not mean dull, or that ‘popular’ means low quality. For example in September 1953 he allotted the new ‘Thomas Davis Lectures’ series a prominent time in the Sunday schedule. Despite forebodings from Irish language organisations, and some initial criticism because Gorham was not an Irish speaker, it was later acknowledged that under his stewardship, Irish language and Irish music programmes had flourished during the 1950s. In 1953 Radio Éireann was run-down and under-funded. To make up for this, daily sponsored programmes were broadcast. While these programmes were regarded by members of Comhairle Radio Éireann as a necessary evil, Gorham himself had a personal distaste for advertising, believing it debased broadcasting standards.
Where previous directors of broadcasting had been reticent about responding to public comment or criticism of the radio service because of their civil service status, Gorham was first a broadcasting professional and only secondly an employee. In 1954 the GAA took him to task because of a plan to include a brief soccer report during the interval of a broadcast GAA match. A vigorous press controversy followed. Gorham cancelled the broadcast rather than accept what he saw as dictation from the organisation. There was a predictable uproar but Gorham weathered it.
In his dealings with politicians, ‘built-in fire alarms’ were not always part of Gorham's makeup. For instance in 1957, when the newly appointed minister for posts and telegraphs, Neil Blaney (qv), made some ill-judged remarks about Radio Éireann (and by clear implication about its director) at a Fianna Fáil Ard Fheis, Gorham and the Comhairle threatened to resign. No previous director of broadcasting would have confronted his minister in this way. Following ticklish negotiations, and a somewhat convenient ministerial indisposition, a government reshuffle by the taoiseach, Éamon de Valera (qv), defused the controversy.
Despite his expertise with television, Gorham regarded improving the radio service as his priority. When increasing public interest in television prompted the government to establish a television commission in 1958, he feared the government might feel tempted to give in to foreign commercial groups offering the state a ‘free’ television service in exchange for being given a concession to make commercial radio broadcasts into the UK. Both Gorham and officials of the Department of Posts and Telegraphs told the television commission that this course would threaten international broadcasting agreements and could culturally undermine Radio Éireann. When Gorham suggested a simpler plan for a much scaled-down television service that would not be too costly, the Commission largely ignored his views. In a divided and confusing report the commission recommended a commercial television service. The government decided to ignore this report and decided instead that Irish radio and television should be placed under one single authority – effectively a monopoly. This service was to be part funded by advertising. Gorham was very unhappy with this decision and gave in his resignation on 24 August 1959. This did not become public knowledge until 5 September, which led to much speculation that he had resigned because he was unhappy with the appointment of a new advisory committee and of Eamonn Andrews (qv) as its chairman. Under the terms of his contract Gorham worked out his notice as director and left Radio Éireann in February 1960.
After his resignation Gorham continued to live in Dublin and returned to journalism, writing a regular column for the Irish Times. During the 1960s he also associated himself with campaigns for the conservation of Dublin's heritage and he was the inspiration for the Dublin Writers Museum. He wrote three more books, two based on historic Irish photographs, and the third, Forty years of Irish broadcasting (1967) at the request of RTÉ. This remains a standard reference work. He died in Dublin on 7 August 1975.