Rugheimer, Gunnar , (1923–2003), RTÉ controller of programmes, was born 26 February 1923 in Stockholm, Sweden, to Carl Rügheimer (b. 1893), hat manufacturer, and his wife Sonja Traugott (b. 1901); both were Jewish and had been born in Sweden of Danish descent. After attending Whitlocksa School in Stockholm, in September 1942 Gunnar enrolled in the law faculty of Stockholm University where he studied economics and statistics. Participating in student broadcasting and politics, he seems not to have taken his degree (there is no record of his graduation), and was called up by the Swedish army, serving as a special technician. He became an assistant to Knut Hammarskiöld, brother of later UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskiöld, in the nascent UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, working with displaced groups in Scandinavia from 1944.
Emigrating to Canada in 1946, intending to work in a Montreal import-export agency run by family friends, he was recruited to head the recently formed Swedish-language section of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Moving to Toronto, he became head of the CBC news service when the corporation launched its television service in Toronto and Montreal in 1952. He worked on the relay broadcast of Queen Elizabeth's coronation (2 June 1953) by CBC, the first major international event to be broadcast on television; film was developed en route over the Atlantic to allow Canadians to view the coronation the same day that it occurred. Rugheimer edited the CBC News Magazine from September 1952, and Tabloid, a roundup of international 'newsreel' stories, from 1953. At CBC Rugheimer developed complicated production and engineering systems, and also purchased wire and agency content to augment the station's news output. At the forefront of overlapping strands of the nascent television sector, developing indigenous capacity and current affairs journalism, by 1958 he was head of sales for CBC. In 1960 he joined MCA (Music Corporation of America, later MCA/Universal) as a vice-president for sales, based in London.
He joined Telefís Éireann as controller of programmes in 1963 at a crucial point in the station's development; with limited production capacity and resources, the schedule was being fleshed out with imported programming. Rugheimer's expansive understanding of broadcasting, from editorial, engineering, and production perspectives, made him an ideal candidate for the position, and his experience was complemented by the managerial acumen of Kevin McCourt (qv), who was recruited in January 1963 from a successful business career to become director general. McCourt selected Rugheimer from over 300 applicants, and the appointment was approved, after interview by the Radio Éireann Authority, on 7 March 1963. After Rugheimer formally took up the position for a three-year term on 4 June 1963, his first role was to spearhead the coverage of US President John F. Kennedy's visit to Ireland (26–9 June 1963). While his predecessor, Michael Barry, retained temporary control of all other programming, Rugheimer negotiated the loan of thirty cameras and outside broadcasting infrastructure from the BBC, in return for sharing the ensuing footage, to ensure comprehensive coverage of the visit. Providing Rugheimer with an overview of the broadcaster's capabilities, and deemed a success despite the pressure on staff and engineering capabilities, the coverage presaged closer cooperation between the programming and the news division. In a presentation to the Authority in July, Rugheimer and McCourt outlined their plans to improve the quality of productions, rely less on imports, expand live programming, and increase the utilisation of studios and resources; they procured support for £100,000 of investment in engineering staff and equipment to facilitate this program. Discussions concerning the extent to which the Irish language would be deployed in the new schedule led Rugheimer to iterate his 'intention was to use Irish in various programmes where appropriate' (Authority minutes, 3 October 1963).
Rugheimer's skills and drive complemented the professional management experience of McCourt and of the chairman of the Radio Éireann Authority, Eamonn Andrews (qv). Their wide-ranging professional experience and contacts were crucial as the triumvirate effected significant change. McCourt – a shrewd, pragmatic and skilled manager – focused on the station's organisation, finances, and management structure, and established a management committee (September 1963), placing day-to-day strategic management and planning on a sound organisational footing. As staff numbers increased to over 1,000, a review (1964) resulted in many functions intrinsic to production being transferred in May 1965 from the engineering to the programming division to be overseen by Rugheimer.
McCourt and Rugheimer sought to improve the efficacy of the TAM ratings based on viewers' surveys, which were closely parsed to guide programming and commissioning decisions. Rugheimer's wide-ranging knowledge of television current affairs broadcasting, from cross-cutting commercial, journalistic and technical perspectives, came to the fore as he developed the station's capacity to engage and entertain. Focusing on developing indigenous programming capacity, raising professional standards, and inculcating rigorous production values, Rugheimer dispatched promising creative and technical staff, including producer-directors Lelia Doolan and Liam Ó Murchú, on professional broadcasting training courses in the UK and America. Working closely with Jack White (qv), the broadcaster's head of public affairs programming, Rugheimer prioritised current affairs programming. In a retrospective Irish Times article (20 October 1969), he noted that, although entertainment was important in its own right, it must come second to current affairs, and argued that 'a programming division without a deep commitment in public affairs programming is a division without a soul'. His efforts to spur a distinct journalistic voice in public and current affairs broadcasting had a lasting impact long beyond his three-year tenure.
During this tenure, the station made a strong effort to engage with different sections of Irish society. Telefís scoile (first broadcast February 1964) sought to augment the primary and secondary education curriculum. Telefís feirme (first broadcast May 1965) aimed to spur discussion and raise standards as the farming sector modernised. Fr Romuald Dodd was appointed to advise on catholic religious programmes (November 1963), and Revd Fergus Day of the Church of Ireland to do the same for protestant ones (March 1964). Rugheimer commissioned the drama serial Tolka Row, first broadcast in January 1964, scripted by Maura Laverty (qv) from her eponymous play, and tasked Christopher Fitz-Simon with creating a rural equivalent, The Riordans. Produced and directed by Lelia Doolan and broadcast from January 1965, the latter became one of the station's most popular programmes and a seeding ground for production and acting talent that necessitated a significant expansion of outside broadcasting equipment and capabilities. In March 1965, RTÉ televised the Eurovision Song Contest, held in Italy, which Ireland entered for the first time. Rugheimer's work came to fruition in 1966, just as his term as controller was coming to a close. Seven days scrutinised Irish politics and society, and Division, which was produced by Muiris Mac Conghail and presented by David Thornley (qv), focused on politics in the houses of the oireachtas. Both launched in autumn 1966, the two programmes helped lay the seeds for a positive culture of journalistic interrogation.
Sections of the first Radio Éireann Authority had long decried the station's deficiency in promoting the Irish language. In June 1965 Dónall Ó Móráin (qv), chief executive of Gael-Linn, was appointed to the second Authority, and the station came under increasing pressure to deploy Irish in prime-time broadcasts and sporting commentary. Rugheimer resisted, arguing that TAM data indicated viewers in the multi-channel area, capable of receiving Northern Ireland and Welsh BBC and ITV broadcasts, switched over when Irish-language programming was broadcast; viewers outside that area largely switched off. He later noted: 'Watching TV is a free choice. You don't have to do it. Programmes which are contrary to the taste and wishes of the audience lose them, plain and simple' (Ir. Times, 12 December 1966).
There were also growing tensions between the Fianna Fáil government and RTÉ, as government ministers, generationally accustomed to deference, perceived television as an affront to the existing conservative consensus. Figures such as Charles Haughey (1925–2006) and Seán Lemass (qv) disdained Rugheimer's push to accommodate independent voices and introduce a culture of stronger interrogation into current affairs broadcasting. Rugheimer later asserted that 'our interviewer is custodian of the public interest. He's got to ask the questions that the public would want to have asked' (Ir. Times, 13 December 1966).
Growing opposition to Rugheimer from sections of the broadcasting staff, trades unions, Conradh na Gaeilge, and Irish Actors' Equity became vocal in November 1965. Criticism of his programming philosophy, and, for some colleagues, his abrupt manner, became tinged with an element of disdain for his 'non-national' status. Eamonn Andrews resigned as chairman of the RTÉ Authority in April 1966 to be replaced by Todd Andrews (qv), stating publicly his opposition to the pressure to increase Irish-language programming; privately he asserted that the authority's refusal to reappoint Rugheimer was 'tantamount to saying that we would accept second best' (RTÉ Authority minutes, 11 May 1966). Ó Moráin led the Authority's opposition to renewing Rugheimer's contract, and in December 1966 he was replaced by Michael Garvey.
Rugheimer returned to Sweden and worked for the Swedish Broadcasting Corporation as a consultant on the establishment of the second national television channel before being appointed deputy chief news editor there in 1968. He joined the BBC in London as head of purchased programmes (1970), where he served five BBC directors general, and became controller of direct broadcasting by satellite in 1983. Involved in the British Satellite Broadcasting franchise from 1985, where he led their Galaxy channel, he later became director of corporate development at the broadcaster until his retirement in 1988. He was appointed to the British Screen Advisory Council (1985). Through his second wife, Ingrid, a speech and language therapist, he became interested in study of the human voice, and was a founder of the Voice Research Society in 1985 (renamed the British Voice Association in 1991). He became a leading figure in the area, co-founding the society's journal, Logopedics Phoniatrics Vocology, and the Pan-European Voice Conference, of which he was later secretary general (2001). The Gunnar Rugheimer Award was established in 2001 to recognise his contribution to the field, and he was its first recipient.
Rugheimer was hardworking and inventive, and his forthright vigour, decisiveness and abruptness – seen by some as aggressive ruthlessness – concealed acute political sensibilities. He died 21 February 2003 in London; a memorial was held for him in the Swedish church in May 2003. He married firstly, in Canada, Gillian Hessey-White, with whom he had three children.