TV chef known to Food and Drink viewers as Michael Barry, the 'crafty cook', and a co-founder of the radio station Classic FM
Michael Bukht, who has died aged 69 after a period of ill health, successfully led a double life. Some knew that his worlds of Classic FM and the "crafty cook" overlapped, and some did not. He would not have minded either way: what mattered was his nose for detecting the popular and a keen ability to deliver entertainment, which led to significant success in his different endeavours. While television made him a household name as Michael Barry from Food and Drink, his greater impact on broadcasting came through spotting a gap in the provision of classical music: he was one of the founders of the national commercial radio station Classic FM in 1992, and its programme controller for five years.
Bukht was not a musician, but was determined to apply the formula of popular music stations to the classical world, giving the audience what he reckoned were the essentials of companionship. He considered radio stations to be disseminators of information, entertainment, ideas and wit. He thought that an audience did not like to be challenged all the time, just some of it, and there was a time in the day for this: the evening. Commuters needed the time, the weather, the news ? all interspersed with movements of music, though not usually whole works (again, except for the evenings). Mozart, he said, understood this piecemeal approach to performance of his works, with not all the movements all of the time, and so what was good enough for Mozart was good enough for him. When commercial stations had come to London in 1973, he was programme director of Capital Radio, and he applied the popular principles he had honed there to the more sober presentation of classical music, delivered until then primarily on Radio 3.
Bukht was born to a Pakistani diplomat father and a domestic science teacher mother whose family came from south Wales. After Haberdashers' Aske's school, north London, he went to study history at King's College London. In 1963, he became a BBC trainee, starting in drama, and moving to the Light Programme soap Mrs Dale's Diary. He worked on the pilot for the World at One before switching to television, where he was part of the original team on the Tonight programme, working with Cliff Michelmore, Alan Whicker and Brian Redhead.
At the age of 25, he became programme controller of both radio and television for the Jamaica Broadcasting Corporation, returning to the BBC after two years, in 1969, to edit 24 Hours and then special projects, including the supervising of the following year's election coverage. In 1972 came the start-up of Capital Radio, and he went on to be programme controller for the GWR group. With the chief executive of this network of independent local radio stations, Ralph Bernard, Bukht thought up the idea of Classic FM. It was the era of the Three Tenors, and commercials with memorable music ? Hamlet cigars, British Airways ? so the pair decided there was mileage in making classical music more accessible in a popular format.
The BBC was worried about this impostor in the middle-listening marketplace, not just in the more academic halls of Radio 3, but at Radio 4 and Radio 2 as well. Indeed, Bukht always maintained that Classic FM and Radio 3 were not rivals, and that his audience would largely come from elsewhere, not least because he needed a larger listening public than could be taken from Radio 3. Bukht enjoyed needling these bastions of culture but wished them no ill. He thought straightforwardly that there was room for another station, and one that he and others would like.
His format of chat and short but complete bits of music (no parts of movements or fading) was initially successful until there was a disastrous attempt to export the format, and the station tried to recoup its losses through extra advertising, which in turn alienated listeners. Bukht remained as programme controller until a stress-related illness caused him to step down to a consultancy role in 1997. However, while his successful formula has inevitably been modified, his basic vision for Classic FM has remained constant.
Buhkt's popular touch was underpinned robustly by a completely professional approach to business, slightly at odds with his avuncular and homespun alter ego of Michael Barry. In the late 1980s and early 90s, he was one of the key elements in the presentation of BBC2's Food and Drink, the easy- viewing programme of cookery and wine-tasting. His cooking veered away from the flash, and he provided a relaxed, homely presence, enjoying puns and interacting with his fellow presenters Chris Kelly and Jilly Goolden.
In 1996, he was appointed OBE. He married the actor and dancer Jennie Jones in 1964, and is survived by her, a son and three daughters.
Tom Jaine writes: Michael Bukht had a sure touch for the taste of middle England. Just as Food and Drink's magazine format empowered a generation of novice cooks to sniff, sip and guzzle to their heart's content, so did the unstuffy approach of Classic FM allow many to broaden their musical palate. Its detractors in fortress Radio 3 were surprised, after the dust had settled in 1992, to find their own audience had not in fact declined. Bukht nurtured parts other broadcasters had failed to till.
"Tightness, pace, a lively impact are watchwords," was the comment of one observer, while it became clear to another from his time as consultant in 1979-80 to the "pirate" station Capital Radio 604, broadcasting in South Africa from the Transkei Republic bantustan, that he had no tolerance of "inane patter". His perfect pitch for an audience was again demonstrated when he took over as managing director of Invicta Radio in Kent in 1985, when he moved to Canterbury and stayed for the rest of his life. The station had had an inauspicious first year, and he was brought in to turn it round.
In the second half of his career, Michael Bukht was Michael Barry, the cooking element in the Food and Drink team on BBC2. He had form as a broadcast cook after replacing the recipe-reciter on Capital Radio when she had gone on leave. His persona ? there, in Transkei, and later on Classic FM ? was the crafty cook. The craftiness was perhaps exemplified by an accelerated way with the ingredients and a readiness to improvise. At the same time, his active chairmanship of the food producers' marketing organisation Kentish Fare showed that his heart was in the right place.
In 1984, when he joined Food and Drink, food television was still in its infancy, far from today's monster of tedium and excess. The programme, with its cheerful and demystifying approach, attracted higher viewing figures than most other BBC2 programmes, it supplied the basis for the corporation's commercial extension into magazine publishing and exhibition organising, and it brought lasting fame to its presenters. It was good popular education. He continued to work on the programme until its last series, in 2001, and also wrote 29 recipe and food books, beginning with The Crafty Cook ? most of his titles had "crafty" embedded ? in 1977.
? Mirza Michael John Bukht (Michael Barry), broadcasting executive, TV cook and food journalist, born 10 September 1941; died 4 August 2011