Watt ankles this mortal coil

by Peter Besas

After doing his military service, and following a stint working for Bernard Chevry’s MIP-TV organization, Roger joined Variety in London as a junior salesman. Upon the temporary retirement of Harold Myers as London honcho, Bob Hawkins, who had been bureau chief in Rome, took on the job as European manager in London (thereby making way for Hanka Werba to move from Madrid and take over the Rome operation.) When Hawkins took charge of the London office, Watt ankled the paper.

But after a short period, the Hawk and Watkins came to an agreement regarding splitting commissions for ad sales and Roger returned to the Variety fold in the early 1970s.

In 1975, when Hawkins was transferred to the New York office, Watkins took over as European Manager. “London was a loss-making operation right through to the 1970’s when I came in and we started to enjoy more significant sales success. It was subsidized by New York. It had never been profitable before. I changed the whole system of remittances. All costs were paid for by money we made from advertising, and that company was called Variety International, Ltd. I fired the auditors, and we put it on an intelligent financial footing, and right up to the time it was sold, it functioned profitably. Each year was better,” Roger averred when interviewed for Inside Variety.

As the European market boomed, the London office was expanded – a new TV reporter, Bill Grantham, was hired; for a while a New York trainee, Mark Silverman, also did a stint, and one of Variety’s most dynamic salesmen, John Willis, joined the ranks, spearheading a thrust to expand ad sales in Germany, Holland and Scandinavia.

After the sale of the paper in 1987 to Cahners, with Syd and Arthur Anderman each claiming to be the publisher, Roger was brought over to the new offices on Park Avenue South, becoming editor-in-chief on Jan. 11, 1988. Roger at that time tended to favor Anderman, whom he saw as a renovative force that could overcome the paper’s previous “conservatism”. His editorship marked the beginning of the transformation of the Weekly which had changed but little since Sime’s death in 1933. Rog proposed going to four-color, reducing the number of pages and improving editorial management.

He hired three new reporters to form a “Features Unit” for special projects. During Roger’s editorship, 26 PC’s were installed and Variety finally abandoned the old typewriters. Peter Cowie was hired as European Manager in London as part of a package in which his International Film Guide was purchased by Cahners.

The first redesign of the paper which Roger and Anderman had come up with was launched on December 7, 1988. It measured an inch shorter in length and had a washed-out color on its cover. The old front-page box ad was replaced by a strip ad, along with the first photos published in Variety since Sime gave up using them in the old format in 1920: they depicted Sime, Abel and Syd. In an editorial, Rog promised more photos and graphics, more white space, bigger typesizes. The Soundtrack column had been reduced by half. Near the back of the paper, he ran a page of photos of show biz celebs attending a Lincoln Center “do”. In the ads, that first transition issue contained eight double-spread bleed ad units in four-color as well as two pages of classified ads. It was the first time bleed ads had ever run in the paper. The decades-old caption cuts were shunted to the back of the paper, and would soon disappear altogether. And the humorous “boxes” were eliminated.

Finally, in September of 1989, after Arthur Anderman had been replaced by Stephen Pond, and following a round of firings of oldtimers, and the appointment of Gerry Byrne as publisher, Roger decided it was time to leave the editorship. From the very start he had considered his presence there to be a stop-gap, and knew that he was not the man for the job and that he would never gain access to people in the industry. In fact, it was Rog who was one of those involved in searching for his own successor.

“We had something like 120 interviews,” he recalled. “It finally boiled down to four choices. The one finally chosen after two or three interviews was Peter Bart. I saw Bart a couple of times and was impressed by him. I thought he was an attractive candidate, and he had a lot of ideas.”

Rog ceded the editorial chair to Bart, aged 58 at that time, on Oct. 9, 1989. He then returned to London to resume his job as ad salesman, but resigned at the end of 1995 with the idea of launching several new publications dedicated to the emerging DVD market and another to be geared to show biz executives. When that didn’t pan out, he returned briefly to Variety in 1999 to do freelance sales.

After finally ankling the sheet, and following some collaborations with John Campbell, at that time publisher of Moving Pictures, in organizing advertising for the European Film Awards, Rog launched his DVD magazine, working out of his home in Birchington. On several occasions he travelled down to the MIP-TV on business for it. Over the past years he dedicated much of his time to this publication as well as to his numerous family, always keeping busy and constantly coming up with new ideas for projects.