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Feedback: Is there now equality in radio?

Friday 1 November 2013, 14:18

Roger Bolton Roger Bolton

“Too often women on radio are parked right up sidekick alley, a stooge, and obliging giggler, someone to facilitate the Wildean wit of the Big Man at the controls”. 
Those are the words of Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey from a recent newspaper article. 
She has been presenting a series of programmes this week on women in broadcasting, beginning with those appointed by Lord Reith, surprisingly enlightened for his time.
So were her comments about giggling stooges aimed at BBC radio? 
After all, on Radio 4 Ritula Shah has just been made main presenter of The World Tonight, the Today presenters now include Mishal Husain as well as Sarah Montague, and then there is Martha Kearney on the World at One. And on 5Live Victoria Derbyshire is nobody’s stooge.
In our interview Jane acknowledges that her words would be more applicable to local radio, and in particular to the commercial sector. At the BBC the Director General, Tony Hall, has set a target of 50% of BBC local radio morning shows being presented or co-presented by a woman by next year.
You can hear Jane’s thoughts on these issues in the Feedback extract below.
On a personal level I was somewhat taken aback by a statement from a BBC producer, now an academic, in one of the later programmes. She said that while working at the BBC in the early 80s   aside from Esther Rantzen she felt there were no inspiring women to look up to. As I was her boss at the time, being Editor of BBC1’s Nationwide programme, I thought this a strange thing to say. After all, Sue Lawley was one of our main presenters, and she did interviews with all the top figures, including Mrs Thatcher. Then there was Sue Cook, Pattie Coldwell and many others, all capable of holding their own with any man. On the editorial side there was the redoubtable Barbara Maxwell, who ran Question Time and managed to keep Sir Robin Day in order, an astonishing feat.
Elsewhere Jane Drabble was beginning her ascent up the managerial ladder, which led to the job of deputy Managing Director of Television.
All these were exceptional broadcasters, who undoubtedly faced prejudice, but who triumphed over it.
As Jane’s series reveals, there have always been exceptional women at the BBC. When I first went to Lime Grove, then the centre of television current affairs I was always being told about “Grace”. Her shadow was everywhere, and though she had left the building some years before her “boys “were still in charge or running the networks. Grace Wyndham Goldie was, deservedly, a legend.
My first female boss was Margaret Douglas who, by the 1970s was running all the Corporation’s coverage of the party political conferences and producing political documentaries on former Prime Ministers like Harold MacMillan. She later became the BBC’s Chief Political Adviser. Margaret was kind and deceptively modest but she had the highest of standards and a will of steel.
There were plenty of women to look up to, and I haven’t mentioned Jenni Murray, who worked with me in Lime Grove, Sue MacGregor, or arguably the best interviewer of them all, Olivia O’Leary.
Now for the interview with someone else I admire, and whose regular programme I try never to miss, even though it is not always good for the blood pressure.
Jane Garvey.
PROGRAMME EXTRACT
One further point about Jane’s series , which is called ‘Getting on Air: The Female Pioneers’.
Some research suggests that there were many women listeners who did not like women presenters doing tough interviews. Was that true? Is that true?
Please tell us what you think.
Roger Bolton

Today studio microphones Microphones in the Today programme studio.

"Too often women on radio are parked right up sidekick alley, a stooge, an obliging giggler, someone to facilitate the Wildean wit of the Big Man at the controls".

Those are the words of Woman’s Hour presenter Jane Garvey from a recent newspaper article. 

She has been presenting a series of programmes this week on women in broadcasting, beginning with those appointed by Lord Reith, surprisingly enlightened for his time.

Getting on Air: The Female Pioneers

So were her comments about giggling stooges aimed at BBC radio?

After all, on Radio 4 Ritula Shah has just been made main presenter of The World Tonight, the Today presenters now include Mishal Husain as well as Sarah Montague, and then there is Martha Kearney on the World at One.

And on Radio 5 Live, Victoria Derbyshire is nobody’s stooge.

In our interview Jane acknowledges that her words would be more applicable to local radio, and in particular to the commercial sector.

At the BBC the Director General, Tony Hall, has set a target of 50% of BBC local radio morning shows being presented or co-presented by a woman by next year.

You can hear Jane’s thoughts on these issues in the Feedback clip below.

On a personal level I was somewhat taken aback by a statement from a BBC producer, now an academic, in one of the later programmes. She said that while working at the BBC in the early 80s, aside from Esther Rantzen, she felt there were no inspiring women to look up to.

As I was her boss at the time, being Editor of BBC1’s Nationwide programme, I thought this a strange thing to say.

After all, Sue Lawley was one of our main presenters, and she did interviews with all the top figures, including Mrs Thatcher.

Then there was Sue Cook, Pattie Coldwell and many others, all capable of holding their own with any man.

On the editorial side there was the redoubtable Barbara Maxwell, who ran Question Time and managed to keep Sir Robin Day in order, an astonishing feat.

Elsewhere Jane Drabble was beginning her ascent up the managerial ladder, which led to the job of deputy Managing Director of Television.

All these were exceptional broadcasters, who undoubtedly faced prejudice, but who triumphed over it.

As Jane’s series reveals, there have always been exceptional women at the BBC.

When I first went to Lime Grove, then the centre of television current affairs, I was always being told about 'Grace'.

Her shadow was everywhere, and though she had left the building some years before, her 'boys' were still in charge or running the networks.

Grace Wyndham Goldie was, deservedly, a legend.

My first female boss was Margaret Douglas who by the 1970s was running all the corporation’s coverage of the party political conferences and producing political documentaries on former prime ministers like Harold MacMillan. She later became the BBC’s chief political adviser.

Margaret was kind and deceptively modest but she had the highest of standards and a will of steel.

There were plenty of women to look up to and I haven’t mentioned Jenni Murray, who worked with me in Lime Grove, Sue MacGregor, or arguably the best interviewer of them all, Olivia O'Leary.

Now for the interview with someone else I admire and whose regular programme I try never to miss, even though it is not always good for the blood pressure: Jane Garvey.

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Has radio's glass ceiling been shattered? Jane Garvey talks to Roger Bolton.
One further point about Jane's series which is called Getting on Air: The Female Pioneers. Some research suggests that there were many women listeners who did not like women presenters doing tough interviews.

Was that true? Is that true? Please tell us what you think.

Roger Bolton


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  • rate this
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    Comment number 1.

    'Some research suggests that there were many women listeners who did not like women presenters doing tough interviews.

    Was that true? Is that true? Please tell us what you think.'

    I'm not a woman and I haven't asked any for their views, either. But I suspect that most women would like to hear politicians being pressed and to feel that their licence fee money is being spent wisely. As acknowledged in the interview with Jane Garvey, Radio 4 is currently not an offender in discriminating against the inclusion of females in presenting roles. All the women I hear on Radio 4 are very good and the more holes they punch in politicians the better! A woman who appeared on the Any Questions' panel not long ago (formerly of the BBC) made the point that when interviewing politicians it is important to try and get them to say something they have not said before. Maybe their is a place for fancy footwork as well!

    One other thing, I cannot stand the smell of certain aftershaves and perfumes and I am confident that I am not alone on this. Are there strict rules governing what presenters and co-presenters can and cannot splash over themselves, especially if they are working in a pokey studio?

    I do not normally listen to local radio so I cannot comment on its lack of female presenters. I was surprised to hear that That's Life! received 15,000 letters a week. One wonders how many people would have got in touch had email been around then!

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 2.

    I think the ‘senior’ BBC managers were responsible for this discrimination against females apropos radio broadcasting in the 50’s – 60’s. One could always sense that element of: ‘mummy pleeeeease make it not hurt’ within their broadcasting style – not difficult to guess how this arose. Radio fans certainly never discriminated.

    I can recall reading/discussing Ms. Nightingale’s contributions to Disc and Music Echo (before we discovered ‘Sounds’) with school contemporaries [1]. The great talent of Ms. Nightingale – when considering the ‘Sunday Request show’ – was her talent to heterodyne from the audio to the visual. I still have a vivid picture in my mind of her reading all those postcard requests on the train back to Brighton. Class issues were also interesting, because she would often receive a postcard such as: Dear Anne, I didn’t attend LEEDS UNIVERSITY and so you probably won’t read out my request……..Her catholic musical interests were also rare, given the intense tribalism that existed amongst music fans. The Seeds ‘Pushin’ too Hard’ could easily be followed by The Originals ‘Good Lovin’ is just a Dime Away’ . There was still, however, that small ‘mother hen’ role, with males narrating their heartbreak to her in respect of a recent unpleasant girlfriend binning experiences.

    The 70’s were probably the most optimistic time for women on R4 – Jean Metcalfe hosting ‘If you think you’ve got problems’, the genius of Mary Goldring’s ‘Analysis’, especially her microscopic analysis of nuclear reactor construction and analysis of money supply……….and the much missed Jeanine McMullen’s (RIP) ‘A small country living’.

    Class is still the enemy of both male and females on R4. It’s a sad state of affairs when a northern presenter has to cultivate an upper-class southern accent in order to progress. I look forward to the day when I hear a female presenter with a regional accent on the Today programme – probably have long clogged by then.

    Dr Ruth Padel’s concern for the female poet who became upset during her Cardiff visit cheered me up and her description of dog walking on DID was also very powerful radio. I laughed when she told the story about the Fairthorpe [2] and the broken clutch cable.

    I could write several Ph.D theses on the brilliance of Susan Rae, Kathy Klugston and Jennifer Tracey – more explanation for another day. Oh yes……haven’t a clue who Emma Harding is, but she’s an exceptionally talented radio producer.

    P.S. Today’s edition of ‘The Echo Chamber’ was simply wonderful. Thanks Mr. Farley……and Rory Gallagher (RIP) received 2 mentions on R4 this week. Can’t wait to hear a prog. analysing all those spine chilling harmonics on the ’74 version of ‘Walk on Hot Coals’

    References

    [1] See: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Disc-Music-Echo/229774950482190

    [2] See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fairthorpe_Cars

  • rate this
    0

    Comment number 3.

    "Some research suggests that there were many women listeners who did not like women presenters doing tough interviews. " But how was the question worded that achieved this response? The question is often more important that the reply.

    Perhaps there is someone in the hierarchy who longs for the return of Sylvia Peters - pretty, nice hair-do, elegant evening frock, anodyne smile and not much else going for her. Of course, the the problem of the "lady" interviewer swooning when the interview gets a little too intellectual is ever present.

 

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