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Pioneering Women Newsreaders

Sue MacGregor brings together a group of pioneering female newsreaders who helped to redress the gender balance in the television newsrooms of the 1970s and 80s.

Sue MacGregor brings together a group of pioneering female newsreaders who helped to redress the gender balance in the television newsrooms of the 1970s and 80s.

From the earliest days of broadcasting, women played an important role on air and in production. However, when it came to women being used as the voice of authority reading the news, the process of acceptance was slow.

In 1973, a BBC internal report entitled Limitations to the Recruitment and Advancement of Women revealed a long list of prejudiced attitudes to women. One of the many objections raised was the nature of the female voice. “To a large number of listeners and viewers", it said, "a female voice is considered to lack authority in news reading and reporting.”

And it wasn’t just a women’s voice that hindered their progress. The feelings of the Editor of Radio News, according to the report, was that “he believes that women are simply not able to do hard news stories as they ‘see themselves as experts of women’s features.’”

Having a woman reading the news was part of the whole new challenging dimension that commercial television was bringing to broadcasting. But it wasn’t until 1975 that the BBC dared to put Angela Rippon at the helm of its flagship 9 O’ Clock News. Articles in the tabloid press discussed her lips and legs, and turned the appointment of Anna Ford as an ITN newsreader in 1978 into a non-existent rivalry.

Joining Sue MacGregor and Angela Rippon to look back on the struggle to overcome stereotypes and sexism in the newsroom in the years that followed are former ITN newscaster Julia Somerville, BBC newsreader Jan Leeming, and Sue Lawley, who presented the evening news programme Nationwide throughout much of the 1970s.

Producer: Emily Williams
Series Producer: David Prest

A Whistledown production for BBC Radio 4

Available now

42 minutes

Last on

Fri 10 May 2019 09:00