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David Keighley: The BBC had women in top jobs long before the feminists started moaning


Yesterday Kathy Gyngell rightly debunked Professor Joan’s Seaton’s misleading feminist interpretation of women in BBC history. It is also worth pointing out that long before Sue MacGregor’s meteoric rise, was the formidable Grace Wyndham Goldie, who joined the BBC Talks department in 1947 after working in print journalism and in an 18-year career at the Corporation became the brightest star in the national television news and current affairs firmament.

She was quickly promoted to Talks department  head, was instrumental in defining the BBC’s election coverage throughout the 1950s, launched Panorama, and hired Robin Day, Cliff Michelmore, Donald Peacock, Huw Weldon and legions more. It is no exaggeration to say that she was a key figure in shaping modern British television news and current affairs. She also was responsible for appointing and training a generation of senior BBC management. Her name was still revered by the senior current affairs editors in the 1980s when I worked at Lime Grove, the then HQ of BBC current affairs television.

How very convenient for Professor Seaton to forget that in her feminist diatribe.

Also long before MacGregor was Margaret Douglas, a policeman’s daughter from Islington. She joined the BBC as a secretary in 1951, rose through the news production ranks  and by 1959, aged only  25, was a key figure in the BBC’s general election coverage (alongside Wyndham Goldie – so a female  management double act even before the Swinging Sixties) against the new challenge afforded by ITN. Programmes that Douglas went on to edit also included Panorama, Gallery and 24 Hours.  Subsequently, she was in charge of general election and party conference coverage, and then was chief political adviser to three director generals. During her tenure of that office nothing connected with political coverage at Lime Grove or the wider BBC moved without her knowledge and say so.

Yes, there was still  old fashioned ‘sexism’ at the BBC when I was there between 1978 and 1985. But such tiresome behaviour was almost everywhere else, too. Women at the BBC who got off their backsides and worked could and did rise through the ranks with often dizzying speed. Other success stories – not in the news department – were Biddy Baxter, the formidable editor (from 1962) of Blue Peter and then of all the BBC’s children’s programmes. Also in 1962, Verity Lambert was appointed the first producer of Doctor Who and became one of the nation’s most famous and respected drama producers.

Women weren’t in the workplace in the same numbers back then because they weren’t being forced there by the socialist policies of the type now being pursued by George Osborne. Those who were had the opportunities to go far and they did. Professor Seaton’s historical analysis is bunk.

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David Keighley
David Keighley
Former BBC news producer, BBC PR executive and head of corporate relations for TV-am. Director of News-watch.

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