“In the early 1970’s the presentation editor of BBC Radio 4 wrote to his bosses in an internal memo that, ‘If a woman could read the news as well as a man there would be nothing to stop her doing it but a news announcer needs to have authority, consistency and reliability. Women may have one or two of these qualities, but not all three.’ “
This quotation was taken from the introduction to the recent BBC Radio4 programme, The Reunion, where Sue MacGregor spoke to women who had led the way in newsreading in the 1970’s and 1980’s.
You can hear the full programme here – https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m0004sbb
If the response to the prospect of women reading the news was alarming in 1970’s, in the 1960’s a full decade before Angela Rippon, Jan Leeming and co, there was Nan Winton.
In June 1960, Nancy Wigginton, better known as Nan Winton, became the first female TV newsreader at the BBC. She was an experienced journalist who had worked on BBC programmes Panorama and Town and Around before she joined the television news team.
Barbara Mandell had read the news on ITV since 1955, and when Nan appeared on BBC news, “Newsgirl Nan” was an instant celebrity.
Unsurprisingly, much of the coverage was on her appearance. The Evening Standard, for example, said, “Miss Winton usually hides herself behind a desk. Pity. She has a 36-25-37 figure.” The Weekly Post printed an article titled “Girls just can’t read the news” in which it claimed, “The plain fact is that the news is one of those rare TV items which requires one simple no-nonsense characteristic from its vendor – authority. And how many women do you know who can even begin to appear and sound authoritative while remaining attractively feminine?”
Some six months after she started, having read the late news bulletins just seven times, her stint as news reader was brought to an end as, according to BBC audience research, viewers decided that a woman reading the late news was “not acceptable” .
There would not be a regular female newsreader until Angela Rippon joined the Nine O’Clock News in 1975.
Nan Winton, a woman trailblazer who lived in Bridport, Dorset, died in hospital on 11 May 2019.