Celebrating Grace Wyndham Goldie: an early pioneer of public broadcasting

PMA’s Global Grants are funded by the Grace Wyndham Goldie [BBC] Trust Fund. On International Women’s Day it is important to remember pioneering women such as Grace Wyndham Goldie and celebrate some of the women that the fund has supported in recent years.

By Sally-Ann Wilson

Grace Wyndham Goldie. Credit: BBC

It was in 1936 that Grace Wyndham Goldie had her first sneak preview of the BBC’s experiments in the new medium of television. Radio was well established, and few believed in those days that anything with pictures would really take off. But Grace was captivated, she went on to become a pioneer of television, establishing the first political and current affairs programmes. By the early 1960’s she was ‘Head of Talks and Current Affairs’ and often referred to as the ‘first lady of television’, one of only four women amongst the 30 plus executives in BBC management.

Find out more: PMA Global Grants

Born in Scotland in 1900, Grace took a history degree at Bristol University and went on to study philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford. But it was while she was writing for the radio magazine, The Listener, that she first heard that the BBC was experimenting with television at Alexandra Palace. She asked if she could cover it for the magazine and was told by her boss, founding editor of The Listener, Richard S Lambert, “Oh no, no, you don’t want to go and see television … look, television is going to be of no importance in your lifetime or mine and I don’t want you to go up there wasting your time on it and you are certainly not going to write about it.”

But television did become important. Worldwide. And it was Grace that pioneered the coverage of politics and current affairs with programmes such as Tonight and Panorama. She also produced the first election night coverage for the UK’s 1950 General Election, with a format that many public broadcasters still use today: a studio anchor with analysists and graphics to show the unfolding results, accompanied by outside broadcasts.

On that election night, Grace had to face engineers who told her she would blow up the transmitters with her production ideas! Grace’s determination and courage will resonate with many women in television. It seems fitting then that with support from the fund in her memory, PMA has been able to support so many women in public media worldwide.

Find out more: Grace Wyndham Goldie Trust Fund

Women such as Bouchra Ouatik from CBC/Radio-Canada. As a reporter for Radio-Canada, Bouchra was awarded a bursary in 2015 to visit Cameroon’s national public broadcaster, CRTV. She wanted to experience work in another French/English bilingual public broadcaster and produced packages on terrorist organisation Boko Haram for both broadcasters during her stay, where the dual language output is incorporated into one channel rather than providing outputs for two distinct services, as in Canada.

In 2016 Liisa MacMillan from RNZ in New Zealand was supported by a PMA Global Grant to spend time with ABC in Sydney to see how they approached the challenges and opportunities of digital disruption in the public media space. Lisa noted at the time that it was great to be welcomed by ‘others of my kind’ and gain insight into their aims and methods.

Another Global Grant in 2018 supported Masego M Jeremiah from the Botswana Communications Regulatory Authority (BOCRA) to participate in an international conference to learn more about how to deal with fake news at a regulatory level.

And in 2019, Mahafuza Aktar from Bangladesh TV spent time in Australia with both ABC and SBS, exchanging ideas and information about programming for children and young people, she says the Global Grant enabled her to approach her work with a fresh perspective.

In 2020 the PMA Global Grants were put on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but we plan to run them again later in 2021. I am sure Grace Wyndham Goldie would be proud of the way that the fund named in her memory has supported so many women who share her determination and passion for public media.