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Street-Porter, Janet (1946-)

Presenter, Producer, Executive

Main image of Street-Porter, Janet (1946-)

The pioneer of a broadcasting genre - Youth Television - Janet Street-Porter brought to the first multimedia generation a greater sense of intimacy and accessibility. Her programmes were characterised by the unconventional television techniques of mixing current affairs and lifestyle features, supplemented with information running ticker-tape fashion at the bottom of the screen or footage running alongside the presenter in vision.

The affect this sense of informality had in the more conventional area of news presentation could be seen by the success of Channel 5 News (1997- ): Kirsty Young striding around the newsroom while facts roll off the graphic display.

Born Janet Bull in Fulham, London, to an electrical engineer father and a school dinner lady mother, she married student Tim Street-Porter while they were at The Architectural Association.

After leaving architecture school in the mid-1960s, Street-Porter worked as a freelance journalist and, in 1968, was offered a job as editorial assistant on Petticoat magazine, writing about design. Within nine months she was poached by the Daily Mail, where she became a columnist (billed as the 'Voice of Youth') writing about fashion.

She later joined the London Evening Standard as fashion editor, but pretty soon she was doing radio work, and in 1973 helped launch the London radio station LBC.

It was John Birt, then Director of Programmes at London Weekend Television, who gave her her first big break in television when he offered her a job co-presenting the youth-oriented current affairs series The London Weekend Show (LWT, 1975-79).

From LWT's metropolitan teenage showcase she went on to present the 'journalism with laughs' late-night chat show Saturday Night People (LWT, 1978-80) alongside Clive James and Russell Harty. Subsequently, she produced Twentieth Century Box (LWT, 1980-82), presented by the young Danny Baker, later among her co-hosts on the London area current affairs programme The 6 O'Clock Show (LWT, 1982-88).

The Chat Show (LWT, 1982) - billed as The C(h)at Show - where the guests and the studio audience were made up of women, and After Midnight (LWT, 1983), a late-night talk show co-hosted with Hunter Davies, extended her role as an on-screen presenter.

LWT's ten-minute-long series of offbeat programmes, Paint Box (1985), a combination of wild images and new music, and Border TV's Bliss (Channel 4, 1985-86), a dizzy mixture of rock music, star chatter and fashion, were to be the forerunners of Street-Porter's revolutionary Network 7 (Channel 4, 1987-88). Network 7 was youth television's electronic Sunday supplement, a hectic, self-conscious blitz of visual invention. Street-Porter co-edited the programme with Jane Hewland for producer Keith MacMillan. In its two-hour midday slot, aimed at 16- to 25-year-olds, it was perhaps the most contentious youth programme of its time. Broadcast live from a debris-strewn Dockland warehouse, the 'make facts fun' programme featured a group of unknown but eager young researchers (her 'tellybrats'), who presented their own material on a wide variety of issues (cosmetic surgery, bull fighting, drugs, speed-climbing, sex in China, etc.) in a fragmented, almost jump cut style. Street-Porter went on to win the BAFTA award for originality in 1988.

In 1988, at the invitation of BBC2 Controller Alan Yentob, she became Head of Youth and Entertainment Features at the BBC, where she introduced British television to hip, youth-oriented programmes under the banner Def II (1988-94), including the Rough Guides (with Network 7 protégés Magenta De Vine and Sankha Guha), and Rapido (presented by Antoine de Caunes).

BBC2's Def II was something of a youth channel within a channel, presenting a collection of shows on current affairs (Reportage), music (Rapido), fashion, travel (Rough Guide) and other elements of contemporary culture. Despite its flip MTV-style of presentation and fast-moving on-screen factual information, the slot was criticised for its patronising approach to youth culture: not crediting British youth with being intelligent enough to hold the shortest of attention spans. Moreover, the new wave facets of youth TV programming - as exemplified by Def II - was by this time commonplace in mainstream television.

During this period at the BBC, her strong accent became the focus of caricature and her pronunciation of the word 'youth' led to the popular phrase 'Yoof TV'.

In 1992 Street-Porter branched out into arts programming with an updated version of the 19th century romantic opera by German composer Heinrich Marschner, Vampyr - A Soap Opera (BBC, 1992). A five-part project conceived by director Nigel Finch and producer Street-Porter, the production was seen by many as her application for the job of head of BBC arts. She didn't get the job but she did win a Prix Italia award for the production.

She finally rose to Head of Independent Commissioning in her last year at the BBC. In 1994, she left the BBC to become managing director of the Mirror Group's new cable channel, L!ve TV (1994-1995).

Less than a year after her move to London's Canary Wharf to mastermind the launching of L!ve TV, she resigned. Her remit was to deliver 24-hour programming on a shoestring budget. As the station neared its launch, new technology failed to work, pressures on the staff mounted and tensions rose. She soon discovered that former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie had been brought in over her. The series of stand-up rows between Street-Porter and MacKenzie became the stuff of media legend as he pulled the channel downmarket with topless darts and news bunnies. It became the subject of the documentary Nightmare at Canary Wharf (BBC, tx. 11/12/1995).

At the opening of the Edinburgh International Television Festival in 1995, Street-Porter used her keynote address at the 20th annual James MacTaggart Lecture to attack the standards of leadership in the industry. Entitled 'Talent Versus Television', her lecture heaped derision on the BBC as a "temple of transparency, accountability and process", censured the obsession of ITV companies with the size of their profit, and condemned Channel 4 for appearing to be stuck in a 1960s time warp. However, her most infamous and oft-quoted observation from the MacTaggart lecture was that "a terminal blight has hit the British TV industry... this blight is management - the dreaded four Ms: male, middle-class, middle-aged and mediocre."

No sooner had the dust settled after her savage Edinburgh Festival speech than she sent forth another abrasive sound-bite the following year. For Channel 4's Without Walls strand, the 'J'Accuse Technonerds' edition (tx. 19/3/1996) featured a chilling rant by Street-Porter that tore into the Internet and its users ("every culture needs some kind of blotting paper to soak up the socially challenged."). Although her valid point was that the virtual world is no substitute for the real one, it was an unexpected attack from someone who had been very much at the forefront of modern trends.

A keen walker, Street-Porter is a former vice-president of the Rambler's Association. In 1994 she joined long distance walker Ffyona Campbell on the last leg of her round-the-world walk for the documentary series The Longest Walk (BBC). In 1998 she embarked on a walk across Britain from Dungeness in Kent to Conway in Wales for the seven-part series Coast to Coast (BBC).

In July 1999, to the astonishment of the newspaper industry, Street-Porter was appointed editor of The Independent on Sunday. For all the derision her appointment attracted, she helped take the ailing newspaper's circulation up to 270,460, a nifty sales increase of 11.6 per cent.

In 2000, Street-Porter was nominated for a new category at the Carlton Women in Film and Television Awards: the Carlton Television Mae West Award for the most outspoken woman in the industry.

Tise Vahimagi

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