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Goldie, Grace Wyndham (1900-86)


Main image of Goldie, Grace Wyndham (1900-86)

In 1962, the BBC made an important appointment in the field of serious talks programming by promoting Mrs Grace Wyndham Goldie to the newly-designated post of head of talks and current affairs. She was, in the early 1960s, one of only four women among the hierarchy of some 30 high executives at BBC TV Centre and Lime Grove. She was often referred to as the 'first lady of television'.

Born Grace Murrell Nisbet, she was a TV pioneer from 1948, closely identified at first with BBC coverage of politics and elections. For her education, she had attended Cheltenham Ladies College, Bristol University, and Somerville College, Oxford. In 1934, she married actor Frank Wyndham Goldie while she was a play reader at the Liverpool Repertory Theatre.

She joined the BBC staff in 1944 as a talks producer and was sure, even then, that television had a future in public affairs as well as in entertainment. She produced some historic BBC talks, among them a series on atomic energy, Challenge of Our Time, in 1948. She started political and current affairs programmes on television in 1948; from the outset BBC control of such programmes was met by political leaders with reluctance and suspicion.

1950s BBC Television was rapidly developing into a force to be reckoned with. There, in Lime Grove, with everything in black and white and transmitted live, new 'beginners' such as David Attenborough, Paul Johnstone, Huw Wheldon, Michael Peacock, Donald Baverstock, Alasdair Milne and so on - a virtual hothouse of creative talent - were operating under the supervision of (head of talks) Leonard Miall and his redoubtable assistant Wyndham Goldie.

Her BBC responsibilities ranged from David Attenborough's wildlife expeditions (Zoo Quest, BBC, 1954-63; Travellers' Tales, BBC, 1956-68) to the party political conferences, and embraced such popular programmes as Panorama (BBC, 1953- ) and Tonight (BBC, 1957-65). The series Foreign Correspondent (BBC, 1949) and Press Conference (BBC, 1952-55) were among the early experiments from which she drew valuable experience when she launched the weekly Panorama under the editorship of Michael Peacock and Richard Cawston.

When it first began, Panorama was just a variety of items (theatre and book reviews, personality interviews and a 'housewives' consumer spot). But then, in 1955, Grace Wyndham Goldie, armed with a "sharp tongue and angry snapping eyes", revolutionised the programme. She hired Richard Dimbleby as presenter and such celebrated reporters as Woodrow Wyatt, Robert Kee, James Mossman, Chris Chataway, Robin Day and Ludovic Kennedy to open a 'window on the world'.

In 1954 she was appointed assistant head of talks in the BBC television service, and, in 1962, became head of talks and current affairs. It was under her guidance that the likes of Huw Wheldon, Alasdair Milne and David Attenborough learned their trade. Tonight, Monitor (BBC, 1958-65), India's Challenge (BBC, 1953) and its successor, Asian Club (BBC, 1953-61) and Winston Churchill's 80th Birthday programme (BBC, tx. 30/11/1954).

It was Wyndham Goldie who conceived a coverage of 1955's general election results that was more comprehensive than any before. Richard Dimbleby was the programme's anchor. For the first time, a telerecording of an election night programme was made. Wyndham Goldie's template was extended in 1959 and 1964, and even the 21st century's election presentations still reflect her original drive and resourcefulness.

Articulate and at ease with journalists as well as with public figures, she was always ready in talks, interviews, and articles to make clear her own convictions.

Tise Vahimagi

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