An analysis of the female television personality within the BBC Television Talks Department, 1946-1961.

Charlesworth, Diane (2023) An analysis of the female television personality within the BBC Television Talks Department, 1946-1961. PhD thesis, University of Lincoln.

An analysis of the female television personality within the BBC Television Talks Department, 1946-1961.
PhD thesis
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Item Type:Thesis (PhD)
Item Status:Live Archive


Su Holmes (2005) writes that there is a history of British television to be written through the changing face and faces of its on-screen talent, which would require a return to the archives. The television personality was, and arguably still is, key to the medium’s sense of address and connection to its audiences. This figure’s appearance is familiar, their appeal ‘everyday’, generating a sense of authority and authenticity. Notably it is defined by a certain longevity and consistency in presentation and performance. This voice and presence of factual genres (of presentation, talks, current affairs, news, and some light entertainment formats) has been very largely male, (white and middle-class) across the decades. The female television personality, until recent times, has been a relatively rare phenomenon. Where and when she appears, therefore, is worthy of investigation. As James Bennett writes “By considering the television personality as an important text in itself, television and celebrity studies can subsequently consider what is the significance of the ‘types’ represented by current, past and failed television personalities,” (2010, 192).
This thesis focuses on the development, from 1946 to 1961, of an element of the BBC Television Service. It analyses the significance of the appearance, and continuity of appearance of certain female faces in the Corporation’s Television Talks and Features Department, through archival work at the BBC Written Archives in Caversham, Reading, and the British Film Institute. The work includes an analysis of the ideological function of the in-vision girl continuity presenter in early BBC children’s television, focusing on Jennifer Gay, with reference to two counterparts, Janette Scott, and Elizabeth Cruft. The on-screen presence of Joan Gilbert and Jeanne Heal, as the second and third case studies, constitute very different constructions of womanhood – the bachelorette girl-about-town and the professional working mother. As key faces on the small screen, their casting demonstrates, firstly, a recognition of the heterogeneity of women’s identity in the 1950s, important in and to the development of women’s afternoon programming. Secondly, the particularity of their female voice and performance is unpacked, as to its negotiation and shaping of socio-cultural pre-occupations within the evening schedule, in the early to mid-post-war period. All three cases - the child-as–performer, the staffer-turned-artist, and the free-lancer - in a system of increasing entangled media represent different challenges for the BBC in negotiating television fame as a public service broadcaster.
The conclusion focuses on how changes in BBC organisational structures and imperatives closed the spaces and opportunities for these female personalities and their brands of talk. It includes a brief analysis of the early career of Joan Bakewell, appearing first on-screen for the BBC in 1964, as arguably an interesting amalgam of the characteristics of her two predecessors, as British television moves from the period of early competition to duopoly, and with the arrival of BBC2, consolidation.
This project is a contribution to the relatively recent and growing body of feminist scholarship that looks to uncover the ‘hidden histories’ of women workers, above-and below-the-line in the film and television industries. It is a work of archaeology, politics, and hope - that understanding the past and its possibilities and realities, can help with strategies for the present and the future.

Keywords:television, female television personality, BBC, Television talks
Subjects:P Mass Communications and Documentation > P300 Media studies
P Mass Communications and Documentation > P301 Television studies
Divisions:COLLEGE OF ARTS, SOCIAL SCIENCES AND HUMANITIES > Lincoln School of Film, Media & Journalism > Lincoln School of Film, Media & Journalism (Media)
ID Code:56112
Deposited On:08 Sep 2023 09:33

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