Dorothy Byrne about women working on WIA

Of course one of the things was, when I got my job on World in Action, I was at that point the only woman on the programme. So it’s not that women hadn’t worked there before, they had, as it happened at that point I was the only woman. And I always remember the first big meeting I attended of the team. They didn’t have big meetings much, we didn’t have meetings in all the things you have in TV now, we didn’t really have that – it was more mavericks going off and doing their own thing, and maybe rightly or wrongly that lack of control wouldn’t be allowed now. But at the first meeting that I ever attended, I went into the room and sat down, and it felt really strange, and I couldn’t work out what it was that felt not right about it – and then I realised, this is how you feel as a woman on the very odd occasion when you actually wander into the gents toilet, where you just think, “Oh, I must be in the wrong place,” because I’m the only woman. And what difference does it make being a woman if they are nearly all men? You just feel less comfortable for a start.

How many women would there be on the wider team?

None! I was the only woman, I was the only woman working on World in Action.

On a team of how many?

Gosh, I don’t know how many there were. Between 20 and 30 I think. So the secretaries were women, but I was the only female producer or director, just at that moment when I started, and then after a bit I thought I… I had visions for my programmes, and then a director comes along and they do it in a different way, World in Action, producer/director as was named, though really, we the researchers were effectively the producers, and they would come along and change my vision for the programme. So I thought, “I think I need to become a producer/director,” but up to that point, only once in the history of World in Action had a woman who was a researcher on the programme been promoted to being a producer/director on the programme, and that woman was Sue Woodford, and people told me that that hadn’t… my likelihood as a woman of ever getting a job as a producer/director on the programme without leaving was very low. So I went off and got a job at the BBC as a producer, and told them I was leaving because I’d got a job as a producer/director at the BBC and they went, “Oh. Well, we actually need a new producer/director, and we’ll hold a board and you can apply for the job.” So there was a board, and I got the job, and I mean… I just couldn’t believe that I, Dorothy Byrne, was a producer/director on World in Action – I had the best job on the best programme in the whole world – it was absolutely marvellous. And I love the fact that one of the men on the programme said I’d only got the job because I was a woman! I thought, “Only got the job because I was a woman? You can really see that women get promoted around here just for being women, can’t you, because there are just so many of us?!” I think by that point there was another female producer/director who had come in from the BBC, Debbie Christie was working there then as a producer/director, and I think there might have been another one or two female researchers, I can’t remember.

And the first programme that I produced was about rape in marriage, and I… one of the most senior men on the programme said that that wasn’t a story. I love that. I don’t know what the ‘story’ was if rape in marriage wasn’t a story, and one of the other senior men on the programme said that rape in marriage was a subject more suitable for morning television, which made me laugh. I said, “How could rape be a suitable subject for morning television?” And then I made a programme about children’s safety, so I made quite a number of programmes that some men on the programme weren’t ‘stories’ – but it really meant a lot to me that I was making programmes about the every day lives and concerns of women, and because… certainly when I joined television, the definition of what a story was, was very macho. So a perfect story would be a story for them, as they saw it, macho people, it would be a story about the nuclear industry or a story about the CIA. And they are important stories to do. To a certain extent, I used to think, when I watched programmes about the CIA being involved in a far-off land and making everything worse… well, I’m not really… I mean, tell me a story where the CIA went to a far-off land and made things better! I’m not saying those programmes shouldn’t have been made, they weren’t surprising and I think that programmes that told you stuff about the every day lives and concerns of women, actually that was surprising on TV – and again, you now see that everywhere. You now see that across current affairs and documentaries, the every day lives and concerns of people are seen as proper subject matters for current affairs. ..

From the fact that, at the time that I went to work in World in Action, I was the only woman, well, you asked me what was it like being a woman. It can’t be right that in the whole of Britain I was the only woman suitable to work on World in Action? How did that… I mean, it’s just wrong to have so few women, and I think you would get more women in certain sorts of programmes, more women in regional programmes, but at the harder edge, that was more male.

Did women tend to be single?

Well… yes, I mean I think that what did happen was that because there was no nursery, there were a couple of campaigns to get a nursery, I led one campaign to get a nursery… I mean, we never got a nursery, so… and women tended, if they had children, to just stay at a certain level, you know, working on local programmes also where they didn’t have to travel, and programmes where they are working… you know, they could go home in the evening, and that was just accepted that… and for me, I thought I would like to have a child, and so I left Granada – that’s the key reason I left. I thought, “I can’t keep travelling as a producer/director and have a child,” so I went to another company where I became deputy editor, and then editor of another programme for ITV.

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