Norma Percy on being a woman working in television

How was it for you as a woman in those years?

I had a lot of problems with that. I got an award for women in film and media this year. And I probably made a not particularly well-judged speech that said, “I have a terrible thing to confess, I don’t have women in my programmes.” Because, of course, I have the people who are inside the room when the decisions are taken. And there are too few women. And for Europe, we had a real problem because the two people in the Europe Crisis programme were Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde, who turned us down. And we presented Joanna Carr, the head of current affairs in the programme we had no women in. Our solution was one, to send us back to find one, but secondly, to have a woman narrator. But I made this speech and I said ‘It’s not my fault’. It’s like telling people you should go get more women in high places.

As far as Me Too-ism, I experienced the sort of things that people complain about in the House of Commons. I’ve never felt it in television. Once I was television, I was sufficiently… MPs need. Television, I was treated like a grown up.

So you’ve never experienced any kind of discrimination?

Well, you could say that my relationship with Brian Lapping is a kind of relationship that a woman would have with a man. It was in some sense, a kind of definitely subservient.

And I can remember Neil Kinnock shouting at me about ‘Why does Brian get..’ I felt that when he was running World in Action and I wasn’t, whether or not I was a producer, he was getting the credit, that I was doing the work and he was getting the credit.

But I have since learned that the thing about being in television, and I say this at award ceremonies, you spend your first 10 years resenting your bosses because they get the credit for all your hard work. And the rest of the time feeling terribly guilty because you’re getting the credit for everybody else. And I think I have had more years when I have got the credit for both doing what Brian Lapping invented, you know, Norma Percy’s special way of doing history, which is Brian Lapping’s. We talk about… Brian Lapping would say every single day of working on programmes…

But the women in television issue now, which is quite vocal. How does it compare with then?

I’m a 50s woman, I suppose. I never felt like I, a woman, should be getting more attention. Carrie Gracie gave me this award, so I talked to her at length about it. I’ve always felt it was to do with me if somebody else… maybe if it was to be with doing a woman that I allowed myself to be bullied.

But I think that my relationship with Brian, I never would have got to do what I wanted to do if I didn’t have this subservient relationship with a great man, whose work I… I suppose it’s disciples. I was definitely his disciple. And then I became more Catholic than the Pope, in that I’m much more pure about the method than he ever was. But I can’t imagine a man having the career arc that I had. But I don’t think I ever ranted and railed against it. I must have some, because I do remember my dentist shouting at me about grinding my teeth, and at one point when I was in this chair, and she said you’re grinding your teeth now, what are you thinking about? I was definitely thinking about Brian Lapping. But it would be being angry at Brian Lapping for not seeing that my line of commentary was better than his line of commentary.



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