By Ruth Barcroft
As a journalist working for the Sony gold award-winning BBC Radio Humberside I can’t tell you how delighted we all are at the success of Beryl and Betty and the creative genius that is their producer, David Reeves.
Over six years they’ve brought joy both on and off-air. When they’re pre-recording their weekly show, it’s impossible to walk past their studio without being beckoned in for a gossip and a giggle. Beryl and Betty bring their East Yorkshire spirit and vibrancy, David translates this into hilarious and heart-warming radio waves, and the nature of the show dictates that whatever happens, happens.
So how did it happen? Sound Women, this is the story of two female broadcasters, who came together with a male broadcaster, and with the support of their bosses, created radio gold. On paper it sounds easy. Indeed the idea of getting “real voices” to front a show is so simple, David says “I can’t believe nobody thought of it before. The fact that they were brilliant and we have chemistry is what makes it work”.
But this isn’t merely a tale of talent and luck either. How, for example, did two OAPs with (clearly) no previous presenting experience, get past the template of DQF-driven BBC broadcasting? Perhaps it helps that theirs is an entertainment show with a niche audience, “tucked away” at the weekend? And although it’s still subject to the same compliance, perhaps there’s more freedom – and therefore more fun – than with the flagship programmes? Certainly the pure “joy” of the programme is something which the Sony judges emphasised in their decision to award gold.
One thing’s for sure, as David says, “This show has never been about ticking boxes”. And although he also doesn’t consider it a risk, some may think otherwise. BBC Radio Humberside’s Station Editor, Simon Pattern, dared to be different. But Simon says he can’t take any credit. “It was a simple choice – to trust a producer who had the instinct that it could work and then support them to do that. I see my role to try and encourage… and to create a space in which creative and yes, sometimes risky, ideas can be grown”.
And so within that space and freedom, ideas did grow. For several months prior to his Sony entry David gently pressed for the publicity and recognition he believed Beryl and Betty deserved. His goal was to break the mould, and ultimately his vision and determination paid off. So what’s the new mould? And will Beryl and Betty change things for women in local radio?
As a female thirty-something, who’s been presenting for the past ten years, I’d like to think so. In the wake of Sound Women’s launch last year, the picture for female broadcasters, particularly in local radio, was bleaker than ever. Here at BBC Radio Humberside there still aren’t any women presenting during the week between 6am and 10pm. It’s grim to even entertain the thought that female presenters are only suited to late night and weekend output. Simon Pattern says “If we have failed to encourage or help grow women into on air roles – and I agree that the evidence to support this looks compelling as an industry – then the challenge should be to find out why that could be the case. If there are genuine barriers they need knocking down”.
And so the discourse continues as to what exactly those barriers are and how we generate more equality across broadcasting. In the meantime, they may not realise it, but it’s taken the friendship of two elderly women and one man, a chicken dinner-or-two and a smattering of the Buble to give that glass ceiling one hell of a smash. Surely, local radio broadcasting can never be the same again?
I asked Beryl and Betty how it felt to be older women on the radio?
Beryl – I’ve never heard a radio station with older people like us…
Betty – We’ve lived… Though her life was very different from mine.
Are you feminists?
Beryl – Oh yes, definitely!
David – Are you sure? It’s a bit of a loaded question…
Do you remember anything of the suffragette movement?
Beryl – My gran told me about it… To this day I wish people would vote. You should listen to the parties’ policies and vote for who you agree with. People gave their lives for our right to vote. Of course governments make mistakes when they’re in power… We all do.
Who cooked the chicken dinner in your house?
Betty – My mum died when I was 15, so it was me, though my brother used to cook his own. I’ve got 10 children, so I had to cook for 12. I’d line up the plates and put the tatters out first, then the cabbage, then there was some who didn’t want that, but wanted cauliflower, then there’d be some that liked carrots but didn’t want turnip. They’re all faddy.
Beryl – In 1961 I think, I was ill with pleurisy so Stephen- bless him- had to do all the cooking. He brought up my dinner and I saw this green thing on my plate. I said ‘what’s that?’ and he said ‘cabbage’. I said ‘that’s not cabbage.’ It turns out he’d boiled a bit of lettuce thinking it was cabbage. He used to say to me “I hope I go first, because you could manage without me, but I couldn’t manage without you.” He could make a cup of tea, but that was his limit.
So his name was Stephen?
Beryl – Yes, that’s right
Betty – Mine was ‘big bald John’.
If they were to make a film of your life who should play you? I hear Meryl Streep’s working on her Hull accent…
Beryl – Oh yes, Meryl Streep, she’d be good… And there’s Judi Dench – oh she’s a marvellous actress. Either of them would do.
If the radio bosses said ‘sorry, we’re taking you off air for being old women’ what would you say?
Beryl – I’d ask what we’d done, as we can talk about anything.
Betty – We’re not too old. We’ll stop when we’re past it, and we’ll let you know when that is.
Interview by Ruth Barcroft of BBC Radio Humberside