'There was terror of having a pregnant woman on screen': Libby Purves on sexism at the BBC
Tuesday 05 February 2013
Broadcaster Libby Purves has spoken out about the sexism she experienced during the early years of her career at the BBC.
Purves, who presents Midweek on Radio 4, said that "sexism has faded" but that she had previously encountered years of "disrespect".
She told the Radio Times that her memories had been rekindled by a survey, prompted by the Savile Scandal, into respect and dignity in the broadcasting workplace.
Purves told how in 1974, before she became the first female presenter of Radio 4's Today programme, she complained while working on local radio about having production work cancelled.
She told the Radio Times: "The HR lady just suggested in a low, caring voice that my problem might be a failed 'personal relationship' with a senior colleague (as if!). Women, she believed, operate on romantic emotions, not creativity."
Purves, 63, told the magazine: "In 1982 I was sacked from presenting The Boat Show because of a three-month pregnancy.
"The producer cited 'safety' grounds, because I might slip on a pontoon. It wasn't safety, it was terror of a pregnant woman on screen.
"Around the same time, I was asked to present Midweek and the (female) controller of Radio 4 vetoed it at first, saying I should concentrate on documentaries.
"When I pointed out that those didn't pay a living wage but were more like a hobby, she replied, 'But you're married - money's not an issue, surely?'," Purves said.
She added: "Another time, a retired BBC mogul explained, with a hand on my thigh, that I should stick to producing because women's voices were either 'childish, vampy, mumsy or schoolmarm'."
Purves said: "My sole foray into regular TV presenting was equally hilarious. For the ethics panel show Choices in 1982 I was told to wear glasses, not my (more efficient) contact lenses, to look more serious.
"After the first show, they ordered me back into contacts and the senior editor cooed, 'With your glasses you have authority, without them you have authority and charm'.
"They also marched me round to Dickins & Jones with a wardrobe lady, to buy 'little tops' with pussycat bows a la Thatcher. In vain I argued that Robin Day seemed to wear the same jacket and shirt every week, and fled back to radio."
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