Television executive behind 'The Tube'
Thursday 23 September 2004
Andrea Wonfor used charm and steely determination in equal measure to change the face of British television. She has been variously described as the most powerful woman in British TV and one of its most inspirational
Andrea Jean Duncan, television executive: born Canterbury, Kent 31 July 1944; researcher, Tyne Tees Television 1969-73, director 1973-76, Head of Children's and Young People's Programmes 1976-83, Controller of Programmes 1983-87; managing director, Zenith North 1988-90; Controller, Arts and Entertainment, Channel Four Television 1990-93, Deputy Director of Programmes 1993; Director of Programmes, Granada Television 1993-94, joint managing director 1994-99, Creative Director, Granada Content 2000-02; OBE 2003; married 1967 Patrick Masefield (one daughter; marriage dissolved 1973), 1974 Geoffrey Wonfor (one daughter); died Ingoe, Northumberland 10 September 2004.
Andrea Wonfor used charm and steely determination in equal measure to change the face of British television. She has been variously described as the most powerful woman in British TV and one of its most inspirational executives.
During her time at Tyne Tees Television in Newcastle, she recruited the unknowns Jools Holland and Paula Yates to front a new music show for the fledgling Channel 4. Holland recalls how they could barely read autocue and had performed badly at the audition. Yet Wonfor's judgement was that traditional presenter skills were not important - viewers would simply enjoy their freshness and chemistry. Thus the groundbreaking Tube and its idiosyncratic presenters were launched on an unsuspecting teatime audience.
Years later, Wonfor bullied and cajoled Channel 4 and Sky into staging a star-studded Millennium Tube in the very same Studio 5 in Newcastle. Sir Paul McCartney, Prince, Travis and Robbie Williams headlined the epic live. It was the biggest party in town and Wonfor presided over it all with a glass of red wine in one hand and a cigarette in the other.
She was born Andrea Duncan in 1944 and was educated at Simon Langton Girls School in Canterbury and New Hall, Cambridge, where she studied History. She joined Granada TV as a graduate trainee in 1966 and moved to Tyne Tees as a researcher in 1969, rising to head Children's and Young People's Programmes in 1976, and becoming Controller of Programmes in 1983. After her first marriage ended in divorce, she married in 1974 Geoffrey Wonfor. Andrea Wonfor possessed an infectious optimism. As Controller of Programmes for ITV's North-East licence, she would enthuse over the most modest regional shows in the same breath as her biggest network productions.
In 1987, having spent most of her professional life in ITV, she broke ranks to set up Zenith North in her adopted North-East. From a chaotic office, she came up with the idea of Byker Grove for the BBC - a series which went on to become a fame academy for young Tyneside talent, including Ant and Dec, Donna Air and Jill Halfpenny.
Michael Grade brought her to Channel 4 three years later and during her three years at the broadcaster she launched programmes such as The Big Breakfast, The Word and Eurotrash - not to mention the careers of Chris Evans and countless other young presenters, producers, writers and directors.
Wonfor then moved back to ITV, when Granada appointed her as their first woman Director of Programmes. From Coronation Street to Longitude, some of the greatest television shows of the 1990s benefited from her energetic benevolence. She was quickly promoted to joint managing director alongside Jules Burns. As the Granada group expanded, acquiring LWT and then Yorkshire Tyne Tees Television and United, Wonfor's titles grew ever grander - Chair of Granada Production and then Creative Director, with teams across the UK and as far afield as Los Angeles, New York, Sydney and Berlin.
When she took early retirement in 2002 she swept straight into another new independent - Liberty Bell - with the idea that untapped talent in the North-East could kick-start more production outside of London. Together with a former ITV colleague, Stuart Prebble, Wonfor was soon churning out network hits including Grumpy Old Men, Victoria Wood's Big Fat Documentary and the Stella McCartney profile for the BBC.
Wonfor's failing health - a recurrence of the breast cancer she had beaten off eight years earlier - did not prevent her throwing herself behind Newcastle's new writing powerhouse Live Theatre and the screen agency Northern Film and Media. She emerged as a supportive and opinionated non-executive director of Tyne Tees Television and enjoyed sitting down with us to review the best and worst of our output.
She had the best contacts book in British television and would urge the most junior members of staff to "ring Melvyn" or "have a word with Greg". When her daughter Abi came back from a trip to Ethiopia burning with indignation at the plight of its people, Andrea Wonfor picked up the phone to Brendan Foster and persuaded him to stage a version of the Great North Run in the Ethiopian capital. World television coverage followed
Just a few weeks ago Andrea Wonfor and her devoted husband Geoff were in the South of France to see the blessing of the wedding of their daughter Sam. She had told friends the occasion had been her goal during the dark days of blood transfusions and chemotherapy.
A decade ago she starred in a Granada staff production of Stars in their Eyes with Matthew Kelly and various executives and programme heads. The Manchester studio was buzzing when Andrea announced that tonight, Matthew, she was to be the Broadway legend Ethel Merman. The orchestra struck up and Andrea, resplendent in a gravity-defying gown, belted out "There's No Business Like Show Business". She sang it live and the audience erupted in delight and admiration.
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