Judith Bumpus: Arts radio producer whose diverse range of subjects included Hockney and Huxley

In his polemical, often scathing memoir, Tainted by Experience, the arts impresario and former controller of BBC Radio 3 John Drummond had nothing but praise for one of his producers.

"Judith Bumpus," he wrote, "was a highly gifted woman, whose ability to find ways of talking about the visual arts in a manner that compensated for the absence of images I really admired." His admiration was well-chosen. For 30 years, Bumpus brought her knowledge of, and passion for the visual arts to Radio 3, with memorable programmes on Francis Bacon, Bridget Riley, Graham Sutherland, Lucian Freud, Howard Hodgkin and Pablo Picasso, as well as imaginative and scholarly portraits of old masters – notably Rubens – and adventurous explorations of sculpture, architecture, photography and literature. She was in the first rank of radio producers, but so profoundly modest and self-effacing that she never really sought or got the fame she deserved.

Born Judith Collison in Wiltshire in 1939, she grew up in north London and was educated at Channing School, Highgate, and St Andrews University. Here she read German and Spanish and won a travel award to study at Barcelona University. Gifted with an excellent ear as well as eye, she sang in the Renaissance Group choir at St Andrews and won a Hesse studentship for music to the 1961 Aldeburgh Festival. But at first it was the eye that won and took her on a postgraduate scholarship to study art history at Madrid University. This experience, which she hugely enjoyed and which gave her a lifelong love of Spain, led to her first job as junior curator in the National Art Library and education department of the Victoria and Albert Museum from 1963 to 1968. While there she began to use her talent for communication to lecture in the visual arts and to tutor in London University's extra-mural department and at the Open University.

In 1968, Bumpus joined the BBC as a producer in the continuing education department, making arts programmes and designing support material for schools and adults. By this time, she was a wife (marrying Bernard Bumpus, later to become head of BBC international audience research and a distinguished ceramic historian, in 1966) and mother (two daughters, Nicola and Francesca, were born in 1967 and 1968). So she was a full-time working mother at a time when it was still relatively uncommon. And what a worker! There were journeys to Spain to make programmes on Gaudi and Miro; to Argentina, with the translator Norman Thomas di Giovanni, to walk round Buenos Aires with the blind 80-year-old Borges (a wonderfully intimate portrait, this); to France for programmes on Cocteau and Le Corbusier; to Germany in search of Goethe; and to America for everything from Pioneer to Pop Art. On one of those American trips, Bumpus strapped herself and tape-recorder into David Hockney's jeep as he drove through the Santa Monica Mountains at sunset, "The Ride of the Valkyries" at full volume on the stereo, and the painter in full cry on art, life, love, and truth.

Bumpus's range was huge: from intimate portraits of Ernst Gombrich, Frank Lloyd Wright, Nikolaus Pevsner and Maggie Hambling, through series on Art and the Human Condition (with Martin Kemp), Artists and Landscapes (with Roy Strong and Frank Whitford), Master Photographers (with Colin Ford) and British Architecture (with Joe Mordaunt Crook), and on to blockbuster documentaries on Picasso (this won the Ondas Prize), Aldous Huxley (with Valentine Cunningham) and Francis Bacon (with Richard Cork).

Equally good at making fully fledged dramas, like her 1985 Sony Gold-winning production of Colin McLaren's The Amazing Adventures of Baron Munchausen, or her 1983 radio restaging of a 16th-century Spanish trial for heresy, starring Jeremy Irons, she also managed to find time for a regular series of Radio 3 visual arts programmes, Third Ear, and for her own writing. There were books on Van Gogh's flowers, and Impressionist gardens, as well as studies of Graham Clarke, Elizabeth Blackadder and Reginald Brill.

After her retirement from the BBC in 1996, she continued to contribute essays, catalogue notes, articles, and translations, to, among others, the Royal Academy Magazine, Arts and Artists, the Serpentine and Tate Galleries, the Dictionary of Woman Artists, the Gulbenkian Foundation and Art Quarterly. For ten years she was media correspondent for The Art Newspaper and on the advisory committee for artists' lives as part of the National Life Stories collection in the British Library's national sound archive. At the time of her death, she was writing a PhD at Birkbeck College on English landscape painting in the decade after the First World War.

Bumpus was last heard on the airwaves last September, paying tribute to a predecessor, the feature producer Leonie Cohn, in the Radio 4 obituary programme Last Word. As she described Cohn's mixture of passionate enthusiasm for the arts with her gift for getting leading artists and critics to speak, she might have been describing herself. She too belongs to that select band of arts communicators who helped shape the taste of today's art-going public and change the way the visual arts were presented and discussed on air.

Judith Harriet Bumpus, art historian and radio arts producer: born Wiltshire 3 November 1939; married Bernard Bumpus (died 2004, 2 daughters); died 2 March 2010.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Games Developer - HTML5

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: With extensive experience and a...

Recruitment Genius: Personal Tax Senior

£26000 - £34000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join ...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Product Manager

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: Due to on-going expansion, this leading provid...

Recruitment Genius: Shift Leaders - Front of House Staff - Full Time and Part Time

£6 - £8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join a family ...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works