Laurie Janet Macmillan, broadcaster: born Aberdeen 10 May 1947; married 1986 Martine Ronaldson; died Okehampton, Devon 8 October 2001.
Laurie Macmillan was one of the best-known voices on BBC Radio 4 for more than a quarter of a century. She epitomised the best of Radio 4. Her warm voice, and clear and direct use of the English language, ensured she had many fans among Radio 4 listeners. Her intelligence, honesty and integrity – underlined by a wicked sense of humour and an interesting use of swear-words – endeared her to her colleagues.
She was born in Aberdeen, in 1947, and educated at Haberdashers' Girls School in Monmouth, and Newcastle University, where she graduated with a degree in Politics and Philosophy. She joined the BBC in 1968, straight from university, as a trainee studio manager in radio. "I had applied for the job with a friend from university who was much brighter than me," she said later. "I was accepted and he wasn't . . . Embarrassing, really." Macmillan worked on news and current affairs programmes such as The World at One, PM, It's Your Line and You and Yours. She was instantly recognisable around the newsroom by the curtain of thick, dark hair hanging down her back – hair so long she could sit on it.
Her first experience of speaking on the radio came when she read out listeners' letters on PM and You and Yours. She joined Radio 4 as an announcer in 1975. Over the years she enjoyed attachments to local radio and Radio 3, and, in her only foray into television, she had a stint of newsreading on Newsnight on BBC2. She also wrote and presented a schools' radio series on industrial geography, and was for a time the queen of Radio 4's Bells on Sunday – becoming an expert on peals of Grandsire Doubles and Steadman Triples.
In the late 1970s, Macmillan and her husband, Martine Ronaldson, moved to Sticklepath in Devon, and began to enjoy the country life. They renovated their house and she grew organic vegetables. She started attending evening classes in astronomy, studying the night sky unimpeded by the glow of London streetlights. She learnt Gaelic, and tried it out during many walking holidays in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. She returned to Radio 4 on a part-time basis, but still with a full-time passion and commitment to her job.
Macmillan commanded huge respect from all those with whom she worked. Her passion for spoken English to be clear and direct was soon evident, and newsroom colleagues remember how, in the nicest possible way, "she would never let you get away with mediocrity". Another recalls that "she wasn't afraid to offer her forthright views when presented with what she considered an inadequate sentence". What she actually said, as she threw the offending script back across the desk, was, "It's shite!" But the comment would be made with such a raucous laugh that no one could be upset.
While Macmillan's plain speaking was legendary, she was also tremendously kind and thoughtful, and had enormous affection and concern for all her colleagues. She treated everyone the same – whether the Director of Radio or the temporary secretary. She was always straight with people, and as a result her opinions and her judgement were highly valued.
Her approach to her breast cancer was just as straightforward. She dealt with it in a matter of fact way, and came back to work as soon as she could. The treatment had left her rather breathless, and after a time she felt she could not undertake overnight newsreading duties, so she no longer appeared on Today. However, she was able to continue daytime shifts – in continuity and presenting the Six O'Clock News – until the end of March this year, when her cancer returned.
It was hard to get her to talk about herself and her problems. She always wanted to know about everyone else, and be kept up to date with all the gossip. Even last week, she was still talking about getting back to work. She told us she was keeping a little book of all the mistakes and infelicities she had heard on Radio 4, and was going to have words with us all.
Laurie would have been enormously touched by all the tributes to her, and probably rather puzzled by the fuss. We think we were so lucky to have known her. She would have told us all not to be so wet.
Harriet CassReuse content