Mirjana Nikolic, broadcaster: born 29 September 1916; married first Velimir Jankovic (one daughter; marriage dissolved), second Edgar Kendall Taylor (deceased); died 17 May 2007.
Mirjana Kendall Taylor was for some 25 years a familiar voice to BBC listeners in Yugoslavia. Married to a distinguished English concert pianist, she was a lifelong anglophile, who had, however, managed to get to Britain only after considerable difficulty.
Born Mirjana Nikolic, the daughter of a Serbian professor of Latin and Greek, she spent most of her childhood in the Croat capital, Zagreb. She had at an early age developed an interest in learning English and in 1938, apparently with the help of the Yugoslav authorities, had won a scholarship to Oxford. The offer was, however, suddenly revoked, for a reason which she discovered only long afterwards: the scholarship had at the last moment been re-allocated to a member of the Yugoslav royal family.
By the time of the German invasion in 1941, her family had moved to Serbia, where it had to endure a particularly harsh Nazi occupation. During the war, she listened to the BBC at great personal risk: had she been caught she would have faced execution.
The expulsion of the Germans and the coming to power of the then very pro-Stalinist Tito regime did nothing to make her life easier. She got a job with the British Council which itself brought her under the suspicion of the Communist authorities. She was repeatedly visited by the secret police who demanded that she spy on the British Embassy. In the face of threats to her family, she eventually agreed – but reported the fact to the embassy.
It was her work for the British Council which first brought her into contact with her future husband, the concert pianist Edgar Kendall Taylor. But Yugoslav citizens at that time could not emigrate as of right. Her fiancé managed to persuade the authorities that he was a friend of Yugoslavia – he popularised the country's music on his concert tours. In the end, she was allowed to go abroad, but only thanks to the personal authorisation of Tito and of his foreign minister Edvard Kardelj.
She joined the BBC Yugoslav section in the early 1950s and soon became well-liked by colleagues, and a valuable asset to the Yugoslav section thanks to her excellent broadcasting voice and bilingual command of Serbian and English. She was eventually put in charge of analysing and answering listeners' letters – an essential form of feedback at a time when audience research in Yugoslavia was impossible.
In retirement, Mirjana pursued a private but very active life. She was keenly interested in gardening and crossword puzzles and was, to the end, a chain-smoker.
David Wedgwood BennReuse content