Obituary: Nesta Pain

Nesta Pain eventually became the doyenne of writer-directors in the features department of the BBC. But when she first arrived in London in 1942 to join the corporation, having travelled from Liverpool with her 15-year-old daughter in the middle of the Second World War to a city much in danger from air raids, it must have seemed a reckless move.

She was born Nesta Taylor in the Wirral in 1905. By 1942 she had achieved a First in Classics from Liverpool University, had been to Somerville College, Oxford, for a year and had written a play which had been performed in London by a Sunday Afternoon Professional Theatre Club. She was awarded a temporary contract by the BBC and immediately started writing for Bush House and for the newly created Features Department, by which time she was separated from her husband Cord Pain.

Her work for Bush House brought her to the attention of John Grenfell- Williams and her work for the Features Department, particularly a programme on Sleeping Sickness, introduced her work to Lindsay Wellington. The idea that the Features Department would concentrate on scientific programmes written by Pain was promoted by Wellington, who had also read the script and wanted to encourage the production of scientific programmes on radio. Pain got on with the scientific power figures of the Forties and Fifties and she was on excellent terms with Sir Henry Dale and Sir Alexander Fleming of penicillin fame.

Her promotion by Wellington confirmed Pain in her job and between then and her retirement in 1970 she wrote some of the most significant programmes of the Features Department. Her strong historical interest inspired her to write programmes which used the letters and language of the period to bring incidents and characters to life. She brought to the microphone in their own words Nelson, Byron, Fox and Pitt.

During the war her inquiring mind prompted her to undertake a programme on the work of Sir Archibald McIndoe at his hospital in East Grinstead, where he was cosmetically repairing badly burned airmen. In order to understand the problems of the surgeon and his patients in their plastic surgery she spent hours in the operating theatre and continued to follow the progress of the patients on the wards. "Tickle this," said an airman showing her the palm of his hand. "You will be tickling my tummy." It was not a project for the faint-hearted.

In the early Fifties, Pain commissioned John Mortimer's first radio play, Dock Brief (1958), in which a bumbling second-class barrister, admirably played by Michael Hordern, was taken on as defending counsel by a rather sharp petty criminal. The play was subsequently produced as part of a double bill in the theatre and was followed by a radio version of Mortimer's autobiographical Voyage Round My Father (1970), which also transferred to the theatre as a full-length play.

Nesta Pain's own historical documentaries included a serialised version of the life of Queen Victoria, with Peggy Ashcroft as the Queen, and plays on Byron's love life and Nelson's. She also co-directed a serial version of War and Peace which was a star production of the Sixties. While writing regular programmes for the BBC she also wrote and published a book, The King and Becket, in which she vehemently took Henry II's side against Becket; she followed that with a book on the Empress Mathilda, and one on The Private Life of George the Third.

For a long time her name was mainly associated with her programmes on the work of Jean Henri Fabre, the 19th-century French insect man, whose world she brought frighteningly to life. She worked briefly in television, where she produced Simon Raven's military drama documentary A Move Up Country, but was never as comfortable in television as she was in radio.

She wrote short plays for Joan Miller and Dorothy Tutin and also several son et lumiere productions. She wrote tapes for the Science Museum and to the end of her life was writing and working after an operation on her eyes had rescued her sight. She was very gregarious with the actors in her personal repertory, with whom she had excellent working relationships.

The scope of Pain's broadcasting output considerably enlarged the range of the BBC's programming and the confidence with which she approached scientists, psychologists and historians enabled her to widen the depth and content of her writing.

She continued her scholastic interests long after she had left the BBC and was still writing in her eighties. In many ways Nesta Pain was a woman of the Nineties in the Fifties: a scholar of questioning outlook who also hugely enjoyed the novels of Dick Francis and was keenly interested in racing.

Charles Hodgson

Nesta Florence Taylor, broadcaster: born the Wirral 27 July 1905; married Cord Pain (deceased; one daughter; marriage dissolved); died London 23 July 1995.

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Guru Careers: Graduate Resourcer / Recruitment Account Executive

£18k + Bonus: Guru Careers: We are seeking a bright, enthusiastic and internet...

Reach Volunteering: Chair and trustees sought for YMCA Bolton

VOLUNTARY ONLY - EXPENSES REIMBURSED: Reach Volunteering: Bolton YMCA is now a...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher

£150 - £180 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Geography Teacher Geography teach...

Day In a Page

Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine
Letterman's final Late Show: Laughter, but no tears, as David takes his bow after 33 years

Laughter, but no tears, as Letterman takes his bow after 33 years

Veteran talkshow host steps down to plaudits from four presidents
Ivor Novello Awards 2015: Hozier wins with anti-Catholic song 'Take Me To Church' as John Whittingdale leads praise for Black Sabbath

Hozier's 'blasphemous' song takes Novello award

Singer joins Ed Sheeran and Clean Bandit in celebration of the best in British and Irish music
Tequila gold rush: The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product

Join the tequila gold rush

The spirit has gone from a cheap shot to a multi-billion pound product
12 best statement wallpapers

12 best statement wallpapers

Make an impact and transform a room with a conversation-starting pattern
Paul Scholes column: Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?

Paul Scholes column

Does David De Gea really want to leave Manchester United to fight it out for the No 1 spot at Real Madrid?