In praise of Joanna Spicer

Seeing as it’s International Women’s Day, I figured I’d post a tribute blog to Joanna Spicer.

Spicer worked at the BBC in the 1950s and continued to work in a variety of roles until the late 1970s. I first became aware of her when I spent some time at the BBC’s Written Archive Centre in Caversham researching my book about the Eurovision. The files contained a great many memos she had dictated, had typed and then subsequently signed about European Broadcasting Union-related business and in the years when the BBC hosted the Eurovision Song Contest, a great many strong views about production and the songs themselves. Her personality shone in otherwise dull BBC paperwork and at times she came across as the kind of person who training courses on how best to ‘Manage Up’ were surely designed.

What really struck me about her as an individual was how unusual it appeared to see a woman (at that time) holding a senior role at the BBC – she was a senior TV planning assistant, later working as the BBC’s representative at the European Broadcasting Union, earning her the nickname, “the Contessa of European television“. She was responsible for advising the Managing Director of Television and in 1969 became the Assistant Controller of Television.

Spicer was formidable, strong and morally upright. Kathy Kirby’s 1965 Eurovision song I Belong about a woman who’s ‘heart has recovered from past affairs that have gone wrong’ caused Spicer a great deal of concern about the song’s appropriateness for a family TV audience. So much so she documented her concerns in a memo sent to the then Director of TV.

Evidently at the centre of television for a long time, Spicer leaps off the pages of the BBC archives. If you need  another illustration of how important she was at the BBC at a time when women in senior influential roles was a rarity, take a listen to the History of the BBC’s oral histories featuring extended interviews with Spicer herself.

A brilliant woman.  One to be championed.

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