Judith’s tense moments as a TV announcer 

9 October 2023 tbs.pm/79519

Big Break Nearly Ended in Complete Ignominy

 

 

Nottingham Evening News masthead

From the Nottingham Evening News for 11 May 1961

JUDITH CHALMERS is rapidly developing into the personality girl of BBC Television. Meeting her off screen, she radiates the same joy of living, the same sense of fun on the screen that looks as though it is liable to break through the baldest announcement. Yet behind it is a girl with a serious interest in things and people and one who is dedicated to the job of broadcasting.

She is small but inclined to plumpness, though this did not stop her from eating a BBC bun filled with cream and jam. She has a mop of streaky fair hair and an expression that is always on the verge of laughter.

Fashion Student

Judith Chalmers could easily be a glamour-girl, but she is not interested in that side of television. “I love interviewing and reporting,” she said between bites of the cream bun, “and I want to do more schools television. I should also love to do a magazine programme for women in the evening.”

She is interested in fashion, but from an objective point of view. She has, she told me. a collection of books on the subject going back hundreds of years.

Her own preference is for casual clothes. When I met her, she was wearing a plain blue skirt and a huge, white fisherman-knit sweater. If we hadn’t arranged to meet within the stately portals of Broadcasting House, the skirt would have been exchanged for slacks. “My favourite type of dress,” she commented.

Dress is always a big problem for women who appear regularly on television, and particularly so when they have to appear as often in one week as Judith Chalmers.

“I don’t know how many dresses I have got,” she said. “It must be more than 30. The BBC allow us two or three a month, but I still spend a small fortune on clothes. We have jewellery lent to us, and this does wonders in giving an old dress a new look. I reckon to wear a dress once every ten days without risking someone remarking: “Oh, she’s wearing that old thing again.”

Still only 25, Judith Chalmers can look back on nearly 13 years of broadcasting.

Born at Cheadle, Cheshire, her first job was in a BBC North Region children’s programme, at the age of 12. “It was my mother who suggested I should write for an audition,” she recalled. “I had been to speech training classes to iron out my accent and had appeared in school plays, but I have never had any burning desire to be an actress.”

The audition was successful. “I still have the telegram offering me the part,” she added. “I am keeping it for the first page of my scrapbook — if I ever get time to start one.”

Right now, Judith Chalmers has little spare time for scrapbooks or her hobby of collecting cigarette cards, an enthusiasm she acquired when she was sent to report an auction of these cards for a programme.

Versatile

Judith Chalmers

JUDITH CHALMERS… “terrifying moment when bat clawed at my stockings.”

She is one of the BBC’s most versatile women. In addition to schools broadcasts, women’s programmes, announcing and reporting for Town and Around, she is a disc jockey on sound radio, and has appeared in comedy shows, including Michael Bentine’s “Round the Bend.”

Except for three months she spent with Granada Television in 1958, her career has been entirely with the BBC. In 1958, still at Manchester, she became the BBC’s first regional television announcer. Some two years later she went to London and started announcing from Lime Grove in January, 1959.

Big Break

“My really big break came last October,” she said, “when I was chosen as one of three women announcers for evening television, the first time BBC had had women announcers in the evening for about three years.”

Judith was chosen to make the very first announcement, and it nearly ended in ignominy for her. “For evening announcements we have a tele-prompter,” she explained, “but on this occasion it stuck and never got farther than the opening words, ‘good evening everybody.’ Fortunately, I had memorised the announcements. But it was a bit disconcerting and I found myself desperately trying to remember what I had to say and struggling with the prompter button at the same time. It was a very bad moment.”

But the most terrifying incident of Judith’s broadcasting career occurred when she was rehearsing a programme for Granada.

Bat Terror

“A bat was to appear in the programme and one minute it was hanging upside down quite peacefully in one corner of the studio, the next something must have frightened it and it flew straight at me and clawed at my stockings — I was terrified. Someone yelled: ‘Keep calm, it will unhook itself.’ It did, but my stockings were ruined, to say nothing of my nerves.”

Recently a big opportunity nearly came her way. It was the day Richard Dimbleby had to dash from Naples to Rome to report the arrival of the Queen. As viewers may remember, he arrived in Rome with only four minutes to spare. At Television Centre in London, Judith Chalmers was told by the producer at short notice that she may have to do a commentary to go with the pictures.

“I hurriedly tried to remember all I knew about Rome. Fortunately, I have been there several times and know most of the buildings. However, Richard turned up in the nick of time. I was quite disappointed.”

Judith is still hoping for the day when Dimbleby won’t get there in time, and she will be able to achieve her ambition of giving the commentary on a big Royal event.

 

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