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Royal Television Society celebrate work of Dame Esther Rantzen

Broadcasting

Royal Television Society celebrate work of Dame Esther Rantzen

The presenter was bestowed a ‘Royal Television Society Gold Medal’ at last nights RTS TV Awards…

“This evening The Royal Television Society is honouring a legendary broadcaster and producer with one of its most prestigious accolades, the Gold Medal. This is awarded only very occasionally, and the recipient is just the second woman to receive it. Tonight, the RTS Gold Medal is presented to recognise the extraordinary career of Dame Esther Rantzen.”RTS

The organisation went on to note what a huge difference Esther’s work has made to UK life – because no British broadcaster has used television more effectively for the greater good than Esther Rantzen. She was the original consumer champion, a fearless campaigner. In her shows, she took on vested interests, bureaucrats and swindlers, con artists and crooks. Members of the public would even use her first name as a threat whenever they felt they were being ripped off…as people would say at the time: “I’ll get Esther onto you!”

Her defining moment really came in 1986 when Esther put the issue of child abuse onto the national agenda. It had almost been a taboo on television until then, but Esther’s programmes made it an issue that society could no longer ignore. After this she created Childline, Britain’s first national helpline for children in danger or distress. On its first night the phone lines were inundated with over fifty thousand calls. Childline’s model has been replicated in one hundred and fifty countries – and it all happened because of Esther.

BBC PR Handout: Esther brings Hearts of Gold to BBC One

Twenty years earlier, Esther began her career in television as a secretarial clerk at the BBC. As a researcher she worked on the magazine show Braden’s Week, and the producer wanted to put the team on camera, so Esther made her on-screen debut. In 1974 the show was replaced by a new programme called That’s Life!. Esther was front and centre, its lead presenter and producer for the next twenty one series. It made her a household name.

That’s Life! was a cocktail of consumer journalism and items about quirky aspects of everyday life. Arguments with utility companies were followed by segments about singing pets, and then there were Esther’s vox pops filmed on the streets of west London. The show even first introduced Britain to the songwriting talents of Victoria Wood.

Related Feature: ATV Icon Dame Esther Rantzen

But there was a very serious side to the programme too, and the show launched big campaigns about school bullying, cot safety, the need for safer park playgrounds and for children’s seatbelts in cars. In an era when the concept of ‘health and safety’ didn’t really exist, Esther was way ahead of her time. Her campaigns made Britain a safer place.

Esther’s show frequently featured emotional content that touched viewers deeply. For the first time on television, the issue of organ donation for children was covered when she shared the moving story of Ben Hardwick, a little boy in search of a liver donor. There was also the memorable moment when Esther reunited Kindertransport organiser Nicholas Winton with some of the many Jewish children, now adults, that he’d rescued from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia.

BBC Publicity PR handout: On The Braden Beat

That’s Life! was one of the BBC’s highest rating series through the Seventies and Eighties, but it wasn’t her only show. She produced The Big Time, which made a star of Sheena Easton; she was a presenter of Children In Need; she created and hosted Hearts of Gold, which ran for eight series, and she presented over six hundred episodes of her own daytime talk show. Esther achieved all of this as a woman at a time when the BBC’s corridors of power were dominated by men. As a strong female producer and presenter, Esther was a trailblazer.

Later, she was game enough to be one of the earliest contestants on Strictly Come Dancing and endured a stint in the jungle on I’m A Celebrity. In recent years Esther’s tireless capacity for campaigning has remained as strong as ever – and in that work she’s drawn on her own experience. After her husband Desmond passed away, she took on the issue of loneliness in older people and set up The Silver Line…and now, as we know, she’s campaigning for the right to an assisted death for people with a terminal illness.

“By any measure, Esther’s has been a career of huge achievement and impact.”–  RTS

BBC Publicity PR handout: Esther Rantzen hosts That’s Life!

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