The next name to be inducted into the Hall of Fame in this series is the first female regional newsreader in the UK, Patricia Cox of ATV Midland News.
Founding ATV Newscaster ‘Pat Cox’ was the first in-vision regional newsreader in the UK, however, those early days of Independent Television wasn’t the lucrative business it was to become later in the ’50s thus Patricia Cox was shop worker and model by day, and newsreader by night.
Smethwick born, she joined ATV aged 25 having battled several other potential candidates for the top job through a number of auditions for ATV Midland bosses Ned Sherrin, Head of News and Factual, and ATV’s Midlands controller Philip Dorte. The final test was to impress the ‘big executives’ at ATV London who were to make the final decision, a private transmission was screened to Lew Grade and Val Parnell who offered her a contract. This was a Thursday in May 1956, by the Monday she was broadcasting from the news studio at the Alpha Television Studios in Aston.
ATV Midland Newsday was a basic affair to start with. It wouldn’t be until 1964 that ATV would launch a longer magazine series – ATV Today – to compliment the news offering so in those early days news was gathered from local newspapers with only two film cameras (only one with sound) allocated to record ‘topical’ stories, or if possible happening news. The ten-minute round-ups were therefore often not very ‘of the moment’ but a round-up of recent events, happenings and Midland topics of interest.
However, Patricia proved a popular personality on the ITV offering which aired Monday to Friday across the East and West Midlands (with ABC TV broadcasting Saturday and Sunday at that time).
As well as news she also hosted local features series Midland Montage, a late evening look at current interesting items from around the region that saw Patricia face everything from puppets to minks in the studio. She also occasionally popped into the ‘continuity booth’ to introduce programmes. Weekdays saw Patricia ‘on call’ especially in the later days of her time with ATV. If there was breaking news, it was her face that would bring it to the around 2,500,000 potential ITV viewers.
“It’s a long day for Patricia. She arrives at the gown-shop in a suburb of Birmingham at 9 o’clock each morning. She models and sells gowns till after 4, when she leaves by taxi for the television theatre at Aston. She reaches the theatre at 4.40, is made up, and runs through the news with Sherrin and Raymond Roden, the man who scripts it for TV. She uses the intervening time before 5.55 to memorise as much as possible of the script.” – TV Times, 1956
With every intention of being an actress, Patricia first studied at Wolverhampton Art School where she spent 18 months with an elocutionist. She also took time to study ‘dress design’ such was her interest in fashion and modelling. She won the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art’s gold medal for elocution. Later she joined the Birmingham Theatre School where, under the teachings of Mary Richards, she appeared in several plays. This led to work at the BBC in drama and announcing, although she had never presented news until her arrival at ATV – at the Beeb women did not read the news on television.
“I try to be as personal as possible when reading human interest stories..I find the best way of putting anything over is to forget the camera and technicians and imagine I am talking to mother at home.” – Patricia Cox speaking to the TV Times in 1956
In 1959 she married ATV floor manager John De Coverley-Wilkins in a ceremony that was recorded by cameras with a gathered star lineup of Midland TV royalty including Reg Watson, Noele Gordon, Pat Astley, Jean Morton and Jenny Martin. As her fame increased she was in demand to be the star attraction at charity events, open fetés and judging contests. At one particular evening out she was even asked to sign a £5 note as the fan didn’t have any paper – and sign it she did.
She would also make ATV headlines later for less happy events; In 1960 her car was hit by a stolen vehicle, leaving her suffering shock. In 1963 she became the news again when her home, in the West Midland village of Knowle, was robbed of around £400 worth of jewellery. In 1965 she left ATV to go freelance, having hosted over 2,000 news programmes, later joining the Bertram Agency as a talent scout.
In later years the family relocated to Cheshire. Patricia died on the 28th March 2007 aged 77. She had for many years suffered ill health, notably Multiple Sclerosis. At her death, she left behind her husband John, daughter Joanna, (mother-in-law to Guy) and was gran to Ella. Her funeral took place at Macclesfield Crematorium. Former floor manager John passed away on 10th April 2013, aged 81.
As a footnote, the UK’s first woman to anchor national news was ITN’s, Barbara Mandell.