Patsy Newey graduated with Joint Honours French and Drama in 1977 and went on to work as a Producer/Executive Producer at the BBC, for 30 years, and later as a Media Consultant. Recently she returned to campus with her husband Greg, and David Pritchard, Drama 1976, former Head of Production at the Royal Opera House and recent winner of ‘The Governors of the Royal Ballet Gold Medal’.
Patsy also contributed to the Drama Department’s 50th Anniversary book. Her contribution featured the following memorable anecdote:
“In June of the same year, the old Theatre Lab provided the perfect location for Anthony Minghella’s first play ‘Mobius the Stripper’, which he wrote, directed and composed the music for. What talent – he always seemed so much cleverer than all of us, as well as being such a kind and generous person. Our paths crossed a few times in London and I was very proud to be present at the same BAFTA awards in 1997. It was the last year that the TV and Film awards were presented together. Our table, representing the talk show called Esther, presented by Esther Rantzen, didn’t win for Best Talk Show, Martin Bashir’s interview with Princess Diana scooped that one! But I was able to bask in some of Anthony’s glory at ‘The English Patient’ winning no fewer than six awards, and the BBC bosses were impressed by my contacts. His was the next table to ours.”
In this interview, Patsy reminisces on her time as a student, and discusses how careers in the media have changed over the years.
What attracted you to study at the University of Hull?
I had Bristol as my first choice to study French and Drama, but when I came to Hull for interview, I knew at once that it was where I wanted to be. In 1973, Peter Hall started his term as Director of The National Theatre to manage its move to the South Bank, but for me, 200 miles north was where it was all happening in Donald Roy’s Gulbenkian Theatre, and I was desperate to be part of it.
What memories do you have of your time as a student here?
Only happy ones! I enjoyed both courses very much, but like most drama students, I spent most of my leisure time around the Gulbenkian Theatre. The first year I stayed at The Lawns, and I cycled every morning against the bitter wind with Tom Atkinson, David Pritchard and Tim Hubbard from there to campus. We longed to be able to afford the bus some days.
Drinks at Nellies in Beverley, where the old Nellies wouldn’t let women buy a drink at the bar! Feminism seemed to be stuck in 1876 rather than 1976.
Were there any members of staff or fellow students who made a particular impression on you?
I recall the commitment, enthusiasm and support of all the members of staff, especially in the Drama department. Tony Meech was my Tutor and Supervisor for all 4 years, and would often invite me round for a wholesome supper with his wife Liz. There were so many talented students it would be unfair to single any one out. I was in awe of most of them.
You worked for the BBC for your entire career. Can you tell us about some of the highlights?
I started at Radio Leicester, the first BBC local radio station. I had a lot of freedom as a Presenter/Producer, and it was great fun. From there I moved to Network Radio – ‘You and Yours’ and ‘Woman’s Hour’, and then to ‘Breakfast-Time’ TV, which was just launching in the early ‘80s. It was the first paperless office I had worked in, and very exciting to be part of something new.
I have worked with Dame Esther Rantzen more than any other Producer, doing two stints on That’s Life! as Assistant Producer and later Deputy Editor, producing on Childwatch (which launched the charity Childline), and for 6 years I was Series Editor of her talk show called ‘Esther’ for over 600 editions. Highlights have to be 4 programmes being nominated for BAFTA and Royal Television Society awards.
How has a career in the media changed between the time you started out in your career and your retirement?
I think it’s even more competitive to get into, and staff have to be multi skilled in camera operation as well as having the standard editorial, journalistic, organisational and production skills. You now have to think multi platform, and how to give a 360 degree experience.
Audiences are much smaller. In its heyday, 22.5 million tuned in to watch That’s Life! on a Sunday night. And when I did features on the dangers of children and babies not being strapped up in cars (1986), you could see habits change overnight. The film I made with the Department of Transport, showing what the consequences could be, led to the compulsory wearing of seatbelts in the back of vehicles.
What are your plans for the future?
Since leaving the BBC I did some freelancing work, but nothing matched the excitement and variety of experience that the BBC offered me for over 30 years.
I am Secretary of Kenlyn Tennis Club in NW London, and enjoy tennis, yoga and Pilates. And I volunteer at Euston Food Bank, which is a great leveller and which I enjoy immensely.