Monday, February 2, 2015

Sandy Chalmers

Sandra ("Sandy") Chalmers, who worked across the BBC in front of, and behind, the microphone, has died after a short illness. She was in her mid-70s.

Born in Gatley, Stockport, the younger sister of Judith, she first appeared on BBC Radio in a Children's Hour version of The Water Babies, playing posh girl Ellie, at the age of 13. There followed regular bookings reading poems on Rhyme or Reason. Persuaded from a drama career by her parents, she read arts at Manchester University - but still managed to win parts in two tv episodes of Harry Worth (onlie begetter of Count Arthur Strong).

There followed some freelance work, and then, in 1964, a job in BBC presentation in Manchester, announcing concerts for Ronnie Hilton and the Northern Dance Orchestra, and a short spell as "The Answers Girl" in the Ray Alan series for children, Tichpuzzle, alongside dummies Tich and Quackers.

In 1970 she joined the start-up team for Radio Manchester as a senior producer. She was the first female voice on-air, reading the 10am news - and hosted that 'new' phenomenon, phone-ins, on a regular basis. Then in 1976 came a move to Stoke, as the first woman manager of a BBC local radio station. These were testing times - one Aubrey Singer was running BBC radio, and deemed local output "banal"; he wanted to cut hours; Sandy and a group of north-west managers took London on, with a campaign that eventually outlasted Aubrey.

In 1983, she came to London, succeeding Wyn Knowles as Editor of Woman's Hour - running the show her sister had presented in the sixties. She brought a jollier feel and different issues to air - she was then a single mother with two teenage children.  It was also a time of presenter transition - Sue MacGregor gradually swapping with Jenni Murray at Today - other presenters under Sandy included Dilly Barlow, Liz Mardall, and, occasionally, Sandy herself.

The Woman's Hour "Unit", as it was known then, also ran Tuesday Call, with Sandy hosting phone-ins with people ranging from Arthur Scargill to Princess Anne. In 1987, she became Head of Radio Publicity and Promotions, working for David Hatch. She left the BBC in 1992 - but it wasn't the end of her interest in radio. She was one of the drivers of Saga Radio, and had a regular record show on their PrimeTime service for a couple of years from 2000.

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