The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Kay Benbow 1961-2024

On behalf of the Children's Media Foundation, Alison Stewart pays tribute to a very dear friend.

It was with great sadness and shock that we learned of the death of Kay Benbow, who passed away on Sunday 24th March after a short but fierce illness.

The industry reacted with tributes across national and social media. They all spoke of her successful career, which culminated in eight outstanding years as the Channel Controller of CBeebies.  There were also countless personal reminiscences, all of which described Kay as kind, caring, supportive and a wonderful leader, who always had the wellbeing of her young audience at the heart of everything she did.

Kay started her BBC career in 1985 after studying Theology at Oxford University.  She worked first as a Studio Manager in radio, then moved to television in 1988.  She met Producer Ian Stubbs when they worked together in TV Presentation and they married in 1991.  In the same year she joined the Young Children’s Department at BBC Children’s as a Director and Assistant Producer.

Kay went on to work as a Producer of entertainment shows for older children. She left the BBC for a while in 1999 to work as a freelance Director on 'Tweenies', a Tell-Tale Production, and then returned to the BBC in 2000 as a Producer, Series Producer and then Indie Exec Producer.

Kay’s career continued to flourish as the CBeebies Channel launched in 2002.  At that stage she was already showing talent for discovering talent.  The tributes that have poured in mention time and again that Kay gave many people their first start.  She launched the careers of Justin Fletcher and Blue Zoo Animation to name just two notables, and they are still at the top of their game.

In 2006 Kay was appointed Head of CBeebies Production, Animation and Acquisitions and she began to make many successful relationships with international partners as well as with UK companies.  In 2010 she was appointed Channel Controller of CBeebies and so began the reign of “Queen Beebies” as she was affectionately known.

As Channel Controller Kay had an unerring eye for a good show and every commission she made was successful. There are so many!  But among them she commissioned animations such as 'Hey Duggee', 'Bing' and 'Sarah and Duck', she commissioned 'Pablo', which brought the condition of autism to light for young audiences, she commissioned 'Alphablocks' and 'Numberblocks'  and she commissioned the Channel’s first live action scripted show, 'Topsy and Tim', followed later by 'Old Jack’s Boat', starring Bernard Cribbins.  She worked closely with Anne Wood from Ragdoll Productions on several shows.

One of the things I’m most proud of is that together we brought the joys of live theatre to television, firstly through our partnership with The Northern Ballet, then with a series of immensely popular live Christmas Shows.  After that we tackled Shakespeare and instigated the CBeebies Proms and children and their families loved it all.  Kay also moulded the Channel to reflect the diversity of our young audience and her motto was “Everyone is Welcome” at CBeebies.  Her Channel Campaigns were flawless in the clarity of their messaging.  The Learning Through Play ethos was present in all her commissions and she understood the young audience like no other.

In her time as Controller, CBeebies won BAFTA Channel of the Year 4 times and RTS Channel of the Year in 2019.  She received an Honorary Degree from Sheffield University in 2017 for services to the children’s industry.

Since leaving the BBC in 2018 Kay worked as an Exec Consultant and Script Editor on several independent series, such as 'Roots and Fruits' for CBeebies and 'The World According to Grandpa' for Milkshake! at C5.  She was also a supporter of and donor to CMF from its earliest days.

Kay was my dear friend for 33 years. We first worked together in 1991, when she returned to work after her honeymoon and our relationship as close colleagues, allies and friends has been a joy throughout.  She was kind, generous, fiercely loyal, extremely clever and absolutely passionate about the things that meant most to her - her family of course, of whom she was so proud and on whom she relied so much - they were everything to her.  Passionate also about her friends, her work and Arsenal Football Club of course.  She loved gardening, the theatre, dancing - and she did enjoy a good gossip!

Kay was loved and respected in equal measure by everyone she worked with, as all the tributes to her have demonstrated so movingly.  If only she could have seen the wonderful things people have written about her and understood what a difference she made to so many lives.

We send our heartfelt condolences to her husband Ian, sons Sam and Daniel, her daughter-in-law Emily and her sister Corinne and her family.

(One footnote – Kay was 62 when she died.  All the media have said she was 63.  She would have been furious about that!)

Kay Benbow

CMF Updates Industry

One Response to “Kay Benbow 1961-2024”

  • It was a privilege to know Kay. She was always friendly, approachable, interested in you as a person and passionate about quality children’s TV. Her legacy is huge, and I for one am hugely grateful that she commissioned Alphablocks and Numberblocks – shows I love and continue to work on. She was a phenomenal force for good and she is already much missed.

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