The Children’s Media Foundation (CMF)

Monica Sims

By Anna Home OBE

Chair, Children's Media Foundation Board

 


Monica Sims who died recently, aged 93, played an important part in the history of Children's TV in the UK.

Having been Editor of Woman's Hour in Radio she moved to BBC Television Centre in 1967 to run the newly reinstated Children's Department.  For some years there had been no separate children's department in the BBC, instead there was a rather uneasy merger of Children's and Women's programmes in a department called Family Programmes.

The Children's Department, which had previously successfully made a wide range of programmes including drama and Entertainment, had been reduced to a small core centred on ‘Blue Peter, along with a number of programmes mainly aimed at younger children. The rest had been allocated to the relevant ' grown up' departments, which had little experience of or interest in them. This plus the recently launched ‘Play School’ was the scenario Monica, an initially reluctant recruit to the world of children inherited.

From the beginning she was determined to reinstate and expand a proper independent children's department.  It was a tough battle, but gradually she won it. She encouraged new ideas, new young researchers (of which I was one) and directors, she nurtured ‘Play School’ and ‘Jackanory’ and was responsible for the start of ‘Newsround’, the world’s first daily news programme for children. She supported the re-introduction of Drama and Entertainment., and fought for new money in order for them to be made properly.

Monica was a fighter. She didn't suffer fools gladly, but she could also be charming, very kind, and very funny. As one of the few senior women in Television she had many challenges to face in what was a very male-dominated world. (After she retired she was responsible for writing a report about women in BBC Management which was the start of the slow and continuing process of establishing greater equality).

As a boss Monica was very supportive in a crisis, as she was to me through all the controversy which surrounded the birth of ‘Grange Hill’, she stood up to the hesitant BBC hierarchy, and the show was re-commissioned to go on to become a legend. Her refusal to acquire ‘Sesame Street’, the then breakthrough pre-school programme from the Children's Television Workshop in America, also caused controversy, but she was firm in her view that it was manipulative, and not right for the audience nor for the BBC.

When Monica left the Children's department in 1978 to become Controller of Radio Four (the first woman Controller in Radio) she left behind a comprehensive children's TV service with its own ethos and identity, the heritage of which is apparent in today's CBeebies and  CBBC.

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