Nancy Wigginton, First Woman to Read National News on BBC, Dies at 93

LONDON — Nancy Wigginton, better known as Nan Winton, who was the first woman to read the national news on BBC television, died on May 11 in Dorset, England. She was 93.

The County of Dorset coroner’s office said on Tuesday that she had died after a fall.

Ms. Wigginton had worked on the BBC’s flagship investigative program “Panorama” before she was hired, on a trial basis, to read evening news bulletins in the summer of 1960. At the time, women were largely held to be unsuited for the job.

As the BBC itself wrote in its online history, managers had thought women “were too frivolous to be the bearers of grave news.”

But BBC executives agreed to the experiment partly in response to the example set by the rival British commercial network ITV, which had made Barbara Mandell its first regular reader of television news in 1955.

Ms. Wigginton’s tenure at the public broadcaster was short-lived. Three months later, BBC managers decided to remove her. Research had found that viewers thought a woman reading the late news was “not acceptable,” according to the BBC.

The British news media had called her “Newsgirl Nan” and ran disparaging headlines.

“I read some articles from the time,” Fiona Bruce, a news anchor for the BBC, told The Times of London in 2004, “which said things like, ‘She hides much of her figure behind a desk. Pity, because she’s a stunning 36-25-37!’ ”

But to Ms. Bruce, Ms. Wigginton had “gate-crashed the news for a few brief but glorious months.”

BBC television news presenting began in 1954 with Richard Baker. Newsreaders, as he and a growing team came to be known, were not identified by name at first and did not even appear onscreen.

“It was feared we might sully the stream of truth with inappropriate facial expressions,” Mr. Baker, who became a popular television personality, was quoted as saying by the BBC in its obituary about him last November, when he died at 93.

Amid such conservatism, women for years faced an uphill battle against the prejudices of managers and viewers alike, particularly at the BBC. It was not until 1975 that Angela Rippon became its first woman to read the national news on a permanent basis.

After her short stint reading the news on the BBC, Ms. Wigginton moved to ITV and worked there as a television and radio reporter until her retirement. There was no immediate information on her survivors.

The challenges at the BBC have continued. Last year, the organization announced that it would cut the salaries of some of its male broadcast personalities after it emerged that there was a pay gap of millions of pounds between the highest-paid man and the women who presented some of the BBC’s leading programs.

Ms. Wigginton rarely gave interviews, but in 1964 she shared her feelings about her experience at the network, telling The Daily Mail that she had “suffered” and faced “prejudice and discrimination” there.

Adapting a line from Shakespeare, she said, “There were times when I was doing the announcing when I wanted to shout aloud like Shylock, ‘Hath not woman eyes, ears, senses?’ ”

Follow Palko Karasz on Twitter: @karaszpalko.

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