First woman to regularly read the news on BBC – Angela Rippon

The year was 1975. Margaret Thatcher had just become the new Tory party leader and the first woman to lead a major political party in the United Kingdom. Angela Rippon, unbeknownst to herself at the time, was also about to become a ‘first woman’. Covering the regular newsreader – who was on holiday – Angela stepped in to read BBC1’s Nine O’Clock News, breaking Thatcher’s victory to the nation and subsequently landing a permanent newsreading role on the show. Rippon herself is eager to point out that she was not the first ever female television newsreader, crediting her predecessors Barbara Mandell and Nan Winton, but, quite significantly, she was the first female journalist to take on the role. She was also the first to be made permanent, staying in the role for five years, and winning Newsreader of the Year for three of those years.

Image courtesy of Women’s Film and Television History Network – UK/Ireland

Rippon was born in Plymouth, Devon in 1944, and it was here that she had her first foray into journalism. Aged 17, she left school to join Plymouth’s Sunday paper, the Independent, as a junior reporter. Four years later, aged just 21, Angela was reporting for BBC South West’s TV news division. By the time she broke the news of Thatcher’s victory, Angela was an experienced newsreader, writer and producer, however this was her first step into the national spotlight. 

Only a few years later, Angela’s position as a national personality was cemented by her infamous appearance on The Morecambe and Wise Christmas Show, where she appeared to be sitting behind the BBC news desk, only to step out and perform a high-kicking dance routine. Rippon had trained as a ballerina before her journalism career began, and would go on to present Come Dancing – the famous predecessor of Strictly Come Dancing – and chair the English National Ballet in 2000.

Angela Rippon’s career so far has been truly varied. Most people today would think of Jeremy Clarkson as the first host of Top Gear, but no – Angela beat him to it in 1977. Amongst many other titles, Angela also hosted Antiques Roadshow, The Eurovision Song Contest, Cash in the Attic and Rip Off Britain. 

In 1983, she was among the first presenters of Good Morning Britain, (alongside the likes of Michael Parkinson) however due to internal disagreements at the station, she was dismissed. Rippon spent a precarious year looking for work, before she was asked to travel across the pond and become the Arts and Entertainment Correspondent for WNEV-TV, a network in Boston. This restored her confidence and crucially, her career. Rippon’s career also included the presenting of The Big Breakfast, Watchdog: Healthcheck and In The Country as well as the hosting of the popular quiz shows What’s My Line? and Masterteam. In 1990, she landed her own radio show on LBC, Breakfast with Angela Rippon. 2004 also saw the beginning of her ITV News programme Live with Angela Rippon.

Angela has shown her support for countless charities and causes over the years, most notably the Alzheimers Society. Rippon had personal experience of caring for her mother Edna, who was diagnosed in 2004. The late Queen Elizabeth II awarded Rippon the title of Commander of the Order of the British Empire in her 2017 New Years Honours for her services to the area, including her role as development lead for the Dementia Friendly Communities. She also went on to produce a documentary titled The Truth About Dementia with the BBC.

Angela Rippon, awarded with her CBE in 2017. Image courtesy of the Belfast Telegraph.

Rippon has commentated on some of the British royal family’s biggest moments, including the wedding of King Charles III to the late Diana, Princess of Wales, and of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, now the Duchess of Sussex. This is a testament to her role as a national TV icon.
She currently lends her voice to the gameshow The Wall, with Danny Dyer. However, some 50 years on, it seems Angela cannot stay away from the news desk; aged 78, you can now find her regularly presenting for GB News.

First Women UK by Anita Corbin.100 Portraits of 100 First Women to celebrate 100 years of women’s right to vote, created by photographer Anita Corbin over a decade and launched in 2018.

Written by Sarah Coller, Visitor Services Facilitator and MLitt student in the School of Art History of the University of St Andrews.