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Maggy Whitehouse, training as a BBC Radio presenter in her 50s

Article by Maggy Whitehouse

Maggy becomes a BBC Radio Presenter in her 50s image

This week I started training at the BBC as a local radio presenter.


It’s 29 years to the month since I left local radio. Back then it was all vinyl and eight-track cartridges and I had a magnificent curly perm (but not, thank God, a mullet). Nowadays it is high-tec computers and the faders on the desk go the other way, dammit! Okay that’s not as critical as 3rd September 1967 when everyone in Sweden had to change over to driving on the right side of the road instead of the left — a procedure descriptively and probably very accurately known as “Högertrafikomläggningen” — but it is counter-intuitive for an old-timer like me.

maggy young

I’ll be sixty in April. Tradition says I should be thinking about retirement; maybe slowing down a little. Instead, I’m on my second career-reinvention of the last four years.

Why? Probably because I know that some strange and bonkers part of me requires me to have adventures for myself or I’ll create crises instead.

You might think I’d have enough challenges being an independent Catholic priest, colloquially referred to as ‘heretics’ (the Roman Catholic Church) or ‘why can’t you ever get a proper job that I can actually explain to my friends?’ (my mother).

You might also think that I’d have enough adventure starting out as a stand-up comedian at 56. You can read about that here


but obviously not…

I have to hand it to Michael Chequer and Gordon Sparks on BBC Radio Devon who were brave enough to ask this unusual kind of priest to do Pause for Thought and the Sunday Service for them. Devon is generally known as being somewhat on the conservative side but they both thought I should give it a go. Only one person complained … and I loved it. Not so much the getting up at 4.30am every day for a week to drive for an hour to get to the studios (though that also brought back memories of years as a breakfast presenter) but being back on the radio which was always the most fun I’d ever had in a ‘proper job.’

I worked at three British radio stations before the advent of Health and Safety regulations and it was pretty hairy at times. At Beacon Radio in Wolverhampton, (now Free Radio) I once continued reading the news with the water sprinklers soaking me during a fire alarm because I was more afraid of the news editor than I was of burning to death.

Maggy radio 1

The sports presenter frequently mooned me though the glass window at the front of the news booth in order to get me to ‘corpse’ — either to laugh or break down while on air (I’m pleased to say it didn’t work: see previous remark about the news editor) —  and the duty journalist rushed in with an urgent news item that read, ‘Mafeking has been relieved.’

I only read the news while seriously drunk once … and that was only because the newsreader on duty had lost consciousness after the office party.

As breakfast presenter at Hereward Radio in Peterborough I got a phone call from the early show presenter, who was registered blind, asking me to come in at 4am because there was a white presence making a scary noise in the corner and a horrible draught and he was getting unnerved. It turned out that a swan had crashed through the skylight and broken a wing.

It was there that I managed to become notorious in the Independent Radio world by accidentally knocking open a microphone in the news studio and sending my side of a secret conversation with my married DJ lover down the line to London for rebroadcast to all the stations. Bets were being taken as to who he might be for nearly a month.

Maggy in panto

As breakfast presenter at BBC Radio WM, I accidentally pronounced that I was ‘wared shitless’ live on air before taking part in the station’s football match with Birmingham City. In those days, that was a serious offence. They didn’t discipline me because the severe bruising (not to mention the groping) I received in that match was deemed punishment enough. I got to be a fairy in a pantomime at the Crescent Theatre, Birmingham (see picture — I’m in the green) and I used to have to drive the radio desk bra-less because static electricity gave me shocks through the wiring in my bra! However, I also got to ride on the back of a Bengal tiger which was one of the most amazing experiences of my life.

I reminisced with both Michael and Gordon from BBC Radio Devon about those years … and synchronicity revealed that the station was below quota for female presenters and was particularly eager to have an older woman on board. The Beeb has taken to heart the legendary court case with Miriam O’Reilly {https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Miriam_O%27Reilly }(a former colleague of mine on BBC Radio WM) who successfully sued the BBC for age discrimination after she was dropped from Countryfile in 2009.

It took one email to set up a meeting with the boss, Mark Grinnell who, after talking with me for ten minutes invited me to train.

I’ve now done my first pilot show and am waiting to hear what they thought. I’m very rusty and the new equipment is all rather annoyingly too close for my reading specs and too far for my eyesight but it’s like riding a bicycle; all the brain muscles know what to do and I feel like I’m a kid again.

Maggy Whitehouse

Hi, I’m Maggy Whitehouse, stand-up comedian, Independent Catholic minister and author on the metaphysics of the Bible and the Spiritual Laws of Prosperity. And now a presenter with BBC Radio Devon

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