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Nancy Thomas

Discussion in 'WWII Era Obituaries (non-military service)' started by GRW, Jan 15, 2015.

  1. GRW

    GRW Pillboxologist WW2|ORG Editor

    Oct 26, 2003
    Likes Received:
    Stirling, Scotland
    "Nancy Thomas, who has died aged 96, was a prominent figure in the BBC’s Talks Department in the late 50s and early 60s, when BBC and ITV were the only UK channels, and programmes were transmitted in black and white to tiny screens. She played a significant part in the postwar surge in production which saw the emergence of such dominant figures in British television as her colleagues David Attenborough and Huw Wheldon.

    She was one of the handful of clever women who flourished in the basically male preserve of the Lime Grove studios – in her case by building a reputation for efficiently and coolly controlling live studio productions week after week. Her first direction jobs were in 1956 for the hugely popular nature programme Zoo Quest, presented by Attenborough, and the game show Animal, Vegetable, Mineral?. She also inaugurated Patrick Moore’s The Sky at Night but made her most lasting mark on the arts magazine Monitor, where she was one of the producers from its early days until its concluding season in 1965, when she loyally backed up Jonathan Miller’s controversial editorship.

    Daughter of Charles D’Arcy Bingham and Bertha (née Birkbeck), she was born in Ranikhet, India, where her father was stationed as an army colonel. Shipped back to the UK as a child, she grew up with an aunt and cousins and boarded at Berkhamsted school for girls, Hertfordshire, where she did well and read avidly but was thwarted through lack of funds in her desire for a university education; this doubtless contributed to her resolve decades later to help create the Open University.

    She left school at 17 and after secretarial college immediately landed a plum job working for the youthful Kenneth Clark, director of the National Gallery (later Lord Clark, of Civilisation fame). She always spoke of this period as being an art education in itself. In 1939 he gave her an excellent reference for the Foreign Office in which he stressed that she was too intelligent to be assigned to a job “filling in forms”.

    Just before France capitulated in 1940, Nancy was on a six-month posting at the Paris embassy. Churchill was attending last-ditch crisis talks; she recalled how he walked into the office and demanded: “Why are all you women still here? You are to go home immediately.” They did, and Nancy was one of those who caught the very last boat leaving from Le Havre.

    Among the diplomats for whom she subsequently worked were Duncan Sandys and William Strang; she spent time in Egypt and Italy and flew over enemy territory to minute a meeting with Marshal Tito. However, she never spoke about this exciting period because she had signed the Official Secrets Act.

    A wartime love affair ended unhappily with the death on active service of her fiance; her subsequent marriage to a fellow officer in Cairo – on the rebound, by her own admission – was not successful. She kept her married name, Nancy Thomas, however, when she joined the secretarial team in the office of William Haley, the BBC director general, soon after the war. She retained her youthful appearance and petite figure: a contemporary noted that Nancy, a vivacious and merry personality, often wore a full-pleated nylon skirt clasped at her tiny waist by a wide elastic belt; her hair was piled up to add a few inches to her noticeably short stature. Later, when directing films for television, she had to stand on a large camera box when she wanted to check the composition through the lens."

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