Margaret Howard is most closely associated with two long-running series: Letterbox and Pick of the Week and I’m posting examples from both series here.
Margaret Howard’s career started at the BBC when she was 16. She eventually became a studio manager and then presenter and announcer on the General Overseas Service, subsequently renamed the World Service
Between 1971 and 1974 she worked as a reporter on The World at One. Margaret presented the weekly Letterbox on the World Service from 1974 until its demise in 1986.
Her 17-year stint on Pick the Week commenced in 1974 when she took over from John Ellison (John had also been one of the quizmasters on Top of the Form and a presenter of Children’s Favourites). The programme had begun in 1959 when Gale Pedrick selected the items. After Pedrick it was Nancy Wise that made the selections, although John Ellison remained the presenter.
In an interview with Margaret Howard by Valerie Grove in the Sunday Times (17 February 1991) the change of presenter is related as follows:
When Ellison dies and Howard suggested that she should speak her words herself there was consternation. “Could a woman sustain a whole hour’s broadcasting?” asked Anthony Whitby, the then controller. “It was understood that if the public objected I would be straight back to the back room. But of course the public took no notice whatever. The BBC has, as usual, underrated their intelligence.”In 1975, writing in the Radio Times, Jonathan Raban described how Margaret put the programme together:
It’s like painting the Forth Bridge,’ Miss Howard says. She starts with Radio Times, marking up likely candidates. The BBC then supply her with recordings. Her weekends are spent solidly looking and listening, with TV and radio sets blaring in every room. ‘The programme has a very tight brief, and there isn’t as much room for choice as you might think. News items, for instance, aren’t allowed. Nor are live concerts-the repeat fees are prohibitive. In general, television doesn’t really come down to radio very well. Narrative documentary programmes hardly ever lend themselves to short clips. So I’m falling back on talking heads shows. Actually, there’s an innate poverty of suitable material – I’m afraid it’s not a question of “which gem shall I have?”’ Miss Howard edits each item carefully, often marrying several fragments of one programme to make a single extract. The result is excellent radio, but the job sounds hell. Didn’t she feel overdosed? ‘ Yes. I had a holiday at home recently, and listened to nothing at all for a fortnight, And I like rubbish. Relaxation for me is switching to ITV and watching The Streets of San Francisco.’
In 1984 Margaret won a Sony Award as female personality of the year.
Margaret Howard’s contract was not renewed by the in 1991, no explanation was given. She joined Classic FM at its launch in 1992 and was with the station for seven years.
This edition of Letterbox was first broadcast on the BBC World Service on Friday 20 February 1981. My recording is of the Sunday 22 February repeat at 20.15 GMT.
This is the last edition of Pick of the Week presented by Margaret Howard on 10 May 1991. This recording is of the Sunday repeat.