Joy Whitby

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Joy Whitby (born 27 July 1930)[1] is an English television producer and executive who during her career has specialised in children's programmes.

Early life[edit]

She read History at Oxford University, and took a secretarial job at the Mayfair Delinquency Clinic after graduation.[2] She initially joined the BBC as a studio manager responsible for sound effects in radio drama, but eventually became the producer of Listen with Mother.[3]

BBC children's television[edit]

Commissioned to write an internal BBC report on Watch with Mother, by then on air for a decade, she found that: "Children were addressed collectively, as if sitting on your own you would be aware of all the others watching in their own homes."[4] Whitby was given the job of creating and producing Play School, a new television series for pre-school children, in which it was a deliberate policy for presenters to perform for each individual child. In developing the series, Whitby consulted advisers, including teachers and children's writers; contemporary opinion was critical of the limited programming the BBC provided for the target age group at the time.[3] It was intended, according to Alistair McGown, as "a television 'teacher' helping its audience learn through play",[5]

The first edition of the series inadvertently opened the new BBC 2 service on 21 April 1964.[6] According to Samira Ahmed, Whitby found Brian Cant's "unpretentious charm" at his audition ideal for the new show.[4] The series originally featured Paul Danquah, who is thought to have been the first black presenter of a children's programme. The gender parity, with early female presenters including Phyllida Law and the Italian-born Marla Landi, was also an innovation at the time;[4] women were rare as hosts of programmes then. Whitby has said Play School helped to reduce the difference between children from affluent backgrounds and those without an adult to read aloud to them.[7] Eric Thompson, Law's husband, was another Play School presenter in the early years, and it was Whitby's idea for him to prepare a European import for British viewers: The Magic Roundabout[8] originally Le Manège Enchanté, had begun on the French ORTF network in 1964.[9]

In 1965, Whitby, with Molly Cox and Anna Home, was responsible for launching Jackanory.[10]

Commercial television[edit]

She was persuaded to join London Weekend Television, along with her BBC superior Doreen Stephens, at the future ITV contractor's beginnings in 1967,[11] and the two women were appointed to run the children's programmes department,[12] although Stephens resigned after only two years when the company ran into difficulties.[13] Whitby (with Stephens) commissioned, and herself executive produced, Catweazle (1970–71).[14] Later she was controller of Children’s Programmes at Yorkshire Television where she created The Book Tower (working with Anne Wood) which was initially presented by Tom Baker,[4] then the lead in Doctor Who. The series ran for ten years from 1979..

In the 1980s, she was responsible for the European Broadcasting Union's Children’s Drama Exchange, while still at Yorkshire. Her Grasshopper Productions Ltd has released DVDs and videos as well as publishing books for children.[15] Mouse and Mole, an animated Christmas special produced by Whitby was broadcast at Christmas 2013.

Personal life and honours[edit]

The widow of Tony Whitby, a former controller of BBC Radio 4, she received the Eleanor Farjeon Award for services to children's literature in 1979.[16]


  1. ^ "Birthdays: Joy Whitby", The Times, 27 July 2010
  2. ^ Samira Ahmed "Joy Whitby: a life spent telling children's stories on TV",, 1 February 2013
  3. ^ a b T.J. Worthington "Windows ‘64",, February 2004
  4. ^ a b c d Samira Ahmed "Children's TV veteran reflects on career", BBC News, 31 January 2013
  5. ^ Alistair McGown "Play School (1964-88)", BFI screenonline
  6. ^ Sarah Williams "How we made: Joy Whitby and Phyllida Law on Play School", The Guardian, 15 October 2012
  7. ^ Gillian Reynolds "'The BBC's treatment of children's radio is shameful', radio review",, 21 September 2010
  8. ^ Anna Home Into the Box of Delights: A History of Children's Television, BBC Books, 1993, p.66
  9. ^ Alistair McGown "Magic Roundabout, The (1965-77)", BFI screenonline
  10. ^ Alistair McGown "Jackanory (1965-96)", BFI screenonline
  11. ^ Asa Briggs The History of Broadcasting in the United Kingdom: Volume V: Competition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995, p.347
  12. ^ Alistair McGown "Children's TV in the 1960s", BFI screenonline
  13. ^ John Butler Obituary: Doreen Stephens, The Guardian, 24 April 2001
  14. ^ Alistair McGown "Catweazle (1970–71)", BFI screenonline
  15. ^ Judy G. Batson Her Oxford, Nashville, TN: Vandebilt University Press, 2008, p.320
  16. ^ "The Eleanor Farjeon Award", Children's Book Circle

External links[edit]