Libby Purves

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Libby Purves
Elizabeth Mary Purves

(1950-02-02) 2 February 1950 (age 71)
London, England, UK
OccupationRadio presenter, journalist and author
Spouse(s)Paul Heiney
ChildrenNicholas Heiney (died 2006)
Rose Heiney

Elizabeth Mary "Libby" Purves, OBE (born 2 February 1950) is a British radio presenter, journalist and author.

Early life and career[edit]

Born in London, a diplomat's daughter, Purves was raised in her mother's Catholic faith and educated at convent schools in Israel, Bangkok, South Africa and France, and at Beechwood Sacred Heart School, Royal Tunbridge Wells.[1]

Purves won a scholarship to St Anne's College, Oxford, where she was awarded a first class degree in English.[2] She was elected Librarian of the Oxford Union. In 1971, she joined the BBC as a studio manager. By the mid-1970s she was a regular presenter on BBC Radio Oxford where she could be frequently heard on the station's early morning shows. In 1976, she joined the BBC Radio 4's Today programme as a reporter and became the programme's first woman presenter, alongside Brian Redhead and John Timpson, two years later.[3][4]

In 1983 she was editor of Tatler magazine for six months.[5]

Later career[edit]

For her column in The Times newspaper, Purves was named columnist of the year in 1999 and in the same year was appointed an OBE for services to journalism.[citation needed] She has written books on childcare, twelve novels including Mother Country, a memoir of religious upbringing, Holy Smoke (1998), and a travel book, One Summer's Grace (1989), about a 1,700-mile sailing journey round Britain with children aged three and five.[citation needed]

Purves has a monthly column in the sailing magazine Yachting Monthly and is a contributor to The Oldie magazine. She was appointed a patron of the British Art Music Series Trust[6] along with James MacMillan and John Wilson. She served ten years as a Trustee of the National Maritime Museum.

In February 2010 she was appointed The Times drama critic, succeeding Benedict Nightingale,[7] but her work for The Times in this area ended in September 2013.[8] In a press statement she released after she was fired, she said that "I have to tell you that the acting editor of the Times Mr Witherow has decreed that he does not want me to continue as Chief Theatre Critic. This is not my decision in any way. At all. … I carry on reviewing and maintaining the lists until 11 October."[9]

Two days after she finished at The Times, she announced in the London Evening Standard that her commitment to, and interest in, theatre commentary was so great that she intended to continue through, a theatre review website.[10]

Purves is in favour of equal rights for gay people, and has written articles supporting this position.[11][12] However, she has spoken out against the "coercive liberalism, one-note righteousness" of the National Trust following its "outing" of Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, saying that "Crassly reducing any human being to a sexuality, posthumously enlisting him or her in a phantom regiment under your orders, is almost as belittling as persecution itself."[13]

In 2009, Purves debated at the Cambridge Union against Dr. Glenn Wilson and Rupert Myers on the motion This House Would Rather Be Gay.[14] Following a column on the anti-gay policies of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Greek businessman Demetri Marchessini took out a quarter-page advertisement in The Daily Telegraph on 28 January 2014 to criticise her views on homosexuality and religion. According to Purves, while Marchessini is "free to approve of the beatings and hangings of young men across the world in the name of what he considers religion" she is also "free to say he is a loony."[15]

On BBC Radio 4 Purves also presented Midweek for 33 years (1984–2017) and the educational programme The Learning Curve for 10 years (1998–2008).[16]

Since leaving the BBC, she has been critical of several aspects of the corporation: equal pay for newsreaders,[17] sexism and agism,[18] and "woke" comedy shows.[19]

Personal life[edit]

Purves is married to broadcaster Paul Heiney. The couple has one surviving child.[citation needed] Their first child, Nicholas, died on 26 June 2006, at age 23. He took his own life in the family home in Westleton, Suffolk after a serious mental illness. A collection of his poems and sea-logs of a Pacific journey under square rig, The Silence at the Song's End, has been published, inspired a song cycle by Joseph Phibbs, and was broadcast on Radio 4.[20]


  • Britain at Play (1982)
  • Adventures Under Sail (1982)
  • Sailing Weekend Book (with Paul Heiney, 1985)
  • How Not To Be A Perfect Mother (1986)
  • One Summer's Grace (1989)
  • How Not to Raise a Perfect Child (1991)
  • How Not To Be The Perfect Family (1994)
  • Casting Off (1995)
  • A Long Walk in Wintertime (1996)
  • Home Leave (1997)
  • More Lives Than One (1998)
  • Holy Smoke (1998)
  • Regatta (1999)
  • Passing Go (2000)
  • A Free Woman (2001)
  • Mother Country (2002)
  • Continental Drift (2003)
  • Acting Up (2004)
  • Love Songs and Lies (2005)
  • Shadow Child (2007)
  • That Was Midweek That Was: The Story of a Radio Programme 1979-2017 (2017)


  1. ^ "Presenters: Libby Purves". BBC. Archived from the original on 19 August 2007.
  2. ^ "Passed/Failed:Libby Purves". The Independent. 10 October 1996. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  3. ^ Donovan, Paul (1997). All Our Todays. Jonathan Cape. p. 64. ISBN 0-224-04358-7.
  4. ^ Seán Street (21 April 2015). Historical Dictionary of British Radio. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. pp. 265–. ISBN 978-1-4422-4923-3.
  5. ^ "300 years of Tatler: Former Editor Libby Purves tells of her time at the top".
  6. ^ "The British Art Music Series - BAM Series". Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  7. ^ Preston, Peter (7 February 2010). "A cinema critic who's making her big-screen debut (Organ Grinder blog)". The Guardian.
  8. ^ Nicola Merrifield "Times axes theatre critic Libby Purves", The Stage, 16 September 2013
  9. ^ "Libby Purves, Chief Theatre Critic of the Times in London, Fired". 17 September 2013.
  10. ^ "Libby Purves 'axed' as lead theatre critic of The Times", What's on Stage, 16 September 2013
  11. ^ Rejoice! Bring out the pink champagne, The Times, 12 December 2006.
  12. ^ "Gay-bashers bashed", The Times, 1 November 2007
  13. ^ Purves, Libby (7 August 2017). "National Trust chases rainbows to its cost". The Times. Retrieved 7 August 2017.
  14. ^ "This House Would Rather Be Gay : Free Download & Streaming : Internet Archive". 22 January 2009. Retrieved 13 April 2015.
  15. ^ "Pro-gay Libby Purves gets a ticking off from Ukip", London Evening Standard, 28 January 2014
  16. ^ "The Learning Curve". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 2 March 2019.
  17. ^ "Male BBC presenters are vain and greedy, says Libby Purves". The Guardian. 16 January 2018. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  18. ^ Spyro, Steph (22 September 2020). "BBC discriminates against older women: Libby Purves hits out at bosses". Daily Express. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  19. ^ Purves, Libby. "The BBC's smug lefties won't be laughing now". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 15 December 2020.
  20. ^ A testament of youth, The Times, 31 October 2007. Retrieved 15 November 2007.

External links[edit]

Media offices
Preceded by Editor of Tatler
Succeeded by