Gillian Reynolds MBE

Presented by Professor Frank Sanderson

"Radio has really become the national playhouse. It is where people who don't go to the theatre turn to hear the rearrangement of life into drama, that curious process which can make sense of what happens, help with pain, heal through laughter."

These are the words of Gillian Reynolds, currently the radio critic of The Daily Telegraph and the doyenne of radio columnists. She has spent over eight hours a day, for 35 years listening to the radio - or the wireless as she often describes it - but Gillian wouldn't have it any other way. She comments, "I must have the best job in the world. Every Monday morning I sit down and write about what I've heard on the radio that week.  In other words, I get paid for doing:

(a) what I like and
(b) what I would be doing anyway

As radio critic for the Daily Telegraph since 1975, Gillian listens to many shows on many different stations, covering a range of topics which suit all tastes. And after listening for most of the day, she enjoys sitting down and listening for a few hours in the evening as well. She was recently described by a colleague as "BBC through and through", but she acknowledges that "even Radio 4 has its switch-off moments".

Born in Liverpool, she was a Margaret Bryce Smith scholar at Liverpool Institute High School for Girls on Hope Street. She read English at St. Anne's College, Oxford, and did graduate work at Mount Holyoke College in the USA.

Gillian began commenting on the world of radio in 1964, when she took up a position as radio critic for The Guardian.

In 1974 she became the founding Programme Controller at the launch of the independent station, Radio City, in Liverpool.

In 2001, Gillian was appointed a Trustee of the National Museums and Galleries of Culture bid. She is chairman of the Charles Parker Archive in Birmingham (a historic collection of sound tapes), served on the Consultative Committee of the National Sound Archive for five years and is on the Council of the Society of Authors.

Gillian Reynolds has received many accolades in her career:

  • She was named the first Fellow of the Radio Academy in 1990
  • She is a Fellow of the Royal Television Society
  • a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts
  • an Honorary Fellow of the Media School at Bournemouth University
  • In 1987 she was named a Sesquicentennial Distinguished European Alumna of Mount Holyoke College
  • In 1999 she was awarded the Media Society Annual Award and was
  • awarded an MBE, for services to journalism

Why does Gillian, who had 15 radios at the last count, one of them digital, have this virtual obsession with radio? 

There are many reasons: She thinks radio is magic, it speaks to her personally, it feeds the imagination. She is relieved that "the terrifying descent of brow level in direct ratio to the broadening of TV screens" hasn't happened in what she describes as the senior service. To Gillian, the descent of brow level is exemplified by the behaviour of some of TV's most popular stars - causing her to "pass beyond wince" by their constant allusion to things which, she says, she had "hitherto supposed were only meant for the most private and intimate conversation".

As befits a radio expert, Gillian recently carried out an investigation into "the power of radio" for which she deserves a postgraduate award. She devised a questionnaire which was sent to numerous subjects from the media world and public life. Key themes emerging were intimacy, trust and the way radio fits flexibly into people's lives. Another recurring theme was the power of radio memories - Gillian, like all of us, has her own priceless collection, of which she says:

I think Robb Wilton and Jimmy James and Jewell and Warris and comedians dead these forty years. I think of Brian Johnston and the cake and the "leg-over" giggling and spluttering on Test Match Special. I think of Seamus Heaney reading Beowulf on Radio 4 last year and Boycott at the Sri Lanka Test matches for TalkSPORT last winter. I think of Kenny Everett on Capital. I think of Betty Boothroyd saying "Order, Order" on Yesterday in Parliament, and Brian Redhead telling Nigel Lawson off on Today. Of Alistair Cooke talking about his golf idol, Bobby Jones. They are as real to me now as they were in the moment they happened. Radio speaks to you and you answer, with your brain and your heart"

We are proud of Gillian who has made a massive contribution over 4 decades to media and the arts and who, despite her national profile and residence in London, has maintained a strong connection with and affection for the city of her birth.

Thus I have pleasure in presenting Gillian Reynolds, MBE, this distinguished daughter of our region, for the award of our highest honour of Fellow of this University.