Broadcasting executive

Born: October 27, 1925;

Died: November 20, 2018

Monica Sims, who has died aged 93, shattered the BBC’s glass ceiling, working her way up from Editor of Woman’s Hour to become the first female Controller of Radio 4 and subsequently the first woman to hold the position of Director of Radio Programmes at the corporation.

After retiring from that position in 1984, she was commissioned to produce a report on women in BBC Management and found that there were only six in senior positions compared with 159 men, a situation that had changed little over the previous decade.

The Sims Report produced a list of recommendations to improve women’s lot, nearly all of which were adopted, including women-only management courses, job sharing, flexi-time and changes to appointment procedures, though she opposed positive discrimination as such.

The daughter of two teachers, she was born Monica Louie Sims in Gloucester in 1925, studied English at Oxford University and had early hopes of becoming an actress. She had a brief stint in repertory theatre and taught literature and drama before taking a job as a talks producer with the Home Service, the predecessor of Radio 4, in 1953.

Within a few years she had switched to television, returning to radio in 1964 as Editor of Woman’s Hour, where she sanctioned discussions on a series of subjects that challenged traditional notions of a woman’s place in society. She said she was effectively left to do her own thing, as few BBC bosses ever heard the show.

And while she was challenging established thinking on air there was little evidence of change within the corporation itself and she recalled that she would often be the only woman at management meetings. She described the atmosphere in the BBC in the 1960s as being like “a civilised man’s club in which women were courteously acknowledged, but not promoted to real positions of power”.

She became head of children’s television in 1967, dumping Sooty and introducing Newsround. But the real breakthrough came in 1978 when she was appointed Controller of Radio 4, where she fought to strengthen its identity in the face of budget cuts and a threat to its very existence.

She once defined her vision of the station as “surprise, through different perspectives on life through satire, poetry, storytelling, songs, argument, defining ideas, contact with opinion formers, writers, scientists, historians, philosophers and imaginative stimulus through works of art, music, drama, literature.”

BBC producer Piers Plowright wrote in 2007: “Monica Sims, whom I remember with great affection and admiration, never a hair out of place, always elegant but with steel running through her, put what Radio 4 had become by the 1980s perfectly… In other words, a rich mix, like the one that still draws and surprises listeners.

“Alongside the established and respected blockbusters, The Archers, Today, Any Questions, Woman’s Hour (itself, subtly and powerfully changed over the years), The World at One, Analysis, Desert Island Discs and so on, lurk the one-off plays, the montage features, the idiosyncratic talks, the subversive comedy…”

Sims became an OBE in 1971 and after leaving BBC served as Vice-President of the British Board of Film Classification and Director of Production at the Children’s Film and Television Foundation. Some of the proposals in the Sims Report were designed to accommodate women who wanted to combine careers and family, though Sims herself never married or had children.

Brian Pendreigh