Jasmine Bligh (1913 - 1991)

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About Jasmine Bligh

<Obituary Times 23 July, 1991>

<JASMINE BLIGH>

Jasmine Bligh, British television's first woman announcer, died on July 21 aged 78. She was born on May 21, 1913.

JASMINE BLIGH was the first woman announcer when the BBC opened its regular television service on November 2, 1936. The corporation had used only men announcers in radio so this was a new departure in what was also a new medium. Jasmine Bligh became a familiar face to the tiny number who owned a set before the war and it was appropriate that she should have been chosen to reopen the service in 1946. The cameras showed her standing in front of Alexandra Palace, then the home of BBC television, and her words "Hullo, do you remember me?" marked the end of wartime restrictions on broadcasting and the beginning of television's eventual supremacy over radio.

Jasmine Bligh was a descendant of Captain Bligh of the Bounty and a cousin of the 9th Earl of Darnley. A grandfather, when he was the Hon Ivor Bligh, was the English Test cricket captain.

As soon as the BBC started looking for women announcers in the mid-1930s it attracted more than 1,100 applicants. Elizabeth Cowell and Jasmine Bligh were chosen and they opened the new service, together with Leslie Mitchell. Jasmine Bligh's pay was £350 a year but the BBC was persuaded to pay for two evening dresses - obligatory then for appearances after 6pm -with two skirts and two blouses. Her hours were from 11am to 11pm, working five days one week and two the next. There were no prompters or auto-cues. "We learned our lines stood in front of the camera and just talked", she said. There were only 300 or so people in television at the time and she maintained that everybody knew everybody else. She relished the pioneering days summing them up as "one continuous glorious laugh".

She was not content to be merely an attractive face reading lines for the camera and she talked her way into being the 1930s version of a stunt-woman. She was filmed as the passenger of a daring motorcyclist, being rescued by firemen during a genuine though specially arranged blaze and playing on the Centre Court at Wimbledon wearing a boater.

All this came to an end with the outbreak of the war when she married and had a daughter. Recalled to the BBC's peacetime service, she did not remain for long, finding Alexandra Palace just a little boring after the heady days of the 1930s. She made occasional returns to the studios, taking part in programmes for deaf children in the 1950s and later worked on "Good Afternoon" for Thames Television when her director was Diana Potter, who died earlier this month.

She was married three times, first to Sir John Paley Johnson, by whom she had a daughter, then to Frank Fox and finally to Howard Marshall, who also had a distinguished career in broadcasting, particularly with his radio commentaries on the Tests.

In the 1970s she was a familiar figure driving round the Berkshire countryside with her mobile dress shop. She had a bright red van, called her one-woman organisation Bargains and sold her customers cast-off designer clothes from her better-off friends.

In 1981 she suffered a severe stroke and was paralysed and able to speak only with difficulty, a shattering blow to a person of such vivacity and which would have been overwhelming to anybody of lesser spirit. She responded with great fortitude, however, being looked after at Denville Hall, a home provided by the Actors Charitable Trust, at Northwood in Middlesex, but paying regular visits to the home of her daughter, Sarah Johnson.

END

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Jasmine Bligh's Timeline

1913
May 20, 1913
1991
July 21, 1991
Age 78