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Angela Profit (nee Horsman), from Contracts at BBC Pebble Mill, died in April 2015. Her funeral was held in early May, and here is the eulogy presented by Kay Alexander. Thanks to Annie Gumbley-Williams for sharing the eulogy.
Angela’s Eulogy as presented by Kay Alexander
“I had to say to Angela recently: “Look you’re talking about 71 years, how much time have I got?” There were so many wonderful memories and stories, which is what you have when you’ve lived such a full and inspirational life as she did. I have so enjoyed reading all your emails, thank you so much for sending them, but the conclusion I rapidly came to was, that I would ask her which were the most important things in her life.
She always knew she had a wonderful childhood, with her warm and loving parents and brother. There were the family parties, her two best friends Liz and Kay with whom she went to school, spending happy times in each other’s houses, and romping through Sutton Park on their bicycles, although in Angela’s case that wasn’t always so happy. She went over the handlebars and lost her two front teeth! She learned tap, ballet, drama and the piano. Her parents took her to the ballet when she was 8, and she just didn’t want to leave. She was mesmerised. Did Show Business beckon then?
Well, that meant she was right at home at the BBC. There’s enough theatricality there for anyone! Especially with her first boss, the Administrative Assistant, a woman who enjoyed tearing people to pieces, but then Angela discovered this woman was having an affair with one of the BBC accountants in London. When she wasn’t happy she was given to screeching down the phone to her lover that he was to tie a brick to his leg and jump off Brighton Pier. Just think what a fascinating education for a 20 year old that was. She must have wondered what she’d come to.
Well it wasn’t all quite as colourful as that. The BBC was a magical place, full of excitement for a young woman, where so many different departments carried out so many different jobs. You worked with such interesting people, many at the top of their game, and what’s more, you called them all by their first names. For those of us brought up never to call anyone anything except by their title, this was so different. Angela wanted to experience it all and made a pledge to herself that she would change jobs every three years. She became a Secretary in Engineering, working out the wages, overtime and holiday pay for the Cameramen, Sound men, Lighting and Film editors. Then she became Engineering Supervisor with a team of 6 girls. Her time with her first boss had taught her how not to behave, and her team were totally loyal to her as she was to them. By this time Angela was married and it was only the imminent arrival of her first son Jonathan which prevented her from taking up the job of Station Assistant at the new BBC local Radio station, Radio Birmingham. Women left their jobs when they became pregnant in those
days and Angela was heartbroken. But two years later, the BBC wrote to her to ask her to do part-time work in the Cash Office at their new premises at Pebble Mill. She was ecstatic!
Perhaps it was her performance as a Dalek at a BBC Open Day in the Granby Halls in Leicester, but she was asked to become secretary to the Head of Television Drama, and she leapt at the chance. When she arrived she found a chaise longue in his office and immediately thought this was the dreaded casting couch. But no, he always took a snooze in the afternoon. She typed scripts to impossible deadlines. Well, that hasn’t changed, but this was Programme Production and she loved it.
I think Angela must have stood out as someone so attractive, clever and fun to be with, because she got headhunted by the Head of Contracts Michael Treloar. I remember him well, he was my first Head of Contracts, and he was a blunt, but charming Yorkshire man, and I think he liked a pretty face. Angela became responsible for all the programme budgets, and artists, and musicians, because the BBC had it’s own Midland Light Orchestra then. They would come to the office to have their expenses authorised. I remember meeting all sorts of people in that office and there were so many laughs. It was quite hard getting out!
Next it was to The Archers and the job of production secretary, typing scripts, timing recordings, even being Shula’s stand-in as a typist. Apparently some of the cast were so old that 2 of them died on the way to the studio!
Angela loved working on The Archers but her other passion was music, and her next post was as Production Assistant in the Radio 2 Music Department working for a young producer called Geoffrey Hewitt. She remembered that time as more fun than any other before. Radio 2 covered Jazz, Brass Bands, Folk, Big Bands, Country and Western and of course, what had now become the Midlands Radio Orchestra. They would go all over the country to record concerts, often getting back in the early hours, and no overtime pay, but that’s what you did, and loved it. Angela remembered a Christmas Special recorded at Hagley Hall, in which one of the performers was the author, Laurie Lee who wrote “Cider with Rosie”. He insisted on pinching Angie’s bottom every time she passed. His wife said to her in a rather tired voice; “When you’re a genius, you can get away with anything”.
She also worked with another music producer called David Bellinger. He had a bit of a reputation, not like that, but for being completely bonkers. Well, let’s say eccentric. Angela saw this as a challenge. And of course, she won. She tamed him to the extent that he just stopped complaining when something else PINK came in to decorate the office. David has said that he would never have become the Producer and Boss that he did
without her experience, character, humour, and personality. Lots of people wondered though, if they ever got any work done, there was so much laughter coming out of that office.
Watching the arrivals of the guests on Pebble Mill at One, which they could from their office, was also great entertainment – Claudia Cardinale, Joan Collins, Raquel Welch, Tom Jones, Cliff Richard, who gave her a rose, Jack Jones, Sting, Sacha Distel, and the one for whom the whole building stopped – Sophia Loren. She was stunning, but … she went on air with a ladder in her stocking. Human after all.
Angela remembered that no-one could find Oliver Reed who was appearing on Saturday Night at the Mill, or Saturday Night over the Hill, as it was often referred to, but he was discovered dead drunk and fast asleep on the snooker table. When the poor floor manager got him into the studio, Reed promptly dropped his trousers. The Director screamed down talkback to the cameraman to shoot him wide angle, but the audience had been treated to the full view. The eyes of presenter Donny Mcleod, a true pro, never left Oliver Reed’s face.
A time came at home, when Angela needed more money and so she went back to the Contracts Department. She booked artists, extras and walk-ons, negotiating fees for radio talks, drama and The Archers. She had 3,500 artists on her books engaging them for dramas such as Howards’ Way, Poldark, the original one, Precious Bane, All Creatures Great and Small. She was once asked to find an 8 months pregnant woman with breasts like wobbly blancmanges to dance naked in the moonlight for “The Rainbow”. I wonder what D.H. Lawrence would have made of that, but needless to say she did. She once managed to settle a fee with a woman who was refusing to allow a crew to film out at sea in Wales, saying she owned the beach and 25 feet of the sea. Life was not dull. And occasionally I like to think I brightened it up a little by going to get my contracts signed off. At least, it always took me about ¾ hour to leave. Did you know that Angela liked talking? So do I.
She also worked on Eastenders, and on the last Friday in April 2001, tired and weary after booking her last actress for the programme, she turned off her computer at 7pm. Never to put it on again.
Two days later, she was diagnosed with Stage 4 Ovarian Cancer and given a year to live.
The next fourteen years were to be the most remarkable, I think, of her life.
She lay in hospital thinking about the new man she loved, her wonderful sons and beloved parents who were 86. How could she leave them? She came home pale and thin, and went into her garden. It was May and the sun was shining, the birds were singing and she could smell the scent of the flowers, and there and then, she decided to prove them wrong.
She had also thought in that hospital that she would never marry John, she would never see her first grandchild and she would now never go to Venice. But John did propose, although being Angela, she refused him, saying that he must ask again when she’d got hair.
He did and in 2002, the year she was told she would die, she and John married, they honeymooned in Venice and she welcomed her first grandchild Ben into the world. She was proving them wrong.
There are so many words and phrases which Angela used which sum up how strong and determined her spirit was. For one thing, she was not suffering from cancer, she was “living with it”, and so many people will have learnt to think differently about this terrifying disease because she helped them to look at it differently. MacMillan nominated her to be trained to teach their Living With Cancer courses and she was rewarded by seeing the difference she could make by her example.
The Mayor of Solihull once introduced her as a cancer sufferer battling cancer. Angela corrected her and said she was a cancer survivor, not a sufferer and was not battling it, but on a journey with it.
Later she was to say that cancer had actually enriched her life, not destroyed it. What an amazing thing to say, but cancer had indeed brought so many people into her life whom she would have never met otherwise. For example, Sue Harris, her Macmillan nurse. Angela believed Macmillan nurses were about helping you to die, and she didn’t want her around, but Sue became her rock and her mainstay, and a very close friend. She told her to buy her first wig before she lost her hair. And how glamorous she looked. When Angela became frustrated by the limitations her illness put on her, Sue said “Instead of concentrating on what you can’t do, concentrate on what you can do”. What brilliant advice, for anyone.
Sue sent her to the Bristol Cancer Centre and she made so many friends there. At the end of one healing session there, the healer said; “Your spirit is so strong, you’re not going anywhere.” That meant so much to Angie, it was the first time anyone had said anything so positive to her.
Thanks to Sue, Angela went somewhat reluctantly, to the Solihull Cancer Centre, but it was there she discovered that cancer is about hope, not just despair, and that Macmillan nurses are there to help you live.
And boy! Did Angela live! The first three goals had been achieved so she had to set some new ones. She had always wanted to go to South Africa,
sail down the Nile, and for some lunatic reason, cycle over the Golden Gate bridge. And she had always wanted to be a bridesmaid, but now, at 58 that was perhaps over-ambitious.
Well, guess what? She did them all. In South Africa, a strange thing happened. I quote her; “We were watching the elephants from our jeep. Suddenly one broke away from the herd and came straight up to me. We were eyeball to eyeball, and she gently started touching my cheek with her trunk, and then she slowly ambled back to her family.” Was that an elephant’s blessing?
In April 2006 she began chemo for the third time. This time she recorded a video diary, how she felt, how she coped with it, how devastating it was to lose her hair again. She even included how she’d gone on the back of John’s motor bike for the first time, and on arriving at their busy destination, discovered that her wig had stayed in her helmet. That diary was put on the Birmingham Mail and Macmillan websites.
Just when she thought it was finished and done, she broke both her feet. The chemo had weakened the bones. Oh no! She was only supposed to be running the Macmillan Mile the next week. Well, …. her Dad borrowed a wheelchair from his nursing home, and after an hour of landing in stinging nettles and bushes, she completed that mile.
But there was another important date coming up too. She was, at the grand old age of 61, going to be a bridesmaid to Sylvia and Mike. Being Angela she chucked away her crutches early and walked down the aisle behind the bride. Mission accomplished.
Her real mission though was to spread the word about Ovarian Cancer. I always remember her saying that so much publicity was given to Breast Cancer, but not Ovarian Cancer. It’s known as the silent killer, because it’s often diagnosed far too late. Angie called it the Neglected Killer because nobody’s listening. For her it was 18 months of not listening, before she became so ill that they couldn’t ignore it any more.
And it’s thanks to Angela and others like her, that this week it has been announced that they have developed a test which will detect ovarian cancer much earlier, and hopefully result in all women being screened.
Angela drove 100 miles in torrential rain to give her first talk. At the end she asked if there were any questions, and a woman said; “ I don’t care how you survived cancer, I want to know how you managed to get a man to marry you when you were 59 and had no hair.”
She spoke to anyone or at any event to which she was asked, WIs, Rotary, Cancer groups, even in a Sainsbury’s loading bay, and in the House of Lords
for the Eve Appeal, which is the Ovarian Cancer research organisation. Lord Digby Jones and his wife were arranging a lunch in the House of Lords in aid of Ovarian Cancer. We couldn’t go, but I rang him and said; “You’ve got to have Angela Profit to speak, she’s just brilliant.” Angela, who was just out of hospital, went, and she stunned them. Digby said she absolutely made that occasion.
In 2009, the Nationwide presented her with a cheque for MacMillan for £250,000. A month later she went to speak to a remedial school for children who came from violent, drug and alcohol-ridden backgrounds. She was warned they had a low attention span and could throw things if bored. These kids had nothing and potentially, little future. But they listened. And they had raised £250. That meant just as much.
Also in 2009, a huge tribute to her arrived. A play was written by Monica Price about 5 women living with different cancers. One of those women was Angela. The actress chosen to play her was Hannah Waterman, the very last actress Angie had booked for Eastenders, before she became ill. Imagine seeing yourself and your story portrayed on stage. She was so proud. It was produced at the Solihull Arts Centre, and Angela even had a small part in it. Two years later it was produced at the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham too.
Angie didn’t know the meaning of the word “Stop”. She was determined to keep making a difference. March is Ovarian Cancer month and each year Angela held a tea party to raise money for Macmillan. They got bigger and better each year. She went to Yoga, and eventually those classes would be held at her house.
In 2011 the Daily Mail included her in a photo shoot of 4 women, given a short time to live, yet they were all still there.
And then there were the parties. We were lucky enough to frequently be on the guest list. But you know, she told me that each time a party was about to take place – surviving 5 years, surviving 10 years, her 65th, her 70th, a couple of days before, she would discover that the cancer had returned. Did it stop her? Hell no! And how we all celebrated those dates with her and John, even complying with costume instructions. You can take the girl out of the BBC, but not the BBC out of the girl. Goodness, we looked strange sometimes.
Even on the day John was driving her back from the Royal Marsden hospital for the last time, feeling dreadful from this last course of drugs she had been on, she was still booking speakers for the Solihull Cancer Centre in the car.
That was the woman she was. From all the wonderful, warm and funny emails I’ve read, she was so loved, but also admired, respected and indeed revered for what she gave to everyone she knew. Her sons talked about the mother who gave them such a wonderful childhood, full of love and laughter, the open house for their friends, even, deciding on Christmas Eve, to re-decorate their bedroom overnight while they slept in it, so that they’d wake up to a proper red and blue Boys’ room on Christmas day. Being Angela, she was hanging the curtains at 3 in the morning.
These last 14 and more years were made extra special for her by her marriage to John. What a leap of faith and courage that was by both of them, what an amazing partnership they have had and how much she loved him for his care and endless support of her when she was so ill. They were a terrific couple.
It is a huge privilege in life to realise that you’ve experienced a truly exceptional person, someone who has flooded the world with colour, light and sunshine; a person whose courage, love, intelligence, warmth, humour and determination, has set such an example of how every minute of every day counts, and should not be wasted.
That was Angela.”
Thank you Kay for sending this to share.
The following comments were left on the Pebble Mill Facebook page:
Lorraine Randell: ‘A beautiful eulogy for a beautiful person, who I remember so very well…a warm , loving and very happy person.’
Lynn Cullimore: ‘That is lovely and I bet Kay did it beautifully.’