Frances Coverdale – Radio Birmingham

Copyright resides with the original holder.

Thanks to Annie Gumbley-Williams for making the photo available.

Frances Coverdale was a BBC East Midlands reporter 1977-80, before joining the BBC national news, first as a reporter and then as a presenter.  She also presented Radio 4’s PM programme.  She is currently involved in media training, of people whose jobs require them to be interviewed on camera etc.

I understand that Frances Coverdale was a news presenter at BBC Pebble Mill on Radio Birmingham in the 1970s.

The following comments and information have been added by former colleagues:

Hedli Nik: She was a news reader and the then editor of The Archers. William Smethurst, called a PC in The Archers James Coverdale in her honour! I know this because reader, I married him!

Michael Fisher: Frances was a news producer (i.e. reporter/newsreader/produc​er) with BBC Radio Birmingham when I joined as a News Trainee in 1975. She was the only female reporter and Pete Simpkin might recall that management had to get special arrangements made for her by the RN when she went to do a programme about HMS Birmingham. She drove a flashy convertible sports car. She also took me out on my first murder story: a man’s body found in a coal bunker. She was given the role of presenting the breakfast programme ‘Heart of the Nation’ (possibly along with David Lloyd if memory serves me correctly). Her skills were recognised and she was taken on by Midlands Today, I think, before moving up the ladder to London. She should be credited with being one of the first female reporters to make the breakthrough on national tv in what was still in the late 1970s a very male-dominated newsroom environment. Thanks for all youe help, Frances. in taking a new lad under your wing and showing him how to report.

Pete Simpkin: We were indeed very proud to see her reading the BBC National News on TV for a short time………..she was the second person from BBC Pebble Mill to achieve this, the other being the late Barry Lankester.

Jo Dewar: When I was an News Transmission Assistant on ‘Midlands Today’ I used to sit inbetween Frances Coverdale and Tom Coyne. It was the first time the programme had 2 presenters and autocue … interesting!

BBC Radio Birmingham – Blog by Nick Owen

I first worked at Pebble Mill in 1973 after I landed a job as a news producer on BBC Radio Birmingham, the forerunner of BBC WM.  It was a case of third time lucky getting into the BBC, having failed twice in the previous months to get a job in the Midlands Today newsroom. I arrived from The Birmingham Post and was overwhelmed with all the technology! I was always hopeless with anything mechanical, so learning to work a tape recorder was terrifying, but I got the hang of it in the end and became pretty adept at editing too, with razor blades and tape etc! I was told I had a fairly boring voice so I had to work on my intonation, to try to sound a bit more interested, but I really felt I had found my vocation. In fact, I loved it.  It wasn’t long before I read my first live bulletin – I was introduced on air by a young disc jockey called Les Ross, but I have no idea what happened to him!

Ultimately, I became Sports Producer, following my friend Jim Rosenthal, and that took me all over the country and Europe following the fortunes of our football teams.  Up the corridor, of course, was the Midlands Today newsroom with such luminaries as Tom Coyne, Alan Towers, Geoffrey Green and Tony Francis ( whom I’d trained with long before I came to Birmingham). I remember one day Tom Coyne said hello to me in the gents and I was so thrilled I nearly had an accident.

I left in 1978 to join ATV but returned to Pebble Mill to present Good Morning with Anne and Nick in 1992. More about that some other time, but I have to say thanks to the BBC at Pebble Mill for giving me my first chance in television back in August 1977.  They were doing a regional opt to herald the start of the football season, but Tony Francis, who would normally have been expected to front it, was away on holiday so they were clearly desperate and asked me!  I co-hosted it with Peter Windows, then a familiar face on continuity, and our studio guest was someone who became a great friend Larry Canning, the former Aston Villa player, then well known as a reporter for Sport on Two. The show was produced by another long standing friend, Rob Kirk, now at Sky News.

Some very happy days!

Nick Owen


Midlands Today – photos from Annie Gumbley

Copyright resides with the original photographer, no reproduction without permission.

Midlands Today presenters 1977

This photo shows the Midlands Today presenters from 1977, front row, left to right, Guy Thomas, Kay Alexander, Peter Windows, David Stevens, back row, Michael Hancock, Tom Coyne.

Midlands Today started broadcasting on 28 September 1964, from a studio in Broad Street, Birmingham, and moved to Pebble Mill when the building opened in 1971.

Pebble Mill newsroom 1978

The second photo shows the newsroom itself and includes: Paul Freeman (standing on left), Jo Dewar (on phone), Annie Gumbley (slightly bent over), Julia Gray (Simpkin).

I wonder if the hand bell (foreground) was for organising meetings!

Pebble Mill at One

Photos by Ian Collins, Jim Gregory and John Burkill, no reproduction without permission.

These photos show various memorable episodes of Pebble Mill at One, and date from 1974 with the drag racing shots.  Notable amongst them are the studio camera which has fallen off the curb and smashed lens first!  Also included are the American College band performing on the front lawn, the arrival of a Harrier jump jet over Pebble Mill, the landing of a Royal Navy helicopter and Tom Coyne interviewing at the front of the building.  There are also a number of photographs of location shoots for Pebble Mill at One.  The skiing ones are a shoot by producer Tony Rayner.

Please post a comment, if you can add to the information here.

Harrier over Birmingham