Innovation, women's work and the documentary impulse

pioneering moments and stalled opportunities in public service broadcasting in Australia and Britain

Virginia Madsen*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


This article explores the roles of some of the key women producers, broadcasters and writers who were able to work within the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) from their foundational periods to the 1950s. Despite the predominantly male culture of radio broadcasting from the 1920s to the 1970s, this article considers the significance and long-term impacts of some of these overlooked female pioneers at the forefront of developing a range of new reality and 'talk' forms and techniques. While the article draws on primary BBC research, it also aims to address these openings, cultures and roles as they existed historically for women in the ABC. How did the ABC compare in its foundational period? Significantly, this paper contrasts the two organisations in the light of their approaches to modernity, arguing that BBC features, the department it engendered, and the traditions it influenced, had far reaching impacts; one of these relating to those opportunities opened for women to develop entirely new forms of media communication: the unrehearsed interview and actuality documentary programmes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)19-32
Number of pages14
JournalMedia International Australia
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2017

Bibliographical note

This article is an output of the ARC Discovery Project DP140102514 (Lead CI Dr Virginia Madsen), "Cultural Conversations: A History of ABC Radio National" (2014-2018)


  • broadcast journalism
  • public service broadcasting history
  • radio documentary
  • women and media

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