Web Page No 2410
28th September 2017
First Picture: Sylvia Peters in the early days
Second Picture: Mary Malcom
Third Picture: Robert Dougall
Fourth Picture: Sylvia Peters 50 years after the Coronation
Sylvia Peters, was not the first woman to appear before the cameras on BBC television, but she was the first to achieve fame, if not quite celebrity status, in the early 1950s. One of three programme announcers at the time of the Queen’s coronation in June 1953 – the first major and prolonged outside broadcast the corporation had ever attempted – she was chosen to introduce the coverage and since up to half the adult population managed to get in front of a television set to watch the event, she found herself famous almost overnight. The other two main BBC presenters at the time were Mary Malcolm and Robert Dougall.
Hers was the first face viewers saw that morning, announcing what would be “a great and joyous day for us all”. She was dressed in a flowery evening gown and, sitting in front of a map showing the route of the coronation procession, it was her job to relate what would be happening. Beside her was a six-page memorandum outlining what she had to do if there was a technical fault or a break in transmission – which in the event fortunately did not happen. She was in a studio at Alexandra Palace and handed over to the main commentators, Richard Dimbleby at Westminster Abbey and others along the route, to report the scene.
Sixty years later she said that: “Part of the reason I was chosen was I had a very good memory. I was given the script the night before and had to learn it in time. I was also the same age as the Queen, which they liked.”
Afterward the broadcast she found herself being stopped in the street by members of the public and, even 40 years later, long after she had finished regular broadcasting, would still be recognised.
She was born Sylvia Petronzio, the daughter of Romelo Petronzio, who had a clock-making business in London, and his English wife, Ethel Edwards. From an early age her mother took her to ballet and acting lessons, and she appeared in revues, including one at the Coliseum marking VE Day at the end of the second world war.
In 1947, however, mother and daughter spotted an advertisement for announcers at the BBC, and using her anglicised surname of Peters– was persuaded to apply. “My mother forced me because she did not like me being on the stage,” she said years later.
The audition included a foreign language test, a pronunciation exam and screen tests, including a shot walking downstairs – peculiarly, since announcers were not expected to move as they broadcast. She got the job on £500 a year: “We were meant to be decorative, charming hostesses. They wanted us to look pretty and feminine.”
At that stage just half a million households had television sets, and coverage only reached as far as the Midlands. Breakdowns and losses of transmission were common and broadcasting was live. Female announcers wore patterned evening dresses – but not stripes or checks which made the picture strobe – shoulders were covered by shawls and cleavages disguised by plastic flowers. There was no autocue, rehearsals or editing. “We were on every night. There was no one else,” she said. “When I first went to the BBC, people did not admit they had a set. They would say, ‘the servants have one and I occasionally see it downstairs’.”
The coronation broadcast was seen live across France and Germany, with the film flown by jet to be shown in the US and Canada that evening. It made television respectable for the first time.
The following year, she branched out to become one of the first hosts of Come Dancing. She went on to record a training film in 1957 for the Queen, to prepare her for her first televised Christmas broadcast. The Queen took it to Balmoral for the summer to study by this time she was able to chose the autocue method which was new at the time.
In 1958 Sylvia Peters retired as an announcer, though she continued as an infrequent broadcaster for a further 30 years, introducing Ladies’ Day at Ascot, presenting the early ITV product placement show Jim’s Inn, appearing in occasional documentaries and being interviewed in 2013 about her role on Coronation Day. She opened a children’s clothing store in Wimbledon in 1963, and it was followed in 1977 by a shop for women’s fashion.
In 1950 she married Kenneth Milne-Buckley, her first studio manager at the BBC. He predeceased her and Sylvia Peters died on 26th July 2016 leaving her daughter, Carmella.
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News and Views:
On this day 28th September 1960-1965
On 28/09/1960 the number one single was Apache - The Shadows and the number one album was Down Drury Lane to Memory Lane - A Hundred and One Strings. The top rated TV show was The Army Game (Granada) and the box office smash was Psycho. A pound of today's money was worth £13.68 and Tottenham Hotspur were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 28/09/1961 the number one single was Johnny Remember Me - John Leyton and the number one album was The Shadows - Shadows. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was One Hundred and One Dalmations. A pound of today's money was worth £13.25 and Ipswich Town were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 28/09/1962 the number one single was She's Not You - Elvis Presley and the number one album was Best of Ball Barber & Bilk. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Lawrence of Arabia. A pound of today's money was worth £12.89 and Everton were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 28/09/1963 the number one single was She Loves You - The Beatles and the number one album was Please Please Me - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Great Escape. A pound of today's money was worth £12.64 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions.
On 28/09/1964 the number one single was I'm Into Something Good - Herman's Hermits and the number one album was A Hard Day's Night - Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was Dr Strangelove. A pound of today's money was worth £12.24 and Manchester United were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Harpo Marx dies.
On 28/09/1965 the number one single was Make It Easy On Yourself - Walker Brothers and the number one album was Help - The Beatles. The top rated TV show was Coronation Street (Granada) and the box office smash was The Sound of Music. A pound of today's money was worth £11.69 and Liverpool were on the way to becoming the Season's Division 1 champions. The big news story of the day was Volcano erupts in Phillipines.