Francesca Kirby-Green obituary

Francesca Kirby-Green, who has died aged 80, was one of a small band of female pioneers who made their way in a man’s world at the BBC as television producers in the 1970s. A formidable member of the two-person reporter-producer team whose name only appears in the end credits, Francesca had a striking list of scoops.

On 24 Hours she secured an interview for Ludovic Kennedy with the defecting Soviet ballerina Natalia Makarova in 1970. She assisted on films of the Russian musician Mstislav Rostropovich, and the young British cellist Jacqueline du Pré. She secured an interview with the Shah of Iran (for the reporter David Lomax) in 1975 not long before the collapse of his regime. She was at Bloody Sunday in 1972 with the young Max Hastings reporting for the Midweek series.

There was hardly a BBC TV current affairs programme she did not work for. She was the power behind a groundbreaking film (with Margaret Jay) and a special live TV programme in 1984 featuring the wonders of IVF treatment, and the ethical dilemmas of surrogacy. On Panorama she worked with an array of reporters, producing films on US presidential candidates, the NHS, and Prince Charles (whom she persuaded to wear a mic to record off the cuff conversations), to name but a few.

She had little time for prizes but in 1978 won a Royal Television Society award for a Tonight film (with Vincent Hanna), for which the male editor had to give her a photocopied certificate, having omitted to alert her to the ceremony. She was never happy with the impositions of the John Birt regime, believing the rigid pre-scripting stifled creativity. She retired from the BBC in 1996, not long after the closure of Lime Grove studios, wherez she had worked so fruitfully.

One of her great strengths was to have started out as a trainee film editor’s assistant, which gave her a unique understanding of the nuts and bolts of film-making, and the incredible time pressures to get the product on air. It produced for her special relations with the technicians and the camera and sound crews, who treated her as one of their own. She also had the good fortune and the nous to benefit from the BBC scheme of “attachments”, at the beginning and in mid-career.

These were basically temporary try-outs in various departments which gave candidates wide experience without necessarily job commitments. Francesca profited from stints in arts and music, and current affairs, and quickly was made assistant producer. Her talent was to make her films “breathe”, as she put it.

Francesca was born in Toronto, into a publishing and film family, to Dinah (nee Robinson) and Raymond Spottiswoode. Her father became a film producer while working at the Film Board of Canada, and was the author of A Grammar of the Film (1950), a classical analysis of film technique; later on her brother, Roger, became a distinguished Hollywood director and writer. The family returned to the UK in 1948 and Francesca went to the Hall School in Wincanton, Somerset.

At school she was a late developer, but after a stint at St Paul’s school for girls in London, she gained entry to University College London, and got a good degree in philosophy. She joined the BBC as a trainee in 1964, and made enough of a success of an attachment in the current affairs department on 24 Hours to turn it into a full-time job. She remained on staff until her retirement more than 30 years later.

In 1963 Francesca married Colin Kirby-Green, a painter, and they had a daughter, Susannah, and a son, Tom, and settled in Brightlingsea, Essex. But as the sole breadwinner Francesca found commuting from the countryside too much strain. She moved with the children to London and the couple separated.

After retirement she studied psychotherapy as a Jungian, becoming secretary of the CG Jung Club, and at 70 did degree courses at the Open University. She also published privately an acutely written biography of the Spottiswoode family, and through it all stoically put up with lifelong asthma.

She is survived by Colin, their children and four grandchildren, Jasper, Freddie, Luna and River Song, and by her brothers, Roger and James.

• Francesca Clare Mary Kirby-Green, television producer, born 17 January 1941; died 27 January 2021