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Joan Wright (1914 – 1997)

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Joan Wright with HRH Prince Philip, 1966

Joan Wright welcomes HRH The Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, to the BBC stand in Oslo, 1966

My mother had an eventful career. On leaving school, she fulfilled her childhood ambition of becoming a journalist, and went to Fleet Street. There, she worked on papers such as ‘The News Chronicle’, ‘The Daily Express’, and ‘The Daily Herald’. She was one of the founders of a sporting paper, ‘The Bicycle’, which was in production until the advent of World War Two.

(She was, I believe, the first person to employ a young photographer by the name of Bert Hardy (1913-1995) whose high-speed Leica camera was so fundamental to his  work in sports and also – during and after the War – on ‘Picture Post’. He remains among the greats of 20th century photography.)

With the outbreak of War she was invited to become a press officer for the Norwegian Government in Exile,  then based in London. In order to be able to produce press releases in English, she found herself having to learn Norwegian from scratch, and deal with the wealth of information that arrived from the underground resistance movement in Norway.

In May of 1945, at the end of the War, she was transferred from London to Oslo, where she had to cope with the world’s Press as they covered the liberation of Norway. This was followed by the trial of the infamous Vidkun Quisling, the transcriptions of which were translated into English by my mother, usually working overnight, in order to have a press release ready by the morning.

The following year, she was asked to join the British Embassy in Oslo, where she spent the next five years as an assistant information officer. The job involved the organisation of Press conferences for the large number of dignitaries and personalities who visited: Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears, with the English Opera Group, Sir Malcolm Sargent, Margot Fonteyn and the Royal Ballet, Viscount Montgomery and the philosopher Bertrand Russell, to name a very few.

She also had the job of looking after Winston Churchill when he visited Oslo. His demands were considerable, but she obviously met with his approval, and received a very warm personal letter of thanks. Unfortunately, the letter was stolen some time afterwards, and was of course never seen again.

On her return to England, she joined the Foreign Office, and looked after hoards of American journalists who were in London for the Festival of Britain. She would take parties of them around the newly built Festival Hall, where the chief interest for most of them was in using what they called ‘The Queen’s John’ – the private toilet that adjoined the Royal Box.

My mother joined the BBC in 1952, becoming Assistant Publicity Officer for Europe, based at Queen’s House in Kingsway, London.

Joan Wright on the BBC stand at Expo ’66 in Oslo. She is being greeted by King Olav V of Norway

Joan Wright on the BBC stand at Expo ’66 in Oslo. She is being greeted by King Olav V of Norway

She provided information for the world’s press on BBC radio and television, which at that time was very much the envy of the world. In the 1960s and ’70s, her guided tours of Television Centre at White City in London were very popular with visiting journalists from all over the world.

After twenty years, she took early retirement in 1972, and set up a boating holiday business, based on the Grand Union Canal at Uxbridge in Middlesex.

She also produced a guidebook to Norway (her second) this one published by Collins. She also continued to work as a freelance journalist, writing illustrated features mainly about British television programmes for European publications. She was a very good photographer, and had the comparatively rare ability to make even the most nervous of personalities appear relaxed and informal.

She often found herself on the receiving end of some surprising confidences, and had to assure her subjects that their secrets were safe with her!

Collins Guide to Norway by Joan Wright

A move from London in the mid-1980s found her relocating to Deal in Kent where she ran a small but thriving business selling antique prints and maps.

To be continued …

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Written by Francis Wright

August 15, 2014 at 7:35 am

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