A few weeks ago a dear friend of mine Doreen Jenkins – also known by her married name Doreen Mann – passed away. She was recovering in hospital from an infection when her heart just gave out. She was in her 71st year – young by today’s standards of ageing.
Doreen was more generally known by her professional name – Doreen Jenkins. She was someone I had always found particularly inspiring. Knowing her and watching her motivated me to go for my own childhood ambition and become a journalist.
I can well remember the first time I met her nearly 45 years ago. I was working for a new local commercial radio station – Swansea Sound. It was regarded as a community commercial radio station and was one the first of its type in Wales and only the seventh such station to go on air in the UK as a whole. I was PA to the station’s programme contoller. He was auditioning the intake of young wannabes who would form the regular disc jockeys. Terry Mann (who Doreen was later to marry) had also joined the pre-launch team. He came from the BBC and was in charge of the station’s music policy.
Doreen Jenkins was the only female among them and impressed with her warm personality that shone through on the airwaves. She was also extremely attractive – fresh-faced and freckled with thick long dark hair. I can remember she wore a pretty pale green halter-neck dress that bought out the colour of her eyes.
Like several of the other applicants she had honed her broadcasting teeth as a volunteer on the local hospital radio station, Radio City. But she also had a career as chief reporter/deputy editor and head of advertising for a small local ‘free’ paper and the up-market ‘South Wales’ magazine. This combination of commercial savvy and journalistic approach was to give her a unique quality as a radio presenter.
When the station was up and running she was initially allocated the weekday afternoon slot – but was swapped with the late evening presenter when it was decided he’d be better off playing the station ‘playlist’ music in the afternoon and Doreen might thrive with the freer music choice at night. To begin with she wasn’t very happy with this change because the ‘boys’ around her regarded it as somewhat of a scheduling booby prize. But Doreen made it her own, by playing a surprisingly broad mix of music and particularly through her infectious ‘Mystery Star’ competition, which gave her an excuse to chat to listeners who rang up to try and guess the identity of today’s ‘star’ from her oblique clues and win the album of the week. She won favour with female listeners by gently taking the micky out of some male callers (who loved it), especially the ones who assumed she must be a blonde.
It was compulsive listening and when the stations first audience figures were published in August 1975 Doreen was found to have a 50% share of all radio listening at that time of day (leaving all the other stations to fight over the other 50%!). I learned recently that some people who won those albums all those years ago stillcherish them today, such was the popularity of Doreen and her unique ‘Nocturne’ show
This lasted for the next couple of years until a management upheaval at the station attributed to disappointing advertising sales income requiring some drastic cost cutting. This problem was common to many of the new commercial stations at the time, even including Capital in London, because despite good research results (Swansea Sound was already outright market leader with 63% of all local adults listening every week), commercial local radio was new to the UK so there was very little experience of how to ‘sell’ it to potential advertisers.
As a result Doreen, Terry and myself were among a string of redundancies.
Many people see being redundant as a rejection. But all three of us went on to further our careers in other areas, though Doreen was heartbroken at having to leave her home town to do so, even though it had become embarrassing to be stopped in the street by concerned listeners wondering why she’d left ‘The Sound’ as the station was often known then.
I decided to pursue my dream of becoming a reporter. I managed to persuade the editor of the South Wales Evening Post Iorwerth (Yorrie) Lewis to take me on as an Adult Entrant Trainee.
While Terry went back to the BBC for a while, before teaching radio skills at a new Broadcasting School in London, Doreen became ‘Regional Broadcasting Officer’ in charge of the Automobile Association’s radio studios in London which broadcast dozens of traffic bulletins a day to LBC Radio. Part of the AA’s Public Relations operation Doreen was the first woman as well as the first ‘external’ candidate to occupy this role which also saw her appearing on BBC national radio during severe weather. During this brief respite from their commercial radio careers Doreen and Terry married in 1981 and started their family with son David coming along in 1982. David had made a BBC One TV appearance while still a bump and this continued when his pregnant mum was asked to present a weekly European travel report on the popular ‘Holiday Programme’.
As with everything else, Doreen threw herself into her PR career and was very good at it. There is the story of how she stunned Radio 4 Today presenter the late Brian Redhead. He complimented her on her encyclopaedic knowledge of all the road-conditions across the UK country during severe winter weather. This was despite having just arrived in the studio (due to snow drifts) with only a technical print-out several feet long she’d had no time to read through first so ended up ‘translating’ into every day language live on-air.
Doreen later reprised her radio career when Terry went on to a management role with Radio 210, which covered the Thames Valley area.
Again she soon attracted a large band of loyal followers with great music and ground-breaking speech content – tackling many difficult topics on air. In one such interview she spoke to someone who’d befriended a dying HIV sufferer and was seeking to recruit more ‘Aids Buddies’. This was at a time when most of the tabloid press were demonising the illness. Scare stories abounded on how AIDS could be transmitted by spit or by a mere handshake. Doreen’s interview attracted a huge response. Bigger than an appearance her guest had made on Breakfast TV apparently.
During this time their second child was born and the family was complete, In the early 1980’s Doreen became interested in the Art Deco icon Clarice Cliff. This was through a close friend (and former Radio City colleague) Leonard Griffin. Leonard founded and ran the Clarice Cliff Collectors Club and Doreen really became his right-hand woman in the writing of several books on the subject. As usual she threw herself into it, becoming a collector and an expert in her own right.
She still dabbled in radio from time to time, including fresh appearances on Swansea Sound when Terry returned to the station as Managing Director in 1995 to launch sister station ‘The Wave’. This included an award winning interview with an Aberfan survivor on the 30thAnniversary of the disaster, a programme broadcast on Swansea Sound and its (then) other sister station Valleys Radio.
She also continued to write about art deco ceramics as well as becoming Editor of the Clarice Cliff club website, something she could do from home which wasn’t affected by declining mobility caused by a 25 year fight with diabetes.
Having been adopted as a baby, family was hugely important to Doreen. She loved her husband and children, her grandchildren and the three brothers she never knew she had until just a couple of years ago in a twist of her story worthy of the TV programme Long Lost Family.
As her widower Terry says, they all now have to adjust to having ‘a great big hole’ in their lives.