Originally published Spring 2021, by Gill Farquharson
Even on Zoom her enthusiasm and ideas bubble through and her words tumble out from a seemingly endless supply. She must be magic in strategy meetings!
Jane is Canadian and was born in Ottawa, the youngest of four children. Her father was ex- RAF and then worked as an aerial photographer and later in international sales in the aviation industry.
Her parents had emigrated in 1953 but when they separated in 1970, Jane’s mother moved with the children back to the UK, initially staying in Yorkshire with Jane’s grandfather, who was a miner. The family eventually settled in Woking – ‘I much preferred Yorkshire, much more my sort of place!’ She attended St John the Baptist Catholic Comprehensive School, having refused to take the 11 plus ‘because I didn’t get the whole hierarchical system over here’. She took A levels in English, German and Geography and was the first pupil in the school to be offered a place at Cambridge. She turned it down ‘because I just didn’t get the class structure of Britain. We went up there for the interview and had high tea and it was all pomp and gowns and I’m just not that sort of person. The North American in me and my Yorkshire working class background mean I feel more comfortable with people who call a spade a spade’. Understandably her decision was not a popular one! She chose instead to go to Warwick and read English and American Literature as well as studying Politics and Creative Writing. The latter course was run by the writer Andrew Davies, probably most famous for his screenplays such as House of Cards, Pride and Prejudice and War and Peace. ‘How lucky was I!’ she enthuses. ‘I kept up with Andrew for quite a long time and saw a talk at the British Film Institute when he had just turned 80 and was considering doing War and Peace. There he was in his 80’s getting the best creative time of his life. He was a very interesting man who taught me a great deal.’ However Jane says she personally finds fiction very difficult to write ‘as a trained journalist I’m very practical and I find it very hard to do fiction. I tend to be rooted in people’s real life stories because I genuinely think truth is stranger than fiction. ‘
Her journalistic career started on the Woking News and Mail, where she was their first ever intern. At Warwick she had edited the student newspaper and after graduation was indentured to the Solihull Times, part of the Daily News Group. She gained her National Council for the Training of Journalists (NCTJ) Post Graduate Diploma and stayed in newspapers for seven years including stints as Health Correspondent on The News in Portsmouth and as an Investigative Reporter on the launch of Wales on Sunday by the Western Mail Group. But the cold wind of change was already blowing through newspaper offices and Jane decided to apply to BBC Wales to transfer her skills to the broadcast world.
Jane started at the bottom on the news desk booking camera crews and writing Ceefax pages. Keen to progress she hung around the radio studios and worked unpaid weekends. She vividly remembers one such weekend when she ended up reading the news that Nelson Mandela had just been released, which was her first live experience. She followed it up with interviews with South African students at Cardiff University. She graduated to TV soon afterwards, moving quickly through the ranks via reporting for Radio 4, producing radio news and documentaries and at 31 becoming the first female and non-Welsh Editor of BBC Wales Today. Jane’s commitment can be judged by the fact that not only did she learn Welsh she also learnt to pronounce it properly!
Photo: Jane, Josh and Hannah
In 1997, with the encouragement of Mark Thompson then Director General, Jane created and launched BBC London- the first tri-media news operation on radio, TV and online, in the process establishing a new multi- million pound digital centre for 24 hour news. ‘It was very, very challenging; I was still learning myself and there was a lot of union and public concern to manage.’ One thing she is particularly proud of is that ‘It was an opportunity to build diversity and we created a new vibe for the BBC away from the white middle class norms’ a fact which was noted with enthusiasm by Greg Dyke when he became DG. Not everyone in the Corporation at the time agreed with him!
Five years later, the BBC seconded her to the Community Channel as Executive Editor, where she was responsible for the strategic development and growth of the UK’s first not-for-profit digital TV channel for the charity and voluntary sector.
I had an amazing time – I was part of the rebranding when UKTV went to Dave and I re- launched and created six of their channels.
In 2005 Jane decided to cut her ties with the Corporation and joined UKTV as Director of their factual and lifestyle channel brands with a combined turnover of nearly £100million. ‘I had an amazing time – I was part of the rebranding when UKTV went to Dave and I re-launched and created six of their channels. I created a natural history channel called Eden which gave me the opportunity to work with David Attenborough. In fact the last thing I did was produce a programme for his 85th birthday. We did so many good things and I had lots of fun trying out different genres and learning about TV management.’
Photo: Filming with presenter Daisy
Her move in June 2011 to be Managing Director of Al Gore’s ill-fated documentary channel turned out to be her last employee role. The channel folded in March 2012 having lost its funding after a disagreement with major shareholder Rupert Murdoch.
A big part of her really didn’t want to commute anymore and she was on the Downs enjoying the beech trees one day and thought ‘This is what it’s about – beech to beach.
While at UKTV, Jane and Jerry, her husband of 27 years, had moved to Sussex. They had always had close links with the county as Jerry was born in Lewes, his parents were in Chichester and Jane and he loved exploring the South Downs both on bicycle and on foot. When he got a job as a social worker in Sussex, they decided to move to Pulborough. So Jane commuted for 5 years and soon made friends with her fellow travellers. They started to organise parties on the early train to London (06:22 from Arundel) and became ‘The Train Gang’. Not content with parties, they produced pantos at Christmas complete with script (written by Jane!) and costumes made by fellow travellers; an upside down birthday party for an Australian commuter from Barnham; Harvest Festivals; Italian lessons and beach parties! Jane remembers that ‘a huge amount of creativity went into these events but these people were spending four hours a day commuting’. A big part of her really didn’t want to commute anymore and she was on the Downs enjoying the beech trees one day and thought ‘This is what it’s about – beech to beach. It’s a unique part of the world which is so beautiful and I would like to be here a bit more. After Al Gore I decided I really didn’t want to work for another corporate – I wanted to work for myself so I did but in truth at the beginning a lot of my work was consultancy. I worked with BBC Worldwide, Discovery Channel in Russia, Turner Broadcasting in North Eastern Europe amongst others.’
Those beginnings were still corporate though and Jane was still a regular commuter. When she launched beechtobeach in 2012, the intention was clear. ‘I set up beechtobeach to help generate work for people in West Sussex and to enrich the creative community – it’s never been about growing profit but rather bringing in enough money to keep employing people and grow capacity. As you can tell from my train gang story, I love working within communities. And so I decided from the start that a percentage of our activities every year would be pro bono or non-profit.’ She established an office in Arundel four years ago. Her ideas of generating work for other creatives and working within a community fuelled her input to AKIN, Arundel’s creative collective. She was in at the inception and is currently it’s Co- Chair.
As a journalist at heart I love meeting people and hearing their stories. I was amazed when I met Eric Nash when I filmed him for the Community Awards last year – we had SO many connections!
In 2020 Arundel benefited hugely from this intention with films for the Arundel Gallery Trail, Arundel Festival, Love Arundel Project and Arundel is Christmas all being produced by Jane and her team. ‘As a journalist at heart I love meeting people and hearing their stories. I was amazed when I met Eric Nash when I filmed him for the Community Awards last year- we had SO many connections! The musicians, artists, business people and others award winners like Peter Knight – they’ve all have been inspiring and I love the fact that I can now walk around Arundel and feel I know many people and understand what it is they bring to the town too. It’s like peeling back layers of an onion- there is so much more to discover.’
Tony Hunt, Mayor of Arundel who worked with Jane says: ‘The films that Jane and her team made for Arundel in 2020 were of an astonishingly high quality, particularly the ‘Arundel is Christmas’ series. Some of the people who appeared in them gave the performance of a lifetime, but at the same time they were completely natural, they were the people we knew from our daily lives. There was none of the stiffness and lack of spontaneity that sometimes happens when you put people in front of a camera. For me the word that encapsulates the work is “authenticity” and when you find that attribute it almost always comes from the person running the organisation. If it all ends up looking deceptively easy, you know that you are dealing with consummate professionalism.’
Sharon Blaikie, Chair of both Festivals, describes Jane as ‘a positive force and an outstanding talent. Her professionalism shines throughout and the effect of her incredible work will resonate in Arundel for many years to come. The Virtual Festival would simply not have been possible without the fabulous team from beechtobeach.’
That team is comprised of six people with freelancers employed when needed. Josh Kershaw, who joined Jane four years ago, is senior videographer making high-
end films as well as editing, producing graphics and animations. Jerry, having retired from social work, is now a fully qualified drone operator and the support brains responsible for logistics and procurement. There are also two design consultants, Sophie Lindsey and Jamie Wood and Connor Whitfield is Video Editor and smartphone trainer. Their clients include Google, Emirates and L’Oreal Paris in addition to their local work for clients such as Pallant House Gallery and Sussex Life. Jane is also a consultant to the Whicker Foundation, which was set up as the legacy of legendary documentary maker Alan Whicker and established to support emerging film and audio documentary-makers. She is also a judge of their prestigious annual documentary award scheme The Whickers.
The pandemic has thrown up a number of challenges – not least of which being that Jane has been shielding as she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis. With Josh in the office, they have continued working and particularly solving Covid related problems for clients. One wonderful example is a current project via Thinking Philanthropy, which was set up by Dr Felicity Jones, a former member of The Train Gang. This involves the charity Health: Pitch who normally tour dementia and care homes, brain injury and mental health units with a performance by a group of opera singers to provide stimulation and entertainment for the patients. Covid had stopped that of course but beechtobeach had a solution. They have trained the singers to film themselves on their Smartphones, under Jane’s direction on Zoom. Connor and Jane then edited the content into two film series- The Soprano, which initially went out on YouTube and Still Singing a second series funded by the Arts Council which are both about to be circulated on DVD.
we are very proud of the quality of what we’ve produced this year – Arundel is definitely punching above its weight.
Jane is a powerful, creative force, driven by energy and ideas. She says of this year’s Arundel outputs, ‘we are very proud of the quality of what we’ve produced this year- Arundel is definitely punching above its weight.’ We say Arundel is lucky to have her.