As the BBC celebrates it’s centenary, The Mount School York appreciates our Old Scholars who have gone on to become headliners at ‘Aunty’.
Lady Isobel Barnett (1932-37)
Born the daughter of a Scottish doctor, Isobel, Lady Barnett arrived on BBC television as a panellist on What’s My Line? in which became a household name and continued to appear on the programme for ten years. Regarded by audiences as elegant, witty and she was fawned over as the epitome of British aristocracy, even though her title was owed to her husband’s knighthood. She made regular appearances on Any Questions. Her autobiography, My Life Line, was published in 1956. On her death in 1980, she kindly left a legacy to The Mount.
Noni Jabavu (1933-38)
After leaving The Mount, Noni Jabavu studied at the Royal Academy of Music, giving up study on the outbreak of WWII to become a film technician and engineer. After the war she became a features writer, television personality, presenter and producer for the BBC. She became first African woman to pursue a successful literary career and the first black South African woman to publish books of autobiography. Working as a BBC broadcaster, columnist, literary editor and author of two memoirs, Noni continued to visit scores of countries, writing of ‘the peripatetic print’ of her feet. In 1968 she was elected to chair the 21st session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women: the first African woman to hold that post.
Dame Judi Dench (1947-53)
Undoubtedly our most famous Old Scholar at the time of writing. Widely regarded as one of Britain’s best actors and a ‘national treasure’, Judi Dench commands a career spanning multiple media, genres and disciplines. She has earned four British Academy television awards, including in 1968 BAFTA for Best Actress for her role in John Hopkins’ 1966 BBC drama, Talking to a Stranger. She has said of her Quaker faith that, “it informs everything I do.”
Sally Dunkley (1959-65)
The celebrated soprano, Sally Dunkley, studied at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford, becoming one of the first few women to sing with the Clerkes of Oxenford (director David Wulstan). She established the foundations of a significant part of her subsequent activities, taking part in a series of pioneering recordings of 16th century English music. After postgraduate studies she moved to London, as a professional soloist and consort singer. She is a founder member of The Sixteen and features in their 2009 Sounds Sublime album along with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. No stranger to Radio 3, Sally has enjoyed a distinguished career as a singer, scholar, vocal teacher, and musical editor.
Rose Neill (1971-76)
After leaving The Mount, Rose Neill studied Dispensing Optics at the City and East London College. In 1985, she was BBC Northern Ireland’s newsreader and anchor on its main evening bulletin, Inside Ulster and later presented BBC Newsline. She also presented a daily, three-hour show on BBC Radio Ulster. In 2008 she left the BBC after 24 years. She is honorary vice-patron of Cancer Focus Northern Ireland, and Chairperson of the Riding for the Disabled Association.
Kate Bellingham (1974-81)
Engineer, STEM Ambassador, accomplished musician, educator and presenter Kate Bellingham came to the attention of BBC producers in the early 1990s after being talent-spotted in a series of engineering lectures for schools. An Oxford graduate (Physics), she was fronting the BBC Schools series Techno before landing the front spot for Tomorrow’s World which she presented from 1990 to 1994. She has also hosted Radio 5 Live’s The Acid Test and appeared in Testing Times for Radio 4 and Working in Engineering for BBC2.
Anna Walker (1975-79)
Anna Walker studied Zoology at the University of Bristol and was a freelance sports presenter for several events including the 1992 Barcelona Olympics and Winter Olympics in Albertville the same year. She also presented reports for Tomorrow’s World.
Anna is a successful broadcaster on the Sky network and had her own show on ITV.
Cheryl Taylor (1975-82)
Former Head Girl, Cheryl Taylor was brought up in a Quaker family in Liverpool and is Controller of CBBC. She was Head of Comedy at Hat Trick Productions and co-creator of Drop Dead Gorgeous for BBC Three.
When she returned to the school in 2016 as guest speaker for Foundation Meeting, as she gave advice to the Leavers, she shared with the audience moments moments in her life that influenced her career path. “Everything that I learned at The Mount, and those little moments in my career, have contributed to me in my own role. It’s all one, big patchwork quilt. I tried to think about what The Mount meant to me. I think it’s an exceptionally nurturing, very textual and inspiring environment where you genuinely learn to respect and value other people, as well as express your own personality. You won’t realise it right now, but believe me, what you had here has set you up for life. You should be feel confident about going out in the world bouyed by the amazing Quaker principles and achieving everything you want to.”
Cathy Killick (1976-83)
A BBC reporter for more than 30 years, Cathy Killick is friendly and familiar face on Look North. She is also a past-President of the Mount Old Scholars’ Association. Last year during the pandemic, Cathy shared a poignant report of her harrowing experience of losing both parents to covid within six weeks.
“I’ve interviewed dozens of people who have experienced loss. I’ve done my best to convey their emotion faithfully, not having experienced it myself. Now I find I am one of those people. I’ve always been struck by the bravery of those I’ve talked to and I’ve always been grateful to them too. Journalism can only exist if people are willing to share their stories, so I’m going to share mine not because I’m brave, but because I owe them.”
After her parents’ passing, Cathy and her family were grateful for the hundreds of flowers, letters and acts of kindness from loved ones and strangers alike. “These small acts have made a big difference. Never despise these little things, or think them insignificant. They are the best of us and they are what make our current times bearable.”
Laura Busson (1990-97)
After finishing College II at The Mount, Laura Sayers studied at Glasgow and had her first taste of radio at student station, Subcity Radio. She began at Radio 1 in a BBC Talent Production traineeship on the Chris Moyles Show, and before the end of her traineeship was snapped up by the Scott Mills Show. Thus began an entertaining partnership notorious for memorable public stunts that led to the 2005 hit, Laura’s Diary, in which Laura’s teenage-penned diary entries were read out on air. The segment spawned a book, Laura’s Diary in 2006 and ran for four ‘seasons’. Another popular segment was One Night With Laura, an audio tour of the UK, auditioning potential boyfriends for Laura (who did eventually marry one of the candidates, although not the one who won the show, ironically).
Laura is currently BBC Radio 2’s Commissioning Executive and deputy head of station.
Naomi Sheldon (2001-04)
Naomi Sheldon is an actor, writer and podcaster and stars as Mrs Lacey in the 2020 BBC production of Malory Towers which is now available on BBC iPlayer. She trained with LAMDA as a professional actor (Distinction), was awarded a BA (1st) from Royal Holloway and MA (Distinction) from the University of York in Writing, Directing and Performance. After her debut play at the Edinburgh Fringe became an award-winning one-woman-show in the West End, Naomi was listed in 2018 as a Drama Room Writer for the BBC Writers Room and in 2020 for the TV Drama Writers Programme with Old Scholar Bella Heesom for Firebird Pictures.
Catriona McDermid (2005-10)
Catriona McDermid (2005-10) is in demand as an orchestral bassoonist and has appeared on Radio 3’s In Tune as a soloist. Currently playing with Ensemble Moliere and Magnard Ensemble, she has played bassoon for the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, BBC National Orchestra of Wales and trained with the BBC Symphony Orchestra Pathway Scheme. She has worked with the BBC Proms education project and leads a varied career as a modern and period bassoonist, a keen educator and arranger. Catriona read Music at Lincoln College, Oxford, and graduated with a Masters degree at the Royal College of Music.
Many Old Scholars have served and thrived at the BBC. What is this affinity between Aunty and The Mount? Perhaps Cheryl Taylor summed it up best when she spoke to Leavers at Foundation Meeting in 2016. “Fidelis in parvo. Be honest in all the things you do. Genuinely all the relationships, the wonderful people who I really admire, are the people who do right in the tiny things, as well as achieving great things. Those are the people who really matter.”