Trailblazing BBC reporter Jill Bennett retires after 44 years

Jill making one of the final broadcasts from the former BBC King's Lynn studio in 2022
Jill making one of the final broadcasts from the former BBC King's Lynn studio in 2022

One of the BBC's longest-serving journalists has retired after devoting more than 40 years to the corporation.

Jill Bennett, one of the founding members of BBC Radio Norfolk in 1980, is the last of the station's original line-up.

One of the first female news editors in BBC Local Radio, she has worked as the district reporter for West Norfolk for 25 years, based in King's Lynn.

At one point she was "the only woman in news in the place," she said.

Jill Bennett in 1980
Jill joined BBC Radio Norfolk in 1980 and was one of its founding members

From Pin Mill, Suffolk, Jill was inspired to get into broadcasting by her father, Bob Roberts, a skipper of one of the last commercial sailing barges, who appeared regularly on the BBC as a folk singer and storyteller.

"I had always wanted to work for the BBC," she said.

"At home we used to see BBC producers come and go from time to time when they were doing stuff with him, and I thought it sounded like a really interesting thing to do."

She trained as a journalist in Colchester, Essex, worked in South Africa as the assistant editor of a women's magazine, and travelled through North and South America and the Caribbean.

In the mid-1970s, she settled in Norfolk and joined the Eastern Daily Press newspaper as a local government reporter.

In April 1980 she became a reporter at the emerging BBC Radio Norfolk, one of only two women on its full-time staff.

During her five months of training, she said she found herself building the station in more ways than one.

"The first thing we had to do was attack all these tables with Allen keys and put them all together - so we had somewhere to actually work," she said.

Jill with BBC Radio Norfolk colleagues in 2016
Jill with her colleagues from BBC Radio Norfolk in 2016, two years after it won a Radio Academy Award for its coverage of the December 2013 storm surge
Jill Bennett on the launch night of BBC Radio Norfolk
Jill Bennett on the launch night of BBC Radio Norfolk - almost 44 years ago

The station began broadcasting on the evening of 11 September 1980, with Jill nervously reading the 18:30 news headlines.

"I don't think I'd ever considered what being in front of a microphone involved before I joined," she said.

"It was a combination of fear and excitement, in slightly unequal measure."

Jill Bennett with David Clayton
Jill with David Clayton, the former managing editor of BBC Radio Norfolk, celebrating the station's 20th birthday

By 1984, Jill was the station's news editor, and "the only woman in news in the place", she said.

She was one of only two female news editors in BBC Local Radio at the time, and admitted that "getting some equality was quite a struggle, right through the BBC".

"It was very much a male institution," she added. "It took a long time to change. It took a lot of work by a lot of women.

"I'm not sure we're there yet."

Jill Bennett with a BBC outside broadcast van
Jill out reporting for BBC Radio Norfolk

In 1999 she became the station's district reporter for West Norfolk, based in King's Lynn.

"I always say the only time I'm not on duty is when I shut my front door.

"I think I'm like most people who work for the BBC, I think it does amazing things.

"I'm very proud to be part of it."

BBC Senior Head of Content Production for East and London, Robert Thompson, said: "Jill is a BBC pioneer not only a founding member of Radio Norfolk, but also as one of our first female news editors when she was appointed in 1984.

"She has made a lasting impact on the BBC and we wish her the very best on her retirement."

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