Katie Boyle was a towering presence who stepped forward in the early days of television to help shape the medium and define what it meant to be a presenter, before moving on to a long and distinguished career in journalism and radio.
She moved to the United Kingdom in 1946, and began to make a name for herself first through modelling and small roles in British cinema before being invited to be a guest on the BBC’s magazine show ‘Quite Contrary’. It was clear that she understood what was required in the new medium of television and was promoted to hosting duties shortly afterwards.
From that starting point she worked tirelessly across BBC and ITV, becoming a comforting presence on many panel-based entertainment shows including ‘What’s My Line’, ‘I’ve Got A Secret’, and ‘Juke Box Jury’, and a familiar voice both on BBC Radio and as a continuity announcer on BBC TV.
At which point her path meets the Eurovision Song Contest.
Thanks to formative years spent in Italy, Boyle was multi-lingual, speaking English, Italian, and French fluently. Her multilinqualism, along with a highly respected reputation in the live television environment, made her the first choice when the BBC took on hosting duties for the 1960 Contest.
Boyle was there when the BBC stepped up again in 1963 to host after French TV had to pass on hosting. The music and fashion may have changed but the evolving role of Eurovision Host can be seen through the four editions that were helmed by Boyle. You can see Eurovision flourish from a tiny radio-focused theatre production in 1960, through the unique multi-studio approach in 1963 and the first colour Eurovision in 1968 at the Royal Albert Hall, to the mythical 1974 Contest that saw the international success of Abba forever tinge the Song Contest.
Shepherding the viewers across the world, was Katie Boyle.
As well as becoming one of the ‘go to names’ for both the panel shows of the day and for presenting duties on live broadcasts, she was the voice of European music not just on the BBC, but across many radio stations in continental Europe.
Before Podcasting Over Eurovision There Was Pop Over Europe
Picked up by the BBC in 1963 as ‘Music Has No Frontiers” and rebranded the following year as ‘Pop Over Europe’, Boyle took over hosting duties on the EBU’s monthly radio show that showcased the biggest chart sounds and pop music hits from across the continent for the next twenty-seven years. Producer Edward Nash wrote about the show in the Radio Times:
…When we meet in Broadcasting House each month the initial greetings to and fro across Europe, in a bewildering assortment of languages, have to be heard to be believed! Gunter Krenz, who holds the reins of the whole enterprise in West German Radio’s studios in Cologne, thrives on the challenge of this multi-lingual programme and is always seeking to extend the radio circle – latest newcomers to the chain being the BBC and, from last month, Radio Ljubljana, Yugoslavia.
The object is simple – a top pop song of the month, introduced and played from each of the eight stations taking part, adding up to a programme which gives a cross-section of the European pop scene.
There’s no doubt that picking up this show in 1963 was in part due to her second successful hosting of that year’s Song Contest.
While the Eurovision Song Contest kept her in the limelight during the sixties and seventies, her panel-show format bookings continued into the eighties. Her ‘Dear Katie’ Agony Aunt column in the TV Times further established her as a public figure; it was, however, radio where Boyle was most comfortable over a near forty-year career.
Boyle left ‘Pop Over Europe’ in 1980, and stepped back from broadcasting for many years, allowing her journalism and writing careers to flourish. She returned regularly to the airwaves in the nineties, holding down the mid-morning Radio 2 slot, and presenting ‘Katie and Friends’ a show for “animal lovers of all ages”, drawing in part on her role as a director at Battersea Dogs home.
A Lasting Legacy
Would the modern-day Eurovision Song Contest fan recognise Boyle and her achievements? Perhaps not… the Song Contest has a long history but a short memory. Yet… although the Song Contest is in constant flux its shape was defined in its first decade. In that shape we can find the echo and the memory of one of the pioneers of the art of television presenting.
As we look forward to Lisbon 2018 and a Song Contest that defines what it means to be authentic, what it means to be empowered, and what it means to be honest, there can be no better matriarch for the modern Contest than Katie Boyle.
Katie Boyle, Lady Saunders (born Caterina Irene Elena Maria Imperiali di Francavilla; 29 May 1926 – 20 March 2018).