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Lingstrom, Freda Violetlocked

(1893–1989)
  • Monica Sims

Lingstrom, Freda Violet (1893–1989), television producer and writer, was born on 23 July 1893 at 3 Pond Place, Chelsea, London, the daughter of George Louis Lingstrom (1862–1937), a copperplate-engraver, and his wife, Alice Clarey, née Appleby (1866–1939). She went to school in London and then to the Central School of Arts and Crafts. Her skills in painting and design were combined with organizing ability and a talent for writing. She held her first one-woman show in 1936, arranged exhibitions, worked as a publicity officer, as private secretary and play reader to the actress Edith Evans, and painted mural decorations for Norway House. Her parents were born in England, but her paternal grandparents were Swedish and German, and she travelled in Scandinavia. Her first book, This is Norway (1933), a survey on its culture and history, was followed by two novels, The Seventh Sister (1938) and A Flower in his Hand (1939) which was published in England, the USA, and Sweden. There were two further novels, Beggar's Fiddle (1948) and Nicolas and Antoinette (1950).

Lingstrom first applied to the BBC in 1940 at the suggestion of the broadcaster Olive Shapley, and was eventually given a post in the staff pool of the home and empire talks department. This involved some reporting, script writing, and monitoring until, in 1947, she became a radio producer in the schools department. She originated a new series, Looking at Things, which was accompanied by publications for use in schools and, later, an illustrated book, The Seeing Eye, which was designed to attract children to the pleasures of form, design, and colour in everyday objects.

A tall, rather masculine looking woman, with a direct air of authority, Lingstrom forged good relationships with educationists and BBC mandarins, and in 1951 she was asked to become head of the recently formed children's department in television. Her output expanded rapidly and built on earlier successes such as Annette Mills's Muffin the Mule and the Sunday afternoon magazine For the Children. The new head achieved a more systematic daily output of a variety of programmes for different age groups and encouraged her new producers who had come from radio or the theatre to stimulate the growing audience. New characters were introduced, including Mr Turnip in Whirlygig and Harry Corbett's Sooty, and many exciting drama serials and comedies were transmitted live from a small studio in Lime Grove.

Lingstrom's own interest in young children inspired her to create new puppet programmes with her colleague Maria Bird in a new strand called Watch with Mother. Each day's short programme reflected the interests of children under five. Andy Pandy invited the audience to join in simple actions and songs; The Flowerpot Men explored the fantasy world and language of Bill and Ben; The Woodentops depicted family life; Rag, Tag and Bobtail introduced natural history; Picture Book foreshadowed many further storytelling programmes. Production techniques were primitive, but the ideas they embodied are still evident in today's output for this age group. String or rod puppets were followed by stop frame animations in Gordon Murray's Trumpton and other inventions, all made in a tin shed in a back yard in Lime Grove, which was known as ‘the puppet studio’.

In the 1950s the suspicion that children could be corrupted by television was robustly dismissed by Lingstrom. She affirmed that children would watch anyway and they deserved programmes of the highest standards which they could understand, and she fought for her producers to have resources that were as good as those for adult programmes. In her annual report for 1956 the controller of television programmes wrote: 'She abhors the cheap and flashy and will accept no second rate thought or standards. She is human and warm and these qualities in addition to her integrity have gained the respect of her staff' (F. Lingstrom file, BBC WAC). Her producers referred to her as Mum, though none would call her that to her face.

Lingstrom was particularly careful about drama and knew how powerful its visual and emotional images could be. The former head of BBC drama, Shaun Sutton, who, like other distinguished directors and designers, started his career under her guidance, explained:

For a Cavalier to pierce a Roundhead with his sword was alright. That was years ago and in costume and couldn't happen today. But for a child to threaten Granny with a fork in a modern play was totally forbidden. That could be imitated.

private information

Alongside the plaudits for Billy Bunter or the dramatic narratives of The Silver Sword, Huckleberry Finn, and The Moonstone, arguments surrounded the Bible series Jesus of Nazareth (directed by Joy Harrington) which involved diplomatic and theological negotiations. Lingstrom's success and leadership as the first influential head of children's television were recognized by appointment as an OBE in 1955. She continued her freelance work long after retirement and, at the age of seventy-four, remade Andy Pandy in colour. The programmes she produced are now regarded as classics of children's television and today's computer-literate audiences still respond to her understanding of the way children think and feel.

Lingstrom was unmarried but had an adopted daughter, and lived for many years with her friend Maria Bird near Westerham in Kent. She died on 15 April 1989 at her house, Chartwell Cottage, Mapleton Lane, Chartwell, near Westerham, at the age of ninety-five.

Sources

  • staff files, BBC WAC
  • private information (2004)
  • A. Home, Into the box of delights: a history of children's television (1993)
  • The Independent (22 May 1989)
  • b. cert.
  • d. cert.
  • private information (2014) [H. Perraton]

Archives

Likenesses

  • photograph, repro. in The Independent

Wealth at Death

£182,169: probate, 24 Aug 1989, CGPLA Eng. & Wales

BBC Written Archives Centre, Reading