Brenda Emmanus presents a film exploring little-known stories captured by female photographers around the world. The programme features five photographers who have offered glimpses into rarely seen lives, including Saudi women behind the closed doors of their homes, people on the margins of society in Pinochet’s Chile, and residents of one of the world’s most isolated cities, where each winter the sun doesn’t rise for two months.
A media career that has been long-standing and consistent. Over the years she has extended her professional skills in television broadcasting, radio and print journalism. First coming to our attention when she co-presented on BBC One’s popular high profile The Clothes Show, for five years. Since she has fronted the interior design programme The Terrace, The Midweek National Lottery and done features for Holiday – all on BBC One. She was also one of the main presenters on Healthy Holidays and Money Makeovers for Granada and Sky Television. Regular appearances on ITV’s This Morning, Brenda teamed up with Richard Madeley and Judy Finnigan as their fashion and entertainment expert and she has spent 15 years on BBC London. Alt spoke to the Broadcaster and Journalist about her career and inspirations.
AA: What was it like working on The Clothes Show?
BE: The Clothes Show was actually the most transformative job of my career. I had always been a fan of the programme – watching it religiously and enjoying Jeff Banks, Caryn Franklin and then Selina Scott bringing us the latest news and access to the most exciting fashion around the world. I had had a passion for fashion from an early age so when I discovered that they may be looking for a new presenter I made my interest known and auditioned. It was a scary prospect but worth it as I have never looked back. The programme also changed my life in that it was so high profile and going to the supermarket, raving with friends and even eating out was never the same. I had to learn to deal with the press and the public alike. It was definitely a learning curve. The experience was an exceptional one – meeting the world’s greatest fashion designers and travelling the world experiencing some of the most beautiful fashion shows. The experience also gave me a greater understanding and respect for the industry and also made me realise that although we can see fashion as vacuous compared to other things in the world – the industry brings in a significant amount of money to the economy and gives some amazing creatives the opportunity to express themselves in ways that bring us the utmost pleasure.
AA: Was the Clothes Show your first tv job?
BE: The programme was not actually my first tv role. My first job in television following years as a print journalist was as a researcher on the current affairs magazine programme ‘Kilroy.’ I also worked on BBC Breakfast Time and eventually went to Manchester to work as a reporter on the youth magazine programme ‘Reportage.’ That was followed by years working for an independent production company and presenting arts and entertainment programmes for Channel 4 and Sky.
AA: Did you study Broadcast journalism?
BE: I actually did a Media Studies degree at what is now known as the University of Westminster.
AA: How much has your job changed since the new era of multi-tasking, when going out on a job do you still have the full crew?
BE: My job has changed quite a bit since the Clothes Show. I have spent over 15 years as the Arts, Culture and Entertainment Correspondent for BBC London News. It was an amazing time covering everything from red carpet events, exhibition, films, fashion, music and everything in between. There was a hell of a lot of celebrity interviewing and creating packages for television and online. I did work with a crew and I have always loved that aspect of the job and editing the films I still do this job but for the wider BBC – BBC2 and BBC4 as well as BBC World. I have also contributed films to BBC Africa. Having just completed an Arts Leadership Programme I am currently working and learning the ropes as a Channel Executive for BBC2 while making arts documentaries.
AA: As a woman in front of the camera in recent years the conversation has moved towards gender equality: what have been the changes that you have seen and what changes would you like to see?
BE: I have seen a significant increase in the number of women that have been given key roles in front of the camera but a majority of them have been white women. Increased diversity on screen still has a way to go and I am part of several organisations that are championing improvements in this area – as Vice Chair of the BBC Network for diverse staff (Embrace) and as an Executive Committee member of the Creative Industries Alliance. That said I am very proud to have had a consistent career on screen, but it has not been without a battle and a battle that has not got any easier.
AA: The last time we spoke you mentioned working on BBC Africa tell us about your role there?
BE: They have an amazing team and I was freelancing for them while doing my Clore Leadership programmes. I made films about black opera singers and artists. They were very well received, and they are still keen on me working with them and I would love to do more.
AA: With a long career on the BBC who have you interviewed that you find most memorable and who would you like to interview?
BE: I have been truly blessed to have interviewed a great deal of the A-list celebrities in music, arts, fashion and film. They include Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Samuel L Jackson, Ed Sheeran, Stevie Wonder, J Lo, Robert Redford, Karl Lagerfeld, Alexander McQueen, Idris Elba, Elton John…….the list goes on………
AA: What would you say makes a good journalist?
BE: I think fundamentally it boils down to being a good communicator and having the ability to draw information out of people. You have to have the ability to make people feel comfortable (depending on what type of journalist you are) and a dogged determination to get information out of people – even when they don’t want you to! It is also about telling stories that resonate with your audience. I always admire journalists that can deliver a beautifully crafted script – but sometimes working under pressure of deadlines makes that a challenge.
AA: Who are the women that inspire you past and present?
BE: There are the obvious like my incredible mother who taught me by her generosity of spirit and resilience. Also, Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama. But I also have huge respect for women like Malala Yousafzia, Tarana Burke and Greta Thunberg – women who stand for something. I have some amazing women in my life that are entrepreneurs, lawyers and creatives but the women that have really kept me grounded and real are my super strong sister Diane and my phenomenal teenage daughter Marley.
AA: If giving advice to anyone wanting to get into broadcasting what would that advice be from what you have learnt along the way?
Things have changed so much since I started broadcasting and there are a wide range of opportunities available because of social media and its impact on broadcasting. I would say that do not wait for offers to be handed to you on a plate – but create your own opportunities. Seek both mentors and sponsors. Take opportunities when they come your way – however small they may seem and especially if they bring you a new experience. Do not let yourself be exploited however – know your worth. Do not take all rejections personally – what is not for you is not for you. Persistence overcomes resistance.