Karen Johnson

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Mrs Karen Johnson

I was born in 1959. I began working at the BBC in 1990, my final year at the BBC was 2006.


Grimethorpe Springvale primary School Grimethorpe Springvale Middle Scholl Grimethorpe Willowgarth Secondary School

Previous Jobs

Night club cleaner Barclays Bank English & Drama Teacher BBC Education London BBC Education Scotland Turmeric Media

How I joined the BBC

I applied several times to every media outlet I could find in radio and TV and eventually Terry Marsh gave me an interview after I applied to a scheme for ethnic minorities

My first impressions of the BBC

Gobsmacking. I had died and gone to heaven. Allowed free rein to do pretty much exactly what I wanted to do, within the limits of my exec producer Nicholas Whines and Producer Peter Evans who were amazingly supportive.

Broad BBC career

I worked in the Schools Education Department. One could think that sounds a bit dull, but those of us who worked in Schools TV enjoyed constant trips to make Geography docs in far flung places. I was sent to Kenya, Japan, Switzerland, Germany France, Spain - every country in Europe and a few that weren't The aim was to introduce primary school children to the lives of children across the world, so they could see their peers in other places.

My training at the BBC

Like all trainee assistant directors, we went first on a sort of introduction to film making. I was sent to a very grand house owned by the BBC to be given my first taste of how to make a very short film. Really and actually on film. We had a very talented supportive crew. It must have been dire for them trying to deal with my terrible directing. Fortunately, people were very generous and kind with their advice and support. It was rare to be criticised. Frequent to be helped and supported to try and make our first bit of film. We were taught very quickly and efficiently and then assigned to a real producer to help us make our first film. Lucky for me I got Peter Evans as a producer and then Peter's wife, who was a master in the cutting room. Astonishingly she managed to translate my mangled rough cut into something that could actually eventually be transmitted. So the training was a marvellous combination of doing exactly what you wanted to do, while being aided by the best crews one could have every desired. Great DOPs were tolerant and amused as I staggered through my education. In the end I was not a great film maker. But I turned out to be a reasonably good manager of crews and staff. Which, as it turns out, is a very useful thing to be in an organisation So I started climbing the management pole and ended up as the Commissioning Editor in Schools TV. I adored this job. I got to spend my days talking to producers of all types. I could poke my nose in everywhere but I could also rely on the amazing skills of the whole team.

Feelings about the BBC whilst I worked there

I felt I was in the most astonishing, liberal, talented place in the world. Effectively, I had died and gone to heaven.

Non autobiographical notes and facts BBC about the BBC

What I did not realise was the politics above me at the BBC. The saddest thing I encountered was the rewriting of an excellent Belfast documentary on Palestine. But I think when the BBC board is run by very rich people with very vested interests that is going to happen. I think it happens in most organisations run by the rich and powerful media interests.

Feelings about the BBC today

Still. I absolutely believe the BBC is amazing. When I was travelling the world for the BBC people constantly told me how they revered the BBC and how they would go to extremes to try and hear a BBC broadcast. From Japan to Kenya I heard how much the BBC was the most trusted broadcaster. It was humbling to hear this so often and it showed how far advanced the BBC was at the time.