Revel Guest, who died at the age of 90, was told by her father as a child that there were no more limits for her as a woman than for her two older brothers to ” do something with his life.”
She has followed his advice faithfully in her various careers in politics, documentary filmmaking, film production, agriculture, racehorse training and, most recently, as long-time chair of the annual Hay Literary Festival, earning the admiration and l affection of his peers. , numerous awards and the satisfaction of bringing Michael Morpurgo’s War Horse to the big screen in 2011, with six Oscar nominations.
When Revel Guest stood for the Conservatives in the safe Labor seat of Swansea East in the 1955 general election, only 24 women were elected to the House of Commons. More importantly – and an early indicator of what was to come – she was the youngest candidate the Tories had ever fielded, having navigated undeterred, she recalls, through 26 selection meetings to get her chance. .
It might have helped in such interviews if she could mention having already, at the age of 21, organized a conference in Westminster by her father’s first cousin, Winston Churchill, on free trade. “Sitting next to him beforehand,” she reported, “I was hoping to accumulate a wonderful memory of some wise words, but he didn’t say anything to me at all. At that time, elders were treated with respect, so I wouldn’t have started the conversation.
Yet she was not one to be limited by the conventions of the wealthy, aristocratic world of her upbringing (her paternal grandmother was a Spencer-Churchill, and her father Oscar Guest and three brothers had all been MPs).
Having first spent his 20 years in politics, working for Liberal leader Jo Grimond; as press officer for the UK Council of the European Movement; then in journalism, at Time & Tide and Westminster Press, Revel Guest reached her thirties not by getting married and settling down, but by becoming the first female producer-director of the BBC’s Panorama show, alongside by Richard Dimbleby, Robin Day and others.
“My mother didn’t burn her bra like other women in the 1960s,” recalls her son, Justin Albert (Director of the National Trust in Wales), “but she was a feminist. It bothered her that she had to be three times better than any man around her to get the job.
From Panorama, where she made a name for herself with hard-hitting reporting on topics such as racial inequality and homelessness, as well as profiles of prominent political figures, she moved to the United States in 1966 in as bureau chief of the Public TV Laboratory, funded by the Ford Foundation and precursor to PBS, the public broadcast network in America.