TV presenter Mary Rhodes, Herefordshire ambassador

PUBLISHED: 16:46 11 August 2010 | UPDATED: 17:41 20 February 2013

TV presenter Mary Rhodes, Herefordshire ambassador

TV presenter Mary Rhodes, Herefordshire ambassador

Starting her career at BBC Hereford Worcester, Mary Rhodes went on to become one of the first female sports presenters on national radio and TV

Presenting Mary Rhodes

Starting her career at BBC Hereford Worcester, Mary Rhodes went on to become one of the first female sports presenters on national radio and TV. Now presenting BBC West Midlands factual programme Inside Out, she continues to cheer on her childhood home as a Herefordshire Ambassador. By Rachel Crow

Pictures by Antony Thompson

Its easy to see how Mary Rhodes managed to hold her own in the male-dominated world of sports presenting. Possessing a sharp sense of humour and quick wit, amusing anecdotes come thick and fast. But more importantly, she admits to always being up for a challenge and there have been many in her career to date.

The former Weobley High School and Hereford Sixth Form College student credits landing her first job as a fresh-faced media graduate at the recently opened BBC Hereford and Worcester station in 1990 because: I knew how to pronounce all of these strange place names!
She recalls how in those pre-digital days, she would edit news stories on the reel-to-reel tape recorder using a chinagraph pencil, razor blade and splicing tape it makes me sound ancient but her early training proved a good grounding.

Now living in Warwickshire, the 42-year-old has retained strong links with Herefordshire where her mother, Christine Rhodes, still lives in the charming part 14th century house that Mary and her older brother, Edward, grew up in. Nestled in the picturesque black and white village of Weobley, its here we meet on one of Marys regular trips back to the county.

I was very flattered when asked to be a Herefordshire Ambassador by Visit Herefordshire, Mary explains. I think its a great idea, as long as the county is promoted in the right way.

Because the county is so special you dont want everyone to know about it, in a way, but equally you want the economy to be invigorated as it is hard, particularly in an agricultural community.

The Rhodes family moved to Weobley from Lancashire when Mary was a few months old. Her late father, Peter, took up a lecturing post at the teacher training college in Hereford, while Christine, formerly a teacher, opened a craft shop in a front room of their house and later a second business in the village, the Willow Gallery and tea rooms.

Along with a good group of friends with whom shes still in touch, Mary enjoyed a happy childhood in these bucolic surroundings.

Weobley has changed over the years but it still has a sense of community in pockets of the village, she says. I was a typical teenager and felt there was not a lot to do but I have great memories of things like the Weobley Carnival, the effort everyone used to put into those was fantastic.

Mr Fisher, the head of Weobley High School was a bit of a disciplinarian and very old-fashioned; he would walk around in his gown, but it was a very good school in terms of activities like music and drama. I was a painfully shy child and if anyone had told me then I would broadcast to millions of people I couldnt have thought of anything worse, but it was the drama at school and a drama club in Hereford that really brought me out of my shell.

Mary determined at a young age that she wanted to work for the BBC although her career has followed a far from obvious course. It included a stint in her 20s working as a press officer at the Catholic Centre for Communications, where one of her first jobs was advising Cardinal Basil Hume on how to approach an interview with John Humphrys on BBC Radio 4s Today Programme. Ten years later she was presenting sport on the Today Programme.

After about five years working at local radio stations around the country, she got her break in sports presenting while in Manchester when she convinced the editor to allow her to cover a local tennis event.
I think if it had been football or cricket he would have thought differently, she admits. Id always been interested in sport although was distinctly average at it myself.

While presenting on Radio Wimbledon two years later in the mid-1990s, Mary came to the attention of then head of BBC Sport and now Controller of Radio 2, Bob Shannon. He was looking for women who could broadcast and knew about sport. He told me: weve got one girl called Clare Balding, although I dont know how shell work out, Mary smiles, so he gave me a few shifts and I took a gamble and went freelance, covering sports events all over the country.

Mary counts on her CV presenting sport for Radio 4s Today, Radios 1, 2 and 5, as well as on TV for News 24 and she became an established face on national television covering major events such as the Olympics, Commonwealth Games, Wimbledon and Cricket World Cup. Shes also put herself in the shoes of the sportspeople on occasion and recorded a monthly audio diary of her preparations for the London Marathon in 2006. Id just mentioned off the cuff that Id thought about doing the London Marathon and next thing the editor had signed me up for it. When the editor of the Today Programme says thats what youre going to do, thats what you do. Now I try and think before I voice idle thoughts.

Her colleague, Helen Rollason, had begun to break down the barriers of the male-dominated television sport coverage, so although Mary admits she did not meet with much prejudice internally when she started out this was not always the case externally.

It was mainly in areas you could predict, such as boxing. Some people I interviewed could be quite patronising but you just got used to it. If a man made a slip-up it was just a mistake, but as a woman it was because we knew nothing about sport. I just ensured I tried doubly hard to get it right. Im quite stubborn really and you do have to develop a bit of a thick skin, she admits.

Marys strong spirit appears to reflect her mothers Christine Rhodes was one of the first women to be ordained at Hereford Cathedral. She decided to train for the ministry after the death of her husband in 1983 and was ordained in 1994. She, too, met with objection from certain quarters.

I was terribly naive going in to the ministry. I thought everyone would be welcoming, but thats not necessarily the case, Christine admits.

The subject of women clergy is a divisive issue and although its got a lot better there are still those in the clergy who do not support it.

I was also a bit apprehensive about changing my role in the community. People knew me as Chris who ran the craft shop, so I wasnt sure how they would greet it but it worked out OK.

Now retired, Christine was Hospital Chaplain at Hereford Cathedral for 16 years. A personal highlight was conducting Marys marriage service to Duncan Jones, in the village church of St Peter and St Pauls.

Mary and Duncan moved back to The Midlands five years ago when he took on the role of assistant editor at Radio Coventry and Warwickshire. In October Mary became the new presenter of BBC West Midlands factual programme Inside Out.

The thing Ive enjoyed most about Inside Out is getting my teeth into good stories and the investigative side. Sometimes the results have been really rewarding. There was a woman in the last series whose son had died and she had a lot of unanswered questions as she felt the police bungled the investigation. As a result of the piece she got an apology from the police.

So what about the story of Herefordshire? I do champion the cause of Herefordshire for stories, pushing the news agenda out beyond Birmingham. Hereford is a rich county in terms of the diversity. If I had to stand on a podium and promote it the first thing that comes to mind is the landscape. I hope it manages to stay like it is.

The new series of Inside Out starts on BBC1 on October 1

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