From the early twentieth century, educated women had taken to the new profession of advertising with alacrity. The Association of Advertising Women had been set up in 1910 and in 1923, the Women’s Advertising Club of London was established with 50 top women executives becoming members. At the BBC, the launch of Radio Times in 1923, followed by the introduction of two new BBC periodicals, World Radio in 1926 and The Listener in 1929, meant staff were needed to sell advertising space.
The nucleus of a department had been established at Savoy Hill. In 1926 a Miss IK Lewis, listed as earning ?300 for ‘propaganda’, probably denotes advertising. In June 1929, Hilda Prance was appointed to the newly established post of Advertising Canvasser, along with three men. The men had all left the BBC within five months but Miss Prance would remain with the Corporation, a stalwart of the department until her death in-service in 1937.
Prance was educated at Cheltenham Ladies’ College and after the First World War joined the advertising staff of George Newnes. Newnes published Radio Times and Prance asked for a transfer to the publication. At the BBC, she had responsibility for advertising that represented women’s interests, her knowledge of this market seen as advantageous. That women were the prime purchasers of consumer goods was well established by the mid-1920s. Ethel Wood, Director of the advertising agency Samson Clark and Co, suggested that they were the target for possibly 75 per cent of all adverts. Prance may have worked on other accounts but women’s interests was certainly a large part of the job, her high earnings (according to the Bonus List for 1930, her ?375 salary was the third highest) indicate it was viewed as strategically important. The Bonus List also showed that out of a staff of nine canvassers (eight of whom were men), Prance was one of only four to be paid a full bonus and she was described as a splendid worker who got excellent results.
According to Ariel, the BBC’s Advertising Department functioned like a businessman’s club and only male typists were used. This was because ‘the work would be too strenuous and the air (occasionally) too blue’ to be coped with by women. In consequence, any woman who worked in the Department would have been isolated, without even female secretarial and clerical support. In March 1933, a second woman was recruited, Mrs Carvell, ‘with the idea of strengthening the canvassing of women’s advertising interests in our publications’. Miss Cheseldine joined the team in March 1938, selected at an Appointment Board above six men.
Prance died suddenly from bronchial pneumonia in January 1937, her obituary in Ariel offering a glimpse into her private life. An ardent motorist who also owned a motorcycle, she was a country lover and an enthusiastic gardener who spent much of her spare time in her cottage garden at Bourne End. The accompanying photograph presents an old- fashioned woman (her hair is in a bun) dressed in jacket, collar and tie, which Ariel described as her ‘duty clothes’. Interestingly, a photograph of her replacement, Miss Cheseldine, also shows a young woman sporting a shirt and tie, distinctively masculine clothes which suggest that Prance and Cheseldine assumed something of a male persona. This may have increased their acceptability in an area of work that was still pioneering for women and which, at the BBC, was dominated by men.
-  For a discussion on women advertisers in the interwar years see Fiona Hackney (2011)‘“They Opened Up a Whole New World”: Feminism, Modernity and the FeminineImagination in Women’s Magazines, 1919-1939’ (Unpublished doctoral dissertation:University of London) pp. 72-80.
-  Kate Murphy (2001) Firsts: The Livewire Book of British Women Achievers (London: TheWomen’s Press) pp. 38-9.
-  Greenhow, Relph and Scott were appointed on salaries of ?312, ?400 and ?400 respectively. Prance on a salary of ?300. At her death she earned ?475.
-  BBC/WAC:R13/321: Advertising Department, Goldsmith to Carpendale, 6 September1933.
-  J.A.R. Cairns (1928) Careers for Girls (London: Hutchinson) p. 170.
-  BBC/WAC:R49/10/1: Advertising Department: Grades and Bonus System.
-  Ariel, June 1936.
-  Carvell was designated Advertising Representative.
-  R49/27/1-3: Appointment Boards, 21 March 1938.
-  This was not uncommon in the interwar years. See Alison Oram (2007) ‘Her HusbandWas a Woman!’ Women’s Gender-Crossing in Modern British Popular Culture (London:Routledge).