Birthday: June 22, 1940
Age: 80 Years, 80 Year Old Females
Sun Sign: Cancer
Also Known As: Dame Esther Louise Rantzen
Born Country: England
Born in: Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England, United Kingdom
Famous as: Journalist
Height: 5'4" (163 cm), 5'4" Females
Spouse/Ex-: Desmond Wilcox (m. 1977)
father: Henry Barnato Rantzen
mother: Katherine Flora
children: Joshua Wilcox, Miriam Wilcox, Rebecca Wilcox
education: Somerville College, North London Collegiate School, Buckley Country Day School
Dame Esther Louise Rantzen is a noted English journalist and television presenter, known especially for presenting the BBC television series, ‘That’s Life!’. Early in her life, she was taught by her father to have high academic ambition, while from her teacher she learned that even if women had not had certain jobs that did not mean that they could not do it. After earning her degree from Somerville College, Oxford, she began her career at BBC Radio. Later, she was moved to BBC Television, where she worked first as a clerk, and then as a researcher, never expecting a promotion because of her gender. Finally, at the age of 28, she went on screen with ‘Braden’s Week’ and never looked back after that, presenting a line of successful programs one after another. She is also the founder of two telephone support services, ‘ChildLine’ for the children and ‘The Silver Line’ for the aged and contributes regularly to publications like Daily Mall on children’s issues.
Childhood & Early Years
Esther Louise Rantzen was born on 22 June 1940 in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England. Her father, Henry Barnato Rantzen, was an electrical engineer, who worked as the head of the lines and designs department of the BBC.
In 1940, before Esther was born, her father had sent her mother, Katherine Flora Rantzen née Leverson, to Berkhamsted so as to avoid bombing raids. It was here that Esther was raised until the age of five. She has a younger sister named Priscilla N. Taylor.
In 1945, she began her education at a primary school in Berkhamsted. But as the Second World War came to an end the family returned to London, where she was initially enrolled at a private school.
In late 1940s, she moved with her family to the USA, where Henry Barnato Rantzen worked for the United Nations. Here, Esther was enrolled at Buckley Country Day School.
On their return to England, she was enrolled at North London Collegiate School, where she was inspired by their head teacher. Under her supervision, she soon started blossoming.
As a teenager, she was sexually abused by a man, who was not a blood relative, but known to her parents. Therefore, when she told her mother about it, her mother thought Esther was sensationalizing and instructed her to continue with the social interaction, which Esther refused to do.
After school, she entered, Somerville College, Oxford University, with English. There, she joined the Oxford Theatre Group, performed with the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS) and also became Secretary of the Experimental Theatre Club (ETC).
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On graduating from Oxford University, Esther Rantzen took secretarial training and then began her career with the BBC, being recruited in 1963 as a trainee studio manager at BBC Radio. Later she was moved to BBC Television, where she initially worked as a clerk in the program planning department.
In 1965, she started working as television researcher for ‘BBC-3’, a chat show that was aired on BBC One during the winter of 1965-1966. Thereafter, she continued to work as a researcher on a number of current affair programs, before joining the team of ‘Man Alive’ sometime in mid 1960s.
Her breakthrough came in 1968 while working as a researcher for ‘Braden’s Week’, a consumer program hosted by Bernard Braden on BBC1. For some reasons, the producer of the program decided to put the researchers on screen, opening a new horizon for Rantzen.
She remained with ‘Braden’s Week’ until its end in 1972. By then, she had established herself as a successful television personality, as a result of which she was chosen as the main presenter for BBC’s upcoming program, ‘That’s Life!’, a role she continued to play from 1973 to 1994.
In 1976, concurrently with presenting ‘That’s Life!’, she started working on another program, a reality television series called ‘The Big Time’. She not only devised and produced the show, but also performed as the narrator in the first seven episodes.
From 1982 onwards, Esther Rantzen started creating shows on drugs, mental health and stillbirth. Shortly, she devised a novel program that would concentrate on finding ways to identify children at risk of abuse and offer advice and help to them.
After a thorough research, ‘Childwatch’ was screened on BBC1 from 8:30 to 11 pm on 30 October 1986 and was watched by an estimated 16.5 million people. Simultaneously a helpline for children was opened for 48 hours. It was immediately flooded with calls, inspiring Rantzen to open another child-specific helpline.
The Childwatch team met with childcare professionals from all sectors, discussing how to establish a permanent free telephone helpline for children in distress, which would remain open for 24 hours a day. Called ‘ChildLine’, the helpline with its memorable phone number, was launched in 1986 and quickly became popular.
In 1988, Esther Rantzen devised a program glorifying those unsung heroes who had helped others. Called ‘Hearts of Gold’, the program started in October 1988 and ran till May 1996. Meanwhile on 19 June, 1994, ‘That’s Life!’, which had been running for the last twenty-one years, was taken off the air.
In 1995, she started her own talk show, ‘Esther’, which was aired until 2002 on BBC Two. Thereafter, she continued to work, taking part in programs like 'Would Like to Meet and Excuse My French' and ‘Old Dogs New Tricks’ etc.
She also made a landmark program on palliative care called ‘How to Have a Good Death’ and a documentary called ‘Winton's Children’. Opening another telephone helpline called ‘The Silver Line’ is another milestone of her career. Founded in 2012, it was designed to combat loneliness in older people,
Esther Rantzen is best known as the main presenter of ‘That's Life!’, a magazine-style television series, which ran on BBC1 from 26 May 1973 till 19 June 1994. The program, featuring hard-hitting investigations, intercepted by satires and lighthearted entertainments, was highly popular, regularly drawing in more than 18 million viewers.
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Honors & Achievements
In 1991, Rantzen was appointed an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) for her services to television broadcasting. Later in 2006, she was promoted to Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for her services to children and young people.
In 2015, she was made Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) for services to children and older people through ChildLine and The Silver Line. In 2018, a grant of arm was made to her by Letters Patent of Garter and Clarenceux Kings of Arms.
In 1997, she was inaugurated into the Royal Television Society Hall of Fame. Among the awards she received are Lifetime Achievement Award from the Women in Film and Television International, the Royal Television Society's Special Judges' Award for Journalism etc.
Family & Personal Life
In 1968, Esther Rantzen met Desmond John Wilcox, who was actually her boss at BBC and married to her friend Patsy. Eventually, they developed a relationship and started living together. They finally got married on 2 December 1977 and had three children, Rebecca, Joshua and Mirima.
In 1999, a year before his death, Rantzen re-married her husband Desmond Wilcox.