BBC broadcaster and Pic old girl still driven by social conscience

Winifred Robinson interview

Winifred Robinson is sitting outside a BBC radio studio in Salford. Another edition of You and Yours, the Radio 4 consumer affairs programme she has presented since 2000, has just aired and her mind is now wandering elsewhere, back to the time and place where her long career began: the Catholic Pictorial in 1979.

She was just out of Liverpool University and remembers: “Norman Cresswell, the editor at the time, said 'I could give you six months' work experience' and in this industry that is often all you need, just your foot in the door. I used to report on visits that Derek Worlock made to different projects, and I remember following Cardinal Basil Hume around when he came to Liverpool.”

It was the first step on a path that led, via the Ormskirk Advertiser, Red Rose Radio and Northwest Tonight, to Radio 4, where she presented the Today programme in the mid-90s and won a bronze Sony award for Reporter of the Year for her dispatches from Northern Ireland.

When she began at Today she received “a letter from this bloke saying your accent is OK for a comic turn but it is an affront to educated people anywhere” yet less than her soft Liverpudlian tones, it is her campaigning journalism that tells us she has never forgotten where she came from.

“Being a Catholic at the time when I grew up was just such a formative thing,” says Winifred, who was educated by the Notre Dame Sisters in Everton Valley and had her social conscience fine-tuned by her parents. Her father was a docker and her mother a Littlewoods shop steward. “My dad and mum always took a big interest in politics. We had the Sunday Times and used to watch World in Action and I remember thinking through journalism you could change the world.”

A parishioner at St Benedict’s, Warrington, she is saddened by the “loss of working-class culture” – which valued education and hard work – among some of society's most disadvantaged people in places like the Norris Green estate she grew up on, and sees her work on You and Yours as an opportunity to “fight for people who find it hard to get their voices heard”.

She adds: “We correct injustices for people who’ve tried on their own but haven’t had any luck, and we cover some of the biggest domestic stories – for example, care. When history judges us, that will be the big cruelty of our age. It recently emerged that some councils are contracting to visit elderly people for just five minutes a day.”

In her own industry she laments the absence of paid traineeships of the kind she secured after her work experience at the Pic. This “makes it very hard for people whose families are not wealthy”, she notes, yet she can at least help today’s students at Liverpool Hope University, where she received an honorary doctorate last summer.

“I think I am a good fit with Hope because I come from a council estate and am one of six children and the university draws more than an average number of its students from disadvantaged backgrounds. I have been asked to go in and do some master classes on the journalism training course which I am planning to do as I don’t want to just take the honour from them – I’d like to put something back.”