It is with great sadness that I must on behalf of the IAMHIST Council tell members that our friend and former president Christine Whittaker has died. Christine was a long-term member of IAMHIST who served as president from 2001 to 2004. She brought much to our organization as one of the most prominent members with a background in practice rather than academia.
Christine – née Smith — was born on 22 December 1942 in the Northumberland town of Corbridge, on Hadrian’s Wall. She was educated at the University of Leeds where she read French and German. Her initial hope was to work for the Foreign Office as a translator, but when they turned her down she went to work for the BBC. Her first job was at the BBC World Service with a unit broadcasting in French to Canada. She moved within the corporation to the current affairs outfit based at Lime Grove where she worked on a program called 24 Hours, but it was when she moved to a third post at the feature/documentary unit at Kensington House. Her projects included a series of helicopter-films called Bird’s-Eye View (1969-1971) some episodes of which were written and narrated by the great English poet Sir John Betjeman, with whom Christine enjoyed working. Others working on the series included two crazy Polish pilots, the distinguished producer/director Edward Mirzoeff and a cameraman named Graham Whittaker whom she married in 1972. Christine and Mirzoeff worked together with Betjeman on two more films – Metro-Land (1973) and A Passion For Churches (1974), both of which are now considered classics. While at Kensington House Christine found her forte. Her tasks included researching a series of short films about major events in World War Two including the attack on the Tirpitz and the Norwegian resistance raid on the Nazi Heavy Water Plant all of which required her to locate archive film to illustrate the story. The process of finding historical film became her great professional passion and she became very good at it. In due course Christine received full credit as ‘producer (archives)’ in a string of major BBC projects. Her CV included some of the gems of television history including a history of work called All our Working Lives (1984), the path-breaking history of women’s experience in the twentieth century Out of the Dolls House (1988) of which she was especially proud and the Emmy-award winning The People’s Century, (1995-97). Her work was often featured in the Timewatch strand of historical documentaries which ran for many years on BBC 2. She was much admired by her colleagues in the television industry and by those who provided the film she used. In 2006 she was honored with a lifetime achievement award by FOCAL (the Federation of Commercial Audio Visual Libraries).
At IAMHIST Christine provided leadership during a time of change. She was kind and generous with her help to younger scholars and practitioners alike as a regular participant in master classes and she worked hard to maintain the presence of top-level practitioners at IAMHIST conferences. She was saddened by the changes in historical television and the decline of the in-house production teams of which she’d been part, and often shared a sense that she had been fortunate to be part of a golden age at the BBC. Christine took a great interest in the wider lives of her IAMHIST colleagues and always enjoyed meeting their families and children. Christine had two children, Georgina and Jack, and in recent years became a grandmother also. Her final years were marked by a struggle first with Parkinson’s Disease and then with cancer; she died of complications arising from these conditions with her family close by on 16 August. She will be much missed and our thoughts go out to Graham, Georgina, Jack and all her family at this sad time. Colleagues who wish to mark her passing might consider donating in her name to the Meadow House Hospice [link], who took care of her during her final weeks. The hospice mailing address is Macmillan Nursing, Meadow House Hospice, Uxbridge Road, Southall, Middlesex, UB1 3HW.