Journalist and television presenter
Esther Rantzen went to school in the US and in London before coming to Somerville in 1959 to study English. At Oxford she performed with the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS) and shortly after graduation she was recruited by the BBC.
Rantzen worked as a research for a number of current affairs programmes before moving to present the BBC series That’s Life! in 1973. She became the show’s presenter for 21 years. She founded the charities ChildLine (promoting child protection) in 1986 and The Silver Line in 2012 to combat loneliness in the lives of older people. In 1988 Rantzen created a new television series called Hearts of Gold which celebrated acts of outstanding kindness or courage.
After the death of her husband, film-maker Desmond Wilcox, Rantzen made a landmark programme on palliative care. She has campaigned to raise awareness of ME/CFS (chronic fatigue syndrome) and was the creator of the ‘Children of Courage’ segment for BBC’s Children in Need. In 1991, she was awarded an OBE for services to broadcasting and in 2015 she was made a Dame of the British Empire (DBE) for services to children and older people. Rantzen is Patron for the charity Operation Encompass and a Trustee for the charity Silver Stories. She is an Honorary Fellow of Somerville.
Esther Rantzen on Somerville ‘It was unsnobbish, it was egalitarian, it was a bit left wing, it was a bit… out there… Somerville is tolerant, broad-minded, celebrates diversity of all kinds.’