Dame Esther Rantzen

Childline Founder

Dame Esther Louise Rantzen DBE is an English journalist and television presenter, best known for presenting the hit BBC television series That’s Life! for 21 years from 1973 until 1994. She is well known for her work with various charitable causes. She is founder of the child protection charity ChildLine, which she set up in 1986, and The Silver Line, designed to combat loneliness, which she set up in 2012.

Rantzen was born in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, England, to Katherine Flora Rantzen (née Leverson, 1911–2005) and Henry Barnato Rantzen (1902–1992). Rantzen has one younger sister, Priscilla N. Taylor. She attended Buckley Country Day School in New York leaving in 1950. She was educated at North London Collegiate School, and Somerville College, Oxford, where she read English, performed with the Oxford University Dramatic Society (OUDS), became Secretary of the Experimental Theatre Club (ETC) and joined the Oxford Theatre Group, performing in Oxford and Edinburgh.

After training in secretarial skills, Rantzen was recruited by BBC Radio as a trainee studio manager. She began her television career as a clerk in the programme planning department, then obtained her first production job working as a researcher on the BBC One late-night satire programme, BBC3 (1965–66), created by Ned Sherrin. Having worked as a researcher on a number of Current Affairs programmes, she moved to the award-winning BBC Two documentary series Man Alive in the mid-1960s.

In 1976, Rantzen devised the documentary series The Big Time, which launched Sheena Easton’s singing career. She briefly hosted a junior version of That’s Life in the 1980s. Rantzen was one of the founders of TV-am, the company selected to launch ITV‘s breakfast television service, but before the station went on air in 1983, Rantzen dropped out, opting to remain with the BBC. She later briefly took a consumer spot on the BBC‘s own Breakfast Time.

Having made programmes about stillbirth (The Lost Babies), and mental health (Trouble in Mind), in 1985 Rantzen presented a BBC One programme on drug abuse, Drugwatch. In 1986 she produced and presented Childwatch, which alerted the British public to the prevalence of child abuse, and successfully campaigned for a number of legal reforms in this area.

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Watch Esther on Loose Women, here: