Kay Benbow Obituary

Kay Benbow Obituary

By Tara Conlan,
Wednesday, 3rd April 2024
Kay Benbow
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Tara Conlan mourns the loss of a great force for good in children’s television

Millions of children owe a debt to Kay Benbow, the former CBeebies Controller, who has died at the age of 62.

She helped to bring to the screen numerous shows that engaged and educated generations of youngsters, including In the Night Garden, Octonauts and Tweenies.

Kay was renowned for creating ambitious children’s television – from commissioning TV’s first animated autistic character, Pablo, to introducing the CBeebies pantomime, to an adaptation of The Tempest performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company.

After studying theology at Oxford University, Kay joined the BBC in 1985 as a radio studio manager, before moving to television presentation in 1988, where she met her husband, Ian Stubbs. They married in 1991.

She then moved to the Young Children’s department and worked with children’s producer Alison Stewart. They became close friends, making shows such as Superbods. “Kay was a great director. Organised, thorough, impressive in the production gallery and the edit, and artists loved working with her,” said Stewart.

Kay subsequently worked on shows aimed at older children and became a producer, before going freelance in 1999 to direct the hit series Tweenies.

She returned to the BBC in 2000, rising up the ranks before the CBeebies channel began in 2002. There, Kay launched the careers of presenter Justin Fletcher and groundbreaking producer Blue Zoo Animation.

In 2006, she was appointed Head of CBeebies Production, Animation and Acquisitions, before becoming CBeebies Controller in 2010. She moved to MediaCity in Salford and continued her work during successful treatment for cancer.

During her time as Controller, CBeebies won RTS Channel of the Year and Bafta Children’s Channel of the Year five times. Her commissions included CBeebies’ first live-action scripted series, Topsy and Tim, Hey Duggee and a partnership with Northern Ballet.

Diversity was paramount. Stewart recalled that Kay’s motto was “Everyone is welcome” at CBeebies: “The ‘learning through play’ message was present in all her commissions.”

Kay became acting Director of Children’s in 2014 for five months. In 2018, she left the corporation to become a consultant and script editor on series such as CBeebies’ Roots and Fruits and the RTS North West Awards-nominated The World According to Grandpa strand within Channel 5’s Milkshake!.

Outside of TV, she loved gardening, theatre, Arsenal football club and regularly seeing her former BBC colleagues, who paid tribute to her. Former BBC executive Tanya Motie said that, when they were BBC Children’s commissioners, each day started “reflecting on the fortunes of Arsenal over a cuppa before switching into work mode... She was a fiercely loyal, utterly supportive and deeply caring human and the world is a sadder place without her.”

BBC Director of Unscripted Kate Phillips remembered her love of dancing and how “she had time for everyone. Kay had amazing energy and drive and was a trailblazer but was without ego. She was a complete delight.”

Former CBBC Controller, now consultant, Anne Gilchrist said: “Kay made CBeebies the rarely acknowledged jewel in the BBC’s crown... I often heard viewers say that they’d be prepared to pay the licence fee for CBeebies alone. Her passing is an enormous loss.”

Tina Jaffray, who was a production manager and met Kay working on shows that included Bodger & Badger, said she was always “a fabulously supportive friend. How did she find the time to not only create a very successful channel but also give people so much of herself in friendship? Truly inspirational.”

Stewart agreed: “Kay was kind, generous, fiercely loyal, clever and absolutely passionate about the things that meant most to her – her family, of course, of whom she was so proud and on whom she relied so much. They were everything to her.”

Floella Benjamin added that Kay “was passionate about creating magic for children and her legacy still lives on. Her achievements will not be forgotten.”

Kay is survived by her husband and two sons.

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