Beryl Hockley, Vikki Byrne's nan. The Daily Mail 1946.


Nurture V Nature — Women in Business

Vikki Byrne  •  3 min read

As a woman in-tech and in-business, I am often asked who or what inspired me to take the leap into what has been historically perceived to be a ‘man’s industry’.

As a child, I never thought of any industry, maybe other than construction and underground coal mining, being a ‘man’s world’. I guess this is because I was surrounded by strong independent people — both men and women, all of whom had the added advantage of being gifted, combined with the best soft skill of all, confidence!

Until recently, I hadn’t noticed the self-anointed advantages that some men had in the world of work, but slowly I’m beginning to recognise that even today we women do not always have true equality — although this is not what this article is about!

This piece is about my nan, (my mother’s mother) Beryl Hockley. Beryl, born in Palmers Green, London in 1924, was a pioneer of her time — and the woman who has inspired me to love tech and not to be afraid to give anything a go.

During the latter years of the Second World War, she joined the BBC as a transmitter engineer. After passing several exams (on D-Day) she was posted to Brookman's Park in Hertfordshire, which was the BBC's earliest purpose-built twin-wave transmitter station (the only BBC service it transmits today is R5 Live on medium wave). Beryl was also partly responsible for ensuring messages were received by SOE operatives behind enemy lines.

At the end of the war, she saw an advertisement about the reopening of Alexandra Palace, in North London, known around the world as Ally-Pally, the birthplace of UK television — she applied and was very ‘lucky’ to be selected. The Chief Engineer at the time told Beryl he did not like female technicians as they, ‘only caused trouble with the men’ — but he had been over-ruled. Interestingly, she earned the same money as her male counterparts — unheard of in any sector at the time.

On 7 June 1946, a year after VE-Day, television returned to the UK to just 20,000 viewers —Beryl was the BBC's first ever vision mixer, in charge of selecting and combining the television pictures to be shown to an eager audience. Newspaper headlines followed — '20,000 Wait for Beryl'.

Her memories of the early days of live TV were fascinating — not just the fragile technology but also the array of people with whom she worked (many household names). In later years she became a well-known speaker to both professional TV groups and the general public, raising funds for cancer research and other charities through her presentations. Alan Yentob made a BBC TV programme about those early pioneers which included many memories from my Nan — ‘Imagine: And Then There Was Television’.

To most she was a charming inspiration — but to me, her granddaughter, she was just my amazing Nan.

I am often told I have a ‘man’s brain’, which apparently is meant to be a compliment! In fact, both my female business partner and I are often praised for being women ‘managing’ to run a technical company — whilst this is a shocking indication that misogyny is still alive and functioning in the 21st Century, we take this as a backhanded compliment. We love knowing that what we’re doing is a big fat reminder that, today, there should be no such things as a man’s or woman’s world. Neither of us intended on ending up in this industry — and not just to me, her granddaughter, but we are immensely proud of what we have achieved.

Cheers Nan!