10 June 2012

Wincey Willis

One of my favourite TV celebrities of the 1980s, Wincey (real name Winsome) emerged into the limelight as TV-am weather girl in May 1983, helping to bring warmth and popular appeal to the channel after its starchy start. She had been spotted doing regional forecasts on Tyne Tees Television.

 Wincey had begun her career as a TV weather girl in July 1981. On a visit to Tyne Tees Television, it was suggested that she audition. Wincey protested that she knew nothing about the weather, but was assured that all the details would come from the Newcastle Weather Centre. It was the day before the Royal Wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer,  and at the audition Wincey was suddenly told that there was no forecast available - an old ploy to see how the person auditioning would cope under pressure. Wincey had been doing mock forecasts for the Royal Wedding street parties that were to be held throughout the Tyne Tees region, and said that, despite the lack of information at her disposal, she knew it was going to be a fine day because her mother's knee hadn't been aching all week! She got the job, and in 1983 came her TV-am role.
Wincey used her fame to promote her passionate interest in animals and nature. 

Before fame, in 1980/81, whilst working on local radio, she had been asked to present a piece about terrapins on regional Tyne Tees Saturday morning children's show Saturday Shake-Up. This was spotted by Granada producer Muriel Young, who asked Wincey to contribute to three programmes of a 1981 children's series called Graham's Ark. In 1982, Wincey got her own series for pre-school children, Wincey's Pets.

TV Times, 4 June, 1982: Wincey's Pets makes its debut.

Having gained national fame at TV-am, Wincey wrote the books It's Raining Cats And Dogs (1986) and Green Days (1990). In 1986, she devised The Weather Game, a board game manufactured by Waddingtons. She also presented other TV-am features, Wincey's Pets, Wincey's Wall and Caring Christmas, before finally leaving the station in 1987.

In the meantime, Wincey had joined innovative '80s series Treasure Hunt as adjudicator, taking her place alongside Kenneth Kendall and Anneka Rice, and remained there until the final series in 1989, when Anneka was replaced by tennis player Annabel Croft.

Wincey also had the great honour of a mention in a sketch on the wonderful Victoria Wood As Seen On TV series, when a character took out a copy of the (entirely fictional) Wincey Willis Book Of Wholemeal Pasta from the local library!

TV Times, May/June 1982: The wonder woman of animal farm. Wincey is pictured in the days before her glorious mullet with Molly the cockatoo. Here's an extract from the article: 

Rags, a large Airedale crossbreed dog was abandoned by his owners in a state of collapse; Suzie, a Papillon, was a wandering bitch with a very matted coat, Black Puss was a farmyard cat about to be drowned; Tucker the kitten was found thrown away in a dustbin inside a plastic bag; Leo and Lucy were stray cats; and Tiddles lived on his wits in a deserted cottage. These are some of the domestic pets belonging to Wincey Willis, presenter of the series Wincey's Pets and weather forecaster for Tyne Tees Television.

Her collection of 80 animals, many of which have hard luck stories behind them, lives with her and her husband Malcolm in a small cottage standing among fields in the heart of the countryside outside Darlington. The back room has been turned into a home for terrapins, tortoises, cockatoos and other animals that need to be kept warm. In the garden is an aviary with Wincey's collection of exotic birds and a 'hospital' for wild birds recovering from injuries. A bounding gypsy goat leaps in and out of the trees and the whole is presided over by a strutting cockerel.

Wincey, a bubbling blonde with close-cropped hair and cornflower eyes, has always loved animals. 'As a child I never wanted toys - just more pets,' she says. 'I would make model zoos out of cardboard boxes. If a bird fell from a tree or a hedgehog turned up half drowned in a drain, I would always bring it home and my dad would help me look after it and get it well again.'

Over the years, Wincey has built up a reputation as someone who can never say 'no' to an animal in trouble. Strangers turn up at her door with stray pets, fledglings that have fallen out of trees and birds of prey with broken wings. Wincey has made herself an expert on all types of wildlife and her phone is always buzzing with calls from vets, asking her the right mix for hedgehog milk or the correct diet for a song thrush. Her farming neighbours think she is crazy, but they respect her views. Before they plough or harvest, they invite her to inspect their fields so that she can remove any animals or birds to safety before the machines move in.

'To look after wild animals properly and bring them back to fitness so they can be released you have to know what they normally eat and what conditions are like for them in the wild. Trying to simulate their natural diet and living conditions isn't always easy. We had a baby swift once that needed hundreds of tiny flies a day.'

Husband Malcolm, who helps Wincey with her animals, remembers the stay of the swift very well. He was sent into the garden to swat thousands of flies and Wincey boiled them up into a kind of soup. 'But it was worth it,' she says. 'I will never forget the day we let it fly away. It was sheer magic to see it soaring off into the sky'....

Writing about herself in recent years, Wincey says:

You will probably remember me as the mulleted beauty from TV-am with a penchant for bad '80s knitwear...

It all seemed such a good idea at the time - remember, mullets weren't called mullets in the 1980s and seemed very glamorous! Wincey won the honour of the "Head Of The Year" award for her hairdo in 1986.

 It's Raining Cats & Dogs, 1986, This is a lovely read - a twelve month insight into some of Wincey's activities, with an introduction by Gerald Durrell . 

Wincey is still broadcasting and lecturing on media and wildlife conservation, and recently returned to daily weather forecasts on an internet based community news station for West Oxfordshire.

UPDATED 10/6/12


Stewpot said...

Wincey was great! I met her once and she was friendly and kind. Her stardom had not gone to her head.

Jon said...

Wincey is truly lovely. She tweets as @WinceyWillis1 if you want to get in touch.

Drew said...

Thanks for that. It's good to know. I'm about to update this blog post with more Wincey material, so please check back in a few days.

Anonymous said...

when we were children we found a dog in a box outside of Tyne Tees studios and Wincey Willis came and took him :)

Drew said...

Sounds very typical of Wincey! I think it was her passionate devotion to animals that made me like her so much as a TV personality. I'm a bit of a "be kind to animals" geezer myself - although not in her league! :)