Andrea Wonfor, who has died at the age of 60 from breast cancer, was the first female director of programmes at Granada TV and joint managing director from 1994-1999. BBC children’s drama Byker Grove was her idea, based on characters she knew and it became the launch pad for Ant and Dec.
Her other production credits included The Tube, Longitude, Cold Feet, The Big Breakfast, The Word and the landmark, Manchester-filmed remake of The Forsyte Saga.Ê
Wonfor was born in Canterbury on July 31, 1944. She studied at New Hall, Cambridge and joined Granada in 1966 as a trainee, along with John Birt and Nick Elliot, now ITV network head of drama.
She moved to Tyne Tees in 1966 as a researcher and stayed until 1978 as a director. Her executive career began when she was made head of youth and children’s programmes at Tyne Tees from 1982-1987.Ê
In 1982 she launched The Tube, the influential rock magazine of the eighties, which became the launching pad for many of the decade’s most prominent names, including Frankie Goes to Hollywood, Paul Young, U2 and The Eurythmics. The show also launched Paula Yates and Jools Holland.
Wonfon founded the independent production company Zenith North in 1987, which produced the hugely successful children’s soap Byker Grove for the BBC. The groundbreaking series tackled controversial subjects such as death, homosexuality, racism, teenage marriage and divorce.Ê
Later she was recruited by Michael Grade – at the time chief executive of Channel 4 – to be controller of arts and entertainment (1990-1993). She was promoted to deputy director of programmes but lost out to John Willis when the director’s job fell vacant.
After leaving Granada in 1999 she said that she was proud of overseeing Coronation Street’s transition from three to four episodes a week and commissioning the Jimmy McGovern drama Hillsborough. “I was also very proud of my part in discovering Caroline Aherne,” she said. “We made her first Mrs Merton pilot for the BBC and that led to the Royle Family.”
In 2002 she co-founded the independent producer Liberty Bell with the former ITV Digital executive, Stuart Prebble. The company made the BBC2 hit series Grumpy Old Men.
Wonfor was also the first woman to chair the Royal Television Society (1996-1998).
She died on September 10, 2004.
Paying tribute, BBC chairman Michael Grade said: “Andrea was the first woman of her generation to reach the executive heights, a champion of the talents outside London and she never made an enemy.”
Channel 4 art critic Waldemar Januszczak said: “She believed that television should stick up two fingers at the bores.”