'I have only been through the university of life, and what a diverse life'

June 9, 2006

Actress and child welfare campaigner Floella Benjamin becomes Exeter University's chancellor

Every week, the children's programme Play School began with the words: "A house, with a door." Floella Benjamin, for many years the show's star presenter, has now taken on a very different role as chancellor of Exeter University.

Ms Benjamin may be best known as a children's TV broadcaster, but she is also an actress, singer, writer, producer and campaigner for child welfare. She was born in Trinidad and emigrated to the UK in the early 1960s. She wrote about her schooldays in Coming To England , later adapted into an award-winning TV drama. She wanted to be a teacher, but her parents could not afford to keep her at school after 16. She worked in a bank while studying at night school, set on becoming the UK's first black woman bank manager. But after gaining a banking diploma she went into acting instead, making her first major appearance in the musical Hair .

Ms Benjamin, a vice-president of Barnardo's, led a 20-year campaign for a children's minister, which achieved its goal in 2003. Last July, she was awarded an honorary degree from Exeter University - she writes on her website that this was "the most amazing thing that has happened to me recently". She adds: "This was great because I didn't have the opportunity to go to university. I have only been through the university of life - and what a diverse life I have had so far."

Steve Smith, Exeter's vice-chancellor, said this week: "We have all been deeply impressed by Floella's commitment to helping young people reach their full potential and in helping them to see life from others' perspective."

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