In media-historical retrospect, Ingrid Edström stands out as one of the genuinely creative producers of the 1970s. Children’s and youth productions prospered under her leadership at the Swedish Television via methods drawn from her experiences in Swedish children’s theatre. She developed a trust in her employees that stimulated creativity and bore fruit. Without Ingrid Edström, Swedish children’s classics such as Tårtan (“The cake”), Vilse I Pannkakan (“Lost in the pancake”), Kalles klätterträd (“Charlie’s Climbing Tree”) or Skrot-Nisse (“Scrap-Nisse”) would hardly have been made.
As a child, Ingrid Edström lived at the Skansen open-air museum in Stockholm, where her father was the chief of staff and in charge of artist engagements: “I remember how I once got dragged out of bed in the middle of the night and someone put a national costume on me, pressed a bouquet of flowers into my hand and took me out onto the main stage. There stood a big red-haired old man who accepted the bouquet and gave me a wet kiss. It was Anders de Wahl. It was an emergency call-out, as no one had thought about bringing him any flowers.”
Ingrid Edström grew up in a theatre-loving family where all her siblings (Per, Lars and Britta) would gain leading positions in theatre and television. She herself had her sights set on becoming an actor. “I’m going to be the new Greta Garbo”, she said. After the war, the family moved to Västerås, where Ingrid Edström played Kristina in the amateur company Scenklubben’s production of Strindberg’s Master Olof.
At the age of twenty, with girls’ school and theatre studies under her belt, Ingrid Edström approached director Bengt Lagerkvist, who ran a basement theatre in Stockholm’s Old Town at the time. A few years later, in the same neighbourhood, Ingrid Edström was part of starting a new theatre in an old cinema. She remained there for most of the 1950s: “It was an exciting time. In the beginning, everything went incredibly well. I intended to start an acting career but as so often later in my career pattern I was taken in by the big scheme of things, which interfered with my focus on acting. We had a safe deposit box with money that no one had any clue about. I opened a bank account and got a bankbook and an auditor. Then I sewed the costumes, built sets and cleaned the theatre. Actually, I had made up my mind never to sit in an office and never to sew another stitch after needlework class. Now I was living in the office where I handled all the administration and tailored all the costumes.”
Ingrid Edström came to Swedish television in 1957, recruited by Barbro Svinhufvud who had been head of Swedish Radio’s children’s program editorial department and later became head of planning at Swedish Television. For Ingrid Edström, this television work was primarily a freelance gig, and a way to earn some cash. She gave birth to Johan in 1958 – which her new employer hardly noticed: “I never realised that I might have the right to be on maternity leave. I was a presenter and producer. Barbro Svinhufvud was my boss. We did a live broadcast of a children’s play every month. Tomas Bolme was one of the child actors. We did the children’s program Innan vi lägger oss (“Before we go to bed”), led by Inga Tobiasson, and the nature show I skogsbrynet (“At forest’s edge”) with Nils Linnman. I worked as a producer until the mid-60s and was deputy director of the children’s department.”
In 1969, Ingrid Edström was part of founding TV2’s children’s department and also became its head. Thus begins the golden age of children’s and youth films on Swedish television, which would last throughout the 1970s. Ingrid Edström’s efforts are difficult to trace because she rarely appeared in any credits and here, film researcher Malena Janson’s exploration of this era is an important key to SVT’s history. Janson’s book När bara den bästa TV:n var god nog åt barnen (“When only the best television was good enough for the children”, 2014), states the following: “The first thing Ingrid Edström did as manager was, according to her own statement, to change the agreements that applied to children’s program makers and differed in a discriminatory way from the agreements for those who made adult programs.” This, as per Ingrid Edström’s philosophy, was of importance in order to be able to connect with the best creators – even if it took time.
On the other hand, it was possible to be clear when it came to goals and ambitions, as can be seen from the editorial board’s “Goals for children’s program operations”. Here, it was determined that the children’s programs must have fixed broadcasting times, reasonable budgets, and that they should be able to demonstrate quality, equality and variety. Ingrid Edström then ensured that these goals were met, partly by preparing the ground in the boardrooms and in the financial departments, and partly by finding the right material and the right creators herself.
Ingrid Edström made sure that unusual and eccentric artistic personalities were given a place on the screen and developed into full-fledged film artists. Among these, Staffan Westerberg with Vilse i Pannkakan (“Lost in the pancake”, 1975), and Håkan Alexandersson and Carl Johan De Geer with Tårtan (“The cake”, 1972) and Doktor Krall (1974) are of particular note. Ingrid Edström also gave the green light to such unique and long-term projects as the animation collective POJ’s films – notably Kalles klätterträd (Charlie’s Climbing Tree, 1975) – and Jan Lööf’s Skrotnisse och hans vänner (“Scrap-Nisse and his friends”, 1978).
A rich vegetation of television programs for children and young people – or perhaps more correctly for everyone with a child’s mind intact – thus made its way out from the screens and into the homes. Many of “her” programs and series have become television classics with as many layers as a Napoleon pastry. Just take, as a case in point, the three stranded sailors in Tårtan, the flour that lies like a magical veil over the dirty bakery, the lovingly palpated cream cakes, the gorilla that is “depraved”…
During Ingrid Edström’s reign at SVT’s children’s department, many other programs were also produced, arousing both admiration and joy. But critical voices were also raised because what was shown on the screen had never been seen before, such as programs where the children themselves were allowed to influence the content. Children were allowed to make their own news programs and adults made documentaries for children based on the children’s own questions, about everything from space to how it feels to die. It required diligent and persistent efforts from Ingrid Edström and her co-workers who, in Malena Janson’s words, “made themselves known as spirited debaters and skilled children’s program lobbyists.”
Another important part of SVT’s children’s department was the imported programs and series that also came to characterize this legendary era. Together with buyer Elisabeth Lysander, Ingrid Edström made sure to act quickly: “Long before TV1 had started a similar plan, we had time to get our hands on most of the goodies. Thanks to her persistence, Elisabeth had a very good head start during many years. We dashed off to Paris and bought the newly produced Babar and the brand new Tintin cartoon plus a bunch of other choice product. And indeed Babar became the channel’s opening program in December 1969.”
Additionally, Ingrid Edström made sure to be at the forefront when it came to the technical side. In connection with the formation of the new channel, SVT had conducted a series of educational training programs for the new staff it had recruited. This made Ingrid Edström aware of what was coming, not least colour TV: “During the training period I had made some technical programs and an instructional series for the telecommunications company’s staff, so I had gained some insight into what problems could arise when colour TV was introduced. There were a lot of rumours about how difficult it would be, most of it was baseless and exaggerated – the usual fear of new technology. The first major colour TV production to be made was The Moomins (Mumintrollet, 1969) with Lasse Pöysti and Birgitta Ulfsson and Viveka Bandler as director. Gösta Ekman played the king. Some of the newly trained producers started working on the production, but it was a very complicated task for them, so we brought in Ulla Berglund from the old children’s department. She did it with flying colours and if she did have any problems along the way, it didn’t have much to do with the colour on the screen.”
Ingrid Edström was head of SVT’s children’s department until 1979. After that she was head of SVT in Malmö. In 1982 she returned to Stockholm to be manager of all of TV2 until 1988. For a short period in 1987, she was also manager of the Swedish National Touring Theatre.
In 1989, Ingrid Edström was appointed head of the Swedish Film Institute and thus became the first woman to hold this position. She continued to nurture the filmmakers’ creative processes and established Växthuset (”The Green House”), a short film venture and creative nursery for many new film talents run by producer Lisbet Gabrielsson. Another long-term project in the same vein was the Guldbagge award for best short film, given out for the first time in 1995. But it was a turbulent time with a new film consultancy system to be implemented and a lot of cost cuts. Ingrid Edström left the managing post in 1994 to become a teacher at the Danish film school instead.
After her retirement, Ingrid Edström has continued to be an active force and an inspiration for younger generations. She was active in Folkets Bio for many years and held the chair at Folkets Bio’s national association. She co-founded Wift Sweden in 2003 and was appointed Wift’s honorary member in 2009. She has been an active member of the boards of the Dramatic Institute and the independent filmmakers’ association OFF. She is still active as a board member of the Swedish Film Academy.
Many of us who have met Ingrid Edström can speak about her curiosity, tenacity and determination, especially when it comes to standing up for artists’ creative space. At the same time, there is also a clear expectation, as if something is actually expected of you. You could perhaps call it a playful severity. Even today, at the age of 90, she can narrow her eyes and say: “Well, if you only shook the camera a little less, this could actually amount to something.”
Mikaela Kindblom (2021)
(translated by Jan Lumholdt)
Main profession: Producer
Utöver titlarna nedan har Ingrid Edström producerat en mängd program för svt, främst för barn, under åren 1957-1988.
Tiden är en dröm – Del 1 Sverige 1859 – 1879 (1999)
En frusen dröm (1997)