Barbara Walters, born near Manchester, attended Nottingham University where she gained a degree in Geography in 1954. She was recruited by the Crown Agents as an Administrative Officer, and worked in the Ministry of Land, Mines and Power in Lagos, Nigeria, between 1954 and 1958. At this time, the UK government found it increasingly difficult to recruit men for colonial posts due to impending independence in that country, and women were brought in to fill vacancies.
On returning to the UK in March 1958, Walters took up a position as Research Officer in Herefordshire County Council where she met John Rollinson. Following their marriage in 1963, they moved to Dar es Salaam in Tanganyika, where Walters worked as a Geography teacher. They left for the UK in 1966.