Sunday 25 March 2018

From 'mother's midday meal' to menopause, Woman's Hour celebrates 70 years

BBC photo of Barbara McFadyean recording Joan Griffiths (right), the first female Woman's Hour presenter
BBC photo of Barbara McFadyean recording Joan Griffiths (right), the first female Woman's Hour presenter
Dame Jenni Murray became the regular presenter of Woman's Hour in 1987

Radio 4 show Woman's Hour is celebrating its 70th birthday - and much has changed since the debut episode discussed "putting your best face forward".

The first presenter of the show, now fronted by Dame Jenni Murray and Jane Garvey, was a man - ex-RAF intelligence officer Alan Ivimey.

Ivimey, who specialised in "writing for and talking to women", lasted just three months and was replaced by Joan Griffiths.

The first edition of Woman's Hour was broadcast on October 7 1946.

The guests were Elsie Crump, a butcher's wife, Hollywood star Deborah Kerr and Labour politician and feminist Margaret Bondfield.

The then-afternoon programme was commissioned by Norman Collins, who said in 1967: "I always visualised the poor, wretched housewife, her morale probably at the lowest, at around 2 o'clock in the afternoon, when she had the washing up and lunch to do."

He said he did not want an "endless succession of light music" but "speakers talking on topics that would be of interest to the intelligent woman" and that there were too many "programmes in which the intelligence of the woman is underrated".

The first programme, broadcast in postwar Britain, discussed topics such as "mother's midday meal" - herrings, kippers or a baked potato - and "putting your best face forward" - wear lipstick, put on powder and don a headscarf.

Some listeners complained that the advice given to housewives was patronising and assumed that they were ignorant, and they asked why the presenter was a man.

Shortly afterwards, there would be programmes on equal pay and the menopause, causing some consternation for BBC bosses.

When what was then known as "the change" was discussed on air, it was seen as deeply shocking, with a listener stating they were "embarrassed to hear hot flushes, diseases of the ovaries and the possibility of the removal of the womb discussed at 2 o'clock in the afternoon".

The programme broadcast the recording of a birth in the 1950s.

In the 1990s, Woman's Hour moved from 2pm to the morning, when it is still broadcast today.

There were also plans to attract more male listeners by changing its name, but there was a revolt at Radio 4 and the title Woman's Hour stayed.

Today, around 40% of the magazine show's listeners are male.

On New Year's Eve in 2004, the programme became Man's Hour for one episode, presented by Jon Snow.

Dame Jenni became the regular presenter of Woman's Hour - which today commands a weekly audience of 3.7 million listeners - in 1987.

She told listeners that she had breast cancer at the end of a programme in 2006, before she underwent treatment.

Violet Carson, who played Ena Sharples in Coronation Street, presented Woman's Hour for five years in the 1950s.

Guest editors on the programme have included Harry Potter author JK Rowling and Doreen Lawrence, the campaigner and mother of murdered teenager Stephen Lawrence.

Woman's Hour is also a hit with younger listeners - it is the second most popular daily podcast across all BBC radio after The Archers.

Late Night Woman's Hour, hosted by Lauren Laverne, became a permanent fixture earlier this year following a trial run.

Recent topics have included "women and masturbation" - asking "is it still a taboo?"

Asked about the show's success, presenter Dame Jenni told the Press Association : "Woman's Hour survives because it's endlessly interesting (anything from the prime minister to cooking the perfect artichoke salad to George Clooney to urinary incontinence), completely trustworthy and always up to date on the often neglected interests and concerns of 52% of the population."

Garvey, talking on today's show, said: "The gender pay gap featured in the first couple of weeks and unfortunately we are still going on about it."

Press Association

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