Calling 4,000,000 Women A Day 

12 June 2023 tbs.pm/77680

 

Cover of Illustrated magazine

From ‘Illustrated’ magazine for 25 March 1950

At two o’clock, five days a week, the B.B.C. takes Britain’s housewives out of their kitchens

 

A MERE man started Woman’s Hour. He showed that even men can have intuition, because the programme has proved itself to be a rare thing in radio — it started at the top of the popularity ladder and has stayed there ever since.

Never had there been a Radio Hour for just women. There were “hours” for practically every other kind of person — of all ages, interests and outlook; but women had not been catered for on their own. It’s hard to say why. Perhaps it was the frightening thought of entertaining “women” in the mass; perhaps it was felt that nowadays women hadn’t even one hour a day to spare for the pleasure of listening to entertainment planned especially for them.

Both those ideas were blown sky-high in the autumn of 1946. Norman Collins, then in charge of the Light Programme, was a great originator who backed and believed in his idea of a woman’s programme intelligently run for intelligent listeners until its own success pushed it forward. He gave the first Woman’s Hour programmes a man compère and a woman general editor. Much has changed in the details of that daily hour, but its real growing pains have been quite forgotten and there remains a sound, sane, helpful, entertaining and mature hour for some three to four million women, five days a week.

From the word “go” the programme was a hit. It got the sort of reception that every planner of a new programme dreams about. The simple tide turned out well chosen and the time of the day as well. Two to three o’clock presumes the midday meal and washing-up finished and the babies settled down, yet at the other end it doesn’t interfere with tea and the children are not back from school. The compère, Alan Ivimey, and the two commères, Joan Griffiths and Olive Shapley, have been, in the words of a listener’s letter, “a familiar voice that comes daily right into our home” — all quite different voices, all quite different people, each with their own allegiance amongst listeners. The real trip-wire, which will exist as long as the programme, is to gauge what women want to hear. No one can be absolutely sure about that, but through trial and error, conversation and correspondence, meetings and listenings, it has been proved that the ingredients should be as assorted and varied as the audience themselves; that’s why any one week’s programmes will include talks on making curtains, bottling fruit, keeping hens and curing baby’s disorders — as well as accounts of the new life of the stately homes of England, the story of coloured entertainers, world affairs made plain, and visits from the famous and glamorous, both visiting and resident.

 

A man holds a script and a stopwatch whilst a woman marks an area on a record with a chinagraph pencil. There are five turntables with records on them in a row

Composite ten-minute programme for Woman’s Hour is build up by interviewer Richard Burwood, of Recorded Mobile Unit. Integrating selections from line of “discs” is programme assistant Mary McLaren

 

An essentially feminine series of talks is “From My London Window,” in which Athena Cross, an expert on fashion and design, looks at women for women. Her talks have a dual approach — she goes round the London shops, and then passes on the latest dress news to listeners, and she also comments on the appearance of the women she meets. For the woman who takes most care with her appearance there is a “Bouquet of the Month.” Awaited with as much speculation is the monthly “brickbat.”

Woman’s Hour is known far beyond its four million British listeners and has found contributors beyond these islands. Radiodiffusion Franchise has linked our two countries from its own studios. A recipe is given in English by a Frenchwoman, or, on another occasion, two English husbands in the London studio discuss with a Frenchman in Paris the part men play (or should play) in helping their wives run the house. For quite a long time women in nearly every English-speaking country in the world heard excerpts from Woman’s Hour in a special weekly half-hour edition transmitted in the General Overseas Service of the B.B.C.

 

People sit around a conference table. Vivian Daniels (North Region); Pauline Ferguson (Editor's Secretary); Evelyn Gibbs (Editor); Mary Hill (Assistant Editor); Olive Shapley (Commére); Anthony Derville (Fashion); Lorna Moore (Health); Honor Wyatt (Domestic); Thomas Radley (Serials); Marguerite Scott (Discussion); Frank Cobb (Publicity)

Week’s daily programmes are planned at full-scale conference of backroom boys – and girls. Much of secret of the steady quality from day to day is due to care taken over details. Many of production staff are parents themselves, and know from experience trials of running homes. Listeners feel they “belong” to programme

 

Contributions

Nearer home, the Regional stations contribute talks and ideas throughout the week, so that the programme is in no danger of becoming too “Southern.” The general appeal of the hour is also ensured by the wide range of the mobile interviewing contributions. Nearer home still, listeners frequently suggest ideas for entertainment, and have an opportunity of taking part in an important programme even though they may have done no more than write a letter. A regular item called “Listeners’ Discussion” has been a happy idea for canalizing the energies and opinions of the “writing-in-about the programme” public.

 

A woman holding a record looks through the window of a studio where another woman is holding up six fingers; outside the window are a woman bending over a control panel and a woman pointing whilst holding a lit cigarette

Editor of programme, Evelyn Gibbs, asks Marguerite Scott how long a talk will take. Six minutes, show Marguerite’s fingers. Programme engineer Sibil Temperton keeps telephone contact with control room

 

Recently a listener who had sent in a script which had been accepted for broadcasting came to the studio to tell the listeners why she was thankful she was a housewife. She maintained she could organize her day, plan her leisure, read, observe, enjoy her life far more than if she went to work or had no work. Pretty naturally, this aroused controversy and letters poured in: critical, constructive, reasoned letters from women all over the country.

All those letters were carefully read and from amongst them a team of housewives was invited to come to London at the B.B.C.’s expense and discuss their points of view directly over the air. A telegram was sent and they had little time to do more than organize their visit. They were met at Broadcasting House by the editor of Woman’s Hour, Evelyn Gibbs, who chairs at discussions and holds the ring; after a lunch during which all got to hear each other’s views and at which each enlarged on the opinions in the original letter, the group went up to the fourth floor studio in Broadcasting House and — quite literally — took the air, unscripted and, it was hoped, uninhibited; certainly not unheard, for this feature is a highly popular item with women listeners.

 

A woman holding papers leans over another woman at a piano

South African musical student, Nantandu Jabavu, was invited to take the air in Woman’s Hour to tell listeners about famous coloured women entertainers she has met. Seated at piano, she makes plans for feature with singer Adelaide Hall.

 

Congratulations

It would be rash to make a guess at the popularity of the various contributors and contributions, but somewhere high on the list must come explanations of happenings in the world outside the home. The mobile microphone turning up everywhere; the traveller returning and telling; the expert on fine cooking; the seasoned broadcaster and the “first time here” broadcaster; those with a story to tell on a subject they know; those with golden voices who come to read other people’s books and stories. All those are the sugar and spice in Woman’s Hour.

 

A grocer in a white coat puts wrapped vegetables into a woman's shopping bag

Round The Shops, with Ruth Drew. “Is the rhubarb in and how much is it?” Ruth, a householder and experienced observer checks up on housewives’ questions. She rechecks with Ministry and links north, south, east and west with her information

 

The proof that it is a well seasoned mixture comes to the anonymous producers of the talks that fill the hour, and to the editor. Grateful letters come in their hundreds each week from housewives who find their own programme good listening. Nearly all letters received are selfless and “constructive,” and it is plain that Woman’s Hour is carefully and deeply thought about. Far from being just something put together for an hour to pass the time of day for women, it is becoming a real part of the real life of millions of homes — and a most valued window to wider horizons.

 

A woman holds a microphone to a woman working at a factory table

Interviewing girl work in soap factory is Rose-Mary Sands, who writes this article. Histories of everyday products used by women are given in the feature “Seeing for Myself,” based on interviews like the one shown here

 

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