Magazine article The Spectator

Woman's World

Magazine article The Spectator

Woman's World

Article excerpt

It's a great time now to be a woman of that certain age -- better health care, with more chance of fulfilment at work (and in bed), and more money to spend on personal grooming thanks to the Equal Pay Act of 1970 and women's own determined advancement through the ranks of the professions. Radio Four's Woman's Hour, which last Saturday celebrated its 60th birthday, is no exception. It's still in remarkably good shape (2.5 million listeners), even more attractive to men (40 per cent of those listeners are male), and as flirty as ever (you never know whether you're going to hear an item about how to wear a thong or a fly-on-the-wall encounter with Cameron's kitchen cabinet).

In October 1946 the afternoon magazine programme designed to entertain housewives was presented by a man, Alan Ivieson. Not at all surprising in those postwar days when men were anxious to ensure that women took off the trousers they had donned during the war and went back inside the home where they belonged.

Now the job is shared by Jenni Murray and Martha Kearney, who is also political editor of BBC2's Newsnight -- which tells us just how much the world has changed.

Women have not only proved they can drive ambulances, buses, taxis as well as any man; they've also shown themselves capable of running the country as well as rivalling Jeremy Paxman for the job of interviewing the PM. As one contributor teased, we've gone from those cheerful images of smiling wives chopping vegetables for dinner to Desperate Housewives chopping up our redundant husbands.

Saturday was party-time with a special recorded edition of Weekend Woman's Hour in front of a wildly appreciative audience, with Jenni and Martha as MCs in what we as listeners could only imagine to be top hats and tights. Jackie Kay read from her poetry, Maureen Lipman recreated Joyce Grenfell bewailing, 'I miss hats . . . One simply never feels finished without a hat and gloves.' Lipman also chaired a quiz in which the contestants had to identify the speakers on a clip from 1999 when Germaine Greer and Julie Burchill went shriek-to-shriek about the politics of hair removal. To shave or not to shave . . .

Throughout the day on Radio Four, listeners had told us how Woman's Hour had changed their lives, warning one woman to get herself checked out for bowel cancer, inspiring another to adopt a child, encouraging yet another to go off to the South Pole in the steps of Shackleton. …

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