Press & media
Whitehorn, Katharine (7 of 7). Oral History of the British Press
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2009-02-12, 2009-03-03, 2009-03-20
Interviewee's home, London
Whitehorn, Katharine, 1928- (speaker, female)
Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)
Part 7: The Observer stopped being an establishment paper when it came out against Suez in the 1950s. It was bought in the 1970s by Atlantic Richfield. Story about Kenneth Harris. Then it was sold to Tiny Rowland who had interests in Africa. He changed the way the city pages were run. He had the long running feud with Fayed at Harrods. Memory of the spat at the board room lunch. The women’s pages had changed, and George Seddon and Brigid Keenan had gone as editors. Stories. [8:10] Donald Trelford was a good editor, he promoted good writing. Astor was an eccentric. The nadir was when they brought out a midweek edition about Lonrho. This was to be before the investor’s meeting. It blew the Observer’s credibility. The Guardian took it over. KW and the others were happy about this. Soundbite. They are natural stablemates. Will Hutton came in as editor, who is more a visionary and writer.[14:12] Jonathan Fenby took away KW’s column and asked her to do bigger features. She did a big piece in Bradford which JF edited racially. In 1997 KW did a piece on nursing which was not published when it should have been. KW resigned shortly afterwards. She wrote a letter to Will Hutton asking him to be a guru for the next women’s generation, which he has not done. There are many serious women writing now, seeing things in the way a woman sees it, not like 50 years ago when women had to write like men. [20:51] KW thinks that newsprint will continue, and books. Hot news does not come from newspapers. Radio has not died. Different forms of media are blending now. Papers are celebrity angled, but the good ones take lots of reading. KW takes different papers on different days. One has different friends and they move around from paper to paper. [26:31] KW dislikes the law of privacy. A free press is quite a difficult thing to gain. Money is put aside for libel actions. More harm is done by suppressing news. If you have a free press everything is correctible. We have lots of national papers here which is good. Story of public relations man who reads lots of papers. [32:00]KW was lucky with Saga magazine with whom she had a connection. She was asked to start an agony column. It was much harder work to begin with, as they did products as well as emotional problems which take some tracking down. It took her 18 months to establish it. Saga magazine has grown much bigger. KW feels it is worthwhile. People write in letters. She doesn’t necessarily answer all of them, but does try. It is heartbreaking if it is something urgent, or if they haven’t put an address on a really serious problem. Clare Rayner is KW’s mentor. Age Concern does fact sheets and KW has learnt where to get other information. A lot of it is just common sense, and the rest is putting them on to the experts. A few need a psychiatrist. Gavin really appreciated her writing through the years. [39:55] They really both regarded themselves as retired by the 1990s. Gavin switched to scripts, one of which was bought but had to be rewritten which made it hopeless. KW feels he was hard done by. [42:15] KW started broadcasting in the 1960s. She did Any Questions regularly. She also did live television. She feels she was not so good at this. For radio the fact that she speaks and writes in the same way is an asset. When she got the autobiography out in 2006, radio commissions came back. They come in waves. She has her Observer pension. Most recently she has done A Point of View, a series of six, ten minutes each. It is hard work, she has a good producer/editor, Clive Brill. One subject was abolishing GP surgeries in favour of polyclinics. Example of BBC changing her content. [49:40] The International Women’s Forum started in 1983. Six went across to the USA. Mary Baker was asked to find six women one of whom was KW. They had a whale of a time. They decided to start something in the UK. They excluded political women and creative women. They co-opted people who ran things. They were a dining group of about 30. KW has half a dozen of her closest friends among them. It was run by five of them. No money changed hands they used their boardrooms. By the end of the 1980s, it had to change. Jean Denton, Details about her. She ran garages. She was a Cabinet Minister, deputy secretary in Northern Ireland. JD started a proper big Forum UK. 200 women. KW and the others called their little group Links. Incident when they went to Venice. [58:42] 50 years ago there would not have been all those women running things. Different bits of society move at different rates. The 1950s gave KW opportunities. The East End did not have them. Education changed things. The International Women’s Forum ran a conference in 1998. The Americans came over and told them how to do things, which were wrong. Incident about the flowers in the Whitehall banqueting hall. KW found someone to sponsor this and changed the planned table decoration. The Americans got other things wrong. The Institute of Global Ethics is also run by Americans which is a bad idea. [1:09:08] When Gavin died it was too awful, particularly the last four months. Everybody was so nice to her afterwards. You get patches of distraction after a bit. KW wrote about it, and rebuilt life. She has always had a life of her own which also helps. Saga sent her on a cruise which was good. Thinking about all the good years you had, becomes a balm. KW is lucky having a lot to do in London and people come and stay. You do heal in the end. There is something to be said for the single life. Writing the book was therapeutic. [1:14:55] Bernard married Nancy who had a young child Megan who was delightful. Along comes Ruby, who is a more difficult child. KW did half a day a week child care, and got to know and love Nancy. Now KW is not wrapped up in the grandchildren’s lives. KW and Bernard were both impossible as youngsters. Bernard drops in often and KW thinks he enjoys the calm of the house. [1:21:00] KW speaks to Jake, or emails often, and is planning a trip to California. She travels with other people. She has been busy with work recently but doesn’t expect this to last and enjoys the change. Her publisher said that the theme of her book is her luck, absolutely the right job and the right man.
Life story interview with journalist and broadcaster Katharine Whitehorn