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‘This nonsense must cease. Get a job!’

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Getting the sack from Woman's Own
Katharine Whitehorn Writer
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We got married in a little parish church in... Preshute church in Marlborough. And Gavin came from a Quaker background, and Quakers don’t christen. They reckon you can’t decide you’re a Christian until you’re grown up and know what you believe. And Gavin certainly wasn’t going to get christened just to get married. But the clergyman of this little parish church managed to dig out some church rule which said... I suppose it had been devised for missionaries in the field, that a Christian could marry a heathen all right, so long as the heathen understood the meaning of Christian matrimony. My father said, 'Doesn’t mean he has to like it, just has to know what it is'. You know?

So that was fine and we had a honeymoon in the West Country... Dorset and places like that. And then went back and had a flat in London. And by that time Gavin was working for the Sunday Graphic and I was working for Woman’s Own, which was not a particularly choice experience but it was nice to be in work. I was supposed to be an assistant editor filling in for somebody who was having a baby.  And it was run at that point by a really deranged man called Jimmy Drawbell, who I think wanted to keep a tremendous atmosphere, like Fleet Street, you know, crisis to crisis, simply I think because otherwise it would all be far too calm running a woman’s magazine.

But he wasn’t a nice man to work for at all and I had a perfectly miserable time. And then I... by the summer I went and said, 'Well look, I can’t stand this any longer, I want to resign'. And he said, 'Oh Katie, so disloyal... what do you want to do, what would like to be?' So I said, 'I’d like to be a part time feature writer'. So he said, 'Well you can be'. So I was put in a small room at the end of a long corridor with quite amazingly... Jimmy Leasor, who was later a brilliant thriller writer, and Bill Barnett later known as Correlli Barnett, a very distinguished military historian. And what either of them were doing on Woman’s Own heaven knowns.

And then the next November, Bill Barnett and I were sacked together, five hours’ notice and a week’s pay. Which you could do in those days. So there we were. I was out of a job. And Gavin was actually coming unstuck from something else at the time. And it was a kind of miserable moment. But I don’t know, even that, you see, was a good thing in the end, because supposing that... just supposing that I hadn’t been sacked from Woman’s Own, and had risen to be a editor of women’s magazines, do you think this would have been as much fun as the life I’ve had? No.

A distinguished journalist and renowned author, Katharine Whitehorn has written for The Spectator and Picture Post. She was the first woman to have her own column in the Observer and was their star columnist for the best part of 40 years. Educated at Newnham College, Cambridge, she is recognised as someone who has transformed 20th century women's journalism. She takes a keen interest in social welfare issues, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and was the first woman rector of the University of St Andrews.

Listeners: Bob Bee

Bob Bee is a Scottish documentary maker who has made many films on the Arts and Science for ITV, BBC and Channel Four.

Tags: St George's Preshute, Quakers, Sunday Graphic, Woman's Own, Fleet Street, Gavin Tudor Lyall, Jimmy Drawbell, James Leasor, Bill Barnett, Correlli Douglas Barnett

Duration: 3 minutes, 9 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2010

Date story went live: 16 February 2011