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London was a dead-end


Cambridge: the best university in the world
Katharine Whitehorn Writer
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Cambridge was hard enough to get into. The women’s colleges were all women, as Newnham still is, and we were girls straight from school. But this was 1947. So all the chaps had done national service, and many of them had served in the war. So whereas we were immature girls, we had real men to relate to. And all the people I was involved with while I was at Cambridge were considerably older than me and very interesting people.

That one of my closest friends was son of a Jewish refugee from Vienna. He married my best friend from school and I know them all that long. Another was... the guy I was engaged to had been in the army. Well everybody had been in something. Because if they were of an age to be at Cambridge at all after the war they would have been in it. It was... I think one of the things that was different then was that there was still the ethos of us being very good girls. We weren’t, naturally, of course. But there was... and Newnham has suffered fairly badly from the general ways the world looked during the war. Everything was a bit seedy, the food was a bit mere.

But the men’s colleges, of course, immemorial grey stone. In any case, full of men. I had far less of a feeling that Newnham itself was important. Being at Cambridge was important. And I just see that it’s been voted the best university in the world. I'm not surprised.

A distinguished journalist and renowned author, Katharine Whitehorn (1928-2021) 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, is recognised as someone who has transformed 20th century women's journalism. She took a keen interest in social welfare issues, was 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: Cambridge University, Newnham College, national service

Duration: 1 minute, 46 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2010

Date story went live: 16 February 2011