Claire Berenice Berkovitch (later Chetwynd)
22 January 1931
Stepney, London, England
|Died||11 October 2010 (aged 79)|
Harrow, London, England
|Education||City of London School for Girls|
|Children||3, including Jay Rayner|
Rayner was born to Jewish parents in Stepney, London, the eldest of four children. Her father was a tailor and her mother a housewife. Her father had adopted the surname Chetwynd, under which name she was educated at the City of London School for Girls. Her autobiography How Did I Get Here from There? was published in 2003, and revealed details of a childhood marred by physical and mental cruelty at the hands of her parents. After the family emigrated to Canada, in 1945 she was placed in a psychiatric hospital by her parents, and treated for 15 months for a thyroid defect.
Returning to the UK in 1951, Rayner trained as a nurse at the Royal Northern Hospital and Guy's Hospital in London. She intended to become a physician; while training as a nurse, however, she met actor Desmond Rayner, whom she married in 1957. The couple lived in London and Claire worked as a midwife and later nursing sister.
Journalist and writer
Rayner wrote her first letter to Nursing Times in 1958, on nurses' pay and conditions. She then began regularly writing to The Daily Telegraph on themes of patient care or nurses' pay. She began writing novels soon after her marriage, and by 1968 had published more than 25 books.
The birth of her first child in 1960 meant that she found full-time nursing difficult, and so she focused on a full-time writing career. Initially writing articles for various magazines and publications, in 1968 she published one of the earliest sex manuals, People in Love, which brought her to national attention. Despite the "explicit" content, the work was commended for its "down-to-earth" and "sensible" approach.
By the 1970s, writing for Woman's Own Rayner had established herself as one of four new and direct "agony aunts", alongside Marjorie Proops, Peggy Makins (aka Evelyn Home) at Woman and J. Firbank of Forum. Her advice in the teenaged girls' magazine Petticoat caused controversy. In 1972 she was accused of "encouraging masturbation and promiscuity in prepubescent girls". Her direct and frank approach led the BBC to ask her to be the first person on British pre-watershed television to demonstrate how to put on a condom, and she was one of the first people used by advertisers to promote sanitary towels.
The year after beginning to appear on Pebble Mill at One, Rayner started an agony column in The Sun in 1973, but left to join the Sunday Mirror in 1980, when she also made her second television series of Claire Rayner's Casebook. She left the Sunday Mirror shortly after the appointment of Eve Pollard as editor, and joined the Today newspaper for three years. Rayner was named medical journalist of the year in 1987.
Rayner was probably best known as an agony aunt on TV-am in the late 1980s and early 1990s. She made it her personal aim to reply to every letter she received. This was an unfunded project by the station.
Rayner became president of the Patients Association, and through her extensive charity work and writings was awarded an OBE in 1996 for services to women's health and wellbeing and to health matters. Rayner had a very personal reason for supporting Sense's Older Person campaign, wearing hearing aids in both ears, and also had age-related dry macular degeneration (AMD), a sight loss common in older people.
Between 1993 and 2002 Rayner was one of the patrons of the Herpes Viruses Association and chaired a Press Briefing in June 1993 aimed at destigmatising genital herpes. When tendering her resignation, she cited the fact that she was patron of 60 organisations as the reason for trimming the list.
Rayner was appointed to various UK government committees on health, and resultantly was the author of a chapter in The Future of the NHS. Despite being president of the Patients Association, Rayner used private health care. was a member of the Prime Minister's Commission on Nursing; the Labour government's Royal Commission on the Care of the Elderly. In 1999 Rayner was appointed to a committee responsible for reviewing the medical conditions at Holloway Prison, London, at the direction of Paul Boateng who was then the Minister for Prisons. The recommendations of this committee led to far reaching changes in the provision of medical care within Holloway.
A lifelong Labour Party supporter, she resigned in 2001 and joined the Liberal Democrats in fear of the proposed changes to the NHS from the administration of Prime Minister Tony Blair. She was also a prominent supporter of the British republican movement, although admitted her dual standards on accepting her OBE in 1996.
Rayner was Vice-President (and formerly President) of the British Humanist Association, a Distinguished Supporter of the Humanist Society Scotland and an Honorary Associate of the National Secular Society. In the weeks leading up to her death Rayner had the following to say about Pope Benedict XVI's state visit to the United Kingdom:
I have no language with which to adequately describe Joseph Alois Ratzinger, AKA the Pope. In all my years as a campaigner I have never felt such animus against any individual as I do against this creature. His views are so disgusting, so repellent and so hugely damaging to the rest of us, that the only thing to do is to get rid of him.
Rayner, whilst a patron of the Down's Syndrome Association, had her position promptly terminated after labelling parents as "selfish" for having a disabled child.
The hard facts are that it is costly in terms of human effort, compassion, energy, and finite resources such as money, to care for individuals with handicaps (and to hell with political correctness; there is more to these dilemmas than mere "learning difficulties").
Rayner met her husband, actor Desmond "Des" Rayner at Maccabi in Hampstead; the couple married in 1957. They had three children together: writer and food critic Jay Rayner, electronics reviewer, angling and motoring journalist Adam Rayner and events manager Amanda Rayner.
Rayner was found to have breast cancer in 2002 at the age of 71. She became a breast cancer activist to promote the work of the charity Cancer Research UK. She also suffered from Grave's disease and became a patron of the British Thyroid Foundation in 1994.
Rayner never recovered from emergency intestinal surgery she received in May 2010, and died in hospital on 11 October 2010. She told her relatives she wanted her last words to be: "Tell David Cameron that if he screws up my beloved NHS I'll come back and bloody haunt him."
Rayner was a prolific author of both fiction and non-fiction.
- Gower Street (1973)
- The Haymarket (1974)
- Paddington Green (1975)
- Soho Square (1976)
- Bedford Row (1977)
- Long Acre (1978)
- Charing Cross (1979)
- The Strand (1980)
- Chelsea Reach (1982)
- Shaftesbury Avenue (1983)
- Piccadilly (1985)
- Seven Dials (1986)
- Jubilee (1987)
- Flanders (1988)
- Flapper (1988)
- Blitz (1988)
- Festival (1988)
- Sixties (1988)
- First Blood (1993)
- Second Opinion (1994)
- Third Degree (1995)
- Fourth Attempt (1996)
- Fifth Member (1997)
- London Lodgings (1994)
- Paying Guests (1995)
- The House on the Fen (1967)
- Starch of Aprons (1967)
- Lady Mislaid (1968)
- Death on the Table (1969)
- The Meddlers (1970)
- A Time to Heal (1972)
- The Burning Summer (1972)
- Reprise (1980)
- The Running Years (1981)
- The Enduring Years (1982)
- Trafalgar Square (1982)
- Family Chorus (1984)
- The Virus Man (1985)
- Sisters (1986)
- Lunching at Laura's (1986)
- Maddie (1988)
- Children's Ward, the Lonely One, Private Wing (1988)
- Postscripts (1991)
- Dangerous Things (1993)
- The Final Year (1993)
- Cottage Hospital (1993)
- Company (1993)
- The Doctors of Downlands (1994)
- Nurse in the Sun (1994)
- The Lonely One (1995)
- Children's Ward (1995)
- The Private Wing (1996)
- The Legacy (1997)
- The Inheritance (1998)
- What Happens in Hospital (1963)
- Essentials of Outpatient Nursing (1967)
- One Hundred and One Facts an Expectant Mother Should Know (1967)
- For Children (1967)
- Housework the Easy Way (1967)
- One Hundred and One Key Facts on Baby Care (1967)
- Shall I Be a Nurse? (1967)
- People in Love: Modern Guide to Sex in Marriage (1968)
- Parent's Guide to Sex Education (1968)
- Woman's Medical Dictionary (1971)
- About Sex (1972)
- When to Call the Doctor: What to Do Whilst Waiting (1972)
- Child Care (1973)
- Shy Person's Book (1973)
- Where Do I Come from?: Answers to a Child's Questions About Sex (1974)
- Independent Television's Kitchen Garden (1976)
- Atlas of the Body and Mind (1976)
- Claire Rayner Answers Your 100 Questions on Pregnancy (1977)
- Family Feelings: Understanding Your Child from 0 to 5 (1977)
- Body Book (1978)
- Related to Sex: Talking About Sexual Feelings within Your Family (1979)
- Independent Television's Greenhouse Gardening (1979)
- Everything Your Doctor Would Tell You If He Had the Time (1980)
- Baby and Young Child Care: A Practical Guide to Parents of Children Aged 0–5 Years (1981)
- Growing Pains and How to Avoid Them (1984)
- Marriage Guide (1984)
- The Getting Better Book (1985)
- Claire Rayner's Lifeguide: A Commonsense Approach to Modern Living (1985)
- When I Grow Up (1986)
- Woman (1986)
- Safe Sex (1987)
- The Don't Spoil Your Body Book (1989)
- Clinical Judgements (1989)
- Life and Love and Everything (1993)
- Grandparenting Today: Making the Most of Your Grandparenting Skills With Grandchildren of All Ages (1997)
- How Did I Get Here from There? (2003)
- Jane Reed, "Rayner [née Berkovitch], Claire Berenice (1931–2010)", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, Jan 2014 available online. Retrieved 26 August 2020.
- "Obituary, Claire Rayner". The Daily Telegraph. London. 12 October 2010. Retrieved 12 October 2010.
- Rayner, Jay (2 March 2003). "Tales my mother never told me". The Observer. London.
- Suzie Hayman, "Obituary: Claire Rayner", The Guardian, 12 October 2010.
- ""Interview transcript with Claire Rayner", Sense".[permanent dead link]
- SPHERE magazine. 1993;8(3):3–28.
- Tempest, Michelle (2006). The Future of the NHS. ISBN 1-85811-369-5. Archived from the original on 17 October 2015. Retrieved 13 October 2015.
- Laura Donnelly, "NHS at 60: In the end I had to go private", Daily Telegraph, 21 June 2008.
- "News.BBC.co.uk". News.BBC.co.uk. 5 October 1999. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
- Cahal Milmo, "Obituary: "Claire Rayner's last words: 'Don't screw up my NHS'", The Independent, 13 October 2010.
- "An Audience with the Pope". New Humanist. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
- "Dominic Lawson: Shame on the doctors prejudiced against Down Syndrome". The Independent. 25 November 2008.
- Claire Rayner (27 June 1995). "ANOTHER VIEW: A duty to choose unselfishly".
- "Agony aunt Claire Rayner dies at age 79", The Jewish Chronicle, 12 October 2010.
- "Celebrity Health – Claire Rayner". BBC News. 16 January 2006.
- Jay Rayner (2 March 2003). "Tales my mother never told me". Guardian. London, UK. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
- Patrons British Thyroid Foundation Website
- "Agony aunt and NHS campaigner Claire Rayner dies at 79". BBC News Online. 12 October 2010.
- "Claire Rayner". Fantasticfiction.co.uk. Retrieved 24 January 2011.
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