|Genre||News magazine focusing on women's issues|
|Running time||60 minutes (10:00 am – 11:00 am)|
|Country of origin||United Kingdom|
|Recording studio||Broadcasting House, London, UK, dock10 studios|
|Original release||7 October 1946|
The first BBC programme for women was the programme called "Women's Hour", which was first broadcast on the 2nd of May 1923. The BBC was then a brand new organisation, just a few months old, grappling with the sorts of programmes that might appeal to its small but growing audience. With married women firmly based in the home, either through convention or because of marriage bars, the BBC would have been aware of this captive daytime audience. The person brought in to oversee Women's Hour was Mrs Ella Fitzgerald, a former Fleet Street journalist, and the inaugural programme included two talks, one on 'The Adoption of Babies' given by Princess Alice the Duchess of Athlone, the other on 'Fashions' by the esteemed couturier, Lady Duff Gordon.
Broadcast six days a week, initially at 5pm, Women's Hour encompassed topics such as cookery, infant welfare, poultry keeping, tennis, beauty culture, electricity in the home, society gossip and gardening. In many ways, it replicated the sorts of items that were then found in the women's pages of newspapers and Ella Fitzgerald often drew on her journalist friends to write and present talks. So, for example, regular 'Kitchen Conversations' were given by the famous cookery writer Mrs CS Peel while Edith Shackleton spoke about journalism as a potential career for women. There was also space for political talks. The former suffragist, Lady Emmott, who sat on a number of local government committees, spoke on 'How Local Government affects the Home'; Alderman Miss Smee, who chaired Acton Council's Public Health Committee gave a talk on 'Women and Public Health' and Lettice Fisher, the founder of the National Council for the Unmarried Mother and her Child, talked about 'Education'.
The talks were broadcast from the BBC's first purpose-built studio at Savoy Hill, just off the Strand in London, where the organisation was based for its first ten years. It would have been quite a daunting process. Speakers would have waited outside the large curtain-draped space, clutching their scripts. When the time came to deliver their talk, they would then have stood before a large box-like structure – the microphone – where they would have been given a cue to start. It was then just a matter of continuing on until finished, hopeful that they hadn't spoken too slowly or too fast or made too many mistakes. In the absence of any recordings, it's not possible to know what these talks would have sounded like, but reception on rudimentary wireless sets would have been very poor. It's also impossible to know who would have been tuning-in to the programme in these very early days, but most probably they were the wives and mothers of radio enthusiasts who, evidence suggests, were overwhelmingly male.
Things would change for Women's Hour in December 1923, with the establishment of a Women's Advisory Committee to oversee the running of the programme. Amongst the prestigious membership were the Chairman of the National Federation of Women's Institutes, Lady Denman; the actress Dorothea Baird; the physician Dr Elizabeth Sloan Chesser and the Secretary of the Women's Amateur Athletics Association, Mrs Violet Cambridge. The first full meeting, in January 1924, raised questions about the sorts of talks that should be included in Women's Hour and also the time of day that it was broadcast. It was decided that two members of the Committee, Mrs Hardman Earle (who had worked for the Ministry of Food and Public Kitchens during the First World War) and Evelyn Gates (who was Editor-in-Chief of The Women's Yearbook) should appear on the following Saturday's programme to canvas listener views. The case for practical domestic talks was put forward by Mrs Hardman Earle while Evelyn Gates championed the case for lighter, escapist talks and listeners were also asked about when they could best tune-in.
The results of the 'plebiscite', as it was termed, were discussed at the February meeting of the Women's Advisory Committee. With the majority of the letters received (326 in all) voting for leisure rather than domestic talks, it was agreed that these should feature more prominently in the programme, which would be moved to a new time of 4pm. Writing about the change in the BBC listings periodical Radio Times, Ella Fitzgerald explained how 'a tour of Constantinople' was substituted for 'the cure of constipation' while 'talks on the English country-side' replaced those about 'stocking the kitchen cupboard'. The decision was also taken at the meeting to abolish the name Women's Hour; in future Radio Times would simply state that 'talks of general interest but with particular appeal to women' would be placed either side of the afternoon concert.
Created by Norman Collins and originally presented by Alan Ivimey, Woman's Hour was first broadcast on 7 October 1946 on the BBC's Light Programme. Janet Quigley, who was also involved with the birth of the UK radio programme Today, has been credited with "virtually creating" the programme.
The programme was transferred to its current home in 1973. Over the years it has been presented by Mary Hill (1946–1963), Joan Griffiths (1947–1949), Olive Shapley (1949–1953), Jean Metcalfe (1950–1968), Violet Carson (1952–1956), Marjorie Anderson (1958–1972), Teresa McGonagle (1958–1976), Judith Chalmers (1966–1970), Sue MacGregor (1972–1987), Jenni Murray (1987–2020), Martha Kearney (1998 to March 2007), and Jane Garvey (8 October 2007 to December 2020). Fill-in presenters have included Andrea Catherwood, Sangita Myska, Sheila McClennon, Carolyn Quinn, Jane Little, Ritula Shah, Oona King, and Amanda Platell. In September 2020 it was announced that Emma Barnett would become the lead presenter of Woman's Hour after the retirement of Jenni Murray, who presented her final edition on 1 October 2020. Barnett, who had been a fill-in presenter a number of times previously, became the youngest woman to regularly present the programme in January 2021. Anita Rani became the successor to Garvey as the second presenter in the same month.
In the early years the topics for the programme were arranged well in advance and printed in the Radio Times but by the 1980s there was a change to greater topicality. Clare Selerie-Gray became the producer in 1987 and steered the programme away from its tendency to include merely whimsical topics and ensured that the books read in the last section were more relevant to women's lives rather than ordinary novels. She responded to criticism that the programme was too feminist by asserting that it avoided "Spare Rib didactics" but that a feminist influence on the people who made it had occurred.
On 31 December 2004, the show became Man's Hour for one day only, on which it was presented by Channel 4 News anchor Jon Snow. On 18 July 2010, after 64 years of Woman's Hour, the BBC began broadcasting a full series called Men's Hour on BBC Radio 5 Live, presented by Tim Samuels.
For one week in April 2014, the programme was guest edited by J. K. Rowling, Kelly Holmes, Naomi Alderman, Doreen Lawrence and Lauren Laverne. It was the first time the programme had a guest editor since its initial decade of broadcast. In September 2015, the programme hosted "Woman's Hour Takeover" with a week of guest editors, including Kim Cattrall, Nimko Ali, Rachel Treweek, Michelle Mone and Jacqueline Wilson.
Late Night Woman's Hour, a spinoff series, was launched in 2015, presented by Lauren Laverne. The series is broadcast in an 11 pm timeslot and each episode takes a single topic for discussion. The lateness of the broadcast allows for more freedom to handle topics considered unsuitable for the morning broadcast.
In October 2016, it was recorded that the programme has 3.7 million listeners weekly and is the second most popular daily podcast across BBC Radio. A quarter of its audience were reported to be under 35 and 40% male. In 2013, the programme had 3.9 million listeners, 14% of whom were men. In 2006 it had 2.7 million listeners.
The bulk of the programme has always consisted of reports, interviews and debates on health, education, cultural and political topics aimed at women and mothers. However, until 2021 these occupied only the first 45 minutes of the hour. The final 15 minutes consisted of more lightweight entertainment, usually fiction, still broadly directed at women. Prior to 1998, this slot featured readings. From 1998 to 2021 it featured short-run drama serials, known initially as Woman's Hour Drama and later as 15 Minute Drama. One of the most popular of these was the recurring Ladies of Letters serial, starring Prunella Scales and Patricia Routledge. The drama slot was dropped in 2021, since when the full hour of Woman's Hour has been given over to reports and interviews etc.
Woman's Hour has been broadcast at 10 am Monday to Friday since James Boyle's revision of the Radio 4 schedules in April 1998. Between September 1991 and April 1998 it was broadcast at 10:30 am, having previously gone out for many years in an early afternoon slot (2 pm). The programme's move to a morning slot was unpopular among some listeners who, for family or other reasons, work only in the morning. Michael Green, the then controller of Radio 4, made his decision the previous year and considered the elimination of the programme title. Weekend Woman's Hour is broadcast on Saturday afternoons at 4 pm, features highlights of the previous week introduced by one of the presenters and lasts almost an hour. Additionally, episodes are made available as a podcast following the broadcast of each programme.
In its earlier years, it used a variety of popular light classics as signature tunes, including such pieces as H. Elliott-Smith's Wanderlust (Waltz), Anthony Collins' Vanity Fair, and the lively Overture from Gabriel Fauré's Masques et Bergamasques. From the early 1970s, specially composed pieces were used, several of which were provided by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
Breach of BBC impartiality rules
A listener complained about the 1 October 2018, edition of Woman's Hour, which featured an item discussing the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court. The feature included an interview with a law professor who had worked with Anita Hill, in her pursuit of a sexual harassment complaint against an earlier nominee, Judge Clarence Thomas. The listener believed that allusions to the earlier case were immaterial and prejudicial, that the selection of interviewee was biased, and that presenter Jane Garvey had expressed her personal view on a controversial topic.
The BBC Executive Complaints Unit partially upheld the listener's complaint, stating that Garvey gave the impression of sympathising with the interviewee's viewpoint, and "did not challenge the interviewee in a manner which would have ensured due impartiality". As a result, the Woman's Hour team and production staff attended a briefing on impartiality.
In 2021 Emma Barnett interviewed Sinéad O'Connor on Woman's Hour, during which Barnett mentioned a recent comment by a music critic referring to O'Connor as "the crazy woman in pop's attic". O'Connor felt that bringing this up was "unnecessary and hurtful". The interview prompted O'Connor to announce she was quitting music, though she later retracted this, stating that Barnett had been to blame:
I was already so badly triggered by the time the BBC fucked me up the ass, with no warning, lube or permission, I lost my shit after women's [sic] hour: I felt like I did thirty years ago and for thirty years. That I'd be better off (safer) if I ran away and gave up being in music at all. Because I keep getting used as a coat hanger for people to clothe with whatever they like. My legal vulnerabilities or past agonies dragged up for salacious entertainment and the paying of the mortgages of mostly men, who, thanks be to God, have never and will never know what it's like to be a female trauma survivor in this world. A world falsely claiming every day to be less poisoned by stigma or misogyny that [sic] it is in reality... Of all the shite they could have asked about they grill me on having four kids with four fathers. About being 'a horn dog'. Then Barnett dares to suggest that 'oh aren't we much better now about discussing mental health'. No, Bitch. Because if we were you wouldn't have dragged up the madwoman in the attic scenario.
In April 2014, Radio 4's Roger Bolton noted on the BBC's Feedback Blog: "As you well know BBC programmes are supposed to be impartial but I'm not sure if that can be said of Woman's Hour, at least when it comes to feminism. Woman's Hour is in fact a powerful advocate for women's empowerment and this week as part of that campaign it produced its second power list."
Awards and nominations
|2017||Diversity in Media Awards||Radio Programme of the Year||BBC Woman's Hour||Nominated|
- Cox, David (18 November 1993). "Obituary: Kevin FitzGerald". The Independent. London: Newspaper Publishing. ISSN 0951-9467. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
Another more personal link with the BBC was his marriage to Janet Quigley, who virtually created the radio programme Woman's Hour which is still running today.
- Jenkins, Lyndsey (2 May 2023). "Early radio broadcasting for women in the BBC's Women's Hour 1923-4 – Kate Murphy". Women's History Network. Retrieved 20 May 2023.
- "October 1946 - Woman's Hour - The first dedicated radio programme for women". History of the BBC. BBC. 11 March 2013. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
Norman Collins, the creator of Woman's Hour, spoke about the programme in 1967.
- Radio Times; 26 September–2 October 2020, pp. 124–25.
- "Emma Barnett tells 5 Live listeners about departure". BBC News. 7 September 2020.
- "Anita Rani to join Emma Barnett on BBC Radio 4's Woman's Hour". BBC News. 12 January 2021. Retrieved 22 January 2021.
- Donovan, Paul (1991). The Radio Companion. London: Harper Collins; pp. 286–288 ISBN 0-246-13648-0
- "Man's Hour - BBC Radio 4 FM - 31 December 2004 - BBC Genome". genome.ch.bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 30 May 2017.
- Whitworth, Damian (12 July 2010). "Men's Hour? What's there to talk about?". The Times. London. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
- Flood, Alison (10 April 2014). "JK Rowling to become Woman's Hour first guest editor for 60 years". The Guardian. London. eISSN 1756-3224. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
- "Woman's Hour Takeover". BBC Radio 4. Retrieved 30 September 2015.
- Glenni, Alasdair (21 August 2015). "Lauren Laverne raises eyebrows with Radio 4's Late Night Woman's Hour". The Guardian. London. eISSN 1756-3224. Retrieved 3 July 2016.
- The Power List 2013; British Broadcasting Corporation
- "Woman's Hour Power List 2014 – the panel". BBC Radio 4.
- Topping, Alexandra (10 October 2016). "Woman's Hour reaches 70th birthday – and no need for 'light dusting of powder'". The Guardian. London. eISSN 1756-3224. Retrieved 24 May 2019.
- Sawyer, Miranda (11 August 2013). "The Woman's Hour mix - does it work?". The Guardian. London. eISSN 1756-3224. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
- Byrne, Ciar (3 February 2006). "'Woman's Hour' discovers a new audience: men". The Independent. London: Independent News & Media. ISSN 0951-9467. Retrieved 7 May 2014.
- Hendy, David (2007). Life on Air: A History of Radio Four. Oxford University Press. p. 332. ISBN 978-0-19-924881-0 – via Google Books.
Indeed, perhaps the name itself could change. The existing title undoubtedly made sense in 1946, when the programme was unashamedly designed to appeal to housewives, and entice women war-workers back into the home. But with more women going out to work and more men listening, with a new timeslot and a refreshed style, with all the progress that had been made in sex equality, how sensible would it be to keep calling it Woman's Hour in the decade to come?
- "Woman's Hour – Biography". Secretly Canadian. Retrieved 19 February 2021.
- "BBC Radio 4 - Woman's Hour, Melissa Laveaux, Kavanaugh Hearing, Care leavers at University". BBC Radio 4. 1 October 2018.
- "Woman's Hour, Radio 4, 1 October 2018". Complaints. BBC. 19 June 2019. Retrieved 15 February 2020.
The item made clear the differences, as well as the points of comparison, between the Clarence Thomas and Brett Kavanaugh cases, and the inclusion of an interviewee who clearly represented one viewpoint in the current case did not of itself lead to bias. However, the presenter gave the impression of sympathising with that viewpoint, and did not challenge the interviewee in a manner which would have ensured due impartiality.
- Snapes, Laura (8 June 2021). "Sinéad O'Connor retracts retirement announcement". The Guardian.
- "Patrons & Ambassadors". Women's Aid. Archived from the original on 17 July 2011. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
Our inaugural Patron, Jenni Murray, a Broadcaster on Woman's Hour on Radio 4, has supported Women's Aid for many years. Jenni joined us as a Patron of Women's Aid in 2002.
- "Our President". Fawcett Society. Retrieved 16 February 2020.
- Bolton, Roger (11 April 2014). "Feedback: What is the Point of Power Lists". Radio 4 blog. BBC. Retrieved 20 September 2014.