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Woman’s Hour Celebrating 70 Years! The Evolution of a British Institution

Shout! Communications
Shout! Communications
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By Arthur Perkins

Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour programme has just celebrated its 70th birthday. The show, created by Norman Collins, was first broadcast on 7 October 1946 on the BBC’s Light Programme (now BBC Radio 2) and transferred to its current home on BBC Radio 4 @10am in 1973.

The show’s editors describe the programme on their Twitter page as “informing, entertaining, and surprising”, in my view an accurate summing up. In its current format, the first 45 minutes of the programme consists of reports, interviews and debates on health, education, cultural and political topics aimed at women. The last 15 minutes feature short-run drama serials (Woman’s Hour Drama).

Whilst the programme is now settled on its mantra of giving its audience what it wants, this wasn’t always the case…The programme is currently presented by Jenni Murray and Jane Garvey, but initially a man, Alan Ivimey, was chosen for fear a female presenter might be ‘resented’ by her listeners.

Archives suggest many earlier female listeners felt the show was at first patronising, dwelling on the plight of the housewife. The first programme’s topics covered ‘mother’s midday meal’, ‘how to hang your husband’s suit’ and ended with a feature on ‘how to put your best face forward’ – a segment that concluded with the advice that a light dusting of powder can do wonders for your look and the family morale!

The development of the show has seen not only a change in the audience – currently 40% of its 3.7 million weekly listeners are male – but in the tone of its hosts too. Three months after the programme launched, the first female presenter was at the helm, and from this they haven’t looked back. Today these are presenters who bond with their audience. Jane Garvey, who joined the show in 2007, has been quoted as saying she wants to focus on the POSITIVE side of being female, not just on the problems. The negative side and perceived expectation of women that perhaps coloured the programme’s earlier years are long gone.

Over the years the show has evolved to cover hard hitting topics such as abortion, sexual health and the equal pay act to name but a few. In its lighter items women are celebrated be they in literature, film, politics or any other guise. The programme now has a reputation for never ducking an issue. Big issues are matched by big name guests including the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Angelina Jolie.

The last 70 years have seen an incredible shift in female lifestyle, possibly the biggest in any similar timescale throughout history, and Woman’s Hour has been there to cover these seismic moments. Editor Alice Feinstein has been quoted as crediting the success of the show to its ‘frank and honest debate,’ a format she thinks will see the show into their eighth decade and possibly beyond.

In terms of PR, securing coverage on Woman’s Hour is a challenge, but understanding the thinking behind the programme is a good first step!


Woman’s Hour is available online to listen live or podcasts made obtainable on the BBC iPlayer website, where you can also hear special reports and episodes around the shows 70 year anniversary: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b007qlvb/episodes/downloads

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