This morning, the Duchess of Cornwall spoke at a reception honouring seven influential women who have yet to be named publicly. This short yet powerful list of women will be read tomorrow morning on the BBC. With humour and reverence, The Duchess recalled the history of the program. How it has paraleled her own life and catalogued the social changes in Great Britain over the past seventy years for women, becoming an institution for generations.
Her entire speech is below.
“Ladies and the occasional Gentleman, I’m delighted to be here, in such eminent company, to celebrate 70 glorious years of ‘Woman’s Hour’. As someone who celebrates (although I’m not sure ‘celebrate’ is quite the right word!) her own 70th birthday next year, I’m astounded that so much has been achieved in your 70 years.
“Like so many of us, I grew up with Woman’s Hour: it was part of the soundtrack to my life. And when I looked back at some of the topics over those last 70 years, I realised that it tells the story of women’s lives in this country from their point of view. It is a living social history, charting the changing attitudes to women as well as the changing attitudes of women themselves.
“”Good afternoon and welcome to our first Woman’s Hour… it’s your programme, designed for you” were the first words of the first Woman’s Hour. Famously, the first presenter was a man – and the topics chosen for those initial programmes might be summed up by the article on how to “put your best face forward”.
“That was back in October 1946, when the ‘radio’ was still the ‘wireless’ (a word I’m afraid I still use today!). The BBC had no idea that with those (first) words, the genie was out of the bottle.
“Within three months, a woman was at the helm – and the presiding genius, or perhaps presiding genie – was more mindful of its audience. Woman’s Hour has always been true to Lord Reith’s maxim for the BBC: ‘to inform, to educate and to entertain’, but it seems to me that it added to those firm foundations an ability to understand, confide, to encourage and – yes – sometimes to shock. Above all, it reflects the changing roles and concerns of its listeners by constantly evolving – while retaining its unique mix of interesting and diverse topics.
“It is a huge pleasure to acknowledge this magnificent milestone and to look back over all the achievements of the last seven decades. It has been a chance to listen again to the voices of all the women we have heard speaking passionately about so many subjects on Woman’s Hour. Its origins as a programme just for housewives have been truly left far behind. It’s not surprising that the number of listeners is higher than ever and that its audience is made up of both women and men.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, I am sure that you are as keen as I am to hear who has made it on to this year’s Power List so I will be brief and just say that as we celebrate this very special programme here today, let’s look forward to hearing many more Woman’s Hour discussions. I am sure that Dame Jenni Murray and Jane Garvey, whose voices we know so well, already have many more fascinating topics in mind to inspire and to provoke.
“So thank you Woman’s Hour for giving us listeners so much pleasure and long may you continue to do so. Thank you very much.”