‘The voice of the ordinary average listener? Mrs Edna Thorpe and BBC Talks in the Inter-war Years’

Authors: Murphy, K.

Conference: MeCCSA

Dates: 8-10 January 2014


In 1935 a London-based Yorkshire woman, Mrs Edna Thorpe, wrote to the BBC suggesting a topic for a talk. The subsequent correspondence between her and the Talks Department, predominantly with the producer Janet Quigley, reveals how Mrs Thorpe became a prominent broadcaster, her letters and scripts reflecting the everyday life of the ‘typical’ ‘lower middle-class’ housewife. Initially her broadcasts were part of the output aimed at the daytime female audience but she increasingly contributed to the evening talks programme, where she came to embody the ‘intelligent layman’ and ‘the woman’s point of view’. Edna Thorpe also took it upon herself, as an ‘average’ listener, to provide criticism of many talks programmes and her extensive despatches provide a rich source of commentary on the BBC. The letters also reveal her to be studying at night school and fascinated by psychoanalysis, poetry, art, literature and suchlike, thus positioning Mrs Thorpe as an archetypal example of the enlightened, self-educated listener, who the BBC idealised as their model audience. This paper considers Mrs Edna Thorpe as both a broadcaster and a listener, with particular reference to programming aimed at women. How typical was she of the perceived audience, and how representative of the female speakers who came before the microphone in the inter-war years?

Source: Manual

Preferred by: Kate Murphy