‘Outside the common round of household drudgery’? Modernity and Women’s Talks in the Interwar Years

Authors: Murphy, K.

Start date: 19 May 2016

Women’s lives in interwar Britain have often been considered in terms of modernity. This might be connected with newly acquired citizenship through the extension of the franchise; the possibility to enter new and pioneering careers; ideas of fitness and athleticism through sport and leisure pursuits or the impact of novel technologies, such as electricity, in the home. However, traditional notions of what was acceptable for women continued alongside, creating tensions, often at points of divergence such as age, marital status, domicile and social class. From almost the beginning the BBC entered this forum with its talks for women, produced by women – what approach should be taken to the perceived audience? How much should embrace the customary? How much should inform, educate and entertain with a nod to the modern? Women’s Hour, in its short life (1923-4), posed the problem through a listener plebiscite which demanded ‘“Keep us out of the kitchen!” and “Take us out of ourselves”’. This was echoed by Hilda Matheson who, as Director of Talks (1927-32), believed that broadcasting had the capacity to take women outside the confines of the home, introducing them to books, to travel, to plays, to current events, to politics. This paper focuses on the BBC’s talks aimed at women in the 1920s and 30s and considers how conflicting notions of modernity and traditionalism were broached within the output.

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