From domestic service in Canada to tiger shooting in India: the BBC and international talks for women, 1923-1939

Authors: Murphy, K.

Start date: 1 September 2017

The BBC was founded at the close of 1922 and, from almost the beginning, it broadcast a range of talks aimed at its female audience. Much was about home-making but there was also an understanding that women listeners wanted to be taken away from household duties with programmes that broadened their horizons. Talks about women in other countries always formed a key element of this. This might be the novelist Mrs Rommane James imagining, in 1924, life for a Japanese schoolgirl in an English public school in O Toyo Writes Home. It could be ‘Wild Woman’ Mary Corbould ruminating on Crocodiles, Tiger Shooting and Indian Festivals in 1926 or, in 1928, Miss Smith-Ryland’s experiences of emigrating to Canada as a maid. In 1933, the 16-part series The International Housewife included talks about Finland, Russia and Spain while in 1937, Linda Littlejohn (billed in Radio Time as “Australia’s leading feminist”) explained the ethos behind her organisation, Equal Rights International. Because of the rudimentary nature of broadcasting, talks throughout this period were always given ‘live’ in the studio. The invited guests delivered pre-prepared scripts, produced in conjunction with a female Talks Assistant (what would today be termed a producer). So what does the nature of the selected topics and the choice of speaker tell us about the ways in which the BBC perceived and portrayed global women’s lives, to its British audience at home?

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