Saturday, May 21

‘Wise, smart and kind, Katharine Whitehorn made it easy for all of us who follow her’ | Katharine whitehorn

Selegant, stimulating and life-firming, Katharine Whitehorn, the Observer The writer and broadcaster who helped shape modern British journalism was mourned by readers and former colleagues over the weekend.

Born in Hendon, London, in 1928, the columnist, the first woman to hold such a position at this newspaper, suffered from Alzheimer’s disease. He moved into a North London nursing home in 2018 and was recently diagnosed with Covid-19, although it is unclear if this contributed to his death on Friday at the age of 92.

Her eldest son, Bernard Lyall, visited her in her last hours and read aloud to her. “I was calm, I’m happy to say it,” he said. “I had brought a copy of Winnie the pooh with me, among other books, because she and my father always read that to each other when they were sick. And I told him if he needed to go now, he could. “

Lyall said one of the few good things that came from her mother’s illness was a “renewed and growing recognition of the respect and affection that so many people have for her.”

“She seems to have touched a lot of people very deeply, and my brother Jake and I are privileged to feel the reflected glow of her respect,” he added.

Observer Magazine Cover May 1968
A May 1968 Observer magazine cover featuring Katharine Whitehorn’s piece, Social Bloomers and How to Get Out of Them. Photograph: Duffy Photo © Duffy Archive

The irony of Whitehorn’s legacy, and one she eagerly anticipated, is that as a writer who lobbied against the professional restrictions of being a woman, she will be remembered primarily for writing about cooking and the home. In fact, she did so in a spirit of reform, content to turn the paralyzing expectations of a perfect housewife upside down in the name of good humor and sanity.

Among those paying tribute were Observer food writer Jay Rayner, son of Claire Rayner, who said, “Goodbye dear Kath Whitehorn. A brilliant journalist, without whom many of today’s columnists would not exist. Wise, resourceful, mischievous.

“I first met her as my mother’s partner; Later he became a colleague and I was able to breathe the same newspaper office air. “

Edie Reilly, who worked with Whitehorn on the Observer For more than 20 years as a secretary, she said, “She was a wonderful friend and boss. I remember shaking like a leaf when I applied to work for her, because I really admired her. “

Writer and feminist Yvonne Roberts was also a friend and fan. Describing her as “dry, ironic, insightful, funny and honest,” he praised the “great charm” with which Whitehorn “removed enough bars from the golden cage that those who came after her could more easily pass.”

Writing two years ago, novelist Jilly Cooper said of Whitehorn: “Everyone got the Observer read her column one Sunday morning … My ambition as a young journalist was to be her completely.

Observer writer Rachel Cooke, a devotee who interviewed Whitehorn, saw her as “a meteor: smart, funny, compassionate, insightful, beautiful” and a representative of “those brave postwar women who took self-determination to dizzying new heights, and doing so made it easier for everyone who would follow. “

Whitehorn, who worked for him Observer In various roles during his 60-year career at Fleet Street, he was educated at Roedean, the exclusive private school near Brighton, and at Glasgow High School, before continuing his studies at Cambridge. His experience probably gave him the confidence to take on the male bastion of journalism. He was also responsible for one of Whitehorn’s most memorable characteristics: his voice. Cooke described his deep range and clipped vocals as “two parts from Diana Rigg and one part from James Mason” and listeners became familiar with his regular rehearsals on BBC Radio 4. Point of view.

Whitehorn began, quite conventionally, in fashion journalism in the late 1950s and some of the most engaging and enduring images of her come from a Publishing images Photoshoot. The image of Whitehorn photographer Bert Hardy meditating by a fire was even used in a Lucozade advertisement. She worked for him Observer from 1963 to 1997, returning in later years to present a regular copy for the Observer Magazine. He also wrote a popular “Agony Aunt” column for Saga magazine until 2016.

Katharine Whitehorn in Hyde Park, London, February 6, 1956
Katharine Whitehorn in Hyde Park, London, February 1956. Bert Hardy photographed her for a Picture Post story about loneliness in London. Photograph: Bert Hardy / Getty Images

Both in his journalism and in his books, which include the famous Cooking in a living room-bedroom In 1961, he framed common problems in a new light, devoid of feeling. Writing honestly in his 2007 autobiography Selective memory, Whitehorn described the days following her 1958 wedding to suspense writer Gavin Lyall, her loving husband of 45 years and father of her two children. Sharing a first home together, the newlyweds’ spirits frayed: “We were more unpleasant to each other that week than ever before or since.”

He also recalled being surprised to find a note written by his late mother, Edith, one from Glasgow, while she was sorting out her possessions shortly after World War II. On a list of the pros and cons of having another baby, on the credit side she had written “Another chance to raise a girl” she fought back with the line, “but this time it may not be better.”

According to her son Bernard, she felt “friendless and despised in childhood”, although she grew to have a large circle of friends.

This year Lyall auctioned off the Danish desk his mother used to work at to raise money for an Alzheimer’s charity. In his autobiography he reveals that in his youth a desk was a luxury. “It amazes me to learn that all my articles up to 1965 were written sitting on our bed with a typewriter, mainly with the sound of 78 rpm gramophone records playing off to the side,” he wrote.

In 1983, on the occasion of ObserverIn issue number 10,000, Whitehorn wrote the introduction to a celebration of the newspaper’s history and recalled how carefully writers had to handle ex-editor David Astor’s views on the role of women in life. He “felt a lot about motherhood; So much so that it was extremely difficult for him to hire women, ”he wrote. “Because if they were single or separated, they probably weren’t typical and they certainly weren’t good for Our Readers. However, if they had children, why didn’t they take care of them at home? “

Lyall, whose father died in 2003, spoke this weekend in gratitude for the stability his parents provided and the value they place on love over money. “Growing up, my brother and I were always aware that my mother had a public side… as if there was a public road running through the garden. We watched in bewilderment, occasionally resentful, but mostly with pride. “

A small family funeral and cremation is planned, with a larger memorial service when possible.

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