EVENT REVIEW: Jenni Murray: A History of Britain in 21 Women

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8th October

Gala Studio

Review by Victoria Simpson

Even before the show started, there was a buzz in the auditorium about what we were about to witness. Something which I found strange was that everyone was talking and chatting away to each other rather than sitting still in a sombre silence waiting for Jenni to enter. It felt almost like a community that had been brought together through the common denominator of feminism.

Murray’s entrance did not disappoint as she walked onto the stage wearing her signature shawl and carrying a handbag, accompanied by Jo Fox from Durham University who was chairing the event. Immediately this felt more like an intimate gathering rather than a stage show. The talk started off with questions from Professor Fox which prompted Jenni Murray to explain everything from her inclusion choices in the book, through to a story about her grandad and his friend riding horses in the horse artillery. For instance, Fanny Burnley was included “not just because of her bravery, but for writing about it too”. Murray in this time also spoke of her battle with breast cancer and read extracts, including Burley’s account of her mastectomy, from her book ‘A History of Britain in 21 Women’.

One important thing Jenni Murray highlighted during the talk was the difference in attitude between different generations. She retold the story of when she worked on Newsnight and her mother would phone her up, not to discuss the topic or guests on the show, but would instead comment on Murray’s clothing choices – and not in a good way.

Again, like in her book, Jenni made her opinions known. She expressed her annoyance at the closure of Holloway prison and aired her views on the BBC gender pay gap. One opinion that did surprise me was that she thought after the “Legsit” controversy it would be easier for Theresa May and Nicola Sturgeon to wear trousers when they next meet. Even more surprising was that this was after Murray spoke about Mary Quant, a woman who many view as liberating young girls through her out-there clothing designs, such as the mini-skirt a young Jenni Murray bought in Burnley market.

The event was concluded after the floor was opened to questions from the audience. These queries ranged from the best advice Murray would give to a young woman, “stock your mind” was her answer, to her thoughts on the WASPI campaign (Women against state pension increases) and which woman out of her book would she take to a desert island.

In summary, Murray took the crowd on an informative journey. She made us feel sorrow, made us laugh and finally left us with the same parting words that I shall end this review on: “keep fighting and we will support you”.

Cuckoo Review is an arts journalism programme for young writers aged 15-23. Through the Cuckoo Reviewers in Residence programme at Durham Book Festival, young people have reviewed festival events and books, and have interviewed featured authors. For more information about Cuckoo Review visit