From Simon Hoggart’s Guardian column January 21 2012


From Simon Hoggart’s Guardian column January 21 2012

(See “FOBS reunited” page)

Now and again those of us who were on the old Observer have a get-together. It’s very jolly – as in all such occasions happy reminiscence of the past jostles with tales about today’s aches and pains. This week Katharine Whitehorn joined us. What an extraordinary woman she is! She never surrendered to Glenda Slaggism, because everything she wrote was informed by the same thoughtful, liberal sympathy, her voice has remained clear and unchanged through the decades. She will be 84 this year.

It must be worrying, however, to be remembered best for just one of your pieces.

Hers came in 1963, when she wrote a column about being a “slut”, in the sense of a slovenly housewife.

“Have you,” she wrote, “ever taken anything out of the dirty-clothes basket because it had become, relatively, the cleaner thing? Changed stockings in a taxi?

“Could you try on clothes in any shop, any time, without worrying about your underclothes? How many things are in the wrong room – cups in the study, boots in the kitchen?”

For thousands of women, hectored every day by women’s pages that urged them to be the perfect wife – “the art of flower-arranging”, “how to tempt your husband’s jaded palate” – rather like Violet Attlee in the newsreel, that one piece become a manifesto of freedom and quite as influential, for the Observer reading classes, at any rate, as anything written by Simone de Beauvoir or Germaine Greer.