Comment

Woman's Hour sounds nothing like women - it lacks a sense of humour

Emma Barnett will appeal to a younger generation of women - but has the radio 4 programme made itself redundant?

Emma Barnett will replace Jane Garvey on Women's Hour 
Emma Barnett will replace Jane Garvey on Woman's Hour  Credit:  Helen Roscoe & David Rutter/ BBC

Congratulation to the new presenter of Woman’s Hour, Emma Barnett, who takes thes control of the Mothership following the departure of Dame Jenni Murray and Jane Garvey. The gifted 35-year-old broadcaster, soon to be partnered with a suitably diverse co-presenter identifying as They no doubt, has her work cut out. The programme, which I first listened to when the BBC was still broadcasting something called Housewives’ Choice (yes, really), doesn’t make a lot of sense in 2020. If you support equal opportunity then every hour should be women’s hour.

The last time I was on the show it was to discuss some new procedure that could enable women to delay menopause for over a decade. Take a bit of your ovary, bung it in the freezer, have it re-implanted in your fifties or sixties and then, Boom! Pop out a baby at your own convenience.

 One of my fellow guests was arguing that it was unfair for women to only be able to conceive in the years when biology dictated they could get pregnant. Well, that’s Mother Nature for you; the ageist old bat!

“Women could always make babies by, you know, having sex with a man,” I suggested controversially.

“That has been known to work quite well,” admitted Jane Garvey, or words to that effect.  

It was a rare moment of humour. One of the oddest things about Radio 4’s 74-year-old programme is how rarely it’s funny. The best thing about any actual woman’s hour – one spent with girlfriends over a cuppa or a glass of wine - is the hoots of laughter and the spluttering of Sauvignon Blanc through your nostrils as you share the daily absurdities of the female condition. Instead of viewing men as the jackbooted oppressor, as Woman’s Hour so often does, we find endless comic material in their curious habits and endearing mysteries.

How long, for instance, before a man would realise that the pile of stuff left at the bottom of the stairs needed taking to the top of the stairs?  

I’m sorry, there is no recorded instance in human history of this happening. Man is far too busy in his cave arranging his books/LPs/trains/mammoth tusks in chronological order (within alphabetical). At least mine is.

Women love to laugh at that stuff. It’s the laughter of the slaves while the Master is away, if you like, but it’s marvellously therapeutic. Female friendship is one of life’s best medicines. Woman’s Hour is more like cod liver oil; good for you but not delicious.

I rarely listen to the programme any more, unless I happen to be driving and, even then, I sometimes crossly jab it off. It’s a bit too pious for me and there is a weary inevitability to the fact that an item on singing or Arctic exploration will shoehorn in a diversity or BAME angle. A recent hyper-Woke discussion about something called “allyship” featured a blizzard of politically-correct terms like “systemic oppression” “intersecting identities” and “decolonising your mind”. Anyone tuning in to find out what to do with foraged blackberries would have been bemused.

Dame Jenni’s soothing Bournville tones could smooth over the spikiest intra-feminist fallings-out and, at the age of 70, she belongs to a generation which tends to be pretty unanimous in the view that women don’t have willies. While Dame Jenni reigned, older listeners still felt they had an ally who talked their language.

Emma Barnett will appeal to a younger generation of women. The trouble is most won’t be at home listening to the radio. They will be out pursuing the jobs that they can take for granted because seven decades of fervent campaigning by an iconic female radio programme, among others, has given them all the opportunities their grandmothers never had. Woman’s Hour has made itself redundant. 

Read Allison Pearson at telegraph.co.uk every Tuesday, from 7pm, and listen to Planet Normal, her podcast with fellow Telegraph columnist, Liam Halligan, on the audio player above or subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or your preferred podcast app.