Last Thursday we had our first National Annual WEA Lecture. It was delivered by Dame Jenni Murray, of Women’s Hour fame at University College London. Professor Malcolm Grant, Provost and President hosted the event, and we had 270 guests, including current and past students, tutors, Trustees, partners, academics and members of the general public.
As Malcolm Grant said in his welcome speech the location for the lecture was particularly appropriate. The UCL has a tradition of serving the community and traces its roots back to Jeremy Bentham and the Utilitarians. However these days it is a truly global University second only to Cambridge in terms of its academic record and achievements.
Research is driven by individual curiosity or imagination and is central to UCL’s conception of excellence in leadership. UCL is not an academic fortress but an open institution committed to working collaboratively with others. In delivering what he calls a “culture of wisdom” Professor Grant has prioritised collaboration with non-commercial organisations working with business, industry and partners in London to deliver both social and economic value.
A culture of wisdom depends upon the application and sharing of knowledge, enabling cross disciplinary work and understanding the interconnections between academic disciplines. It also respects non-academic contributions to our knowledge base. UCL works closely with Westminster, Whitehall, hospitals, The City, the media, courts, galleries, museums and libraries and now with the WEA. We hope the lecture will be the harbinger of a closer working relationship between HE and the WEA.
Turning to our lecturer, Dame Jenni Murray, Jenni is one of radio and television’s most respected broadcasters. Her wide-ranging expertise in politics, business and the arts has led commentators to write admiringly of her “well-stocked mind”. Her interviews with the powerful are described as “probing”, “steely” and “no-nonsense”, and her knowledge of the arts is matchless. Jenni was made a Dame of the British Empire in 2011, in recognition of her stunning contribution to broadcasting for over 40 years.
Born and educated in Barnsley, Jenni has a degree in French and Drama from Hull University, she also has Honorary Degrees from a number of universities including: Bradford, Bristol, St Andrews and the Open University.
As the regular presenter of Radio 4’s Women’s Hour since 1987, she has daily demonstrated an incredible range and depth and a unique ability to understand the feelings and complexities of those she interviews, talents she has also brought to BBC TV’s Newsnight and Everyman and BBC Radio’s Today and Tuesday Call.
Jenni is the author of: My Boy Butch (2011); Memoirs of a Not So Dutiful Daughter (2008); The Women’s Hour: A History of Women Since World War II and Is It Hot In Here: A Modern Guide.
Dame Jenni managed to squeeze into her address a potted history of Women’s Hour and some of her varied experiences of growing up under the influence of BBC Radio, and the influential women she has interviewed. We also heard a few personal insights into her role as a parent and some personal reflections on learning – a discontinuous process which goes on throughout life. She was witty, self-deprecating, warm and engaged and she talked to me about her previous experience with the WEA, fully taking on board our important place in adult community learning.
For those who weren’t there, my enduring memories of the lecture will be
- Her interview with Barbara Castle who was less concerned with political correctness than the fact that had arrived. She was not concerned about Chair, Chairman, Chairperson as long as she was the Chair.
- Her interview with Maggie Thatcher in which she was suitably shrivelled by the penetrating eyes. She only realised halfway through her interview that Mrs Thatcher was unaware of criticisms of her from members of her Cabinet because she was exclusively reliant on Bernard Ingham, her press advisor.
- Her views on feminism and attempts to influence her teenage boys
- Her unwillingness to share household tips. Like many of mine, they had a tendency to go wrong
- Her ability to “wing it” when under pressure. Surely this is an under-rated management skill.
- Her message to modern women. This is not the time to quit the fight for equality and an equal voice in politics, business and the home.
Although there has been a gender-quake the reality of too many women’s lives is of many unfulfilled dreams and ambitions. We need to make sure that we pass on both the gritty determination and the aspirations of previous generations and share the “good stuff” as well as the heartaches. We also need to influence men and boys, taking our responsibility for bringing them up differently, seriously.
All in all the lecture was a great start of the WEA series. We are already canvassing ideas for next year.
If you have a contact / speaker who you think would be suitable let us know – and if you want to have your own Lecture regionally – contact your Regional Chair or REM.
Thanks for coming in such numbers and for being such an attentive audience.