‘On the same footing as men?’ Recruitment, Mobility and Pay

On the surface, there appeared to be no ostensible difference in the careers of salaried women and men. However, unquestionably there were divergences, not least in attitudes and motivations towards the job. As Mary Agnes Hamilton observed wryly in Our Freedom and its Results ‘a woman has got in some way to be rather better than the comparable male to get herself regarded as his equal’. 1 22 And certainly at the BBC, the work ethic among women was often demonstrably stronger than that of their male colleagues. 1 23 Hilda Matheson, for instance, wrote of her Assistants, Lionel Fielden and Joseph Ackerley, as ‘my leisurely young men lounging at their desks’, lacklustre about work that did not interest them.[1] The personal files of the BBC’s salaried women reveal, instead, a very different characteristic, a tendency to overwork. 1 [2] Val Gielgud, reflecting on his pre-war years with the Corporation, described a host of hopeless young BBC men who assumed they could make it anywhere, anyhow; something the women were not part of, he declared.[3]

This public school attitude meant that men often squandered opportunities which women would have grabbed.[4] Noel Annan, in his depiction of the ubiquitous ‘old boys’ network’ in Britain in the 1920s and 30s, was keenly aware that women were disadvantaged. They found ‘few ladders to help them climb’; they had ‘few helping hands. They made it by talent alone’, although he added the proviso ‘unless they had beauty as well as brains’.[5] That there were many talented women at the BBC is manifest. But sexual inequality was deeply ingrained and in terms of recruitment, promotion and pay women were often treated very differently from men.

  • [1] Hilda Matheson Letters, 1 May 1929. Matheson described Fielden as being ‘verynaughty about poetry readings because he is bored with them and forgets to see about copyright and things’, 15 January 1929.
  • [2] See, for example, L1/1698/1: Beatrice Hart Staff File, Broadbent to Wade, 9September 1933. In Miss Hart’s case, overwork led to illness.
  • [3] Val Gielgud, History of the BBC: BBC Memories, available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/historyofthebbc/bbc-memories/val-gielgud (accessed 6 May 2015).
  • [4] D.L. LeMahieu (1988) A Culture for Democracy: Mass Communications and theCultivated Mind in Britain between the Wars (Oxford: Oxford University Press) pp. 10—11.
  • [5] Noel Annan (1985) Our Age: The Generation that Made Post-War Britain (London:Harper Collins) p. 12.
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