Jenni Murray has one of the most familiar and authoritative voices in Britain. Since 1987 she has presented an influential daily radio programme packed with information, interviews, debates and entertainment aimed mainly, but not exclusively, at women and mothers. Woman’s Hour (actually 45 minutes on BBC Radio 4, 10 am) is a national institution and Murray its feisty figurehead.
She is an outspoken feminist who has campaigned vocally for women’s rights across a wide range of issues. But in 2006 she announced that she had breast cancer, a subject she had never been afraid to discuss in the programme, and would be off air for some time while undergoing treatment.
How she coped with her illness is a small part of this book. Structured as a diary of that harrowing year in which both her mother and father died within six months of each other, Murray weaves into the narrative a portrait of her childhood in northern England in the ’50s and ’60s as well as details of her early career in broadcasting, the break up of her first marriage and of her life today with the man who fathered her two sons but who she insisted, until very recently, she did not want to imprison in wedlock.
But the most thoughtful part of the book explores how her relationship with her parents, and especially the arguments with her mother who did not have a career outside the home and was critical of her unconventional lifestyle, made her the woman she is today. The absence of her mother’s unconditional adoration is, Murray maintains, the reason why she threw herself with such gusto into the public eye, searching for the approval of an audience. It’s a compelling argument and this readable and searingly honest memoir helps explain why she has won it.