Press & media
Whitehorn, Katharine (1 of 7). Oral History of the British Press
The British Library Board acknowledges the intellectual property rights of those named as contributors to this recording and the rights of those not identified.
Legal and ethical usage »
2009-02-12, 2009-03-03, 2009-03-20
Interviewee's home, London
Whitehorn, Katharine, 1928- (speaker, female)
Brodie, Louise (speaker, female)
Part 1: Katharine Whitehorn KW was born in 1928 in Mill Hill. Her father, Alan, was classics master at the school there. He was good at his job. His father was a jeweller and mother a rather narrow minded Scot. KW’s father was a conscientious objector in the First World War. He was a non-conformist and at odds with the Church of England military ethos of the public school. Collinson House was lovely and big. KW had a nanny, Molly Leefe. John was KW’s elder brother and she was jealous of him. In the holidays KW could explore the boys’ part of the boarding school. KW first went to The Mount school down the road. She did not get on very well there. [5:06] During the war KW’s father worked on the land. He was good about the garden, but not in the house. He played good cricket for Hampstead. His gift as a schoolmaster was to translate the classics into situations accessible to the boys. KW’s mother’s father was a distinguished Presbyterian minister, Gray. The background was pacifist and left wing. KW’s father was amusing and a flirt. He had a strong moral core. Stories of the Christmas tree and the cold bath.[11:21] Her mother’s father was a padre in the First World War, and wrote books on sex and marriage from a Christian viewpoint. KW’s mother got spinal meningitis in her teens, and always suffered from deafness. She was a very happy woman. In the Second World War she caught scarlet fever and became totally deaf, relying on lip reading. She was very maternal. The children’s father was distant but adored them and enjoyed music with them. They spent every summer holiday in Scotland in the Highlands, often with the extended family. They would walk and swim and fish. KW remembers the train journeys. Both parents were amusing. They were devoted to each other. Eventually Molly went off and got married, but remained a friend of her mother, though there had been a flirtation with her father. [23:13] Molly was part of the family and KW went to stay with her. When they dropped the atom bomb, she was there. They had long discussions about the world ceasing to exist, would moral values survive? Yes. Quotation from James Elroy Flecker. Brother was in the War but did not face much combat. KW was in school at Downe House. Incident about the girls and the teacher saying that conscientious objectors were cowards. She was once in an air raid in Glasgow, and was astonished that grown ups should do this. [28:59] Memories from a sunny childhood. KW was a bloody minded child. Her father did not readily beat the boys. He only once spanked KW. Her view is that you should only do this in anger. KW’s mother talked to them and listened to them, a modern upbringing of freedom. John’s attitude to KW was always to ignore her. He got a scholarship to Rugby. Even then they could only just afford it. They always lived on overdrafts. [36:39] Joseph Gray ran the jewellers Collingwoods, and were not rich but there was some money. They had to be careful with money but didn’t care for the status or enjoying it. KW gave a mink jacket to her mother, Edie. Story. The Gray attitude to money was KW’s best inheritance. Her aunt, Margaret, would help cousins. They accepted it when it came their way. Gavin’s attitude to money was quite different. They all ended up comfortably via different routes. [41:34] KW’s father’s father died when she was young, and his mother was very narrow and rigid. They did not like her. Story of not looking after John, and the chair. The Whitehorns had been blacksmiths, then jewellers. Joseph became head of the Goldsmiths Company and saved the firm. Story of one of his successors and the pearls. KW was lent diamond earrings and tiara for a speech. She also remembers the occasion when she learnt that men do not like women telling blue jokes. [47:29] Herbert Gray founded the Marriage Guidance Council. His sister Margaret told KW a lot about him. He had an electric shock machine. They lived latterly in Hampstead Garden Suburb. An ancestor had been tried for heresy. Margaret and Gavin differed about soup, joke. [51:29] Margaret thought her mother was wonderful, but KW thought she was a bit pernickety. Probably her own parents were rebelling, having a general feeling that things were changing. Incident at school when KW’s father made the senior boys write from their opposite point of view. KW’s visit to Greece with her father. He made classics fun. Later on at Marlborough he had taught many successful people who reminisce about him now. He was awful about KW’s boyfriends. Anecdotes. Religion played no part in KW’s upbringing.
Life story interview with journalist and broadcaster Katharine Whitehorn