In his publisher's preface on the front page of the first Leedes Intelligencer, Griffith Wright hoped it would be, "a means of establishing a public and friendly correspondence amongst gentlemen and others". Over the years there was a nod in the direction of the "others" but it was not until fairly recent times that the Yorkshire Post began to address seriously the concerns and agenda of its female readership. Jean Rook, who went on to become a national treasure in Fleet Stre
Valerie Webster (formerly Valerie Ann), Women's Editor
until February 1964
My main memory is that women's coverage was very county-set orientated and middle-aged. We had a series on Other Women's Homes which were mainly mansions and Girls' Schools in the North which were all independent schools.
Mary Quant had just emerged and I remember the excitement when her first ready-to-wear range, Ginger Group, hit Leeds, but on the whole fashion tended to be very conservative. This was encouraged by the then features editor who said he preferred us to feature "nice, good quality clothes such as Jaeger and Susan Small, the sort of clothes my wife likes".
New young designers were starting to pave the way for Swinging London. When we went to London to report on the fashions it was to the couture shows of people like Angele Delanghe and Lachasse who made tweedy suits and hefty jewel-encrusted evening gowns for the grouse moors and hunt ball scene.
Locally we reported extensively on the seasonal fashion shows held at top Yorkshire department stores like Marshall and Snelgrove in Leeds and Brown Muff in Bradford where chauffeur-driven Rolls and Bentleys brought the elderly wives of former textile magnates to sit on little gilt chairs and note down the items that the individual store buyers had selected with "their ladies" in mind.
Most ghastly of all to a young fashion reporter was compiling the advert supplements for which portly and rather mature local models, feet carefully pointed in the approved "Paris toes" position, were photographed wearing the too-too solid creations of local upmarket fashion shops. Great interest was generated by what local bigwigs wore for big occasions and women's page staff would contribute detailed accounts of who wore what at events like the Great Yorkshire Show and York Races to the People diary column.
Interest didn't stop at what the toffs wore. Someone complained to the YP editor when I wore black leather to the Great Yorkshire Show. When going to address local women's organisations, which we were sometimes called upon to do, you felt a hat was essential and I still have a photo of myself covering some charity event in Roundhay Park, Leeds in a C&A Twist dress oddly accessorised with elbow-length gloves.
When, trying to introduce a more youthful element, I wrote about Leeds student fashion, I declared that some women students even wore jeans to lectures. We devoted considerable space to local charities with reporters (usually female ones) being dispatched to cover meetings of organisations like the Leeds Ladies' Lifeboat Guild. I will never forget a summer fete at Browning House Home for Unmarried Mothers in North Leeds where "our naughty girls" – as the staff there called them – peered out through the windows at the great and the good taking tea on the lawn.
But things were beginning to change. Jean Rook initiated a careers series To Be and What to Be which featured high-powered women in various fields and I did a series on people who lived on a slender budget. The editor was deluged with angry letters when I described how the budget of a prisoner's wife, living on what was then called National Assistance, included TV rental, cigarettes and toys for her children in the weekly spend.
We didn't seem to devote as much space to cosmetics and beauty products as present day Women's Post does – maybe because the beauty PR industry was not so highly developed and furnishing and domestic products were mainly covered in the weekly "Shopping in…" feature, in which the most junior Women's Page writer was dispatched to a different Yorkshire town each week to talk to store buyers and discover what new lines they had in stock. It tended to be Scandinavian teak salad bowls. Again, since the PR industry was not so generous with product photographs at that time, some luckless YP photographer ended up doing pictures of such exciting objects as the Snackhound, a pottery dachshund whose body broke up into segments in each of which proud hostesses could put a different kind of nuts and crisps.
Food in Yorkshire in the early '60s was still very much of the roast and two veg variety and our cookery column was written by a motherly lady called Caroline Lucas who was first Jean Rook's and later my landlady. The emphasis was very much on baking and hearty fare and when, confronted with a recipe I was attempting, I asked her what a clove of garlic was – was it the whole head? – she simply did not know.
My first encounter with Jean Rook came on almost my first day on the paper when a large redhead dressed all in black and jangling with heavy gold jewellery burst into the newsroom. She wore a big black hat trimmed with green feathers which one of the feature writers said looked as though she had a dead hen on her head.
I think everybody was a little frightened of her because her wrath was fearful. She was as unforgiving then as she later became on the Daily Express if her copy ever appeared in the paper in any way different from the way she had written it. But she was also much respected for her talent – some people think that throughout her career in Fleet Street she never wrote so well as she had done in her Yorkshire Post days – and her larger-than-life personality and often biting wit made her a major local celeb.
Brenda Rankin. Woman's Editor
I began working for the YP in October 1964, straight from university. Kenneth Young was editor at the time. He introduced the Literary Luncheons and was keen to take on graduates, or so I was told. He offered me a job as reporter on a three months' trial and then resigned almost immediately after! I think this was coincidental. Also, the end of the three months trial was never confirmed during the years I was there.
There were only three women on the editorial staff in Leeds at this time. The reporters' room was organised chaos: lots of reporters had special interests. I did lunchtime recitals at Leeds Art Gallery, food prices in the market (meat, fish and veg), dog shows at Leeds Corn Exchange, numerous AGMs at the Civic Hall and endless luncheons and dinners. Not exactly Girl's Own stuff. There were also fashion shows held after hours at local stores. There was some fashion, a "shopping" column on Fridays, wedding reports to write up, and "gossip" for the People column.
Everything changed in 1968 when a separate features department was created. We wrote a lot of series at this time which sound sexist now: "the farmer's wife" and the "footballer's wife". There was also a series called "family portraits", and one I had to do was about a woman who painted erect penises, very embarrassing, but a sign of how times were changing. Weekly items were the Shopping column, a makeup column, fashion, and every Friday we typed up numerous wedding reports in advance of Saturday.
In 1974, I became Woman's Editor, working in the new building in Wellington Street. By then, I think women's pages were becoming much more serious and campaigning in content, following the derogatory references to bra burning and women's lib in the Sixties.
There had been a spate of feminist literature in the early Seventies: Germaine Greer, books like Fear of Flying by Erica Jong, Elaine Morgan's The Descent of Woman, Sexual Politics by Kate Millett and so forth, and every aspect of women's lives, history and literature was being re-examined and re-evaluated.
Articles in Women's Post began to cover attitudes to female sexuality, legal abortion, the Pill, equal pay, the need for childcare facilities, should babies be born at home or hospital, single parent families, lesbianism, along with the more traditional fashion, beauty products, shopping and weddings.
There was light relief, including book reviews and interviews with celebrities passing through. Women's Post often carried special reader offers (usually knitting patterns, and makeup cards) but the biggest demand was for a "For Women Only" calendar produced by a women's action group in Lincoln. The calendar featured a few male volunteers in poses more usually adopted by female pin-ups and was designed to make a point about exploitation. The real story was about the group's difficulty in having the calendar published, when four different printers turned it down. Staid male colleagues insisted that women wanted none of this – and then requests for the calendars from readers began to arrive, literally hundreds of them.
The YP was unusual for a regional newspaper in that we sent our own journalist to the fashion shows in Paris and London. The Seventies was not famous for its sense of style. I went twice a year to the ready-to-wear shows in Paris and London, where the posh peasant look seemed to predominate, but on the high street, it was more scruffy peasant and anti-fashion that was the look.
Going to Paris for the fashion was viewed as very glamorous. In fact, it was hard work and stressful. Some shows were beautiful and civilised affairs (Dior comes to mind), others were mad scrambles. In theory an accredited journalist was entitled to tickets to the major shows, but at Yves St Laurent, pressure to get in was enormous. Seasoned fashion writers told me that no ticket would eventually be followed by a standing ticket and even a sitting ticket in the fullness of time. In desperation, during my first Paris trip I tried to view the Yves St Laurent show through a window and was escorted away by two burly security men.
I said: "Je suis the Yorkshire Post, une journaliste accredite." They said: "Yves St Laurent n'a pas besoin de Yorkshire Post." In 1981, when I left the Yorkshire Post, my sitting ticket arrived, too late.
Jill Armstrong, Woman's Editor
We launched out first separate Women's Post supplement in 1981. In the best traditions of journalism the launch was a rushed affair. The editor, John Edwards, took a keen interest in what had been the twice weekly women's pages in the Yorkshire Post and when it was decided to launch this mid-week supplement he thought it would be a good idea to expand these into a tabloid aimed at women readers.
We didn't have much time to plan it. I was away on a Press trip to Hong Kong when I received a telegram from him to say that Women's Post was to start and we had just a few weeks in which to prepare for our first issue.
The tabloid format was a new challenge and it took time to adjust to a different way of working. The early issues were rather heavy-looking with limited use of pictures, all in black and white. The pages were a mix of traditional topics such as shopping and gardening and more serious issues. We covered the women's peace camp at Greenham Common; complained about how few women MPs there were (still no change there) looked at revolutionary ideas such as job sharing and at the debate about whether women should become priests.
At first we carried a feature on the front page of the supplement (rather than a picture as we do now) and in the early days one of the cover stories was about a young woman from Morley who was one of only two women in the country writing about rugby. Women sports writers were rare and so, in those days, were serious newspapers that devoted an entire section to subjects of interest to women readers.
Catherine Scott, Features Editor
2004 – present
Earlier this year, the decision was taken to merge the Features and Women's editors roles and I was given this exciting and challenging task. The role of women has never been more demanding as many juggle careers, children and running homes. We recognise that the interests of women should be catered for throughout the paper, not just in one weekly publication: my post now involves responsibility for the daily features page, Saturday Magazine and Women's Post.
As a newspaper we are constantly evolving and looking at how we can better serve our readership regardless of their gender. With a female editor, news editor and features editor I believe the Yorkshire Post has never been in a better position to achieve this goal.