A war opportunity, the first female ascent in the Alps, and an ex-Communist
Sun 24 Apr 2022 01.00 EDT
In the final part of a national survey in October 1975, the Observer Magazine spoke to some older women ‘whose energy and enthusiasm suggest that, even at 50, life may only just be beginning’ (‘The Women of Britain – and what they think’).
The potted biographies were a random combination of achievements, quotes and a physical description, like a sort of weird Miss World. First up was Kathy, 50, jazz saxophonist whose ‘major break’ was the war: ‘All the men got called up, and I got my opportunity in what was predominantly a man’s world. I was a born busker.’
I wanted to hear a lot more from Gwen, 51, rock-climbing guide, who ‘made several first feminine ascents in Swiss and Italian Alps’. She said she wrote for the same reason she started climbing: ‘To stretch myself and to get to the top, which in the event is an uninteresting place. The more important delights lie in getting there.’
Mary, 53, a chief superintendent, had ‘been involved in practically every crime in the book’, but had never been attacked. She is described as being ‘jolly, extrovert, inspires confidence, grey curly hair, motherly but unstuffy… goes to work at New Scotland Yard… by bicycle.’
Doris Lessing, 54, ‘An ex-Communist with an acute emotional and political intelligence reflected in her characters. Serene good looks, a calm brow, plump, slightly untidy, she lives in London with a cat’ – yes, this was the author of The Golden Notebook.
Margot Fonteyn, 56, said, ‘In ballet, once you stop you are finished for ever’… ‘Raven-haired, petite, looks and moves like a girl. Eats a lot of steak; wears Yves St Laurent.’
Betty, 60, a film producer, had no children because ‘I couldn’t be bothered with them.’ An entirely understandable answer to a rude question.
Last word is for Dame Marie Rambert, 87, the founder of the Ballet Rambert. ‘She turned a cartwheel on her 80th birthday.’
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