Pioneering Observer columnist Katharine Whitehorn dies aged 92

The first woman to have her own column in the Observer, Whitehorn was a celebrated writer and author

Katharine Whitehorn, the pioneering newspaper columnist and author, has died aged 92.

The Cambridge graduate worked briefly as a model before embarking on a celebrated writing career, working for publications including the Observer, Picture Post and Saga magazine, where she was agony aunt for 19 years.

She joined the Observer in 1960, at a time when national newspapers were overwhelmingly dominated by men, and was known for her tongue-in-cheek pieces. Whitehorn was the first woman to have her own column in the Observer, and was the star columnist at the newspaper for almost 40 years. A landmark article that defended domestic “sluts” challenged attitudes to working women.

Under the headline Sisters Under the Coat, Whitehorn asked women whether they had changed stockings in a taxi, cleaned their nails or “ever taken anything out of the dirty-clothes basket because it had become, relatively, the cleaner thing?” Her conclusion was that “the only way a slut can really get things done is to get someone else to do them”.

Whitehorn worked for the Observer until 1996 and returned to write regular columns for the Observer magazine until 2017.

She lived in Hampstead, north London, before moving to a nearby care home after being diagnosed with advanced Alzheimer’s disease.

Bernard Lyall, the elder son of Whitehorn and her late husband, the crime novelist Gavin Lyall, paid tribute to his mother.

He said: “She was held in a lot of high esteem, part of the whole vanguard of feminist journalism at that time. She always worked from home. She was very loyal and deeply in love with my father, they were together for over 40 years until he died in 2003.”

Lyall said that, along with his younger brother, Jake, his parents made up a “tight family”. He said: “They both had a liberal attitude to a lot of things. They had both strived to be well educated.”

Whitehorn also wrote the totemic 1961 handbook Cooking in a Bedsitter and was a contributor to BBC Radio 4’s A Point of View. Her book was adapted into a Radio 4 comedy drama in 2016 starring Beattie Edmondson as a lonely girl in London rescued by recipes, and Nikesh Patel as a young Indian medical student who lived across the landing.

In October last year, her large wooden desk that she had worked on, designed by Kai Kristiansen, was donated to an auction to raise money for a charity that cares for people with Alzheimer’s disease.

The newspaper veteran was awarded a CBE for services to journalism in 2013, half a century after she first turned down an honour.


Nadeem Badshah

The GuardianTramp

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