OBITUARY Betty Jerman journalist and author, instigator and campaigner - 26 June 1922 – 8 July 2010
Betty Jerman, journalist and author, instigator and campaigner, has died after a short illness from cancer.
Betty Jerman, journalist and author, instigator and campaigner, has died after a short
illness from cancer. She worked on the Manchester Guardian in Fleet Street 1948-56
as a fashion and interior design writer, and subsequently was a Guardian freelance
contributor into her eighties, singlehandedly writing the children's holiday events page
‘What's On’ and supporting several society-changing movements, including the
National Women's Register.
She was born in Harlesdon, London on June 26 1922. By the age of 14 she had
moved home thirteen times through her mother’s property deals which included
confectionery and tobacconist shops manned by her printer father who was
unemployed in the thirties’ slump. Her formal education was chequered, since her very many
London schools were constantly changing.
During the war, from 1939-41 she worked in the Peterborough office of the network of Buffer
Depots, wartime emergency stores, whilst living with her father’s family, with a break at the
Middlesex Hospital, for the removal of a Dermoid cyst from her lower back; she had been carrying
her own unborn twin up till then.
Then she joined the Political Intelligence Department of the Foreign Office in London, latterly
editing a several times a day internal news sheet covering enemy news and propaganda. Post
war she moved to the German Section of the Foreign Office and provided the Secretary of State
with a daily summary of media comment and reaction.
The Manchester Guardian had no woman’s page post war but at the Fleet Street office she was
asked to produce a female interest piece to accompany the weekly article by pre war cookery
writer Ambrose Heath. Gradually there was more space as the fashion and beauty industry came
out of wartime austerity.
She wrote about fashion, attending the twice yearly couture shows of Hartnell and Amies but also
about the new fashions, new techniques, new domestic equipment that were reaching the high
street and the much needed export markets, an interest in fashion and clothes that never left her.
Later she reported on the royal gowns for the Coronation, which she reported from among
thousands of children on the Embankment and attended Palace garden parties, because, she
said, ‘I had a hat’.
She married the Scotsman journalist Leslie Jerman in 1954 and they had three children - Seth.
Stacey and Toby. In 1969, the family bought a second home in Norfolk and the vagaries of
second home owning produced a large vegetable crop, as Leslie was a very keen gardener.
Never a keen cook, Betty learned to produce up to 12 dishes of different vegetables for Sunday
In 1960 she sparked the correspondence that would lead to the formation of the
National Women's Register (NWR) by writing an article for The Guardian
Woman's page for the legendary women’s editor Mary Stott, on how boredom
affected young mothers' creativity and opportunities for making friends. Under the
title ‘Squeezed in like sardines in Suburbia’ Betty wrote suburbia was ‘an
incredibly dull place to live and I blame the women. Their work kept them alert. Home and childminding
can have a blunting effect on a woman’s mind, but only she can sharpen it.’