"We owe Emmeline Pankhurst so much" – Fiona Bruce and Antiques Roadshow celebrate 100 years since women got the vote
As Antiques Roadshow celebrates female pioneers, presenter Fiona Bruce reveals the women who have inspired her
As Fiona Bruce heads to Parliament for a special Antiques Roadshow edition to mark 100 years since the first British women got the vote, the presenter reflects on the women whose stories have inspired her.
My mum, who died in 2011, was the most loving mother you could ask for. She was very compassionate, always a good listener, and her love was a constant throughout my life. She was very sympathetic, kind and understanding and I think these values can be underrated. So they’re qualities that I now value very much and try to show as best I can. We had very different lives. She stopped working when she had her first child (I am the youngest of three) and never went back. I’m not sure she had any desire to. My parents’ set-up was very traditional, whereas that’s not the life I’ve chosen to lead.
I have two children [Sam and Mia, now 20 and 16] and I do judge my parenting skills against hers and often find myself falling short. She was always there, but I’m not. We [she and advertising agency director Nigel Sharrocks] have had the same nanny for 20 years and that has made so much of my working life possible. But I do have a fair dose of working mother’s guilt. Would it have been better for my children had I been at home all the time? I don’t know. I’ve asked them and they say no!
I heard a recording of a speech Emmeline Pankhurst gave when she had just been released from jail, and it was electrifying – it made the hairs rise on the back of my neck. The strength of it, the power and cogency of her argument [for women’s suffrage]; she sounded invincible. It was the most extraordinary thing I think I’ve ever heard.
These women were often beaten up or pelted with eggs, fruit, even bottles, when making speeches. It was incredibly perilous. Then of course the suffragettes embraced violent protest, which was very controversial. She felt that years of gentle protest had got them nowhere and it was the only way to provide a catalyst for change.
We all – you, me, all of us – owe her so much. And not just her. She raised a whole dynasty of suffragettes. If she were alive today, I think she’d be right at the forefront of the equal pay and #MeToo campaigns. Whether she’d be chaining herself to railings in the Houses of Parliament, I don’t know! But she would absolutely be leading from the front.
I started at the BBC in December 1989, as a researcher on Panorama, and Jane was a reporter there. She was glamorous and fearless. I looked at her and thought, “I can never be like her.” She was redoubtable! There was a photo of her on the wall at Panorama dressed in a safari outfit, looking just incredible, and there was me, in my first job at the BBC, thinking, “This woman is everything I would love to be.”
There weren’t many female reporters around then and certainly not as brilliant as her. She never left any stone unturned. It was she who broke the story of the Oslo Channel: the secret negotiations between the Palestinians and Israelis that led to the signing of the Oslo Peace Accords at the White House in 1993. A landmark moment.
I know her now as an equal and have worked with her recently, but I still find it slightly disconcerting. I can’t quite shake that image I had of her. She was, and still is, an extraordinary woman.
Who could fail to be inspired by the story of this woman? Sadly she’s not a name that many people know, perhaps because her life was so short. But it burnt so brightly. She came to England from France, later joined the Special Operations Executive and, from the age of 19, went back behind enemy lines to fight with the Resistance.
In June 1944, she was rumbled at a checkpoint. After twisting her ankle she encouraged her fellow fighter to run and then, alone with one gun, fought off a number of Germans, killing one and injuring many more. Eventually they captured her and took her to Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she was tortured before being shot, aged 23. Her five-year-old daughter, Tania, collected her posthumous George Cross from Buckingham Palace.
She laid down her life at a time of the most extreme danger. It doesn’t get more courageous or inspiring than that.
Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, is utterly tireless, indefatigable and relentless in her championing of victims of domestic violence.
The figures are absolutely astonishing and sadly unchanging. One in four women experiences some form of domestic violence; two women are killed each week by a current or former partner. How has this not changed?
But Sandra has provided a place for women and their children to go. She never gives up. I’ve known her for at least 20 years and, though she’s always pleased to see me, if there’s something I can do for her, she never hesitates to ask.
Quite right, too. That is what you have to do. It is a thankless task running a charity like Refuge because you constantly have to ask people for money and that is so difficult. I think she deserves a medal for all that she has done. And in my view it couldn’t be for a better cause.
We women owe Sandra a lot.
Antiques Roadshow is on Sundays at 8.00pm on BBC1