Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford

Inform, educate and entertain…

😀 😀 😀 😀

radio-girlsMaisie Musgrave is thrilled when she gets a job as a typist at the newly formed BBC. She’s not particularly pretty, and her relative poverty means she’s rather dowdily dressed. Both of which are a little unfortunate, since her main ambition is to find a man and get married. But once she becomes exposed to some of the new thinking at the Beeb, and especially some of the feisty and successful women making their names there, Maisie begins to develop ambitions of her own – perhaps to produce a radio show one day, or even write for the Radio Times. Those ambitions will still leave her enough time for a bit of dabbling in romance, though…

Stratford has clearly thoroughly researched this fascinating period of the BBC’s early history, while it was still struggling to work out quite what its role was to be. Many thought that radio was a passing fad and, at that time, the BBC wasn’t a news organisation as it is now. However, there were people within the organisation with very firm views on how it should develop and Stratford incorporates them into her story. Lord Reith is now always thought of as the father of the BBC, who gave it its mission statement – to “inform, educate and entertain”, specifically in that order. But in the book he’s shown as the upholder of the establishment and the status quo – a man who felt that women should know their place and stay in it. So his relationship with Hilda Matheson, also a real person, was never going to be easy – feisty, feminist, lesbian, friend to the Bloomsbury set and lover of more than one of them at different times. Hilda becomes Maisie’s mentor and influence, though Maisie has a strong enough personality not to come under Hilda’s sway entirely.

Hilda Matheson
Hilda Matheson

All good stuff, and I found Hilda in particular an intriguing character. I hadn’t heard of her before, but it seems she too was highly influential on how the BBC developed, particularly in terms of setting out to inform the newly enfranchised female population of Britain, many of whom were clamouring to know more about the political world so that they could participate fully. However, she also seems to have promoted her own leftish political agenda, this being before the BBC made impartiality its fundamental principle (in theory, at least). I’d like to read a biography of Hilda sometime, if I can find one.

And that rather brings me to the problem with the book. For the first half, there’s really very little plot. We simply follow Maisie as she settles in to her new job and begins to get to know the people she’s working with and for. It’s well written, Maisie is quite fun and there’s some humour in it…but no real story. But be careful what you wish for, because in the second half, when the story finally arrives, it’s kinda silly and not very well done at all. It revolves around the growing Nazi threat, with Hilda and Maisie becoming kind of unbelievable amateur spies. And it’s very stretched out with large sections where nothing happens to move the plot along. It feels like Stratford had done all the research, decided what characters she was going to focus on, but then hadn’t really been able to think quite what to do with them. A large part of me wished she had gone for a non-fiction approach, either concentrating on Hilda Matheson or widening it out to cover the early years of the BBC.

John, later Lord, Reith
John, later Lord, Reith

And I do apologise, sisterhood, but I am bored, bored, BORED, with every second story being about how fabulous/intelligent/feisty/strong all women are and how weak/sexist/corrupt/nasty all men are. Feminism was surely never about proving women were vastly superior to men… was it? So why has it become so??

* * * * *

FF’s Fourth Law: It’s not necessary for men to be made to look bad in order for women to look good.

* * * * *

Pretty much the only good men in this book are the gay ones – which I think might be taking the “diversity” agenda (gosh, how I hate what that word has come to mean) just a little too far. But then I seem to have forgotten to pay my dues to the Political Correctness Club recently…

So yes, I got a little tired of how the “feminist” aspects were handled, although to be fair it’s no worse in that respect than a lot of contemporary fiction written by women. *ducks to avoid the rotten tomatoes*

Sarah-Jane Stratford
Sarah-Jane Stratford

Overall, then, I felt it was a little let down by a weak plot and too much blatant political correctness seeping through. But it is well researched and well written, creating what feels like a reasonably authentic picture of the early days of the BBC, and certainly interesting enough to keep me turning the pages. I liked the characterisation of both the fictional and real people for the most part, and enjoyed the way Stratford kept the tone light with some well judged humour along the way. I will look out for more from this author in the future, and hope that experience will allow her to find a better balance between historical research and plot next time. And despite my reservations, I recommend this one as an enjoyable and informative read.

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, Allison and Busby.

Amazon UK Link
Amazon US Link

59 thoughts on “Radio Girls by Sarah-Jane Stratford

  1. Sorry to hear you weren’t swept away by the plot here, FictionFan. And I know what you mean about the way characters are portrayed. Still, what a fascinating topic!! And it’s one I don’t know enough about right now. That in itself sounds like it might make this worth the read. Hmmm…..

    • Yes it was a pity there were a couple of weaknesses, but overall the book was an interseting read, and enjoyable! I was fascinated by the portrayal of the early days of the BBC which felt very well researched, and really want to seek out a factual book about those days now…

  2. Shame it didn’t quite live up to the billing. It is a little told story – and it makes me wonder what the film Hidden Figures is going to be like, since it also fits squarely into the ‘history with the women back in’ category. I can see the value of redressing the balance though.

    • I know, but it so very nearly did! Oh, I hadn’t heard about Hidden Figures but it looks fascinating – must see it! I was pleased that she concentrated on the women in the early BBC – I just wished she could have done it without knocking all the men to quite the extent she did. It wouldn’t have done any harm to the story to have one or two decent straight white men – there are some out there! 😉

  3. Very good review, this. I think that a non-fiction approach might have been better as the subject itself really interests me but the lack of plot (followed by silly plot!) doesn’t appeal. I’m all for silly plots, but they tend not to work too well in real-world settings.
    Don’t get me started on the whole feminist thing. I tell you – the pressure to be plucky, clever, strong and meaningful as a woman is far greater than having to have nice hair and a great pair of shoes. Some days, all I really care about is if my hair looks good and I have cool shoes on. So what? Do I really have to be plucky and incredible EVERY SINGLE DAY? Is it so wrong to like shoes? Also men are great. They have super bums and are good for opening jars. Let’s all just get along 🙂

    • Thanks! 😀 That was how I felt – there was plemty here for a great non-fiction, but for fiction a good plot is essential.

      Haha! I know! The odd thing is that I absolutely do consider myself a feminist, but I’m sick to death of being told by feminists what I should be/think etc – they’re worse than men!! Feminism was never about us being superheroes – it was just supposed to mean we got opportunities to do things we wanted to do. Now if you decide to be a carer rather than a plumber, somehow it seems as if you’re letting the sisterhood down… 😉 And I like men too – there, I said it!! I shall go into hiding now…

      I was laughing when the news was reporting today about the high-heels sexism trauma – when I started out in the NHS, the nurses used to complain about being forced to wear flat shoes! Personally, I think we should all just wear Wellies all the time to avoid issues…

      • I know exactly what you mean – I have flown the flag for us ladies in the notoriously macho (ahem) world of portering and also held other non-girly roles as you know but somehow these days you have practically burn a bra a day and grow a beard to prove your feminism. I like to think I am a personist – equal rights for all persons, everywhere. Everyone can wear what they want, do the jobs they want and marry who they want without having to put a label on it. The high-heel drama made me laugh, too – such a fuss over shoes! Wellies all round. Easier to walk in after a few glasses of wine, too 😉

        • I’m all for personism – sounds ideal! But then who would we carry out Twitter hate campaigns against? Plus T&T are currently composing a letter to Terry to set up a catist organisation to oppose personism. The whole thing is fraught… Pass the wine!

  4. Let me know if you find a biography of Hilda. I found her to be the most fascinating character in Radio Girls and would like to know more about her as well. The Nazi plot was a bit unbelievable, but that didn’t bother me. I think watching Maisie grow throughout the novel made up for it. (No rotten tomatoes for either you or the book from me! 🙂 )

    • She is fascinating and I was surprised that she’s not better known. There is one bio of her on Amazon, but it seems to be pretty old and out of print for a long time – only second-hand copies are available. And no reviews of it. It looks like there’s a real need for someone to do a new one – maybe the author of this one could be persuaded! (Ha! Thank you! 🙂 )

    • She really does! Unfortunately I can only find one bio, and it seems to be pretty old and out of print. Looks like there’s a real need for someone to do a new one, and I reckon the author of this one could do a great job of it!

  5. Diversity agenda hahaha But didn’t you know there weren’t any good straight men back then? (just kidding) 😀 Awesome review!

    • Hahaha! I know – we seem to have swung completely around. Maybe one day (soon) we’ll be able to have books where both men and women are just men and women, rather than warriors in some gender battle! 😉 Thank you!

  6. I haven’t (obviously) read this one, but I did read a very good book about the early days of the BBC which had quite a lot about Hilda Mathieson in it. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the title or the author at the moment – when either comes back to me, I’ll let you know! 🙂

  7. This premise and subjetc certainly sounds intriguing. I find that when I read fictionalized stories of real people I’m desperate for actual biographical information. Yet I rarely read biographies because they’re so darn long! What’s a (lazy) reader to do? 🙂

    • Ha! I know what you mean – I do read biographies but they take a looooong time! But I do find a well researched fiction is just as good – sometimes even better – for getting a feel for a person, and I found both Hilda and the early days of the BBC fascinating in this one. 🙂

  8. I’ll probably pass on this one, FF. Despite my early years as a journalist, I just don’t feel the tug to read a fictionalized account of the BBC. Still, you’ve reviewed it smashingly, and I so appreciate your Fourth Law!!

  9. I subscribe to your version of feminism, FF. The idea being to lift women up, level the playing field — not trashing men! Especially the handsome and kind gentleman we often refer to here. 😉

    Perhaps if this was non-fiction, I too would be interested in reading. The beginning of the BBC is an interesting enough story without the need of meandering fiction!

    • Exactly! We seem to have reversed roles somewhere along the line – in fiction at least. Haha! Rafa? Trump? 😉

      Yes, I’m thinking of starting a campaign for someone to write either that or a bio of Hilda Matheson.

  10. I was waiting for you to read and review this one and despite the weak plot I am still interested – it does sound as though there were plenty of interesting characters even if they were obviously all gutsy women or gay men – I’m not even going to add my voice to that discussion except to say I vote for FF fourth law unreservedly!!

    • I would definitely recommend it despite the plot – I found all the stuff about Hilda and the BBC very interesting, and I think you would too. And most of the characters were likeable – except for the straight men, of course! 😉 I’ll be watching out for her next book…

  11. I agree with you. I don’t think you have to put all men down in order to prove how strong women are.

    I like the idea behind this book–showcasing the BBC’s beginnings. I would be interested in that aspect.

    • Yes, it’s a trend in certain books these days and I dislike it as much as books that put all women down. It’s not my idea of feminism!

      The BBC is such an interesting organisation, and that aspect of this book was cleraly well researched. I’d like to read more about the period if I can track any books down…

    • Oh, I hope my criticisms didn’t spoil it for you though – I’m a very picky reader… too picky! Overall, I enjoyed it a lot too and will certainly be looking out for her next book. Thanks for popping in and commenting! 🙂

    • Yes, it was a pity because both the writing and the research were great. Hopefully she’ll get the balance a bit better next time round – I’ll certainly be looking out for her next book despite my reservations with this one…

    • You’re such a misogynist!! I AM a feminist – but not all feminists think the same way. I quite like men – they can be sweet, like little puppies who just need a bit of training to become socially acceptable…

      • So, okay. Don’t laugh, but I’m not even sure what that is. Plus, I can’t really say it right…at least, I don’t think I am. You do this on purpose to me, don’t you?! I’ll never be socially acceptable!

        • Oh, you do too! You must have heard it in Feminist Class! I’m knitting you a cap with a big M on the front. So, so true… not till you’ve learned to dance anyway.

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