Anne Scott-James Obituary

Anne Scott-James, one of the outstanding women journalists of her day and an early star profiled in Ladies of the Street, has died aged 96. Although she had a privileged start, coming from a family of writers and educated at St Paul’s Girls’ School and Somerville College, Oxford, Scott-James still had to force her way into the higher realms of journalism. She did this by sheer courage and an unshakeable self-belief.

She wrote in her 1952 book In the Mink, set in the offices of a glossy magazine, that most girls were simply not tough enough for office life and were always in floods of tears or asking for Fridays off ‘because Mummy liked them to be in the country at weekends’. In that thinly-veiled autographical novel, Scott-James ponders on the eternal female dilemma of careers versus families, and decides that, unlike most women of her generation, she is not suited to a ‘purely private life’ but must cut a swathe in the public sphere as well.

Her actual career certainly bore this out. After working at Vogue on leaving Oxford, Scott-James became woman’s editor of Picture Post - then a major photojournalism publication - then editor of Harper’s Bazaar and subsequently woman’s editor of the Sunday Express, with a whole (broadsheet) page to herself every week. She was also a lively columnist for the Daily Mail throughout the 1960s.

Scott-James was one of the very first female journalists to be well known outside her newspaper pages. She showed what modern career women were capable of, and more or less invented the personal, highly opinionated female column, a genre later developed to great effect by such groundbreaking newspaperwomen as Katharine Whitehorn, Jean Rook and Lynda Lee-Potter. Scott-James was also for many years a stalwart of popular radio panel games of the day, such as My Word!

In later life, Scott-James became an expert on gardening and wrote several gardening books, again to great acclaim. Her book SissinghurstThe Making of a Garden – became a bestseller and she greatly upped the ante for gardening books which previously had been rather dull and worthy and, mainly, written by gardeners rather than actual writers.

Scott-James was married three times, always to prominent men in the media. Her first marriage to writer Derek Verschoyle, only lasted a few months. Her second, to journalist Macdonald Hastings, endured rather longer and produced two children including the former Daily Telegraph editor Max Hastings. Hastings has written of his rather difficult relationship with his mother and Scott-James herself said that she was always rather afraid of Max, even as a baby. Her third marriage, to cartoonist Osbert Lancaster, creator of Maudie Littlehampton, was truly happy and a meeting of minds and hearts. She wrote about herself in later life: “Most lives are untidy and mine is no exception, a mixture of happiness and misery, success and failure, false starts and strokes of luck, but it has rarely been boring.”

Most successful female journalists could say the same and although Scott-James’ life may have seemed an unbroken record of success, those of us who have tried to survive in the inky trade know that it is never quite as simple as that. But we would probably all agree that, whatever the ups and downs, the life of a journalist can never be boring.

All female journalists owe a huge debt of gratitude to pioneer women like Anne Scott-James, who showed by her example that yes, some girls are indeed tough enough to work on Fridays and to have exciting, long-lasting careers that can survive in an often hostile and indifferent world.

Anne Eleanor Scott-James, born 5 April, 1913; died 13 May 2009.

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