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Felicity Green on Women and Media

22 July 2011 | Charlotte Street Hotel

Posted: 22 July 2011

Felicity Green is widely regarded as a pioneer and an inspirational leader for generations of women in the UK. The first woman ever to take a senior editor role in Fleet Street back in the sixties, Felicity changed the face of fashion journalism in her role at the Daily Mirror.

It is not every day that you get the opportunity to hear such a story first-hand so we were delighted to have that opportunity at the breakfast event hosted by The MBS Group in London’s Charlotte Street Hotel.

Felicity started the morning with an unlikely confession; despite being one of the country’s most celebrated fashion journalists, she was never obsessive about fashion. She looked at it in a dispassionate, objective way and was convinced that the women’s pages in the national press had to be about people, their lives and their aspirations.

After learning her trade at Women & Beauty Magazine (where she was told to ‘hold her stomach in’ by the Editor-in Chief) Felicity joined Crawford’s, the advertising agency. She recalls travelling the US with a red leather Asprey hat box full of lingerie samples and organising fashion shows with leotard clad models because bare skin was taboo. “Not fun”, she admits.

When she got back to the UK, she got a call Hugh Cudlipp at the Daily Mirror, one of the biggest media influencers at the time. He wanted her to run the Women’s Sunday Mirror. “It was a bit of an odd meeting” Felicity recalls. “Not so much of a discussion. Rather he assumed I would be joining and he moved on quickly to ask his assistant to write an offer letter. We had not even agreed what my title would be, so I asked. He had obviously not thought about it and asked me “What do you think it should be?” She did not hesitate – “Associate Editor”.

In the sixties Fleet Street was a very male environment and some people found it difficult to take direction from a woman. Felicity was advised to let the men leave the office “with their dignity intact” and this approach served her well. However, she also had to deal with chauvinism and discrimination.

Despite the challenge, working at the Mirror, was without a doubt the best working experience in Felicity’s career.

In those days the paper was the voice of the people and a force to be reckoned with. It had a daily circulation of 5 million and a readership of 15 million, with an audience that spanned from the very poor and badly educated to the privileged classes. Finding a common language and voice was tough.

Regarding her own section at the paper, Felicity knew that to make a real difference in the way women were perceived in society, women’s media had to change. It was terribly polarising, with either homely magazines showing how to cook and do patchwork, or magazines like Vogue – fantastically aspirational, but out of reach for most people. What’s more, the women’s pages in the nationals were a no-go area for men and this was a problem – she needed to build bridges.

“The 11.00am news conference every day was a very big deal, and my role was to bring a human angle to every story.” In her view, the fashion pages had to be about people, about style, about fun. She got photographers like John French and David Bailey to shoot the fashion spreads. Her maverick approach and creativity transformed not only the women’s pages at The Mirror, but the way fashion was portrayed in the UK media. The innovative nature of her work at the time is now being archived and studied by the V&A Museum in London.

As years went by and her success was recognised, Felicity was often hailed as a woman who managed to shape a man’s world. She worked through the criticism and disapproval through her passion, ambition and focus, still clearly evident today.

Coming from a time when there was real passion behind politics, how does Felicity see society today? Has it perhaps become much more benign and therefore unengaged? Not so, “things are still the same – and the differences are still there. Society is still split into haves and have nots and this needs to change”

When asked about how the role of women has changed, she left us with an inspiring tale. “Even at the toughest times, I was always amazed to see women having children – an inherent optimism about life I have always admired. Women have always been engaged and continue to be engaged with what’s important in our society”. Still provocative, Felicity noted that through her career, the women at the top were always remarkable, whilst there were many mediocre men.

As the breakfast drew to a close, Felicity, still working at 85, told us about some of her current projects with the V&A, her involvement in the fashion journalism programme at Central St Martin’s, (Felicity Green’s GOIL – get on in life – course as she likes to call it) and about the book she swore she would never write and she is about to finish.

Category: Cat Event: Panel debate

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