Media: A Tory feminist for TV's watchdog: Michael Leapman profiles Lady Elspeth Howe, the incoming chair of the Broadcasting Standards Council

IN CHOOSING Elspeth Howe as chair of the Broadcasting Standards Council, Peter Brooke, the Secretary of State for National Heritage, has drawn from the same pool of perceived talent as spawned her predecessor, William Rees-Mogg. Both are top-drawer Tory grandees - like Mr Brooke himself. They go to the same political dinner parties and sit on numerous boards and bodies devoted to the regulation and betterment of the less exalted.

They are, in short, used to telling other people how to behave. Their lack of experience of working in television or even of watching it much - Lady Howe prefers bridge - is viewed as a minor drawback compared with that patrician quality. Nor is her hearing difficulty, inherited from her mother, expected to interfere with her ability to detect and denounce improper television language.

'She has high moral standards and a great sense of right and wrong,' says Rosemary Wolff, a member of the Police Complaints Authority, who has known Lady Howe since before she married Sir Geoffrey Howe 40 years ago, aged 21.

'I suppose you'd say she's quite old- fashioned by today's standards.'

The Rees-Moggs and the Howes have known each other a long time. A few years ago Lady Howe - known as 'Heppy' to her closest friends - became a mature student and took a degree course in social policy and administration at the London School of Economics. When she had completed it, Gillian Rees-Mogg decided to follow suit.

'She gave me all her books and copies of the course lectures,' says Lady Rees- Mogg, who was awarded her degree last year.

'She's a very effective person who gets things done. I wouldn't say she was a prude but she dotes on her two grandsons and so she'd be concerned about what's shown to children.'

Another old friend, the London antiques dealer Alistair Sampson, agrees. 'She isn't easily shockable,' he says, 'but she does insist on standards. She's not a Mary Whitehouse figure. And she's a feminist - but not a tiresome feminist.'

Her feminism has taken practical form in her membership of bodies such as the Equal Opportunities Commission; and she advised Gillian Shephard, former Secretary of State for Employment, on equality matters. She is sure to be vigilant about how television portrays women and treats women's issues, although the BSC has no say on two subjects that greatly exercise feminists - the employment of women in television and their representation on serious discussion programmes.

She has also been an active campaigner against homelessness. In June 1990 she was one of several prominent people who spent the night in a cardboard box to highlight the problem.

Sir Geoffrey was then still a member of the Cabinet and Margaret Thatcher, the prime minister, was furious at Lady Howe's gesture. It helped to widen the rift that led first to Sir Geoffrey's resignation (it was said that Lady Howe wrote his speech) and thence to Mrs Thatcher's removal from office.

A hostile profile of Lady Howe in the Sunday Telegraph just after those momentous events quoted Sir Nicholas Fairbairn, Conservative MP for Perth and Kinross, as saying:

'Elspeth Howe is the sort of woman who would have espoused the wonders of Communism in the Thirties . . . She's a typical intellectual, like all those who have betrayed the country over the years who think that trendyism is preferable to orthodoxy. She gave him (Sir Geoffrey) the knife and the feeble fool used it.'

Broadcasters have no view on whether Lady Howe will do a good job at the BSC, partly because they know little about her and partly because most of them disapprove of the council and the philosophy of censorship behind it.

'It's relatively harmless,' was as far as one television executive was prepared to go. 'It's certainly given Mary Whitehouse nothing to celebrate. I don't suppose it will change much under Lady Howe.' The new chair may well be shocked at some of the things she has to see and listen to in her job of monitoring televised sex and violence. To judge from an interview she gave to Homes and Gardens in 1983, her life has been mostly sheltered from that kind of thing.

She revealed that Sir Geoffrey insisted that, at their dinner parties, the ladies always separated from the men after coffee. This offended her feminist principles, and also deprived her and her female guests of some spicy stories.

There was an occasion when the actor Donald Sinden was among the guests: 'The ladies had gone upstairs and I was getting crosser and crosser because you could hear gales of laughter from downstairs. When they came up I said: 'You are rotters, staying down all that time.'

'To make up for it Donald told us all a marvellous story about how he went to Japan and experienced all the things men have been longing to experience with Japanese geisha girls, but never quite getting to the point. It was so funny.'

No doubt, but, wearing her new regulatory hat, it is surely something she would not countenance on screen, at least not until the nine o'clock watershed.

(Photograph omitted)

News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Game Of Thrones
Uh-oh, winter is coming. Ouch, my eyes! Ygritte’s a goner. Lysa’s a goner. Tywin’s a goner. Look, a dragon
tvSpoiler warning: The British actor says viewers have 'not seen the last' of his character
Arts and Entertainment
'New Tricks' star Dennis Waterman is departing from the show after he completes filming on two more episodes
tvOnly remaining original cast-member to leave long-running series
Sport
Esteban Cambiasso makes it 3-3
premier league
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
The Etihad Stadium, home of Manchester City
premier leaguePlus updates from Everton vs Palace
News
people'I hated him during those times'
News
Britain's shadow chancellor Ed Balls (L) challenges reporter Rob Merrick for the ball during the Labour Party versus the media soccer match,
peopleReporter left bleeding after tackle from shadow Chancellor in annual political football match
Sport
Heskey's aim has improved since the end of his English football career

Long after his career in English football has ended, Emile Heskey's impotency in front of goal remains an object of ridicule.

News
i100
News
Dame Vivienne Westwood has been raging pretty much all of her life
peopleFirst memoir extracts show she 'felt pressured' into going out with the Sex Pistols manager
Arts and Entertainment
Lauryn Hill performing at the O2 Brixton Academy last night
musicSinger was more than 90 minutes late
Sport
Lewis Hamilton in action during the Singapore Grand Prix
Formula OneNico Rosberg retires after 14 laps
News
i100
News
Rumer was diagnosed with bipolarity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder: 'I was convinced it was a misdiagnosis'
peopleHer debut album caused her post-traumatic stress - how will she cope as she releases her third record?
Arts and Entertainment
tvReview: 'Time Heist' sees a darker side to Peter Capaldi's Doctor
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Head of Marketing - London

£60000 - £85000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Interim Head of Marketing / Marketin...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Digital Project Manager

£25 - 30k: Guru Careers: A Digital Project Manager is needed to join an exciti...

Paid Search Analyst / PPC Analyst

£24 - 28k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Paid Search Analyst / PPC...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam