Media families; 12. The Saunders & the Vulliamys

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The Independent Online
Betty Smith (reporter) married Basil Saunders (PR man) and they begat Bill (freelance journalist), Kate (novelist and columnist), Louisa (features editor, married to Ed Vulliamy, see below) and Etta (children's book and TV publisher)


Shirley Hughes (children's author) married John Vulliamy and they begat Ed (foreign correspondent), Tom (scientist), who married Celia Dodd (freelance journalist), and Clara (illustrator and writer)

but not Lawrence Vulliamy (TV director) or Dominique Vulliamy (royal PR), who are cousins

Where to start? Not so much a media family as a double dynasty, united by the marriage of Ed Vulliamy, The Guardian's star foreign correspondent, and Louisa Saunders, associate editor of the Independent on Sunday's features section.

We begin with two Supermums: Betty Smith and Shirley Hughes. Betty made her mark in the 1950s as travelling correspondent for the showbiz magazine Reveille, and then as crime correspondent of The Mirror - which felt that her appearance ("an enrolling member of the Mothers' Union") would provide great cover in the underworld.

She left The Mirror to produce six children - though Louisa remembers her mother banging out articles in the kitchen - but returned to work full-time in 1978 for the Church Times. When she died last month, The Times and The Independent ran glowing obituaries: she was "fair, fearless and accurate", had "inexhaustible charm" and "flashes of inspired mischief".

Shirley, who is still writing and illustrating children's books, is extremely popular with her target audience, appearing twice in the children's Top 10 book requests, according to the Library Association. Ed remembers his mother working all morning to the sound of the Beatles, and of course he read her books as a child. But, "I like them more now."

Despite the preponderance of Vulliamys in the media, Ed's branch is only distantly related to Dominique, former PR to the Duchess of York, and Lawrence, director of Question Time. Dominique and Ed share some buccaneering qualities: he risks his life working in war zones and chronicles the lives of Britain's dispossessed; she risked her sanity by taking on the role of press secretary to the Duchess of York - not in the good old days of golly, jolly Sarah, but as the porcine toe-trollop.

Dominique, presumably deploying her experience of managing and massaging egos, is now the deputy editor on Kilroy, the BBC chat-show hosted by Robert Kilroy-Silk.

Ed's wife, Louisa Saunders, used to edit City Limits and the feminist magazine Everywoman and now works on the Real Life section of the Independent on Sunday - which has run pieces by her brother Bill, a freelance feature writer.

Kate, their sister, is a fantastically prolific novelist, feature writer and columnist, appearing weekly in The Express on Sunday (and formerly in The Sunday Times and The Daily Telegraph), but not, it seems, for the cash. Kate, a founder of the Orange Prize, a pounds 30,000 award for female writers, made literary headlines for the size of her advances: pounds 125,000 for Night Shall Overtake Us, then pounds 750,000 for a four-book deal. Kate's books, said one literary editor, can be read happily by those who wouldn't be seen dead with a Catherine Cookson. She also has several ideas for children's books - a handy link back to the Vulliamys - and television spin-offs. Her younger sister, Etta, has started up Yellowbeetle, a company that plans to publish Kate's children's books and accompanying TV series. Perhaps Etta might hook up with her sister's sister-in-law, Clara. Truly her mother's daughter, Clara is an illustrator-writer of children's books.

If Ed tires of his Saunders relations, he can always talk shop with his brother's partner - Celia Dodd, a freelance feature writer.

This tangle of connections suggests both a gene for journalism and the operation of an environment breeding a taste for the like-minded. It certainly seems to seal the fate of Ed and Louisa's daughter, Elsa. Her grandfather, John, can already see the signs. "She has an extraordinary vocabulary for a girl her age," he says. The poor child clearly has no chance of escaping the 21st century's electronic version of Fleet Street, despite her father's avowed determination to steer her away because "I want her to have a life". But I don't think he means it - he and his assorted relatives clearly love the businessn

Emma Daly