Jill Tweedie: a woman of sparkling wit

JILL TWEEDIE has died, aged 59. She was an emblem for all that was best about the early years of the women's movement. She reflected the excitement, energy and optimism of liberal feminists who were prepared to argue their case with wit and humour, and at the same time retain affection and concern for the poor male creatures who needed to modify their ways. Not for her the stridency of radical feminists who were to split the sisterhood and set back the cause.

Jill Tweedie joined the Guardian from the Sunday Telegraph in 1969. The timing was perfect. The first bras were about to be burnt in New York and in London, the Guardian's women's page needed to move on from the minority concerns of bored graduate housewives.

She seized the moment. By the time I joined the paper in 1971, Jill Tweedie was a star. She may have written only once a week on a Monday but nevertheless she was the Guardian's women's page. Both she and her prose sparkled. She would swan into the office on a Friday, all long skirts and laughter and stay but briefly. Office life was not for her. Discussions took place in the pub opposite.

Her confidence in her views was enviable. She was older than most of us and she had lived. And suffered. Her unhappy middle-class childhood, her ghastly marriage to a Hungarian count who abducted her children, and her hippie years all seeped into her writing. No desire for privacy here; she was happy to bare her soul.

Beneath all this was a woman who constantly needed a mass of both professional and private support. Private stability she found in her marriage to Alan Brien, but still she needed the support of her women friends. When invited to a party outside her milieu she would cajole one to go with her. Professionally she needed nurturing and, at times, nannying. She has said that her happiest time was at the Sunday Telegraph where the women's editor 'mothered' her writers.

When I became the editor of the women's page in 1973, I was determined to get rid of the ghetto by changing the name of the page, by widening the agenda and by welcoming contributions from men. I invited the late James Cameron to write on alternate Mondays to Jill, who by then wanted more time for other writing.

Jill winced when she saw the male bylines increasing. She invited me to a 'party' which turned out to be a kangaroo court attended by a group of her women friends who accused me of being a misogynist. The logic of equality defeated them. It was almost amusing. Ironically, in recent years she longed to move from the women's page and be seen as a general columnist. A move to the Independent was short-lived.

In the end she expressed disappointment with her career, even though she had written books as well as non-fiction, and unhappiness that editors were inevitably seeking a younger voice.

Her reaction to her illness, motor neurone disease, discovered four months ago, was in character. Not for her the stance of the stoic. She railed against her misfortune and relied once again upon the support of her friends who this weekend are adjusting to the loss of an exceptional woman.

(Photograph omitted)

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