Jenni Murray: 'It's not that kind of place at all'

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The Independent Online

I was taught by Joanne's mother at Barnsley Girls High School during the Sixties and I can still remember the impact she had on us as this glorious, exotic creature, dressed in black and trailing clouds of Je Revien perfume. She was unself-consciously intellectual in that very French manner and I think she really opened the eyes of a generation of girls such as myself to books like Madame Bovary. She was wonderful.

The impact of outsiders on a town like Barnsley in those days was always going to be something to be talked about . I well remember when the first Chinese restaurant opened in the town - but it was because it was exciting to a small mining community, not because there was any sense of discrimination or prejudice. It is a beautiful Victorian town and its people have always been very friendly, very open and very hospitable.

I am sure that if Joanne Harris was teased and called things like "the little Frog" it would be no more than the kind of playground teasing you get between children. I simply cannot envisage anyone being particularly horrible or malicious to her. And certainly she cannot have felt that badly about the place because she lived there until recently and still doesn't live far away. I return to the town quite a lot, because my parents still live there - as do hers - and I'm pretty sure that it is not that kind of place at all.

Jenni Murray is the presenter of Woman's Hour on BBC Radio 4