Encounters with Germaine


Rosie Boycott: (a founder of the feminist magazine Spare Rib in the Seventies, now editor of Esquire) I’m a big Germaine fan; I think it’s great that she does not mince her words and that she’s not hung up by niceties.
She’s so funny and big on practical jokes. At a book launch recently she asked to be introduced to the poet Alan Jenkins.

The first words she said to poor Alan, who was completely mystified, were: ‘I hear you are absolutely fantastic in bed.’ She moved on immediately to a deaf elderly woman, with whom she talked all evening, about leaf mould.

Melvyn Bragg: I like Germaine; I think she’s temperamental though; she’s like a rocket; she reminds me, in fact of the Blackpool trams.

Intellectually she will stick to her tracks but every so often shoots off interestingly and provocatively. She’s quick to be generous, quick to flare up and quick to make amends and I’ve experienced all three. The only thing I fear about her chat show is that she will have to curb her tendency to drive and dominate the conversation.

A S Byatt: I don’t know her particularly except for her Shakespeare book which I quite liked. I feel that summaries will do as far as her feminist texts are concerned. She has a tendency to chastise authors for not having written what she thinks they ought to have written without paying much attention to the book that they actually have written.

David Lodge: ‘No comment.’

Martin Amis: ‘No comment.’

Enoch Powell: ‘Who’s that?’

Dame Barbara Cartland: Who is she. . .oh I see. . .well she’s not nearly as important as what is happening to the Royal Family then.

Alexander Chancellor: (magazine editor and columnist) She’s a friend of mine, I think. I haven’t seen her for ages but we used to see her in Italy. She’s a meticulous perfectionist – she became the perfect Italian peasant – mind you a very upmarket Italian peasant. She insisted on baking her own bread kind of thing and she had a roomful of essences of some kind. She’s very endearing; she lets you know exactly what she feels and there is something very engaging about that. She can be prickly – it’s possible to give her offence without having the faintest idea why.

Victoria Gillick: I don’t want to comment about her.

Michele Roberts: (novelist) I don’t know her personally but The Female Eunuch was a major book for me and my contemporaries then joining the women’s movement. We saw her for as a luminary. I don’t think she’s necessarily helped the movement right the way through but at least she’s gone and stuck her neck out. She’s remained fiery and I like that. And I think she has been given a rather hard time.

Jonathon Green: (author and lexicographer) I only know her very tangentially. She refused to be in my first book about the 1960s because she did not want to be associated with nostalgia. So, I didn’t dare ask her to be in the next two which were on immigrants and sex.

PD James: I think at 74 I’m perhaps to old to have been influenced by her books – they are more for a younger generation – but I have read them with interest and admiration.

Algy Cluff: (businessman, former owner of the Spectator) I’ve known her for years. She’s a formidable lady. I wanted her to edit the Spectator until somebody reminded me that I’d already offered the job to Charles Moore.

She needs a man more than anybody else I know. She is a very handsome woman; all this dressing down that goes on doesn’t suit her at all.

Clive James: Germaine is the best guest in the world, so her only problem as a host will be the guests.

Murray Sayle: (Australian journalist, worked in London in the Sixties and Seventies) Germaine is very nice; the sadness is though, that the world has lost a great academic scholar because of all this feminism; her book on the Taming of the Shrew is really excellent. Her feminism can be explained as a result of her Australian experiences; she came from an oppressive Catholic upbringing followed by a stint of Christian enlightenment in Melbourne to a very different environment in Sydney where there was a gang of intellectuals who modelled themselves on razor-carrying proletarian pioneer convicts, and were known as ‘The Push’; she soon realised that these men gave women a lousy deal – and I recognise them as the men she is always denouncing in her feminism; of course with her intelligence and outlook she was always going to have great trouble finding a husband in Australia – mind you she hasn’t fared much better in Britain – but none of the men she has ever dallied with have been Australian.

Christina Odone: (editor of the Catholic Herald) My one overriding memory of her was in fact from the pilot programme for her new series which was filmed in the summer. She had rows of female hacks lined up and I had genned up on topics such as unfair discrimination in the workplace, intellectual minorities etc but instead her first questions were: ‘So when you are in bed with your man. . . .’; ‘so we’ve all had lesbian experiences. . . . .’ I was completely horrified; I knew that if I answered those kind of questions, quite simply I would lose my job; and something of this must have shown on my face because when it came to me she smiled and moved on to the next person. What an amazing act of intelligence and generosity] She struck me then as a really big person.

Margaret Forster: (novelist and biographer) I think she is brilliant; as a speaker two things stand out about her; she is amazing at thinking on her feet; she breaks off into wild tangents and just when you think she has completely lost the thread she seems to realise this and yanks the conversation back quite miraculously.

The other thing is that when other people are speaking she puts on an expression of complete bewilderment even if the other speaker is talking complete sense so that the camera simply cannot keep off her; it is a look of pity. She has little curiosity about other people; she may be intellectually curious about them but you couldn’t have a mundane gossip with her.

Richard Ingrams: She is very clever which probably makes her life difficult -she’s much more clever than most people; and she is very kind.