‘Were you involved with the theatre while at Bedales?’ I ask Lucinda. I was hoping that she’d say yes so that I could ask her if any thespian skills were useful when working in the high octane world of live radio and when handling actors, writers and other media types. ‘Only once,’ she says. ‘It was a German play and all I had to do was run on stage completely naked.’ Maybe not a skill that would come in handy in later years, then, while working at the BBC.
Lucinda’s coming to Bedales was similarly unusual: when she received a letter from a friend at the school telling her that three pupils had been expelled, she wrote to the then-headmaster Patrick Nobes to ask whether there was any room for her. When he wrote back to invite her for an interview, she went along and won a place – all without telling her parents. However, ‘when they found out that I had actually been given a place, they were surprisingly fine with it,’ and she joined Bedales for the sixth form. Later, her sister Kate followed her.
Having come to Bedales for the sixth form, the situation met by 16 year old Lucinda is a familiar one. It is a very tight community which is lovely once you’re in but terrifying from the outside. To make matters worse, the lack of space in Steephurst meant that Lucinda had to live with the housekeeper in her house in Steep for the first half of term (‘pale green nylon sheets’are remembered with a shudder). After observing the Bedalian ways, happily it didn’t take much to feel at home: ‘I got some clogs, a jumper that covered my bum and grew out my hair. And that was it.’
Having previously attended a conservative all-girls school, coming to Bedales was venturing into the unknown. ‘It was, above all, exciting,’ says Lucinda. ‘Suddenly, here were people I wanted to talk to and teachers who were hugely inspiring. It felt like the right place. The people here were interested in reading, books, ideas.’ It was at Bedales that she discovered feminism; communism; maybe most importantly, boys. ‘I feel I was rather too involved in socialising…’
It was at Bedales that Lucinda learnt the importance of two things that would later lead her to work at Virago and as the producer of Woman’s Hour: these were enthusiasm and quick-thinking. There is one hour of air-time to fill every day to go out live – if you don’t have the ability to think on your feet, you won’t survive. It is equally important to care deeply about what is going out to maintain the integrity of a program with the number of listeners that Woman’s Hour has – a program with the ability to spark debate in households all over Britain, it must command the attention of a hugely diverse audience.
It is perhaps no surprise that Woman’s Hour is where Lucinda ended up. After leaving Bedales where she had discovered feminism, she went on to work at the feminist publishing company Virago. ‘I remember looking, in Cosmopolitan, at a photo of the women who worked there. And I thought that’s where I want to be.’ After Virago, Lucinda went into broadcasting and joined Radio 4 as a production trainee. After producing many different programmes (Food Programme, All in the Mind, The Learning Curve, Midweek) she returned to her roots and applied for a producer job at Woman's Hour.
Feminism is seeing its third wave and Woman’s Hour finds itself in the privileged position of presenting the particularly important ‘woman’s view’ to nearly 4 million people nationwide (of whom 1/3 are men). Feminism is in the news every day, and it appears that the stigma around declaring oneself feminist is (slowly) slipping away. ‘I do hope that one day we won’t need a Woman’s Hour,’ says Lucinda. ‘That the whole concept will seem outdated.’ Saying that, ‘I love my job!’
‘Bedales left me with the feeling that anything is possible. It’s something that I can see in my children: surrounded by all these Old Bedalians as they grew up who had exciting and fun-looking and challenging jobs, it seems to them that they can do whatever they want to do.’
‘You make friends for life at Bedales,’ says Lucinda. I can confirm this: my mother was actually at Bedales with her and all of the friends that they share have been with them since then. As a Bedalian on the brink of leaving school, that’s what feels like the most important thing at this stage: knowing that the people I am with now will be with me along the way. The way that Lucinda describes working at the BBC seems like an apt analogy for the future that any Bedalian can anticipate: ‘It’s just always exciting. You never know who’s going to walk in through that door.’
Lucinda Montefiore was interviewed by Nell Whittaker (6.2) in February 2013.