Sarah Shaw Introduces her Diary of a year as a BBC Secretary in 1971
28th June 2016 - Sarah Shaw
Sarah Shaw was born next-door to a bombsite in Purley, Surrey, and brought up amid books and newspapers. Early writing included a series of novels in which she and her friends enjoyed exciting and romantic adventures with the Beatles. These were circulated in exercise books and read under the desks during Latin lessons. Sarah's first job was at the BBC in the School Broadcasting Council, after which she went on to work with John Parry on radio programmes for secondary schools. Later, she returned to the BBC's Television Plays department, working with Louis Marks on productions such as the BAFTA-winning The Lost Boys. In the 1980s she moved into academic librarianship, retiring in 2014, having spent the previous twelve years as Librarian at Selwyn College, Cambridge.
Portland Place is her diary of the year 1971, when she was working as a secretary for the BBC and also in the throes of an unlikely affair with middle-aged, working-class, Irish lift attendant, Frank. Sarah talks humorously and frankly about what it was like to be a young, working woman at the time as well as life at the BBC during the 1970s and the difficulties of navigating her first romance.
Below, she introduces her book exclusively for Foyles.
A year or so ago, while clearing out our loft, I came across my diary for 1971. I had hidden it away there because I knew that, as well as being a record of my everyday life as a 19-year-old in London, it contained details about a long-forgotten relationship.
That year I was working as a junior secretary for the BBC in a department which oversaw the production of broadcasts to schools. Mine was an ordinary existence, shopping, meeting friends and going home at weekends to my parents in Surrey.
And then I met Frank. He was a funny, generous and popular Irishman working in the same building as me opposite Broadcasting House, the Langham. I typed away in an office on the top floor, he drove one of the old manual lifts. Over journeys up and down the stairwell with cups of tea and piles of stencils we were attracted to each other. Far from being another tale of sleazy, illegal goings-on at the BBC, a genuine, if improbable, May and September romance developed.
The diary records the ebb and flow of this relationship, and my coming of age in a world of hotpants, T.Rex, decimalisation and railway strikes, just as feminism began to permeate the consciousness of middle-class girls like myself.