Premium

Kirsty Wark: I knew early on that women had a sell-by date at the BBC

Kirsty Wark
Kirsty Wark now writes novels Credit:  Christopher Pledger

We asked the broadcaster and novelist, 64, what her younger self would make of her today...

My ambition as a child was to have my own shed. My second cousins, whose parents were tomato growers, each had lovely old sheds. They had old sofas and Turkish rugs on the floor, posters and things cut out of magazines. My friend Jane had one, too. Her father was a chicken farmer and she had one of the egg box sheds that she’d decorated. I, meanwhile, always wanted one but was never allowed one. 

I used to cut out coupons from the back of magazines to send away for shed catalogues. These big, thick things would arrive and each time Mum would say, “You’re not having a shed”. And then six weeks ago, I finally got one; a little house at the bottom of my garden. 

I’ve obviously got a Harris gin bottle made into a lamp, as well as a rather lovely deck chair and some indoor lights. I couldn’t be happier, but my daughter Caitlin is doubly annoyed. She always asked for one as a child and I always said, “The garden’s not big enough”. And she remembers me bleating on about not being able to have one. And now I’ve gone and done it. 

I grew up in Kilmarnock, but my father was from Glasgow, where I now live, and I remember going there to buy school uniforms and winter coats. It was always very, very dark. This was before the buildings were cleaned. It’s a much more cleaned-up city now, for all the wrong reasons, because it’s deindustrialised. 

All a young Kirsty Wark wanted was a shed

By the time I was 15, I wanted to be either an actor or a journalist. And in a funny way it kind of happened, but not how I thought it would. 

When I left the University of Edinburgh, I stumbled into the BBC. A friend at St Andrews saw an advert for a graduate entry programme, which was lucky because my university career services had said the only way to get into the BBC as a woman was as a graduate secretary.

I thought I would be a print journalist. I didn’t think I was going to be a producer. Although the wireless was on at home a lot and I would listen with my dad to Start the Week.

We didn’t really chat about politics at home. My parents always regarded politics as something you kept to yourself. In that way they were very middle class. 

I was aware of politics because I watched television. What I remember most was watching Late Night Line-Up with Joan Bakewell and Denis Tuohy. What stuck in my mind was that she was such a good interviewer.

I joined the BBC when I was 21 and it’s been a great place to work. My career has been hard work and a lot of luck. I rode the wave of the BBC having to employ more women, first of all. And putting more women in television who didn’t necessarily speak with an entirely RP accent.

I worked with very impressive older women and they were definitely role models. But I was very aware early on that there was a definite attitude of women having a sell-by date, and that didn’t appear to exist for men. I think that is changing now. But I do see still being on television as an achievement, in the sense that I still think it’s pretty tough for women.

Kirsty Wark as a toddler

I’m a firm believer that you must never, ever rest on your laurels. I believe you have to earn your place all the time. 

My younger self would be completely bemused that my documentary on the menopause was so successful, which is one of my proudest achievements, to be honest. I’ve had letters from women saying how they went back to the doctors after watching my programme and they demanded more.

As a radio producer in the Eighties, I remember monitoring all the stuff coming in from the Falklands War to see what we could broadcast. It is more of the same, but I think the volume has increased. Does it stick more now because there’s more of it? I’m not sure. 

Writing fiction has brought so much to my life. In my 30s I had two children within 16 months of each other, and I was working and I didn’t take much time off. I went through all the usual stuff of feeling guilty. But my children have said, “It was OK. We are fine.” 

I didn’t get to grips with writing until they were at university and my mother had died. Then I found this part of me that I didn’t know existed. It’s tough, but when I immerse myself in it, it gives me enjoyment I’d never imagined. 

My younger self would recognise me as a Jack of all trades, and a master of none. She’d wish I’d stuck at the French and been a better tennis player. Having said that, I’m a better player than I was 10 years ago. Luxury to me would be to play tennis every single day. That, plus shopping for shoes, of course. 

The House by the Loch by Kirsty Wark (RRP £16.99). Buy now for £14.99 at books.telegraph.co.uk or call 0844 871 1514