Tribute to fierce campaigner with colourful political past

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Penzance-born Barbara Hosking, who has died aged 94, led a rich, varied and influential life which took her to the seat of power in Downing Street.

19th May 2021

News Staff

Penzance-born Barbara Hosking, who has died aged 94, led a full and varied life, working in the civil service in the seat of power in Downing Street.

Later she became a member of the Independent Broadcasting Authority and was involved in the birth and early years of breakfast television.

Born in 1926, Barbara moved to London aged 21 to pursue a career in journalism.

Instead, she joined the Labour Party press office and went on to serve as a press officer to Harold Wilson and later Edward Heath. She also spent three years in East Africa running the office at a remote mining company and worked in TV, becoming executive chairwoman of Westcountry Television.

At the age of 91, she wrote about her life, and her sexuality, in Exceeding My Brief: Memoirs of a Disobedient Civil Servant.

Barbara was an extraordinary woman whose legacy will live on in the organisations she championed, such as the Clean Break theatre company and the International Women’s Forum which she co-founded, and in the women she mentored and inspired throughout her life.

Barbara grew up in Cornwall in a farming family. By her own account, she didn’t have an easy childhood although her mother kindled her early interest in music, which became a lifelong passion. Her promising education was cut short at 16 in order to support her family as a typist when the family farm went bankrupt. She clearly had a strong sense of adventure and self-belief because at 21 she left Cornwall for London, working briefly on a magazine and then taking a women’s adult education course at Hillcroft College, where Clean Break used to work in partnership.

Following three years in Tanganyika working for a copper mine – the first of many all-male environments where she found herself – Barbara returned to London to pursue a career in politics and the media. She became an Islington councillor but decided against standing as an MP when she realised that she would have to compromise on her own principles – in this case, her support for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Instead she joined the civil service as a press officer and went on to work with Labour PM Harold Wilson, unusually staying on to serve under Ted Heath when the Conservative Party came into power, drafting speeches and accompanying him on major political visits. Later in her career she was controller of information services at the Independent Broadcasting Authority, helped to set up breakfast television and
was a non-executive director at Westcountry Television.

Throughout Barbara’s life she championed women’s rights: creating networks of women across national and sectarian divides, playing a leading role in the 300 group to secure the election of more female MPs, and pursuing equal pay for women. These activities and her evident self-belief meant she fast became a powerful and compelling role model for other women. This continued right through to her final decade when she came out as a lesbian and wrote and published her memoirs, Exceeding My Brief: Memoirs of a Disobedient Civil Servant.

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