Cathy Newman’s Bloody Brilliant Women

— by Alyson Walsh


Cathy Newman is a Bloody Brilliant Woman and this is a Bloody Brilliant Book. No surprise there. The first female Channel 4 news anchor is a fantastic broadcast journalist with a background in print journalism at the Independent and the Financial Times. Bloody Brilliant Women is an engaging read: beautifully written, it skips along at a lovely pace and is jam-packed full of fascinating stories. I went to see Newman in conversation last week, she described studying 20th century British history and wondering where all the women were, ‘There weren’t any women until you got to about page 50, and then you had the Queen and Agatha Christie. Women who transformed Britain were practically invisible – I wanted more of an overview.’ Newman puts this exclusion down to the fact that history has largely being written by men, ‘You kind of notice people who look like you – it’s not malicious. Though things are changing at last and we have women like Mary Beard, although she gets a lot of flack. And I guess another part of it is that we don’t blow our own trumpets, women are modest about their achievements’

The inspiration for the book’s title was Ken Clarke’s ‘bloody difficult woman’ remark, and Newman went on to discuss the way men and women in senior positions are described differently. Bloody Brilliant Women tells the stories of pioneering women who defied the odds,  ‘Women had to be brilliant, strong-minded and idiosyncratic to make it in a man’s world. My poster girl for the book was Beatrice Shilling an aeronautical engineer and motorbike racer – without her I don’t think we’d have won the Battle of Britain and yet according to her biography, at that time, ” It was easier for a women to be a lion-tamer than an engineer.”‘

‘There was definitely an argument for feminising history, women are there because they are just as amazing as the blokes,’ acknowledges Newman, going on to add, ‘It is an optimistic book. I didn’t want it to be a feminist diatribe. But so many struggles of the past are being experienced by women today. The gender pay gap, equality and representation – at the recent G20 summit only two of the leaders were women…’


Put Bloody Brilliant Women on your Christmas list – or tell friends and family they can find it the inaugural That’s Not My Age gift guide

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  Cathy Newman is a Bloody Brilliant Woman and this is a Bloody Brilliant Book. No surprise there.