A recent feature in Midweek Retro about The Star’s Women Circle of the 1970s brought memories flooding back for Liz Naylor, including being sawed in half by a TV magician!.
As a teenager Liz, then Liz Kemp, landed a job with Women‘s Circle, which was a hugely popular club based on The Star’s regular women’s magazine supplement of the same name.
The club, with its distinctive pink and aubergine logo, ran lots of different groups, from a choir to slimming groups and one called On Our Conscience, which did community work.
The staff also ran very popular social events, trips and holidays, taking many South Yorkshire women abroad on their own for the first time.
Liz, who lives in Greystones, Sheffield, said: “I joined when I was 19. Before that I’d done all sorts of rubbish jobs.”
She remembers it as a busy and varied life, working in an office with the newspaper cartoonists and other publicity and promotional staff.
There were three original staff and two part-time secretaries at the time. Liz remembers that the senior office staff were very formal.
“We had to call them Mrs Wragg or whatever and they called us by our first names because we were only girls.”
Some parts of the job were exciting, including posing for fashion features like the one for a ‘working girl’s wardrobe’ seen on these pages.
Then there was the time that TV magician David Nixon sawed Liz in half at a Women’s Circle Ball at the Top Rank Suite!
She remembers: “He told me I hadn’t to tell anyone how he’d done it. He levitated me as well and I have no idea to this day how he levitated me.
“They only told me that afternoon that I was doing it so I had to go and rehearse.”
The club’s trips and holidays were very popular and eight or nine women worked as couriers to supplement the office staff. Liz said that they ranged from a doctor’s wife who was just working for some pocket money to a woman who needed the cash as her husband didn’t earn much.
“We used to go to Ascot for Ladies’ Days. The couriers had that trip! My mum used to take the day off and go because she loved the horses. You had to have a hat, of course.”
Liz travelled down to London a lot to source cheap hotels for Women’s Circle trips. “If we were doing a new deal with somebody, you would get on the train and check it out. What a job for a 19-year-old girl, going up and down to London!” she said.
However, it wasn’t all fun. “Something that drove me up the wall was being a young woman looking after older women who were quite demanding and not really having the confidence to deal with the clamour.
“We went on a Women’s Circle trip to Amiens and Reims in France and someone fell down. I spent all day with her in the hospital and then we had to get the train back to Reims.
“I had two changes of train with this woman with her arm in a sling.
“Then when we got to the hotel we found they had put all our members in the annexe. Almost every other Women’s Circle member said they had angina and couldn’t climb the stairs so I had to sort that out!”
However, there are a lot of good memories, said Liz.
“The best bit of the job was the buzz. I remember the whole building was buzzy and you had one of the most exciting jobs in the organisation, liaising with reporters about what was going to go in the magazine.
“In the early 1970s everything was buzzing anyway.”
She worked on Women’s Circle for five years from 1971, leaving when she became pregnant with her first child, her daughter Gabrielle, who is now 38 years old.
She has Downs syndrome and lives a very independent life, said her proud mum.
Gabriel’s younger brother Oliver, who is 36, lives in Tunbridge Wells and is the chief executive of a charity called Build Africa, which builds schools.
She said: “By the time I left I found that if you didn’t have a degree or weren’t a man you couldn’t get much further in life.”
Liz ended up getting her degree and worked for the University of Sheffield for 20 years in equal opportunities and widening participation, becoming head of registry services, before taking voluntary severance five years ago.
She said of the club’s success: “I suppose there were some women who were widows. My mother always worked full time.
“The majority were aged 40 to 60-plus and probably didn’t work. If they did, they worked part time. So it was a social life and companionship.
“Women came along on their own and then would be making friends.
“On our trips, people could opt for a single or a twin room, sharing with someone they didn’t know unless they were coming with a friend.”
Eventually the club became less popular as times changed and more women went out to work. “It was of its time,” said Liz.