Working class Jenni had misgivings about her honour

Jenni Murray
Jenni Murray
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BARNSLEY-born radio presenter Jenni Murray has admitted she feared she would be a ‘traitor to her class’ by accepting an offer to become a Dame.

The BBC presenter of Woman’s Hour, who describes herself as a ‘working class lass’ wondered if she had made a ‘terrible mistake’ in accepting the honour in the Queen’s Birthday Honours.

The 61-year-old says she wondered if she should have been repulsed by anything with the word empire in it because of its links with Britain’s colonial past.

But Jenni said she had been congratulated on the honour by even the most left-wing of her friends and listeners.

Dame Jenni pointed out that Alan Bennett, her favourite writer and Vanessa Redgrave, her favourite actress, both turned down honours.

But in an article in Radio Times she said that it could be seen as a victory of sorts that a ‘vociferous exponent of equal rights’ was being acknowledged by those who ‘a mere 20 years ago, had sought to silence her’.

Jenni accepted an OBE for services to broadcasting in 1999.

The journalist, who has presented her weekday Radio 4 show since 1987, will go to Buckingham Palace to accept the honour.

She said she almost passed out when she received the letter asking her to accept.

“I hesitated for a heartbeat, circled ‘Yes’ and stuck my response in the post. It was only then I thought of all the reasons to have said ‘No’.

“The finest actress to grace the stage, Vanessa Redgrave, refused a damehood, as did Baroness Shirley Williams. My greatest hero of all time, Alan Bennett, said no to a knighthood, but without saying why.

She pointed out that Dame Judi Dench had worried that she would have to behave herself once she took the title. Dame Helen Mirren proclaimed her ‘street cred gone’.

Dame Jenni said: ‘Was I making a terrible mistake? Had I become a traitor to my class by rushing headlong into the bosom of the establishment?

“Was it fair, as some people have said, to be given an honour for nothing more than being quite good at whatever it is you’re paid to do and that you do because you love it?

“Most worryingly, would it make a journalist known for her independence appear to have taken sides?”

Dame Jenni, whose father was an electrical engineer and who lived in a council house in her childhood, divides her time between London and the Peak District and has a partner, David, and two sons.

She attended Barnsley Girls High School and listened to Woman’s Hour with her mother when she was a child.