#37 ‘Dear Sirs’ by Sally O’Reilly


Chipping Campden 5874

17th November 1946

Picture Post

43–44 Shoe Lane

London EC4

Dear Sirs,

I have been trying to get through to Miss Golovko in Kiev for several days now, but I cannot obtain so much as an engaged tone, never mind the ring-ring of successful connection. The lines may well be down, as we have become so accustomed to in recent years; or perhaps the switchboard is jammed, which would surprise me even less, given your newspaper’s vast distribution. Either way, it is tremendously disappointing that, having provided us readers with these delightful young ladies’ telephone numbers for, as you put it, ‘the convenience of those who wish to remonstrate with them on points of national policy’, you have made no subsequent effort to safeguard that convenience against the overwhelming demand that such a provision would undoubtedly (and in fact did) precipitate.

Despite this oversight, however, I should very much like to congratulate you on your article UNO Beauties. Since there are indeed those of us who ‘may not like the policies of some Peace Conference delegates, but who like their secretaries’, it was a real balm to have the focus shifted toward more sylvan themes than those we have been cudgelled with of late in the popular press. After the vexing images of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp (I refer to Edgar Ainworth’s startling piece ‘Victim and Prisoner’, featured in your estimable organ last September), it was so refreshing to be proffered such captivating portraits of fine, healthy young women playing secretarial roles on the stage of international politics. After a war in which young women were sequestered in factories or skulking in underground resistance groups, here at last they can don their finery again and promenade in the bright precincts of public life. I imagine the delegates in Paris were thrilled to have such a pageant on hand to draw their minds from the tiringly knotty issue of world peace.

How efficient the girls look with their well-kempt hair and stylish clothes too. What radiant capability they emit. I imagine we will be seeing many more young ladies attending to the political apparatus in the coming years, just as they have so stalwartly buttressed the machinery of war. And perhaps, one day in the future, where everything is bound to be fantastical, we might even see a woman president of the U.S. of A! I for one certainly hope not, since to expose a woman to such pressures would amount to grievous violence. Instead, I cannot help but hope that these girls get to exercise their obvious talents within the warmly glowing radius of a gentleman’s hearth and home.

Speaking of which, it did not escape my attention that, in your succinct and fascinating interviews, several of the ladies – notably Elizabeth of Ethiopia, Helene of Poland, Georgette of Belgium and Shirley of Britain – express an ambition for marriage and homemaking. How helpful of your photographic journalist to render them all so accessible by telephone. Except poor Shirley of Britain that is, who, for some reason of national security that confounds me, was made exempt. I do hope that she wasn’t too disappointed by this. At least she was compensated with a nice large photographic portrait – a smidgen larger than Elizabeth of Ethiopia’s, and (quite deservedly, I believe) at least four times the size of Rita of Australia’s.

It was also most stimulating to read of the interests and hobbies of young women of today. Shopping for clothes and hats, reading literature, playing the piano and learning languages – this generation is more accomplished than ever! I was particularly moved to praise you for this article because I have noticed that, now that the war is over, people are not so jumbled up. They are returning to where they are from, and the exhilarating stream of out-of-county munitions workers, evacuees and members of the armed forces is somewhat stemmed. The responsibility now lies with the press to channel information incoming from the world at large towards us, the people. Our great, victorious country must orientate itself outwards, and use the power, knowledge and wealth gleaned elsewhere to take care of its own. Such are my hopes for this new era that is dawning. As you might guess, I take pride in my alignment with Keynes and Beveridge, those great interventionists of New Liberalism, and fully encourage this welfare state that is emerging. I am sure that you will agree that Beveridge’s famous report on social insurance will be an indispensible route map for generations to come.

Indeed, I subscribe to Picture Post precisely because of your liberal stance on the social issues of our time, and am particularly appreciative of your own interventionist actions on behalf of these young ladies seeking homes and husbands. I look forward to more articles about women I can call up for an exchange of worldviews. At present I am having to suffice with the admirable phalanx of telephone operators who struggle tirelessly to keep this country connected. I have conducted some charming, if rather brief, chit-chats with these ladies, who, I note, are also extremely efficient in their dealings with us, the great British public. If I may be so bold as to make an editorial suggestion, I was wondering whether you might run a similar article on these telephonic angels in the Post, with photographs and home telephone numbers?

For those of us who find the ideas and experiences of others invigorating, your portrait-interviews perform a vital function in this new era that is dawning. Now that the war is over, we must reach out to one another in new ways – not against a common enemy, but towards the pleasures that a simpler, more peaceful life can afford. In this country we are strong upholders of the values of family, community and nation, and Picture Post is doing its part in replenishing the stock of home comforts that recently have been so utterly shattered. Keep up the good work!

Yours sincerely,

Mr T. P. H. Thompson, Esq.

P.S.: If your photographic journalist is still in contact with Miss Goloyko, I would be most obliged if he would pass on my own telephone number at the head of this letter, along with the message that I know of a superb perfumer in St James’s, London. With gratitude, &c.



Sally O’Reilly writes for the page, performance and the gallery. Recent projects include the opera The Virtues of Things (Royal Opera, Aldeburgh Music, Opera North, 2016) and the novel Crude (Eros Press, 2016).